Monday, July 23, 2012

What Would Liam Neeson Do?

It’s been a hiking kind of summer. I’ve taken Girl A and E on many wild hikes. Seven thus far, with seven more to go, the idea is to hit all hikes that bear creek water. Not bears. It’s been loads of fun. Despite the adventure, beauty and overall amazing vistas, the girls have one goal, find a salamander.

Easton Canyon has been by far most adventurous, treacherous. The winding trail leads to the spectacular falls. 

Because of the heat, I waited until after 5pm to venture out. We had done this before, and getting down from the trail at dusk was never a problem.

Being the by now seasoned hikers we are, the girls have their routine down. Wear long pants, hiking boots, toss water bottles and snacks into a backpack I would carry. 

They need free hands of course in the event they spotted frogs or salamanders.  We also brought along a friend Clara, a smart, outdoorsy girl who also loves salamanders, snakes, frogs and all things slimy.

Before we set out, the girls have ground rules for me.

Girl A detests the way I dress, it doesn’t matter if I am going to the store, a business meeting, the White House or a hike.

“Mom, stick to the monochromatics. No florals, polka dots, stripes, colors. Please! You’re so embarrassing.”

Girl E: “And no talking, singing or commenting on the trail of any kind.”

So I wore a white T-shirt and black yoga pants. To my credit, unlike the girls who suddenly felt the need to not wear hiking books, I wore my giant waterproof hikers that I bought for skiing trips.

I let their lack of proper footwear go because I really didn’t think we would get into the trail very deep. So, slip- on tennies with no socks. And Girl A went with shorts.

Off we go.

Along with the video, the girls read this place was brimming with salamanders, so they also brought little catching nets and containers.

Here they are, filled with hope and excitement.

A couple of fun signs and 20 minutes of upward climbing later, all the girls are bored.

“Where’s the creek.”
“I want to see Salamanders. Another dud hike.”

“Mom why do you always bring us, promising amphibians and all we see are water bugs?”
“Was that a bogus website?"
"Guys, we read it together. It said salamanders... like many."

“Mmmm, hmmm.”  This is E’s way of saying, you are so full of #($*.

 “Lets just keep moving. I want to see the falls,” pipes in Clara.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” A whines.

Pretty soon ALL of them have to go to the bathroom so we find a tunneled detour to take care of business. I always carry toilet paper.

They kick dirt over whatever, well, like cats do. I found that interesting.

We keep moving and suddenly the dirt hike ends, just ends, and we encounter rocks. Big ones. Okay, boulders. Miles and miles of boulders. First we have to navigate the creek over other huge rock cropping settled in the water.

The girls shoes and legs are now soaked, but they don’t care. Because... they might find salamanders. But they don't and it's a crushing blow.

“Girls, get out of the water, walk along side the creek! Like me.”

I am avoiding going in but then almost fall in because there really isn’t a “side.”

“Mmmm, hmmm.”

Once out of the cesspool, we start climbing boulders.

By now of course I am carrying all the waters, bags, backpacks, sweaters, salamander trap contraptions.  I also am making mental and physical markers because frankly we are in a canyon surrounded by mountains, boulders, giant trees, brush and no paths!

I am also concerned there might be mountain lions. As we know Liam Neeson could tear one apart. I am certain I don't have that skill.

And I am guessing there will be no possible way to find our way back in the dark.

The girls are scrambling up the boulders like real pros. They keep checking on me as though I may have fallen into some pit.

“You okay, Mom?” "Need a hand?"
“Girls, I hiked Pikes Peak barefoot. Give me a break.”

I sounded exactly like a parent not wanting to sound like their parent.

Meanwhile a few people are making their way down.  This party is clearly over.

“Girls, maybe we should head down, (while I still know how to get back), and see it another time.”

“No way! We are almost there.”

Entire families are leaving now. Church groups. Summer camps. Militia.

The girls are still light footed and running forward.

“Just keep your feet in the footprints… I keep telling them.”

“Listen!” E whispers.

We all freeze. It’s a harmonica and a sitar. And we hear water. Splashing water.

The girls make a mad dash up the rocks. I’m terrified they will fall.

“Girls!  Stop. Wait for me. Stop!”

They don’t listen. I catch up.

And now we are back in three feet of rocky water, which we have to cross to get to the falls. We go for it, and then finally hit dry land.  And it is quite a site. And worth the rock climb.

At the base of the falls were four musicians from another era playing lovely music with the sitar, guitar, harmonica and a bongo.  They nodded to us, but clearly were in their own world playing variations of George Harrison's Bangladesh.

I felt relieved to see them. At least we were not alone. But then again, these dudes may have been there for 30 years. Hard to say. They did have a water stick.

The girls went wild and jumped into the water. Especially A. She would have walked all the way to the falls.

“Stop! Don’t go any further”

The other girls stayed in the more shallow area looking for critters, using a net, and a magnifying glass.

I was too afraid to take the musicians photo but one of them offered to take ours, which was super nice.

The sun had long disappeared behind the mountains. It was getting dark. Fast.

All I could think about is how the frick am I going to find that trail miles away.  Liam Neeson most likely would grab hold a healthy vine and swing to the top of the mountain, carrying all the kids. I picked up a twig.

“Okay kids. Follow me!”

And I lead them to a dead end, a stone wall with disgusting expletives scratched all over it.

“Mmmm, hmmm.”

“Lets try this way,” Clara says.

We follow Clara, she is right.  We are back on boulder way.

Meanwhile I kept checking my phone for a signal. None. Did I really think I was going to call Liam Neeson and get tips? Or better, get him in person?

Pushing up over the boulders I see footprints and felt better.

The problem with hiking in the pitch dark is there is no way of really knowing where you are going.  Images of all those Blair Witch movies with people going round and round and end up where they started float about.  But I never let the girls think I’m anything less than an expert.

I charge out front.

“Okay. I got this. Everyone get behind me.”

Somewhere I lost the confidence of E. She was getting extremely scared.

“We’re lost!” She sensed something wasn’t right. Plus by now this whole thing rang sinister, which will frighten any child. Shadows, noises, gloom. Except apparently A, who was enjoying all of it. E has always leaned toward the macabre and believes evil exists. Not A. She would more expect to find a gingerbread house than a witches hut.

E flies into a panic, her heart starts to race. I comfort her.

“We are not lost," I say. "We are almost down.”
“I don’t believe you!”
“Let’s just move as quick as possible.”  Oh, WRONG THING TO SAY!

E freaks out again.

“Quick! What does that mean, Mom? Is someone following us? HELP!!”

Then I trip on a rock.

“Oh my god, Mom! Are you okay? Oh my god, we’re going to end up like James Franco!”

Now, her fears escalate. She hadn’t thought of that. The only adult, me, impaired, possibly armless, out of commission, leaving three nine-year-old girls to find civilization.

They did not see 127 Hours, but word gets around the schoolyard. Stranger, how did she even know who James Franco was?

I explained over and over the real story of how the hiker got trapped, how that could never happen. We were nowhere near Utah. This helped a bit.

Then I see more consistent footprints and markers. I feel more and more confident. I make sure the girls see my confidence.

“Girls, there’s my special markers. We are close.”
“What the hell is a maker?” E shouts.

A explains what a marker is.

“Mom, that was really smart.” A hugs me and points to a small pile of rocks I set up.

This girl is fearless. In fact, she is on a mission.  Takes control, heads out front with the flashlight. 

Typically she is comforting E, but I got that job. So her finely honed hiking skills get us to the 2nd creek we encountered.

“See, E, Mom was right. We walked through this area. It’s where we saw the frog.  She made markers.”

“I don’t care! I spit on markers! I want to go home.” E is sobbing.

Again, I pull an arrow from my Neeson quiver, lean down and hold her tight.

“E, I will not let anything happen to you. Ever. You are my girl. You are safe with me. I am strong. I will get us all back home safe and sound.”

She hugged me, then cried some more.

Carla slips on a rock and falls.

“Oh, I think I broke both my ankles. Possibly my arm too.”

From my mental Liam preserve or maybe it was Nurse Jackie, I knew to elevate the legs and wrap them or something.

“Oh Noo! Mom, we are doomed!”

Carla stands up and is fine.

“You’re okay honey. You wouldn’t be able to stand up if they were broken.  You’re arm is fine too. I’m thinking bruised.”

We carry on.

She says, “Ooooh, if we have to go much further my legs are going to give out.”

This sends E into a full-blown anxiety attack and she yells:

“Everyone stop talking! Just focus. Focus.”
“Honey, we are okay, almost there.”

I knew we had one more creek to pass before we reached the dirt trail.

I was growing concerned.  I did not have a penknife that turned into a helicopter that would then lift us to safety.

Meanwhile, A is out front holding the flashlight and paving our way in the inky night.

“There’s the path, Mom was right. Her markers worked!  I got this now!!”

A was so delighted.

“Turn off the flashlight, it’s freaking me out!! And stop talking about markers!”

I pull E closer and told her we needed the light as the path was rocky and I didn’t want any spills.

“Mom, did James Franco ever grow his arm back?”

I let this go and instead focused on Clara’s amazing find. A perfectly heart shaped rock she had found.

“It brings me great comfort. I don’t know why. E, do you want to hold it?” Then Clara started to sing.

“I don’t want your rock and please stop singing. Everyone focus.”
“Honey, we are on the path back.”

Then from Clara, she whispers to me:

“I don’t tell this to many people but I am afraid of the dark.”

Now I am holding both of their arms, death grip style, 15 lbs. of gear strapped on my back, walking in wet boots with mushy socks, while A is ahead skipping along with the flashlight.

At this point, Liam would pick up all three kids and run up the trail. I could barely walk myself. Now I had swamp blisters.

We trudge another 15 minutes. The moon rises.

“Look at that moon!” I shout, hoping to get E’s mind off her Titanic fears.

It was a crescent moon, bright yellow, low in the sky and beautiful.

“No!  Don’t look, just focus!”

“But E, it looks like a banana. It’s funny. I bet only a gorilla could actually reach it,” says A.


So we ignored the moon and carried on.

“Look,” I yell. “The entrance!”

All the girls hobble forward.  As we near the gate, E notices it’s closed, locked, a giant iron gate.

“Aaaahhhh!  Mom! You are so wrong. All the time!”

“Honey, we can walk around it.”

“Here’s a perfectly fine path to the car.” A says proudly, holding out her flashlight, 100 feet of dirt and there is the car.

After washing their feet and throwing everything in the trunk, E finally relaxes and is asleep before we get home....

When E dashes to her father, clinging his legs and retells the entire ordeal with great flair and drama that reach horrific proportions. When E was satisfied that she conveyed the extreme level of danger she was in and efficiently pointed out my incompetence many times, she could finally eat.

I placed an entire cooked chicken on the table along with some fruit. Five minutes later, I looked at their plates, nothing was left but a few chicken bones and crumbs.

But lesson learned, be sure to enter unknown canyons long before sunset. Or take Liam Neeson with you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

About Ten Minutes

It was writer/director Neil LaBute’s idea.  “Why don’t I write a story, and Cultural Weekly can do a writing contest?” he asked.
The rules were simple: No more than 1,000 words, and it must contain a character or element from Neil’s original story.
I asked New Yorker writer Susan Orlean to join Neil and me as judges, and the contest was on.  We received 38 entries from four countries, most of which showed wit and originality. Last weekend, Neil, Susan and I met by conference call, with Neil in Spain, Susan in New York and me in Los Angeles.  We’d read the submissions anonymously (they had been assigned numbers), and we agreed that the best entry was Number 4.  We liked the author’s voice, and the surefootedness of the ending.
Rhonda Talbot, the winning author, will receive her prize shortly – a used copy of The Scarlet Letter, inscribed by Neil, Susan and me, singing her praises.  Congratulations, Rhonda!
-    Adam Leipzig
 Thanks to Adam Leipzig, Neil LaBute and Susan Orlean.  Check out Cultural Weekly, a great place to keep conversations above the fray, elevated and alive...


About Ten Minutes

By Rhonda Talbot

Carla didn’t realize she was fat until she arrived in San Diego. Having sped down the freeway in her Mini Cooper from San Francisco in one day, she was eager to start college and put her abysmal high school years behind her. She felt the kids were sub-human with their shiny faces, Birkenstocks and optimistic outlook on life.
She despised her mother as well, the town whore.
It was not unusual, for example, for her alcohol- fueled mother to dance naked on a 40 foot Schooner before swan diving into the icy bay just for fun.
Carla was pleased with the campus’ seaside charm that overlooked rolling green hills but instantly deducted her “peers” were beneath her. It was Redwood High redux, but with Frisbees and volleyballs.
Settling into the Filmmaking One course Carla realized she had made an excellent decision in her college preferences.
Her professor, “Call me Jack, not Mr. Kowalski,” was in his thirties, with deep set, dark eyes, olive skin, and an athlete’s body. He reminded her Javier Bardem without the accent. Carla was in love before she had read the class syllabus.
Clearly she was not alone in her assessment. Looking around the sun-drenched room all of the girls seemed prisoner to Cupid, gaping at Jack, some drooling. Most of the girls were mannequin thin, with hard bodies, perky butts, and big tits. They wore skinny jeans and push up bras.
Carla had good features and a decent body that might draw out of pedestrian whistle, possibly in Ohio. She could not compete with these Barbie’s.
She knew she would have to lean on her shrewd instincts and intellect to capture this prized professor.
After class, her diet consisting of boiled eggs and birdseed. Carla joined a running clinic and ran 15 miles a day, all the while envisioning her awesome life with Jack reading haughty literature and baking cookies.
By the end of two weeks she was down to 100 lbs.  She was ready.
After class she followed Jack to his office.
I’m almost finished with my short. Would you have a look?
Um, sure
I get A’s in all my classes and maintain a 4.0. Always have.
Good for you.
The professor watched, intrigued, a finger to his temple. Carla sat next to him in a folding chair, wearing her new Wonder bra.
It’s called Easy Money, Stupid Men. It runs about ten minutes.
Okay. You play poker?
Yes. Easy money.
Where did you shoot this?
Some poker dive downtown.
We should write a script about that. It’s brilliant.
It is? What is?
A destitute but clever girl struggling to get through college by beating the odds. I can see the whole thing.
Can you begin coming to my house on the weekends to start?
Why should we wait? We can have sex right now.
What?  Carla I’m married. That won’t happen.
Carla scoffed, but went along with it. She spent a number of weekends at Jack’s house, a track home, not a summer beach house. His wife Eloise was a colossal bore. She was always happy and she was stupid, therefore Carla loathed her on two counts.
They worked nonstop, Carla hovering over Jacks’ shoulder spewing dialogue, while breathing in his intoxicating essence of man sweat and caramel.
On breaks, he would force her to listen to Fur Elise over and over. It was the only song Eloise could play on their piano. It was torturous.
As they neared the end of the screenplay, the three stood in the kitchen eating dried mango and drinking Pom.

Carla, Eloise and I want to make love to you. Kiss my wife.

Carla balked, but after some Jack Daniels they were all lying on a soft white comforter.
Jack and Eloise were having loud sex.
Carla held down bile, her eyes drifted, then settled on a disturbing image of what could only be an etching of Eloise’s vagina tacked on the wall.

You are going to be famous, Jack grunted.
Give me that banana, daddy! Eloise cried.

Carla lay there motionless. Banana? Oh daddy?
Carla’s role in this ménage was unclear.  She reached for the TV remote then Jack was on top of her, thrusting. It was then she realized how small she had become because she feared for her life. She was being crushed to death.
Don’t cum in her! Don’t cum in her! Eloise kept repeating, panicked.

He jumped off, back onto Eloise and the sex fiasco was quickly over.
They finished the script on campus and did not return to his house.
At the end of the semester he gave her a B.
Carla stomped into his office.
What the hell is this? You know I am the best student.
The screenplay didn’t sell.
So!  Give me my A or I tell your department head.
It’s too late.
Did I mention I was 16?
I don’t believe you.
Yeah, as in jail time. You decide. Then who will suck your banana? Daddy?
Carla played poker that night and thought about her odds. She decided they were in her favor. She won two thousand dollars.
Back in her dorm, she went on line to check the year-end semester report. All A’s.
Carla was pleased, but not satisfied. She had sold herself cheap. Did she really have a threesome with this professor who now looked nothing like Javier Bardem?
The next day she told the department head everything, the booze, the Pom and her needless suffering of having to listen to hours of poorly played Fur Elise.
Then came a flurry of questions, did she want to press charges, had she contacted the authorities, etc. Carla wanted no fuss and said as much. In fact she just wanted to eat.
She sat in the campus diner a few nights later carving into a 16 oz. Rib Eye, then noticed the school paper.  “Tenured professor ankles post to pursue his long held ambitions as a screenwriter in Hollywood.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mermaids, The Black Keys and Salamanders

This is Day Five, Hike Five of our venturing into the deep mountains in search of the great almighty salamander. Though we have found a few snakes, one towel, and a plastic bag, today we feel lucky.

The Things A and E, now nine, are very determined girls and read about all things salamander, including habitats, gear, etc. We bring small nets, holding bins, surgical gloves, apple juice and snack bars.

On the drive out, this time we took along their older brother who loves to hike, but primarily goes because you never know what hottie might be on the trail. But given  he was texting half way up the mountain, he would've missed her anyway.

The trip out there is already an adventure because everyone fights over music. All of our tastes range widely from the Rolling Stones to Selena Gomez to Heart to Edward Sharpe to Lucinda Williams to The Black Keys to Agni (son's band) and back again. We ended up listening to an entire rage, everyone is pumped up. The girls particularly love one song from Agni so we play that five times.

Apropos of nothing, A:

"Mom, why didn't the chicken cross the road?"
"No the joke is, why DID the chicken cross the road."
Both girls roll their eyes, so tired of having a lame mother.
"Just answer the question."
"Okay. Why?"
"Cause he saw Rango."

The girls fall into a fit of hysteria.  I  have no idea what the joke means, but it made me smile, only because on some level this involves Johnny Depp, Clint Eastwood, and Chinatown.

We arrive, my kids all run back to car as they forgot their "gear."  I go forward and some odd looking guy, around 19?, is standing in the middle of the path, starring at me. He doesn't stop, bordering on freaky.

"Can I help you?"
He looks like a very young Mr. Potato Head.

"So, you going on a hike?"
"Me too."

Here, I couldn't figure out what he wanted. Did he want me to join him? Was that the etiquette at this particular hiking spot?

My kids start to appear over the small hill, walking toward me.

"There's my kids."
"Wow. All three?"
"The big one too?"
"And the little ones?"
"So you have big AND little kids."
"It appears."
"Wow, that reminds me of an old John Candy joke."
"Well, gotta go."
"Hey are you related someone named Alan?"

I seriously wondered about this guy now. Alan? Random Alan?

"Um. Not that I know of."

Then he seemed to evaporate into thin air and I then wondered if  I imagined the entire ordeal.

Here we are heading up. The girls just saw the rattlesnake sign. We did actually see one, but I told them them for the most part they hang out in this old Blair Witch building and play cards.

They shake their heads in unison, as if to agree, "Why are we stuck with such a freak for a mom?"

Oddly, as they continued their scramble upon learning there was a waterfall and plenty of frog activity ahead....

... my son told me this. "All those years you embarrassed me as a kid actually helped me and I don't think I ever actually thanked you properly."

"What? Really. Like when I did squats down the street holding an umbrella type thing?"
"Yeah, but even when you just called my name in a crowd. I didn't answer for a reason. I was horrified. But in college, my dorm mate admired how absolutely nothing embarrasses me or makes me feel self- conscious.  And I like that quality."

"It is a good thing. If you're worried what others think, well.."
"Exactly. So thanks."  He gave me a one arm hug.
"You're welcome. Shit, the girls."

We dashed up the mountain and they indeed found a babbling brook.  The waterfall wasn't much further, but this was why they came.

"Mom, the falls are too deep. This is where salamanders and frogs live."

"But not mermaids?" my son shouts.

E, "Yunno, not sure I really want a mermaid anyway. How do you even take care of them?"
A nods in agreement.

Son is disappointed.

Their find:

Their commentary.  Hike Six is tomorrow. The Grand Grotto. This is a more difficult hike, but worth it. After climbing boulders, you can jump into a lake. Not that I would do it, but I might.

One of the great things about hiking with kids is to see how excited they get about worms, frogs, salamanders and other creatures that make me gag.

Let them speak for themselves, they were about to say, "Mom, yunno.. you're just wrong on everything"

But I love to see their enjoyment, like the exercise and come across amazing copy from passerby's.

Two 40ish women in tight clothes and small tops. "At the end of the day though, it's all good, even though you can be totally maxed out."  Friend, "Right? Totally."

Yep. We are still in L.A.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bob Segar my babysitter

Growing up in Detroit in the late 70's was an incredible experience. Most of which I took for granted. As a kid, we were not only raised on Motown but when Rock N Roll hit the scene, we seemed to be in the middle of it all.

Segar must have been a friend of my mom's as she hung out at various clubs, the same clubs I would later go to, the Palladium, Fillmore, Grande Ballroom and of course Cobo Hall where I saw every rock band seemingly that ever stepped foot on a stage.

I barely remember Segar, except he was soft spoken, had a lot of facial hair and was funny. He made a point to tell me and my four sisters to stay close as possible to music. I wasn't sure what he meant, and I also had no idea who he was. Yet he taught me how to play cards. Poker.

We didn't see much of him, three times?

Cut to many years later, at age 11 I started venturing out to the rock clubs, indoor and out. Bands played everywhere, any field where you could put up a working amp would do.  My older sisters dragged me along and we would see J. Giles, Iggy Pop (or then known as Iggy and the Stooges) Ted Nugent, Grand Funk Railroad, Alice Cooper, Humble Pie, MC5, Spirit, Glen Fry for god sakes.  Then we typically would go back stage and have a beer. Nothing more than that.

Later still, when I was old enough to run around on my own, my best friend and I would hitchhike wherever the music played. And a bunch of times, there would be Bob Segar. He looked different, but I loved his music, then and forever.

As time passes, and I get to be 14 and 15, by now I have seen everyone worth noting at that time.

Concerts were a free for all, unlike today where it seems impossible to gain entrance. We never had tickets. Yet we saw Led Zeppelin, at least five times, Elton John, Davie Bowie (who always had parties after the concert and we always went,) Earth Wind and Fire, Eric Clapton, Allman Brothers, Peter Frampton, Deep Purple, Joe Walsh, Joe Cocker... well it's an endless list.

What is further confounding is often times many of these incredible musicians played on the same roster, particularly in Ann Arbor, the "hippy" haven.

Looking back, of course, I wish I had taken pictures. We were not groupies, we just loved music and loved the musicians, as artists. They shaped our young lives and often times got us through very bad times.

I found this photo (still renovating) and remember this night like it was yesterday. We went to see Spirit whenever they played in town. In fact, we had one of their phone numbers, I think Mark Andes, and my friend was simply fascinated that the lead singer's name was Randy California; as she was obsessed with all things California. She fell madly in love with him, all 15 girly crush years of her. Randy gave my friend his drumsticks.

Here we are:

Ed Cassidy is pictured,  can't remember the guy in front but also in Spirit band.  Randy is taking the picture.

And Larry "Fuzzy" Knight.  ^ ^ ^ ^

I would see Bob Segar again, and exchange quick hellos, but he remembered me and at age 14, that is huge. I looked very different, and so did he. But he still embodied that soft-spoken kindness.

My gal friend in the photo is still my closest friend and we still bond over music. Though years have passed and our lives have both gone through at least eight mutations, we remain exactly the same people.  This was our favorite Spirit song.    Randy was an amazing man.