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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   Zuma Beach, Malibu
Friday, January 19 2001

Today is not only Dolly Parton's 55th birthday, it's Gretchen Pr!mack's birthday as well. The last of Gretchen's birthdays that she and I were on speaking terms happened back in 1989 when she quit being jailbait and turned 18 years old. Let's see, that would make her 30 today. I never did figure out whether she is a Capricorn or an Aquarius. Somehow she just seemed a lot more like the former than the latter.
Anyway, she and I had a whirlwind romance during the glorious Fall of 1988 when I was supposed to be doing that long distance fidelity thing with my girlfriend in King of Prussia, PA. It's the sort of resolution that anyone older than 21 knows is completely impossible to keep. (Just ask Jesse Jackson.) This is all to beg the question: whatever happened to Gretchen Pr!mack? I think about her not infrequently all these many years later. What's going to happen when I'm 80 and I have years worth of Gretchen Pr!mack equivalents bouncing around in my head? Is that the same thing as senility? "I can't figure my way out of this parking lot because the only things the navigational parts of my cerebellum want to do are ponder the many Gretchen Pr!macks it has known!"
I wish I could be a fly on the wall when that vanity websearch goes down.

At around noon the British members of the UK team, along with me as the sole American, took the rest of the day off and headed to the beach. The CTO, who had planned this as something of a reward for our industry, had sent an email around with an apology to the contractors who had to stay behind and work. "This is going to sound sort of mean," it began. The British somehow avoid bullshit even on occasions where it would serve their purposes. No American CTO would have ever begun an email this way, although the British CTO did manage to fabricate a somewhat dubious explanation for what we would actually be doing on the beach: "team building."
The actual beach where our "team building" was to take place was up the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and had the name Zuma Beach. Since Zuma Beach, though not far from Ventura County, is still within Los Angeles County, this trip still didn't serve to end my single longest unbroken stay in a county, which is now approaching ten months.
Weather today was predicted to be warm and sunny, but God never quite came through for us. Though the sun peaked out on perhaps two occasions lasting no more than five minutes, the day was mostly cloudy, increasingly so towards sunset. But the air wasn't especially cold and the beach was still an enjoyable experience. I can count on Bart Simpson's left hand the number of times I've been to the beach since moving to Los Angeles, so I wasn't complaining.
I've never been especially impressed by Malibu as a place. The beach is okay, I suppose, and some of the soon-to-topple-down-the-mountain architecture is interesting, but for the most part Malibu's culture, such as it is, seems to concentrate around the parking lots of a number of vaguely antiquated strip malls, the sort that, save for the surfboard vendors, would not look out of place along US 250 somewhere between Staunton and Waynesboro, VA. James, the wise-cracking logistics guy for the UK team took one look at the name of one of the seafood places and just had to comment. "'Something's Fishy,' hmm, don't know that I'd name a restaurant that!"
We ended up in one of the shopping center parking lots near Zuma Beach, wandering the aisles of a supermarket looking for things we might want to eat and drink while on the beach. Potato Chips, a bag of pre-cut carrots and celery, a couple small roasted chickens, and a case of beer in cans. I asked the CTO what they call potato chips back in the UK since the name "chip" is already taken for what us Yanks call "French Fries." "Oh, we call those 'crisps,'" she said.
The logistics of this particular outing were made complicated by the fact that last night Frank the Producer had been entertaining his new girlfriend, who had just flown in from Vancouver. For those who need a refresher on Frank's girlfriend, you can read some of the stories Frank told me about her back when he was hoping she might like him. Originally the plan had been for Frank and his girlfriend (traveling independently in a rental car) to pick me up and take me to Zuma Beach. But I'd thought Frank was planning to pick me up at work and once I'd made it there I'd learned from the CTO that he had actually been expecting to pick me up at home. So I'd proceeded to send an AOL-IM to my housemate John requesting that he post a note on the door with news about my having gone to [the name of my workplace]. The name of my workplace, it turns out, looks a lot like the word "lunch" and so John, who wasn't feeling well, had posted a note on the door telling Frank that I had "gone to lunch." It had been completely useless. I'd ended up riding with the main group instead of Frank.
Frank and his girlfriend eventually met us in the Malibu shopping center parking lot. As they ambled across the lot towards us, the CTO whispered with titillated excitement, "Oh my God, Frank has a girlfriend! We're actually going to meet her! This is sort of embarrassing!" She was a tall girl, about as tall as Frank. She looked like him in other respects and even, it turns out, acted like him. After the CTO went with her to the bathroom she came back with a story about how, upon discovering there was only one stall, the girlfriend had done "precisely what Frank would have done," letting loose with a nervous laugh of embarrassment that perhaps she should have let the CTO go in first "or some such nonsense."
Zuma Beach is one of those beaches that is paralleled by a long parking lot and a network of supporting structures, mostly related to the business of life guarding. Like many such parking lots, to get into this one you must fork over $5. Passing the front gate I saw a sign stating that alcohol was prohibited, but I didn't say anything. The whole point of this outing was the drinking of beer. We did, of course, come pre-armed with an excellent excuse, "We're from the UK and we were given to understand that this is the land of the free!"
We set up camp on the ocean-side of a large artificial anti-tsunami sand dune and immediately set to cracking open beers and nibbling on food items. I don't really remember what we talked about, except that James the logistics guy, speaking as he does with an often opaque northern-UK accent, is consistently hilarious. He's also the most unabashed drinker of the group, and that definitely takes some doing. I'm also puzzled by how he manages to go so many hours without needing to urinate.
There was one odd conversational thread that seemed to bind all the day's beach conversation together, at least my part of it. I looked down at one point and saw that I'd buried my foot in the sand and I realized it sort of looked like I didn't have a foot at all. This led me to mention something I'd read recently about audiences for the first movies, how people would occasionally be nauseated by the vision of a headless body talking. Evidently the close-up head shot would have passed in those naïve days for a horror movie special effect of a decapitated head still managing to get out some words before the brain ceased functioning. Later when Frank mentioned he'd "cut off" some of James' body in a photograph he'd just taken, I pointed out that had he done so back in the 1830s and then shown the photograph in a gallery, he might well have had to provide barf bags at the door of his exhibit.
In addition to the beer, of course, Simon the designer kept rolling the peculiar sort of joint popular among most people in the UK, ones containing a good fraction of tobacco (from cannibalized cigarettes) mixed in with the marijuana. I tried to smoke these as they came around but the only thing the harsh smoke managed to give me was brief tobacco buzzes. I could never smoke pot this way.
Next the CTO decided we should all stand by the ocean and toss a frisbee around in a circle like people often do when they go to a beach. It seemed like fun in that vaguely disappointing way that all non-conversation socializing invariably is, but still I somehow managed to make it into more than just a simple scoreless group activity. I found a stick in the sand and proceeded to use it in some way to land (and in some cases throw) every frisbee thrown at me. I didn't have much success, of course, but I sure had fun doing it. Later I added a long strand of that rubbery translucent green seaweed common to beaches in California, wrapping it around the stick to form something that might have passed for a prop in a movie about primitive stone age peoples.
At some point in the middle of our frisbee tossing, Frank happened to notice a school of dolphins moving westward up the coast only a few dozen feet from shore. There's something marvelously primordial about the sea, but just when you think you've come to grips with it, you see something like a strand of pelicans soaring inches over the distant waves or a school of dolphins on a mission only they know about and you feel like a gross simian impostor on the scene. It's nothing a few oil platforms couldn't set right I suppose.
Since I knew a lot about the quirky weirdnesses of Frank's new girlfriend from all the stories he has told me, I almost felt like I knew her and could relate to her in that same not-necessarily-verbal language known, for lack of a better term, as wackiness. Just as it started making me uncomfortable that this nonsense with the seaweed stick was nothing less than flirtation, we all sort of made an unspoken decision to resume our place on the artificial sand dune.

We bid adieu to Frank and his girlfriend in the Zuma Beach parking lot and then the CTO drove those remaining back to her cookie cutter apartment in Marina Del Rey. On the way we passed what looked like a fatal traffic accident complete with two helicopters. Soon thereafter we were witness to a spectacular sunset.
I suppose it said something about the CTO's apartment that it had come with a large watercolor painting already hanging on the wall. She seemed vaguely embarrassed about the place, which looked almost as if she'd moved into it only a week ago. Her refrigerator contained only a few items: a stick of butter, some condiments, maybe a can or two of some sort of drink. This clearly wasn't a woman given to cooking her own meals. We sat around drinking yet more beers, eating a "snackette" of chicken and playing various electronic music on the stereo. Somehow we launched into a long conversation about whether or not it would be possible for a human being to have too navels. I suggested that if a person was actually a siamese twin whose constituent individuals shared everything except a thin strip of belly material, then that "combo human" could have two navels. This got me to talking about Belva, a girl I knew back in Staunton, Virginia who had two vaginas. "But that's not necessarily an example of partial siamese twin-ness. Marsupials have two vaginas. Parallel-but-distinct systems is the primitive condition and any human could have throwback features of that stage of evolution," I argued. When I started talking about shark penises, the CTO requested that we talk about something else.
So then we had one of those "what should we do next" type conversations, and I said that we should get out of the house and, you know, not watch a movie on videotape. So the CTO, Simon and I decided to go play pool and James decided to hang back at his place, a few doors down from the CTO's. The first choice was to go to the Brigg, the dark place with the good jukebox near the corner of Venice and Abbott-Kinney, not far from Bathtubgirl Central, but when we got there (by cab) it was inexplicably closed. (That's no way to run a bar on a Friday night!). So we ended up at another place not far from the beach on Washington Street. The CTO wasn't too excited because "the jukebox in this place is bloody awful," but it was the only bar in the Venice area where one could really play a good game of pool. When we arrived a particularly bad David Bowie song was playing and, upon noticing all the red and white Budweiser blimp lamps hanging over the pool tables, I found myself thinking, "hmmm, this place doesn't look too promising."
Soon Simon and the CTO were decisively kicking the asses of a couple fellas whose primary attributes were balding buzzcuts and endless dumb conversation. "I believe any shot in pool is possible," one of them told the CTO when he held her briefly as a captive audience, "it's all geological." She had a good chuckle over that one. Later this same guy held me as his captive audience, assuming that I too was from the UK. Not wanting to explain that I'm actually American, I found it easier to affect a British accent and play along with his misconception. When I later told the CTO what had just happened, she wanted to hear my British accent, but I was full of performance anxiety and couldn't do it convincingly on demand.
There was this one young gentleman at another pool table with a bad haircut straight out of the early 80s. It didn't feature a mullet, but it seemed to fit his head like an angular helmet in a way that seemed to cry out "I am a gas station attendant." Accenting his unstylishness was an anachronistic mustache lounging like a paralyzed caterpillar on his upper lip. What with the combined power of these two fashion missteps, the guy looked much older than he would have otherwise. The CTO pointed him out to me with fascinated disgust, saying he looked like he was "from a small town in Georgia." In his defense I suggested, "Maybe he actually had a goatee but had to have chemotherapy on his chin." "In the absence of that haircut I might agree with you, but look, look at that haircut!" the CTO groaned.
Simon and I walked the CTO back to her place and then we caught a cab back to our respective homes. Simon is staying near 11th and Montana in Santa Monica, so I was the last man in the cab. The fare came to $17.70, but I have a receipt and the UK subsidiary will be picking up the tab on that one.

Back at my house John and Chun were doing the lazy red velvet couch thing (as usual) while a typically-animated Fernando attempted to convince them to come with him dancing at a Brazilian samba club called Café Danssa (near the corner of Sawtelle and Pico). I've always had fun with Brazilians, so I was eager to go, but John and Chun required considerably more arm-twisting. Unfortunately they appear to have entered a sedentary semi-domestic phase of their social life that is decidedly out of sync with the bachelor interests that Fernando and I still have. But eventually Fernando managed to cajole them into going out.
Café Danssa is up a flight of stairs lit with red light. Cover at the door was $10, which the perennially-generous Fernando paid for everyone.
The dance floor was sweaty mass of people, all of them dancing to live music. Strangely (and this might be common for samba), the band was divided between two stages, with a smaller stage in the back devoted to a few guys playing various diminutive guitar-like instruments (whose sound was more percussive than anything else) and a larger stage in the front crowded with guys playing a wide assortment of percussion instruments. Often the guitar musicians would start a song and people would begin to dance semi-reluctantly. Once they were hooked on the groove, the percussionists would kick in with their louder, more bassy instruments and more identifiable beats. At that point, if you were dancing at all, there was no way in hell you were ever going to stop, at least not for that particular song. You were intoxicated, and the drug was dance. I'd been drinking all day long but I'd never been especially drunk. Now I wasn't drinking at all, I was just dancing, all by myself in the crowd of sweaty strangers, sometimes wild with energy and micro-nuanced beat-based movements. It's amazing the coordination you can have when you're not dancing drunk.
John (who had taken ecstasy again tonight!) soon grew weary of the place, or maybe it was just Chun. Anyway, they wanted to split. I was far from done with that place though, so I told them fine, they could go, but I was staying and I'd walk home if necessary (it was only about 2 miles). Well, Fernando in his social elegance couldn't allow that to happen, and besides, he wanted to do some more dancing himself. So he drove John and Chun back home and then rejoined me shortly thereafter.
Café Danssa might be fun for its dancing, but, as Fernando pointed out, it wasn't particularly rich in attractive young ladies. They were there, but for every one of them there were at least two men. A good fraction of the seemingly unattached women were actually connected in various ways with the many musicians on the two stages. This didn't, however, prevent me from dancing with a short, plump girl, the kind that (like riding a moped) is great to dance with until your friends see you. But Fernando was impressed that I'd actually managed to scare up a dance partner at all in the face of such meagre pickings. Still, even this little plump girl was spoken for; and while she rubbed her copious breasts against my belly even as her boyfriend tried to retrieve her, I had a feeling it was time to go find Fernando. And so another wacky day in Los Angeles came to its necessary conclusion.

From left to right: The CTO, Frank and James.

Frank's girlfriend.

Beers, tunes, waiting seagulls and Simon.

Me against grey winter Zuma Beach skies.

The CTO.

Simon wrestles with a beer.

Seagulls patiently await our departure.

James cracks up yet again.

The UK ensemble watch me return from a discrete public urination.

Frank and his girlfriend on the artificial dune.

Century Trees along the Malibu coast (I've taken this picture before).

Sunset viewed from Santa Monica.

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