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What Are Dreams Made Of? June 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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A quick note relating to a dream I had last night.

Not a dream with some celebrity in it where the plotline gets surreal and bizarre…. sorry, I save those gems for the Wagstaff novels.

In this dream, I met a woman who complimented me on my hair out of the blue as I walked past an old now-gone drug store in a shopping center from my childhood. You’d think I’d’ve known I was dreaming at that point, but I simply stopped in my tracks and decided to talk to her.  Hell, overcoming my shyness and chatting about my haircut with her should have clued me in that I was in a dream.  But I guess I’m bolder in the dream universe, so I talked with her about getting my haircut and checked her out and see if I could get a date out of it.

Much like what I’d do in real life, I made a point of looking at her eyes while I talked, since I either revert to my “Hey, Jim must be on the spectrum!” behavior of looking away from people as I talk, or reverting to my “Hey, Jim is a friggin’ dirty old sod” behavior by looking, well, elsewhere.

So because of that focus on her eyes, I got to study this young woman’s face while I chatted with her.  The image of that face stuck with me when I woke out of the dream and saw 5:53am on the clock. I thought about the face for a moment and it mystified me.

For  the life of me, I have absolutely NO idea who it was. (more…)

Today’s Heartwarming Creepy Old Man Story June 16, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, General.
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No, not me. This is ANOTHER creepy old man.

So today I had to drive down to some medical office and give my mom a ride home when her regular ride could not be reached due to telephone problems (long story, whatever). We made the most of it and swung by the best deli in LA for lunch since it wasn’t too far off, and then I dropped her off.

Then I figured since I wouldn’t be back in the Valley for a while, I’d swing by a big thrift store I liked over in North Hollywood to see their book selection.

Hell, yesterday between a YMCA fundraiser and a big dumpy thrift store in Reseda, I’d scored BIG – 9 total books between the 2 stops, with material on stolen art rings, history of food, old movies, and an autographed first edition of a Martin Yan cookbook, among some other items.

I hoped my luck would continue. So I took the long way back to the freeway which would swing me by a regular book hunting stop.

Unfortunately, pickings were thin. It looked like they’d been gleaned pretty well without replenishment from new donations. The only books worth getting were ones I already had (some Lidia Bastianich cookbooks) and ones I really didn’t need (even more cookbooks). Meh, whatever.

Two guys going through the books discussed how the store had been “going downhill” and how there wasn’t as much to pick from. Then one of ’em told a story I eavesdropped on as I browsed about buying some big box of English lace at an auction. I kept hoping he’d discuss wearing it so the story would really get interesting, but he only mentioned it since he had found a book about British lace at this store shortly after that where he discovered that some of the stuff he had was evidently worth quite a lot. Who knew?

And then there was the creepy old dude. (more…)

I Will Miss Her June 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cat Thoughts, General.
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Sad news: my 8 year old Siamese, the star of “Cat Thoughts” on this blog,  lost her year and a half long battle with cancer.

I had her seven years, adopting her as a rescue momcat who had been abandoned along with her kittens. Someone found her, brought her & her family to Kitten Rescue. They let her wean her kittens & spayed her, adopting all of them out. They assumed from her small size that it had been her first litter, and she was probably a little more than a year old.

She was a shy one with strangers, and took a few days to get used to me. For those first few days, she’d hide during daylight hours and suddenly get brave at night, coming out to explore everywhere while meowing nonstop orders at me to open more doors, lift her up to more shelves, and the like. Next morning? Terrified kitty, back hiding under the bed. I thought about naming her Vampirella.

Eventually she did what all cats do, took over my house and declared herself the boss. Over time I figured out what sorts of toys she liked and what sorts she’d ignore. (more…)

A Heartwarming Saturday Tale April 22, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in General.
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Every now and then, I’m in some public venue and become witness to some poor bastard’s domestic hell as it plays out in front of me and everyone else within earshot.

In the past, it’s been both wife and kids screaming and nagging dad that he’s buying the WRONG BRAND, DAMMIT!  at Target. Or perhaps the “Kill me, now!” face of some poor schmuck trying to control a genuine sue-that-condom-company brood of uncontrollable little bastards at a BBQ restaurant while his food got cold.

Today it was a mommy melt-down at a local deli.

A local deli? In Santa Clarita? The very heart of Goyville?

Yeah, there’s a local deli with two locations. Dink’s Deli. Their bagels have always been decent, their sandwiches okay, and since they came under new management some time back, their service and general demeanor have improved somewhat.

When I’m in the mood for some serious Jew-deli-ing, I’ll trek to Brent’s, but today I had to grocery shop as well.

And it’s Saturday.  I felt like some time out after going back to work this week, and after spending what seemed like too much time online at home (ahem) drumming up interest in my new book. (Reviews will be forthcoming on the Amazon page, but it’s taking FOREVER).

So I figured I’d have me a sammich while I did the crossword and took my time before hitting the supermarket. And as a bonus, they had the Blues/Wild game on with the sound off.

Then they entered, took the tables one down from mine. First mom, then the two kids. They took their places while dad ordered at the counter.

Then dad showed up at the table and the arguments started. Over nothing. Absolutely nothing. Over which kid would sit where, over which table to sit at, that sort of thing. It wasn’t the kids whining and bitching about it either, it was mom. Mom’s voice got louder, dad kept playing peacemaker inbetween guilting his kids over getting mom angry. One kid storms out. Other kid follows. Mom starts in on dad. Dad asks why this happens every weekend anytime they go someplace.  Mom snaps that the kids are mad at dad and that “everyone is looking at us!”

Naw, I’m just listening. Carry on.

Kids return.  Then mom storms out, says she’s going to the car. Dad doesn’t go after her.  The kids ask dad where mom is going. He says they’ll get her later. The kids follow outside, but return a moment later when the food arrives.

I kept thinking “Every weekend this guy deals with this? Jesus…”

It could not have been over where the kids were sitting, which was what it sounded like from the arguments going back and forth. Clearly, these people walked into the deli with the baggage of numerous previous arguments, or just plain bottled up anger/spite/whatever over something much bigger.

I couldn’t deduce any piece of a backstory from any possible clue. And to be honest, I didn’t really want to.

I’d like to think mom & dad were both having an affair with the same person. It’s the romantic in me.

Anyway, they finished eating and left. Mom never returned, so she either sat in a hot car in today’s near 100 degree heat, or she wandered somewhere else and maxed out the ol’ credit card.

I heard no gunshots.

So what does it all mean? Well, I’d like to thank them all for making me feel so good about not being married. That goes for the people in Target, at the BBQ place, and the countless other times I got to be juxtaposed with someone else’s tedious domestic squabbling.  It’s greatly outnumbered the times I witnessed someone’s marriage and/or family and fell into a deep depression because I felt like I was missing out on life by not having the same set up. It’s easy to outnumber zero.

I leisurely finished the crossword & my sandwich, and got in my car.

I had to go to the supermarket, but on a whim stopped at an estate sale to see if anything good was left. Nope. But it turned out that the estate was of someone who had owned race horses. Some memorabilia remained, but they told me the family had already claimed most of the good stuff, so I came up empty there. And all the books were lesser celebrity bios and chicklit. Meh. So I drove my car to the supermarket, bought whatever the hell I wanted without someone telling me otherwise, and came home to watch sports and pamper the cat.

I’ll cook up some wonderful pasta calamari later. Maybe I’ll read a little. Maybe I’ll work more on the beginning outline for Wagstaff book 3.

Sound boring? Beats hell out of what that dad deals with.

What Makes Some People Lucky – An Interesting Study August 2, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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gladstoneYou gotta give action to get action.

That’s what the luckiest person I know said to me about gambling.

And evidently, a similar idea is now backed up by some very interesting research. A British psychologist named Richard Wiseman has identified numerous behavior & personality patterns of people who one would consider “lucky” as well as traits of people one would consider “unlucky.” He also believes you can teach yourself to be luckier.

An interesting idea – go read the article, and then come back here.

Done? Good! I gotta be honest – Wiseman’s theories involving being open to random happenings & observations certainly jibes with the entire M.O. of the Wagstaff novel series I’m working on.  As much as a lot of the material in them (and yes, the second installment is well on the way) is semi-autobiographical, I’m thinking I ought to reduce that “semi” somewhat if I want to improve my luck.

I certainly could have used more yesterday going after a 1.1 million Pick 6 pool at Del Mar. Got wiped out…. so much for that nine bucks.

The winning horse in the final race? The one I didn’t bet? His name was Jimmy’s Date.

A date I shoulda gone on, although believe me, I didn’t miss the Pick 6 by only one race. Del Mar is a BASTARD to bet compared to Santa Anita, at least to me.

But  still – shoulda gone with my gut on that one, even if his past performances were, well… lackluster. And then he won. Figures.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Vegas – the high cost of table games and the legality of advanced deposit horse wagering have kept me from caring about it as much as I used to. I also don’t have a cat sitter I can trust, and the star of Cat Thoughts is somewhat high maintenance. But the last time I was there, like so many times before, I went with a friend of mine who frequents the place much more than I ever would, as well as card clubs and the like. Yes, he enjoys gambling a great deal, and why not?

He practically wins all the time.

Well, at least he seems to win all the time. He certainly hit some big wins whenever I was along for the Vegas ride, which meant getting treated to some nice dinners (thank YOU, gamblin’ Gods!)

He’s the luckiest person I know. I’ve seen restaurants screw up his order & comp the bill or provide free dessert. I’ve heard stories of his airplane flights running out of seats and bumping him into first class. I picked a slot machine at random for him to play and he hit a thousand dollar pull within ten minutes.

And he told me that he thought he’d win a lot simply because he’d play a lot – “You gotta give action to get action,” he said.

Then he signed me up for the club card at the Wynn. He borrowed the card long enough to plug it into a slot machine and load $100 onto it, something he & I knew I’d NEVER do in all my cheapness – and he played the thing for maybe half an hour.

At the end of the half an hour, there was enough playtime on that club card to be registered for some freebies from the Wynn as well as a spin of their comp prize wheel. I spun it & won free buffet brunch for the both of us. And the Wynn has an excellent buffet.

Oh, and his slot play?After that half an hour he was up about two hundred dollars.

You gotta give action to get action. Gladstone Gander might agree. Ron Jeremy would certainly agree, but that’s another story (although I bet he’d love to win that Wynn buffet as well).

Richard Wiseman definitely would agree – but extrapolating his theories beyond gambling and towards opportunity in general, his ideas are quite fascinating. I always remember the line from Robert Evans’ The Kid Stays In The Picture – Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Wiseman has demonstrated how to prepare yourself to find many more opportunities, hence, increase your luck.

And now, back to the racing form…. there must be a horse named Bet On Me You Pathetic Male Crazy Cat Lady or something like that, you know, something to go straight for my gut.

My SMALLER gut, too! Scroll down & read about my no-carb success!

My Eyes! My Brain! My Schvantz! Okay, okay, not my schvantz… July 14, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, General.
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Granted, they left out the post office line moving quickly and Cary Grant actually winning an Oscar and any attractive woman actually smiling back at me instead of getting a restraining order, but…

Check out these 29 very cool optical illusions. 

Number 17 is exceptionally freaky, even if I’ve seen it before.

Almost as freaky as this

cat-muscle-bag-illusion

 

Admit it, you’d kill for LOLCAT abs. Kill a mouse, anyway.

The All-Purpose Clickable Map Of Dirty-Sounding Places On The Globe July 11, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in General.
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I know, I know. I’ll never grow up.

Go here & just move your cursor around for some cheap laughs.

How I Lost Weight & Improved My Health, Until I Get Hit By A Bus July 11, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food, General.
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s1tj89

A bus falling out of the sky, too. It’s just how my life works.

A few months back, I got bored waiting at a supermarket pharmacy counter, so I sat in one of those free blood pressure measuring chairs to see where my numbers would land.

I’ve always had relatively low blood pressure, anywhere from 110-120 over 60, never gave it much thought compared to other health related issues nearer & dearer to my experience.

Such as my genetically from dad ulcer-vulnerable stomach. Or the lurking fear that I’d wake up one morning and find a note pinned to my pillow from my penis after it had finally abandoned me for greener pastures.

So when this thing gave me a readout of 155/85, I wondered WTF? I hadn’t been overly stressed lately. I don’t smoke. I hardly ever drink coffee. And I hadn’t eaten a fifty pound bag of rock salt for lunch.

I figured it was a faulty machine, at least hoped it was a faulty machine. On my way home, I stopped at a different supermarket that had a pharmacy and a blood pressure video chair. Rolled up my sleeve & sat in it…. and 155/85 again.

A real kick in the ass – I’d been meaning to drop some weight and had never made a real commitment, but this put me into a small panic as I envisioned my post-stroke self, drooling in a wheelchair, thinking of endless dick jokes and unable to speak ANY of them. Truly a fate worse than death.

Getting more exercise was easy – that simply meant going back to my old habit of taking long walks after dinner. And there’s certainly a variety of walking routes & paths where I live. So, it was a 2-3 mile walk nearly every night, maybe anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour of brisk walking, some uphill, some flat, some downhill.

But you want to know how I lost somewhere between 15-17 pounds in 2 months, right?

It’s the practically-no-carb diet. It really works. Practically no carbs, no sugar, and all the meats, cheeses, veggies, nuts, etc. as you want. The more protein, the better for not feeling hungry. For a couple of months, I cut out as many carbs as I possibly could – no rice or bread or starchy sides with my dinners. No more potatoes or mac ‘n’ cheese. I made larger salads with more veggies and often added hard boiled egg white for protein. I cut out all pasta – this was the toughest thing to do, considering I would normally make it 2-3 times a week – did I mention I’m a gourmet cook and specialize in Italian food?

Oy.

One way around the pasta-less diet was to prepare some of the same sauces for pasta and have them only with the meatballs, sausage or seafood. I’d up the amount of meat and add sun dried tomatoes and/or mozzarella to thicken the sauce. Eventually I cut back on cheese since I wanted to avoid cholesterol.

I read labels studiously and figured I probably cut my carbs by 90% or so – I’d have a fiber-loaded cereal bar in the morning or a banana, but that was about it. No desserts except for small amounts of dark chocolate now and then.  Plain yogurt with actual fruit instead of the flavored kind. The other helpful thing has been a high protein shake I’d get at costco that, along with almonds or peanuts, would pretty much be lunch. Dinner would consist of some meat with spices, sauces, veggies and a salad. No beer, but wine was okay, also the occasional Jack Daniels and water with a touch of lemon. Can’t have a good meal without a drink.

Oh, and lots of beans. Not only are they low carb and high fiber and help lower blood pressure, but evidently living with all my farts has added years to my life, according to a new study.

10-best-meals-in-the-movies-4

Made a lot of varied en papillote recipes – basically, I’d spice up some beans or lentils (spices, chopped tomatoes, etc) and use them as a bed for seasoned/herbed medallions of boneless chicken or fish, drizzle with olive oil (that keeps it all moist), and seal in a foil pouch in a 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes (chicken) and 20-30 minutes (white fish). This & a salad made a solid dinner.

I watched my weight come down, slowly but steadily, after an initial faster clip (not sure why that happened, there’s probably some medical explanation for it). Lost 7 pounds in the first two weeks, and then about 5 pounds a month for the 2 months following. Then I started to ease carbs back in, even pasta, only in smaller portions than before. I’ve been maintaining the weight.

I cut back on salt for the blood pressure, but I’ve never been a huge salt consumer, and a blood test showed normal sodium levels.  I upped the amount of potassium in my diet by eating more bananas (despite the carbs in ’em) and spinach.  I’ve been taking two different supplements that supposedly lower blood pressure – turmeric (also from costco) and COQ10. I take small amounts of each with my usual vitamin in the morning. I have NO idea if they’ve been having an effect along with the diet & exercise, but I have no side effects from them and feel fine. The turmeric supplement mimics eating a lot of Indian food I guess, and COQ10 is produced by your body anyway, usually boosted by meat eating. 200 mgs every morning is all I take.

Quite fine, in fact. A month after I started this, my blood pressure was 135/75. A couple of weeks later, it was 125/70.

And the other day, I weighed in at 17 pounds lighter with a bp of 115/65. SCORE!!!!

Though if it drops below 90/50 and Hawkeye starts pounding my chest while screaming “Don’t let the bastard win!” I guess I’ll alter my routine.

Why am I posting this? Well, I figure I must have readers who want to knock their own numbers down. This worked well for me, it might work for others. This required a consistent discipline, but once I got used to the dietary change after a few days, it wasn’t that big a deal to alter my grocery shopping slightly and to get more creative with some recipes. I knew once I hit my target weight I’d have my beer and pasta back, but I’d have to be mindful of them and moderate. I’ll have to keep the discipline as far as the exercise goes, but I don’t see how that’s a bad thing – I like going for walks.

All without meds. Hopefully it will stay that way.

Your mileage may vary – but good luck with this – it worked for me, and I’m not selling or endorsing anything for a royalty (DAMMIT!!!! I want that MONEY!!!!)

A Resolution For 2014 January 1, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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secofwar

… is to get back to posting on this blog.

I’ve been away from it a while, busy with a lot of other crap (mostly my big move and subsequent Casa De Wagstaff set-up), but since I need to get into big-time writin’ mode as the second Wagstaff mystery novel is one of my 2014 goals, I’ve resolved to post to this thing at least once a week – might be a film review, a music blog, something about food, sports, TV, more cat comics, a rant, whatever.

Just something to keep things fresh.

The new abode is pretty much set up now & I finally organized a lot of the ENDLESS CRAP I had boxed up to either unpack, stow for future assignment, or begin to (eek!) unload on ebay since it’s not giving me any jollies all packed away. May as well as pay it forward (at a price, of course!)

Oh, and the next Wagstaff mystery? Coming together nicely, thank you very much.

Unpacking June 6, 2013

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Addams406I know, I know…. I’ve been AWOL from this blog for far too long, but now I’ve FINALLY movcd in to the spankin’ new Casa de Wagstaff.

Perhaps I should give the home a name the way millionaires name their mansions. Perhaps I should cut to the chase and call it “You kids stay off my lawn or I’ll kill you all.”

I’ll be unpacking the TWO TONS of friggin’ boxes of books for the next few days & setting up the remainder of the place. So no Belmont Predictions this year. Considering how well I did on the Kentucky Derby, I’d be pretty useless anyway.

Movie reviews forthcoming… in the meantime, as they post on construction sites “Pardon My Dust,” although I usually post that as a sign on my schmeckel so the hooker can read something if she gets bored. Hiyo!

Yes, with high-larity like that, I’m sure you’ll be back for those movie blogs… and an eclectic mix it’ll be, unless you’ve always imagined Olsen & Johnson appearing in Star Trek.

Stay tuned!