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My Wedding Toast To My Brother

…(pause for 10 seconds) See! Now he’s all nervous…worried about what I’m going to say…
Traditionally, this is in two parts; a short speech to the couple, and then a toast to their wedding and for a successful marriage.
I want to do it in three parts.
I’ll talk to each of the couple. I’ll talk about the marriage. And I’ll give them a toast.
First, I want to talk to Suzy about Greg.
To understand my brother, you must first understand the Cheeto.
Cheetos are colorful, they are flavorful, they are fattening, and you can never get enough of them. And you can’t get them out of the sofa once they’re in it, either.
And everyone loves them.
So once you truly understand the Cheeto, you’ll understand Greg.
Now I want to talk to Greg about Suzy.
Bro, we’ve always been told that as men, we want girls. You went out looking for a girl, and you somehow found a woman. Guys like girls because they’re cute (Suzy is beautiful); because they play with us (Suzy will make a life with you) and because they don’t demand much (Suzy will demand everything you have and more). And for everything they demand, they’ll give back more than you can imagine.
We’re here to celebrate their wedding – Greg and Suzy’s formal and public statement that they are a family.
It’s a funny thing; for much of my life I wasn’t very interested in family. I had other things that occupied my attention and my heart.
That’s not true today, and one thing I want to do is to publicly thank my brother for that.
He has always been the glue that cemented our wacky tribe. He’s been on the phone, in our faces, sleeping on our couch.
He’s the one who taught me to wrestle with my sons, who taught me that play is probably the most important part of being a parent, that fun is the most important part of being a partner, and that laughter is the real tie that cements us as a family.
He taught me that a family is a place where you can be regardless – angry, sad, happy, successful, frustrated, scared, whatever – that it was somewhere where there was always room at the table, always someone on the other end of the phone, always someone to share your burdens or joys.
It wasn’t an easy lesson. I’ve got stories, and we’ve both got scars.
But he’s always been there for me, and I’m happiest of all to be here for him today.
I’m happy to see Suzy join him and give him a true home. I’m happy to have Suzy as a part of my family, and to be a part of hers.
And I’ll leave that as my final toast:
To our families, together always.
To Suzy and Greg, my sister and brother.


Inspired by a link to Tedman’s blog I found on LA Blogs, I decided to come up with a quick list of my own favorite restaurants in L.A. and what I remember (not looking at menus, so if I’m wrong, sorry) as my favorite dish.
In alphabetical (hence no particular) order:
Chez Melange, 1716 South Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach
Great, imaginative upscale food in a motel restaurant on a nondescript commercial street a mile from my house. Discovering this place made moving to the South Bay from Venice a lot easier. Come for the Sunday brunch, eggs and smoked salmon sound boring but they make kind of Platonic version of them.
Chinois on Main, 2709 Main Street, Santa Monica
Seems like it’s been here since everyone in L.A. had a BMW and a coke habit; the food is more than good enough – you won’t think it’s original, but along with the much-missed Restaurant Lyon, it defined California pan-ethnic cuisine. Catfish, duck…
Four Oaks, 2181 North Beverly Glen Boulevard, Bel-Air
Beautiful, quiet, slightly better-than-decent food, but an amazing date restaurant when you’re old enough to want a quiet, romantic evening. Salmon cakes.
Gallo’s Grill, 4533 Cesar E. Chavez Ave
Awesome Mexican grill. Get the arrechera asada. Cheap, superb, if only they had beer. Well worth the drive, even from our place..
Geoffrey’s, 27400 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
When people visiting from out of town ask for a ‘quintessential L.A. restaurant,’ I suggest this one, secluded in a canyon above the beach in Malibu. The food and service are not quite as good as they used to be (but try the tuna tempura); but it’s such a pleasant place to eat that I still enjoy it. Plus a bunch of my friends were in a movie there…there’s a key scene in the movie ‘The Player’ that takes place there, and the cycling team from Ernie’s was in the shot.
Gutter, 5621 North Figueroa Street, Los Angeles
The anti-Geoffrey’s. A perfect restraurant for a great old punk venue located in a bowling alley (Mr. T’s). Try the hippie scramble, and the homemade ketchup.
Hal’s, 1349 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice
High-end yuppie comfort food. When I lived in Venice, we used to try and walk there once a week…one advantage of being an armed liberal. Great food, comfortable atmosphere, great grown-up bar scene.
Hide Sushi, 2040 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles
No atmosphere, no rock n’ roll, no attitude, just amazingly good sushi at semi-reasonable prices.
Hu’s Schezewan, 10450 National Boulevard, West L.A.
At the corner of National and National (really!) is this great neighborhood Chinese restaurant. try the Schezewan dumplings, and save the garlic sauce to pour on your rice. Then General Tso’s chicken.
Mimosa, 8009 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles
I want to resent this hangout of the beautiful people, but I can’t because the food is so damn delicious. Old-school French, with the intensity of flavor that I remember from France. Cassoulet!
Ocean Seafood, 3209 North Broadway, Los Angeles
The dim-sum mother ship. Try the crunchy shrimp in salt…all feet and eyes.
Paco’s Tacos, 4141 South Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles
Homey local Mexican chain. Hand-made flour tortillas, do I need to say more?
Phillip’s BBQ, 4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles
Burnt ends. Hot links. No seats, just carry-out. I never make it home, so we just eat at the side of the road.
Riviera Mexican Grill, 1615 South Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach
Funky surfer reinvention of a Mexican restaurant. Nothing authentic at all, but damn good. Smoked chicken burritos…
Tacos Delta, 3806 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles
As authentically Mexican as it gets. Amazing carne asada gorditas.
Taylor’s Prime Steaks, 3361 West 8th Street, Los Angeles
I keep looking for Jack Vincennes. The culotte steak, slightly more than medium. Straight out of Ellroy’s L.A.
The Pit, 5309 South Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles
Brisket sandwiches, ribs. Oh…and burnt ends. You can sit and eat here, so even though I like the BBQ at Phillip’s a bit more, I can get a more immediate fix here.
The Shack, 185 Culver Blvd. Playa del Rey
Shack-burger. Polish sausage and a cheeseburger; why didn’t someone else think of this? Don’t go to the depressingly yuppified Santa Monica location; head down to the beach at Playa.
Woo Lae Oak, 623 South Western Avenue, Los Angeles
Korean BBQ. My martial-arts school used to have banquets there; whiskey and kimchi weren’t designed to be consumed together. The kinchi/scallion pancake is memorable, as are the short ribs.
Zankou Chicken (all over town)
Armenian roasted chicken…the garlic paste…the garlic paste…
That’s just off the top of my head…I’m sure you’ve got some suggestions to leave in the comments…


As I prepare some comments on Israeli WMD’s to put up over at Winds of Change, it occurs to me that my own heritage becomes something that I should disclose, to allow readers to make a judgment on whether my own ethnic or religious affiliations might have something to do with my positions (I don’t think they do, but I don’t necessarily get to make that call).
I’m a mutt. When asked, I typically identify myself as “a Californian”.
My father’s family were German Jews who left for the United States in the late 19th Century, but they didn’t practice, and I’m not sure if my father was even bar-mitvah’ed. His own spiritual affiliations were much more Eastern, as befits his personal beliefs…which can best and most simply be described as Beatnik. I read my first D.T. Suzuki book at his house when I was a young teen, and his circle of friends included a preponderance of jazz musicians, poets, and horseplayers.
My mother’s family were in part Hispanic, with a strong mixture of Native American and some random other strains that changed as I listened to the oft-changing stories of my various relatives. Like my father, my mother stepped away from her family and their culture as fast and hard as she could; she never spoke Spanish in my presence, and to my knowledge can’t. She has reinvented herself as a Southern California charitable figure, and a strong participant in her nontraditional Eastern religion.
The feature common to both of them was their efforts to personally step away from their heritage and to reinvent themselves as Californians.
As a child, the strongest adult figures I remember include three men who worked for my father, and who had a strong role in raising me when my divorced parents were otherwise occupied. Each was a senior blue-collar worker, at the boundary between management (my dad) and labor (the teams that worked for them).
Robert (never “Bob”) was a sandy blonde from Kentucky who made sure I knew all the lyrics to “Tennessee Stud” by the time I was ten, introduced me to Bob Wills and Johnny Cash, and explained to me as he bandaged my hands after a fight at school that you never hit the hard parts with your hands, you used your forehead, elbows, or better still, a hard object you picked up close at hand.
Theodis was from the back country in Louisiana, where his black – never “Negro” – sharecropper father had raised ten children on hand-me-downs, help from the church, and damn hard work. Theoidis’ main lesson to me was that no matter how hard or smart I worked by myself, the job couldn’t get done unless everyone on the team helped. Five of us kids were hired one summer, to pick up trash and sweep the concrete slabs on one of the jobsites, and as the son of the boss, getting the work done somehow became my responsibility.
Joe was one of Theodis’ brothers, and I’ll save him for last because he took special responsibility for me. Joe showed me that a man works even when he’s tired, and goes home when he’s done, not before. When I was hungry he showed me that a belly full of water would hold you for a few hours until he could take me out to eat – it wasn’t until much later that it occurred to me how that lesson had come to him and what it said about his growing up and how present hunger must have been. His family ate damn well, and sat together every night at the table for dinner, talking, and didn’t eat while playing or watching TV or walking around the neighborhood, and so does my family now.
Somehow, my own heritage is – in my mind at least – a crazy conjunction of all these things.
In West L.A., old Jewish men want to introduce me to their doctor daughters.
In East L.A., people approach and address me in Spanish.
I’ve been pulled off of the San Diego – Los Angeles train after a 140 mile bicycle ride down there because my skin was dark, I was unshowered and smelled, and when asleep I couldn’t respond to the questions of the Border Patrol agent.
When I lived in Paris with my first wife, everyone was convinced that I was Lebanese.
In Wisconsin with my second wife, everyone thought I was down from the rez. (they thought I was Native American)
In Corsica, everyone was convinced I was Corsican, and when I went on to Sardinia, everyone there thought I was Corsican too, until we checked into a luxury hotel where they were convinced I was an Arab.
I’ll admit to enjoying this confusion.
Somehow I see it as an advantage, but as a Californian I – like many of my compatriots – believe in the power of reinvention, and that I’m not a slave to my heritage – or heritages, in my case.

On a Day of Gigantic Events, a Small Tragedy

I talked here of a friend of mine who managed to get himself into trouble with the law.
Well, his sentencing was dragged out as the DA and police tried to use the evidence he gave against some larger fish, and then he had bariatric surgery (he was morbidly obese, and knew it), but then he missed our housewarming and stopped answering emails.
I got a call from a mutual friend on Monday, mentioning that he’d missed work for a few days, and wondered if he’d been sentenced and it hadn’t gone well and he hadn’t the heart to call us to see him off. But it was weird that he was so out of contact, so I offered to stop by his apartment on my way home from work the next day; he said no, he’d stop by on his way in to work in the morning instead.
No one answered, but he got the neighbors concerned enough to call the police, who broke in and found his body. I just got the calls from his friends and family.
I don’t know any details (we’re working to get the Coroner to expedite their processes to allow a funeral when his family gets here this weekend), but I’d assume it was natural causes.
He lived alone in a slightly shabby apartment building near the airport; his apartment was immaculate, nicely furnished, with a beautiful fish tank that he labored over.
Somehow, it’s heartbreaking to me to think of him dying alone in his apartment, not found for days. I think that’s a hard image because we expect to live and die surrounded by friends and family.
And it’s sad to think that he ended his adult life in trouble with the law – the way he began it.
But from talking to him, I got to know how far he came from the youthful rage with which he must have lived as a young gang member. The man I knew was thoughtful, considerate, and gentle.
And he stands as a lesson to me of the waste that the remaining racial divide in America represents; I used to call him “Senator”, simultaneously teasing him about the political dreams he had confided to me and acknowledging that he had the tools to make it happen. I always told him that Fitzgerald was wrong; that there could be second acts here in America. I wonder what his life would have been like if his childhood had been mine, and what he could have added to the world.


People know how little I think of ‘SkyBox’ Gray Davis. But two recent news stories show him an even less favorable light.
We know he lied about the budget deficit before the election.
Now he’s lying about the causes of the deficit. From the Sacramento Bee, when Dan Weintrab sets him straight:

The important fact about the treatment of energy purchases as loans is that they did not affect, in the slightest, how Gov. Gray Davis and legislators fashioned a state budget in 2001 or 2002. While they may have created a cash-flow squeeze, requiring additional outside borrowing, the energy loans had absolutely no effect on the budget itself, as state budget officials repeatedly pointed out at the time. Some Republican legislators suggested that the energy outlays be treated as budget outlays, rather than as loans, but the dominant Democrats rejected that suggestion because it would have sharply curtailed other spending.
This bit of fiscal history is being offered because Davis, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and other state officials have decided to rewrite it to serve their own political purposes. The false account of what happened is contained in filings this week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, supporting their assertion that California was ripped off during the energy crisis by energy generators and brokers.

So, basically, we got mugged by the energy providers. And, having blown our paycheck at the stripper bar, we’re looking at our domestic partner sadly, and explaining that we’d have brought the paycheck home if only we hadn’t been hit on the head.

That’s a deliberate lie. There’s no other term for it because Davis, Lockyer and the others who filed the papers with FERC know the truth. It’s a lie that not only bolsters their case with FERC for refunds, but one that also, in effect, acquits Davis and legislators of responsibility for the budget crisis that did develop in 2001.
The budget crisis occurred because Davis and lawmakers of both parties foolishly succumbed to political pressure from various interest groups to cut taxes and raise spending when state revenues suddenly spiked upward in 2000, even though they knew that the windfall could be a one-time occurrence. It was just a one-time revenue boost, as it turned out, but because spending had been ratcheted upward and multibillion-dollar tax cuts had been enacted, the state was left with a huge “structural deficit” between income and outgo. The current estimates of the problem, something in the $26 billion to $35 billion range, are the accumulated deficits of the past two budgets, plus the projected shortfall for the next fiscal year.

I don’t have trouble with Gray Davis because he’s liberal, or because he’s a Democrat, or because he shoves his staff members around when annoyed. I have trouble witH him because there was never a state policy he wouldn’t rent for a campaign contribution, or a state issue where he’d directly sit down with us – the voters he’s here to serve – and tell us the truth except when it served his immediate political interests.
Sorry, Ann, but this is just too damn much. But wait! There’s more!
Despite the fiscal crisis, and the fact that the jobs of teachers, home health workers (but not prison guards!) are on the block, ‘SkyBox’ always has room on the payroll for a few good men and women – who worked hard on his campaign. From the normally supine L.A. Times (intrusive registration required, use ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’):

As California’s budget problems leave the prospect of freezes and layoffs hanging over tens of thousands of state employees, many of the people who worked on Gov. Gray Davis’ reelection campaign have been given new government jobs or promotions.
At least 21 of the governor’s campaign workers have been either hired into new state jobs or have received promotions despite the current hiring freeze and a call by Davis to cut half a billion dollars annually out of salary and benefit packages for public employees.
Sometimes their salaries come out of the very departments facing cuts that will be directly felt by the public — areas such as environmental protection, disease research and child protection services — even though most of the employees actually work on the governor’s support staff.

After all, who’s gonna take care of his Presidential campaign??
Look, it always happens that good election staff get jobs. That’s the normal deal. But at this moment in time, it’s disgusting. And that’s why I’ll never support Gray Davis for anything, ever.


I’m a gearhead, and have been one for as long as I can remember. Colin Chapman was my hero as a preteen, and I have great memories of forcing my poor dad to take me to Can Am races back in the glory days of Bruce McLaren and Jim Hall.
In high school, I worked in a race-car shop to pay off the bills for the suspension and engine work I had done to my Austin Cooper S so I could race it more successfully in autocrosses (and on Mulholland Drive).
I’ve had BMW’s (including a M5), Saabs, and a variety of other cool vehicles…including a proto-SUV, a Toyota FJ60 Land Cruiser.
I’m laying this out so that when I criticize SUV’s you don’t think I’m some kind of hair-shirt environmentalist who believes that we should all drive Suzuki Swifts running on recycled french-fry oil. I’m not. The smell of carb solvent is actually kind of pleasant to me (even though I wear gloves now when I handle it), and one wonderful thing about Tenacious G is that she doesn’t go ballistic when I wash small parts in the kitchen sink.
I love vehicles, and love good design and good engineering wherever I can find it.
And when I bought my Land Cruiser, I bought it for many of the reasons people buy SUV’s today.
I had driven an Acura before that, and had been tail-ended hard enough to require knee surgery by an unlicensed, uninsured woman in a Buick. When the car was totaled, I determined to replace it with something safer.
And I worked in a highly status-conscious industry, where my peers competed to own the most expensive and exotic vehicles. So I tried a sidestep and bought something that at the time had no slot in the status curve…a truck.
The Land Cruiser model I had was bare-bones; cloth and exposed metal in the interior, manual transmission and windows, it was the furthest thing from the leather-lined luxury cars my peers drove.
And it was safe; I had an accident in which a Mercedes driver threw his door open in front of me; I probably did $15,000 in damage to his car. The rubber end cap for the bumper cost $25 to replace.
People got out of my way; at the time, vehicles that size were fairly unusual, and merging onto the 110 was suddenly much easier.
Plus Moby (it was white) was just damn cool. The FJ60 series had that hard-to-define elegance that good design always has.
It did have some drawbacks. It got 14mpg highway or street. It was more than a bit hard to park, and had the turning radius of a semi. My wife tore her skirts getting into it all the time. It was slow. The suspension was so stiff that it make my sons carsick regularly…we re-nicknamed it ‘the Chuck Wagon’.
I had driven back and forth to the Bay Area almost weekly when I was in college; I could drive my BMW 2002ti from Berkeley to LA in five hours, have dinner, go out, and still have some energy left over to dance for a while.
Driving Moby to SF was tiring. It took seven hours. When we got there, we were a bit spent. At first I thought it was just age; then we drove up with a friend in their Mercedes, and realized that the car was fatiguing us. It was noisy, rough, slow, and steered vaguely enough to require constant focus and attention.
And one day we caught a ride in a Taurus wagon taxicab and realized that it was almost as large inside as the Land Cruiser. It even had a rearward facing jumpseat so we could seat two more kids.
And we started thinking about it. We’d had Moby for seven years, and it looked like it would run another seven easily. But it was worth almost as much as we’d paid new for it, and the hassles were starting to add up.
So we sold it, and bought a Taurus wagon. I also sold my M5 and bought a Mustang convertible. Part of this was about my giving up on the idea of a car as a status object – heresy here in L.A., I know. But I was tired of working to pay for something that basically impressed parking valets.
But a part of it was just the realization that while the Land Cruiser was a brilliant piece of machinery for running safaris in Kenya, or for hauling journalists in Afghanistan, it wasn’t really a good solution to transporting a family living in Los Angeles.
And over the following years, as I saw more and more people move to Suburbans, and Expeditions, and Excursions, I’d occasionally scratch my head.
My neighbors both had Tahoes (mini-Suburbans) at one point; we all went skiing to Mammoth together (us in our Taurus), and while they could carry more than we could, it wasn’t very much more at all.
And the front-wheel drive of the Taurus worked fine in the six inches of snow that we faced.
Ultimately, we had Littlest Guy and went from two sons to three, and decided we wanted something bigger. We looked at a Suburban, and then bought an Aerostar minivan. It was bigger inside, cheap to run, relatively easy to drive. I went through a couple of years with no car at all, just a motorcycle and rental cars, and then when we divorced, bought a Subaru Outback.
I wanted a slightly macho wagon, didn’t want to spend the $$ to get an Audi or BMW, and just wasn’t in touch with my inner Soccer Mom enough to drive a Taurus again. The Outback was as big as a Forerunner or other midsize SUV inside, and drove brilliantly…I managed to shock more than a few sports cars with it.
When Tenacious G and I got together, we decided we needed a big car again, and looked once again at SUV’s and decided to buy an Odyssey minivan. It drove far better than a Suburban, was as big inside, smaller outside, got better gas mileage, and was better built. As soon as TG lets me supercharge it, it will be the perfect urban family vehicle.
So my objection to SUV’s isn’t aesthetic, it isn’t moral, it’s functional.
If I lived in Wyoming, and had two miles of dirt road to cover on my way to drop the kids at school then head to the office – and two months a year it was six inches of muck, and four months a year six to twelve inches of snow – my old FJ60 or one of the modern ‘upscale’ replacements would begin to make sense. And that’s exactly what’s being sold with each SUV – the image that you don’t live on a curved street in a suburb in Thousand Oaks, but on the old family homestead in rural Wyoming.
And in buying the ‘image’ of the SUV, folks are like the self-deluding people who believe that wearing Ralph Lauren will suddenly give them a generations-old family place on the Cape. The style isn’t the thing.
And for a true gearhead, the idea of buying image over function just doesn’t sit well.


You know how, if you kind of know you way around mechanically, you decide whether to have the disc brake rotors on your car turned when you’re going to do the brakes?
You check to see if they’re warped, and whether they have been scored by the old pads.
You shouldn’t, however, drive home down a 1,000 foot hill, pull into your driveway, get out of the car, and reach past the mag wheels to run your fingers over the (hot!! damn!! damn hot!! really damn hot!!) rotor.
I’ll be typing with my left hand for a day or so until the blisters on my fingertips go down…


My post on France is attracting lots of intelligent discussion from the French:

It’s all bullshit …
all of you, french, americans …
We can talk about all the errors ours gouvernments made but …
It’s not the story.
The story is WAR ….
Murders, people dying …
lots of death people …
300.000 iraqian soldiers …
and how many children ????
do you want another Vietnam war ?
It’s all about politic, economical situation, …
But we’re talking about iraquians mens and womens who are, for the most part, innocents.
Indeed, all people, french too, are for changing iraquian gouvernment.
But please, NO WAR, we don’t need it.

And in French, this:


A rough translation:

Go fuck yourselves, gang of the fat Blair! One who belives Bush and all his administration bathe in Iraqui gas.

Both, unsurprisingly are from fake email addresses – “” and “salecond@meri.cain” (dirty, stupid @merican).
Look mes beaux types (dear guys), right now the U.S. is highly annoyed at France. There’s going to be a war, and at the end of it, we’ll either figure out how to be allies again … or not. I’d like us to be allies, which is why I hammer Americans who make outrageous statements about France. I’d suggest that you will need American allies as well…and this m’emmerder (pisses me off).


Sorry for dropping out of sight like that; got another invite to go up to the mountains and ski with Tenacious G and Middle Guy, and took it…of course I got sick with la grippe Friday, and spent most of the weekend wrapped in a quilt on the sofa of my friend’s condo.
I did get a half-day of skiing in, and managed a Warren Miller-worthy crash on Dave’s Run. You know you’ve crashed well when, after you (finally) get to a stop, you hear a soft voice from above you going “Duuuude! You OK?
So I had no Internet connection, but managed to read a couple of books (the new William Gibson, Pattern Recognition, and Jay Walters’ and Dan Walter’s great The Third House: Lobbyists, Power, and Money in Sacramento).
I’m back, will work on the ‘Risk’ stuff and catch up to all the world’s events, plus all the comments.
With all that, a nice weekend…


My hometown…from today’s Daily Breeze:

A Torrance stamp and coin shop dealer shot and wounded a would-be armed robber Thursday, prompting support from neighbors who said the criminal “picked the wrong guy” to hold up.
The 79-year-old owner, reportedly robbed three or four times in the past year, fired one shot at the gunman at 1:50 p.m., hitting him in the hip. The suspected robber, Joshua Edward Reyes, 20, of Torrance was booked at County-USC Medical Center jail ward in Boyle Heights, Torrance police Lt. Patrick Shortall said.

Shortall said the shooting appears to be a “robbery that was interrupted by the victim.” Police will present their reports on the shooting to the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether the shooting was self-defense.
The shooting was the second time in less than a year that a downtown Torrance business owner fired a gun at a robber.

The crime rate in Torrance (12.7/1000) is 43% of the rate in Los Angeles, and 75% of the rate in Beverly Hills.
“robbery that was interrupted by the victim.” Has kind of a good sound to it.
I have a correspondent who forwards me, using fake email addresses, stories about tragedies involving people hurting others with guns. I know, and we all know, about these because they are well-reported in the press.
In much of the country, stories like this one seldom get reported.
So, mystery correspondent, this one’s for you.