Category Archives: California

Animal Wrangler

Caution:  Proceed only if you are a fan of dogs and or old situation comedies.

I cannot wait to file my 2006 income tax returns.  I am in no hurry to part with the money, particularly given some of the things the current administration is spending it on, but I finally have an interesting answer to put in the space reserved for occupation.  I am an animal wrangler.  Alas, I am not one of the highly paid professionals that work on movie sets. In fact I am not paid at all, but it is where I spend much of my time and meager talents.

When we moved from Minnesota in Clampett family style, we brought Stella the insane boxer, who is best remembered for breaking my nose in a sledding accident in Lowry Hill (see HLP March, 1998).  Moving to California, the formerly allergy-plagued, ravenously hungry, Prednisone-dependent dog went cold turkey, and was reborn.  Shedding the demons that plagued her, she has emerged a mellow, well-behaved, loving, and mature pet.  Taking advantage of the climate and a fenced-in back yard, Stella moved outdoors.  Against our better judgment we adopted Cowboy, a rescued boxer, to be Stella’s (un) stable mate.

Last summer our daughter married Daniel, a wonderful young New Zealander.   I was pleasantly surprised that while he had no strong feelings about the designated hitter rule, or why Pete Rose did not belong in the Hall of Fame, we did share an enthusiasm for animals.  During their engagement, Daniel spent a lot of time playing with Stella and Cowboy.  I figured that he was just being polite and that wrestling with the dogs was easier than listening to me talk about American politics.  Still I could not help but be impressed with my future son-in-law’s rapport with Cowboy who, in California-speak, exhibited serious trust issues.  Only Daniel could lure Cowboy out of hiding and get him to play.

JoAnne and I were nevertheless surprised when the newly married couple announced they were planning to add to their family.  Within a month of the wedding, they had adopted Sunny Bear, a Chow/Shepherd/Lab mix.  Sunny is a sprite, a wholly benign but mischievous spirit who immediately won over Cowboy and Stella.  A month ago the kids again returned from the shelter, this time with a portly, jolly, full-grown yellow lab they named Cooper.

Because the kids travel a lot, we frequently have all four dogs.  We are fortunate to have a decent sized yard and a dog door, but still there are challenges.  Cowboy, like Radar O’Reilly, can sense Sunny’s arrival.  The buzz and subsequent hysteria she unleashes (no pun) creates a fervor usually reserved for aging rock stars or banana republic dictators.  Sunny quickly gets caught up in the madness and responds by leaping wildly and licking everyone in sight.  Soon all three dogs are rolling around and speaking in tongues.

Suddenly the revelry is interrupted as Cooper appears.  Cowboy is Barney Fife to Stella’s calmer Sheriff Andy Taylor.  To Cowboy, Cooper is Lee Harvey Oswald.  JoAnne and I need to escort him passed the barking blur.  There is chaos, snarling, and threats.  Relations are getting better, but we need to make moves that Boris Spassky would envy in order to give everyone bathroom breaks and meals.  When the doorbell rings all bets are off.  Each dog responds as if the Spanish Inquisition has made a house call.

All this reminds me of a favorite moment in the old “News Radio” episode in which eccentric billionaire and station owner Jimmy James (Steven Root) is bankrolling and starring in a vanity project, a film purporting to tell The Jimmy James Story.  The station manager asks how the filming is going.  Jimmy responds that so far they have three hours of him feeding his dogs. “Three hours of you feeding dogs!?” exclaims an incredulous and skeptical Dave.  Jimmy responds matter-of-factly, “I got a lotta dogs.”

Our lives are busy and fulfilling, and the only way to make them better would be to add you, my friends and the great folks from the neighborhood that will always be our home.


Tom H. Cook remains in exile in Redondo Beach, CA, despite the lure of the new Walker and “coming” improvements to the path on Lake of the Isles.  Watch for Sunny and Cooper’s parents on the TNT miniseries “Into The West” this June and July.  



I believe I accidentally stumbled on an idea for the next reality television show.  Last month I was trying to figure out what Southern California types do with their old and odd, out of  fashion, worn, obsolete, and eccentric stuff.   I awoke one Saturday (at an hour that only Francis Scott Key would find inspiring) to search for things I do not need at prices I cannot turn down.

What I witnessed was whole families in pick-up trucks or aging vans trolling the  neighborhood at great speed.  They represent the countries of the Pacific Rim, India, Africa, Central and South America.  They are recent immigrants trying to survive off the fat of the land.  What is sport in Minneapolis is serious business in L.A.

These clever and resourceful people, sometimes referred to in a less than flattering manner as “coyotes,”  scour garage sales as far away as Malibu, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley.  I learned that much of what they purchase on Saturday finds its way on Monday to Roadium, an open air market located in a former drive-in movie theater in Torrance, California.  Roadium is a mix of Tijuana, Calcutta, and Bloomingdale’s basement.  Like Rick’s Café in “Casablanca” everyone with something to sell or trade ends up there.

I began thinking,  “What a reality show.”  There is a strong “Survivor” component as well as the entrepreneurial element of “The Apprentice.” If this were on TV, camera crews would accompany “teams” of foragers on Saturday morning, and the action would pick up again on Monday as they attempt to sell their wares.  You would need a heart of stone not to root for each of the families.

The colorful atmosphere at Rodium would be a natural for TV. It feels so Third Worldly, if someone were to approach you and ask to see your passport, your first inclination would be to reach for your pocket.  There is music and chatter everywhere.  The only English you hear is the cry “One dollar, one dollar…”  There are also vendors—some there more long term– who sell wedding dresses, Chinese bras, Hawaiian shirts, dresses designed for Charro, car parts, cosmetics, not yet expired vitamins, dented canned goods, DVDs, exotic birds, and coffins.

The drama is the “Coyotes”  who come only when they are able to raise the $35 or more for a square of asphalt.   Their life is a difficult one.  Not only do they cover many miles and pick through tons of stuff, but they must arrive at Roadium early and bid against others for the choicest spots to set up.  A prime location purchased from the management may change hands a number of times during the informal auction that follows.  Bidding takes place furiously in many languages with the winner sometimes having to pay $200 before they make a sale.  The only rule seems to be that anyone who says a word in English is disqualified and has to go home.

The next activity is “What’s in the van?”  A vendor who acquires a good spot may suddenly need more inventory.  An instant auction ensues with goods acquired on Saturday changing hands again before it even hits the asphalt.  This is pure capitalism with a splash of “The Antiques Road Show” thrown in.  At the end of the day Donald Trump would come out and congratulate the winner and offer him an easier job, like running one of his companies.  I believe I would call it “Survival In The Marketplace” since television is more comfortable with spin-offs.

Roadium is fascinating.  It is similar to Hester Street and the Lower East Side of eighty years ago: recent immigrants who are shut out of the traditional venues of commerce, without a stake or connections, working long hours to gain a foothold into the middleclass.  Sound familiar?


Tom H. Cook has one child graduating from college, and another getting married, yet he writes about stuff.  His wife warns him that his regular “Trash Eve” forays are destined to lead him to his next career.

Multiple Choice

Now that I am teaching English in a high school, every situation is a potential multiple-choice question.  For example:

  1.  Tom and JoAnne live in a small beach house near the Pacific Ocean.  What would most enhance their appreciation of Southern California living
    a.  two one-speed bubble tire “beach cruiser” bicycle
    b.   a six-person hot tub set in a secluded back yard
    c.   a blue Miata convertible circa 1990
    d.   a backyard chimenea (fireplace) for ocean-cooled evenings
    e.   Teresa, JoAnne’s mother, taking up permanent residence in the guest room

If you answered “e” to Question 1, please proceed to Questions 2-10.

2. Teresa is a sweet 80 year old grandmother whose hobbies include

a.  folding plastic bags
b.  ironing
c.  collecting string
d.  cutting strips of cloth into string
e.  all of the above

3.  Her ideal room temperature is

a.  98.6
b.  the same as curing ham
c.  not calculable in Celsius
d.  warm, for anyone not living directly on the Equator
e.  one that would produce Cumulous clouds and aerographic precipitation

4.  As a child of the Great Depression she is

a.  thrifty
b.  economical
c.  adverse to throwing anything away
d.  able to find multiple uses for old stockings
e.  so tight she squeaks

5.   A hearty lunch consists of

a.  the bruised portion of a pear and one half of a Grape Nuts individual cereal pack
b.  the heel of a loaf of whole wheat bread with every seed carefully removed
c.  the doggie bag from a restaurant meal
d.  the doggie bag leftovers Part II
e.  half a breakfast bar carefully saved from an airplane flight (2002)

6.   If you need a calendar (to keep track of your medication) it is best to

a.  attempt to draw one on scrap paper
b.  have someone drive you from bank to bank to see if anyone is giving them out
c.  use a discarded one from 2003 , figure out the formula and hope it is not Leap Year
d.  wait until they are almost free in April and look for a damaged one the store will deep        discount
e.  work clockwise and find seven flat surfaces.  Put a day’s worth of pills on each.  If this is      the dresser it must be Tuesday

7.  If  I am napping soundly on the couch, Teresa will

a.  tiptoe and hover about so quietly I wake up
b.  wake me to ask if I am comfortable or would I like a firmer pillow
c.  state that I do not look comfortable and would I like my feet tucked in
d.  wake me from a dead sleep to ask if I want the television turned off
e.  wake me to ask if I know I am sleeping as she wouldn’t want me to get in trouble for            missing something.  She does not realize it is Sunday because the cat has knocked her        pills off of the end table and I forgot to bring home a calendar from work.

8.  If you spill a small amount of salt it can be saved in

a.  a square of wax paper
b.  an empty pre-rinsed individual mustard container
c.  a corner of aluminum foil
d.  a tiny Tupperware container
e.  almost anything.  The problem is someone else finding it and not knowing what it is and throwing it away only to be asked the next time you are taking a nap where the little bit of salt that was in the cabinet could be.

9.  Teresa is saving her money for

a.  her old age
b.  my old age
c.  the Chinese Year of The Dog
d.  the Apocalypse
e.  the next George Bush administration

10.  A bowl of ice cream must be eaten until

a.  sparks fly from the eating utensil
b.  much of the glaze in the bowl has been loosened
c.  DNA testing could no longer determine the flavor ice cream
d.  the bowl is cleaner than most dishwashers could get it
e.  the bowl is forcibly wrenched from her hands and filled again with ice cream

Tom H. Cook, a long time Minnesotan, has escaped to sunny California, along with his wife, his mother-in-law and the two boxers Stella and Cowboy. 

Walking the Dogs

Incredulity was the only word to sum up my reaction to the news of the junta at the Minneapolis Park Board.   Generalissimo Fine appointed me to the task force on off-leash dog parks, which occupied a number of columns, introduced me to some dedicated folks, and took much of my spare time during my last two years in Minnesota.  Bob Fine always returned my calls, greeted me warmly, nodded politely, spoke candidly, listened patiently, and systematically voted against every measure that would have ensured success for the dog parks.

Park Board meetings in 1999 and 2000 were a prophesy of “The Osbornes.”  Like watching a car crash, we flocked to downtown to see which commissioner was being shunned, smeared, sued, or simply out-maneuvered.  As a clinical social worker, I found it fascinating to witness such blatant dysfunction. As a Californian, I would now be classified as a busybody at best and an outside agitator at worst.  It saddens me that even after changing some of the players, the board still appears to be working at cross-purposes.

On another topic, thank you for Paul Magers.  I remember walking Stella the insane boxer around the neighborhood alleys, marveling at all the work being done on the Magers’ East Isles home.  I do not know where they are living, but Los Angeles is so vast I doubt it is anywhere near Stella and me, particularly if CBS doubled his one million dollar a year salary.  It is fun to see a Minnesota celebrity, even if he is reporting on freeway car chases instead of weapon-wielding Minnesotans.

L.A. no longer has professional football, so the locals live vicariously.  Red McCombs and the Vikings are on the short list of teams that are seen as “woo-able” and vulnerable to moving to the west coast.  Consequently there is a disproportionate share of coverage of the Purple.  After the Arizona game there were continual replays of the meltdown on  local television.  The L.A. Times devoted a lot of space to Minnesota’s ineptitude.  I think the idea of  kidnapping the Vikings lost considerable momentum.  New stadium or not, I think the boys are staying in the Twin Cities.  Pretty shrewd.

My students wear gloves, scarves, and  heavy sweatshirts to class.  It is understandable, as the temperature has plummeted to 58 degrees.  I attempt to tell them that back home the same weather would call for tank tops and running shorts.  Instead I get huddled masses with chattering teeth outside my door.  You can imagine the interest these southern California kids take in my very occasional stories of it being too cold to snow, car doors frozen shut, and snow so deep there is nowhere to put it all.  When asked if I miss Minnesota, I answer that I miss Minnesotans.


Tom H. Cook is a North American writer with a west coast slant on Minnesota events, or is it the other way around?  He wishes everyone a Happy 2004 and beyond.      


Last Chance Post Mortem

It’s late September and I really should be back in school –Rod Stewart  (in Maggie May)

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.   –attributed to Vince Lombardi

Now maybe I’ll be able to get that song out of my head and concentrate on “The Arnold.”  It is late September here in California, and while it is early to do a post-mortem with the election a week away, it is my last chance.  Politics long considered one of the last bastions of geeky, pale, weasel-faced, high school debate club presidents is about to fall.  By the time you read this, Arnold Schwarzenegger will likely be bench pressing a podium — Gray Davis–or he’ll be challenging reporters to punch him in the stomach as hard as they can. Oh yes, and he will be Governor-elect of California.

The Minnesota connection makes us unindicted co-conspirators.  Schwarzenegger is frequently compared to Jesse Ventura, the other freewheeling, steroid-using, self-confessed 70s wild man.  Californians do this to cite precedent and to reassure themselves that what they are doing makes sense.  The first time some co-workers earnestly suggested this to me I was eating lunch and milk came out of my nose.  I attempted to explain the continual limit-testing Jesse had done. Whether it was moonlighting on weekends for the XFL, talking to Playboy magazine, or the use of the mansion, Jesse forced us into the role of parenting our petulant political prodigy.

Jesse really wanted unicameral government and mass transit.  One of which is still a good idea. Arnold is richer, tanner, bolder, and far more dangerous.  We are consoled that he cannot constitutionally become president and will have to settle for California, the world’s fifth largest economy.  He is Machiavellian, ego-driven, ambitious, and cunning.  Unfortunately his narcissism seems to be an end and not a means.  He appears to have no ideology beyond winning.  Granted, the list of selfless politicians is short, but Schwarzenegger seems to take particular glee in subjugating others to his torrid will.

The Arnold has completely revised his early steroid use, womanizing, and questionable business ethics.  He is a Hummer lover, and the metaphor is perfect, particularly if you have ever sat next to one while in a Miata  at a stop light.  A quirky short term race for Sacramento is perfectly geared to garner him mass exposure.    It is form over substance: “Getting Elected Governor For Dummies.” Perhaps we are all ADD, and this is as long as we can concentrate.  I fear my adopted state is making an impulsive decision we will all regret, and the poor will pay.  In which case I will be back as soon as Minnesotans disarm.

I may be overreacting, and Larry Flynt, Gary Coleman, Richard Simmons (accountant), Mary Carey (porn star), the 105 year old woman, or even Gray Davis may have won.  In that case, let me echo the words of Gilda Radner from Saturday Night Live: “Never mind.”

Tom H. Cook is missing a real Minnesota autumn.  He also remembers–all too clearly–what comes next.

On Leaving Minneapolis

I warned the editors that I was not a good choice to write a sappy, bittersweet, folksy, sorry you’re leaving article.  I feared they would want a heartwarming piece about a plucky Kenwood couple who after 57 years of making molasses fudge brownies for block parties, hand sewing little league uniforms, and spaying hamsters, were being shuffled off to Happy Acres, or to live in their grand-nephew’s basement in Femur, Arizona.  I imagined having to include their homespun reminiscences about a cow getting loose on Colfax Avenue, or how the couple once ran breathless to the police station because they were sure they saw Kaiser Wilhelm at a gas station on Lake Street, or the hilarious tale of the time they pretended to be guests at Theodore Wirth’s wedding.

I had all of my excuses in line until I heard the name.  Kim and Harley (Toby) Toberman of 24th and Girard, neighbors and friends for sixteen years.  How could I not write about this vibrant and unique couple?  Kim’s lush garden has name tags for all of her flowers and  plants so the children can learn them.  She provides a bench in front of  the house so lovers can smooch, the footsore can rest, and kids can wait for the school bus.  Toby’s imaginative and terrifying Halloween haunted house has long been a magnet, drawing kids from all over the neighborhood and beyond.

What do you say about people who use a wood burning stove, have a gorgeous three story antique-filled Victorian home complete with a very modern two-person  Jacuzzi, and a movie theater?  These are very unusual folks.  Kim has brought high culture to the prairie with her annual ladies’ tea complete with harp music.  Toby (owner of Toby’s Tunes) once made and marketed a video for dogs.

Long before suburbanites discovered great rooms and plasma TVs, Kim and Toby had a full screen theater complete with projection booth and hundreds of movies.  Their bi-monthly wintertime special, dubbed “Movies in the Parlor”, treated as many as forty lucky souls to a lineup of obscure shorts and feature films “that no one else would have the nerve to show.”  Kim and Toby, in formal attire, hosted an annual awards night with a prize in the categories of  best homemade munchies and perfect attendance.  People planned their winter vacations to not miss a Friday night at Toby’s.

I had to find out how they could give up their breathtaking home and the garden they have nurtured for twenty five years.  What follows is my inaccurate recollection of our long and silly phone conversation.

Hill and Lake Press (really just me) Talk about the decision to leave.

Toby:  We have been looking for a home in a warm climate for a number of years.  We quickly decided Florida was too tame, and began to explore an island a year:  Jamaica, Barbados, and then in 1998 we went to Costa Rica and fell in love with it.  We bought property and have seen it greatly increase in value, although that was not our motivation.  The people there are wonderful and there is a huge ex-patriot community with many Russians, Europeans, and Canadians.

HLP:    Maintaining two residences so far apart must be a strain.

Kim:  We went back to Costa Rica last winter sure that we had to make one a permanent home.  A decision we thought might take a month was answered in two days.  Our Minnesota home is up for sale.  Toby has sold his film and record collection on E-bay, and we have had sales of our antiques.

Toby:  I find I don’t miss the stuff when I am down there.  We are shipping a car, which is an unbelievable labyrinth of certifications, notaries, consulates, and foreign relations ministers.

HLP:  Is your leaving at all political?

Toby:  We were going anyway, but the change in the gun laws…let’s just say it is a different Minnesota.

HLP:  Tell about some of your community work.

(I am editing out twenty minutes of credit to others, and minimization of her accomplishments)

Kim:  I was on the board at Neighborhood Involvement Program for a number of years.  N.I.P. is a wonderful resource, right on Hennepin Avenue.  They provide healthcare, counseling, and other services for people who do not have insurance.

Toby:  What about the garden club and your two terms as president, and the Spring Tea?

Kim:  The Kenwood Garden Club has about 35 members and still does tours.  It is designed to promote neighborhood pride.  Blooming Boulevards is a CUE (Committee for Urban Environments) volunteer organization that recognizes neighbors that go out of there way to make boulevard common space attractive…

Toby:  The city cut the funding for it even though it’s all volunteer and the only cost is postage.

Kim:  The Spring Tea was not just for women who lived in the neighborhood, but for those who work here…GJs, Walgreen’s, and all of the local businesses.  It was an opportunity for the women of the community to network…

Toby:  And have great desserts.

HLP:  Since you do not want me to mention the illegal stop sign you installed on 24th Street, I’ll ask what will happen to Toby’s Tunes, one of the premiere sound recording studios in the Twin Cities and located above your garage?

Toby:  It is a good time to close out.  Jerry Horvath, who has worked for me, has Buzz Cuts Audio downtown, but I chose not to continue the name.

HLP:  All I know about Costa Rica is that San Jose is the capital.  Are you near there?

Toby:  (laughs)  We are in the mountains, six hours by car, four hours by foot.  We have a swimming pool that is currently filled with frogs.   We have been hand carrying all the equipment necessary for a movie theater.  Since many of our neighbors have never seen a movie, they are most impressed.  We are mostly showing old comedies and films that don’t require a lot of translation.

HLP:  Does this enterprise have a name?

Kim:  Yes, it’s “Movies in the Jungle”  We have huge pot luck dinners and watch movies.  Toby is in his glory.

HLP:  It sounds as if your new life is already in progress.  What will you miss?

Kim:  I’ll miss mail order catalogues–I get tons of them–plus pizza delivered to the door.

Toby:  Best Buy, and my music partner Gregg Kubera.  Every Tuesday night for the last twenty two years we would write and play music together.  Hundreds of songs…(pause) we are called “The Client Brothers”, and we are as close as brothers.

HLP:  You both have brought creative community building activities to us and had fun doing it.  Kim and Toby, you have made the city a smaller and friendlier place.  Because of your own contentment you have always been ready to help new arrivals or those in need.  You will be profoundly missed.


Tom H. Cook is a sentimental L.A. resident with a deep love for the old neighborhood.  He has no current plans to run for governor of his adopted state.  







Tom with the paper

Great Writing

Great writing allows us to suspend disbelief and be spirited away to a world of larger than life characters more compelling than our own friends and neighbors. These complex, driven souls (who frequently have fabulous figures, chiseled features, raven hair, piercing eyes or some combination thereof) face staggering challenges. Their dialogue is witty, sardonic, immediate, and intense.  Their decisions are high stakes and life altering.  We rejoice and suffer with them.  Simultaneously admiring their convictions and resourcefulness, yet fearing where their misplaced idealism and naiveté may lead.

A novelist’s artfully chosen words evoke the full range of the human condition.  Their prose is like the dance of the seven veils.  We are left to ponder what part of their tale is autobiographical. Staring at the dust jacket photo of a bespectacled 25year old upper West Side writer from Keokuk, Iowa it seems unfathomable that they are so able to capture the plight of an enfeebled Etruscan shepherd and the poignant longings of his comely daughter.  Yet for 418 pages of laughter and tears we are absorbed: smelling the camel dung, searching for Shekabah, and shivering under the pitch-black desert sky.   Clearly there are didactic truths about the human condition that transcend time, culture, and social standing.

It is just as evident that I have no clue into this world.  I am as unlikely to hold a reader spellbound as I am at gunpoint.  I have examined my work for hidden meaning, prophetic insight, and even Talmudic wisdom.  Sadly none of these elements are present.  I am only able to bump along sharing what it is like to be middle-aged, frugal, rumpled, and reside within walking distance of Lake of the Isles.   The only event that passes for drama in my very pedestrian life is a sudden (if you call three years sudden) move to Southern California.

Six months later numerous friends and e-mailers have asked what life is like in L.A. when JoAnne and I are not hanging out with Kevin Spacey and Bill Clinton (see HLP 10/02).  The best description is the baseball strategy of playing “small ball”.  In baseball terms, it is to be scrappy, execute fundamentals, win close games with defence and hustle, sacrifice for the good of the team, play base to base, take advantage of small opportunities, and play hard.  This is admittedly difficult to translate to a financial planner without them believing you are preparing to live in a bus shelter.  In non-sports terms, “small ball” is making due with less, enjoying the little things in life, devoting fewer hours to work and more time to activities that gratify the soul.

Not the final draft!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was never a big buck, free agent, homerun, and big inning, get by on raw talent over training, swing for the fences type.  This is more a function of a lack of opportunity and initiative rather than a philosophical aversion to money and power.    Nonetheless when someone with my meager assets decides to downscale it is an event that is barely perceptible to some.  Still this is what JoAnne and I are doing.

It is going well.  Stella the insane boxer is actually enjoying living out doors and having a small yard.  The cats, both given away and subsequently returned have adjusted nicely to the California adventure.  Our new place in Redondo Beach at 1,400 square feet is less than half the size of our East Isles home. Rather than drive on freeways, we are able to walk or bike to most anything we need including the ocean.

I miss running into people I know at the local supermarket.  Without young children or steady work we are somewhat isolated, but still well connected to our Minnesota friends.  There is less sense of community living here with the other rootless drifters.  Garage sales are pathetic, but year round.  We find more interesting stuff on our Sunday night trash eve dog walks around the neighborhood.  The local libraries are very good and we are card-carrying members at six of them.

Our modest living room is happily taken up with JoAnne’s very large (48 harness) loom and assorted weaving projects.  She has an amazing capacity for self amusement and her days fly by.  I am ensconced at the lowest rung of the education food chain.  With a bachelor’s degree, a passing grade on the California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST), and a clear criminal record, I am qualified to substitute teach.

I have joined the less than elite pool of bored housewives, aspiring actors, downsized aerospace engineers, recent college graduates, and faded old duffers willing to trade a day in the sun for $100.00.  The work is challenging, ever changing, and fulfilling.  I live a teacher’s life for a day.  A  5:30 AM call may summon me to five classes of Calculus and Physics in Palos Verdes, or a Special Education setting in Manhattan Beach.  On mornings the phone does not ring I enjoy a day of California vacation.  Lurking below this calm façade there are crucial life decisions, but for now it is as JoAnne says, “A simple life for a simple man”.

Tom H. Cook lacks the power to enthrall.  His goal as a writer is to make the squiggly lines the computer uses to critique his writing disappears.  




Retirement in Redondo Beach

The summer Hill and Lake Press has historically been a children’s issue with clever, witty, and innocent poems, pictures, and stories.  Despite the fact that I write in crayon, my submissions in past years to the July-August issue have been tactfully returned.  Because of the children writers strike this year I am pressed into service.  Normally I would support the young artists’ demands (scented markers, unlimited gummy bears, and the freedom to use the word poopy in a non-salacious context).  The editors were able to break my iron will and steadfast solidarity by letting me write about my summer vacation.  Sorry kids, but who can pass up the opportunity to tell others about a trip.

My wife and I are staying just south of Los Angeles in Redondo Beach, where we are tracking down stray relatives and friends.  There is no sign of the Urban Coyote, who may be out here peddling scripts and doing meetings.  I am, instead, working on shaving every three or four days, body surfing, eating avocados, and going to Dodger Stadium.  The rest of my time is spent foolishly. 

Driving is a challenge in the L.A. area.  On 35W or the Crosstown you check to see if anyone is coming before you change lanes.   Here it is a given that many cars, vans, SUVs, motorcycles, and large trucks covet the exact spot you are currently inhabiting.  I am reminded of the old Red Skelton line about the freeways.  He said, “Southern Californians are real baseball fans…out here you are either a Dodger or an Angel.” 

Word from home is that it has finally stopped raining and all plans for an NRP-funded ark have been abandoned.  Everyone I meet  here (after the requisite discussion of the weather) wants to know about Jesse.  I am toying with the idea of being from Michigan.  The politics here in southern California is more conservative than I am used to.  There is still a Proposition 13 feel in the air, and it is a laisse faire world.  All is well for those who can manage on their own.  I have long believed that each of us has a cosmic banana peel with our name on it, and we will require support of some kind.  Here it seems people live happily, busily, hurriedly, but without a net.

If I am so critical, why am I here?  That’s simple:  I love the beach.  I have swum and paddled in the city lakes.  I have enjoyed moonlight dips at friends’ lake cabins, but there is something about the ocean that grips me.  I feel most whole and complete in the ocean.  It is truly a “Roots” experience.  Being in the ocean takes me way back to my distant ancestors who must have been ocean dwelling single celled protozoan. 

In more recent years I have resigned myself to compromises and diminished expectations, such as our federal income tax refund check.  Practicality and prudence aside, I do not want to pass from this life without ‘quality beach time’.  As a friend said recently, “Yeah, I’m middle aged if I live to be 110”.  This ocean fantasy will probably not win me the Albert Schweitzer award for humanitarian service, but I feel the sands of time moving.  

As a child, I mourned growing up in New Jersey and not being able to get to Atlantic City, Wildwood, or Asbury Park.  If I were a  Minnesota native I probably wouldn’t hear the siren song of the sea.  But to be sixty miles away and unable to will myself to the shore is something I still lament.  Granted, this is not Oprah material. (“ Our next segment is a real tearjerker:  Adult children of parents who could not swim and were too tired from working to take their kids to the beach.”)  Still, without getting too existential or pop psychology about this, I have been in charge of my own life since I was 46, and if I was going to make it to the west coast for the summer it was up to me.  Thanks to the generosity of a number of friends, most notably Michele, who has adopted Stella (the mad beast) for the summer, I am in Los Angles having made slightly better time than Balboa.

So here I am, and I love it.  In time I will miss garage sales, work (or at least the money), and the friends who have had the decency not to come and visit.  In the meantime, surf’s up, hang ten, and have a wonderful summer.


Tom H. Cook conveniently forgets that he was a shy, pale, thin, non-athletic, virgin with conspicuous ears who would not have experienced most of the things he feels he missed, had he only been ‘under the boardwalk’ in 1964.  


I delight in the idea of a party but find no pleasure in the reality.  The result is that I can neither keep away from parties nor enjoy them.                                                        -J.B. Priestly

Him: “So, you ever been to Nairobi?”

Me: “No, but I have the feeling that if I don’t make a break for the cheese dip, I am about to spend the rest of the evening hearing about it.

The above conversation never took place.  In truth it was Guam and my response was an innocent, “no.”  As a result I found myself engaged in a rather one-sided discussion of Guam’s natural resources, customs, and currency for the next two-and-one-half hours not counting the forty-five minutes I spent hiding in the pantry.  Yes, I had been to another ‘party.’

Despite many personal experiences to the contrary a party announcement still conjures up images of merriment and spontaneous carefree good times.  It is a high school era vision complete with prom queens and football players.  We are all cavorting and having (PG-13 rated) fin.  Whenever I am invited to a party that is not at the Guthrie or does not feature Tupperware, I still flashback to this admittedly adolescent notion, and hope beyond hope.  What is remarkable is not that I graduated from high school nearly twenty years ago, but that I was never invited to these parties in the first place.  Nevertheless my perceptions of what there ‘happenings’ were probably like has not dimmed.

I sat behind “Fast” Eddie Coleman in home room in ninth grade until his expulsion in eleventh grade.  I believe that Eddie was born with chest hair and a three day beard.  The gray Italian shoes and gold ID bracelet were with him the first day of ninth grade, so I can only speculate as to their origin.  Whatever, the effect worked.  Eddie had a deep voice and could do the WahTusi sitting down.  Everyone liked Eddie.  He was a party guy.  He clearly had experienced it all and thanks to the gods of alphabetical order I was right behind him, literally, on Monday morning to hear about it.

Since Eddie was invariably late (I was amazed he could stand), I became the keeper of the little presents-gum, homework, lunch money that rolled in.  I refused to accept contraband (cigarettes), but Friday mornings I became the center for all the party information.  I knew whose parents were out of town before the cat burglars.  Laura Pennsinger, tired of waiting, finally told me hat she had gotten her period.  I actually held Margie Fennimore’s private phone number written in pink magic marker for a whole day.  Judy Walters called me a doll-as in, “be a doll and be sure Eddie gets this.”  My life was complete.

Most of Eddie’s party stories were intended to impress Annie Cresthull who sat behind me.  I was free to listen, although our alliterative brotherhood did not extend beyond homeroom.  I don’t know whether it was propinquity, or the ease by which I was impressed by stories of nurses, local DJs, and dudes doing wheelies on girls’ front lawns, but I fancied that Eddie was not far from inviting me along, when he was expelled.  (Something about Miss Epps in Social Studies.)  I spent my senior year seated behind Alan Cohen whose life was only slightly more interesting than mine.

I suffer from vicarious interruptions.  The word party is a misnomer.  To make things even worse, in the 1980s the noun party had become a verb.  Forty-year-old actuaries and women that sell Amway out of their garages speak of ‘partying.’  “We are partying all weekend at the VFW.”  Serious parties like Eddie and I knew are rare.

‘Parties’ I am invited to are usually in older homes where the owners have restored most of the wood work (‘…WE STRIPPED EVERYTING BUT THE LANDING, I never want to see another container of Zip Strip…”).  There are between five and twenty three other guests not counting the mystery couple.  The mystery couple is the hook.  They become larger than life as the party drags on.  Usually he is a friend of the guy who manages Prince, and she poses for art magazines and used to live with Roman Polanski.  They are laving for Rio of Cannes in the morning, but will try to drip by.  The mystery couple never comes.

Who does come are bearded Hegelians and women that did their undergraduate work in Chaucer.  The host and hostess play only Gustav Mahler records.  Their other friends are people that aside from living on land, and bearing live young, I have nothing in common with.  The talk of evening is usually about famine, oppression, and bad television reception. Most of the other guests do not want to discuss The Shirelles of the works of Eddie Arcaro (many believe he was just a jockey).  Consequently I spent a lot of time alone, near the cheese dip.

When I talk about a Party, I don’t mean scoring some brews and hanging out with bleached blondes and dudes that listen to KQRS.  I am more mature and responsible.  How about renting a mechanical bull, or mud wrestling?  Despite my slight frame, I believe I could hold a medium-sized woman on my shoulders if we were to have chicken fights – We could pit the physics department against the lawyers!  Bizarre you say, but so is standing elbow to elbow with total strangers for three hours discussing the failure of mass transit, and coming home with seven business cards and six continuing education units.

Tom H. Cook, is an incredibly quiet local resident who has not been to a party since Watergate.  He enjoys discussing the 1975 World Series and arranging his sugar cube collection.