Sunday, April 29, 2012


Friday 27 April 2012

I, ladies and gentlemen, am a balfasz.

The literal translation of the Hungarian word balfasz is “He whose reproductive organ points to the left”. The connotation of the word is “Incompetent moron”.  Hungarian is a colorful language.

Today was proof that I am the ultimate, world champion balfasz.

It all started out innocently, enough: just another boring, suburban morning, heading off to work, to continue the inspection of a hospital where—of all people—my best friend in charge of radiation safety. I stared at the Jeep, and decided that as old and tired as she is (232,000 miles, leaking oil, needs a transmission job), I could take public transportation to my friend’s hospital, and leave the Jeep in Claremont.

Brilliant idea.

So I took the train to Baldwin Park—not the best of neighborhoods—and found the bench for the city bus that goes to his hospital.

Before I go on, a disclaimer: I have been riding that same Metrolink train back & forth between Claremont and Union Station while typing on a laptop during the entire trip, for at least 6 years—without a problem.

All I remember from this morning is this: the train slowed to a stop at Baldwin Park, I stood up, closed the laptop, stepped off the train, and walked to the bus stop. I also remember putting the laptop down on a steel box, and thinking to myself, “Don’t put your laptop here. You could leave it here.”

Then I remember getting on the bus, putting down my backpack, and fishing $1.25 out of the small pouch.

Then I remember getting off the bus at the hospital, and taking out my binoculars. It’s spring migration, my co-worker was still half an hour away, and the hospital grounds has lots of trees.

Then I remember arriving at my friend’s office, quite a distance from the hospital’s main building, and thinking, “Let me sit outside at this picnic table outside his office. I’ll work on my laptop, until my co-worker gets here.”

Then I opened my backpack, and there was no laptop in it.

My blood ran cold.

I have lost a government-issue laptop full of nuclear stuff. They’re going to fire me.

Nope, probably not. They are going to send Daniel Craig. When I open my kitchen door, he’s going to point a 9 millimeter with a silencer attached at me, and I will fall to the ground with a crimson splotch on my forehead.


My friend’s office is literally next-door to the hospital’s (armed) security office, so I ran in there, and asked them to send a guard straight to the bus stop on the street, hoping against hope that when I got off the bus, I put my laptop on the bus stop bench, while extracting my binoculars. Or was it that wooden bench next to the statue of the Virgin Mary, on the hospital grounds?

The lady in the security office looked at me like I’m an asshole.

Believe it or not, some salesman in an Acura volunteered to help me. He drove me back to the bus stop, and to a couple of other spots around the hospital grounds (it’s a really big hospital).

No laptop. Somebody shoot me. Just kill me now.

I whip out my Android, and look up the bus company’s phone number. A very helpful lady takes my information, and tells me that if they have my laptop, they will call me ASAP.

So I use my government-issue Blackberry to call my co-worker, and beg her to pick me up, and drive me back to the Metrolink train station, 5 miles away. I am guessing that I left the laptop on that steel box that I told myself not to leave it on. On the cell phone, she’s confused as to why I need her to drive me, since I have a car. I explain to her that instead of driving—like I did yesterday—I took public transportation. She screeches to a halt at the hospital front door, and as I jump into her car, I see a rolled up practice paper target on the floor. Looking at her groupings—or lack thereof—I surmise that she’s not a very good shot.

Like a bad Starsky and Hutch episode (is there such thing as a good Starsky & Hutch episode?), we go tearing down the streets of the San Gabriel Valley, two wheels off the ground while we take the corners. Sliding to a stop at the Baldwin Park train station, I jump out of her car, and run to the steel box.

No laptop.

While I am walking towards a bus with the same number as the one I took earlier this morning, a train towards Claremont comes in and out of the station. Too bad. I could have taken that train home to Claremont, and used the Jeep to drive back out here, so that I can search for the laptop. Well, I guess I’ll take the next one. So of course, I can’t talk to the bus driver, because there is no bus driver on the bus.

Oh, look: there’s a voicemail on my Android. That’s probably the bus company calling to tell me that they found my laptop. All will be well. Life is good. I listen to my voicemail:

“Mister Miko? Yes, my name is Jane Smith; I’m calling from Claremont Elementary School. We need you to come pick up your daughter. She’s in the office, with abdominal pain.”

OH MY GOD. I’ve lost my laptop, I don’t have a car, the train to Claremont just left, and my kid is sick. Let me call my wife.

She doesn’t answer her cell phone, or the house phone. Oh, wait, she volunteers at that school for special kids, let me call their office. The person who answers the phone there has no idea who my wife is. So I keep calling the house, and her cell.

That’s when I notice that the batteries are dying on both cell phones: my personal Android, and my government-issue Blackberry.

Okay, let me re-phrase that: I’ve lost my laptop, I don’t have a car, the train to Claremont just left, my kid is sick, and both of my cell phones are dying.

That’s when I found out that the next train to Claremont is in 2 and ½ hours.

The train from Claremont arrived, and when the doors closed, they closed on an old guy who was too slow stepping off the train. I just sat there on a bench, and watched. Hey, why not? I’m stuck here for 2 & ½ hours, I have no laptop, no cell phone, and I left my Michael Connelly book at home. That’s how I met Ernie the Jehova’s Witness, who literally fell off the train clutching his walker, wearing half-glasses, and a fake coonskin cap—complete with a fake raccoon tail hanging to the side of his head.

After the train conductor extracted Ernie from the train, Ernie shuffled over to the same Metrolink dedicated landline phone that I had already used to report my missing laptop, turned his walker around, adjusted his coonskin hat and reading glasses, and got ready to talk. First, he said “hi” to a short, dark woman named Ramona, with tattoos, long straight hair, and a male Rottweiler on a choke-chain leash. The dog weighed just as much as she did.

The Metrolink operator answered the phone, and Ernie started in:

“Hello? Yes, I’m at the Baldwin Park station. My name is Ernie Smith. I’m 70 years old, and I have prostate cancer. I’m here with Ramona, she’s an Indian woman. What? No. She’s a real American Indian. She’s homeless. She’s one of the local characters, you know. Everybody knows her. She has her dog with her. You see, my first wife died of cancer, and my son is an award-winning artist. Well, anyway, as I was getting off the train, the doors slammed on my, and now my knee hurts, but you know, when you’re 70 years old, and you have prostate cancer, you’re never sure what hurts, and why.” Ernie peers at me over his reading glasses at me, and says, “Also with me, is…what’s your name, sir?”

“Tom Miko.”

Ernie returns to the phone and continues, “Also with me is Tom Pico. He’s a witness. He saw everything.” Ernie waves at Ramona and says, “Stick around, Ramona, there might be some money in this.”   Ernie returns to his victim on the phone and says, "Listen, I have something very important to tell you: read the Bible.  It contains God's word, and the promise of eternal life.  When he sets things right, you will have a perfect body, and live for thousands of years."

Ramona stops right in front of me, and the Rottweiler can smell my female Basset Hound’s scent on my pants, so of course he starts sniffing me. At this point I have decided that if this Rottweiler is horny, and he starts to dry hump my pants, who am I to stop him? It’s like the rumors you hear about the main L.A. County jail. What happens in prison stays in prison.

Needless to say, I enjoyed listening to Ernie call every agency, company, and authority that he could think of during the next 2 and ½ hours, and tell them about the time he took his first wife to Tijuana for herbal remedies for her breast cancer, and about how his son—a talented artist—designed an inter-changeable Mickey Mouse toothbrush for the Chinese, until that sweet, sweet freedom train to Claremont whisked me away. At the Claremont train station I jumped into the Jeep, picked up my daughter, and took her home, where my wife was playing video games on the internet, and demanded to know why am I not at work, why did I bring our daughter home, and why didn’t I call her?

Just, just put a bullet in my brain. I can’t take it, any more.

Okay, now I am going to set up a crisis center, and track down my laptop. I plug the Android and the Blackberry into their chargers, boot up my wife’s laptop, and start using the house phone to call all of the places that I have been this morning.

First place I call says, “Yeah, Dude, you left your laptop on the bus. Driver turned it in at nine o’clock, this morning. When you gonna come pick it up? We close at 4:00, and wanna go home. What’s with you doctors that leave your laptops on the bus? Don’t be like George.”


“Yeah, George is this doctor that works at your hospital. He’s already left his laptop on the bus FOUR TIMES. We told him, hey George, next time you leave your laptop on the bus, man, we’re keepin’ it!”

Since I went to the hospital wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a tie on a hot day, they assumed that I was a doctor.

I am not a doctor, I am a balfasz.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Plastic Ocean

So I just finished reading this book titled Plastic Ocean, by Captain Charles Moore.  It has everything: San Pedro, birders, Masked Boobies, Catalina Island, Laysan Albatrosses, the plastics industry, Long Beach, Black-footed Albatrosses, sea turtles, Hawaii, the Fukushima disaster, the L.A.River, plastic bags, the San Gabriel River, and rubber ducks.

This book is a dizzying travelogue of the world's oceans, the continents, chemistry, history, politics, marine biology, meteorology, romance, nautical terminology, and nerve-wracking days floating at sea, praying for the wind to pick up, because you don't have enough diesel to make it back to Hawaii.

So I wrote a post to the L.A. Birdwatchers' email list about the book, and exhorted the local Audubon chapters to invite the author to speak at monthly meetings.

So of course, an idiot birder hit "Reply All" and huffed indignantly, "Does this email have anything to do with a rare bird sighting?"

Oh. My. God.

Where do I turn in my Swarovskis? I don't want to be associated with these idiots, any more.

Okay, Jethro, let me explain it to you in plain English: There's a shitload of plastic trash from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Korea floating in in the Pacific Ocean.  Millions of tons.  That's right: MILLIONS of tons. Laysan Albatrosses, Masked Boobies, and other tropical seabirds are eating that plastic, and feeding it to their babies.  Their numbers are time you pay $200 to go 100 miles off-shore on the Condor Express, and don't see anything interesting, here's what I want you to do:

When the Condor docks in Santa Barbara, I want you to drive straight to my house in Claremont (it'll only take you 2 hours!), and ring my door bell.  When I open the door, don't flinch when I smack you in the head with my copy of Plastic Ocean.

Food for thought: Okay, now lean close. 


No, no. Closer.

Now, squint at the photograph.

That's right: As soon as the Claremont Library received this book, they slapped a protective plastic dust jacket onto it.