An Adoration of Pelicans

A gaggle of geese. A leap of leopards. A covey of quail. My vet has a poster with line after line of phrases that describe collections of critters, in ever-odder terms. A dule of doves. A charm of finches. A deceit of lapwings. An unkindness of ravens. Perhaps my favorite is a siege of herons. (Surely the crawfish in a local pond see herons that way, even though there is only one heron that plagues them. No, wait, plague would be locusts.) Have all these phrases truly been used? Maybe not – but for a richer language, let’s start today! (To get us started, I include more of the phrases at the bottom of this post.)

If I were to add pelicans to the list of phrases, I would have to call them an adoration of pelicans. What a spectacular creature the pelican is. Sitting around a dock, it may look homely and awkward, but airborne, it rules the coast. Pelicans fly together in innovative formations, skim the waves fearlessly, dive with conviction – and always get their fish.

I’ve taken many pictures of pelicans. In most of them, the bird appears as a speck on my camera lens. Last weekend, two pelicans put on an amazing show as I walked the beach. For the first time, I saw two pelicans dive simultaneously and hit the water a few feet apart. But they were coy and whenever I raised my phone camera, they masqueraded as specks. This was the closest I got to a good picture, so you can imagine the others:

2014-06-01 18.36.10


But I’ve had better luck in the past. Here are some pelicans enjoying sunrise on both coasts of the U.S.:

Pelican at sunrise, East River, NYC.

Pelican at sunrise, East River, NYC.

Pelicans at sunrise, Carlsbad Beach, San Diego County, CA

Pelicans at sunrise, Carlsbad Beach, San Diego County, CA

And here is a particularly fine squadron, which always reminds me of that Far Side cartoon. You know the one, right? Birds of prey know they’re cool.


My best capture to date was this … er ….

HOLY FRIGGING — I’ve just spent what feels like a year scrolling through endless directories of unsorted photo files, in an unsuccessful search for one of my favorite shots. Ho-kay. Check back to this post later, I will add the photo when/if I find it. Perhaps it is finally time to attempt to organize my photos.

And in the meantime, enjoy some more critter phrases:

A crash of rhinoceroses.
A gang of elk.
A singular of boars.
A cast of woodpeckers.
A barren of moles.
A shrewdness of apes.
A smack of jellyfish.
A parliament of owls.

(This post is slightly in response to the recent WP photo challenge, “Split-Second Story”.)


Concert Review: No Name #1, A Celebration of the Life and Music of Elliott Smith, Largo at the Coronet, Aug 6, 2013

I’m a writer and I love words. I savor the well-strung phrase wherever I find it – a book, stage patter, a movie, an ad, a blog. Song lyrics shape and define me. Early Springsteen’s meandering stage monologues could be my version of a religious experience.

Given all that, you’d think I’d be crazy for singer-songwriters, but I’m usually not. I typically prefer their songs when covered by others. As Noam Pikelny said, introducing a Gillian Welch cover at a Punch Brothers show, “We can’t play it better but we can play it faster.”

I knew Elliott Smith would be an exception. I knew I would love him but despite years of  this awareness I still don’t really know his music. A couple people who serve as music gurus to me have long been Smith fanatics. They told me. I heard them but didn’t act. It can take me a long time to get around to what matters. And I confess I was intimidated by the manner of his suicide, ten years ago. He stabbed himself in the heart. Or anyway that was the way I heard the story.

Couple weeks ago, I went to one of four U.S. concerts, organized by his sister and many musicians who knew and loved him. The concerts were in Portland, Los Angeles, Austin, and Manhattan. I attended the show in LA on August 6. It would have been his 44th birthday. The show occurred at my favorite ever venue, the Largo at the Coronet.  Smith was a regular performer at an earlier incarnation of the Largo (which I completely missed: I was not in LA and anyway not going out to hear music at that dark time in my life).

The four No Name Celebration shows have already sprouted lots of YouTube clips. Each show had maybe a dozen performers who each sang a couple of Smith’s songs.  There were anecdotes about Smith, lots of laughs. It was an intensely emotional night. I like intense emotions, so that was okay for me. And I didn’t even know the songs. I went to learn some Smith. Most of the people in the room knew every song on the first chord.  For my son, a Smith fanatic, hearing the songs in that setting was one of those life-altering events that only live music can give us.

Turns out the shows were called No Name #1 because the organizers hope to make this a recurring event, and because Elliott Smith used to name his songs like that.  In fact, the first Smith song to become permanently stuck in my head is called No Name #1. To publicize the Austin show, David Garza performed the song at a radio station. It breaks my heart. Amazing how great music can do that and still be uplifting.

If you want to check out Smith performing this instead of Garza, there is an audio-only clip on YouTube, just released by the Largo owner right after this show.  It’s from one of Elliott’s old Largo performances.

Garza performed at the LA show also. He was one of the highlights for me. Another standout was Aaron Espinoza, who turns out to be in a band called Earlimart which cites Elliott Smith as one of its major influences. Most of the LA performers were Largo regulars, including Jon Brion and Sean Watkins. (Over the last couple years I have come to love those guys by attending Largo shows. Most Largo shows feature Largo regulars. It’s a place where certain musicians hang out.)

There are beaucoup Elliott Smith clips on YouTube. Here is an oddball one, his performance at the Academy Awards the year Miss Misery was nominated from “Good Will Hunting”. (Director Gus van Sant was the emcee of the Portland No Name Celebration.)  We live in a peculiar world where competitions try to compare Elliott Smith with Celine Dion, whose song from “Titanic” won the Oscar that year.

At the Largo No Name Celebration, initially I thought Jack Black (with his partner in Tenacious D) was out of place when he closed the show. But my kids explained it to me. His goofiness returned us to the world in just the right mood.

On the one hand, I wish you all could have been there; on the other hand that would have made it frigging impossible to get tickets.

The Daily Prompt: Person of the Year – Philip Marlowe


Marlowe was at his finest in this book.

Detective Philip Marlowe is the person of this or any year, but don’t give him the award. He’ll be a no show at the ceremony and not just because he’s a work of fiction.

Of all the characters I have met and loved in novels, Marlowe is my favorite. I recently re-read his seven novels and found them as fresh and relevant as they were when I last read them, decades ago.

Marlowe has an unswervable moral code. He makes mistakes, he has doubts, but he always knows what’s right and acts accordingly. His morality is personally customized. It may not jive with law or mores but when there’s a discrepancy, Marlowe’s right.

Marlowe despises phonies and looks out for underdogs. He’s smart but he mostly operates on instinct. He’s often alone and frequently lonely. He’ll never be rich and he doesn’t care because wealth costs honor. Not that he’d ever put it like that. He doesn’t go on about honor or loyalty or justice or dignity but he lives his life in ways that promote all four.

Decode This Graffiti and Win a Prize!


Prize Disclosure Statement: What you win is my appreciation.

Carved into the sink at a Santa Barbara cafe is a message that may be important:

Evade FTS

Evade …  … …?

  • Federal Trade Surplus?
  • First Time Surgeons?
  • Full Tilt Spiraling?

or maybe the message is

Evade F+S

Evade … and … ?

  • Fries and Soda?
  • Friends and Supplicants?
  • Fun and Stupidity?

Uh oh. Maybe the message is

Evade F+5

Evade … and 5 ?

I got nothing for that one.

Add an -s, lose an -en?

For some reason, while correcting a typo, it occurs to me that a woman of many virtues may not be a woman of virtue and this suddenly brings back a memory from high school, where I had a friend who read old writing about knights and dragons and so forth. She was convinced that the writing had code words, and in particular, maid and maiden were not interchangeable. After a maiden got deflowered, she was a maid, per my friend. So, in our high school conversations about losing our virginity – which were incessant, for a while – we used the coded shorthand, losing our “-en”.

Melodious Peach

Some of the most creative writing I’ve encountered appears in the names of paint colors. There is no Light Gray. Instead there is Pompeii Ruins or Evaporated.

Dark Red? Don’t be pedestrian. Instead expect Romantic Attachment or Can Can. Madder of Fact Red. Go a bit lighter and you come to River Rouge.

I might have called these Gray Blue:  Babbling Creek or Wind Blown or the (brilliant!)  Atmospheric Pressure.

I’ve got rooms done in Melodious Peach. Turns out that is recommended for pairing with Treaded Grapes or Composed Bloom.

What color would you expect Earthly Pleasure to be? How about Philosophically Speaking?

Paint color names can be evocative, stimulatiing, witty, sly. Perhaps their only limitation is that they stick to the light side of the emotional palette. I guess that makes sense. Hard to imagine someone wanting a room painted in Spiteful Orange or Narcissist’s Pearl.