Sunday, January 31, 2010

The great bee incident. In my bathroom.

I’ve had bees in my bathroom ceiling for many years. There’s a vent on the outside at the peak of the roof; they ventured in and made a nest in the crawl space over my bathtub. Every now and then you'd see a bee, but at one point, a few years ago, at any one point there could be five or more bees in my bathroom. There is a vent over my bathtub and they would come in there.

The bees don’t really bother me, every now and then I’d step on one or pick up a towel that had a bee in it, and I’d get stung. But for the most part we got along. My friend Stephen was not quite as enamored with the little 'circle of life' we had in the bathroom, and when he was visiting one time, he covered the vent with gaffer tape; after that I’d only see an occasional bee, sometimes two, usually buzzing around a warm, bright light bulb.

At the same time, my bathroom ceiling has been leaking for several years. In the recent couple weeks' torrential rainstorms, the polite but incessant dripping that would occur during a casual rainstorm, became a small stream running through my bathroom. After years of my begging, my landlord finally acquiesced to repair the roof.

On Friday, a contractor came and punched a hole in my bathroom ceiling to assess the situation. He cut a hole just big enough for a person to fit into, and stuck his head up into the crawl space with a flashlight. The first thing he said was, “uh, there’s some kind of nest here.”

Well, yes, I know there are critters in my attic. I can hear them scratching and chewing and running around in the middle of the night, my cat Sebastian sits on the bed and stares up at the corner of the bedroom ceiling. But she can’t see anything move. I do see the squirrels climbing up the palm trees and hopping over onto my house, and I know there are rats.

But he said, “I think I got all the nest out.

“But you have bees.”

A LOT of bees.

So I stuck my head up there and sure ebough, on the roof just above the bathtub, was a huge bees nest. I measured it, and it’s about 24” wide, 18” deep and 16” high, four layers of honeycomb, and innumberable bees crawling and buzzing around.

We quickly realized that the roof repair could not take place in the presence of all these bees, just a few feet from the leak repair site. In fact, if the contractor had punched the hole just a couple feet to the left, he would have come up right in the middle of this gigantic bee hive.

A few years ago I had called some exterminators about the bees, and they wanted several hundred dollars to take care of the situation, so, aside from not wanting to spend the money, I decided I could live with the bees. But now they had to go.

My first call was to my friend with the silverlake chamber of commerce, who referred me to a local bee keeper. He said he could relocate the bees but he would charge around $300. Hmm. I called the city, who said that if the bees were on public property they would remove them, but on private property I'm on my own. Hmm.

So I emailed all of my friends, and made posts on facebook and craigslist, in attempts to find a bee oriented person who could adopt the hive and take care of the bees. I got about three dozen responses, and several referrals, all of whom had differing opinions, procedures and rates. In the process, I learned quite a bit about bees. Not the least of which they are an endangered species and it is illegal to kill them. Several people told me it was bad luck to kill them. Killing them was never my intention, but I got lots of encouragement to protect and relocate the hive.

I spent the next 24 hours online and on the phone and trying to find the right person for the job. I talked to a couple dozen people, some of whom were helpful, although none could commit to actually showing up to remedy the situation. Finally, as it is, the last person I called, at Brian's Bee Removal, said, with no hesitation, "sure, I can take care of it, I will be there at 8am Saturday morning."

So in the morning a young man named Jose showed up, assessed the situation, and, after discussing parameters and fees, the bee relocation process began.

He put on his white suit and netted hat, and set up his special bee vacuum cleaner. He said normal vacuum cleaners will kill bees. (which is what one of the bee people had told me to do, as a last resort, simply vacuum them up.) His vacuum has two compartments, one I guess to suck the bees in and the second compartment to hold them safely.

He cut a larger hole in my bathroom ceiling, closer to the nest. It was a good thing he had his suit on because from the first cut into the cieling there was instantly a huge swarm of bees all around him. (I was also quite glad I hadn’t decided to “simply vacuum up the bees".)

You can't see the bees in the small picture, but if you click on the picture it will get bigger and you can see all the bees swarming on him and in the air.

I was standing in the doorway of the bathroom, watching and taking pictures, about 6 feet away. Only a couple bees even came over to me. Out of the hundreds of bees that were flying around in my bathroom, only a couple ventured more than a few feet away. A couple landed on me and one stung me as I brushed her off. Otherwise, the swarm mentality was quite remarkable.

So Jose methodically cut sections of my ceiling apart and started vacuuming the bees.

Every now and then he would remove a huge chunk of honeycomb from the attic, vacuum the bees off, and drop it onto the counter.

Meanwhile, there were bees crawling all over him and around the light and the entire bathroom was a flurry of buzzing wings.

After about an hour of cutting and vacuuming, the bees were, miraculously, for the most part contained.

The honeycomb went into a big clear trash bag. There were only a few stray bees buzzing around, most of which got vacuumed up.

The bag of honeycomb weighed twenty pounds (yes, I weighed it). Everything was sticky, I guess with honey or nectar. I wondered if the squirrels would be attracted to the sweetness; Jason said “squirrels, no, dogs and cats, no, because they realize that the smell is associated with the bees. Rats, however will love the honey. He also noted that he had seen a rat in the attic.


Well, next time we’ll take care of the rats. The contractor is going to seal up the vents, so the bees, rats and squirrels will hopefully stay out.

Jose said the bees wouldn’t come back. The worker bees that are right now out in the field gathering honey will come home and be very confused, many of them will die, some of them will find a new home. They would not rebuild the hive without a queen. He said because he (hopefully) captured the queen, the hive will stay together and be relocated. He said that since it’s the middle of winter, the bee count is fairly low right now, he estimated 2-300 bees. He said in the summer there would be several thousand., and a hive that size, could have as many as ten thousand bees.

But for me, the story of the bees is ended. The bees are on their way "to an orchard", according to Jose. (I hope that isn't a euphemism).

Next week they will hopefully repair the leak in my bathroom ceiling, and screen over the vents in my attic, and all will be quiet, at least on the upper level.

I still have raccoons and possums that sneak in the downstairs back door to eat the cat food in the kitchen. And rats and squirrels in the attic. But what can you do. It's a "circle of life" thing.

Los Angeles
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

my thoughts on Avatar, best picture? no way.

Avatar is imminently poised to surpass Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time. Yet not the most seen (due to inflation and premium ticket prices for 3D movies).

Even though the trailers were not captivating, to me at least, I went to see it opening weekend. The hype machine was in overdrive. But more than that, the curiosity factor engaged me. Perhaps (only perhaps?) I am a sucker for the “latest thing.” I am a Gemini after all. We love the shiny and the new and the just released.

Because I had no idea what to expect, I went in with low expectations and an open mind; subsequently, I wasn’t really disappointed. But I certainly wasn’t blown away. Sure, the visuals are state of the art. But what you’re watching is basically an animated movie. The characters are animated. The scenery is animated. Everything you are seeing on the screen has been either digitally created or digitally enhanced, or both.

Now, I’m a huge fan of animated movies. Pixar is incredible, I have seen all their movies and have them all on DVD. I have watched ‘A Bug’s Life’ over and over and it still makes me laugh out loud. ‘Up’ is solidly entrenched in my Top Five favorite movies of 2009, I’ve seen it several times (in 3D and 2D). ‘Monsters Inc’ is hilarious and touching. ‘The Incredibles’ is, well, incredible.

‘Avatar’ doesn’t have the complexity of story that any of these Pixar movie has. The subtleties that the ants in ‘A Bug’s Life’ have, both in character and in animation, is not represented in ‘Avatar’ by the blue Na-Vi creatures. The bugs are more human than the Na-Vi, characters based on humans!

The technology that created the characters and the backgrounds of Avatar is unquestionably innovative, groundbreaking, and even remarkable; it certainly surpasses the ‘vacant eye’ look of motion capture films like ‘Polar Express’ (which I loved despite this) or ‘Beowolf’ (which I didn’t).

The story is a standard ecology fable (corporate greed vs clearly more evolved nature), the dialogue is stilted and clumsy, the acting is certainly less than subtle. (My computer auto filled “bored” back there and for a moment I pondered leaving it in. )

I went to see Avatar a second time because I wanted to understand it a little better, and I wanted to see what I missed the first time (there is a lot happening on the screen). I am a film student and I do like to deconstruct what is happening on the screen. The second time was almost unbearably boring. The second viewing lent nothing beyond the original screening, which is highly unusual for me.

I had to contend with watching the eye catching visuals (the ‘light up’ vegetation, the floating mountains, etc.) The lizards and dinosaurs and seemed real enough, but at the same time they were clearly totally fake. I totally believed the dinosaurs in ‘Jurassic Park’, I didn’t believe the ‘horses’ the Na-Vi rode were real for one second.

Now it appears that ‘Avatar’ is throwing the Oscar race. (read today’s LA Times column by Patrick Goldstein here) and will likely win the coveted Best Picture award.

Is ‘Avatar’ a better movie than ‘Up’? Not by a long shot. ‘Up’ is a breathtaking movie that works on several emotional as well as creative levels, and its astoundingly sophisticated level of animation alone is worth the price of admission (for me, in this case, five times in the theatre alone).

‘Avatar’ is, yes, I will dare to say it (am I the first to admit it?)… boring. It’s shallow, it’s simplistic storyline couldn’t keep my attention even on a second viewing, whereas I have sat through ‘500 Days of Summer’ and ‘A Single Man’ several times each this year and been amused, intrigued, saddened and touched each time.

But ‘Avatar’ has become a cultural phenomenon, and will surely sweep the Oscars race, just as ‘Titanic’ did more than a decade ago, for better or worse. But while ‘Titanic’ is still inherently watchable today, in twelve years time, will ‘Avatar’ play as well in 2020? It will surely seem incredibly dated and sophomoric. And, probably, and especially because the technology will have advanced still further, thus eliminating the ‘dazzle’ factor, still boring.

Should you see it? By all means. (and most definitely pay the extra couple dollars to see it in 3D).

But best picture of the year? Not by my vote.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My coming out song (July, 1980)

My closest door crashed open one July night in 1980, when my manager from work took me to a gay bar where his boyfriend was the DJ. I eventually started DJ-ing there myself. And I'm still a DJ all these years later.

I grew up on a farm in northern Alberta, Canada; talk about lonely and hostile territory for a sensitive artistic blonde gay boy in training. My solace was the Columbia House Record Club, where every month I could order new records that would come in the mail, and I would listen to Fleetwood Mac, the Carpenters, Heart and Supertramp on the headphones for hours and hours, holding the sleeves in my hand, reading the credits, looking at the pictures.

When I turned 16 I could drive, my Dad bought me a 1966 powder blue Ford Fairlaine; it was embarrasing because it was kind of dorky and almost as old as me, but I installed a cassette sound system that was surely worth more than the car itself, and I started going to an academic high school in the big city of Edmonton, and I got a part time job at my favorite record store. It was called Mister Sound at that time, now it is (or was?) called HMV. Eventually, due to my complete lack of interest in school, school became part time and the record store job that I loved became full time.

One night after work, I had just graduated from high school, and just turned 18, and it was the long weekend around the first of July. My manager from the record store took me downtown to this gay bar called The Roost. I had never seen such a thing. Being a small town, everyone was there. I mean drag queens, leather men, jocks, farmers. All in the same room. All dancing to the same music. With each other. It was like stepping into a new, spectacular and colorful world.

And the sound! I had grown up in the disco era, I had all the records by Donna Summer, Chic, Patrick Hernandez, Santa Esmeralda, Boney M, KC & the Sunshine Band, Sister Sledge, the Bee Gees, ABBA of course. But I had never heard music this amazing, and this LOUD, on what was reputedly a $10,000 sound system. All sorts of new music, like Tantra, Boystown Gang, Sharon Redd, Grace Jones, Sylvester. I adored electro disco like Patrick Cowley, Bobby O, Cerrone, the Flirts.

This was also the place I first heard Duran Duran, the song was "Planet Earth", they had a 12" single import from the UK. Duran Duran would come to be one of my all time favorite bands. To this day whenever I hear the 12" Night Version of 'Planet Earth' I am back in that night club.

But the song that I identify most with from that very specific time and place, is "Feels Like I'm In Love" by Kelly Marie. She sings, "My head is in a spin, my feet don't touch the ground," which describes exactly how I felt. God, I loved that song. And still do, now nearly thirty years later!

When I was still in school there was a very rogue band from Toronto called Rough Trade. The lead singer was a woman named Carole Pope, their music was so out there, so sexual, so provocative. Rumour around school was that Carole was a transexual. It later turned out that she was simply a lesbian (and was Dusty Springfield's girlfriend at the time), but either way, for us high school kids in 1980 it was a VERY big deal.

Their hit single at the time was "High School Confidential" and it was very vivid, and very sexual. Carole sang about a high school vamp, teasing all the boys, and there is a line in the song where she says, "she makes me cream my jeans when she comes my way." That was VERY titillating for us, and the radio version bleeped out the word "creamed" LOL.

The first drag show I saw, there was this guy who did that song and it blew my mind. He (she) was so amazing, so perfect, so sexual, so ambiguous! This was a couple years before Annie Lennox hit big. When I finally saw Rough Trade perform the song a couple years later it was actually disappointing! The drag queen was better than the real thing! But I bought all Rough Trade's albums and Carole Pope's solo albums and still love them. I wish there were more of them.

I still remember the first guy I went home with, that fateful evening, but how could I not! His name was Robbie, he had beautiful eyes, dark hair and stubble, and a hairy chest (and a huge dick) and he was the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. The next day all my friends from school were calling me on the phone to get the scoop. Yep, I'm gay! (no cover of Time magazine for me, though).

Los Angeles