While being a teacher is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, it is also one of the most taxing. There are occasions when teachers simply need a day away from the classroom, a day to recharge, a day for ourselves. I have heard this referred to as a "mental health day." So be it. On Thursday, May 22, 2003, Brian and I decided to take such a day and escape the blackboard jungle of Rosemead High School.

First, though, I actually needed to make a brief stop at the school in order to pick up the digital camera; yes, in order for my day away from the school to be complete, I needed the help of that very institution. Clearly, though, this ironic moment did not deter from my glee of missing work to play. Brian patiently waited for my return in the car and off we went. Zoom zoom.

So we had a whole day to kill and over a half a tank of gas in the Hybrid so where did we go first...? that's right, the DMV! Well, actually, I just ran in to see if I could pick up my new personalized plates without having to stand in line. Wishful thinking, of course, since the place was packed, so we quickly left.

We jumped on the freeway, from 210 East to the 5 South, exited Stadium Way and made our way towards Union Station. Instead of paying for parking we pulled in the lot for Phillipe's and left the bad boy there for the day while we walked.

Our first stop was Olvera Street. There wasn't much open at 9:45 in the morning so we just wandered. Brian spied some traditional Mexican dresses for little girls and he went over to model them for me (damn, this sure sounds gay). Unfortunately, as he started looking at one of the dresses the proprietor walked up and asked if he needed assistance. Now, the thing about Brian is that he never wants to hurt people's feelings so he actually talked to the dude. Then another worker came up and Brian kept it up, never letting on that this started as a joke. What a nice guy. Then we came upon the kiosk where you can get your picture taken sitting on a burro. Brian asks the guy standing there when the burro will make its appearance and the hombre says around 10:30. We make a note to stop back there on our return.

As we continued on our way we snapped a picture of ourselves with Los Angeles City Hall in the background, the very building the Martians destroyed in War of the Worlds. As we trudged along the 110 Freeway overpass I paused to laugh at the poor fools heading to work in gridlock while the other side flowed effortlessly. We walked by the one place we hoped our day's endeavors would not lead us: the federal court house.

Brian led us into the Los Angeles Mall that also happens to be underground. It was, suffice it to say, a very creepy place. Brian showed his respect for the texts of our great nation. Besides this place, there was a Taco Bell, a McDonalds, plus a number of other eateries, yet there was barely a soul to be seen. It was a surreal experience walking through this place, one that I likened to the food court of the Death Star. There were many mirrors in the place and I experimented with a few shots. (pic 1) (pic 2) I even captured Brian going up an escalator that turned out like some kind of M.C. Escher etching.

OK, so we decided to ditch work for the day, an academic institution, no less, so where do we decide our next stop should be? The Los Angeles Public Library, of course. Geez, talk about a couple of geeks. Indeed, though, it is a beautiful place. As we headed up the walkway to the entrance there were strange things to see. There was a fish fountain spewing water, a pond-like exhibit with a reptilian skeleton, and another fountain that was in the shape of a golden head with which I was obviously intrigued. Even the steps were unique, with phrases in various languages. After carefully studying the words I realized that it was the same joke in many different tongues. The joke? "What did the detective do when he didn't believe the librarian's story? He booked her!" Just goes to show that library humor is universal.

Once inside I was impressed with the grandeur of the place. It was at times classical, other times avant garde. There was even a photographic exhibit of old Hollywood. For those of you that have seen the movie The Tao of Steve you'll understand why it was apropos for Brian and me to choose this specific Hollywood celebrity. As we left the library I stopped to read one of the two Doonesbury books I bought earlier at the B. Dalton in the underground mall. The books were normally $7.98, marked down 50%, then marked down 50% again. When all was said and done: both books for a whopping $4.32. That, my friends, is great satire at bargain prices.

As we continued on we came upon an alley that was the back of the Los Angeles Theatre, and the only observable action in the alley was a magazine stand. Fresh from the inspiration of the library's motto "books invite all; they constrain none", Brian decided he was in the market for some reading material. He soon found a lil' sumpin sumpin to his liking. Check the look on his face; the man is clearly reading the articles.

11:30 meant lunch. What better place to eat than Skid Row? Brian suggested Cole's, the oldest continuously operated restaurant in Los Angeles, a place that opened in 1908 and whose downstairs placement is reminiscent of Cheers (minus Sam "Mayday" Malone). After scanning the menu, Brian settled on beef brisquit, while I went with the traditional turkey sandwich. Both of us opted for a side of mac and cheese. The food was mediocre, and I was the only one who finished everything. It was more for the experience than the taste. Brian was even able to watch as the chef sliced up healthy chunks of meat for his sandwich. Beef, it's what's for lunch.

After we finished eating we proceeded to walk down Spring Street and were promptly accosted by a man who was clearly both homeless and homosexual. He obviously recognized two easy marks in us and introduced himself as the "Downtown Comedian" and wanted to know if we would give him a couple bucks if he could make us laugh. His joke was not funny but Brian gave him the leftover beef brisquit to shut him up. Then the son of a bitch had the balls to look to me for money. Here is the following dialogue between me and the "Downtown Comedian":
Him: If I can tell you what day you were born within three days and where you got your shoes will you give me a dollar?
Me: Um, OK.
Him: You were born on either Thursday, Friday, or Saturday before Sunday or Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday after Sunday. And you got your shoes on your feet. Now gimme my dollar.
Me: You know, I gave you this opportunity in good faith and you betrayed it. I don't feel like you earned the dollar.
Him: You must be a Gemini.
Me: No, I'm an Aries.
Him: Well, I'm a Gemini.
Me: My mom is a Gemini and she's a bitch.
Him: You motherfucker! You're a dick with ears!
Brian: If I give you a dollar will you take a picture with me.
Him: Fuck yeah!
Leave it to Brian, the great compromiser, to recognize that I was not parting with my hard-earned buck and this fuckin' homeless butt pirate was not going to leave us alone until he had somebody's dollar. If you look closely at the picture you will notice two things: 1) the bum is saying "Cheese, mother fucker" as I am taking it, and 2) he is holding in his hand the rest of Brian's lunch. Oh, and yes, he really did call me a "dick with ears." Classic.

Now, they say the neon lights are bright on Broadway but this was in the middle of the day so I wouldn't know. I do know, though, that Brian got in the way of the damn picture.

On the corner was a discount clothing store that wouldn't have been mentionable were it not for the $1.99 Hawaiian shirts out front! Seriously, is this a great country or what? Do you think Brian and I let this opportunity slip through our fingers? You tell me. Of course, somewhere in the world Brian has a fashion twin.

As we continued up Broadway we saw it all. I mean, if I so chose I could have bought all of American Mart's stock for $4.99, but how the hell would I carry it all? A moment later Brian heard a sound and quickly saw what may have been the highlight of the day: a bum ralphing all over the street. I mean, it was nasty and chunky and yellow. Brian was trying to get me to take a picture except that, 1) it takes about five seconds for the digital camera to turn on and be ready to shoot (that's forever in vomit time), and 2) the sight was making me a bit nauseous and considering I had mac and cheese in me, I was not ready to duplicate the moment. After all that I needed to rest a bit and I came upon a popular place. Fortunately for me there was one seat left, as if they had reserved it for me. Who am I to argue against destiny?

Well rested, on we went. Now, Brian once told me this story about a bar he and some friends went into, where there was a mirror perfectly placed and angled on the floor behind the bar so that when the waitress bent over to pour your drink you had a clean view up her skirt. Well, slap my ass and call me Sally, what do you think we found? Yep, like the Flying Dutchman appearing through the fog, there was La Cita itself as we turned a corner. So we walk in to see if the place can live up to its legend. OK, let me stop here to say that I have never actually been into a bar. Yes, at 32 years old, living in Los Angeles my entire life, it never happened. As we entered and my eyes are struggling to adjust to the dimly lit environment the first thing that catches my eye is the TV up in the corner being watched by about 6 or seven old men. The kicker? On the screen is Dreamworks' Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron! Brian and I are like, "WTF?!" This stole the award from the deserted Death Star mall for the most surreal moment of the day. The bartender greeted us with "buenas tardes" and we sit down. Brian wanted to order me a shot of water just to see me drink at a bar but I was very uncomfortable and wanted to split. Yeah, I admit it, I punked out. I was out of my element and if I couldn't take any pictures in the place I wanted out. So we left.

What better place to go to smooth out a wrinkle in the day than -
Jose's Ice Cream Corner. Yum! With all better we stopped off at the Los Angeles Times building to see one of Brian's friends, but it was 12:30. Yep, lunch time.

So we headed back to Olvera Street and we encountered a clown in the middle of the square. Thursday afternoon and there's a clown walking around? If you think that's freaky look at the picture more closely and you'll notice Cesar Chavez waiting for a balloon animal. The great advocate of the farm worker is alive and living on Olvera Street. What a day. We remembered our plan to take a picture with the burro but we discovered to our dismay that all they had out there was a stuffed one. My sensibilities were offended. I mean, this thing was so scary looking, not even Norman Bates would have it in his office. Come on, a stuffed burro? Is nothing sacred, anymore? It's not like the dude working there is Roy Rogers and he's offering pictures with Trigger. Keep in mind it costs 10 bucks for a picture. Screw that. Clearly the guy doesn't know who he's messing with. So Brian, in his unending attempts to stick it to the man, stood behind the damn thing while I got a free snapshot. Our day in L.A. was complete.

So it was still early but it was also freakin' hot outside so Brian suggested a movie. Keeping with the geek theme of the day we decided to catch Spellbound, a documentary about a bunch of freak children at the national spelling bee, at the Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. We had time to go to Best Buy to pick up Brian's secret pal the new White Stripes CD, Elephant. We got to theater a bit early, so I bought a rasberry Italian ice drink from Vromans and we headed in. We asked one of the ushers to take a picture with the movie poster then we took our seats. I know this will come as a shock to you but the theater was nearly empty. That's empty - E-M-P-T-Y - empty. And when I use that word I mean it. Oh, by the way, just because the Italian ice drink has a fancy name and costs almost four bucks, if you drink it too fast it will give you a brain freeze that will rival any you'll get from an 89 cent Slurpee at 7-11.

When I dropped off Brian at his house I had to get a picture of Jack's check that was payment for a bet he lost. I have mixed feelings about this because it was a bet that the Lakers would win the championship again. *sigh*

Brian's class had a Shakey's Night and I told him I would go. He swung by at about 5:30 and we headed to Hot Topic in the mall to buy his secret pal another gift. Man, I wish he was my secret pal. While he was buying her a Ramones shirt I was checking out the toys. D'oh!

At Shakey's Brian showed once again what a considerate friend he is: he bought a pitcher of lemonade because he knows I don't drink soda. What a pal. This was to be a night of eating, and by the time the food was up I was ready. Making a very special appearance this night was the J.D. Salinger of Rosemead High School herself, Wendy Bi. Of course it took Anna to drag her out of the house and a promise from me to treat her to food to get it to happen, but we walk before we run, we crawl before we walk, and we eat mojos before we crawl. Side note: Wendolyn claimed she didn't like pizza, which of course lowered her esteem in my eyes. But after she ate three slices and a bunch of mojos she sure looked like someone who enjoyed the stuff. I respected her again.

In case any one ever wonders why Wendy's presence matters to me, I think the following story will provide a sufficient answer: The girl, in her boredom, was pouring large amounts of salt into her nearly-empty drink. I offered her three bucks to drink it but after some thought she turned down my proposal. So... I put a couple of used drumstick chicken bones in the concoction, swished them around several times and then upped my offer to five dollars! With some urging from Anna she picked the glass and gulped it down. Sweet! Or, should I say, salty.

Brian and I ended the night planning our Renaissance Assembly routine, so stay tuned.