Readers often e-mail (and I’m paraphrasing), “How do you come up with new ideas every week?” I generally assume that they’re asking in the complimentary sense. Occasionally, I get the sneaky feeling it’s asked in a slightly less flattering tone, as in, “Why do you bother?”

After 300 weeks of deadlines my brain is trained. Hopefully, Sunday and Monday an idea percolates, albeit usually unconsciously. Tuesday I start focusing. Wednesday is spent praying the idea is column-worthy, and writing a first draft. And Thursday, come hell or high water, I polish it and send it off.

But sometimes columns find me. For example, this past Monday when I was working out in my apartment building gym (equipped with treadmills, ellipticals, StairMasters, recumbent bikes, weight machines and free weights). It’s workout nirvana, except for one teensy-weensy drawback.

While the plate glass wall of the gym overlooks the newly remodeled pool, there are no windows that open. For air the residents prop the doors open with free weights. But now management insists the doors be closed. (Apparently to prevent kids from wandering into the gym.) They suggest we use the air conditioner, but that’s not air. (Reminiscent of Twain’s distinction between lightning and lightning bug.)

When most people workout, given the ease of catching colds in a communal environment, they don’t want air-conditioning hitting their perspiration-soaked bodies. Besides, isn’t one of the reasons we live at the beach the fresh air? Maybe most importantly, air-condition uses precious energy, unnecessarily in this case.

The cardio machines in the gym have built-in TVs, which is a great convenience. But unfortunately most residents walk out without turning the TV off. At least our security guards, at the end of the night, ought to turn off the bank of lit up TVs (which looks like an aisle at Best Buy).

I’ve voiced my objections to management, and even to other residents. So far it hasn’t gone over swimmingly with either. A lawyer friend, who shall remain nameless (Christopher), got out of the Jacuzzi with the bubbles still bubbling. I politely noted the wasted energy and received in return, “Who appointed you electricity monitor?” (Forget a Pulitzer, my dream is to be Electricity Monitor.)

In the recreation rooms of each lobby my building has a state of the art big-screen TV for the residents. It’s very impressive. But most of the time the rooms are empty. As I walk by, I think to myself, “There goes more of our money to the Saudis.” (As if they don’t have enough already.)

Also in the lobbies are the tenant mailboxes. Next to them is a large trash container which receives a colossal amount of junk mail daily. Once I timidly suggested to management that these be emptied into our recycle bins in the garages. Basically, I was greeted with, “Who appointed you recycling monitor?” I suppose I’m self appointed.

You see over 20 years ago I lobbied the city and our landlord at the time to bring recycling to our complex. As I gathered petition signatures, I was scolded by tenants who believed that the bins would attract rodents, while the owners believed the tenants were too lazy to use the bins. In spite of the naysayers, recycling here has been an overwhelming success. (And has saved landlords money by reducing their sanitation fees.)

Maybe it’s me, but it seems like people used to pitch in more. During World War II everyone saved scrap metal, tires, paper, tin, household fats, silk stockings, and even coats for Russian refugees. Today it’s a challenge to get somebody to turn off a TV. After Sept. 11, the entire country was eager to do their part. But what did the White House recommend? We all should continue shopping. Classic.

History has proved that Americans want to do the right thing. We just need leadership. During the electrical brown outs of the 1990s here in California (rigged by Enron, among others), we collectively reduced our energy consumption by a whopping one-third. Why couldn’t we do that year-round?

Recently, when the 405 Freeway was shut down, everyone cooperated and the construction went off flawlessly. That spirit of harmony lasted a weekend. Then it went back to the cutthroat, bumper-to-bumper traffic for which Los Angeles is so famous (or infamous). So why can’t we all turn off lights in unused rooms? Or TVs if no one is watching? If we don’t want air conditioning why can’t we just open the door?

Well, that’s it for this week’s “episode.” Some columns come to me, others I have to work at. This one was a little bit of both. Now, of course, I have to conjure up what to write about for next week. I suppose I could go to the gym and wait for some inspiration but, unfortunately, there’s no fresh air there.

When Jack isn’t busy being the “electricity and recycling monitor,” he can be reached at

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