It’s a completely different world north of the 101.
Exhibit A: Friday night I went to Universal CityWalk. The last time I was there, I was wearing a green-and-gold cheerleading uniform, and my hair was in pink foam curlers. And while my fellow cheer competitors and I groaned about how embarrassed we were, I was actually really proud to be in such a big, neon place as something other than a civilian.
But on Friday, I was a civilian. Stephanie was the pro, having choreographed several dance numbers for the Anime Fusion Tour starring Japanese former-teen-actress-turned-singer Yoko Ishida. Yoko is apparently now known for singing anime theme songs and some of the songs used in Para Para, a video game that is like Dance Dance Revolution, but with arms.
I know so little about all of this that I don’t even know if I’m using correct syntax by saying “songs used in Para Para.” To folks in the know, that might be like saying, “I just love going surfing on the World Wide Spider Web!”
And there’s nothing like a brief glimpse into a really intense subculture to make you realize how much there is to not be in the know about: Big TV screens blasted rapid-fire anime clips, Yoko sang in a sweet, clear voice (I bet Jessica Simpson didn’t sound half as good when she was doing the mall circuit), girls in short skirts and pastel wigs busted Steph’s moves—and the kids went wild.
I fixated on a quintet of high school students who knew all the Para Para moves and danced with Muppets-meet-Pussycat Dolls passion to every song. The group consisted of two painfully dorky white boys (one with a T-shirt that read, “You are so off my buddy list”), a Latino boy with blue and silver patches on his jeans and a hot, bare-bellied Filipina girl.
Maybe she used to be a dork too, I decided, and got a makeover during Christmas break. She doesn’t know it yet, but this will be the last night she’ll hang out with her dorky friends. Soon some jock will ask her out, and even though she’ll only date him for a little while, it will be long enough to effortlessly meld into his circle of popular friends. She will still say hi to her dorky entourage, but she’ll find herself sheepishly deleting “Para Para” from her list of interests on MySpace.
As for her boys, they’ll maintain their Para Para fanaticism until freshman or sophomore year of college. In another time and place, they would have been drama geeks, rocking out to Jesus Christ Superstar instead of J-pop. But that too would have faded once they realized it wasn’t showbiz they loved so much as dancing, and boys. Once they get fake IDs, they’ll tear themselves from their computers and hit Santa Monica Boulevard, where the music is louder and the stakes are higher.
And once in a while, they’ll all remember that January night on CityWalk, where they danced so hard they didn’t need jackets, and so intensely that they didn’t notice who watched, but hoped everyone would.
Exhibit B: Saturday, I accompanied Sara to her coworker’s Tupperware party in North Hills. Actually, it was a Pampered Chef party, which is the same thing but without the camp value or reseal-able containers.
I think she took me along to prove to herself that, even though she bought a cherry pitter and an ice cream sandwich maker, she was attending this thing ironically. And even though I bought a batter bowl and a 10” stainless steel whisk, I assured her this was totally ironic.
Our “consultant,” Jody, demonstrated how to make a chicken-salad-in-blanket dish that seemed to have been designed specifically to require as many Pampered Chef products as possible. As she explained the ingeniousness of each product, I began to sense a theme:
“Now, if you use a regular plastic pan scraper, you know that the top part often falls off. Do you know how many germs get stuck between the two parts? Our plastic pan scraper is a single unit….”
“With a regular can opener, all the germs that are on top the can lid fall into your food when you open the can. Our can opener unglues the entire top of the can and lifts it right off….”
“With a regular wooden cutting board, you are slicing wood right into your food. Do you want to eat wood? Our bamboo cutting board just dents rather than splinters….”
And that’s when I realized I wasn’t an ironic hipster at all. I was, in fact, an 80-year-old man, grumbling under my breath, “Back in my day, we ate germs and wood all the time, and we turned out just fine, dagnabbit.”
Jody went on to explain why the stoneware pans, despite general Pampered Chef germ-phobia, only needed to be scraped with their special scraper and washed with warm water.
“That way, whatever you’ve cooked before seasons your food,” she said.
“So will my cookies taste like fish?” someone asked.
“No,” Jody said, “it won’t taste like anything you’ve cooked in that pan before, it will just be better.”
After the demo was over, we barbequed burgers and hot dogs on the backyard grill without the help of any Pampered Chef products, as far as I could tell. Someone turned on the TV, and we watched the second half of Goodfellas, which I’d never seen, but which made me crave Italian food. Fresh pasta, cheese from a corner deli, a little olive oil. No need for irony, a Reversible Bamboo Cutting Board or even clean hands.