Friday, March 31, 2006

eye shadow and other mundanities

If the Carnival of the Mundane were to elect a deity, I would vote for Susan Straight, an author of gorgeous prose about, as she summed it up yesterday at the Riverside Art Museum, “how people got where they are.” Her work embodies the personal-as-political, although her characters are usually too busy working hard and raising children to think much about political slogans. They make soap and coach football and run through the desert. They do what they have to do, and what Susan has to do is write about it.

But I also love the way she talks about it. I’ve heard her speak a few times, and she always mentions her three daughters—not in that self-congratulatory, I’m-a-single-mom-doing-it-all kind of way, but in a loving and charmed and realistic way. Yes, there’s soccer practice, but there’s also the part where she has to explain slavery to her five-year-old biracial daughter, who says, “That’s crazy. You can’t buy people.” Susan seems to believe in transparency on all fronts: There is slavery in the world, and her eye shadow, should you wonder, is Wet ‘n’ Wild and cost $1.99, and she writes on legal pads in the car.

So all hail Susan Straight and all hail colla voce, this week’s hostess. Busy people doing mundane and profound things.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

the heart is predictable above all things

“Wow, it’s like a laundry list of child abuse clichés,” Jenessa said before we were even out of the Castro Theater, where we’d just watched The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. “It’s like, neglect—check, sexual molestation—check, evil punk rock music—check. And of course they had to blow up a meth lab.”

“It’s like how people say that if you show a gun at the beginning of a movie, it has to go off by the end,” I said. “If you show a meth lab, it has to blow up.”

Even without knowing the JT LeRoy backstory, the movie was bad. In some ways, fake stories have to be more compelling than true stories, because they don’t have that oh-my-god-that-really-happened factor to fall back on. And to view a work of fiction whose only point is “child abuse sucks” is not a powerful experience. We left feeling dirty and disappointed.

But my point is the whole list-of-clichés thing, because the next day we fell victim to another laundry list, this time under the heading of Things Straight Men Say To Try To Pick Up Lesbians That Actually Have The Opposite Effect.

We were at a coffee shop, and the perp was a 40-something man wearing a hat that caused one of his ears to bend in a distracting way.

Him: “Oh? Maybe you just haven’t met the right man yet. Have you been with a black man?”

Him: “Well, I wouldn’t be with a man because I’m not attracted to men.”

Him: “How about just being friends? I have lots of friends who are gay and lesbian. And some lesbians, they want to have babies. Do you want to have a baby?”

Him: “But you’re not afraid to be a girl, I can tell. You’re still soft.”

Him: “I think two women together is a beautiful thing.”


Needless to say, I didn’t take him up on his not-so-subtle offer to father my child.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

i (and everyone else) heart berkeley bowl

When Jenessa told me about her favorite grocery store, Berkeley Bowl, she said, “It’s dirt cheap and they have eight kinds of pears, but I have to meditate in the parking lot before going in because it’s just so insane. These Berkeley women with their shopping carts!”

She proceeded to do an impression of a dreamy soul standing in the middle of a crowded produce aisle, mesmerized by Manila mangoes and completely oblivious to the traffic jam building up behind her.

Later in the day, I was having lunch with Annette when, unprompted, she did the exact same impression.

“But I go there and I see the 40 kinds of self-serve granola and I just think, ‘Wow, I am at the epicenter of granola,’” Annette said.

I had to see this place. And no, Berkeley Bowl is not Berkeley’s best kept secret. The word is out and the place is packed, although, Jenessa informed me as we nudged our way past cute dyke couples and little kids and Rastafarians, it was actually pretty slow for a Saturday afternoon.

“I really wanted you to have the full chaotic experience,” she sighed.

But I had no complaints. A good grocery store is a beautiful and sensual experience, and Berkeley Bowl was a full-on bowlgasm. Twelve types of radishes. Dried pasta you can buy by the scoop. Fresh pasta by the bag. Mix-your-own trail mix. Free samples of candied almonds and gouda cheese. A taqueria. A fish aisle that smells like fish and a coffee aisle that smells like coffee. An olive bar.

And, unlike Whole Foods or Bristol Farms, which are aesthetically delightful but also pretentious and overpriced and fake-country-grocery-store-y, Berkeley Bowl is very democratic. My hand-scooped low-fat strawberry raspberry granola only cost $1.62, and a sort of scruffy utilitarianism pervades the displays. No sexily posed star-fruit here, just acres and acres of scoopable food in clear plastic bins with little signs that say “no sampling” (though of course people do—I didn’t, however, because I decided I’d had enough crime for one weekend).

Tonight Jenessa and I are making fresh spinach pasta (which we had to ask how to cook, having only dealt with the dried stuff before) with fresh pesto. Then we’re going to see an International Clitoris Day Celebration in the city, after which we plan to go to the Lexington and see if we can pass Jenessa’s boyfriend off as a butch dyke.

I’ve thought about moving to the Bay Area before, but at times like these, I think, No, I couldn’t handle it. Life would just be too easily wonderful.

Friday, March 24, 2006

next stop walgreens

“Lately I’ve turned into the 11-year-old girl I never was,” I explained to Jenessa and Mark during dinner at Luna Park in the Mission. The 11-year-old I was was studious, awkward and very concerned with sculpting my bangs into the perfect Aquanet wave. The 11-year-old I’ve become is giggly, girl-crazy and—apparently—a troublemaker.

Case in point: After stashing my suitcase at Jenessa’s place in Oakland, we went around the corner to catch Dr. Strangelove at the Parkway, a theater that plays old movies for $5 and sells beer. We met Jenessa’s friends Johanna and Carly outside; they’d already bought tickets and started drinking, and we were ready to do the same.

“Sold out,” the chick at the ticket counter informed us. She turned to a guy nearby who seemed like he might be sneaking in and gave him the third degree about his ticket. It turned out his friend really did put the tickets under “Fred” even though he’d thought they would be under “Jonathan.” Or something.

Jenessa and I returned to Johanna and Carly, heads hanging.

“Hey,” said Carly, “I’ve heard that the other movie playing here is really good—Night Watch.” She winked one of her large brown eyes repeatedly, and I thought maybe she was having mascara problems. I hate it when that happens.

“The Russian vampire movie?” I said. “I heard about it.”

“Maybe you should get tickets to that one,” said Johanna, who seemed to be having similar mascara issues.

“Ooohh,” said Jenessa, nodding. “And then maybe we should go visit you in your theater.”

This was not about mascara, I realized.

I should interject to say that Jenessa, whom I’ve known since third grade, is probably the closest thing to a “bad” friend that I have. Don’t get me wrong: She is a Fine Upstanding Citizen. She works as a counselor and is getting her second graduate degree. But approximately a third of her body is covered in tattoos and yesterday she was heard to utter the phrase, “Hmm, this is the first time I’ve been to this bar not high on coke.” [Note to Blog Police and Jenessa’s parents: She meant Coca-Cola, of course. The girl used to have a serious sugar problem.] It all started when, circa 1985, she rode her bike all the way down the block after her mom had explicitly said that she was not to leave the driveway.

Jenessa giggled. Johanna giggled.

“The seats are really wide,” Carly said. “We can push them together.”

Which meant, my little moralistic brain calculated, that we would only be breaking the rules, not actually screwing anyone over. So if I said no, it would be because I was a goody two-shoes, not because I was a good person.

So we did it. We snuck into Dr. Strangelove huddled beneath the wide flap of Carly’s faux fur coat. And five minutes into the movie, I fell asleep—no fault of Dr. Strangelove’s, it had just been a really long day.

One could take this as proof that crime doesn’t pay, but when I awoke an hour and a half later, I felt refreshed and delightfully devious.

We stood outside the theater, saying our goodbyes and reliving our crime like boastful mobsters sure to get caught. Except we didn’t.

“See,” I said, “I told you I was turning into my 11-year-old alter ego.”

“Next you’re going to go steal something from Walgreens,” said Johanna.

“Maybe some nail polish,” I contemplated.

Johanna studied her chipped nails. “If you do, buy me a finger.”

Maybe not Walgreens. But Wal-Mart could stand to be hit by giddy, 11-year-old Robin Hood with glittery pink fingernails. Right?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

bring on the broadway flops

I was never very good at tag—all that running and anxiety. So it’s not surprising that it’s taken me like a week to respond to Tracy Lynn’s blog-tag. But here’s what I’m listening to when I’m stuck in traffic these days, in only a semi-particular order:

1. Bright Eyes, “At the Bottom of Everything” and “Road to Joy” especially, but basically every song on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.
2. Jane Siberry, “Love is Everything,” because love is everything.
3. Shannon McNally, “Geronimo,” because having your land and life stolen from you is also something.
4. Track ten on this CD by a completely intoxicating Algerian band that Bronwyn burned for me, because I travel the world vicariously.
5. Falsettoland soundtrack, “Days Like This,” because I am a 50-year-old gay man.
6. Songs from the Capeman soundtrack, “Satin Summer Nights,” because “Broadway flop” = Cheryl’s sure to like it. I also own the Side Show soundtrack.
7. Whatever Kelly Clarkson song comes on the radio, because the girl can sing, okay?

Shout-outs to the folks who’ve clued me in to the cooler choices on my list. Falsettoland was entirely my own discovery.

Monday, March 20, 2006

test 1, 2

It makes sense that after a weekend in which I spent two and a half hours stuck in LA Marathon traffic, my blog would still be all freak-o. I’m testing to see whether posting a new entry will miraculously fix its glitches, much in the same way that I hoped, while squeezing past an oil tanker toward a lone empty turn lane on Sunday, that heading southwest would somehow help me go northeast.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

carnival of the mundane VI (for real this time)

[Note on the skuzzy-rickety nature of carnivals and Blogger: This post was originally composed with much cooler hyperlinks rather than pasted URLs, but Blogger kept cannibalizing my text for some reason. Also watch out for the Ferris wheel, which has a tendency to break while you’re dangling in the top car and have to pee; and the cotton candy—um, it’s best not to ask why.]

Step right up ladies, gentlemen and the rest of you, and behold the finest group of oddities in all of cyberspace. Some of them may look harmless—mundane, even—but don’t be fooled: Dark secrets lurk in their hearts. Bizarre abilities have brought them to the midway. Let me introduce you to a few of the specimens in our collection:

Jenny of Run Jen Run can Houdini her way out of a locked basement in the dead of winter. (Or can she? I don’t want to give anything away. Maybe she found an internet connection down there and is still locked inside, blogging for help!)
http://www.runjenrun.com/archives/2006/03/the_kindness_of_1.php

Tracy Lynn of Kaply, Inc. worships pirates and human kidneys.
http://kaplyinc.blogspot.com/2006/03/post-147-in-which-i-reveal-my.html

Postmodern Sass of Postmodern Sprachspielen battles chain-letter black magic with pomo skepticism.
http://pomosprachspielen.blogspot.com/2006/03/chain-of-fools.html

Kevin of kapgar.com cannot be trusted with a black marker.
http://kapgar.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/03/im_just_a_girl_.html

Jamie of Morning River combs the far corners of Westwood for exotic dishes like Chinese chicken salad.
http://morningriver.blogspot.com/2006/03/poetry-or-chinese-chicken-salad.html

Claire of Taller Than Average Tales can wiggle her nose and make movie theater seats grow.
http://tallerthanaveragetales.blogspot.com/2005/06/prelude-to-bewitched.html

Liz of Everyday Goddess knows a thing or two about piss and can gorgonize you on top of that.
http://everydaygoddess.typepad.com/everyday_goddess/2005/03/you_dont_really.html

Leesepea of But Wait! There’s More… can shoot mysterious substances from her eye sockets.
http://leesepea.blogspot.com/2006/03/that-was-really-gross.html

Billy Mernit of Living the Romantic Comedy hoards photos of Osama’s sexy relatives and a whole lot more.
http://livingromcom.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/03/emptying_a_fold.html

Daisy Mae of Daisy Mae socializes with spotted children and magical hairy dogs.
http://daisy8972.blogspot.com/2006/03/spotty-situation.html

Mata H of Time’s Fool can turn a green lawn purple.
http://timesfool.blogspot.com/2006/02/violets-and-frances.html

Hyperion of the Hyperion Institute can push Q-Tips deep into the caverns of his body and call Canada collect.
http://hyperioninstitute.blogspot.com/2006/03/q-tip-war.html

Maribeth of the Smart Bohemian eats grapefruit with improper utensils and seeks out even bigger freaks.
http://mbmason.blogspot.com/2006/03/things-i-did-for-first-time-in-march.html

Wendy Scherer of Finding Blanche showers with gasoline.
http://findingblanche.blogspot.com/2006/02/gas.html

MarieMM3 of A Take on The World can wrestle a bat with her bare hands (and a yoga mat).
http://totw.blogspot.com/2006/01/holysmoke-batbat.html

Kim C. of Life in a shoe baffles pregnant women at buffets.
http://inashoe.blogspot.com/2006/03/im-sorryare-you-being-funny.html

Muse of me-ander does a headless chicken impression that takes 7,025 steps.
http://me-ander.blogspot.com/2006/03/saturday-night-before-purim.html

Miriam of Miriam’s Ideas gets all meta-freak and tells tales of her most freakish employees.
http://miriamsideas.blogspot.com/2006/03/my-worst-employees.html

Ferdinand, our only feline freak, would kill his owner in his sleep if only he had opposable thumbs.
http://www.conservativecat.com/mt/archives/2006/03/the_flu_gets_a.html

Josh of Multiple Mentality is the Invisible Man at his high school reunion.
http://multiplementality.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2006/03/08/780/

Marsha Hollingsworth of Moshpit Marsha goes clubbing until 9 p.m.!
http://marshahollingsworth.blogspot.com/2006/03/club-202.html

Friday, March 17, 2006

the brat pack (a.k.a. WTMCK-WITW #4)

I probably shouldn’t call Tarzan and Blue the Most Cutest Kitty-Witties In The World. Not because they’re not cute, but because they might beat me up for saying so.

Blue, a fluffy, peachy Persian with giant blue eyes, looks like Shirley Temple. But imagine if Shirley Temple went through a goth phase in high school. Imagine if she got really sick of being adorable, dyed her hair black and started listening to Marilyn Manson. It still wouldn’t be quite enough to hide the fact that it had only been a few years since she’d disembarked from the good ship Lollipop—and the fact that she was a child star, the neediest creature on earth.

That’s Blue, a cat who glowers and growls while rubbing her head against you and purring. She is a furry, semi-cuddly bag of contradictions, every artist’s ideal muse.

Tarzan may or may not be a cat. He is a tiny, young, long-black-haired ferret-type creature with a pointy face and a fight to pick with every cat he meets, even the 15-pound Hamlet, who has no problem living up to his violent namesake when provoked. Tarzan is part ferret, part bratty skater kid in need of Ritalin. A kid not entirely unlike Jake Manning circa 1989 (for those of you who went to Manhattan Beach Intermediate). Tarzan talks back to the teacher, and the other kids cover their mouths to squelch their laughter. The teacher lumbers after him as Tarzan darts between desks.

For Tarzan the world is so big and buzzing. There are things that jingle and sparkle and look at him the wrong way. He’s not allowed out without strict supervision, but what he needs is a lot of out, and a lot of no-supervision. He thinks Blue might be kinda interesting, the way she pushes her hair behind her ears and rolls her eyes when he walks by. But that ball darting toward his cage is also interesting, and—what’s that? Oh, the door closing behind him.

carnival of the mundane VI...

...should be right here. On this grassy plot. So where, you ask, are the rides? The freaks? The popcorn? The screaming children carrying giant teddy bears and 20-something hipsters on ironic dates?

A little backstory: I stayed up way too late last night performing my carnie duties (weird hours come with the carnie territory, so I knew what I was in for). I had that “I’m on deadline” mentality, although I paused periodically to remind myself that this was the most abstract, ephemeral type of stress: an arbitrary deadline for a project invented by people I’ve never actually met in person. But we carnies are a loyal bunch, despite our transience, so I took my job seriously. I drank some jasmine boba milk tea and read and posted like crazy.

But sometimes carnivals get rained on, and sometimes Blogger has technical difficulties and makes an illegible mess of your post. I will try again later tonight or tomorrow when I’m at home with my Word doc. Till then, let’s all go out and have some non-ephemeral, non-cyber fun. Preferably in the form of a Guinness. Or boba.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

frankenshirt

“Where’s your camera, Stephanie? I want to take a picture of you and put it on my blog.”

“You’re not taking a picture of me, dude. I look like Peter Pan.”

I studied Stephanie’s outfit, a long green T-shirt with a line drawing of an angry leprechaun on it. She had recently cut giant loops into the sleeves and down the front, and chopped the collar into wide fringe.

“You look like a cross between Peter Pan and the hippest girl ever,” I decided. “There are bars in LA where you could totally wear that. Especially if you use that strip of Ardith’s old bridesmaid dress as a belt and wear the shirt as a dress.”

“What bars?” Stephanie asked skeptically.

“Um…well, maybe CalArts.”

These were the final moments of Stephanie’s brilliant “cute-ifying” party, in which ribbon, eyelet, sloppy stitching and reckless scissoring techniques were applied to Steph’s collection of old T-shirts in order to make them prettier and/or more punk rock. The result was very Urban Outfitters circa 2004, which happens to be a look I’m fond of.

I cute-ified two shirts: one which says “Dave Williams is my father…” on the front, and “…but he will neither confirm nor deny it” on the back. None of us knew where the shirt came from or who Dave Williams was. But now, when I meet my real father, he will know that I have a way with ribbon. The other is from AIDS Walk. Now when I meet people who actually did AIDS Walk, they will learn I’m not a real philanthropist.

Some of us took to cute-ification more naturally than others. Ardith just kept cutting and cutting, and soon her shirt had so many gaping holes in it that it could only be worn by Darius, Steph’s roommate’s dog, though I have to admit he looked quite dashing in it.

After making one totally hot shirt and one shirt we dubbed “Frankenshirt,” Stephanie attempted the leprechaun challenge. She tried a few different techniques, one of which involved looping fabric around the collar and resulted in a hole so tiny she couldn’t fit her head through it.

As she undid the loops, Hang Yi chanted, “Cut it, cut it. Just cut it.”

Steph tried this. She frowned at the fringy outcome. “I’m dropping out of the Hang Yi school of fashion,” she said.

“I went to the Ardith school of fashion,” said Hang Yi. She studied my AIDS Walk shirt. “It looks like you have a tail in the back. You should cut that ribbon.”

But I’m very happy with the results. Plus I love parties with a purpose.
As I’ve mentioned before, it makes me feel like I’m on Blind Date.

Email me if you know who Dave Williams is.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

who’s the most cutest kitty-witty in the world? #3

Jon was in the market for a cat. His 16-year-old tabby, Cairo, had died recently and it was clear he hadn’t quite worked through all the stages of grief yet. He was at the showing-pictures-to-strangers stage, and also the keeping-a-mylar-balloon-tied-to-Cairo’s-favorite-chair stage. But such a committed cat dad deserves a good cat—even, perhaps, the most cutest kitty-witty in the world. And Carol, the head volunteer, was determined not to let him leave empty-handed.

“What about Wanda?” Carol asked. “Wanda, say hi to Jon.”

Jon had specified that he would like to adopt two young male cats, preferably tabbies. Wanda was a middle-aged female tortoiseshell, and there was only one of her. But Jon also said he was looking for a cat with a distinctive personality, which Wanda had in abundance.

Wanda has a heart-shaped face that wrinkles up when she meows, which is a lot. In the right light, she’s an attractive cat, but when Carol nudged her to put on the “adopt me!” routine, she stuck a leg up in the air and began licking her saggy, slightly balding belly.

Carol sighed.

Wanda is every teenager’s mom. She cheers with football game theatrics at your piano recital. She wears loud, ill-fitting sweaters and brags about what a bargain they were at T.J. Maxx. But if your friends were to snicker at her collection of resin Santa Claus figures, you would have to stop being friends with them. They would never do that, though, because they see their moms as Wanda and yours as a warm, delightful woman who makes really good spaghetti.

“I don’t know,” said Jon. “They sort of have to find you, you know?” Wanda followed him to the other side of the cattery, her spindly legs supporting her thick body. Jon was interested in a couple of the kittens. He said he’d come back on Saturday, when they’d gotten over their colds and he could see how playful they were.

Wanda is not the type to tell you about how she walked eight miles to school in the snow, but she might casually mention her favorite pair of pink-and-purple snow boots. She might seem a little nostalgic, but she’ll move onto another topic quickly, and then lick your nose for a while.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

and speaking of...

…watching TV and wearing hats, it’s time once again for the Carnival of the Mundane. This time it’s my turn to host. While I sweep crumbs under the rug and unwrap the veggie pâté, you guys and gals need to polish your clown shoes get your submissions ready. Any blog entry chronicling everyday life is eligible.

Just send the link and the name of your blog to meadowbat at yahoo[.]com by Wednesday, March 15.

days of beer and hats

What New York really is, is it’s an island, with lots of people, lots of different people.... I hope to maybe meet some guys, some Italian guys, and maybe watch some TV.

--Libby Mae Brown, Waiting for Guffman

Back in the day, watching TV while traveling would have been completely blasphemous. I was one of those sightsee-till-your-feet-are-covered-in-blisters types, determined to pack in Meaningful Cultural Experiences even as I daydreamed about free HBO. But the new, more relaxed (and possibly dumber for it) Cheryl is all about Project Runway, Little People, Big World, the Oscars and one surprisingly heartwarming episode of a WE show called: Secret Lives of Women: Transsexual.

Since Project Runway took place in New York (as did a couple of other shows and one movie I watched), I felt like I still got to see the city. And I felt very postmodern realizing that, a feeling you don’t get when you’re schlepping to the top of the Empire State building.

I’m exaggerating a bit, but even though I got a lot of work and some respectable sightseeing in, this trip was somehow all about a gentle sort of hedonism. I work for the sort of organization that, when you get folks together after hours, they have a few drinks and start talking about how great our donors are, how much integrity our executive director has, how rad our mission statement is. And somehow it’s as much fun as real gossip, because I have really awesome coworkers.

But traveling is ultimately about looking at your everyday life with new, more educated eyes. For example, as an LA girl, I knew that hats made stylish accessories. But until last week, I never knew that they could keep you really and truly warm in a snowstorm. I knew that beer was cheaper than cocktails, but I didn’t know what a nice, prolonged, gently hedonistic buzz it could provide.

I slept in. I didn’t unpack my running shoes. I stayed up late and asked questions and had a whole heaping handful of what I think of as Moments In The Woods (it’s a Sondheim thing) with really good people. Tommy and I talked about God and dwarves. Nicole and Bram and I talked about race and file-sharing. Jen and I talked about destiny and feminism and the crazy man getting naked behind us at Starbucks.

I think something came full circle. Maybe a couple of things. I wrote poetry on the plane ride home. And then I watched some more TV, sans headphones, just familiar faces pausing for laughter.