Sunday, April 30, 2006

i vs. e vs. scientology

The aforementioned Very Nice Girl, whom I will call AK until she decides she’s down with being plastered all over my blog (or comes up with a better pseudonym, although this one is rooted in cleverness, as it is a combination of Ackleykid and a.k.a.)—anyway, that girl is into Myers-Briggs (she only likes him as a friend, luckily). If you work in any type of environment with cubicles, you’re probably familiar with it. You take a test and fall on one of two sides of four fences. For example, I’m an ISFJ: introvert, sensing, feeling, judging. AK is an INFP: introvert, intuiting, feeling, perceiving.

There is a lot to be said about personality tests and their validity and what the sheer act of taking of them reveals about the takers (I’m talking to you, all you folks who post the results of the “Which Smurf are you?” quiz on your MySpace page)—but one thing that particularly stood out to me was that Myers-Briggs said I only had a slight tendency toward introversion.

B once explained that being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shy or antisocial, just that you rejuvenate by being alone, where as extroverted people get energy by being around others. So, duh, I’m an introvert. Could a reader, writer, blogger and lazy-returner-of-phone-calls really be otherwise?

Except lately many indicators (besides Myers-Briggs) show my needle inching from “I” towards “E”:

  • I just got home after two grueling, people-packed days at the LA Times Festival of Books, and my first thought (okay, my second, after, I want pizza) was, I wonder if Daisye’s home, I haven’t talked to her in a while.
  • Wednesday night AK, her work friends and I did karaoke at the Brass Monkey in Koreatown. Okay, they did karaoke—AK even added some smooth mic-twirling moves to her rendition of “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” I did what I usually do, which is wait until someone starts harassing me about not singing, eventually making it more embarrassing not to sing than to sing badly, at which point I sign up. Except this time no one bothered me. And I almost signed up on my own. I almost scrawled “Shadowboxer” on a little slip of paper. One more drink and I truly would have, I swear. And this was sing-in-front-of-the-whole-bar karaoke, not private-room karaoke. And I am still in the trying-to-impress her stage; though arguably I could pull a Cameron-Diaz-in-My Best Friend’s Wedding, I feel like that strategy maybe only works if you’re Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding. All that and I still almost got up there and sang like a crazy, tone-deaf extrovert.
  • Friday night I was determined to do laundry and clean my apartment and blog. The washing machine in my building was out of service, so I called Cathy to see if I could use hers. She said, “Yeah, come on over. Erin and I are going to hear some ‘80s-style girl band at a bar in Torrance. Wanna come?” The correct answer was “No,” but of course my answer was “Sure, why not?” I neither cleaned nor blogged.
  • And, if all that is really just run-of-the-mill recounting of a fun week, how’s this for evidence: Today at the Festival, when someone asked—as people at large public events in LA so often do—“Do you want a free stress test?” I said, again, “Sure, why not?”

    If you don’t live in LA, you may not know what happens next, which is that you sit in a chair with your palms around what look like two skinny tin cans, which are hooked up to a meter with a little arrow that allegedly wobbles when you are stressed. A fresh-faced wannabe-actor type then asks you, rather abstractly, to “think of various people and situations in your life and how they’re going.” The arrow zips around, and the fresh-faced person proceeds to suggest that you should read L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics and perhaps become a Scientologist in order to solve the stressful problems he had no business asking about in the first place.

    I gave really vague answers and was bummed the test wasn’t multiple choice and asked the test-taker a lot of questions about himself. But the point is, I took the friggin’ thing. Because that’s the mood I’m in these days—I’m engaging people. I’m talking just to talk. I’m going out just to go out.
I figure at some point I’ll swing back the other way at least a bit. For the sake of my writing routine, I hope I do. I want my arrow to wobble like just two tiny hair-widths closer to “I.” But in the meantime, I’m feeling really unstressed.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

who’s the most cutest kitty-witty in the world? #7

Yesterday my sister sent me a link to a site called http://www.stuffonmycat.com/. After looking at photos of Post-It notes, fruit, shoes, oven mitts, dogs, Legos, beanbags and babies perched atop un-amused cats, I drove over to the cattery, where putting Post-It notes, fruit, shoes, oven mitts, dogs, Legos, beanbags and babies on the residents is sadly not in my job description.

But watching tiny, tiny Fudge Ripple (who is for some reason called Stripe, not to be confused with Stripe FitzLahey), I was really tempted to pick her up and deposit her atop 22-pound Tahoe.

And I think she’d be up for it. Why? Because Stripe and her sister Orange Swirl are gymnasts. It’s not just that they’re young and limber and small even for kittens. It’s the way they carry themselves. Shoulders back. Legs liquid. Focus on the business of sticking that landing, not eating potato chips and talking about boys like the rest of the girls their age.

If you were like me as a kid—i.e. desperately eager to be the next Nadia Comaneci and intensely envious of any girl who showed signs of making it farther down that path—you know there’s a Stripe and Swirl at every school: They’re pretty in a quiet, compact way. They always seem to be daydreaming, going through the motions of freeze tag or whatever with the muggles of the world while mentally rehearsing their uneven parallel bar routines. They are too un-invested in schoolyard minutia to really be popular, but they’re too poised and otherworldly to really be unpopular.

You watch them and marvel at their ability to break out of the social narrative, although the thoughts that actually form in your head are, “I can’t believe Stripe climbed straight up that wall. I can’t believe that Swirl’s rhythmic gymnastics routine outshined my lip synch to Paula Abdul’s ‘Straight Up’ at the talent show.”

Right now, Stripe is totally Teodora Ungureanu. And because you in fact weren’t like me as a kid, I will explain that Teodora (at least as depicted in the 1984 made-for-TV movie Nadia) is Nadia’s prettier, more sophisticated, more outgoing, initially better trained friend. By the time the girls are 16, Teodora is a mere silver medalist who spends most of her time chasing boys.

Which leaves shy, slopey-eyed Swirl to fill the roll of Nadia, the unsmiling uber-gymnast who devotes her life to her sport. All she needs is a Bela Karolyi, the moody, hard-driving coach who devotes his live to the sport.

Enter Denzel, the big, neurotic panther of a cat who lives next door to Stripe and Swirl. While Stripe is out chasing string, Swirl has taken to climbing from her third-floor pad into Denzel’s, a gravity-defying feat in itself. What’s more amazing is that none of the humans or other cats at the cattery can touch Denzel without getting a swift paw across the face. Much like how Bela pissed off the judges, the Soviet gymnastics bureaucracy and Nadia’s parents. But when Swirl enters his cage, he licks her plum-sized head and slowly, diligently talks her through the steps of a double Yurkenco layout with a half twist.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

kansas-esque

Lately I’ve been kind of obsessed with how simultaneously big and small the world is. Some of this has to do with my much-ignored writing project. Some of this has to do with the internet and a number of freaky six-degrees-of-separation discoveries. The weird thing about the internet is that, in all its vastness, it’s one of the best ways to zero in and discover what’s right next to you. Kind of like how Dorothy needs to go to Oz to discover Kansas. Or maybe it’s not like that.

I wrote a poem on this general topic while sitting in the back of a classroom in the education department of the Natural History Museum today. The poem involved a giant dead shark, ancient Aztecs, text messaging and a very nice girl I am dating. Writing about the ancient and the technological in one poem is a cheap but effective poetry trick. I am not really a poet, and hence not above cheap tricks.

Monday, April 24, 2006

dirty writing

When I finished reading Michelle Tea’s new novel, Rose of No Man’s Land, this weekend, it dawned on me that one of the things I love about her writing is that her characters have greasy hair and messy bedrooms. Clothes itch and secondhand smoke stinks up rooms and sticky frosting drips off cinnamon rolls and down the fronts of shirts.

You hear about “gritty realism” (most memorably, I heard about it from a giant-egoed undergrad professor who was touting his own story collection), and usually it means that someone in the book is on drugs or gets molested. These things do happen in Michelle Tea’s uber-honest memoirs and fiction, which are fraught with scenes of giddy rebellion, but I relish the more literal grit.

Her characters are not clean, and sometimes it makes them feel small, as when Trisha, the 14-year-old narrator of Rose, marvels at her beauty-student older sister’s ability to sculpt hair into stiff, sleek towers of femininity. Sometimes it makes them feel good, as when Trisha marvels at her new semi-gothy friend’s ability to make a wire bracelet that has shed most of its beads look like a bad-ass accessory. Trisha watches it all in her beloved uniform of sweatpants and flip-flops.

I was one of those little kids who would cry if I got sticky, and my OCD self still craves the clean and shiny. Even when I aspired to a sort of half-assed punk aesthetic, I always wanted to be a well groomed punk, not the gutter variety. And maybe because my desired level of grooming is so incompatible with my actual level of effort, I admire those who can be dirty, gritty and happy.

Cynthia Kadohata is another author who gets this just right. Her characters are sometimes up to their elbows in chicken blood in a very matter-of-fact way. In In The Heart of the Valley of Love, the main character gets a futuristic skin disease that makes black pearls pop out of her zits and clatter on the floor of her shower. Sort of beautiful and disgusting at the same time.

I didn’t shower on Sunday. I bummed around town all day in a big T-shirt and flip-flops. It was cool.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

snaggletooth, that's who

I took the day off work to take Temecula to the vet (ah, the life of a single mom) to have her teeth brushed.

I know, it sounds ridiculous. But Washington Dog and Cat Hospital has a locked metal door that they have to buzz you through, and many of the dogs in the waiting room have ropes tied around their necks instead of leashes. In other words, I don’t think this vet would get much business recommending frivolous procedures. It’s not really a Tinkerbell crowd.

Mec-Mec is good about going to the vet, and good about many things. Before B and I adopted her, her rescuers named “Angel” because she was so good. That proved to be only half true—she’s good in that she doesn’t freak out the way normal cats do, doesn’t poo where she’s not supposed to, doesn’t have many nervous habits. But she knows how to cause trouble when she wants to. Just try telling her that she can’t play on top the cabinets above the sink. Her goodness comes more from her non-cat-ness. She is uber-mellow—even the vacuum cleaner doesn’t bother her until it’s 12 inches from her face. She is an indoor cat partly because I seriously doubt that she’d get out of the way of cars if she lived outside. She’d just be like, Huh, that New Jetta barreling toward me really is a stylish vehicle.

So it was no surprise that when I got out the carrier and opened the zip-top, she leaped right in, like, Okay, where are we going?

But her low-maintenance quality was not reflected in the $400 bill I received when I picked her up a few hours later.

“We had to do two extractions,” Dr. Horowitz explained. “A right molar and the right canine tooth.”

B and I used to call Mec-Mec “Snaggletooth” because, although she is a beautiful, blue-eyed white-and-calico-ish cat, one of her canine (feline?) teeth jutted out just slightly more than the other. And now she’s Snaggletooth for real. I couldn’t help but feel shitty, thinking, If only I’d given her more of those tartar control cat treats. If only I’d brought her in when her breath first started to smell like a decomposing corpse. But Dr. Horowitz assured me that it was mostly genetic, and that if I’d given her more tartar control cat treats, they just would have made her fat.

I’m supposed to be volunteering at the cattery right now, but I decided to stay home with my own little ones and make sure that OC is nice to his recuperating sister and that Mec-Mec feels well enough to eat. (I’m also really friggin’ tired. Am I using my sick cat as an excuse to ditch out of charity work? Some single mom I am.)

I needn’t have worried. Mec-Mec was barely out of her carrier when I heard a “crunch crunch” in the kitchen. I snatched the bowl of Max Cat Lite away and replaced it with a plate of nice soft tuna. She ate all of hers and then all of OC’s. A cat after my own heart.


So I ask you, who’s the most cutest kitty-witty in the world?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

this lipstick tastes like bubblegum

A few days ago, Hope came to my door.

It arrived via USPS in a brown box. Inside was a small plastic jar with a black lid. The label read, “hope in a jar.” I had been having kind of a rough day. How did it know exactly what I needed?

Actually, it’s my friend Nerissa who knew: She’s a style writer for the San Jose Mercury News, which means she writes glossy stuff on newsprint, which pretty much describes Nerissa: glamorous but down-to-earth. She’d sent me and Jamie a handful of products to test, as well as a few just-for-fun freebies.

Yes, I’m going to be one of those quotes you read in girly mags: “This lipstick tastes like bubblegum, and now my boyfriend can’t stop kissing me!” It will be a little challenging, because I’m pretty low-maintenance as far as beauty products go, and I don’t always follow instructions. I don’t repeat after lathering and rinsing, and I’ve been known to put lip gloss on my eyelids.

I’m kind of tempted to get all subversive in my comments: “This lipstick rubbed off the minute I went down on a girl.” Although I think the most subversive act would be to admit that most beauty products don’t make a significant difference, or at least they can’t do anything more than face wash, Chapstick and a little Wet ‘N’ Wild mascara can do.

I believe that beauty magazines write to a pretend reader—a single-but-dating urban girl who’s climbing the corporate ladder and frequently needs to find the perfect outfit that will take her from her fast-paced workplace to a downtown cocktail party. I (and, I suspect, many of the real readers) wear jeans to work and jeans to Starbucks and jeans to the cattery and, if I did get invited to a cocktail party, I would wear jeans there too. But we read InStyle and Elle and Glamour because we like to pretend, for a little while, that we are seriously contemplating buying a $115 camisole.

So what if I were to not play along? What if I said that I have no place to wear my sparkly lipstick, that it’s too expensive, that while it may fill me with hope, that that hope is not fulfilled?

But I probably won’t. I will be as honest as possible, but I am no adbuster. I’m a girl helping out a friend, and being helped by a friend. Whenever I’m up north—usually grubby from a plane ride and a long day of work—Nerissa and I get cocktails and have a great time, shiny skin and all. We’re subversive like that.

Monday, April 17, 2006

greatness

Upon hearing I was going to the Great Valley Writers Conference, someone asked me, “As in, Valley writers who are great? Or writers who live in the Great Valley?” It was the latter, I explained—but now that I’m back, I can safely say that it’s the former too.

The conference, sponsored by
Heyday Books and held at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, boasted a roster of locals who’d made it big (in poetry terms, which means a book published by an indie press and a room at the TraveLodge) and had either come home or never left. People like David Mas Masumoto, who is as sweet as the organic peaches he grows outside of Fresno; Tim Hernandez, who travels with a band and tells a good story about his dad trying to kill a pig in their garage; and Devoya Mayo, my very own co-worker, who—I learned at Saturday’s open mic—is also one fierce poet.

But I think my favorite moment of the conference—not counting the free, nasty drinks served up in celebration of Easter weekend across the street at cowboy/blues bar (yes, cowboy/blues) Rudy’s—came Saturday afternoon. The panel I was on had just let out. Maybe it’s just because I heard myself reciting a lot of the things I say as part of my job every day, but it felt a little dry to me. Plus it was late afternoon, the lights in the auditorium were low and my eyelids were drooping. The next event was to be
Juan Felipe Herrera’s keynote speech, and I wasn’t sure how much speechiness I could take.

Juan Felipe must have read my tired mind, because he eschewed the stage and podium entirely and herded all the conference-goers into the lobby, which was decorated with giant black-and-white postcards and a butcher paper cityscape.

He had us shake out and stretch upward, all our flabby writer-bellies revealed. Then he proceeded to conduct us in this amazing, interactive, political, church-worthy, crowd-rousing, call-and-response song-poem thing.

“Great Val-ley,” he called, lifting his arms.

“Great Val-ley,” we echoed.

“Fam-i-lia.”

“Fam-i-lia.”

And a lot of Spanish words I didn’t understand, and a lot of funny riffs on our surroundings, and a lot of references to current events and thank-yous to the conference organizers. A Nice Solid Respectable Keynote Speech would have said something along the lines of, “California’s Great Central Valley is a diverse landscape that is ripe with stories of immigration, struggle and creativity. It is our job to tap into those stories and speak for our community.”


But somehow Juan Felipe said all of those things without saying any of those things. As my boss pointed out when I feebly tried to describe this profound Poetry Moment, “It could have gone horribly, horribly wrong.” She was right, but it didn’t because Juan Felipe is a great Valley writer who knows a room full of great Valley writers when he sees one.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

the big sleep (a.k.a. WTMCK-WITW #6)

Ray was a square-jawed black cat with a sign outside his cage that said, “Warning: Do not let Ray out unsupervised. He gets aggressive with other cats.”

You would too if you’d been raised on the mean streets of Los Angeles, a land of brown rivers, pink smog and a fallen angel on every corner. Ray didn’t give much thought to his hardscrabble life or the fact that, by some estimates, he’d turned it around, becoming a cub reporter for the Times—the old rag, before they cleaned it up—when he was barely litter-trained.

By other estimates, it was that gig that messed him up for good. He took his job as investigative reporter seriously, and technicalities like “the law” less seriously. He looked corruption in the eye and, as everyone knows, cats always win staring contests. But after he looked a little too long and a little too hard at a crooked cop’s wife in the alley behind the Shortstop, he acquired a permanent bump on his nose and a barbed wire fence around his heart.

He continued to trot out the news in his signature, no-frills style: a short, sweet “Mrar” that told it like it was and not much else. He lived alone in a third-floor bachelor pad with a fleece blanket and a plain white water bowl for company. No one bothered him and he liked it that way.

He was thinking of the cop’s wife late one night when Cheryl came to his digs. She was a tall dame, towering over him by four and a half feet. Dressed in corduroy pants and a Manhattan Beach 10K T-shirt, she was hardly his type, which was blonde with knock-‘em-dead gams and a fondness for whisky. But it had been a long day and even a jaded man needs companionship now and then.

She opened his cage door. He climbed onto her shoulders. She led him to a folding chair, where he curled up like a spare tire in a sun-drenched junkyard, closed his eyes and purred.

Monday, April 10, 2006

mission accomplished

Good news: I no longer need to work on my third novel, which I’d been having trouble with anyway.

Let me explain: In semi-celebration of Stephanie’s birthday, a group of her actor friends and I went to see one of their fellow actor friends, Liam Christopher O’Brien (they just call him “Liam,” though), in a dress rehearsal of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Geffen Playhouse.

I went in expecting to see a great cast (Len Cariou, Neil Patrick Harris, Laurie Metcalf and of course Liam) in some-play-by- one-of-those-acclaimed-old-white-guys. But I came away wondering why Death of a Salesman is performed to death whereas All My Sons languishes, the phrase conjuring up vague soap opera images.

Set in the late 1940s, the play opens with the eerie, lightning-quick image of a tree blowing down in a storm as a woman in a white nightgown watches stoically. We soon learn that the woman is Kate Keller (Metcalf), who refuses to accept the disappearance of her oldest son in World War II (the tree was planted in his honor). Her insistence that Larry is alive makes life harder for her husband Joe (Cariou) and her younger son, Chris (Harris), who wants to marry Larry’s former sweetheart.

All of which sounds like one of those how-families-deal-with-loss stories. Not to belittle how families deal with loss, but there are so many books, plays, movies, etc. about family dynamics—bitter parents, rebellious kids, long-kept secrets. It’s all real stuff, but I’ve gotten tired of stories that seem to have no repercussions beyond one family’s living room, however “universal” that living room may feel.

That’s why, a few months ago, I started building a book in my head that would somehow lift the family saga onto the world stage. It would be about how the nuclear becomes global, how what is little affects and is affected by what is big, how protecting your immediate family can mean destroying your human family.

But I’ve been having plot issues, as I always do. Plus, like I said, I’ve been busy being a troublemaking, gossipy, girl-crazy 11-year-old.

So I was pleasantly surprised at the turn the play quickly took: Joe Keller, we learn, was accused of manufacturing and knowingly shipping faulty airplane parts that led to the deaths of 20 American soldiers. His business partner took the fall for it. The neighbors still whisper and wonder what the real story is, and the audience is invited to do the same: Did Joe do something bad to humanity to protect his family’s future (including the factory Chris is set to inherit)? And are those two entities—humanity and family—really so separate?

It would be nice if George Bush would ask himself similar questions. In the meantime, which I expect will be a long time, it’s both fortunate and unfortunate that some smart old-white-guy playwright has said what I wanted to say—with humor and plot twists and star-crossed love to boot.

I’m frequently more inspired by mediocre work than by brilliant work, because when I read Colson Whitehead or Toni Morrison or Michael Cunningham, I just want to throw up my hands—they’ve already written amazing stuff that’s just, like, about everything. About friggin’ life, you know? (This is actually how my brain starts talking—like an angry stoner. Which makes me even less confident in my own powers of articulation.)

But one thing that All My Sons doesn’t have is cats. And my novel will feature lots of cats. So maybe there’s hope yet.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

young love: a tale of monkey balloons and web cams

Sara and I hit downtown Burbank last night, because we’re cool like that. Once we’d exhausted ourselves at the hangar-sized Urban Outfitters, the progressive-artistic-expensive Skyblupink and the troublingly named Melrose In Burbank, we sat down on a metal bench at what can only be described as the epicenter of Burbank street life.

We drank our coffee and watched a young man set up shop across the cement aisle. “Shop” consisted of a box of un-inflated balloons and a small chart depicting various animals one might request that the balloons be made into. He got to work on something involving several brown and white balloons, and was soon joined by a young, blonde-haired woman.

She stood nearby, hands in her pockets, talking to him and smiling. She rocked back and forth on her toes. He kept twisting the balloons, and soon they started to resemble a monkey.

“Do you think they’re working together?” Sara asked. “She’s not doing anything, but she’s been there an awfully long time.”

“Maybe he’s trying to impress her by making a really complex balloon animal,” I said. The young man added some green balloons to the mix. Vines? We didn’t have a good view. “He wants to keep spending time with her, but he doesn’t know what to do besides make balloon animals. He doesn’t know where to take things from here, so he just keeps adding balloons. Look, I think the monkey is wearing pants with little white buttons on them now.”

“Really?” said Sara, who had left her glasses in the car. “Seriously? Oh look—she totally likes him. She just did that cliché touching-his-arm thing.”

“That’s a cliché?”

“Oh sure,” said Sara. “Girls always do that when they like a guy. Or a girl, either way.” She gave my arm a playful shove and raised her voice an octave. “‘Stop, you’re so funny!’”

“Damn, I think I’ve used that move before,” I lamented.

“It’s okay, it’s just that it’s a cliché. Hey, do you think they can hear us?”

“I don’t know. I hope not,” I said. “Sometimes I forget that I’m not invisible.”

We snuck away, leaving the young balloon artist to create an entire jungle panorama for his new love.

This morning at the gym, I was excited to discover a just-a-few-weeks-old Star in the communal magazine rack. This was a major find because A) the rack usually only has real estate freebies and, like, Forbes, and B) the tabloids at my therapist’s office are always at least a year old, and while I appreciate the weirdness of vintage gossip, sometimes I want to know what Brit and K-Fed are up to now. Or at least three weeks ago.

What I learned, though, was what Clay Aiken was up to: IM-ing a guy on manhunter.com and filming himself on a web cam to prove he really was who he said he was. But this wasn’t your typical Paris/Chyna/Rob Lowe/etc. etc. fare. These were grainy but PG stills of a refreshingly scruffy Clay, just smiling and wearing a hoodie. The final picture showed Clay lifting up his shirt, but then included an excerpt from his IM in which he described his chest as “white and boring.”

He also talked about how he so didn’t have a boy in every port (I believe his exact words were “HAHAHA! That’s rich.”), and how he’d met this guy in January but it hadn’t worked out, how he really liked to kiss and “make love,” and if the guy he was IM-ing now wanted to come over, he really hoped it could be the start of a relationship.

It broke my heart. It didn’t read like a line (and I’m not sure “I want a relationship” lines work on manhunter.com anyway), and it didn’t come across as pathetic. I just thought, Wow, Clay Aiken really wants a boyfriend, and instead he found some dude who sold his web cam pics to Star.

Even Star seemed a little sheepish about the exposé. While tabloids are not past using phrases like “gay shocker” and “gal pal” in headlines, they’re past straight-out condemning the aforementioned gay shockers. Or non-shockers, in Clay’s case.

Star closed the article by basically wishing Clay well in his manhunt for love. It was actually kind of sweet of them, in a hypocritical way. I thought of the balloon-maker. We all just use what we got, that’s all we can do. Best of luck to all of us.

Friday, April 07, 2006

who’s the most cutest kitty-witty in the world? #5

Looking in Basil’s close-set green eyes, I see a royal past. He has a born-in-Egypt, educated-in- Britain look about him. Plus his Petfinder profile lists him as a purebred Ocicat.

But as readers of fairytales know, a noble birth is no guarantee that you won’t end up an angsty scullery maid in some jerk’s castle due to a cruel twist of fate. In Basil’s case, I believe that he and his mother Jasmine, a spotted redhead Ocicat with an equally narrow, regal head, fled from her abusive tomcat of a husband, leaving their Lear Jet lifestyle for the crowded, laundry-basket-as-bed ghetto that is Friends of Animals. (And, to their credit, it’s a pretty nice ghetto—but when you’re used to the Four Seasons, it’s hard to appreciate the clean utilitarianism of Motel 6.)

Being the well bred cats that they are, though, Basil and Jasmine have brought a sort of “Well then, let’s paint our little flat in the projects a lovely shade of yellow, shall we?” attitude to their new life. They’re old money and as such they don’t need money to convince them of their worth, and they don’t need to go around acting better than everyone. They’re better than that.

But sometimes Basil’s roots show on the playground. Wednesday night, two of the toughest cats on the block, Romeo and Tarzan, were out. Like ex-cons who can’t get jobs, both are high-energy cats whose cooped-up, aimless situation makes them more likely to re-offend. The other volunteers and I instituted a sort of job corps in the form of waving a long plastic stick with a feather on the end.

Both blossomed in its presence. Romeo leapt three feet in the air, twisting his tabby body gleefully, even though the stitches from his last fight are still healing. Tarzan, when it was his turn, plotted and pounced.

Basil took all of this in and seemed to think, “Jolly good—it’s high time we start up a nice game of polo. I’ll go get my stick.”

“No, Basil, stay away,” said Amy, seeing Basil’s excitement. “It’s for your own good.”

Basil usually keeps to the back of the cattery, happy to chase balls down the short aisle that runs from his cage to the storage closet. This game of stick-and-feather took place at the front of the cattery, and Basil was breathless with the exhilaration of The Big Game. It didn’t occur to him that the other players might not be such gentlemen, and as he focused intently on the figure-eighting feather, Romeo and Tarzan took turns pummeling him.

He took it all in stride though, having been raised to take the high road. The more traumatic events of his life took place long after a basic belief that of course things would turn out okay took hold. The sweet optimism of privilege. So even as the street-fighters’ claws dug into his shoulder blades, he was able to say, “Right then, so we’ll play again Monday, shall we? Cheerio.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"shopping"

Although TV would tell you otherwise, LA is not all palm trees and plastic surgery clinics. LA is pupuserias and Persian markets and, today, thick sloshes of rain. I get my cliché-LA fix by scanning the tabloids in the check-out line and then I’m on my way.

But every now and then I stumble into Beverly Hills and am as weirded out as any Midwesterner.

Last night, a handful of friends who wouldn’t let me get away with not going out on my birthday met me at the Newsroom on Robertson. I got there early, though, and I had some time to shop. Or maybe I should say “shop.” When a plastic bracelet costs $68, you need quotation marks.

I actually had to force myself to go in the first frou-frou-y store, literally saying to myself, “I am 29 years old now. I will not let the fact that I am visibly poor keep me in my place.” And, um, I realize that browsing filmy $275 blouses—something I’m sure tourists and readers of In Touch do every day, annoying the salespeople as much as I in my defiant thrift store rags and Payless shoes was—is not really a radical political act.

But I had to convince myself it was in order to get over my fear of any type of shopping that doesn’t involve rifling through a bin marked “Clearance.” Because I can’t really congratulate myself on not being afraid of a little “as-is,” a pit stain or two, if I’m afraid of skinny salesgirls who helpfully remind me, “We have other sizes in the back.” (Meaning, I guess, that anything larger than a size four cannot show its face in the front of the store.)

There were sparse stores with a few racks of delicate, cream-colored merchandise. There were glamorously cluttered stores with islands of lounge chairs and magazines for bored personal assistants. There were small clusters of men and women—maybe customers or clerks or stylists, the lines blurry in this world—talking in slightly worried tones about just what kind of cropped pants were in, like, Bermuda or Capris or real shorts?

But my favorite—by which I mean least favorite—store was called Surly Girl, a brightly decorated handbag and jewelry boutique with a few vaguely affordable items (I could have gotten a kinda cool glass matchbox-type thing for $13). Most of the stuff was trashy candy a la Forever 21. The only difference was that, matchbox-type thing aside, everything cost at least half a paycheck.

And: Every display was accompanied by a pixely magazine clipping of someone like Eva Longoria or Carrie Underwood mounted on cardboard with a hand-scrawled explanation like, “Carrie with her Surly Girl Kleenex-holder at the People’s Choice Awards!” My favorite was a tabloid article circa 2004 about how Sharon Stone had made one of the Kerry women (whom I guess she was helping with the campaign) wait while she stopped off to pick up three free Surly Girl purses.

So here it is, displayed proudly next to a boxy metallic handbag adorned with fake diamonds: proof that some actress does not hate these bags so much that she’d refuse free ones.

I thought that being rich was about being classy and understated, not maniacally namedropping. I guess I should know better, but I couldn’t even picture Nicole Richie visiting this store. And I realize that, even though the store was plastered with pictures of Nicole Richie decked out in Surly Girl goods, Surly Girl’s real target customer is probably a Beverly Hills high school girl who is young enough to get excited about this stuff and rich enough to indulge her excitement.

Me, I’m 29 and still digging my metallic Payless flats. I am a happy, surly girl. It’s gonna be a good year.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

double plug

Sounds kinky, doesn’t it? But actually I’m just doing a little PG self-promotion. Although if you want something a tad more R-rated, I recommend checking out “Scintilla” and “Phantoms,” two of the stories I selected for this issue of the online queer fiction mag Blithe House Quarterly.

The second plug goes to Jane’s Stories III: Women Writing Across Boundaries. I was going to say, “When you’re done reading about sex, read about sweatshops!”—the subject matter of the story I have in the anthology. Except I’m not sure how you’d go about doing that because even though I received an email saying the book is out, it’s not actually featured anywhere on the Jane’s Stories Press website yet.


So I googled it and found the Library of Congress table of contents page. That was pretty cool. Apparently the book features “American literature -- Women authors,” “American literature -- 21st century,” and “Women -- Literary collections.” Aww yeeah.