Monday, June 23, 2008

the night of (possibly) magical thinking

1. i’d just love a tuna sandwich

For Father’s Day I gave my dad a modified birthday card with a photo of a cat lounging in a very human-like position on a couch. On the outside it said, “You think, ‘I’d just love a tuna sandwich’ and someone brings you a tuna sandwich.” Inside it said, “Have that kind of birthday Father’s Day.”

The card was a hit because it was sort of dryly funny (thank you, Fresh Ink, for somewhat redeeming the greeting card industry) and because we used to have a cat who really liked tuna sandwiches. Specifically, on toast.

The card was also not a hit because it’s an unspoken rule that we give handmade cards in my family.

But my point is the cat’s sentiment: Is that what they call magical thinking? I keep hearing about magical thinking, sometimes as a good thing, sometimes as a bad thing, but I don’t really know what it is. Is it like The Secret or is it like Gabriel García Márquez?

2. love in the time of apocalypse

Friday night brought examples of both: After learning that volunteering for marriage equality would have meant driving to Long Beach (how much does the right to marry mean to me? Apparently not enough to sit in traffic on a Friday afternoon. I am no Belle Cantrell), AK and I opted instead for a mellow night with Jody at the Griffith Observatory.

We’d been once since it was remodeled, but somehow we’d missed the big new section—at the time I think I remarked, “It looks like they just put in a couple of new railings.” This time we learned about galaxies and asteroids in the spacious new basement, but—because I’m more of a history geek than a science geek—my favorite part was the “making of” documentary in which Leonard Nimoy described Griffith J. Griffith’s desire to make L.A. a world-class city by giving it a world-class park. Show me a scale model of the solar system and my eyes glaze over, but show me some grainy footage of Model Ts driving up and down Figueroa Avenue and I practically drool.

The historical reminders blended with the wind—eerie and wildfire-hot—to remind me of everything I like about L.A. Not just that there’s nature nearby, but how easy it can feel like the apocalypse, and how—even though I know the apocalypse is bad—being close to it makes me feel alive and special.

I’ve been having a lot of apocalyptic thoughts lately. They involve the same ingredients as everyone else’s apocalyptic thoughts: war, climate change, gas that costs as much per gallon as a My Little Pony but brings me far less joy. I have a vague but distinct sense that America’s decadent days are over. It was fun to drive and dine out while it lasted, but now—and not just until the economy edges upward, but maybe forever—we’re in for lean times. Best case scenario, we become France: a humbled empire that manages to turn out good healthcare and cheese. Worst case scenario, we become…well, any of the dozens of countries we’ve been busy exploiting for the past few hundred years.

When these thoughts are only made of headlines, they make me sad. But standing on top of a mountain, staring into a valley of dark trees and, further away, at the city’s Lite-Brite-on-acid semi-grid, I just felt like I was part of history. Like we would all endure whatever came next, just because it was what came next.

The smog hung dense and low and pink at sunset. Later, after the observatory closed, a lone TV reporter talked to a camera in front of a news van, the wind carrying his words away so quickly that all of us gawkers quickly lost interest. We walked in our flip-flops down the hill, feeling magical.

3. speak of the coyote

That was the Gabriel García Márquez magic. The Secret brand came a few minutes later, when we were talking about coyotes and where we’d seen them: freeway off ramps, moseying around mansions in the Hollywood Hills. Jody had been having eye problems and was wearing only one contact lens, and we joked about how, if he saw a coyote right now, it would seem extra close due to his lack of depth perception.

And then, right on cue, there was a coyote, silhouetted against the insufficient street light. He was smaller than an Akita, bigger than a poodle, and very much not a dog. He had huge ears, a bushy tail and that long trickster mouth.

“That’s weird that he’s all alone,” said Jody. “Usually that means they’ve been exiled from their pack for some reason.”

We scanned the trees on either side of us, thinking, What if he’s not alone? We listened for howls but didn’t hear any.

“Maybe it’s wolves who only travel alone if they’re exiled,” said Jody.

Everyone else had cleared out of the park, and the street was distressingly dark. We walked as fast as we could, Jody being extra careful of the curb that could have been two feet away from him or ten.

Then AK’s car beeped its hello, flashed its lights, and within a handful of minutes we were in Los Feliz eating French fries on a sidewalk packed with people. It was disconcerting and miraculous.


Peter Varvel said...

Ha ha! This reminds me of Lily Tomlin's character, Edith Ann, who said something about the kitty eating three tuna fish sandwiches at the party when he was walking on the table.
I have been meaning to visit the observatory, again, ever since we went there on a fifth grade field trip . . . in 1976 (*exasperated-at-self-huffing-sound*).
Love the description of "the city’s Lite-Brite-on-acid semi-grid"!

Tracy Lynn said...

Do not underestimate either healthcare, or, more importantly, cheese.

I am a magical thinker about many things, but mostly about pennies. I cannot pass change on the ground, even a penny, because I feel like passing it by would be a signal to the universe that I don't want money.

And you know what? Even when I see it in black and white, it still makes sense to me, so obviously the flaw is in my brain.

Anonymous said...

i think magical thinking, is when something happens when you will or think about it for a good portion of your time.


Claire said...

I think of Augusten Burroughs who actually wrote a book called, Magical Thinking.

Great shot of the observatory. Did you take it? It was still closed last time I was in LA.

You're also making me miss Fred 62.

Cheryl said...

PV: Don't beat yourself up too much. The night sky is much as it was in 1976.

TL: Trust me, I'm a big fan of both healthcare and cheese. In fact, the more cheese I eat, the more healthcare I may need. Vive la France!

Arlene (V?): Thanks for the definition. If I were a more dedicated writer, I'd look these things up.

C: I'll think some magical thoughts for you next time I'm eating the Mac Daddy and Cheese Balls at Fred's.

Peter Varvel said...

Why, yes, yes it was a Joseph lyric quote! LOL
Hurray for musical theatre bonding (gay-gay-GAAAAAY!).

Cheryl said...

Go go go go Joseph!

Cheryl said...

P.S. to Claire: I didn't take it, unfortunately, just stole it from a Google image search. But if the blog police question you, just play dumb.