Tuesday, July 27, 2010
But ultimately I’m envious of Bronwyn, who has a great eye for detail (I wish you guys could read her near-future novel Off the Grid, but it’s not online…yet) but also loves to do things like search out open-source Hungarian alternatives to PowerPoint in her spare time. I would kill to be technologically curious like that.
Since I’m not, though, I just enjoyed the fruits of her labor: perfectly internet-sized* stories of interconnected Angelenos (I do know a thing or two about that), fun photos of ‘hoods I know, maps, word clouds, ideas about the future. But I wasn’t able to answer all the questions in the reader guide, so I think it might be time for a second read. Check it out, spread the word and let Bronwyn know in the comments section just what you think of homeless people.
*What is “perfectly internet-sized”? To me it means small text blocks and short sections I can consume during (hypothetical) breaks at work, but which still add up to something meaty.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Have I mentioned she’s 37 weeks pregnant? Over the past 37 weeks, I’ve learned things like:
1) Even though non-pregnant people use phrases like “eight months pregnant,” pregnant people count in weeks.
2) The placenta is an organ that pregnant people’s bodies grow just for the purpose of being pregnant.
3) You can eat it.
This weekend I co-hosted a baby shower in celebration of the mama-to-be and the fact that she didn’t go into early labor, since we were cutting it a little close date-wise. We decorated bibs with fabric markers, which seemed like a nice alternative to weird baby shower games where you have to smell melted fake-poop chocolate bars in diapers. Although at least one shower attendee said she thinks that game is hilarious. I could get behind just eating candy bars. Not melted, not in a diaper. That’s my kind of game.
Jamie opened her gifts, including the uber-cute angel-wing footie pajamas above, and even though there was a lot of cuteness going on, there was no prolonged awwwwing. This was a cool group of ladies, the toughest ones being the two who were already moms. When Jamie expressed some nervousness about cleaning out the baby’s nose and ears during every bath, Michelle and Tiburon formed an aghast chorus: “Oh good god, no—that’s way too much work. If you just kind of dip the baby in the water, you’re good.”
The angel-wing jammies also led to some speculation about just how wild and non-angelic Jamie’s daughter might or might not get as a teenager.
After the shower, AK and I headed over to Exposition Park to meet Stephen, Pedro, Maria and Calvin for a night of Pulp Fiction and gourmet food trucks. Thus far, L.A.’s so-called gourmet food truck revolution has literally passed me—the only place I ever see those damn trucks is on the 10 freeway. But I got to sample some montaditos from Papas Tapas which were pretty good, but teeny tiny. I didn’t feel so devastated that they don’t park outside my office every day.
I hadn’t seen Pulp Fiction in years, and it was pretty good too, even though I slept through the middle of it because my back was just so much happier lying on the grass, and when I’m lying on the grass, my eyes are just so much happier being closed.
I only slept through like five minutes of Inception last night at the Highland Park Theatre. That’s appropriate to a movie about dream-walking, right? It was smart and interesting, but just like The Dark Knight, it took way too long to wrap things up. And AK and I agreed that there was a lot of unnecessary and ultimately implausible exposition about the dream world. Look, we’ve already accepted that people can invade each other’s dreams and plant ideas in their subconscious—just let our disbelief remain suspended and don’t list 25 rules about the three different layers of dreaming, okay?
Also, Leonardo DiCaprio’s storyline is so much like his storyline in Shutter Island that it made me miss that movie, which I liked better. But Ellen Page does have the cutest, gayest little walk.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
For the OCD-inflicted, having a room that once resembled an episode of Hoarders resemble a room again is like getting a new set of lungs. (But not, like, literally, since I’m sure the organ transplant process doesn’t exactly leave you feeling immediately light and free.) There’s still a bunch of junk piled on one side of the room, and deep down I still believe I need a completely new filing system. So it’s not perfect. Oh, and the whole room still sort of tilts downhill, which makes my particle-board bookshelf settle at a weird angle.
But I feel like step two in Operation: Get My Life Back (step one was staying in one city for more than two effing weeks at a time) can be considered a success.
Monday, July 19, 2010
The heat was intense this weekend, but I’m still so happy to be home that it all feels like a wonderful game. The Let’s Live In L.A.! game. Saturday AK and I managed to spend four hours in air-conditioned movie theaters, which is how you win the Let’s Live In L.A.! game.
First stop: Redcat for an Outfest screening of The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls. Imagine if Flight of the Conchords were middle-aged lesbian twins who played a variety of characters in their act and were just as into herding cattle as singing. That would be Jools and Lynda Topp, who are apparently quite famous in New Zealand. It’s always a little odd to witness documentation of a huge phenomenon you’ve never heard of. It’s what makes Canada, with its own set of movie stars and TV shows, seem like a parallel universe more than a foreign country.
But the Topp twins made me want to live in some such universe. My favorite part was when someone (their manager?) said, “I mean this in the nicest way, but they’re the least professional people I’ve ever worked with. What they do is just who they are.” Sometimes I fall so head-over-heels into the world of ambition, and I’m almost always the worse for it. It was nice to be reminded that success can come from goofing around with your sister. Or rather, life is too short not to spend as much time as possible goofing around with your sister, so prioritize that and the rest will follow. And if it doesn’t, at least you had fun.
2. a (funny, heartwarming) cautionary tale
Next we saw The Kids Are All Right at the ArcLight. Is it too soon to call best movie of the year? I realize I’m biased, seeing as how this movie is all queer family-themed. But since all too often I have to pick between seeing a good movie and seeing a gay movie, it was a huge treat to have one-stop shopping.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a longtime couple with two teenage children from the same sperm donor. The kids go searching for the donor and find Mark Ruffalo, a motorcycle-riding ladies’ man with his own organic farm and restaurant. Collectively they are not so much a postmodern alterna-family as a hot mess—but the sort of hot mess whose happiness you root for.
The movie is so well written that every scene is a microcosm, drawing out each character’s flaws and desires. When teenage son Laser finds his moms’ porn stash and asks, “Why do you watch guy-on-guy movies?” Bening immediately scolds him for snooping while Moore offers a thesis on externalized vs. internalized sexuality and the inauthenticity of girl-on-girl porn. One parent controls and refuses to listen. The other puts her own emotional drama before her kid’s wellbeing. And they continue to do so for most of the movie.
But the kids are alright (and usually right), and writer-director Lisa Cholodenko seems to suggest that redemption comes more from mutual need than from calculated atonement. It’s a comforting thought, in a dysfunctional sort of way.
Whenever AK and I see relationship movies in which one character hangs on too tight and one runs away, we can’t help but exchange looks of recognition. They’re cautionary tales: I need to reign in my control-freak tendencies, and she…well, she’s not quite the free spirit Moore’s character is.
“I like to think I’m that mellow, but I’m not,” she said.
“Thank god!” I said.
We both agreed never to [spoiler alert -->] sleep with our sperm donor, and we shook on it.
Friday, July 16, 2010
But once the thrill of being on our own subsided, we crashed and took an hour-and-a-half nap. When we were mildly re-energized, she indulged my desire to go to Ruislip, the area of London where my dad’s mom apparently lived a little later in her childhood. We also wanted good, classic fish and chips for dinner, so we Googled Ruislip fish restaurants.
“I’m basically having us drive out to Van Nuys for pizza,” I said. But she was a good sport.
The fish at Aquarius was creamy and crispy and fresh, even if the tartar sauce was just another mayonnaise product. We ate until we couldn’t. Then we walked around Ruislip a little more. The blocks we saw were pretty standard-issue suburban, with rows of houses that looked like they were built in the fifties or sixties, just more English-y than I’m used to.
We finished the day at Retro Bar, a sort-of-gay bar in the theater district, where a very nice bartender made us very abysmal mojitos, and we talked to two Australian guys who said that Manchester has the real gay scene. Maybe on our next trip.
We’re staying at a cute old brick mansion called The Groves, with creepy portraits of children in the hall, which look like they’re going to stretch a la the paintings in the Haunted Mansion’s elevator.
We toured the gigantic York Minster cathedral. AK got pretty into it, especially the undercrofts, where you could see the foundations of the Roman and Norman buildings that were once on the same site. I could see a history-geek glimmer in her eye for the first time. Later we visited Clifford’s Tower, a true medieval fort at the top of a grassy hill. It was just big enough, or small enough, to feel both fake and real—like it was a fort you’d built out of blankets and cushions, with all kinds of secret hiding places and twisty staircases. I think everyone dug it and felt like a kid in the best way.
“I want, like, a mint julep right now,” she said.
“I was thinking heroin,” I said.
Meanwhile, Dad asked the train attendant a lot of questions, and befriended the woman next to him, who told him all about her three boyfriends. When the train stopped in York, we were delayed while some guy got escorted out by police, so we had time to gather our luggage. Thank you, rude young man without a ticket!
In the evening we took like one of ten different ghost tours offered around town—apparently York, which has Storybook Land streets lined with brick and Tudor buildings, all drooping charmingly, is the Most Haunted City In The World. Tony, the guy who led our “no gimmicks, no masks” tour, was pretty great. A 12th-generation Yorker, he was low-key, a good storyteller and a glass blower by trade, so he could answer my dad’s 75 questions about the restoration of York Minster’s windows.
The saddest story Tony told was about a little girl who haunted the site of a work house, where many kids were neglected and denied proper burials when they died. Apparently a lot of people have seen her reaching up to them or felt her trying to hold their hands. It made me want to adopt a seven-year-old. Although, if I can barely handle my dad, I don’t know what makes me think I can take on an emotionally scarred orphan.
Today was our most relaxed day yet, which probably had a lot to do with spending two hours of it on a purple shuttle bus to and from Stonehenge. It’s good to have a leader. It’s good to sit.
Cathy warned us that Stonehenge would be small and crowded. It was small and crowded. I’d only come along in the spirit of family togetherness, but when I got there, I was nevertheless like, “This is bullshit.” Then I listened to my little headset and got kind of into the…
[Spain just won—woo-hoo! I guess.]
…different myths of how and why Stonehenge came to be. I mean, it’s really fuckin’ old. Think of the oldest thing you can think of, and Stonehenge was already an ancient ruin when it started.
After lunch we split up and my dad and I…
[Wait, AK just said Spain didn’t win. They just scored. Goooooal!]
[My sister: “They should make the goal bigger so the kicks don’t get blocked so easily.”]
…went to the Museum of Bath at Work. It was good to spend some one-on-one time with him. Sometimes I’m just a surly teenager, saying a glorified version of, “Dad, you’re embarrassing me.” But on our own, he can’t get caught up in trying to solve everyone’s problems, and I can’t get caught up in trying to stop him.
The museum was devoted to everyday people doing everyday things. You know, like mining limestone and bottling mineral water. The woman who ran it was very smart and serious. I felt like she disapproved of the bachelorette activities going on at the bottom of the hill.
My dad had a lot of questions about the limestone and street pavers. One of his great hobbies is figuring out how old cement is. (“Oh, wow, you found a cement museum,” my sister said to me sympathetically, imagining how many days he could spend there.) But cobblestone throws him off.
Okay, so I guess Spain did win. Que viva la España!
But the train ride to Bath was smooth and quiet, and the Bath train station was about one twentieth the size of Paddington. The air was fresh and breezy, and a flowing green river curled around the station. If I were more of a Jane Austen fan, I probably would have freaked out. But I just took a deep breath and hoped things would be better and mellower from here on out.
They mostly have been. We checked into the Austen Guest House, which is a proper B&B, not a glorified (if cutely glorified) dorm like the Merlyn. We’re staying in a room with yellow walls and floral curtains and a basket of digestive biscuits. The town is full of butter-colored stone buildings. And tourists. It’s sort of a relief to be in the Palm Springs of England (we saw like five bachelor or bachelorette parties today), where it doesn’t feel shameful to look like a tourist.
We visited Bath Abbey, where a sort of priest/tour guide led us in the Lord’s Prayer, then suggested we visit the museum behind the abbey. Then dinner at the Pump Room, where you could drink healing spa water for fifty pence and peek at the king’s bath, an incomprehensively old stone structure with green-blue water and all sorts of cubbyholes carved into the stone.
Cathy, AK and I caught Bizarre Bath, a walking tour/comedy-and-magic show. It was better than it sounds, if a little random. A stuffed bunny did an impressive disappearing and reappearing act.
But miraculously, or maybe not, due to the upside of robotics, we were able to have a nice time in Streatham, where my dad’s mother was born. We didn’t know much more than that, so there were no touching family stories, but it was cool to get out of Zones 1 and 2 and see what non-tourist London is like.
I think the U.S. is the only country where the inner cities are rough and the suburbs are posh. So Streatham seemed like a working-class town, with a lot of women in headscarves and stores where you could wire money to Ghana and trucks unloading sides of beef. We didn’t do much there, but we found a charming old Anglican church, St. Leonard’s (one of the lesser-known saints?) with a rector named Mandy. We couldn’t find any Standings or Desdemaines-Hugons among the lovely mossy headstones, though, and most of the engravings were long rubbed off.
In the afternoon AK and I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which my sister had described as “meh, a couple of Roman columns.” But we loved the fashion and photography exhibits, and they had a great exhibit called something like “Architects Build for Small Spaces.” They commissioned a bunch of architects and firms from around the world to built structures inside the museum: a lighted woodshed, a tower of books, a rehearsal space full of nooks and crannies.
And we really liked the gift shop too. At one point AK pointed to an item and started shouting, “Tracy, Tracy!” I was like, “I don’t see Tracy,” and then I saw it. But I won’t say what it was in case it hasn’t reached her yet.
On the way back, we took a walk in the park across the street from our hotel before learning it was a private garden belonging to the people who owned the surrounding condos. We learned that when we got locked in.
We had a nice family dinner at an Italian restaurant. A bottle of wine is an amazing tool of peace.
In the morning, before my family arrived, AK and I went to the Tate Modern. I got most into the photography, arguably the least modern thing there—August Sander’s portraits and a bunch of people inspired by him. I know that a lot of sculptors and installation artists and abstract expressionists want to sort of break down the fourth wall and make the viewer aware of their role in the piece. But what I become aware of is the fact that I’m standing in a museum, feeling cool for being the kind of person who goes to museums. When there is some kind of narrative in some kind of box, a photo or painting, I can lose myself. August Sander’s photos are so penetrating and undeniable. You can’t just glance at them.
My family arrived this afternoon, looking staggeringly exhausted. We ate dinner at an Indian restaurant called Teza. The great thing about my dad is that he’s easily impressed by food. I mean, the saag paneer and onion pilaf were really good, but he was also impressed by the chicken sandwich I got from the grocery store across the street.
We jammed across town to make Enron at the Noel Coward Theatre. It was an odd play, billed as a musical, but without any real numbers. Once I surrendered to the fact that it was more of a play with a couple of nineties songs and a choral recitation of a ticker tape feed—and once I had a Diet Coke and woke up a little—I started liking it more. It was sort of a staged episode of Planet Money, but the actor who played Jeffrey Skilling did a great job of portraying a candid liar, a sincere thief, and he ended with a really moving speech about how living inside a bubble of delusion is what enables life to progress in all the good and bad ways it progresses.
While I was packing for England, I did some math and realized this is my eighth trip in five months. So maybe I can lay off myself a little if I don’t ride my bike enough or submit enough work or go to enough poetry readings. Already, on the way to the airport, I was having fantasies about the glorious four months I’ll spend at home.
But on the plane I read a surprisingly good Vanity Fair profile of Angelina Jolie, who’s always daydreaming about her next city. So for the next ten days, I’ll try to channel Angelina, but without six homes and a private jet, the lack of which could make things tiring.
My dad, Susan and Cathy don’t get here till midday tomorrow—it was nice to get our bearings before the influx of family. After an I-see-why-they-call-it-the-Tube ride from Heathrow, we settled into the Merlyn Court Hotel, a cute if utilitarian B&B where they don’t like to extend tea and toast past 9:01 a.m. I took maybe the best nap of my life.
Then we ate a bleary-eyed lunch at a sort of fast-food bakery where every flavor of sandwich was essentially mayonnaise, with a rotating cast of garnishes. It still provided the necessary fuel for our eight-mile Fat Tire Bike Tour, led by a guy AK thought talked liked Russell Brand (“but maybe everyone here does,” she conceded).
It was a perfect activity because 1) dodging minor traffic on a bike was one of the few activities that could have kept me awake, and 2) we got a quick, scenic, al fresco overview of Central London, but 3) not the kind that makes your back ache from standing around.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Back from England, just in time for the L.A. heat wave. This weekend I hope to upload some pictures and excerpts from my travel journal. For now, let’s just say sights were seen and calm was not always kept.
I love the first day home after an international trip: I feel so confident and competent on my home turf. I know how the bill is supposed to be paid at restaurants. There are ten people I can call if I get in a jam. My cell phone works. There is no mystery to the flushing of toilets. (I know, I was in England, not Egypt, but there was some magical flick of the wrist that I kept missing when it came to flushing in the UK. It always took me like three tries.)
Not to mention the comforts of home: my car, the full contents of my wardrobe, the heat-ravaged cats draping themselves dramatically across cool surfaces.
When I got home after a quick Trader Joe’s trip this afternoon, Ferdinand came running toward me, concerned that maybe I was about to skip town again. To get to me, he had to cross a strip of round stones next to our sidewalk. They’d heated up in the sun and shocked his little paws so much that he hissed as he ran across them. So he essentially walked across hot coals to see me. Not on purpose, but still. That’s love.
Sunday, July 04, 2010
The sign has inspired many spoofs. It also got me thinking about how all my major internal battles are a war between my Brit roots and my American upbringing. My mom’s side of the family has been in the U.S. for almost as long as there’s been a U.S., although from the stories I’ve heard, I don’t think they were so much DAR types as the sort of people who started heading west with Brigham Young only to stop halfway, have a change of heart and open a bar. But my dad’s mom emigrated to the U.S. from England when she was about 11, and he spent his childhood in the company of stiff-upper-lip British grandparents (he much preferred his paternal grandmother, a warm Jewish woman who never met a recipe that didn’t need more butter).
I think some intrinsic British-ness got passed down to me—a deep-held belief that I should work hard, never brag and take all blows in stride.* To display or even experience unpleasant emotion is to fail embarrassingly.
The problem is that I’m also hopelessly American: a loud, emotive, O Magazine-reading optimist who carries on plenty, but not the way the queen had in mind. What’s a girl to do?
How about celebrate all that I love about America (our inventiveness, our hopefulness, our faith, our diversity) via a traditional Fourth of July veggie dog barbecue and then head out to England for a couple of weeks?
I’ll be traveling with AK, my sister, my dad and his girlfriend. My dad has never been before, and I hoped that pushing for this trip would be a way to spend some family time and connect to our roots. I thought it would be a nice thing to do for and with him. Of course, my dad being my dad, he exhausted himself in preparing (today he sent me an Excel file containing four worksheets worth of information) and insisted on paying for a bunch of stuff he shouldn’t. So I’m pretty sure he—rightly, perhaps—thinks of this as a nice thing he can do for me and my sister and his new daughter-in-Canadian-law. That’s very British of us, isn’t it? To plan an awesome European vacation and convince ourselves it’s a noble sacrifice.
Happy Fourth, my fellow Americans, and I’ll see you in a few.
*I realize that just because English people are white and I happen to be one doesn’t mean I’m not trafficking in crude ethnic stereotypes here. So apologies to all lazy, boastful, emotionally precarious Brits. I’m sure you’re out there.
Friday, July 02, 2010
To make sure it is not picked up by someone and used by another child, break it with a sledgehammer, crush it, or take it completely apart and mark it 'not for use as a safety seat' before throwing it away wrapped securely in a heavy trash bag.
And traffic school becomes purely mockable, and much more interesting.*
Anyway, I also read some books last month:
Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett: I had a funny relationship with this book. Like Richard Powers (one of my favorites), Haslett ties all kinds of big ideas (banking, regulation, American history) into a human story full of sex and power dynamics. The novel got off to a slow start for me, but I was impressed by its brilliance and sad that I wasn't a little smarter about the financial world. Then--maybe when the sex went up and the stock market went down--I began to feel more engaged but less impressed. I'm not sure where I landed in the end. I just didn't have that sense of understanding the world more deeply that Powers usually triggers. BUT I should add that Haslett crafts a great sentence, and my friends Amy and Kim rock for giving me a copy of the beautiful hardcover for my birthday.
Washington Square by Henry James: An early feminist novel by a dude. Rich, plain girl meets poor, rakish man (having just seen Get Him to the Greek, I pictured Morris Townsend as Aldous Snow). Girl's coldly witty doctor father disapproves. Girl pines. There's a lot of back and forth among the three, and the first part of the novel moves slowly despite James' funny, observant prose. At first I thought Dr. Sloper was an ass who had no faith in his daughter and her potential desirability. Then I concluded Morris/Aldous WAS in fact a money-hungry jerk. So (spoiler alert--although can you spoil a book whose ending has been public for a hundred years?) I was pleased when rich, plain Catherine concluded she didn't need either of the condescending men in her life. Although I admit the Jane Austen fan in me kind of wanted her to marry one of the better suitors who came along after Morris.
A Special Providence by Richard Yates: Richard Yates understands people's pretensions and self-delusions better than any writer I've read. He gets that when people stomp out of a room, there's a small movie playing in their head in which a person stomps out of a room. He gets that, even in war, people are sometimes brave because they like the idea of being brave, not necessarily because they want to protect their country. In Revolutionary Road, this reality was profoundly depressing (but still a great read). In this novel, which alternates between a young WWII soldier and his struggling sculptor mother, delusion is the fuel of hope. And maybe hope is a coping mechanism, but isn't it the least any of us deserve?
The Book of Genesis, illustrated by R. Crumb: So this is what people mean when they talk about the “Old Testament God.” He’s demanding, vengeful and arbitrary in his blessings and cursings. Jacob dresses up as his hairy brother Esau to sneak a blessing via his blind father, Isaac—and Esau is the bad guy for being a little peeved? Guess so, because now Jacob is the chosen one, and you can’t mess with God’s favorites.
Needless to say, I didn’t find the Book of Genesis particularly informative on the morality front, or on the storytelling front for that matter. Hello, Isaac telling his wife Rebekah to disguise herself as his sister during their travels (so he won’t be killed when she’s inevitably raped [!]) is totally a rerun of Abraham saying the exact same thing to Sarah.
But I did like the roundness of the language, and the bits of history glimmering through the myths. R. Crumb’s apparent careful research of the text and period—from buildings to embalming practices—makes for a nice visual reminder of this blend. I’m not sure if his research also revealed women of the time to have giant, perky tits even at age ninety, but if snakes talk and people turn into pillars of salt, why not?
*Although, because I don’t want babies to die, if I ever find myself in possession of recalled car seat, I will dispose of it as thoroughly as I would dispose of a dead body.