Tuesday, November 29, 2005

i hate a parade

When you have a terrible, terrible Saturday, what you want to do on Sunday is watch Rent in a dark theater with one of your oldest and best friends and a big wad of tissues. What you do not want to do is watch the Hollywood Christmas Parade. The benefit of parades in general is dubious: the pseudo-celebrities, the bad music, the slowness. But the detritus of parades—especially a parade held in one of the most congested parts of the city—is what makes them truly hateable: the blocked streets, the Star Waggons, the pressure to celebrate.

You inch along Lexington, where you’ve been diverted, where there’s no hope of making a left turn for several miles, and alternate between checking in with Steph via cell phone (“There goes Vine. Can’t turn there.”) and rocking out to the pissed-off beats of Green Day’s American Idiot album. When you finally wind your way more or less into the area where the ArcLight is, and actually find a pretty good parking spot, you see three fire trucks turn the corner, sirens whining. Oh, you think, There’s an emergency. That’s why that huge crowd of people is standing on Sunset and Vine. But no, it’s just more parade. A megaphoned voice praises firefighters’ good work “fighting fires and terrorism,” and a woman in the crowd claps her hands high over her head as she repeats, “Yes, yes,” slowly and reverently. The sirens hurt your ears.

Rent is worth the trouble, as it always has been, even when you and Steph drove eight hours straight to see the stage version in Arizona because you were so sad it was leaving LA. The glow of burning eviction notices cascading to the street from East Village windows in the opening number is haunting and gorgeous. When Roger screams, “Time diiiieees” in “One Song Glory,” you know it’s a little melodramatic, but you think, Yeah, time dies, and chills climb your spine. The sad parts are only medium sad, and you’re surprised that you’re only crying rather than bawling. You think maybe you’re all cried out already. Your eyelids hurt.

You step out of the theater and into the cold, windy night. You say bye to Stephanie and head for your pretty good parking place and go home alone.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

makes me want to pack up my tofurkey and head for canada

A uniquely American tradition for a uniquely American holiday (from wcco.com):

After being pardoned, the [two] turkeys will jet to Disneyland to lead the Main Street Parade, then live the rest of their days inside the California park.

“They are the luckiest and happiest birds on the face of the earth,”
Rothfork said. “They’re lucky because they're getting pardoned and they’re happy because they're going to Disneyland.”

To get the turkeys ready for the Disney parade crowds, their handlers have been tossing handfuls of confetti at them and repeatedly playing the Disney theme song at full volume.

the king of cyberspace

Last night I had a dream about my blog. I have a history of boring dreams, but this wasn’t one of them. In my dream, I had learned how to steal the coding from other people’s blogs so that I could customize mine—add interesting background graphics, link to supplemental pages. The blog I decided to mimic had a sort of chick-lit vibe, and I was worried about its curly fonts, but I managed to make mine more stately.

What a bummer to visit my blog this morning and realize that it’s still the green-and-orange “Tic-Tac” template. Not that it’s a bad template, it’s just not the template of my dreams. My tech skills are no match for my imagination. I still don’t know how to upload a photo to my profile (help anyone?).

I think the dream was prompted by the episode of The King of Queens I watched last night. (That’s the sort of show people cite when they want to give an example of the most generic sitcom possible, but I actually think it’s pretty funny. One of the things I like about it is that Carrie is not just the longsuffering wife of a funny, troublemaking husband. She knows how to stoop plenty low herself.) Anyway, in the episode, Doug was trying to hide his secret email admirer from Carrie, so he slams his laptop shut and heads out the front door when she comes in the room. She says, “Why are you taking your laptop to the movies?” And he says, “Um, so I can write about it on my blog, okay?”

So you know blogs have hit the mainstream (as if my having one weren’t evidence enough). You hear a lot about how the internet has cut into not just reading time—from which people have always been fairly distractible—but even TV time. Maybe this is TV’s way of fighting back: You want internet? We’ll give you internet. Look, the characters spend 65 percent of this episode staring at a computer screen, and now you can stare at them staring.

Whatever, I’ve got to cut back.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

meet your new life coach

It’s official: I’ve written the longest novel I’m ever allowed to write. Because printing one copy (double-sided, 1.5-spaced) takes exactly as much paper as will fit in my printer’s paper tray. It’s printing right now, and my printer—while proving to be a trooper overall—has taken to taking troubling little breaks between pages.

Anyway, I would like to take this opportunity to say what a great show Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy is. (I watch a lot of TV when B is out of town.) I watched an episode Wednesday night in which a down-home, under-appreciated Montana mom swapped places with a rich, swimwear model/life coach mom from Westchester County, New York. Of course the clip shown in all the ads was the part where Montana Mom’s teenage son tells the camera, “My new mom is hot.”

But the more interesting part of the show came when Westchester County Mom tried to life-coach her new kids. The boys, 18 and 20, thought the surveys WC Mom asked them to fill out were bullshit, and ignored them. But Tianna, the 15-year-old girl, really hoped WC Mom could help her family: “We have serious problems communicating,” she told her new mother. “I mean, we communicate, but, like, in the wrong ways.”

By this point WC Mom had analyzed Tianna’s survey and said, “I really think that if you did 40 minutes of cardio three times a week, you’d be much happier.”

Tianna gave her a weak smile. Way to communicate, WC Mom.

It was a more tragic and genuine moment than the shooting of the most innocent Law & Order: SVU victim. And it was rivaled by what was going on in the Westchester County mansion, where Montana Mom was trying to win over her new preteen daughter. Coltish and teenyboppery, the new daughter freaked out when Montana Mom paraded around in her real mother’s stilettos and said her favorite store catered to “anorexics.” She came across as someone who would probably grow up to be as superficial (yet sorta well-meaning) as her mother, but for now, like Tianna, she was fiercely real, a little girl who loved to play dress-up and loved her mom unconditionally.

Meanwhile in Montana, even the horny boys were missing their mother. One of them had decided to build her an aquatic garden as a gesture of appreciation. And so the show proves a sometimes disturbing truth about family life: You will always be nostalgic for what you are used to, whether it prioritizes sit-ups over mental health or necessitates that you give up wake-up calls from a swimsuit model.

It’s kind of comforting to know that my kids will seek my approval no matter how much I fuck them up. And, conversely, no matter how good I am to them, they’ll think I’m a little boring, a little embarrassing.

But the show’s biggest accomplishment is showing how every family in the world has its own culture. Sure, they play it up by swapping trailer park moms with Malibu moms, Christian with pagan (though I missed that infamous episode), white with black. But issues as seemingly small as whether the family eats in front of the TV or at the dining room table can cause huge blow-ups. Because if you’re used to one, the other seems strange and blasphemous and invasive. Even as I write this, I’m thinking, “Well, of course the family that eats in the dining room is right” because that’s what I grew up doing.

I tried to imagine whom Fox would swap me with, if B and I had kids. At first I thought, maybe somebody who was really unethical, because B and I spend a lot of time trying to do the right thing. But then, duh, I realized that we’d be The Lesbians, so they’d pair us with some Bible-thumping family, and I’d get really pissed off because that mom would try to teach our kids that their mommies were sinners, and she’d get really pissed off because I’d try to teach her kids that the Bible is overrated.

I don’t know if they’ve done such an episode yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. They’ll probably choose some really cool lesbians, though, so GLAAD doesn’t freak out. We’re still in what someone referred to as the Sidney Poitier stage. So maybe Fox is not ready to have me—with the guilt trips and passive-aggressive perfectionism I will inevitably inflict on my kids—to represent lesbian motherhood.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

my new mistress

I ran into Matt from my writing class at the Coffee Table yesterday.

“Hey, what’s going on?” he said.

“Oh, not much,” I said. Then after a long pause, it all came rushing out: “Actually, I started a new novel last week. I hadn’t planned to, but it had sort of been building up, I guess. I didn’t want to start anything until I knew for sure the other novel was finished. I had this plan to take a nice long break and maybe do a little research, but I don’t know, it just happened. And it’s fun.”

“And now you feel like you’re cheating on your other book?” Matt sympathized. He just started a new novel too, and we learned in class later that night that even our teacher had stumbled into a new project while in the midst of another. It was like Cheaters Anonymous, and it was very cathartic to learn I was not the only fallen one.

I can be a little anal about my writing routine sometimes. It’s not always good for me, but it’s a more productive addiction than booze. But I was determined, with Big Project Number Three (and I still reserve the right for it to become Discarded Project Number 79), to be all organic and shit. I would let the novel speak to me, slowly, over the course of a few months. I would do some method-writing by going out and living the subject matter. I would begin writing when I was tanned, rested and thoroughly outlined. Well, maybe not tanned.

But I think I was too anal about my non-anal-ness. A) The novel had already been forming during those months of slow, painful, boring editing on Big Project Number Two, and B) letting loose and going with the flow and all that new age stuff, for me, is just writing the damn thing. I love the blank page. It’s the already-crappily-written page I fear.

I also have to remember that, while my love of making it up as I go along seems to be a constant, the process of writing Big Project Number Three won’t be any more like Big Project Number Two than Two was like One. I’m a different writer now—one who understands outlining and rewriting, even if she hasn’t completely mastered them.

If someone had told me, when I started Big Project Number Two, that no more than three scenes from draft one would make it into draft three, I probably would have said, “Fuck that” and abandoned it for haiku. I’m a big believer in not knowing what the future holds. People always say, “Live like this might be your last day on earth,” but can you imagine what a disaster that would be? No one would ever go to work or meet new people, and we’d all be 300-pound alcoholics.

So maybe this thing will be a novel that closely resembles what I’ve outlined (and right now I have to tell myself it will be), or maybe it will a completely different kind of novel. Maybe it will be a screenplay (although I doubt it), or maybe it will be the thing that takes up space on my hard drive. I’m going to try really hard to be cool with any of those outcomes. ‘Cause I’m all Zen like that. Right?

Monday, November 14, 2005

but she didn't catch my triple axle

Since I can't figure out how to put two pictures in one post, this photo of the environmental-lawyer-on-wheels gets its own post. One of Sara's other talents is skating while snapping pictures.

an appetizer

A little sliver of my upcoming book, The Commuters, is online at http://www.speechlessthemagazine.org/cheryl_klein.htm. You can also read great poems by Jamie, Ryan and a couple of other cool folks. And if you ever wondered, “What kind of grant opportunities does the non-profit literary service organization Poets & Writers offer?” that question is answered too.


Saturday night I accompanied Sara to a friend-of-a-friend’s roller-rink birthday party at World on Wheels. The theme—generous in its breadth—was ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, so I put together a ‘70s outfit that consisted almost entirely of items I wear on a regular basis: polyester shirt depicting giraffes on a red-and-brown jungle background, knit cap, bellbottoms. My only out-of-the-ordinary accessory was a long metal chain adorned with a five-inch owl charm, whose red glass eyes matched my shirt. Sara and Becky and I decided that the look was Idealistic Environmental Lawyer.

So yeah, my outfit sort of missed the rollerskating boat, as I discovered when I walked into WOW and saw acres of girls in early ‘80s roller gear: short slit shorts, striped knee socks, pigtails. One girl’s “shorts” were definitely boy-shorts-style underwear, but to her credit, she had the
back pocket to pull it off. Since I don’t hang out on the beach or in Beverly Hills very often, sometimes I forget how many girls with almost fictionally perfect bodies there are in LA. But I got lots of complements on my owl-and-giraffe motif, so ultimately I was glad I left my knee socks at home.

I’d never been to a roller rink before. This one was the sort of place where the bathroom stalls featured signs reminding you not to drink while pregnant or your baby might be born with a deformed face. Where the DJ periodically interrupted the music to say, “Let’s give a shout-out to Benny, who found the missing locker key!”

I’m definitely going back.

Not being much of a party person, I really appreciated that, at any given time, I had the option of ditching the crowd and taking a spin around the smooth wooden floor on my own. Although skating with Sara was also fun, as she tried to teach me how to “shoot the duck” (it sounds scandalous, but really it’s just squatting down and skating on one foot) and other tricks.

As always, I learned
something random about Sara’s past: She’s versed in Egyptology and would have moved to Cairo if there had been more opportunities for women Egyptologists there. This came up when she began a sentence with, “My favorite pharaoh…” and I was like, “Wait, who has a favorite pharaoh? At least, one who’s not Tut?” Sara, that’s who.


Cultural intake notes for the weekend:
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: funny and postmodern and good. Poets Sholeh Wolpé and Dorianne Laux: smart, intense-and-subtle and good. The Rules of Attraction (on DVD): well made, I guess, but I’m just not into movies about sassy, brilliant, privileged assholes and how desperate their lives are. If I’m going to watch a privileged asshole, I’d prefer to watch Paris Hilton, because at least I can comfort myself that I’m smarter than her.

(I don’t buy that the ditziness is all an act, on her part or Jessica Simpson’s. If it is an act, that makes them all the more pathetic, because it means that all they’ve used their brains for is getting rich by bombarding the world with images of spoiled, stupid women.)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

the jenny craig of west adams

When embarking on a weight loss plan, it’s helpful to be surrounded by a community of supporters—people who help you set realistic goals and encourage good health, not anorexia. Even if, say, you didn’t know you were trying to lose weight and thought you were just jogging down Vermont Avenue because it’s good for your heart and helps you think about the new novel taking shape in your head. Even then, it can be oh so helpful when a middle-aged man in a fedora shouts the following words of encouragement:

“Keep going, baby! You can lose it! Lose those ten pounds! But don’t lose the back, baby. You gotta keep the back pocket.”

Since I was wearing sweats (no pockets), I interpreted that to mean he thought I could stand to lose a few pounds, but liked my ass. Gosh, thanks!

(On a related note: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/40998)

Friday, November 11, 2005

the cheryl comedy hour

When I started traveling more for work (and B started traveling way more), I realized why comedians always have lots to say about airplane food—they spend 80% of their lives in transit. This point was driven home last night when I was waiting for my delayed flight at the Oakland airport, and I was on the phone with B, making plans to take her to the airport the next morning.

“I can’t believe I’m at the airport, talking about a trip to the airport. Which will take place in less than 12 hours,” I complained. “It just seems wrong.”

“So do you want to talk about when you’re going to fly out and meet me in New York over Thanksgiving instead?”

“You’re not helping.”

I’ve also noticed myself making schticky mental observations about airport life. For example, last week when I went to pick up B, I headed to LAX early so that I could exchange some leftover Hong Kong dollars at the international terminal. The only time I’d spent in the international terminal previously (like any normal person) was when I was coming or going, or picking someone up. But sans the stress of catching a flight or locating a weary traveler, I realized…the Tom Bradley International Terminal is happening.

It’s one big party. There are people with balloons and flowers. Music is playing. Coffee is flowing freely and there are stacks of Us Weekly ripe for reading-without-purchasing. I had an overwhelming sense of, “This is where the cool kids hang out.” Not at the dreary Alaska terminal (B’s airline of semi-choice lately), tiled insane-asylum-yellow and void of even a single chair.

If the international terminal is, um, whatever a really hot nightclub is, then Terminal 6 is, like, a club I’d actually go to. Kind of mellow. A little under-populated. But home to Java Java, where you can buy something called a Mocha Almond Roca. I got myself a decaf latte and strolled on down to Terminal 7, where a handsome young man with an envious expression approached me and asked, “Where did you get that?”

“Terminal 6,” I said. Yeeeahh. I know where it’s at.

I’ll be here all week, folks. Until I have to fly out again.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

the starbucks chronicles #2

I like to consider my artistic tastes eclectic and sometimes off-the-beaten-path, if not quite avant garde or highbrow. But I may have to reconsider after hearing two songs in a row at Starbucks this morning that I recognized from my personal music collection.

Starbucks also likes to consider its tastes eclectic and smart, and the songs they play (and sell) are both of those things, but in a safe, yuppified, short-playlist kind of way.

I’ve never bought a CD at Starbucks, but I’m clearly not as far from doing so as I’d like to be. Part of me thinks this is a sign from the universe that it’s time to punk things up a little. Another part of me—which is a really loud part these days—thinks that uniqueness is fairly futile, so it’s better to focus on goodness. Yeah, you’ve got to wonder what you’re not hearing, but you can still enjoy Bessie Smith and Joni Mitchell while they’re spinning, and think about the days when they were what wasn’t being played.

Monday, November 07, 2005

there but for the grace of a '97 honda civic

At this moment I am still reeling from the intensity of Crash, which B and I watched on DVD last night. At this moment France is noticing that not all of France is French. And at this moment I am reading my third novel in six months about black people written by a white author.

I feel like all of these things are related and that there is something important to be said or learned, but I’m not sure what.

Crash says a lot of what needs to be said about race—especially race in LA—in a more complex, honest and brutal manner than any I’ve seen on film. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is a series of vignettes in which the lives of Angelnos collide (quite literally, car town that we are) and often turn violent as a result ethnic tensions and prejudices. A white cop saves the life of a black woman when her car flips over, but she wouldn’t have been driving in an agitated state if that same cop hadn’t pulled her over and molested her and humiliated her husband the night before. But that cop might not have had it in for black people if his dad hadn’t gotten laid off as a result of affirmative action. But there wouldn’t have been a need for affirmative action if it weren’t for slavery. And back and back and back.

One of the most refreshing things about the movie—and I know “refreshing” is a word to describe lemon-lime soda, not a movie that makes your heart explode—was that it wasn’t just black and white. There were Persian, Korean and Salvadoran-Puerto Rican people in the mix, all treating each other just as suspiciously.

It’s a forceful film, and I found myself—when not sobbing or actually saying “no, no” at the TV, the latter of which, at least, is not my normal movie-watching habit—searching the screen for one through-and-through good person. But even beyond race, a central idea of the movie is that we are all capable of acting horrifically, especially when others confirm our worst fears. In which case we turn around and confirm others’ worst fears.

I’m sometimes overly empathetic, but I came away from the movie fully convinced that there is a parallel universe in which I would rob and beat people—or at least have a housekeeper whom I would treat like shit—and that the only reasons I haven’t are: luck, privilege, naïveté, Chris Cunningham’s classes at UCLA and the fact that I’m too rich to be a carjacker and too poor to be carjacked. (Well, knock on wood—I’m sure someone out there would jack a ’97 Honda Civic that makes a funny humming noise when it starts up given the opportunity.)

At this moment I’m kind of at a loss. The other day my friend Annette described listening to a professor at an experimental writing conference “explain how her equations would take down the patriarchy.” So, um, we’ll see if the prof has any luck with that. In the meantime….

Friday, November 04, 2005

he is jordan, hear him roar

So you know how everyone thinks their own kid (or grandkid or niece or nephew) is the cutest baby in the world? Well, if Bonnie were ever to make that claim about Jordan—and she hasn’t, because she’s very modest—there’s a good chance she would be right. I think Jordan is at least in the top five, out of the billions of children in the world. Of course the children of everyone else I know round out that top five.

Here’s Jordan in his Halloween costume.

i had 506 miles to think about this

I just returned from a work trip to Fresno, the point of which was to seek out creative writers in California’s Central Valley. There are many, but let me tell you, they’re not naming the streets of their cities.

In addition to the usual letters and numbers (which is practical if not exciting), Fresno has streets named Tulare, Mariposa, Merced and Stanislaus. If you spend a large portion of your work life staring at a map of California, you know that these are names of California counties. I’m cool with that. Themes are nice. There was also an Olive, and I think local flora is nice too.

But in taking a less direct route home (so I could meet my fourth grade teacher in Porterville, a reunion that fell somewhere between nerve-wracking and heartwarming), I discovered that the towns of Tulare and Visalia and Porterville also have streets named Tulare, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus and Olive.

Well, I’m pretty sure that they do. Because of the repetition I started to feel a little insane, and now I can’t remember whether I drove down Merced Street in Tulare or Tulare Avenue in Merced. I know for sure that I took Tulare in Fresno to a highway that turned into Tulare in Tulare.

As I was mentally chastising the Valley for its laziness, I realized that LA has an Olive and a Mariposa. Are these names just that good? Is this a case of Larry, Darryl and Darryl? (That’s a Newhart reference for you youngsters.) I’m curious whether other regions have similar name-repetition issues. Or, if these street/county names are really so fabulous, whether, say, Atlanta is full Merceds and Mariposas too.

One other road trip note: Buy Fiona Apple’s new album, Extraordinary Machine. It’s, well, extraordinary.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

ben franklin, at least, would approve

Interpretive dancers, like librarians and rocket scientists and, I don’t know, maybe strippers, have one of those professions known mostly by its stereotypes. People use interpretive dance as a stand-in any time they want to reference something dull and pretentious or something improvised and opaque. I was guilty of interpretive dance humor at my last reading, when I said, “I have a cold, so if I lose my voice, I guess I’ll just start doing interpretive dance.”

But even though I’ve been to plenty of dance performances, even though I went to CalArts, I can’t say that I’ve ever actually seen interpretive dance in action. Or at least I couldn’t until Saturday night.

B and I, plus Jamie and Lee-Roy and Ryan (not Singapore Ryan; he’s still in Singapore), turned out for Beyond Baroque’s Constitution-themed evening to see Jen Benka read her truly beautiful-smart-sad-hopeful book, A Box of Longing with 50 Drawers, which features one poem for each word of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Even the “the’s” and the “a’s.” That’s dedication.

Jen had mined tiny words for their most intricate and infinite meanings, had thought long and hard about this whole America thing. Which seemed to be sort of the opposite of everyone else found their way onto BB’s bright black stage: one cynical, wingin’-it-on-the-witness-stand Constitutional lawyer and two real live interpretive dancers.

When the first dancer took the stage, I braced myself. I had no idea what to expect. Would there be music? Talking? A lot of grabbing motions in the air? The answers turned out to be no, yes and yes. At first it was hard not to laugh, which had little to do with the performance and much to do with the silence in the room and the fact that, oh my god, I’m actually witnessing interpretive dance about the Constitution.

And yet it became kind of interesting, especially in the grand interpretive finale, when another dancer joined the first on stage. The new, strong young woman carried the slighter, older woman around on her hip, pressed her hands to the other woman’s hands, said, “Simone, you’re strong!” One myth that shattered for me is that interpretive dance is deadly serious. The younger woman would say things like, “I wonder if I can hold my leg up in the air for the rest of the performance?” There was some silly self-awareness, and they seemed to grant the audience permission to laugh.

And they talked about the Constitution, a little bit. The younger woman named some framers. The older woman said something about the Magna Carta. But ultimately I’m a worker bee artist, and while I’m blown away by the guts and talent that improvisation requires, I’m most impressed by art that takes years of research or thousands of little painted dots.

I concluded my literary weekend Sunday at the new Workspace in Silver Lake, where Tony Abatemarco read some crowd-pleasing Buckowski, and Terry Wolverton, dressed all in lime green, read poems praising shadows and spoons and lipstick. Proof that hard work can provide a lot of fun.