Tuesday, October 31, 2006

where's a duck bill when you need one?

Okay, so the scary clown has not yet begun to shoot blood from his eyeballs as I had hoped, but he is now tied—by the neck—to the lamppost with what looks like a periwinkle unitard. In the interest of better clown posture, I guess.

I’ll probably stop by that store today to see if I can find a cheap, minimal, last-minute costume. The other day AK described the following conversation with her coworker, and I could relate:

AK: I’m trying to come up with a cheap, minimal, last-minute Halloween costume.

Coworker: Alright, let’s think about what we have to work with. What do you have in the costume section of your closet?

AK: [Blank stare.]

Coworker: You know, your old clothes and stuff. What do you do with your old clothes?

AK: I give them away.

Coworker: [Shaking head.] Before you give anything away, you should always ask yourself, “Could I use this as part of a costume?”

This morning I checked the shelves above my closet to see if maybe I had a costume section I’d forgotten about. I distinctly remembered buying a duck bill, devil horns and orange plastic platform shoes in the past (the latter weren’t originally part of a costume, I’m afraid), but they were nowhere to be found. Curse my periodic attempts to pare down my life to just-the-necessities! This time, when I go next door and buy a new costume, I’ll make a mental note that giant lobster claws are absolutely a necessity.

Monday, October 30, 2006

three movie reviews

Most of my week in New York was kind of…worky. Breaks included: 1) getting food poisoning and 2) seeing some good movies. I’ll spare you the details of the former.

The Prestige: Nicole S. (of NYC, not to be confused with Nicole K. of LA—although, interestingly, they both have sisters named Vanessa) and Bram and I went to Nicole’s favorite theater on 33rd St., the one with the good chicken tenders. I was still a little nauseous—and still a vegetarian—so I ordered the so-much-more-stomach-settling nachos, and settled in to see Christian Bale play an obsessive magician competing against his fellow obsessive magician (Hugh Jackman) in turn-of-the-century London.

Given that I love Christian Bale (especially in turn-of-the-century period pieces) and anything that vaguely resembles the gritty, creepy, fun-house glamour of an old-fashioned traveling circus, this movie didn’t have to do much to win me over.

In the nearly perfect opening sequence, we see Hugh Jackman’s character perform his famous “Transported Man” trick, in which he disappears from a stage crackling with lightening only to reappear almost instantly in the theater’s balcony. Except this time, the trick goes awry—the disappeared man drowns in a tank of water beneath the stage, and Christian Bale finds himself on trial for murder. This scene is intercut with shots of Michael Caine—playing an elderly engineer, the guy behind the magic—explaining the components of a good magic trick to a small girl enchanted by his ability to make a canary disappear and reappear. Thus the stage is set with the movie’s themes: doubling, sacrifice and the dark side of trickery.

I say “nearly perfect” because there are parts of the scene that are confusing, and the movie has so many twists and turns that Nicole compared it to Sixth Sense, and I’d go so far as to compare it to the spoofily twisty Wild Things. Usually, I see movies like that and think, Wow. I’m so not a plot person that I can’t even handle watching this much plot. But such thoughts might indicate that the filmmakers can’t handle as much plot as they took on either. The Prestige has a couple of “Now that I have you trapped, I’m going to tell you my evil plan”-type moments, but never at the expense of character development or eerie shots of magical contraptions that look like—and ultimately are—torture devices.

Marie Antoinette: So much of any artistic experience is the life and knowledge you bring with you—Sofia Coppola was counting on people watching Marie Antoinette knowing that sometime after the teen queen’s on-screen frolicking through piles of pastel dresses and sculptural desserts, she’d be dethroned and executed by the angry, impoverished masses.

Tommy’s friend An, who owns a clothing boutique and saw the movie with us, thought the whole thing was incredibly boring, although she conceded, “Sofia Coppola would make a great music video director.” An brought her own aesthetic expertise (she, like so many people I saw in New York, made me feel like I’d accidentally left the house wearing my pajamas), but she didn’t see the point in a two-hour story.

I spent most of the movie trying to decide whether Coppola was indicting Antoinette for her let-them-eat-cake behavior (even if she never actually uttered the words) or not. Coppola makes the wise choice of almost never depicting anything that happens outside the grounds of Versailles, showing how insular Antoinette’s life was. Can you really get mad at someone for saying “Let them eat cake” if that person doesn’t know that anything but cake exists? (I say, bringing with me my current obsession with insular lives thrust upon the global scene.)

But Antoinette isn’t completely off the hook either—the self-centered defiance that gets her through her teen years and ultimately makes her a brave and independent woman in a world where women weren’t encouraged to be either also enables her to continuously not give a shit about France. Her husband Louis XVI, on the other hand, lacks her guts but does his best under the crushing weight of his unwanted crown.

I also brought my love of tabloids to the theater with me, and kept thinking, Paris Hilton, this is you—I hope you’re watching.

The Lake House: I’m more or less working on a novel about a magic mailbox (which relates to the insular lives/global scene thing—really), so I donned my airplane headphones excitedly, hoping the movie would prove the premise to be ripe and viable. Unless the 20 minutes I spent napping were the best 20 minutes of the film, it did not.

The good news is that the magic mailbox genre is still wide open.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

there's no such thing as baby weight in manhattan beach

After 11 and a half years, people from my high school are finally planning our 10-year reunion. I had made up my mind to go: I was already in town, I was curious, I’d made a decent life for myself and I thought it would be nice to run into one of the four people I’d like to catch up with who aren’t on MySpace.

Then I read the part of the Evite that said “Send $55 per person to….”

Then again, I thought, they’ll have to join MySpace eventually, right?

Around this time, I also stumbled across the MySpace page of a fellow Mira Costa Mustang who’d recently had a baby. She smiled up from her profile pic, looking blonde and radiant, sans an ounce of baby weight. Her gorgeous daughter was in one arm, and her designer leather diaper bag was in the other.

I thought,
Do I want to pay $55 to be reminded more viscerally than ever of what Manhattan Beach is like?

I looked at the “No” section of the Evite. The people who had declined so far had included comments like, “Sorry to miss it, but I’ll be in London” and, “I’ll be in Singapore. Miss you guys!” This also seemed very Manhattan Beach.

So—speaking for the non-globetrotting masses, I thought—I checked the “No” box and wrote, “I would love to see everyone, but I’m less in love with the $55 fee. Sorry to miss it.”

A day later, I got an email from Monica, one of the coordinators, saying, “Cheryl, I would hate for the $55 to keep you from coming. If we can work out an alternative, would you consider coming?”

Yes, I was being offered a scholarship to my high school reunion.

At which point I got deeply embarrassed and started thinking how dare I have bitter thoughts about Manhattan Beach when, look, my classmates had grown up to be sweet and generous, and, hello, $55 wasn’t really that unreasonable for two hours of all-you-can-eat-and-drink anyway. It costs money to put on a big event. Did I think it was going to be free?

Usually when I feel bummed about not owning a designer diaper bag, I remind myself,
I’m a starving artist—that’s glamorous! Also, I don’t have kids and it would be weird to carry around a diaper bag, designer or otherwise.

But of course Monica is an artist too. She, like, owns her own textile design company or something. So I sent her a polite thanks-but-no-thanks email and realized that now I definitely can’t go to the reunion. I doubt my name will come up among those who do go, but if it does, I know the rumor won’t be, “I hear Cheryl Klein published a book!” or even, “I hear Cheryl Klein is a dyke!” It will be, “I hear Cheryl Klein is really poor!” But hey, at least that will distinguish me.

P.S. I’m off to New York for a week, so adios for a bit.

P.P.S. It’s for work. Rumor has it that I’d be way too broke to fly there recreationally.

Friday, October 20, 2006

what you dream after eating veggie sausage and onions for dinner

I was traveling for work (seemed like some sort of Central Valley town, somewhere with a lot of strip malls and open space) and, coming out of a meeting, I wandered across the street and into a warehousey-looking store.

It turned out to be a giant thrift store that catered to drag queens, especially drag queens of the slightly tragic, less-than-fabulous variety. They type more likely to wear polyester than sequins. They had to live on the DL in this town, and it showed in their shoulders. I looked around for something to buy, and was repeatedly drawn to quiet, casual clothes. Cotton shirts. Jeans. I thought, Wow, I’m such a dyke.

I befriended the owners, this cool drag-queen couple, and as I was drawn further into the store, it lost its Salvation Army vibe and became more and more magical. There were twinkly Christmas lights. Steamer trunks full of silk slips. Wine and music. One of the owners gave me an apple, and when I bit into it, it was full of chocolate.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

the therapeutic powers of lagomorphs and carbohydrates

I’ve been in a bad mood for the past 36 hours or so because I’m at the stage of novel-writing where I hate my draft so much that I want to erase my name from the title page and replace it with my worst enemy’s. Family Genus Species, a novel by George W. Bush.

But then I look at pictures of bunnies and bread and I feel better (thanks Jay Jao and Patricia).

by halloween, he’ll have started to shoot blood from his eyeballs

The balloons that were previously tied to the scary clown’s mannequin wrist have all popped, leaving eight or ten dangling strings attached to shreds of rubber. Basically it looks like a bunch of giant spiders have repelled down from his Madonna-glove hand on fat webs.

Monday, October 16, 2006

augäpfel mit ihrem bier?

Perhaps almost as important and informative as fictional has-been movie stars are the current projects of my real live artist friends:

1) My friend Nicole just co-authored (with Mike Szymanski) The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe. I haven’t gotten my copy yet, but I did take one of its quizzes on
http://www.guidebi.com/. I learned that based on the foods I like (eggplant, pancakes, curly fries), I am apparently bisexual.

2) My friends-of-AK’s-friends J.P. and Jennifer Jordan Day collaborated on the online Halloween advent calendar-slash-art exhibit Gothtoberfest. I learned how to make pumpkin pizza and say “Do you want eyeballs with your beer?” in German.

why yes, i am a 60-year-old gay man

As I was driving back from the San Diego City Book Fair this weekend, listening to the Sunset Boulevard stage musical soundtrack (featuring the sexy-voiced Kevin Anderson), I had an epiphany:

Norma Desmond has called my office dozens of times.

She’s also approached my organization’s booth at lots of book fairs, asking questions like, “Do you want to hear me recite my epic science fiction poem?” But for the grace of sometime-stardom, Norma would be one of the loony minions who show up at public events in search of fresh blood to inflict their egos and idiosyncrasies on. I’ve mostly come into contact with the literary loony minions—at the SD book fair, there was the guy with the tall walking stick who smelled like peanut butter, and the guy who told everyone who’d listen about how world peace could be achieved by holding hands (interestingly, his left hand was bandaged—workplace injury?). But I know they exist in every subculture.

Sunset Boulevard is one of
my favorite movies, and even though I’m not a huge fan of Andrew Lloyd Write-One-Song-And-Reprise-It-15-Times Webber, I like the musical version a lot too. So, on the 5 North, I asked myself, What is it about this story that’s so appealing to me, besides Kevin Anderson’s sexy voice?

Conventional wisdom says that Norma is appealing because she’s glamorous, crazy and presents a cautionary tale: Here’s what could happen if you live in the past. Her tale is scary, too, because it’s not just a result of her own vanity but of circumstance—the world could fall in love with any of us, and it could forget about any of us. That’s the thrill of Hollywood. That’s why we read
Us Weekly.

But I started to feel like N
orma was probably always nutty; fame was just something that swooped down and put a very attractive veil—or seven Salome veils—over her for a little while.

Then I felt like that conclusion said something about me—something cynical and unpleasant, like “People never change.” We’re supposed to relate to Joe Gillis (played by sexy-voiced Kevin Anderson. I have a thing for sexy voices), the struggling screenwriter who sells out to become Norma’s screenwriting coach and then her kept man. We’re supposed to relate to him because he has to make a choic

But I actually relate to
Betty Schaefer, the screenwriter who says hopeful things like, “They still make good pictures!” and encourages Joe to remove car chase scenes from his script. Betty is innocent and hardworking and blindly determined and pretty damn boring. It would never occur to Betty to shack up with some freak who employs her ex-husband as a butler, and so Betty will never be the main character.

It’s okay, I’m at peace with my boring Betty Schaefer-ness. But I hope that my conclusions about Norma teach me not to dismiss the book fair loonies of the world too quickly. I don’t know, though—is anyone really nicer to nerds after seeing Napoleon Dynamite? I hope I won’t instead start dismissing some of fiction’s most interesting characters with a smug “Stop wallowing and get a job, you old loony” attitude.

And, also, I hope I can be brave enough to be Norma sometimes: big and fragile and impractical and self-promoting and in love with the world’s magical possibilities.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

two updates

1) The scary clown outside my office is now wearing a single fluorescent yellow lace glove on its creepy mannequin hand.

2) Well, this one only qualifies as an update to those who’ve heard me tell the following story (and they are many):

About a month ago, I started noticing a strange noise outside my apartment building: “Waah!” It sounded sort of like a bird—but not quite. It was a short, loud, simple sound, performed at random intervals. Not anguished, just squawky. One day I came home and saw a guy standing on the corner of my street, shouting “Waah!”

Mystery solved.

Then, last night, I heard the familiar “Waah!” but this time it was answered by a different voice, also saying “Waah!” The inflection was the same, but the vocal cords clearly belonged to someone else. It carried on for a couple of minutes. An entire conversation composed of one non-word.

I welcome any theories you might have.

Monday, October 09, 2006

a three-day weekend in postcolonial socal

Last week my boss sent out a company-wide email saying, “Just a reminder that, while Columbus did not discover America, we will have Monday off. Enjoy the long weekend.”

I did. I finished Middlesex, which I will not bother to review here because what brilliant conclusions am I going to make about its brilliance that the Pulitzer committee didn’t already make? (Suffice it to say, they were right.) I finished draft one of the novel I’ve been working on—the one about the nuclear family vs. the global family, featuring bicycle rentals in Malaysia. I’m hoping that its brilliance emerges—like the late and surprisingly blooming Calliope Stephanides—in draft two. I also discovered that Jamie, whom I’ve known a year and a half now, is not only an excellent poet but a bold, riveting performer. I discovered that Brendan Constantine, whom I’d never encountered until Saturday night at Beyond Baroque, is both of those things too.

And on Sunday, AK and friends and I gave two British boys a favorable impression of postcolonial SoCal, I’m pretty sure.

AK’s roommate Alberto hosted a semi-spur-of-the-moment brunch, attended by a handful of his Highland Park high school friends, a newer kickball friend and the kickball friend’s two very new British buddies, Matt and Chris, who had found him through this really cool-sounding website called couchsurfing.com.

We all bombarded Matt and Chris with the sort of questions that Americans bombard foreigners with:

“What surprised you about America?” (Big cars. Stores that stay open all night.)

“Do Americans just seem horribly fat to you?” (No, not especiall

“How much does gas cost in England?” (About $6 a gallon, but their tiny cars get twice the mileage.)

“What part of London are you from?” (Cambridge, which is not a part of London.)

All this over mimosas, baked tomatoes, watermelon, AK’s cumin potatoes, Tony’s buttery bread pudding, Veronica’s slightly under-fried plantains, my chocolate cake from a mix and Alberto’s tortillas (which, in this case, were big flat omelets pinwheeled with bell peppers).

Then AK and I started playing frisbee—outside the Craftsman bungalow, underneath the lemon tree. As we did little between-throw salsa steps to the music punctuating from the boom box perched atop the barbeque, Veronica laughed, “Wow, this scene is so California.”

It was true: All we needed was a volleyball net and some guacamole. Despite its sordid origins, this was a California (dare I say an America?) I liked and felt happy to share with two nice guys from a rainy empire.

It’s probably good that they were long gone by the time we started organizing a grassroots campaign to get Oprah elected president.

Friday, October 06, 2006

stephanie just called to tell me two great things

1) “There’s a review of your book in the Sacramento News & Review.”

2) “I just had an audition for two parts on Two and a Half Men. I don’t know how I did with ‘Cashier,’ but I nailed ‘Snack Bar Cashier.’”

a good pace

Sometimes I forget how much I love running. That’s because I don’t love starting to run—getting off my ass, finding a semi-clean sports bra, taking those first awkward steps when I haven’t figured out my pace and my bandana feels crooked on my head. But last night AK and I finally went jogging together after months of anxious deflecting (“I’m sure you’ll be faster.” “No, you’ll be faster.”), and I quickly remembered why I stuck out a whole season of cross country in high school, even though the coach was an ass.

It turns out we’re pretty evenly matched. We’re both medium-slow, better at distance than sprinting. Which reminds me how much I love running-as-metaphor. I glowed: See! We’re perfect for each other!

I may have glowed out loud a tad too much, because AK politely indicated that she prefers a slightly less chatty run.

It’s cool, it’s cool. Soon I was too tired to talk anyway. There was only breath and pavement and the scary-thrilling rush of cars whizzing by the jogging path. Yellow-gold light from Tudor-style cottages reflected in the Silver Lake Reservoir as we looped around the lake, and I felt like I was jogging inside an off-season snow globe.

We ran by the dog park, where sheets of paper fluttered against the chain link.

“Oh no,” I said, “are those signs for lost dogs?”

“Don’t look, don’t look,” AK said breathlessly as she ran ahead of me. There had been too many sad pet thoughts lately.

On the second lap, a shaggy black mutt and a cocker spaniel raced joyfully in the same space.

“I love dog friends,” I said.

“So cute,” AK agreed.

And then we stopped and stretched and rested.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

not ready for my close-up

You know how, in interviews, actors always say they can’t stand to watch their own movies? And how you think, Oh shut up and stop being modest. I know you have a big home theater where you watch all of them over and over again, Norma Desmond-style.

Well, I maybe get it just a little bit now. Not too long ago I encountered my first nasty reader review of The Commuters on Amazon (which is weirdly missing now, but I swear I did not report it to the Amazon authorities). Luckily the late Jake Dante posted a very thoughtful rebuttal. (Jake was AK’s shy, cuddly, scholarly cat, whose fate was sealed by a careless driver on a foggy night last week. He is very much missed, and deserves more than a parenthetical. But, um, for the record, many people and cats who’ve read my book are doing just fine, so I don’t think there’s a curse or anything.)

But on the heels of the negative review, I was nervous about reading the two links to real live journalistic reviews that my editor sent me, even though he promised me they were good. For a whole day I didn’t even click on them, and when I finally read them, I read them fast—like eating ice cream that I knew had a pill hidden in it.

I got off pretty easy, though. The ice-cream-to-pill ratio was in my favor. Since you’re not me, that should make reading this review (scroll down to the bottom of the article) and this review much less nerve-wracking, although also possibly less interesting.

To prove I’m not totally Norma Desmond, I am now going to promote a reading that has nothing to do with me, but which I will definitely be at, given my regard for Jamie FitzGerald’s poetry. The girl writes about Big Sur and Hello Kitty in ways that are so not your average Big Sur or Hello Kitty poems.

The Cobalt Café Reading
Saturday, Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m.
Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center

681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
Also featuring Brendan Constantine, Michael C. Ford and some other cool local poets.