Wednesday, November 29, 2006

this post is not about penélope cruz’s ass

What is the world coming to when even Terry Gross spends most of her interview with Penélope Cruz asking about the actress’ now-famous ass-padding in Volver? The NPR reviewer, too, was equally body-oriented, rhapsodizing about how Cruz’s sultry make-up spoke volumes about her character, and how she was the new Sophia Loren, etc., etc. The guy basically spent 10 minutes intellectualizing his crush on Ms. Cruz.

I’ll get it out of the way more quickly: Penélope Cruz is hot. Now, moving on.

Volver is a physical film, maybe even more so than most movies, but it’s also a tough and mature movie, which can get lost in the ass-padding excitement. Cruz plays Raimunda, a hardworking, newly single mom who seems too busy running a restaurant, dealing with her aunt’s death and covering up her daughter’s (quite justified) murder of her (Raimunda’s) husband to put on all that make-up, though we do see her doing so once. Her sister Sole (played by the actually-plenty-attractive-herself Lola Dueñas) has even more to worry about when their dead mother shows up—looking very much alive—in the trunk of her car.

A flood of long-kept secrets sweeps through the family like the east winds that spark fires and superstitions in their home village. Incest, murder, disappearances—the women in the film handle it all with a matter-of-factness that falls short of stoic (it would be impossible to call such a vivid, colorful film stoic) but seems somehow very European to me. Revenge and forgiveness are not contradictory to these characters, or at least not far apart. Burying one’s rapist husband and lovingly carving his headstone are all in a busy day’s work.

I suspect that an American movie—at least one with a less adept director than Pedro Almodóvar—would have spent a lot of time driving home the point that child abuse is bad, and then have followed up with a lot of weepy epiphanies. These characters laugh and cry quickly and then move on; sometimes my American head almost craved a little hammer-hitting. The movie is dark and funny, but not quite a dark comedy. Lush but not a spectacle. Almodóvar holds and delivers all of these tensions like a figure skater at her fourth Olympics—it’s only after the breathtaking routine that it occurs to you that triple axles aren’t all that easy, and that the intricate footwork between leaps probably isn’t either. Like Raimunda, he just shakes out his apron and gets back to work.

Monday, November 27, 2006

revise revise revise

That’s what David Wong Louie wrote when he signed a copy of his much-rewritten second book for me. I haven’t started revising my novel for real yet, but I am doing some line editing before sending chapter 10 to my writing group. A window into my so-called process:

I took refuge in the aisles of gorgeous fruits and vegetables.

I took refuge in the aisles of luxuriant fruits and vegetables.

I took refuge in the aisles of garish fruits and vegetables.

I took refuge in the aisles of ostentatiously gorgeous fruits and vegetables.

I took refuge in the aisles of fruits and vegetables.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

not just bitches

1. a good long life

At this very moment, my real high school reunion is happening. Or I should say, my official high school reunion is happening, because the real thing, as far as I’m concerned, happened last night.

Instead of paying $55 per person, we had a potluck at
Bonnie’s apartment. I arrived second, apologizing for my burnt brownies as I walked through the door. Amy said, “Yeah, I was supposed to make a vegetable dish, but I ran out of time and just ended up buying something.” Then Jenessa called, saying she was running late and did we still really want her to bring a salad?

Our gathering reaffirmed what I observed at
last year’s mini-reunion—that we’re very much still our high school selves: over-achievers with slacker tendencies (or maybe vice versa), self-deprecating, sarcastic, creative.

And that we’re also not—the sarcasm that we honed making fun of people for ridiculous reasons (“Remember how we used to make fun of Shannon Christiansen?” Bonnie said. “Why?”
Angie asked. “She said her name weird,” said Bonnie. “Like Shunn-un”) has softened as we’ve grown more confident and discovered better uses of our time and talents. When I recounted how Monica offered me a scholarship to the official reunion, I could hear the gossipy edge creep into my voice—it’s like a drug, the cheap high of inviting others to bond with you over shared judgment.

“That sounds like Monica,” Angie laughed. “But she really is so nice. I heard she gave her dad a kidney.”

“I ran into Isaac the other day, and I was telling him about that, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’d never do that for my dad,’” said Bonnie. “I thought he was joking. I kept saying, ‘Sure you would.’ But he was like, ‘No, man, he’s lived a good long life.’”

“Wow,” said Amy. “I’m estranged from my dad and I’d still give him a kidney.”

We agreed: kidneys for all our dads.

2. upon closer examination

Not too long ago, AK told me about an LA Times
article she read, about a club that Mira Costa students started to encourage friendships between developmentally disabled kids and mainstream students. “It was the most positive, heartwarming story you could possibly imagine,” she said. “And it was so funny, because the way you described your high school, I imagined it being nothing but bitches.”

We watched the video Bonnie made at the end of our senior year. The last time we’d watched it, it was our hamminess that stood out to me. We were constantly putting on a show. We never met a driveway that didn’t need to be turned into a stage.

But this time—maybe because I’ve been in a bit of a melancholy mood off and on this weekend—I noticed how we grew and grew apart between eighth grade and senior year. How Bonnie’s clothes started to skew hip-hop and Amy and Jenessa’s veered toward skater, and I went from anorexic to distinctly overweight.

We were never a completely cohesive group—we always used to joke, for example, that
Heather had a secret life, mainly because she had a couple of friends who went to Chadwick. But by the end of high school it was becoming clear that there were all sorts of different places—entirely different cultures—where we might land as adults. That we were hungry for it and terrified by it.

3. still different, less scared

After dinner, we decided to go out. It had to be somewhere close, because Bonnie’s mom was only going to baby-sit her son for another 45 minutes.

“I’m curious about South Bay dive bars,” I said. “All those places I’ve driven by my whole life but never gone in. Like the Dolphin, that gay bar on Artesia.”

Bonnie perked up. “Yeah, let’s go there. I love gay guys.”

Heather, who lives in West Hollywood now, said, “I don’t know…I think it might be kind of weird if five girls walked in all of a sudden.”

We settled on the Hangar, a vaguely airplane-themed bar on Aviation Boulevard. They only served beer, in giant goblets that made us giggle. Bonnie and Angie didn’t like beer, so they borrowed mine and Jenessa’s and Heather’s to take pictures with. I’d ordered a Hefeweizen and repeated what I’d recently heard on NPR, that it was a less bitter beer because it had a lot of malt and not very much hops. I felt half cool, half alcoholic.

Soon, Angie and Bonnie left, and Jenessa’s boyfriend Sam joined us and did a spot-on impression of Jenessa’s mom that sounded just like the impressions she’s been doing since she was eight.

Do people really change? When I look at all of us, it seems entirely believable that we are who we turned out to be. Jenessa once marched into the school library and demanded to see all the scary books (which her mom had warned her not to read). Now she’s looking for a job working with gang members and won’t hesitate to tell you about the time she got arrested. Bonnie was always bossy and goofy around her friends and painfully shy around adults. Now she teaches third grade.

But we’ve all muddled through a lot to become the
selves that seem so obvious. Breakups, babies, rehab, half-finished grad programs, a few thousand dollars worth of therapy. More than anything, I think we all had to shed a lot of insecurity to become the nice (yet gently sarcastic, partially tattooed and occasionally bitchy) young ladies we are today.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, beer at the Hangar: $4.50 plus tip. Eleven-year reunion with people I’d still do a kick line with: priceless.

Friday, November 24, 2006

conversations with my 28-year-old self

I just drove back from my dad’s house after a long day of extended family and tasty side dishes. It’s finally starting to get cold, and I kept having to turn the windshield wipers on, even with the defroster going full blast. The roads were wide open, and Chris Pureka’s “Swann Song” was playing in my CD player. It’s upbeat and sad at the same time—smoky-voiced, nostalgic, sing-along-able. It embodies late autumn perfectly.

Chris Pureka is a new discovery, brought to my attention by a mass email from B, who likes heartbreaking girl folk singers, and who broke up with me a year ago this weekend.

A year ago this weekend I could not peel myself off the floor, and when I finally did, I ran five miles and hardly even felt it. I thought about that self tonight (maybe because earlier in the day I was listening to Pink’s sweet but less spectacular “Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self”) and I felt so sad for that self, and loved her so much.

She had no idea what was ahead of her—that a year from now she’d be so thankful for what fate enabled, so in love with a new girl who was an old soul but liked to stay out late, so full of love that she worried she’d become one of those people who walked around talking about how full of love the world was. For that one-year-ago self, the world was, possibly, still full of love, but suddenly she had nowhere to put it. She suspected things would be okay, though, and that thought was a little scary. What did love mean if you could heal from it? How unromantic—a world in which mothers could die and people could leave you and your heart would just slowly stitch itself back up and go about its business.

From what I know of the spiritual side of quantum physics (courtesy of What the Bleep Do We Know?, You Shall Know Our Velocity and The Time of Our Singing—creative types love this stuff), theoretically all possible futures exist simultaneously. In a parallel universe, B and I are still together, working things out or not, in Indiana or maybe Philadelphia, because maybe she got into Wharton in that universe.

Right after we broke up, it was really important for me to believe that things could have worked in a parallel universe. Not so much because of quantum physics, but more out of a stubborn need to be right, to not have wasted four and a half years.

I know that time wasn’t wasted, not even in this life. That past had to happen to get to this future, and that past was a good present in its time, in its way. Still, I am glad to be living this particular present in this particular universe.

“It was a good life,” Chris Pureka sings in “Swann Song,” “I’d do it all again, I’d do it all again.”

I put the song on repeat, and cried and cried, but then I was home and it was time to go in.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

a thanksgiving message

Courtesy of J.P., Akbar craft captain and holiday philosopher:

Thank you for the very weird experience of a holiday that suffers from gross historical distortion, but still has the gleanings of a message that endures (the concept of gratitude and celebration of the harvest). Despite all the starvation, disease, nasty catty fights about real-estate, back-stabbing, maize, muskets, hats with buckles, pretty head-dresses, small pox, the Narragansets and the Puritans...we’re essentially thankful for mostly everything.

I guess. Whatever. Turkey.

I would say “tofurky,” but other than that, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

it's official

As of a lovely ceremony Sunday morning, I’m officially a member of All Saints. It felt a little like graduation, where you’re sort of moved, but also sort of worried about when you’re supposed to sit and stand and walk off stage. Afterward, our Covenant I group practiced the ancient Episcopalian ritual of going out for Thai food.

the locals call it “san luis.” “slo” is like saying “frisco”

Speaking of art, we stopped in San Luis Obispo, where AK spent her college days, and saw the famous Bubblegum Alley, where people have been sticking chewed-up wads of gum for years. And they say public art is dead.


On Friday, AK and I visited the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, where one of the highlights was an exhibition of Ruth Asawa’s modernist take on those wire baskets that hold potatoes and lemons and stuff. They were intricate, eerie and oddly warm and organic for sculptures made of twisted metal.

this was partly a business trip, i swear

I’m at least 1,000 words behind in my blogging, so hopefully these pictures will tell the story of my past week. Three fun days of it were spent in San Francisco. Unfortunately I didn’t document lunch at Citizen Cake, where Erin (fresh from proving art and sports do mix at our work meeting) and AK bonded over their mutual love of Jenny Lewis, and Jamie and I devoured a dessert that literally looked like shit (think fudge logs sitting on top pumpkin skid marks) but tasted so good we were proud to claim our citizenry.

I’ll start with karaoke at the
Mint, where Jamie played air flute, Patricia channeled Dolly, AK rocked Axl Rose and I tried to do fan kicks to Fiona Apple. And a 70-something leather daddy sang a version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that was so sweet I really could imagine all those things. All before 6 p.m., ladies and gentlemen.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


On Friday I made two delightful discoveries.

1) The
Pinkberry frozen yogurt that people are clogging the streets of West Hollywood for totally lives up to the hype. Isn’t it nice when something does that? Actually, I have to admit that I tried a knockoff version, the Big Chill’s Chillberry flavor, which has thus far only clogged a small strip mall parking lot.

But it’s damn good stuff. A frozen yogurt version of plain yogurt, basically—tart with just a little sweetness.

When I returned from lunch, I reported my findings to
Jamie and Cait, our intern.

“It’s so good,” I said. “It totally lives up to the hype. The only bad part was that I got a chocolate peanut butter cup topping—it was like putting a really ornate Victorian chair in the middle of a sleek, modern apartment.”

Cait, being a 19-year-old USC student who is already over trends I’ve never even heard of, was familiar with Pinkberry, but Jamie hadn’t heard of it. When I described it to her, she said, “That’s like the original frozen yogurt that was around when we were kids! They had tart vanilla and regular vanilla. But later they only had regular.”

I decided it must be a Hawaii thing, since the Klein family had a pretty serious frozen yogurt habit in the early ‘90s and I remembered no such thing. Plus the current tart frozen yogurt is an interpretation of a Korean dessert, and Hawaii is half an ocean closer to Asia than Southern California is. As for Cait, she was barely eating solid food in the early ‘90s.

2) Borders has my book.

I spent an hour there Friday afternoon, scanning the acknowledgements pages of books I liked in hopes of discovering who my favorite authors’ agents were. All the literary marketing smarties tell you to do this, but it actually wasn’t very fruitful. Who knew so few writers had acknowledgements pages? Ungrateful brats.

I was about to leave when I decided to see if they had
my book—just for fun or self-torture, depending on the results. I figured it would be the latter. But lo and behold, there it was, just to the left of Stephanie Klein’s Straight Up and Dirty. My heart skipped a beat when I saw it. My little book! In a bookstore not known for ordering local writers’ books just to be nice.

I wandered around in a daze for a few minutes. I toyed with the idea of writing a little note inside each of the two copies. Something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m Cheryl. Right now I’m shopping at Borders. Please buy this book.” It’s not graffiti if it’s your own book, right?

I also thought about buying it, just because it would feel great to walk into Borders and buy my own book. Then I thought, I’m not about to shell out $12.95 for a book I already have. Then I thought,
Shouldn’t its mere presence here mean I’m rich enough to shell out $12.95 for a book I already have?

In the end, I contented myself with turning the book so the cover faced outward instead of the spine. This involved some repositioning of Deanna Kizis’ already-facing-outward chick lit novel, Finishing Touches. Actually, I used to intern at Entertainment Weekly when Deanna was a staff writer there. She was never very friendly.

(Wow, that sounded chick-lit-y of me.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

the good, the bad, the weird and the deep-fried

Since I had to work slightly harder than usual to vote yesterday, (meaning I had to print my sample ballot from the internet rather than just pull it out of my mailbox—god, now I know what Iraqis go through to vote!), I got an extra special little buzz in pasting my “I Voted” sticker to my shirt. I voted at 7:30 a.m., so I had nearly 15 hours to walk around in ignorant bliss, hopeful that America would make good choices.

The good news is that, unlike in the 2000 and 2004 elections, the results did not make me cry. The good news is that Democrats are no longer letting Republicans have the lock on morality rhetoric, and Nancy Pelosi is third in line for the presidency.

The bad news is that I’m having double assassination fantasies (note to blog police: Did I say “double assassination fantasies”? I meant “double simultaneous naturally caused heart attack” fantasies), which doesn’t seem healthy. The bad news is that America still hates fags, except in Arizona, where they’re busy hating undocumented immigrants.

The weird news is that in Arizona there was also a measure (defeated, but still, it made it onto the ballot) to give one million dollars to a randomly selected voter each election. So, let’s see…a million dollars for some dude who fills in his ink-a-ballot in the shape of a smiley face: good. Childcare for the people who do your shit work and make it so you don’t have to pay payroll taxes: bad. And the HRC wants me to congratulate you for letting gay marriage remain plain-old illegal rather than making it super-duper illegal.

Okay, I’m going to shut up before I start singing the Canadian national anthem like the predictable and no doubt under-informed lefty that I am. Maybe I’ll just make some deep-fried treats and send them to the Whitehouse. In a gesture of bipartisan goodwill, of course.

Friday, November 03, 2006

not that anyone asked....

Sometimes, when the kids are having a fun game of meme tag—or whatever they call it—you just have to tag yourself. And when it comes to books, I can resist a little self-tagging.

1) One book that changed your life.

When I was five, my mom started reading the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder to me. Soon I was narrating my own life in the third person: “Then Cheryl went into the bathroom. It was dark, and she hoped there were no kidnappers hiding behind the toilet.” In kindergarten, when we wrote little stories to explain what was happening in our finger-paintings, I raised my hand and asked, “How do you spell ‘replied’?”

Before a thousand other books brought beauty and darkness and history and social consciousness into my life, a little girl in a bonnet brought words themselves.

2) One book that you’d read more than once.

Would read again: anything funny that I can read out loud to people I like to hear laugh. Have read again: In the Heart of the Valley of Love by Cynthia Kadohata. I was writing a paper—but also, I love it. Should read again: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I only made it through about 85 years of solitude. I blame post-AP-test burnout, not Márquez.

3) One book you’d want on a deserted island.

The bible seems to have kept people talking for a couple thousand years. Maybe it could keep me busy until I was done building a raft out of coconut shells.

4) One book that made you laugh.

Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants by Jill Soloway. Because everyone says David Sedaris.

5) One book that made you cry.

Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham. Parents’ most subtle, innocent wishes can kill their children.

6) One book you wish you’d written.

The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers. Parents’ most passionate, fought-for wishes can’t save their children.

7) One book you wish had never been written.

Any book that promises you can make a million dollars or lose a million pounds without any real effort. That’s a lot of books, but isn’t it really all one book?

8) One book you’re currently reading.

You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers. It’s great, but I’m not reading it with much velocity.

9) One book you’ve been meaning to read.

The Rough Guide to Malaysia. Or something by Dickens.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

the tale of the shark, the tabby cat and the disappearing bus

One Halloween night, a shark and a cat named OC (who looked, to the untrained eye, much like a generic tiger but was in fact OC—orange tabby, Mid-City resident, connoisseur of plastic bags and popsicles) set out to have some West Hollywood fun. They had plans to meet their friend the vampire at the KBIG stage, where Tiffany was performing. (This was what happened when gay men found corporate sponsorship—Tiffany got gigs again.)

They drove to the house where OC was cat-sitting and fed Mao, Miso and Stripe, who were not especially worried about being care
d for by a giant member of their species and a shark who had recently eaten a scuba diver. From there, OC and the shark walked to the bus stop, where they waited.

And waited.

And called the shark’s roommat
e to confirm the bus schedule.

And waited some more.

Finally, the shark said, “Can we go back to Jamie and Lee-Roy’s house for a little while? I’m freezing.”

“Of course,” said OC. “I’m weari
ng a wool sweater, but I forgot—you’re cold blooded.”

As they walked back, OC tried to explain how, sometimes, when buses just never showed, he felt like he was living in the eerie, magical LA he’d written his undergraduate thesis on, but which he tended to forget about now that he was a practical, efficient grown-up. He’d forgotten the beauty of things not being what they appeared.

His brain was doing funny things lately. It was feeling guilty and restless and wondering if its little fictional pursuits could really change anything in the world, because surely it was his duty to change the world. Surely beauty and curiosity were not enough. He was excited—and filled with trepidations, because he knew how good and relevant the book would be—to start reading You Shall Know Our Velocity. Even though he was only on page 25 now, it was good and relevant, and seemed to be about survivor guilt, and OC lived his life weaving in and out of various degrees of survivor guilt, to the point where sometimes his brain shouted at him, Just do something. Just fix something. Other times it said,
Hush, hush, you’re just a little cat. Just lay down and purr.

It was funny, all this guilt and restlessness, because usually all OC wanted was a firm head-scratch and the milk in his mistress’ cereal bowl.

Back at Jamie and Lee-Roy’s, OC and the shark lay down—just for a minute, but that minute quickly turned into the whole night.

In the morning, the shark said, “Sorry we didn’t make it out. But I’m glad we dressed up anyway.”

A smile spread between OC’s whiskers. There was a time, not so long ago, when he would have put such a night in the Things That Did Not Get Accomplished column. But he liked the way the shark thought. He liked the idea of a world where some nights, you got dressed up just for yourself, an invertebrate friend and a few local felines. That was the city he wanted to live in.