Monday, July 30, 2007

ham radio

My aforementioned college roommate Amber once told me that I had a habit of interrupting people to tell stories about myself. For example, when she reported, “My dad almost cut his finger off,” I said, “My dad’s always injuring himself in some kind of shop accident.”

I was trying to be empathetic, but I guess I see her point. I’ve tried to curb this tendency, but I haven’t been very successful. So it’s nice when someone asks to interview me, because then I know I’m supposed to talk about myself and that I won’t get in trouble for doing so.

This weekend, poet Carlye Archibeque was kind enough to interview Jamie and I about our day jobs and our writerly lives on her Blog Talk Radio show Inspired by. Visit to hear:

1) Carlye muse on what color she’ll dye her hair next as she battles technical difficulties (I was on the phone this whole time, shouting, “Carlye! Carlye! I’m here!” but blog radio is in its scrappy, unpredictable infancy).

2) Me get all Hallmark-y about the importance of arts education.

3) Me say, “Even though I had a book come out, I don’t feel like I’ve ‘made it’ or anything” a la some falsely modest celebrity as opposed to an unknown fiction writer whose success or lack thereof wasn’t really keeping anyone but herself awake at night.

4) Jamie eloquently explain why, even though her pre-interview email to Carlye sort of made it sound like she hates LA, she doesn’t really hate LA.

5) Me interrupt Jamie to talk about myself.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

rider with the storm

“I have a plan to switch lanes fast,” said our cab driver, Isao (American name: Storm). I was not surprised that he had a plan. Even before getting on the freeway, he’d told us about the various degrees he’d almost completed, including his MD, and how he was going to get rich by buying an office building in downtown San Francisco and then selling it after it appreciated—which seemed like a perfectly solid plan for anyone with $12 million to spare.

“I turn on the emergency blinker, then the right blinker, then emergency blinker,” Storm explained. “People move out of the way. I am only concerned about your safety and my safety. Everybody else get out of the way.”

In the back seat, Jamie and I looked at each other, as we would repeatedly over the next 20 minutes. Sometimes our looks said, Oh my god, we’re in the car with a crazy man. More frequently, our looks said, What did he just say?

Storm had a thick Japanese accent and spoke very quickly. He was clearly comfortable and confident speaking English. If we couldn’t keep up, well, we were like those unfortunate other drivers on the freeway. We just needed to get out of the way.

It was late afternoon, and I was tired, but I tried to concentrate as he discussed his various inventions, punctuating his explanations with a high-pitched laugh.

“Underwater…something…something…turbine. Something…something…fish. Hahahahaha!”

“Ha ha ha,” I said supportively.

“Internet…something…confidentiality,” said Storm.

“Mm, that makes sense,” I said, because this is a sort of empathetic catchphrase of mine. Although, now that I thought about it, the exact opposite was true.

When we got to the airport, Storm wouldn’t let me climb out of my seat and exit the side door. He had one last plan that involved releasing the lever that enables the seat to be moved from side to side and pulling it forward with me in it. It was quite a ride.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

in praise of obsession

1. the index of inactivity

The other night I had dinner with Deborah Edler Brown, a poet and journalist I’d just met. We both had to drive back to LA after a meeting in Orange County, and we decided to wait out traffic together over really crappy sushi.

“Sometimes I have these compulsions to do things that don’t seem to have anything to do with writing,” she said, “but I think they ultimately do. Like when I was having a really rough time after this I was in relationship ended, the only thing I could think about was taking all my books off the shelves and putting them in boxes in my garage. And now I’m reading all my old journals that I’ve been keeping since I was 16 and indexing them.”

I tried to imagine what an index of my teenage journal might look like.

Babysitting: 6, 14
Boys: 4, 13, 15
--annoying me: 3, 6, 11, 13, 20
--making varsity next year: 10, 12, 17
Fauver, Bill, A.P. U.S. history teacher: 3, 10, 11
--annoying me: 2, 10, 17, 18
--secretly hating me: 1, 4, 7, 8, 16, 19
Haunted houses: 2, 12, 17
Lesbian subtext: 1, 4, 5, 7, 13, 14, 15, 18, 20
Losing weight: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20*

No, I don’t think that’s the project for me. But Deborah’s confession got me thinking about other random projects that my brain takes on, which seem to fall somewhere between OCD and creativity.

AK and I were recently talking about how, when you’re young, you can go really deeply into pop culture in a way you don’t have time to when you’re an adult, unless you’re writing a dissertation. She and her sister watched hundreds of movies (or dozens of movies hundreds of times) on cable and recounted sitcom plots to their cousins like stories around a campfire. My friend Stephanie drew pencil sketches of Vivien Leigh. I knew a girl in high school who was slowly transcribing Jane Eyre into a notebook by hand.

Me, I watched Nadia on video over and over. I saw Rent on stage 14 and a half times. I lay in my dorm room on Friday nights (like I said, I hadn’t really learned how to socialize yet) listening to musicals on CD and reading the liner notes and painting my nails hand-blended colors.

2. because you can’t transcribe jane eyre while driving

These days I’m not so good at just fucking around. Because I’m more productive, I’ve written two and a half books. But I don’t think I could have done so if I hadn’t had all those obsessive, unproductive years, and I don’t want to lose that ability to follow my lamest instincts.

A couple of days ago I decided that I would listen to all the songs on my iPod in alphabetical order, because iPod enables this and because it seemed like a random and necessary thing to do.

I started with “Sorrow” by Bad Religion, a song I’d just purchased from iTunes. I’d heard it on KROQ a handful of times over the years and always thought it was really catchy, although the lyrics seemed kind of biblical and I thought maybe it was by some kind of one-hit-wonder Christian band. But when I looked up the song, I discovered it was by Bad Religion, which, although I don’t know much about them because I spent my formative years listening to the Showboat soundtrack, kind of sounds like the opposite of a Christian band.

It was a good song either way, and I played it twice. I decided that, on my A to Z (or S to R) quest, I could listen to songs twice, but I couldn’t skip any. I’m only on T so far, but already I’ve noticed a pattern: I’ll start listening to a song and think, “Ugh, ‘Suede’ by Tori Amos. This song plooods along.” But around the one-minute mark, I’ll find myself wandering around in it, exploring and thinking about new things.

I’ve also been saving my parking passes for the last 10 years (religiously for a while, now more sporadically), thinking that someday I will make a collage called, “Nobody Walks in LA.”

*My journals never made it much past the 20-page mark because inevitably, every few weeks, I would decide I was going to start a new and fabulous life, which of course necessitated a new and fabulous journal.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

an interesting night, but not my fave

“Let’s hear it for feminism! Let’s take down the patriarchy!”

Because it was Jill Soloway saying this Tuesday night at Lady Party at the Echoplex, we knew she was kidding and also not kidding. That’s the beauty of her memoir, Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants, in which she unapologetically pines for an all-women island commune, but also fesses up to wanting to get it on with a big macho cop.

A few minutes later, Jill and co-host Jessica Valenti led a game of “I Never”—you know, that game where you have to take a drink if you’ve ever done ecstasy or whatever. It’s a game that has traumatized me in my not-at-all-sordid past. I’m always the only sober one at the end.

But Jill and Jessica’s version was sort of a test of the young feminist zeitgeist, and included statements like, “I’ve never gotten plastic surgery” and “I’ve never hooked up with a member of my own gender” and “I’ve never shaved my vagina.”

All of which prompted questions like, “Does it count if you had a mole removed?” and “What is gender, really, when you think about it?” and “Wait, do you mean just a little bit or all the way? What about Nair?”

It’s not a game that lends itself to gray areas, and that’s what the night needed more of. It was advertised as sort of a hipster feminist party with music, comedy and solid information about birth control—kind of a mini Ladyfest, which I really miss. But while I agree with its organizers that young women need to fully understand and engage in real feminism (or, as a sticker I bought there for 25 cents says, “Action, not glamour”), I don’t think that irony, friendliness and Rudy’s haircuts are the way to get there.

Those things were present in abundance, along with a musician who lurched about the stage in a black teddy singing deadly serious songs about demons chasing her to an audience that looked like it was weighing how rude it would be to bolt for the bar.

Jessica Valenti read from her book Full Frontal Feminism, which provides some scary-funny information about the current sorry state of sex ed but unfortunately employs words like “fave” a lot. ‘Cuz grrls 2day are all about txt messaging & MySpace, LOL.

A few Very Sincere young women took the stage to tell us about their internships at the Feminist Majority Foundation and warn us about pro-life scare centers masquerading as abortion clinics (I’d already seen that episode of The L Word, so I was prepared). Some women who need abortions, said a woman in a sexy white pantsuit, are poor and desperate. “They only have part-time jobs,” she said. She threw out some more statistics about Them and then added that They are just like Us. We need those abortions.

But looking around the room and listening to what was being said on stage, working class women, women of color and transgendered folks were not really represented. I don’t expect all events to be all things, and I don’t like to be overly critical of events that exist purely to create something good and meaningful (I’m sure I’d have much worse things to say about whatever was going on at any given bar a few miles west on Sunset), I didn’t come away feeling like I’d witnessed the new frontier of feminism so much as a plea from the old frontier, on which someone had built a progressive and funky mixed-use development with Craftsman-style accents.

Maybe I would have felt differently if AK and I had stayed for the comedy portion of the evening, but we couldn’t take any more of the chick in the black teddy. We sped off down the street to Pioneer Chicken, where we ate sweet potato pie from a bakery on Jefferson and bright butter-yellow corn on the cob. With its eclectic, clearly unregulated-by-the-corporate-office d├ęcor (red, green and white light bulbs, silk flowers, dark paneled walls), its soul-food-plus-tortillas menu and mysterious sign that said “Restroom” Is For Customers Only, Pioneer felt like much more of a frontier.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

yes, you could say i'm having a cow

In case you can’t tell from my MySpace page, I’m excited for the Simpsons movie. I’ve searched for trailers on YouTube, which is usually AK’s job, but The Simpsons, as she will tell you, is the one bizarre gap in her otherwise encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture.

Me, I haven’t ever seen Goonies or Top Gun or most of the Star Wars movies all the way through—all I can say is that in the ‘80s, I was intensely focused on My Little Ponies, with occasional breaks for Little House on the Prairie. I didn’t even watch The Simpsons at the height of its popularity in 1989, although I did crush out on this kid Matt in junior high who was obsessed with them. Short little Czech-immigrant Matt in his oversized “Don’t have a cow, man” T-shirt was the epitome of hotness for a very select group of nerdy MBI girls.

But while my early crush failed to turn me onto The Simpsons, by 1995, the show had gotten more nuanced in my opinion and, more importantly, was in syndication, which meant that it played in Andy Perry’s dorm room every night at 7:30 p.m.

I suppose it played in my room down the hall too, but I was 18 and hadn’t really learned how to socialize yet, so it was convenient for me to just happen to be walking down the hall (which didn’t make any sense because Andy’s room wasn’t on the way to either the elevators or the girls’ bathroom) every night at 7:26.

Sometimes my roommate Amber would join us. If Amber was telling this story, she would probably say, “Sometimes my roommate Cheryl would join us.” The three of us or the two of us or the two of them would turn off the TV at 8 and have “deep conversations.” Andy was always pressing for increasing depth. It was hard to be deep when someone said, more or less, “Ready…set…say something deep!” But what I lacked in social graces, I made up in pretension, so I held my own.

Eventually, Amber and Andy started dating. Then they broke up, and then Andy and I dated for about five minutes. I couldn’t understand why Amber suddenly hated me. She’d broken up with him. Then Andy and I broke up, or whatever you call it when you stop dating someone you went to one movie with and held hands with once while watching TV in someone else’s dorm room.

I was a lot more devastated over losing Amber as a friend than over losing Andy as a boyfriend, which should have told me something about myself. Amber didn’t just hate me because of Andy—she also hated me because I had long, whiny, homesick phone conversations with my parents, who lived 30 minutes away, and because I ate our third roommate’s potato chips without asking, and because I got a really bad cold winter quarter and kept her awake with my coughing.

Last I heard, Amber was in divinity school at Princeton. Once she’d said, “I just think that certain ways of living are better than others, and I can tell people what those ways are.” So I guess she was making that dream come true.

It’s probably not fair to hate someone based on your impression of her as a college freshman trying to find her way in the world. I wouldn’t want to be judged by my 18-year-old self—now I totally ask people’s permission before eating their potato chips. But whatever, a little residual angst keeps me healthy, like how you’re supposed to have a little fat in your diet.

As for Andy, he was a nice kid, even if he pitted Amber and I against each other in a way none of us realized at the time, himself included. He talked about becoming a priest or moving to Ireland to join the IRA. He was a little bit angry, and I hope he’s done good things with it.

As for The Simpsons, I’m hoping that AK is not above watching the movie just because some girl she likes thinks it’s great.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

if you give a fictional character an email address…

…he will almost definitely want a blog. And if you give him a blog, he will surely start blogging.

And so Evan made three posts to Don’t judge him too much. He was feeling grouchy and homesick. Normally he’s more philosophical and agreeable. And don’t get too excited, because he probably won’t be posting anything else—this is a short-lived project that serves mostly for his sister to discover him (but not too much about him) an ocean away.

But of course if my novel gets published someday, Evan may suddenly start blogging again and doing a little grassroots marketing. It was thoughtful of him to link to Bread and Bread.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

i sent a version of this to barack too

Dear Senator Clinton,

I recently saw Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko, in which you come across as a great healthcare hope who sold out to pharmaceutical companies. But I haven’t given up on you, and I hope you haven’t given up on implementing a national healthcare system.

Sicko, which details how private healthcare companies strive to provide customers with the least amount of medical attention in order to maximize profit, was eye-opening because of its intensity, but unfortunately it didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know or suspect.

I could add plenty of my own anecdotes to the film’s healthcare horror stories. I’m a healthy, fit 30-year-old who has never even had stitches, but last year I was denied an HPV vaccine because my healthcare company deemed me too old, and a few years ago, when I did not have employer-provided healthcare, I was denied individual coverage because I’d seen a therapist after my mom died. To me, therapy is a form of preventative medicine—dealing with emotional issues before they get overwhelming—so it was like being punished for exercising too much.

Last month, my friend Jamie went to France, where she had a wonderful vacation and her boyfriend proposed. On that same giddy night, though, she tripped getting out of the bathtub at their hotel, injured her hand and broke two ribs. At the Paris emergency room, she cringed when asking what her bill might be, since she did not have traveler’s insurance. The bill was zero, the same as it would have been for a French citizen.

While I’m thankful that I have health insurance and hopeful that, if I seriously injure myself, it will be in France or England, there is much that we as Americans can and should do to improve our healthcare situation. In England, we learn in Sicko, doctors are paid more for providing more care—for example, they receive bonuses if their patients’ average blood pressure is low. Americans are terrified of socialism, but providing incentives for good work is the essence of capitalism. Paying doctors not to provide care (as private healthcare organizations do) smacks of communism.

After Jamie returned from France with bandaged ribs, she said, “In 2008, I’m voting for whoever has the best plan for healthcare reform.” I agreed with her, and I hope that person proves to be you.


Cheryl Klein

Monday, July 09, 2007

blog on FROG

Saturday night Meehan hosted what all involved hope will be the first of many FROG salons (that's Furnished Room Over Garage for the uninitiated). It's a simple and brilliant concept: invite your arty friends to perform at your awesome studio apartment (Captain's Quarters wet bar complete with gold-trimmed, clipper ship-adorned mirror is a plus, but not required), add booze, door prizes, poodle lights and guacamole. Repeat.

Some highlights:

Our hostess and her modest (or drunk) singer-songwriter friend Emily J. Wood.

Nicole and Mike read from their book The Bisexual's Guide to the Universe. Anything you need to know about bisexuals on Jupiter, just ask them.

I apparently laughed a lot at my own story.

Emily said, "Just in case playing acoustic folk music at a house party isn't gay enough, now I'm going to play a song with an alternative tuning arrangement." (Is that uber gay? I don't know enough about music to know.)

Oh, wait, this isn't a make-out party? Come on, I thought what happened in the Captain's Quarters stayed in the Captain's Quarters.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

soul man-on-man

Is it just me, or is I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry the Soul Man of 2007? I saw a preview earlier today when Sara and I went to see Knocked Up (which was so sweet and funny and thankfully different from any movie we saw a trailer for).

In Soul Man, C. Thomas Howell, through a wacky tanning mishap, is mistaken for black and reaps the benefits of affirmative action at Harvard. A lot of white-guy-trying-to-act-black zaniness ensues, but an Important Lesson About How It’s Hard To Be A Person Of Color is tacked on at the end.

In Chuck and Larry, two shlumpy straight guys pretend to be gay so they can reap the benefits of domestic partnership—which, as we know, is the jackpot of civil rights. A lot of straight-guys-trying-to-act-gay-without-actually-kissing zaniness ensues. It’s unclear from the trailer whether an Important Lesson About How Gay Marriage Should Be Legalized is tacked on, but I’m guessing it is. I’m pretty sure the Gay Mafia wouldn’t let them get away without one.

I’m also pretty sure that that tactic is an exaggerated version of giving a bigoted character all the funniest, evilest lines and then claiming moral righteousness because the “nice” characters periodically aim slight frowns in the general direction of the bigot.

I’m not going to go all GLAAD-boycott on Chuck and Larry, but I doubt I’ll be paying $11.50 to see it, which is fine, because if it truly follows in Soul Man’s footsteps, channel 9 will be airing it every Saturday at 2 p.m. for the next 20 years.

Monday, July 02, 2007

i am a honda commercial

A couple of days ago, I would have said that Starbucks was the anti-Bally’s, but today I can testify that, in fact, Honda is the anti-Bally’s.

To make a long story short (and to avoid car lingo that I don’t know), my ’97 Civic had a problem that made it fail smog checks. Out of the blue, I received a letter from Honda saying that some ‘90’s Hondas had a problem that made them fail smog checks, and that they would reimburse you for any repairs you’d already done and extend the warranty so that you could go get the problem fixed permanently at your local Honda dealer.

Today I, who usually frequent Drulis Brothers Auto Repair in Hawthorne where my dad haggles with the brothers over prices, walked into Airport Marina Honda feeling nervous and doubtful. Sure, I had a letter saying they would fix my problem for free. Sure, Honda had already reimbursed me for my previous repairs after merely seeing a photocopy of an indecipherable invoice covered with Walt Drulis’ chicken scratches. But would it really be free?

Yes, it would! And they would throw in like five extra parts just to be nice and wash my car! It was like visiting the Four Seasons after a lifetime of staying at (clean, affordable—yet so thin-toweled) Motel 6.

While wandering the lot, I checked out the Fit and the Civic SI, both of which seemed attractive and reasonably priced and got good gas mileage. A salesman approached and asked, “Would you like to test drive one of these?”

In such situations, I usually mumble, “No thanks, just looking” and dart away—I even did this in the butcher section of Ralphs one time, which in retrospect seemed weird. Who browses slabs of raw meat?

Anyway, even though I declined a test drive, this time my answer was practically a Honda commercial: “Actually, I’m just here to have my car serviced. It’s a Honda, and as I’m sure you know, they last a long time—so I’m hoping to get a few more years out of it at least. But I’m fantasizing about my next car—which will undoubtedly also be a Honda—while I wait.”

I felt sort of lame after I said that, but like a lame person who just got free spark plugs.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

monkey vs. penguin

Because we live in a world where more and more things are instant and connected, and because AK is staying at the house of a girl who has internet access and sleeps way later than her jet-lagged guests, there are already photos and a blog of AK's trip online. This picture would have illustrated my previous post better than Batz Maru.

nothing less than my own heart

AK is in Japan this week. It’s her first trip off the continent, and I’m excited for all the things she’s going to do and see, and how she’s going to fall in love with the country and not even realize it until she gets home and walks by a Sanrio store and finds herself so unexpectedly flooded with nostalgia that she buys a Batz Maru eraser.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, my big plan was to Get A Bunch Of Shit Done, the kind of stuff one never gets around to doing when one has any kind of social life: tune up my car, repot my plant, make an appointment with my oral surgeon, sleep for a full eight hours a night. Because I’m a geek, I was sort of excited about doing these things, and about the light, free, post-finals-esque feeling I would have when I was done.

I’ve checked a couple of items off my list, and I do feel a little bit lighter, but I also really, really miss AK. I’m having all sorts of fake conversations with her in my head. This morning, while cleaning my toilet (an important item on the list, although, for the record, I have cleaned my toilet many times in the year-and-some-months AK and I have been dating), I actually found myself illustrating something I was pretend-telling AK with real hand gestures.

Yeah, I need to get out.

Also, in addition to the fairly wholesome missing of AK, I have a teensy bit of anxiety. Other than a weekend in the Bay Area, this is the first time that AK has traveled while I’ve stayed home. In the year before B and I broke up, she traveled (electively and otherwise) a ton. For a while, she was gone almost every other week. We ultimately broke up while she was traveling. And while she claimed it wasn’t the cause, even she admitted that all that solo time gave her a chance to “sort things out.”

So basically I’m worried that if anyone has an opportunity to stop and think about it, and I’m not there to make a case for myself, they will conclude that I’m not so great after all.

Only a very, very small part of me thinks this, and I know that I often turn other emotions (sadness, for one) into anxiety, because I am a Klein.

As much as I’m anxious for AK to return (after I dust my shelves), staying close to home at all times is not a solution for either of us. Healthy people encourage their loved ones to grow. Which is why I always quote Dar Williams’ “Closer to Me” to myself:

Am I the habit you’re too tired to break? I want you to love me with every step you take.
What can you do with a day? What will you wake up and see? The farther you get, the closer to me….
You should leave this house, leave this town. All that’s left to chart is nothing less than your own heart.

But still, AK, if youre reading this, hear my case: I am so great. And I think youre great too, and adoration is a nice trait in a girlfriend, dont you think?