Tuesday, September 29, 2009

putting the weeee! in weho

I am all over the West Hollywood Book Fair this coming Sunday. Good thing I hear the snacks in the green room are going to be extra tasty this year. But seriously, there’s so much to like about this event—some of my favorite writers will be there, like Noel Alumit, Francesca Lia Block, Brendan Constantine, Peter Gadol, Nina Revoyr, Sarah Schulman, Lynne Thompson….

Okay, before this turns into some kind of Oscar-type speech where I leave out important names, I’ll just let you know where I’ll be:

West Hollywood Book Fair
Sunday, Oct. 4
647 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069

1 p.m.: Panel, “Take Back the Night: Feminism and Powerful Women in Fiction”; in the Fact, Fiction & Future Pavilion. With Sophie Littlefield, Pam Ward and Terry Wolverton (moderated by Lindsey Hovarth).

2 p.m.: Signing books at the Manic D Press booth. Come say hi!

3:15 p.m.: Panel, “The Future of Publishing”; in the Fact, Fiction & Future Pavilion. With Teresa Carmody, Eloise Klein Healy, Bronwyn Mauldin and Kerry Slattery (moderated by Terry Wolverton).

Late afternoon: Probably collapsed next to the churro stand.

Monday, September 28, 2009

running in the family

Cathy: I know you’re a hypochondriac*—

But I didn’t used to be! Maybe it’s because I’m getting closer to the age where scary diseases are more likely to be a real issue. Also, I think we’re picking up each other’s coping mechanisms. You didn’t used to be nearly so OCD.

It’s true. The other day I found myself really annoyed to find an emaciated shampoo bottle in my shower. You know, like when someone squeezes it to get the last little bit of shampoo out, then closes the lid before the bottle has a chance to fill up with air? I used to think you and Dad were crazy to care about stuff like that.

Oh, emaciated shampoo bottles are the worst.

*I hope she's right. (Because I'm also superstitious, I have to add that. Now exuse me while I go wish on some eyelashes.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

maybe a cocktail will cure my hypochondria

I have nothing to do right now. I'm pretty excited about that. I spent the morning cleaning, which means that I finally feel like I'm really home from our trip; then I went to Trader Joe's for book club snacks: pina coladas and fried plantains, because this month's book has a Caribbean theme.

Except TJ's didn't have pineapple juice, so they're going to be mango-passion fruit coladas. They also didn't have plantains, so I just fried up some bananas. The bananas lacked the necessary firmness, but it's still a dish made of fruit, oil and brown sugar, so it can't really taste bad, right? Right?

Yes, I'm aware that this is another Adventure In Substitutions, which have a tendency to go bad. Also, the mango-passion fruit juice is called "Heart of Darkness," which seemed appropriate for our colonial/pirate book, but perhaps it doesn't bode well for my forthcoming bar tending attempt.

I also made some bread, because what's better than a clean house that smells like bread?

But sometimes when I'm all go-go-go for a while and then things slow down for a second, I don't quite know what to do with myself. So in the midst of my morning chores, I also started to worry about maybe having a serious disease. I don't have any reason to believe I do, but I made some up. Or at least, I hope I made them up.

My sister has always been the family hypochondriac. Pretty much every time she has a lot of papers to grade, she becomes convinced she has cancer. I've always prided myself on managing stress in other ways (grouchiness, crying, obsessive-compulsive disorder), but the older we get, the more our coping mechanisms start to look alike. Thanks a lot, Cathy. At least with OCD, you get a clean house out of it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

9/22: there's no crying in piano bar

[New York travel journal continued:]

Headed home! In a possible role reversal, last night AK was feeling tired and ready to see L.A., and I was sad we couldn’t stay longer. I was all mopey and like “Will you still love me when I go back to being uptight?”

Yesterday afternoon we said a fond farewell to Jen’s East Village apartment and schlepped over to the Chelsea International Hostel. They’d been kind of disorganized during the reservation-making process, so I was a little worried I’d show up and they’d be all “Cheryl Klein who?”

But occasionally such things work in your favor—not only did they upgrade us to our own room for the price of dorm beds, but they only charged us for one dorm bed. I made AK lay low so they wouldn’t discover their mistake. How often do you get a room in Chelsea for $37?

We met Tommy and his super nice boyfriend Steve for dinner at a Soho Vietnamese restaurant called Mekong. They had stuff you can’t find at all Vietnamese restaurants, like rice-noodle ravioli and fried seitan.

Tommy knows me well, so our next stop was a Chelsea piano bar called the Duplex, which hosts (not on Mondays, unfortunately) a “Mostly Sondheim” night. A combination of audience members and bar staff sang, including a hairdresser from Indiana who cried her way through “Landslide.”

“There’s no crying in piano bar,” the bartender admonished. She sang a couple of Train songs herself. I’m not a big Train fan, but apparently I like anything once it’s been show tune-ized—stripped down, sung clearly and with piano.

The first and only show tune that night was sung by a girl they introduced as a “Broadway belter.” She did a pretty kick-ass “The Wizard and I,” but she was one part trained professional, one part “I’ve practiced this in front of my bedroom mirror a lot.” AK pretended it was my birthday and went over to request some Sondheim from her—I was hoping for “Ladies Who Lunch.”

But the girl got flustered and said, “I really don’t know much Sondheim. I only do the modern stuff.”

So even though it wasn’t my birthday, I felt older.

This morning we took a final outing to the Highline, an old elevated train track recently converted to a long skinny park-in-the-sky. I have to say it felt pretty great to walk without dodging cars, and to see something green.

9/20: dreamland

[New York travel journal continued:]

So much can happen in New York in 24 hours when none of them are spent working. Yesterday started with a matinee of West Side Story (a belated birthday gift from my dad). The musical is so of its moment (the moment in New York when people of color were moving in but white flight hadn’t yet occurred en masse), but so timeless too. I was struck by what a great song “Officer Krupke” is—in a musical about young people whose lives are fucked up by forces beyond their control, this song says, “Yeah, we know that’s true, but don’t take away our autonomy.”

Another cool thing about live theater is that unlike film, where the camera dictates POV, here the actors do. So the main character for me was Anita (played by Karen Olivo), who was just amazingly fierce, big-hearted, big-lunged, vulnerable and devastated. When Maria sang a very good “I Have a Love,” all I could think about was Anita losing Bernardo.

This production ups its authenticity (as a show in which gangsters call each other “buddy boy” probably needs to) by having a couple of songs and lots of snippets of dialogue in Spanish. It was at least as easy for me to understand as the fifties jive talk.

We made Tasty Bite Indian food in the apartment before hitting a West Village girl bar called the Cubby Hole. It was as crowded as its sounds, but friendly. And AK is good at chatting up strangers. I just smile and drink.

Today we took the train out to Coney Island—I was my usual anal self about timeliness, but in this case, I explained, “It’s the circus.”

Sort of. Coney Island is a beach and boardwalk with carnival games and a sideshow. It used to have three amusement parks the last of which (Steeplechase) closed in 1965, the strangest of which (Dreamland) was in part modeled on then-new Freudian psychology. There was even a local society devoted to making film versions of their dreams with subtitles like “Dream of an Imperfect Jewish Mother.”

We watched some of them at the Coney Island Museum. They were so campy and brilliant and surreal that I was surprised I hadn’t seen them at CalArts or playing in the background of some DJ night at the York.

The museum and the ten-in-one sideshow (where we saw swords swallowed, fire eaten and lobster claws flared) are run by a nonprofit. But the rest of Coney Island is refreshingly shabby—rickety-looking carnival rides, junky empty lots, fortune-telling mannequins. The anti-Disneyland and in many ways the anti-Manhattan, with many more non-white people and some welcome elbow room. If I can capture any of that in my circus novel, I’ll be so happy.

We were going to try to catch the ferry to Governor’s Island for a big Dutch festival they’re having, but we missed it and were kind of relieved to just bum around a Brooklyn flea market and eat pizza.

9/19: get your uterus bandanna here

[New York travel journal continued:]

Try as I might to enjoy all the fabulous mini-moments that doing book stuff provides, they can’t quite beat the profound relaxation that comes after a reading.

AK knew I’d want to stick close to home base the day of the reading—it was everything I could do not to show up at 4 p.m. (when I was supposed to arrive at 8). So we made it a Met day—saw the lovely light (and six million people) surrounding Vermeer’s Milkmaid; saw the crazy metal tree (and pissy security guards) in the rooftop garden. But I still feel like there’s so much more Met and Central Park I could see. It’s like Disneyland, where you need a three-day pass to do it right.

The reading went well, especially given the lack of promotion and last-minute time change. A healthy number of people, thanks mostly to Terry, I suspect. Seeing the store, with its cozy lighting and $7 bandannas featuring a diagram of a uterus, its sink made out of a bucket, reminded me that things hadn’t gone wrong because New York was too cool to talk to me, but because the store is scrappy and volunteer-run, just like the writers it hosts.

Afterward we ate Dominican food with Terry and some of her art friends from back in the day, one of whom had crazy stories about a wild leopard-cat she’d been babysitting. AK and I finished with a little Soho bar-hopping on our own. Rarely have I felt so ready for a drink.

9/18: this gypsy world

[From my New York travel journal:]

Today is the day of my reading at Bluestockings. This trip has been a little mishap-prone so far—first Tommy thought he could host us but couldn’t, then there was confusion about the date and time of the reading, then AK realized on the way to the airport that she’d forgotten her backpack, so we had to turn around and reconfigure our morning. As you can imagine, by the time we were heading back through rush hour traffic, there were tears.

Promoting a book is hard—the world is big and not necessarily friendly, and I can’t always think of a good reason why it should care about my little book. But if I don’t, who will?

But I think—knock on the funky fake wood paneling of the East Village apartment we’re subletting—that it’s working out. For the best, even. We have a place to stay. As of this moment, I don’t hate my own writing too much to read it out loud to people. I turned my brain off on the plane, napping and watching four episodes of A Real Chance at Love 2 on VH1.

When we arrived, we managed to navigate the subway and land ourselves in the right place. The air was all crisp and fall-like. The streets were packed with NYU students, all in clothes I envy. And there’s just something great about a place where you can buy a fedora on the street at 11 p.m.

We feasted on Korean food and then bought groceries—we’ve told ourselves that it’s okay to pay for accommodations because we have a kitchen and will save money on food. We’ll see.

I just read the Neil Patrick Harris profile in our temporary landlord Jen’s copy of New York Magazine, where he talked about how Rent helped him shake off his Doogie neuroses and come out:

“This gypsy world of people who are just so appreciative of each other’s individuality! Where some people are super gay and have girlfriends or boyfriends for twenty years, and others swing both ways—or are straight and have a wife but they’re okay with gay men giving them foot massages and don’t freak out. And you’re singing about that: no day but today and there’s only us and there’s only this and don’t regret.

I almost cried! It’s so nice to know it meant as much to him as it did to his fans, you know?

boy, are my arms (and legs and brain) tired

I just flew back from New York (pictures forthcoming), meaning that technically my body is still three hours ahead. But in reality, I stayed on Pacific time while I was there and called it vacation: Wake up at 10, go to bed at 2, don’t think about anything more serious than what subway to take uptown (usually the 6). It’s a good life, and I miss it already.

But it’s always nice to come home to my nice firm mattress, Team Gato and friendly SoCal literary audiences. If you count yourself among the latter, I hope I’ll get to see you at one of the following.

Sept. 27, 3 p.m.
June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives
625 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069
Reading and discussion with Terry Wolverton

Sept. 30, 7 p.m.
San Diego City College International Book Fair
San Diego City College
1313 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA 92101

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

some truths behind "you lie"

People—at least Jimmy Carter and some talking heads on NPR, whom I’ve been listening to during vast stints of data entry at work—have been saying that Joe Wilson’s “You lie” call-and-response moment was racist, that no congressperson would have been so comfortable shouting down a white man.

That might be true. I don’t know Joe Wilson, so I can’t say what was going through his subconscious at that time. I never thought that Obama’s election was proof that racism in America was over, but it’s been nice to see that—after the media’s initial “Oh my god, we elected a black guy!” squeal (I squealed too)—coverage has been mostly about his policies, and occasionally about his dog. His job is too busy and important to get bogged down in questions of symbolism, even if he serves as and was partially elected as a symbol.

But I keep waiting for someone to talk about where the racism in Joe Wilson’s comment was really directed. Remember, it was in response to Obama’s claim that his health care proposal wouldn’t cover undocumented immigrants. While the form Wilson’s comment took is debatably racist, its content seems blatantly so. The fact that politicians (Obama included) are in such a hurry to show that they’re against providing health care for undocumented immigrants strikes me as completely racist.

Knowing what a monumental hurdle it will be just to cover American citizens, I’m not so na├»ve as to think it would be easy or even possible to invite another big group of people onto our creaky, leaky, patched-together life raft of a health care system. But could we at least admit that shoving them back into the water is a shitty thing to do? If the vast majority weren’t poor and non-white, I think we might be more like, “We’ll try to pick you up on the next boat, ‘kay?” We wouldn’t shove and then thump our chests about it.

So did I just call Obama a racist too? I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s a political realist. Just like how, deep in my heart, I want to believe that deep in his heart, he’s all for gay marriage, I want to think that, if he were king instead of president, he’d institute socialized (yeah, I said it) medicine for all U.S. residents regardless of citizenship. That’s what I plan to do when I’m empress.

Monday, September 14, 2009

list-making is one of my favorite coping mechanisms

Some things I would like to do right now but may not make time for until November:
1) take that Hipcooks class that got cancelled
2) fix my effing towel rack, which stares at me every time I go to the bathroom, where it hangs from the wall at a 45-degree angle*
3) join Flickr, seeing as how I’m running out of non-cyber storage space
4) write more than two days in a row
5) read your blog (I miss you!)
6) trim my nails**
7) cut my scraggly-ass hair so I look better in a Goofy hat

I know, you’re like, Oh, you’re sooo busy, but you made time for Disneyland? I don’t blame you. No one wants to hear a busy girl whine and protest that it was a (really fun) birthday-related obligation. So, moving on, here’s what I’m doing instead of the above:

1) reading at Bluestockings at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 18 instead of at the time previously posted. 172 Allen St., New York, NY. Hope to see you there if you are bi- or East-coastal.
2) blogging for my alma mater at http://blog.calarts.edu/2009/09/11/constructing-stories-on-top-of-ruins/.

Both of which are, now that I think about it, more fun than a haircut. But I do miss my blog-reading time.

*By “November,” I mean “maybe never.”
**I may get to this one sooner.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

tomorrowland today

Over the years, my thoughts on Disneyland have varied:

Age 5: Weeeee!
Age 8: The touchstone of fun. For example, if you had to make a case for why a particular adult was worth a child’s time, you might explain, “Well, he took me to Disneyland.”
Age 13: Wished I could go with a boy. Going with my friend Cara’s older brother and his friends was the next best thing. Maybe even better because, who was I kidding, I’d be a nervous wreck on a real date, and that would run Disneyland.
Age 18: Still wishing I could go with a boy. But again, not really. Hungry for scandalous Disney trivia involving people getting beheaded on rides or subliminal penises painted into Fantasyland murals.
Age 23: Disneyland is an oppressive corporate machine that squelches free expression to create a sanitized version of small-town public space that preys on people’s nostalgia for the very type of life that such mega-corporations have decimated.

At age 32, when AK’s sister Lori suggested going there for her birthday, I wasn’t sure what I’d think. But I quickly discovered that—after several exhausting, busy weeks full of way too much expression and decision-making—I was more than happy to surrender to the Disney machine. Few things sounded better than floating down a river on a log firmly anchored to a track. For the same reasons, I suppose, that you always hear about high-powered business guys wanting to get tied up by dominatrices, a lack of freedom sounded like the greatest freedom of all.

I remembered my parents (both SoCal natives who knew that land when it was still orange groves) remarking on how clean and pristine Disneyland was, how no detail was left un-theme-atized. And it’s true that Disneyland has dutifully put Jiminy Cricket’s face on all its recycling bins—who better than our conscience to remind us to reduce, recycle and reuse?

But I imagine that some of the shininess that was impressive in the 1950s and ‘60s has been diluted—by the mere fact that even your average suburban mall has taken a cue from Disney and realized that gleaming surfaces and strategic branding will get people to buy just about anything. So while the Disney dream machine has exploded into most of the developed world, Disneyland itself has been quietly polishing its now-55-year-old surfaces. There’s something quaint about it. Almost a little…shabby.

These were some of the thoughts that meandered through my head as we waited in line for rides and cruised along in the Jungle Boat and marveled at the brilliant engineering of the rental lockers. But my main thought was, Weeeee!

I've recently read three books (Zorro, A Million Nightingales and A High Wind in Jamaica) that take place in the Caribbean and/or New Orleans during pirate times, so I quietly and embarrassingly geeked on this ride, which is as cool and eerie as ever.

There was no shortage of childlike wonderment from the Sisters Ybarra either.

AK has never met a crazy hat that she didn't immediately run to and pose for a picture in.

We were, but we chomped our little beaver teeth down on snacks we brought from home. We were all about doing Disneyland on the cheap.

Which is why we didn't actually buy the $14.95 Splash Mountain photo but instead just took a picture of it. Soggy underwear: priceless.

I kept trying to figure out what country various rides were trying to approximate. I decided that the Jungle Boat was a composite country best described as Camboduganda, and Indiana Jones was Thairu.

Poor Tomorrowland. Who knew that the future would be all about tiny things on screens instead of space travel? An attraction called Innoventions features a "house of the future," which is one part house of the present, one part ABC TV marketing device, plus a bunch of screens. Here's Lori in the "office," where the stapler was glued to the desk, and she couldn't get most of the screens to do anything. "Figures," she said. "I'm the president of this company, but I can't even figure out how my calendar works. My employees are trying to keep me from messing things up."

We spent a ridiculous amount of time (yet zero dollars) in the Mad Hatter's hat store. I'm very serious in this picture. It's ironic. You know, because my hat says "Goofy."

The Big Cheese and Princess Birthday Girl.

Captain Lori Sparrow.

Nothing like an old-fashioned carousel.

It's A Small World is more specific in its national allusions, yet no less imaginative. See, you know this is Scotland because it has 1) plaid and 2) goats.

I'm not sure which African country the flowered giraffe is native to, but I want to visit it.

Monday, September 07, 2009

war and work

L.A. has cooled off just enough that the air conditioning in movie theaters is freezing again. But the lack of insulation in my entirely-synthetic-materials blazer was worth enduring to see two really good movies this weekend.

They’ve been running trailers for Inglourious Basterds for like eight months now, and I had kind of dismissed the movie as a another of Tarantino’s violent, masterful homages to a bunch of movies I haven’t seen—a thing I might be able to appreciate in theory, but would be really bored by in actuality. (I loved Death Proof but I was not into Kill Bill: Volumes 1 or 2.) Also, I put a high burden of proof on World War II movies in general—yes, the Holocaust sucked; yes, some people were heroic. But there are so many other sucky and heroic things to make movies about. Why keep storming that same beach over and over?

But Tarantino, as America’s most famous cinefile, had a similar thought, I think. Inglourious Basterds seems like his attempt to exorcise World War II from our psyches once and for all. (Spoiler alert, sort of: -->) I think he was like, Let’s end this war. Let’s literally end it. Let’s take the fantasy that was Valkyrie and run with it in a crazy, ballsy way. It totally worked. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking (especially in the case of Melanie Laurent’s storyline), never bogged down by little annoyances like historical accuracy.

AK and I also saw Extract, which, like Office Space and arguably King of the Hill, is one of Mike Judge’s nostalgic/wistful looks at American workplaces. (Remember how the guy in Office Space gives up his soul-sucking white collar job to work in the more honest field of construction?) In Extract, Jason Bateman is the owner of a food flavoring company that is on the simultaneous verge of being bought out for big money (a fate he’s worked hard for) and being sued into bankruptcy by an injured employee.

The movie, like Office Space, takes all sorts of vaguely relevant, very funny twists and turns before reaching its ultimate conclusion that the ideal workplace is one in which management and labor work together closely enough that either abusing the employees or going on strike would be just plain awkward. I can’t disagree, but I’m also sad when I think about how few companies actually fit this model. In the same way that I suspect Judge knew that working construction wasn’t exactly a life of bon bon-eating, I think he knows that labor and management won’t always work things out with a handshake either. Work is always going to be work, but with a little (more) work, we can make it suck a little bit less.

Extract also contains the funniest weed-smoking scene I’ve seen in a long time, which is the comedy equivalent of a World War II movie: It’s been done so much that it’s hard to make it original. But Judge does, and the scene is rivaled only by Ben Affleck’s brief soliloquy about the merits of Xanax.

Friday, September 04, 2009

what i read in august

This week has been freakishly busy. Or maybe it’s just been so hot that every movement is exhausting—AK reminded me yesterday that I have a tendency to ignore my own physical discomfort while being profoundly affected by it. I’ll bake potatoes in 95-degree heat and wonder why I’m cranky.

Anyway, for one reason or another, I’ve been such a stress tornado that I’m wondering if I’ll ever have time to read for pleasure again. Past experience tells me I probably will. Who knows. But here’s what I read last month:

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan: At one point, one of the main characters--a former history major named Edward--refutes the Great Man theory of history: He doesn't believe individuals chart its course. But this novella is the story of how history (post-war, pre-free love) can chart the course of individuals' lives (the individuals are two not quite naive, not quite worldly virgins on their wedding night). McEwan's prose is stately and British, almost 19th century-ish, which makes his graphic descriptions of sex all the more surprising and striking, perfectly capturing the confusion of an era and its characters. I really rooted for Edward and Florence; they are as complex as Frank and April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road, but without the bitterness.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo: This book repeatedly grabbed me and repeatedly let me go. Sometimes it seemed like a sincere and profound meditation on the power of memory and faith, and the ways those things intersect. Other times it seemed fragmented in the coldest, dullest way. This is my ongoing, fraught relationship with DeLillo.

A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight: In this book even more than ever, Susan Straight creates a palette of physical details (hair, bone, ink, bodily fluids) that in turn create a world. In this case, it's French Louisiana in the early 1800s, where a young biracial slave uses her considerable wits to rise from powerlessness to relative freedom. I loved how she was something of a scientist in a time when science barely existed, always wondering about the natural world.

The novel reminded me a bit of Toni Morrison's A Mercy in terms of Straight's emphasis that other groups (women, gay men, Indians, quadroons, free people of color) suffer under slavery's many variations. A sometimes sad, sometimes uplifting, always visceral book.

Black Widow by Randy Wayne White: I was initially lured by the tropical descriptions and the NPR recommendation, but soon I was trying to decide which bugged me more: the superficially empowered damsels in distress (note to White: Having your ladies say things like, "I can take care of myself, dammit" before falling into the arms of your protagonist does not an enlightened novel make); the "damn"-laden dialogue; the evil blood-drinking hermaphrodite villain (again, having your protagonist murmur sympathetic statements about how nature produces all kinds of gender anomalies does not make this character okay); or Doc Ford's habit of rattling off random facts that make him sound more like an avid Wikipedia reader than the scientist he supposedly is. All that said, the plotting is competent and much of White's subject matter is pretty interesting. He might even have extended his research beyond Wikipedia. This is a silly novel, but not entirely un-amusing.

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin: Sure, it sounds all scholarly (well, sort of scholarly--I guess anything with "secret world" in its subtitle can't be too high-minded), but this book is full of gossipy tidbits about the justices. Did you know that Souter doesn't use email? That Thomas is a sweetheart when he's not busy being a fascist? Jeffrey Toobin's smooth writing and emphasis on personal details kept me reading, but there really is an amazing story here of the court's political ebbs and flows and turning points, and the subtle, stately negotiation process behind them.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

where i'll be in september and october

It’s a little known fact that September and October are second only to April (a.k.a. National Poetry Month) when it comes to literary events. This fall, I’m jumping on that bandwagon full force, hoping I don’t get too banged up in the process. I may be hanging around Bread and Bread a bit less. Here’s where I’ll be instead:


Sept. 18, 7 p.m.
127 Allen St., New York, NY 10002
Reading with Terry Wolverton

Sept. 27, 3 p.m.
June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives
625 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069
Reading and discussion with Terry Wolverton

Sept. 30, 7 p.m.
San Diego City College International Book Fair
San Diego City College
1313 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA 92101


Oct. 4, 1 p.m.
West Hollywood Book Fair
647 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069
Panel: “Take Back the Night: Feminism and Powerful Women in Fiction” with Sophie Littlefield, Pam Ward and Terry Wolverton

Oct. 24, time TBA
Beyond Baroque
681 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90291
Reading with Terry Wolverton

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

catalina: a tale of small crappers and psychopaths

It seemed like both a good weekend and a bad weekend to leave town. On one hand, the air was like burnt soup. On the other, would town still be here when I got back? In my frenzy of trip prep on Thursday night, I texted with Amy. I could see flames shooting into the night on a hill that looked to be about five blocks from my house, though it was probably closer to twenty miles. When I heard sirens, I was sure I was about to be evacuated.

Amy: Laist says La Canada…your fire-fighters are probably headed out to help…we should bake them brownies!

Me: Google tells me the same. i better start those brownies!

Amy: Fire-fighters are awesome!

Me: And hot, or so the straight girls tell me.

Amy: Oh indisputably…just think how hot a butch girl firefighter wd be!

Me: True that.


The next morning, AK, Pedro, Stephen and I were on a boat to Catalina, sailing away from the mushroom cloud that hung over L.A. and crossing our fingers that Alyssa would not have to make use of the cat carriers I left out in case of evacuation orders.*

We docked in Avalon, then schlepped to the first of two buses that would take us to the campground at Little Harbor on the other side of the island. Camping without a car (or backpacking gear) involves a lot of schlepping, but I think we did a pretty good job of packing strategically.

After winding through Catalina’s undeveloped interior, which looks a lot like your average view from the 5 just past Santa Clarita, we arrived in Little Harbor, only to realize we didn’t know our campsite number.

AK had spoken with the main camping-office place in Avalon at least twice, but it never occurred to them to give it to her. But Gary, our bus driver, was convinced that we knew it somewhere in the back of our heads.

“Do you remember anything like...8...1...4?” he said.

“No, we really never got it,” AK said.

“Does anything ring a bell? Maybe 9 or, like, 16?”

I wasn’t sure how many campsites Little Harbor had, but it seemed like Gary’s strategy could keep us here a long time. Luckily we found a spot with cell reception, called Avalon and learned we were in 14B.

“Thank god he didn’t start naming letters,” AK said.

Our site was the kind my dad would have hated, right between two others on a little cul de sac. Camping with him was all about hustling for the most isolated site in the campground, even if it meant moving and re-leveling the motorhome every night. But here we were happy with our neighbors, even—especially—the loudest ones, who opened their truck doors to play rock and reggae, and organized their gaggle of small boys to trick a friend into thinking they had swine flu.

We heard loud details from their lives: “Hey, I hear Dave Matthews—your phone is ringing! I bet it’s Rosa Martinez calling with another ‘emergency,’ like when she was at Ikea and needed to know how high the ceilings were.”

Or: “Ugh, the small crapper here is awful! It’s smaller than at the casino. The ants crawl up your leg while you’re trying to take a shit.”

Or, after a prolonged period of silence when the ranger asked them to keep it down: “Yahtzee!”

They weren’t so loud, though, as to dissuade a small, nimble Catalina fox from hanging around. We were surprised to see him during the day, trotting over to the shade of a nearby bush and curling up for a nap. You rarely get to see animals relaxing in nature, unless you count Team Gato making themselves at home in our flower beds, and we (every one of us animal geeks) were hugely touched that this little guy decided to make our home his home. Though of course the opposite was true.

He had a stripy tail and ears that flopped when he walked, a jaunty gait somewhere between dog and cat. How could anyone ever hunt these guys? we wondered. We named him Mozilla.

When our neighbors saw him run by Sunday morning, one of them shouted, “Hey fucker, you stole all my chocolate!”

Food is no small thing when you’re camping. It took us forever to make a fire, and by “us,” I mean Pedro, Stephen and AK. I spent that time reading an article about Michael Jackson in Pedro’s GQ.

What? I spent a lot of time packing, okay? And it was a really good article.

“I think the owl lied,” Pedro said after trying to light damp morning kindling** for nearly an hour. “I don’t think you can start a forest fire by tossing a cigarette out your car window.”

Eventually, though, we managed to make hobo stew and chili and roasted corn and Tasty Bite Indian food and, of course, s’mores. S’mores and then some more s’mores.

In lieu of ghost stories the first night, AK, who had to study for her abnormal psychology final, gave us a quiz to find out whether we were psychopaths. You have to get at least thirty out of forty possible points to diagnosed as such, and, unexcitingly, none of us scored higher than a 13.

“Now let’s all think of the most psychopathic person we know and take the quiz on their behalf,” I suggested.

Probably an unfair game, but this time around, people got in the twenties, and my person, who shall remain nameless, got a thirty. Psychopaths among us! I’m pretty sure he’s the nonviolent variety, though.


The trip brought one hike…

…and much beach bummery. Little Harbor is just what its name suggests: small and nearly wave-less, with water that looks turquoise when viewed from the rocks above. For the first time probably ever, I was brave enough to swim out past where my feet touched.

We caught the Safari Bus back and caught a small herd of buffalo making their way across the road.

We finished the weekend with margaritas and a mariachi band at the Catalina Cantina in Avalon. The town was packed with sunburnt people and shops selling stuff bedazzled with seashells. We preferred the company of Mozilla.

*Okay, I was the only one who was really worried about that.
**In further proof of our city-people ways, AK kept referring to the bundle of sticks as “the kindle.”