Thursday, January 27, 2011

vacationing for post-its

Usually AK is all, “Let’s get outta town! We never travel!” And I’m all, “Remember three weeks ago when we went to Denver because I had that conference and you got to chill out in our super nice hotel room? But I was kind of stressed out because I had to moderate that panel and you got lost looking for the baseball stadium, so I can see how it wasn’t totally a vacation. But still, travel is travel, and it’s not like the cats will understand if we just leave them again because our last trip wasn’t fun enough.”

Well, this time we really haven’t traveled in six months. Not for work, not for pleasure. No airplane rides, no road trips. And the two very big trips we did over the summer, while lovely and magical in their own ways, were not exactly of the beach-and-umbrella-drink variety. So for once we both agree: We need a vacation.

I’m getting one: three nights in Austin without a single meeting to run or reading to give or even any friends of my own to see (not that I don’t love visiting you, my out-of-town peeps). AK is sort of the Cheryl on this trip because she’s got some business to take care of, although it is chosen business: She’ll be running the 3M Half Marathon. That’s right, 3M. I’m banking on a goody bag full of Post-Its. This run doesn’t support research for AIDS or cancer or Parkinson’s, and although we’re in favor of research for those diseases, I think we’re both a little skeptical about consumer philanthropy. So AK runs for Post-Its.

She’s been training diligently for months now. Because I’m officially the anal one in our relationship, sometimes I forget that she can actually be really self-disciplined. It’s been encouraging to see her run so much because I feel like maybe getting our future children to eat their vegetables and brush their teeth won’t be a solo battle. Also, she’s looking pretty buff these days.

My role in the half marathon will be that of cheerleader, picture taker and PB&J sandwich provider. It sounds easy enough, but the race starts at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday, so it’s not all bonbons and sleeping in for me. Jody will be running too, so Christine will be my buddy on the sidelines and I’m guessing we’ll carb-load in solidarity with our running spouses. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Monday, January 24, 2011

why colin firth makes me think i could beat up angelina jolie

We finished up the Favorite Movie phase of movie club, so Maria decided we should just go see a movie, theme be damned. But The King’s Speech might be one of my new favorite movies, or at least a movie that should have made my 2010 top five. The premise sounded a little British-y and biopic-y—one of those movies where you’re supposed to care very much about something very small just because it’s a famous person doing it.

But first and foremost it’s a movie about having strength without confidence. My ex used to idealize Strong Women in this way that was always baffling and eventually maddening to me. I got this feeling she wanted to date Angelina Jolie, which she probably did and who wouldn’t*, but not the anorexic, blood-drinking Angie, rather the hero of all her Tough Girl films. Strong Women might get very quiet and gaze off into the distance at times, but only to contemplate how they would immediately overcome adversity via plentiful ass-kicking. They certainly wouldn’t snivel and cry and overeat.

But Colin Firth’s Bertie (a.k.a. King George the VI, because apparently being the king of England is not unlike being the pope) does a fair amount of sniveling. A thing that’s easy for most people is hard for him, and he’s crippled by it, although his self-doubt is arguably the origin of his stammer, so it’s a vicious circle. I’ve felt quite familiar with that circle lately. But deep down, I think he knows he’s got the smarts and commitment to lead the country (unlike his playboy brother; The King’s Speech is the most unromantic portrayal of the Wallis Simpson Affair I’ve ever encountered). It’s like he’s confident in his strength, but not confident in his ability to convince other people of it.

I’m projecting here, but that’s what movies are for. I’m tired of trying to convince other people of my strength, even though I know that the only person who’s really unconvinced is me. Except for the part where I totally know, deep down, that I could kick Angelina Jolie’s ambassador ass. Make sense?

*Me, actually. I’m a contrarian like that. She’s beautiful, but, I don’t know, maybe I’m just on Team Aniston or something.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

i'm just saying

You know that William Carlos Williams poem, “This Is Just To Say”? You probably read it in elementary or middle school, and may have been asked to write a riff on it. A couple of weekends ago, my organization sponsored a sort of mini retreat for people who lead writing workshops, and we got to write our own insincere apologies. Here’s mine, which AK did not find funny:

This is just to say
I cleaned up the plums
you left half-eaten
on the bedside table
purple crime scene
of stains beginning to set
hairy seed beckoning flies.
I know you
were still enjoying them
a momentary caesura
in sensual abandon
but if they were so delicious
you should have finished them
and washed the plate.

Here’s another, by real poet Craig Santos Perez:

Second Apology to the Lone Ethnographer

I have eaten
the preserved heads
that were in
the glassbox

and which
you were probably
for science

Forgive me
they were mysterious
so savage
and so alone

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

i'm lovin' it

This is one of those moments when it would be really nice to have an iPhone, because I would love to take a picture of the mural across from me and post it with this post. I’m at McDonalds because Antigua, my chosen writing spot, was closed for plumbing repairs (not that paying $1.10 for coffee is such a terrible consolation prize). The mural next to the counter depicts a McDonalds with some people milling around outside. I know it’s supposed to be this McDonalds because there’s a lamppost with a banner that says “Highland Park Fall Fest,” as if the artist’s goal was to capture not only a specific place but a specific time as well.

But here’s the weird thing: If I were standing outside this McDonalds, I’d see a Food4Less doing its best to imitate a California Bungalow, some sparsely leafed trees, a side street populated with crumbly actual California Bungalows and a few 1960s apartment buildings, and, in the background, low hills peeking up from the other side of the 110.

The alleged Highland Park McDonalds in the mural sits across from a row of blandly pleasant-looking, four- and five-story buildings with white awnings. It looks like an illustration for a new mixed-use development. Except the cars surrounding it are circa 1970, and the two kids in the foreground are painted with the broad strokes and unstylish timelessness I associate with Babysitters Club books. They’re both wearing narrow, knee-length white shorts and over-sized T-shirts. One has a baseball cap, the other a bowl cut.

Weirdest of all is the landscape. The mixed-use buildings taper to a flat horizon where they meet up with a sky that’s all wispy white clouds and bright blue endlessness. Palm trees line the street.

My hunch is that McDonalds hired a Tucson-based painter who sells oils of mesas and noble-looking Native Americans at a Santa Fe gallery but earns his living doing corporate gigs. On the eve of the Tucson Fall Fest, he painted the McDonalds closest to his house, filled in “Highland Park” on the banner and popped in a couple of palm trees.

The McDonalds near where I grew up in Manhattan Beach, after it was remodeled in the late eighties, featured a row of black and white photos of our local pier. Although that pier was way over-photographed (my MB dentist’s office has roughly the same photos up now), there was no denying it was ours. Still, my most distinct memory is of the pickle slice that someone had plastered to the glass. I think that’s what this mural is really missing—that element of local community participation. If I ate hamburgers, I would take this matter into my own hands.

Monday, January 10, 2011

worst coochie, best sausage

Wurstkuche is a bar in Downtown L.A. that has beer and sausages. It also has an umlaut, but I'm not sure how to insert one, or how to pronounce "Wurstkuche." AK said, "I think the technical German pronunciation is 'worst coochie.'" We went on Saturday night. I did not have beer, because I had a cocktail called an Old Boy Friday night at Good Luck Bar with Nicole and friends and, somewhat embarrassingly, its effects lingered (I got happily drunk and subsequently sick from one drink--I am that much of a lightweight, and Good Luck Bar's drinks are that strong. At least I got my $10 worth).

AK has a birthday this week, and the part of me that channels the Jewish great grandmother I never met believes that feeding people is the best way to show love. According to my dad, she was a phenomenal cook who never met a stick of butter she didn't want to melt in a saucepan. Me, my mantras are more along the lines of "I don't do pie crust" and "It's cheaper than going out."

Nevertheless, I attempted a lemon meringue pie (with pre-made crust, of course), because lemon meringue is a miraculous thing, a transformation from recognizable ingredients (eggs, sugar, lemons from the tree in our backyard) to a gooey gel that seems like it must have been made in a lab. Even though it follows Michael Pollan's five-ingredient rule, it defies his "eat food" rule in delicious ways.

Egg yolk flower. I was pretty impressed with myself.

Ta-dah! The only bummer was that I had to buy a box from Yum Yum Donuts to transport it in. Two bucks! I could have gotten a bottle of wine for that price.

My look that night was "snow bunny in L.A." (I was wearing a short skirt with nothing so practical as tights).

Check out all that mustard. If you order the apple sage veggie sausage, you'll need a lot of it. Because, while tasty, the apple sage is a little dry and tastes like neither apple nor sage. I recommend the Italian veggie, which sounds less exciting but is moist and full of things like fennel. AK, who'd had veggie sausages on her first two Wurstkuche pilgrimages, had meat this time. "I hate to be the one to tell you," she said, "but meat is so much better." I think she liked being the one to tell me.

Amy and Lori.

AK and McSweeney's #36, a lit mag in the form of a head. Available at a Time Travel Mart near you.

Monday, January 03, 2011

elementary oppressors and what i read in december

When my best friend Bonnie and I were in fourth or fifth grade, we got shuttled off campus for GATE once a week, a baffling but fun reward for having scored well on some mysterious test back in second grade. Our mutual friend (and my former BFF) Stephanie was not in GATE. So what did Bonnie and I do? We invented an awesome girl from another school whom we’d befriended at GATE. Chonnie (as in Cheryl + Bonnie) was an amalgam of all that was cool in our ten-year-old minds, meaning she probably crimped her hair and did a lot of babysitting. We talked about her all the time, just to let Stephanie know what she was missing out on. We also made lists of all the things we had in common with each other but not with Stephanie, so that we could casually drop such gems as: “Names with six letters are really the best. Nine letters is just too long.”

These are the kind of mind games tween girls play with each other. Not all girls—AK spent her youth playing quietly with Star Wars action figures—but certainly me, certainly Bonnie, reluctantly Stephanie. And this is why I devoured Myla Goldberg’s The False Friend like it was made of very tart pie.

The heroine and could-be anti-heroine is Celia Durst, a woman in her thirties who, on her daily commute, has a revelation that the defining moment of her childhood didn’t go down the way she thought it did. When she was 11, her best friend Djuna disappeared when the two of them, plus three other friends, were walking home from school. Celia heads back East to confront the past and correct her remembered crime. What she discovers is a trail of smaller crimes, like breadcrumbs in the woods. Each mean-girl mission that she and Djuna led is random on its own, sadistic when stacked with their others. Celia discovers that Djuna’s disappearance has radically transformed all the girls who were there that day, one in a particularly unpredictable (but geniously woven) way.

One thing I’ve always loved about Goldberg is how kind she is to her characters, so it’s all the more interesting to see her write about a character coming to terms with the lack of kindness in her own earlier self. Reading the book, I felt guilty all over again for how Bonnie and I had behaved. And Stephanie didn’t disappear in the forest—she went on to be much more popular than either of us, and judging by her Facebook page, she has a very nice life now.

I should also add that while I was a bully for a year, that pyramid was quickly inverted as soon as I had an unwanted growth spurt, my hair frizzed and having a big imagination became less valuable than having a boyfriend. So while I related to Celia, I also related to Leanne, the beta dog who asks how high every time the cooler girls tell her to jump. In sixth grade, my “friends” formed a playground cheerleading squad that I willingly tried out for twice because according to their self-granted authority, I wasn’t up to par the first time. To possibly misappropriate the words of my Chicano lit professor, we are all the oppressor, we are all the oppressed. Myla Goldberg knows it.

Here’s what I read last month:

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson: Review sequestered until book club!

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher: I would be into reading a book about an adopted kid of color who relies on his athletic talents and pathological do-gooder tendencies to cope in a small racist town. The line between underdog and golden boy is an interesting one, which was a big part of what I loved about the play Take Me Out. This YA book is not quite that, though. The protagonist's crusade for justice via a swim team comprised of motley outsiders makes me root against his golden-boy side. Almost every character trails an after-school special's worth of trauma behind him, but because we learn all of this in summary, the horror stories are maudlin rather than meaningful. Whale Talk has something to say about the motivations behind redemption and revenge, but it could take a lesson in subtlety from the sonar messages broadcast by the whales of the title. (P.S. Given the protagonist's much-discussed racial struggles, whatup with the white kid on the cover?)

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link: The straight-up fantasies in this collection--about wizards and magical handbags--are excellent examples of the genre, and I've already pointed a few fantasy-writing students to this book. But my personal loves are the stories about gangs of kids being weird and cruel and lovelorn, in which other worlds lurk just around the corner: A group of teens follows a pirate TV show (that's pirate as in radio, not as in aaarrr) that they just might be part of. A camping troop encounters a monster who's no worse than the camp bully. The theme of monsters being people too also emerges from the title story, which is probably my favorite--a dual narrative about mean girls and werewolves, with equal parts sympathy and skepticism toward both. The ending makes it seem like the story is a puzzle, but really, it's an enigma. A very pretty and delightfully monstrous one.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

year of the rabbit rabbit

Historically, New Year’s Eve has not been my holiday. The early years were spent arguing over Scrabble with my sister in the motor home and eating a camping version of Hopping John, a dish my mom had read would bring good luck. The main ingredient was black-eyed peas, and the only good-tasting ingredient was sausage. Once my sister and I became vegetarians, New Year’s Eve sucked a little more.

I spent NYE Y2K in San Francisco with my sort-of boyfriend Alex. It was a big deal because 1) I was in San Francisco and 2) I had a sort-of boyfriend for the first New Year’s Eve ever. My main memories of that evening are of thinking I might be trampled by my fellow celebrators at the Embarcadero, and of Alex yelling at a drunk guy he thought was being racist, and wondering if the fact that I was embarrassed by Alex made me a racist too.

I was excited to ring in 2001 with the coworker I had a big crush on. I should add that he was gay and we were house- and pet-sitting for friends of his. At midnight, he turned to the cat and said, “I’ll kiss you, kitty” and I thought, I’m starting this millennium feeling jealous of a cat.

Last year AK and I prided ourselves on taking the Gold and Red Lines to an assured-to-be-awesome Andy Warhol-themed New Year’s Eve party. But somewhere between the Sunset/Vermont stop and the house, we got hopelessly lost. We were arguing about directions as I sat on the sidewalk exchanging my walking shoes for party shoes when we heard whoops of midnight revelry from houses up and down the block.

All of which is to say, I was so happy to start 2011 with AK, my sister and a handful of good friends at my own house. We made paninis in the panini maker and watched a compilation of clips from old Busby Berkeley musicals. Even though we weren’t high, I really have to recommend this DVD for next time you are: Think rows of dancers twirling cardboard blowups of Ruby Keeler’s head; a midget toddler making pervy faces at every grown woman who walks by; Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell dressed as cats in hot pants (yes, him too); a song called “Dames” from a musical called Dames.

AK heard that it was good luck to say “rabbit rabbit” at midnight, which seemed more appetizing than Hopping John, so we said it. Two thousand ten had some great moments and a lot of exhausting growing pains. Maybe it’s asking too much, or asking for the wrong thing, to hope that 2011 will bring only the joyful brand of growth. Is there even such a thing? But a little bunny luck and more nights like last night would be nice.