Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I Remember Halloween

 "Halloween" (1978)

I don’t generally like reading or writing little autobiographical musings about past relationships – these stories are usually so “So what?” to me, and are also usually written in the David Sedaris-style narrative that only David Sedaris should use.  However, I'm writing a piece like that right here, right now, because lately I’ve started going to a video store in South Pasadena, and it’s a place that I used to go to with an old friend I’ll call Max  -- it’s made me think fleetingly about the time I spent with him, which was the saddest phase of my social life.  Anyway, this is more of a Shaggy Dog story.

Max and I hung out for a month or so after I was done with my short outpatient stint at a mental hospital, where I’d met him but almost always managed to avoid conversation.  He was the tedious type of emotionally fragile, like Norman Bates in Psycho, someone whose long stories you have to listen to because you don’t want your hostility to be the reason they kill themselves.  Naturally, I preferred the attractive type of emotional fragility, like Marion Crane in Psycho, a beautiful criminal who keeps her secrets.

Speaking of Hitchcock movies, one of the saddest things we ever did together was watching this short art film he’d made – it was a loop of three seconds of footage from a Hitchcock movie in which James Stewart slaps a woman in the face and her blond hair sweeps beautifully around as her head recoils from the impact of his hand.  These three seconds of footage were repeated at least 30 times in a row.  It was a cool little film he’d made, but horrible to watch.  It wasn’t some passive aggressive intimation of male frustration, like it sounds.  It was clear he identified with the slapped woman.  I think the Stewart character who was slapping her represented Max’s dad or something.  I don’t know what his technical diagnosis was, but I know he was a serious guy who tried and failed at levity, a smart guy whose parents still treated him like an underachiever.  He was painfully skinny.  He was not ugly or square, though to me he seemed both those things; he liked a lot of the same bands I do, and Eightball comics, but it wasn’t fun to talk about these things with him.  It was just a drag.

 "Rear Window" (1954)

I gave him my telephone number when he asked for it on my last day at the hospital, and when he called that night, my stomach sank at the realization that I was already involved in the situation I’d hoped to avoid, that of being a girl he liked.  The first time we talked I let him know that I would become extremely uncomfortable if I ever got the feeling he was trying to get me romantically interested in him.  I said I knew he had a crush on me and that I didn’t like that feeling, but that as long as he had no expectations of reciprocity, it’d be nice to hang out as friends.  I always used to get glommed on to by sad people who burdened me with their sadness, without giving me the gift of being funny or inexplicably hopeful in return, so if I sound too mean towards him, I hope it doesn’t sound like mockery, because I did take him seriously.  I just feel resentment towards his dragging me down in the quicksand of despondency I’m always trying to sidestep.

Despite the tone of this first conversation, and my immediate follow up email letting him know that I was very serious about things being completely platonic, the first time we hung out would have been a perfect date for someone who like doing expensive things in South Pasadena.  We saw a movie about a loser winning the girl, then we had gelato, and went to a fancy Italian restaurant where the waitstaff knew and loved him. 

I didn’t like this type of thing, though.  I liked to go out drinking at night and spend my days off at home alone watching movies and eating cereal or ice cream.  Before me, he’d tried dating another crazy girl who was more suited to this type of date, and they both came from wealthy old South Pasadena families, and I thought he should have kept trying with her.  It was useless though because this other girl, who I only knew her as a blond mouth-breather who drooled after her treatments, was in fact a young woman whose dad forced these treatments on her.  Max knew her as a woman it was too hard to get along with, not because of her drooling quietness, but because of her anguished rage and paranoia in the times leading up to the treatments. 

After that first time, Max and I only hung out a few more times, at his grandfather’s house where he was living.  Each visit felt interminable though, and they were all filled with a combination of things I love and hate.  Like one time, when we ate grilled cheese sandwiches made from a sandwich press that toasted Hello Kitty’s face on the bread – so cute!  But while we ate these great sandwiches, we had to watch this Gus Van Sant movie, Elephant, about the fucking Columbine High School Massacre, and all these kids getting their heads shot off as they walk unassumingly to their lockers or the school library.

I was glad the way things ended, because it’d been his decision.  He saw hickies on my neck from my now-husband one time and told me he didn’t think we should keep hanging out. 

"Elephant" (2003) 

When I was a kid, mom usually took me trick or treating in South Pasadena, because it was her theory that rich people gave better candy, and also, some scenes from the original Halloween movie (1978) had been shot in that part of town, adding the importance of cinematic history to our walk up and down the streets.  She was always drunk on Halloween though, and one time when we were doing our Halloween night South Pasadena route, she decided to stop at the house of her recently deceased boyfriend’s parents, unannounced and with two preteens dressed like Rocky Horror characters (me and my friend Andrea) in tow.  The dead man’s parents opened the door to a mixture of ‘trick or treat’ and mom’s half apology for stopping by unannounced.  They were rich and nice and bereft of joy.  I think their son may have mentioned me to them once or twice because there was some kind recognition of my identity when I said hello.  I’m sure I didn’t think to say anything about being sorry for their loss, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t ask for candy.  Me and Andrea were going to our first midnight screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show later that night so I had a case of nerves that made everything else that night seem muted.

"Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975)

Monday, August 18, 2014

What We Think About When We Think About Squalor (or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate the Woody Allen)

Broadway Danny Rose

I started out writing about my four favorite Woody Allen movies:  Crimes and Misdemeanors, Alice, Broadway Danny Rose and Hannah and Her Sisters.  This turned out to be way too tedious of a task though – I had to write little synopses for each of these movies to prove that they were full of neurotic integrity and did not contain any of the classic Woody Allen lechery.  Also I had to include a ton of qualifiers about how if his alleged sexual assault of his daughter Dylan is true  -- I don't even know what to say about.  How can I legitimize liking the art of someone who may be a sexual predator?  I gave up on the Woody Allen thing.

Instead I want to write about something I went into in a recent post, about how I was going through a phase of really caring about others, and then when a homeless man I was pretty familiar with was a dick to me one day, it put the kibosh on my recent overwhelming sense of empathy.  I wonder if it sounded to readers like I stopped caring about homelessness just because of this one man.  Full disclosure, I come to think of some homeless people I develop an acquaintance w/ as “my” homeless people (I think other people tend to do this too, but who knows) – this is sort of ridiculous because it makes it seem like they’re my friends.  We are just people who’ve grown familiar with each other and who get along, and who I usually try to give a buck to when I have  cash on me.  

It is true that this recent unpleasant exchange with this one of “my” homeless people really disappointed me, but this is only of many bad experiences I’ve had with homeless men over the years.  I have definitely had my share of locations I had to circumvent to avoid a homeless man who’d turned creepy on me.  Of course I’m inclined to help homeless women out more and have never had an exchange with a homeless woman go sour on me yet.  My mom is on familiar terms with many homeless people, and growing up, I knew the quirks of these people, mostly women.  There was one woman who was a picky eater – if a person offered her their restaurant left overs, she’d be like “what’s in there?” and if she didn’t like the food, she’d reject it (she totally liked these tacos from a stand down the street from where she camped out, but only if they didn’t have hot sauce on them!).  People thought it was snotty of her to go hungry instead of accepting any old handout offered to her  but I thought it was pretty awesome that she was able to maintain her tastes.  There was another woman we saw a lot, who was always yelling at the top of her lungs but pretty much left my mom out of her screeds, probably because she sensed in her a fellow screamer.  Anyway, this woman was black, but she constantly yelled hating black people, and she also hated women, and would only accept money from men.

Anyway, yeah, homeless women presumably have a rougher time on the streets than homeless men, and I would prefer to only ever give women money, except --  I feel sorry for a lot of the men because they are veterans.  So I never really parse my meager contributions out only to women. 

Anyway, back to the homeless guy who pissed me off the other day.  The point of the post about him was that I’m not sure what philosophy is the real way to live, and I was going through a real strong phase of secular humanism for a while, but my exchange with him sort of broke that spell and now I’m feeling like an existentialist borderline nihilist.  I just don’t care about strangers right now. 

There is a great movie called Please Give, in which Catherine Keener's character Kate can’t keep it together anymore and has these really strong attacks of conscience – one example is that, as an owner of a vintage furniture shop, she goes to homes of the recently deceased to potentially buy valuable items from the estate.  She goes to this one house where the dead woman’s son is heavily grieving and his sister is like “All mom’s stuff is just shit – we should give it to the Goodwill!” but Kate feels bad for the grieving man and ends up buying a whole bunch of worthless furniture for a lot of money, pretending it's all really valuable. 

For a little while there I was feeling like the character in the movie.  At the L.A. zine fest a few months ago, there was a girl collecting zines for troops, and when I was talking to her I started crying thinking of the troops!  At this time of my life (lasting for only a few months) I was feeling really sad and emotional every time I saw a homeless person.  But I’ve realized that this has a lot more to do with me than with the plight of the homeless strangers I was seeing.  

I just don’t want any reader to think I was being flippant about my disproportionately strong reaction to the homeless man’s rudeness.  It may be a fucked up reaction of mine but at least I’ve been reflective about my change of heart.

Anyway, I still strongly believe that it’s a disgusting thing to try to make homeless people disappear into thin air, as if they were a problem to be dealt with, and not just people that things didn’t work out for (I hate it when people say “Things have a way of working themselves out."  I can think of a million instances of that being untrue, like for starters, people who ended up on the street).  I’ve read a few really interesting articles recently about this tactic of making homelessness disappear.  See, I’m still a liberal, I’m just sort of a jerk.  Maybe my next philosophy will be religion.  Oops, I’d go to hell.  Nevermind.  Hail Satan.

(the first paragraph is so weird:  "Acknowledging that law enforcement alone had failed to end homelessness on skid row, officials launched a city-county initiative Tuesday to bring social services and enhanced cleanups to the 50-block downtown Los Angeles district."  Why are cops the go-to solution for homelessness on skid row instead of community outreach groups?  Homelessness is illegal the way suicide is, two examples of Big Brother shittiness).

from "Please Give" -- Kate offering her left overs to a man who is just dressed casually and is in line to get into a fancy restaurant

Monday, August 11, 2014

Being a Young Woman During the Time of My Life

my favorite of our old Olympia houses.  I like to see it through the eyes of Google Maps.  It's that little gray thing hiding behind trees with a billboard on its lawn.

When I was 18 through 22, I lived in Olympia, Washington.  I’d moved there ostensibly to attend The Evergreen State College, but my true reason was the town itself, which was the starting place and still-center for the punk community I’d read so much about since my early teens.  I only applied to one other college, which was prestigious and at which I was accepted.  With  Evergreen State College, I bombarded them with several fine points and essays in my application, and received an early notice of acceptance as well as a full-tuition freshman year scholarship, which I won based on my work on the zines I’d written throughout Junior High and High school, and my extracurricular activity of being in a punk band that played in a few L.A. venues. 

There are so many stories that I want to tell someday -- about depression in college, some of them--  also about a major heartbreak that, when it turned into more of a sentimental friendship, involved so many little scenes of bitter sweetly crossed wires and unexpected, genuine rewards of loyalty and alliance in return for my years of pining.  I want to explain as completely as possible the depth and wildness of my most important female friendships, and just being, FEELING, so young, so wild and free.

But the memories I keep having of those four years, instances I hope to explain beautifully and loyal to the facts someday, are, importantly, instances of experiences so wholly unfamiliar to me, as a Los Angeles native – glimpses in many cases that I think would be considered mundane by others.  I remember some things that were just so identical to dream scenes, never things I could get used to or forget.  I remember a little house with a bright silver Airstream parked in their driveway – the lush lawn was dotted with children’s toys.  These items, covered in rain drops, were the kind of American family accouterments that I thought must be magical.

There was a burned down house I came upon one time with photo books among the rubble that hadn’t burned.  They were still full of pictures of the family who’d lived there.

One Fourth of July, I walked up and down a few of the streets in a neighborhood full of nuclear families, and feeling that the barbecues they were having would be a nice thing to know firsthand.  They had built-in friends and biographers in the family around them, and their lifelong friends (I imagined).  They looked normal.  Sometimes I want to be around a normal person, and in fact, sometimes I just want a normal person to take me completely in hand, to feed me something healthy and demand I go on a walk and that I stop moping.  The dependable-seeming mothers at these barbecues – it would have been nice to be able to spend a night in a guest room in one of these houses, with the guarantee of coffee and a functional shower the next morning.

I loved the garage sales there, especially the ones that elderly people gave.  The old women had costume jewelry and coats, and the men often had a box of belts and belt buckles that’d become tongue-in-cheek riding on our hips, NRA belt buckles, or a cast iron likeness of a bald eagle, or a hawk.

There was a garage sale we went to in a beautiful part of town, and it turned about that there was a bear roaming the streets.  Nobody ran for cover but I think we all turned just turned our backs and wished it away.

In the winter, around Christmas, there was nothing more bittersweet (I already KNEW, as I engaged in these vignettes) than walking around an unfamiliar neighborhood, taking a break from a party at someone’s house I didn't know well, to walk around looking at Christmas lights in freezing weather.

This that I’m describing now is a particular night in my sophomore year, a particularly huge party in an unfamiliar neighborhood.  I’d had to coax my short-lived boyfriend to go on this walk for me.  I said the type of whimsical thing I used to be known for, something like “oh it’s so beautiful, I feel like I’m in heaven.  I wish I could fly,” or something like that.  He wasn't receptive to such a line of bullshit.  Supposedly he’d told people he thought I looked like an European model, but he never showed real interest in me.  I remember one time when he was asleep in bed I wrote a poem that I later turned in to song lyrics with my band The Tantrums.  He always slept like a baby and I always stayed up all night, sometimes whispering a non-denominational and hopeless prayer, like “Oh please let him seriously start liking me.”  Fuck, that bedroom, that temple of selfishness, no room in the bed, no space heater, no food anywhere. 
These were the lyrics:  Sometimes I want not to eat but my stomach is so bare/It is a place all dead with magic/you have been in there – is it fair?!  Is it fair?!”

Anyway there were boys.  There was inebriation.  But there were one-person adventures.  It was an adventure to walk down to the gas station convenience store in the middle of the dark freezing night for a pack of smokes.  It was a solitary adventure to walk on a side street and notice a tiny little babbling brook  that nobody else said they knew about.  It was an adventure to walk across the street from our should-have-been-condemned $650 monthly house to the graveyard with the radio tower in the distance. It was an adventure, and a most wonderful and flattering thing to walk around and run into people I knew.  But I was a cutter and, in many other ways, a dime a dozen.  These boys needed their time away from us girls to practice their Pete Seeger cover bands and their Peter Pan shrugs.  We used our time for beautiful creations as well but allowed too many visits during these fits of epiphany.

Is This a Film Review? (animated films)

I try not to write too much about being a mother, because I would like to imagine my blog as a safe space for women (and the men who love them) as their own selves and not in relation to kids, or to jobs that are expected to define them as people, or a certain aesthetic that’s supposed to be Aesthetic Supreme.  BUT, I am definitely a mom, and I watch a ton of kid’s movies.  It’s an interesting medium to be well-versed in, because these movies are affecting young minds with their different versions of the world.  I’m always getting caught up in the philosophies and personalities of these movies, and here is a little scatter-brained musing (film review of sorts) on some of these movies.

The Shrek Movies

A long long time ago when was a single mingler, I was no big fan of animation, unless it was The Simpsons or some kind of highbrow thing like this really bummer of a British Christmas movie The Snowman.  I was at some small gathering of cynical 20 and 30 something artists and the topic of Shrek came up; this one misanthrope loved the way there were all these off-color jokes in the first Shrek movie.  I’d recently seen the beginning of it and totally hated it; it was the scene where people are getting money from a mean government in exchange for having fairy tale creatures turned in to them by NARC’s and opportunistic assholes.  Do you really want to see good old sweet wood-worker Gepetto as an opportunist asshole, turning in his own adopted son Pinocchio for a bit of pocket money?  Not me.  Of all the cynical shit to foist on a child – Gepetto callously selling out Pinocchio?!  I had an argument with this guy, I’ll call him Dick, over all this cynicism in the movie, along with the double entendres in the dialogue, and how kids are going to get enough of this negative world-views by the time they hit 12 – can’t they just have some escape from all the real-life meanness by watching a movie.  Dick couldn’t disagree more and thought that it was good for kids to be precocious depressives, though he phrased it differently.  Flash-forward a couple years after this argument, which I always held against him.  We ended up meeting under different circumstances and hanging out a few times.  Surprise, he was a total asshole.  All my JD Salinger paperbacks are well loved with long cracked spins and ripped covers, so I lovingly repaired them all with clear contact paper so I could go on reading them forever.  One time he tried to make me feel stupid by saying those books could have been valuable if I hadn’t fixed them.  I explained that for starters, my mom and her best friends have been involved in used book-selling for most of my life, that I have accompanied them on several book-scouting missions at church rummage sales etc. since I was a kid and that I know what valuable is, and would never have sold these Salinger books for all the world – they are mine.  He didn’t hear any of this and condescended to me all night.  He was a total blowhard – leave it to someone who wants kids to be exposed to harsh life lessons in their kids’ movies.

All Shrek criticism aside, I do like the fact that Shrek is a totally ungainly monster, as is his princess, and that the rest of society learns not only accept these two monsters, but to love them for it.  We own all three Shrek movies and I have probably seen them at least 30 times each.

Toy Story Trilogy

Oh melodrama, you cruel bitch.  Toy Story 3 is completely unwatchable to me, because it’s too sad for words.  This movie really nails the feeling of being on the cusp of adulthood and having to cut some things from childhood free.  It’s the end of an era and oh my god is it heartbreaking.  If you want to see how puffy my eyes get for crying for at least a half hour just sit with me while I watch Toy Story 3.  This is a well written movie, the sentimentality flawlessly poignant.  I will never, ever own this movie.  The couple times I have rented it, my poor kid has to stroke my hair and say “mama sad?”

Toy Story 2, however, is a delightful tale of an adventure in a toy store full of toys with their own intrigues and secrets – Barbie is really smart and liberal, etc.

Toy Story 1 is the one we own and watch forever, and I have no complaints about it, accept that the toys are really disloyal to their leader, Woody, for the majority of the film, and as a big believer in dignity and therefore loyalty, I’m just like “What’s wrong with you, Mr. Potato Head?  Why won’t you stand by Woody the cowboy doll and give him the benefit of the doubt, after all he’s done for you!”  All in all though, this is a pretty easy movie to sit through and its life lessons and whatnot are okay by me.

Now for Monster’s Inc.  Oh you masterpiece Monster’s Inc.  I LOVE this movie!!!  It’s the perfect blend of sentimentality and a well-constructed imaginary world, a working class neighborhood where the main job is a factory that has magical doors to kid’s rooms – factory-worker monsters go into kids’ rooms, scare them, and collect their screams into canisters – the screams provide the energy the town runs on.  The monster heroes in this movie are pretty much a couple of noble working class heroes.

Lion King

Lion King, you depressing piece of shit.  This is a movie about manifest destiny.  A cute little lion loves his lion daddy.  The kid lion, Simba, has a best friend, a girl, who he is also supposed to marry.  When his lion dad dies, he splits town and lives a humble existence for several years.  Then his former female runs into him and is like, “you have to come back – it’s your destiny to be the next lion king!”  He doesn’t want to, he just wants to take his own path, but then he realizes he has to do his duty to his community.  He kicks the asses of the hyenas who’ve taken over his old village.  Now he’s the king.  He looks just like his dad before him.  His bestie becomes his wife, who looks just like Simba’s mom when she was a young woman.  They have a kid who looks just like Simba did when he was a little kid.  This is referred to as “The Circle of Life,” but this philosophy of ‘Do your duty to the community, fill your role, follow in tons of ancestors’ footprints, go through a brief transgressive phase perhaps but finally submit to your expected role” – Jesus Christ, what are we, the early American settlers, believing we were destined to live in America, destined to die of cholera before we were even born if that’s the cards we were dealt, destined to have no agency in our choices?  I’m pretty sure Simba should have spent a few more years of self-exploration before returning to the business-as-usual of his Pride.  Oh well, my son likes the songs.  And I guess I should like the films’ message of “Listen to your family – they know what’s best for you!”  Can’t help it though, I want him to “Question Authority,” as the saying goes.

Ernest and Celestine

Oh my god, this movie is great, by any one’s standards, I believe.  See it!

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Mystery Girl

Here is a short story by Guinevere Durado, Matt Harrison, Kelli Williams, Melanie Hilliard, Joanna Thomas White, Geof Nowak and Mike Tucker.  Each of them wrote 3 sentences without having seen anything but the last 5 words of the writing that came before theirs. 

The man’s hair grew long and sparse and yellow-white like the sinews of a rump-roast.  His flannel shirt could not quite button over the expanse of his torso, which bulged in a grotesque game of peek-a-boo for the occasional customer.  The man sat behind the liquor counter while his little finger excavated his fuzzy exposed navel as he watched old NasCar races late into the night.  While the night also races across the earth, chasing the day or being chased depending upon your preferred point of view, it sits for a moment with a woman at Denny's, as she breathes fog onto the cool glass and doodles in it with a finger. The finger doodle is a code. 

Across the street, the code is received.

She blinked her eyes a few times as she tried to make out the words. A car buzzed by, its window down, its driver languidly looking over. "I have to get home to crack this. I can't just stand here on the street," she shoved the code in her pocket and buttoned her coat.  She hurried out the door to a street she no longer recognized. It was a mish-mashed whirlwind of places she had forgotten – her grandmother’s Nebraska farmhouse, the SOHO streets from her college days, the gleaming storefront of the grocery store bursting at the seams. And as time reared its ugly head against her shadow, she thought to raise her right arm, and grasped the chord of the silk hot air balloon that had been hovering all day, and was carried up into the sky.

I found myself face to face with the birds followed by the highest tops of the tallest trees. I felt the moisture on my skin as the atmosphere started to change. Just then the wind started to carry me higher.  In the midst of this Belforeium Conundrum, I could not resist but reminisce about Saaz, the Sherpa with whom I shared a brief but profound love.  He knew the precise angle to cut the cowlick on my right side.  I should have just stayed in that cave with him forever.  And that dreaded feeling that I won't survive. It's NOT the first time, for me, it's a rush at this point. All it says to me is "let's GO, I've got nothing to fear!