Wednesday, December 14, 2011
I'm not a scrooge. I can get behind secular holiday traditions -- spending time with loved ones, preparing/eating rich food, the spirit of generosity, etc. What I'm not down with is the rampant consumerism, which punches me in the gut a little harder each year. How many Starbucks gift cards, scented candles, ugly scarves and functionless thingamabobs does a person need? This year, I'm bowing out. I'm not buying a single gift, and those who might be inclined to buy me something are under instructions not to bother.
What I'm also not down with is another Phoenix Christmas. I'd rather visit my mom under different circumstances. It's just she and my brother and we don't have any traditions to speak of. She usually works on Christmas anyway. So, a few months ago, I made an executive decision to do what I wanted to with my holiday off-time. I'm spending 12 days in Costa Rica, learning Spanish and practicing yoga. Adios, muchachos.
Mom wasn't thrilled about my holiday travel plans, but to compensate, I offered to buy her the French Bulldog she's been dreaming about for months. Apparently, this dog is a suitable stand-in for me. She lit up as soon as I made the offer, and Costa Rica hasn't been mentioned since. Win-win.
Next year, I'm dreaming of a Thai Christmas. I wonder what animal I will have to sacrifice for that one.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
In taking this class, I've learned that I don't have much love for the personal essay as a genre (I didn't really know what I was signing up for when I registered). Most personal essay writing is somewhat glib for my taste -- easy to swallow life-lessons, and it's not really my bag.
I wasn't taking the class to get my work published. My B.A. is in journalism and I worked as a writer for a few years after college, absolutely hating it, which is why I wound up a librarian. I adore the written word, but find it painful to write on command in a voice that is not always my own about things that do not move me. So instead, I chose to surround myself with the words of others.
But I still love writing. Over the years, it's become therapeutic for me. Since I mostly write about myself these days, it affords me a different kind of control over my life. I'm able to craft a narrative, assign symbols, and make connections among things that are not necessarily related so I can make some sense of them. It's comforting. I journal frequently and write here sometimes, and maybe this sounds silly, but it's a way to give my world some meaning.
Friday, October 21, 2011
"I fell off the bed last week," my mother tells me the next day over lunch. It happened like this: home from another long day/night at the nursing home, she sits on her bed. Reading one moment, the next she is on her back, a sea of white wall-to-wall carpeting keeping her afloat. "I must've fallen asleep sitting up. I could've cracked my head on the nightstand. I was lucky."
She told my brother the same story, and a few days later, a pillow appeared on the floor near her bed.
"Sounds like he's worried about you," I said.
"He does what he can."
What he can do isn't much these days. Out of rehab and newly fired from another job, he mostly hangs around the condo sleeping or smoking or watching T.V., not paying rent, intermittently taking drugs and then trying to quit them. He says he's moving to Vegas next week. Somehow, he's driving an Infiniti.
I didn't want to be in Phoenix, but a sense of duty had pulled me east. The older I get, the more inexplicable it seems that this is my family. My mother: naked, gaunt, her body looking, somehow, like it's trying to swallow itself. With every visit, she appears smaller. Is this the same woman who used to read "Are You My Mother?" to a four-year-old me every night before bed? Who taught me to roller skate? Who used to drag me down the hallway, screaming, by my ponytail? She is disintegrating, and I never feel more alone in the world than when she looks at me, her eyes brimming with raw pride and affection. We speak different languages. This is the person who loves me more than anything, but I do not trust her.
We went shopping together, a play at being functional. I don't think we'd shopped together since I was a kid. Then, she used to steal things in front of me, but she doesn't do that anymore -- at least not that I've noticed. We went to only one store, Pier 1 Imports, my maiden voyage to this strip mall port. Walking through the automatic glass doors, my nose was assaulted by scented candles, a cloying stink cloud permeating the air. Everything here was glittering, ornate, overwrought, often without function. For Halloween, displays of animatronic witches cackled at my mother, and she smiled in return, her new bridge twinkling among decaying teeth. How many animatronic Santas, snowmen and bunnies had she seen before this one? But there she was, enchanted, as if seeing it for the first time, a child.
When it came time to pay, Mom couldn't find her Pier 1 credit card. With a line of people behind her, she poured the contents of her purse onto the counter, scavenging among the envelopes and rubber bands and prescription bottles. With a tight smile, the cashier offered to look up her credit card information.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Today we went chasing waterfalls and Adriana surprised me. The guidebook described the hike to the Four Falls of Na'ili'ili-Haele as an "adventure" -- a category that is distinct from an "activity." On the trail to the first waterfall, through the bamboo forest and across the wooden plank that served as a bridge, families were turning around. "The waterfalls here aren't any good," a mother tried to reassure her young son who was too tiny for the rock-climbing.
The hike was worth it. At the top of the third waterfall -- more breathtaking than the previous two -- we took turns jumping into the pool 30 feet below. We hadn't packed any food, but it didn't matter. As we splashed around, perfectly ripe passion fruit floated toward us. We'd suck out the oozy flesh and watch the discarded rinds drift away with the current.
"I'm done," said Adriana as she floated in the pool. "If this vacation ended now, I would be completely satisfied." It was only Day 2.
I am in Maui. I don't think I told you I was going. Sometimes I feel guilty when I tell you about my travel plans because you've never been anywhere, and I know it's not for lack of interest. When I visit anyplace other than Phoenix, I know I am making a choice. I wonder if that occurs to you too -- even though I don't think you've ever said anything to make me feel bad about it.
We stopped for barbecue today at a shack on the side of the Hana Highway. I love driving here and it makes me think of my other favorite drives -- the Pacific Coast Highway through central California and Australia's Great Ocean Road. Not that Hana looks anything like those places -- it's just that same feeling of otherworldliness. There is a waterfall every few miles. The guidebook described a condition that is common among vacationers: beauty fatigue. It hasn't happened to me yet.
The barbecue stand was out of mahi-mahi. We didn't think we'd make it to Hana before sunset and the guidebook warned that our food options were limited. Jesse, the islander behind the grill holding a Heineken says, "Chicken or Pork?" After explaining that I don't usually eat meat, he says, "What? You come all the way to Maui and you not gonna try the pork?" He has a point. "Pork," I say. He piles my plate high with the stuff and I carry it to the long wooden picnic table.
Did you cook pork when I was a kid? Because I don't remember it ever tasting this way -- I don't think it would've been possible. I tell myself that it's Hawaii falling apart in my mouth and it's paradise. With some help from Ji and Adriana, my plate is cleaned.
Today my camera fell off a cliff.
Yesterday, we met a guy working a roadside barbecue stand who offered to show us around Hana. When we asked how much it would cost, he said, "Spend the day with me and at the end, you decide what it's worth." He told us his Hawaiian name at least three times, but I can't remember it. He also goes by Jesse, so that's what we call him.
The first place he took us was the Blue Pool, which is on private property, but Jesse's somehow related to the owners, so it was OK. In fact, I've noticed that he addresses most everyone we meet as "brother" or "cousin." The water in the Blue Pool is spring-fed. We took turns drinking from it and then letting the water pour over our heads, the force of it making our skulls vibrate. "This is your baptism," Jesse said.
He wanted to cook us fish for dinner, which meant fish would need to be caught. This meant scaling the side of a cliff, the dirt crumbling beneath our feet as we took tentative steps, clinging to whatever protuberances we could grip in the wall of rock. We eventually settled into a perch and watched Jesse stand in a tree for a half-hour, surveying the surf below, scanning the tide pools for the telltale silvery glint. We watched the Heineken bottle slip from his hands and crash a few hundred feet below. And then he was off, armed with a backpack and a net, bounding down the side of the cliff like a kid playing hopscotch.
We watched the water and waited. Sometimes Jesse was visible among the rocks, but mostly he'd disappear for long stretches of time. Silently, we considered what we'd do if he didn't come back -- how would we get out of this place without his guidance? -- but we kept our fears to ourselves. When the silver camera slipped from my hands and fell soundlessly below, we all thought that it could have been any of us. When I moved to look over the cliff for any sign of it -- maybe it got caught on a rock, I thought -- Adriana said, "No. Don't. Stop."
Nearly an hour passed before Jesse returned to us, his blue backpack heavy with fish. "Sorry that took so long," he said. "You hungry?" We went back to a home that wasn't his -- another cousin? -- in a neighborhood that felt a little like South L.A., but with a better view, and watched him fry the fish whole. We ate fish eyes and drank beer on a stranger's porch as the sun set over Hana. Stuffed, we left Jesse with a fistful of cash.
Friday, August 26, 2011
According to the Shepherd of Hana, aka Uncle Jesse, rainbows are NBD. "I see them every day. What's really cool are moonbows. You can put your hand through them."
Also, we did a lot of this:
And then I came home to this guy:
Roaches are a rare thing in my apartment. Clearly, he was straggler from Lei's week of hard-partying in my absence.
Friday, August 12, 2011
1 dust pan
1 roll of bubble wrap
1 bottle of hydrogen peroxide
1 bottle of isopropyl rubbing alcohol
6 light bulbs (of varying shapes, sizes and wattage)
1 Echo Park Time Travel Mart mug
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Thursday, July 7, 2011
After the movie, Dicky and I wandered aimlessly around Hollywood, discussing the film and how it made us feel -- in the language we lacked as children. A single white firework went off above our heads, and I was reminded of a 4th of July years ago. It may have been 2004, and from the roof of the San Francisco Art Institute, we watched fireworks explode over the bay, the bridge. The fog rendered their shapes invisible, so they merely lit up the clouds -- red, then green, then blue -- a Technicolor storm.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Friday, June 10, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
And the video that says it all:
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
My mom worked all the time, but she wasn't really a thrower anyway. She is a nurse, but once, she was a surfer. In her late teens or early 20s, she went surfing during a hurricane, lost her board and then found it again when it smashed her in the face. Late 1960s reconstructive surgery left her with a golf ball-sized lump above her cheekbone, which I don't really see when I look at her. She's my mother after all -- in possession of the first face I ever laid eyes upon. I never realized there was anything wrong with it until she told the surfing story, which delighted me as a child. Another beloved mom story: the time she drank gasoline. Another favorite: the time she and her first husband robbed two members of Steely Dan at gunpoint. Another favorite: the time she jumped off the Bayville drawbridge on a dare. Every time I rode shotgun over that bridge as a kid, I pictured my teenage mother, plummeting.
I didn't throw things to my half-brother, either. Seven years my junior, we mostly watched TV together. Sometimes we played Nintendo. During the excruciating Phoenix summers, we played Marco Polo in our condominium complex's swimming pool, enclosed inside a gated stucco fortress, posted signs warning "no lifeguard on duty." Mostly we floated on inner tubes, barely moving across the too-blue water, basted in chlorine, hors d'oeuvres crisping under the sun.
At the beach a couple of weekends ago, I tried to play frisbee, but quickly became frustrated with my ineptitude. My friends were patient, but I don't enjoy doing things I'm bad at. I bowed out of the game, sat on my towel, and watched Dicky wade slowly, gingerly into the rocky ocean. He hadn't been interested in frisbee. His white shoulders reflected the sunlight and I felt a kinship with him: we were aliens here, desert people. But really, we weren't: I spent my earliest years on Long Island, he on the Jersey Shore. Displaced persons, we craved the warm Atlantic.
I have spent several summers, with multi-year gaps in between, on this particular beach in Corona del Mar, and this will probably be my last. During those gaps, other lives were hatched. In front of Chris's parents' house, a "for sale" sign hangs with the "sold" attachment dangling beneath. It's not a private beach, but there is a gate at the end of his street, and his parents still hold the key for now.
My mother's home is also sold. In a few weeks, she'll move from her four-bedroom stucco Peoria home to a North Phoenix stucco condominium that she plans to share with my brother, who is now 25.
While I'm not a thrower or a catcher, I am tenacious. On the beach in Corona del Mar, Dicky moved carefully through the water, and I rose from my towel. I let Jesse toss me the frisbee again, and this time, I caught it in my cleavage.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Friday, April 8, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
California Teacher's Association
UCLA Alumni Association
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
ASU Alumni Association
The Cronkite Journal
The New Yorker
catalogs: Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Sephora, Free People, Paper Source, Crate & Barrel, Aaron Brothers
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Jet Blue TrueBlue
Orange County Performing Arts
San Francisco Opera
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The previous week, on St. Patrick's Day, my non-profit held a happy hour meeting at the Pink Taco in the Century City Mall. The staff, three of us plus one intern, squeezed into a booth where we discussed literacy, our shrinking budget and the Compton Unified School District over tequila. Green plastic beads hung from our intern's neck. When our tacos arrived, they were not pink, but green.
Afterward, shopping for bras in Macy's, I stupidly accepted a phone call from my younger brother. Earlier that day, he had been escorted from my mother's home by four police officers. I told him to get a job as I handed my credit card to the cashier. I spent over a hundred dollars on underwear.
At the Black Boar in Eagle Rock later that night, I dropped the sleeve of my jacket into a toilet bowl and then continued to wear it.
My favorite stretch of Highway 1 fell into the ocean. Next Friday, I am driving to San Francisco for my first-ever half-marathon. I'd planned to take this route, carb loading at the Big Sur Bakery along the way. Now I need to reevaluate my travel plans.
(via the Dog Blog)
Monday, March 21, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Over a Newcastle and an Old Fashioned, he told me that he'd bought a new mattress that day. It made spiritual sense, he said, because we'd bought his previous mattress together.
"That mattress was a mistake from Day 1."
I recalled the Glendale mattress store, the two of us lying side by side, testing different floor models. I stared up at the ceiling and tried to determine what a good mattress was supposed to feel like. I was 26 years old and still had no idea.
We talked about the expense of a quality mattress, and while I considered the cost of my semi-recent mattress purchase a splurge, I balked when he revealed his mattress's pricetag: $5500.
"Well, you know, that includes the box spring and some other stuff."
I tried to rationalize this expense.
"Are you still having back problems?"
"Not really. It's weird because I had lower-back problems throughout our relationship, but they just kind of went away." He paused. "My legs get pretty achy from running though. I think the mattress will help."
This ex-boyfriend is going through a transitional phase, having vacated the sprawling and dilapidated Hollywood apartment he occupied for nearly 10 years. That building, that apartment, contained me for three of the ten. I pictured it like a dollhouse: the institutional white stucco exterior, the rats scurrying up the palm trees, the foosball table, the roof parties, the wall-to-wall blue carpet (an ocean in Hollywood!), the side-by-side ovens: one for pizza, one for cookies.
Now he's holed up in Valley Village, killing time until he finds a house to buy. Throughout our conversation, I noticed that he kept referring to the apartment itself as Valley Village, as if the neighborhood existed only through his front door.
"Valley Village is just a layover," he said. "This is my time to sleep in the trenches."
"But you're sleeping on a $5500 mattress."
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
He was closer in age to my mother, and I think she was happy that Tony was talking to us. She was smiling a lot and her New York accent became thicker as it does when she wants people to ask where she is from.
"Do you like the beach?" Tony asked, looking at me.
I told him I did.
"You should come back to Malibu sometime and we can go together. What's your number?"
He caught me off guard. The sun was directly overhead and his girlfriend's dog was panting and I was wearing a bathing suit. I could hear my mother breathing next to me and I may have taken a pill that morning that made me a little kinder, more tolerant. I take these pills when I spend time with my mother. The numbers fell from my mouth.
Malibu Tony calls once a month. That's his name in my phone so I know not to answer. This was his message this morning, verbatim:
"Hey Meghan. This is Tony in Malibu. Remember we met last September when you were on the beach? And, um, it's Wednesday, March 16th, and I just want to know what's new. I thought we were gonna maybe get together, have a nice time. I know you like the beach and I like the beach too. Well, anyway, I hope you'll give me a call. Maybe if you come out to the beach, we can get dinner or something like that. Or lunch. And we'll have a nice time. Thanks a lot. Bye."
Friday, March 11, 2011
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
I went for the fish.
Sitting alone in this restaurant (where I would spend $35 without regret on a bowl of ciopinno, a loaf of sourdough bread (on which I only nibbled) and a bottle of Perrier), I felt aware of my shifting demographic. I read a novel on my Kindle as the 40-something waitress kept bringing me things. I used my iPhone to take a photo of my food, which I posted to my Facebook page. Later, I used the phone to calculate the waitress's tip. I walked away from the restaurant, my leather boots feeling tighter around my calves. I'd spent the weekend celebrating Amy's 30th birthday in a rented, luxurious vacation house, the out-of-state guest list comprised of those who could afford to be there.
Hours later, on my second flight, I ate the sandwich for dinner. It tasted better than expected.
Two weekends, two different planets: Joshua Tree was Mars, and Moclips, along the Washington shore, was somewhere icier, Planet Big Chill. In Joshua Tree, our troop hiked Mount Ryan, a 3-mile out and back trail, a reasonable choice given Nico's age and the threatening clouds, which followed us up the hill, but delivered only the occasional snowflake.
In Moclips, we wore rubber boots onto the beach, snow crunching underfoot until, finally, our soles sank into the sand. The water spread out before us, a sheet of glass reflecting the clouds. It was difficult to discern where the sky ended and the earth began.
North of the I-10 East, past the sign that reads "Desert Cities," we were holed up in our tiny Western-themed bungalow called "The Cowboy Hideout." Above my bed, a guitar was mounted, which lit up from its soundhole. The sheets were covered in horses. Our Moclips Beach House could've slept 20, but we maxed out at a comfortable 10 on Saturday night. Both places featured warm meals and good friends, old and new.
Beach House: There was a hot tub. We ran from the house in our bathing suits, bracing ourselves against the cold, knit hats on heads, and jumped.
Joshua Tree: We gathered around our fire pit and Dicky read a Donald Barthelme story aloud. After he'd finished, he said, "We should burn it." It seemed like an appropriate sacrifice, but as the story blackened and shriveled in the fire, he said, "I wish we hadn't done that."
On the beach in Moclips, we found a dead seal defrosting in the sunshine. We weren't sure if it was a rock or an animal until we saw its gleaming teeth. It sunbathed on a pile of snow, the corpse green and red and stinking. Sean took a picture.
Joshua Tree: We listened to a country & western records at first. The "Cowboy Hideout" came with vinyl and a turntable. Later, we had an inspired, effusive Morrissey singalong: You had to sneak into my room / Just to read my diary / It was just to see, just to see / All the things you knew I'd written about you.
It was a lullaby. Not long after, we paired off, curled up and fell asleep.
Beach House: We listened to Beach House. Later, we danced on the kitchen table to something else. Sean told me this story: "I have a friend who, whenever she starts to feel depressed, reminds herself that she has a great ass. Think about it."
I have been thinking about it. A great ass, like most things, is fleeting. Despite all of my running in the snow, someday my own great ass will abandon me.
There was so much dancing in both places, but in Moclips I couldn't make it stop. There was something about the sensation of my feet sliding across that slick, hardwood floor. I was floating. To dance across it was an impulse beyond control. Walking was no longer an option -- I only danced from room to room. Our last night there, while my friends played in the hot tub, I stayed inside the dining room and danced alone. Amy's boyfriend, Ben, was my unwilling audience, sitting at the table, hunched over his laptop. Occasionally he glanced up at me, flailing across the room, and shook his head. I danced until I was so sweaty that I had to throw myself into the hot tub to cool down.
My favorite writer, Lorrie Moore, said it better than I ever could:
"I tell them dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom. I tell them it's the body reaching, bringing air to itself. I tell them it's the heart's triumph, the victory speech of the feet, the refinement of animal lunge and flight, the purest metaphor of tribe and self. It's life flipping death the bird.
I make this stuff up."