Wednesday, December 14, 2011

XMAS SMD

One of my favorite holiday traditions has become my friends' JJ and Marisol's annual caroling party. Sunday night was the second year I participated, and it was magical. This year's theme was Sock Puppets. Our merry crew took to the streets of Angelino Heights, which teems with beautiful Victorian homes. Our sock-covered hands belted out holiday classics like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Come on Feel the Noise," accompanied by an acoustic guitar. We were invited into a few homes and rewarded with cookies (and in one case, a fistful of joints).

My sock puppet was hella hungover on Monday

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

on writing

I haven't been writing here lately because I'm in the throes of a personal essay-writing class. It's taught by a prolific essayist -- a woman who earns her living writing these things, freelance, publishing her work in glossy mags and newspapers on a regular basis. The objective of the class is to refine your craft, learn some tricks of the trade and get your work published -- and many of her previous students have succeeded in this. The instructor knows the industry well and offers great insight (sometimes shockingly) into her students' work. At times, the class feels more like a group therapy session than a writing workshop, and while that's a little weird for me, it can get interesting. There are ten people in the class, and based on the early drafts I've read, I'd estimate 2/3 are writing publishable material. Yes, I realize that leaves us with a fraction of a person, but it's still pretty good.

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.

I took this class because I wanted to become more disciplined about my writing, and maybe get some ideas going with an eye toward writing something long-form in the future. Maybe. I was testing the waters. But I was embarrassed by the essay draft I brought to class Tuesday night. For lack of a more apt metaphor, I thought it was a piece of shit.

In the course of writing the essay, I decided I was a fool for taking this class. I was struggling with the personal essay formula my instructor had prescribed. There was a format, and I didn't know how to make my writing comply. Reading the first round of my classmates' drafts the previous week, I was surprised by the mostly consistent tone of their writing: breezy and conversational, and in some cases, quite witty. When done well, it's a style of writing I often admire in others because it seems so effortless.

By comparison, my own writing feels heavy and twisted, complicated and literary. I mean this in the worst possible way. Just because something is literary doesn't mean it's any good. And that's how I felt about the essay I brought to class Tuesday night: it was the work of someone who couldn't master the personal essay trying to disguise it with the affected voice of literary fiction. I didn't do it on purpose, but it's the only way I know how to write about anything personal -- with the distance my narrative voice affords. And I hated the parts of the essay where I had to talk explicitly about the way I felt -- what the instructor calls "your ugly paragraph(s)." I wasn't used to writing this way. I shy away from spelling anything out for a reader, and prefer to communicate my feelings through scene and metaphor.

I tried to put a positive spin on it. The class hadn't been a waste of my time. I'd learned a valuable lesson from this experience: I don't want to write for other people. I don't want to be published. Maybe it was time to put my pen away. And what was I doing with this stupid, sporadically updated blog anyway? It's embarrassing and I should probably just delete it. Keep this stuff in my journal.

You can probably guess where this is going, so I won't detail the overwhelmingly positive feedback my essay received, and my instructor's insistence that I publish it. As my classmates handed copies of my draft back to me, I kept seeing the same comment scrawled across the top: "write a memoir." "memoir material." "have you thought about writing a memoir?"

The essay I wrote is about buying my mother a dog, but of course, that's not what it's really about. I haven't decided if I want to submit it anywhere because I don't know how representative it is of my style as a writer. I made a lot of compromises.

I'm not sure why I'm writing this. Maybe this is a blog post about when I started to take myself more seriously as a writer. Or maybe it's a more general commentary about how unforgiving and critical of myself I can be, and how maybe I should lighten up. But I'm not sure that it's either of those things. I've come to no conclusions, which is probably why I'll never be a good personal essayist.

Friday, October 21, 2011

going home again

The T.V. in my mother's new condo is always on -- even when there is no one home to watch it. A wall-mounted flat screen, I imagine the high-definition faces exist to greet her when she walks through the door after another 16-hour shift. When I arrived home on a recent Friday night -- my mother still at work, my brother asleep -- I was welcomed by The Long Island Medium, warm and glowing.

"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.

"Isn't this one neat?" She kept thrusting bejeweled picture frames in my face, soliciting my opinion. I squinted, repeating the same phrase I'd uttered a thousand times already. "It's not really my taste."

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.

"Can I verify your address?" she asked.

"I don't know it," Mom said, frustrated. "I just moved."

It had been three months.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Imaginary Postcards (pt. 2)

(continued from here)

1.

Photo by Ji

Dear Dicky,

Today I learned that Adriana and Ji don't like Morrissey. WTF?

2.

Photo by Adriana

Dear Dicky,

I lost the keys to our rental car somewhere inside a Long's Drugstore today, and 2.5 hours of vacation were lost in consequence. We scanned each aisle countless times, ransacked the trash bins, combed the parking lot, but these keys had something to prove. The Long's staff rallied to help us, interrupting their workday to join the hunt, and I was touched by their genuine concern.

I felt like a stereotype -- another absent-minded woman losing her keys -- and inside, I was beating myself up for it. Repeatedly, I apologized to Ji and Adriana for my fuck-up, but they responded only with reassurances. "Yes, we're stuck at a drugstore," Ji said, "but it's a drugstore in Maui and it doesn't get much better than this." I thought of boyfriends from vacations past, and wondered if they would've been so kind.

We ate fish from a cart in the parking lot and weighed our options. I was ready to call a locksmith (a $300 pricetag for new key), when an employee ran from the store, a fistful of silver flashing. The keys had been hiding among the water socks. I went back inside and thanked every employee personally. To myself, I vowed to be a better person.

Later, we took the long way to Waimoku Falls and the Seven Sacred Pools -- the West Maui Highway. The landscape here is alien, a little like land coming back to life in the decades following a wildfire. I piloted our car through the winding dirt roads, stopping occasionally to inspect the herds of grazing Maui cows, who seemed somehow more relaxed and friendly than mainland cows. "Moohalo!" we'd shout to them. The cows would only masticate and stare in response, but we could see the pineapples twinkling in their eyes. And all along this narrow road, the bluest ocean was always to our right, a constant companion crashing against the lava rocks.

"What planet is this?" one of us asked.

If you filmed landscapes like this, I think I'd enjoy your work more.

3.


Dear Crystal,

I ate the best meal of my life tonight -- our last in Maui -- at Mama's Fish House. Granted, we got incredibly stoned in the car beforehand, which proved a little embarrassing since the parking lot was valet-only. I had to relinquish our smoke-filled vehicle to an attendant who slid behind the wheel without making eye contact. Heightened senses or no, I still think it would've been the best meal ever. I'm pretty sure.

We ordered three appetizers, three entrees and three desserts. I think the waitress was a little afraid of us -- three women who ate with such abandon and gusto. Several dishes were served in coconut shells, and Adriana asked for a spoon so she could scrape out the flesh. At the meal's end, these were our only leftovers -- our plates were bare -- and so we took the coconut shavings home with us in a box. The bill was over $300 before tip, which I'm sure you find horrifying, but it was worth it.

On the ride back to our vacation rental, we listened to our favorite Maui old school radio station, and sang along to Exposé's "The Point of no Return." On the eucalyptus-lined road to Hai'ku, we stopped the car short because so many frogs were hopping into the road. Illuminated by our headlights, a single frog waited, looking up at the three of us expectantly.

"Go touch it, Ji!" Adriana squealed. Ji exited the car and walked toward the frog. As she got within striking distance, she took a step backward, paused, and then moved closer again. She reached out her hand, but then snatched it away, stepping backward. This happened several times before she turned toward us and said, "I can't! I'm scared."

"I think I can handle this," I said, rising from the passenger seat. I crouched next to the frog and stared him down, the headlights cutting through the fog around us, creating a spotlight. I was surprised by the frog's muscularity -- the little guy was ripped. Our eyes were locked as I reached out and touched his clammy back, shocked that he didn't move as my fingers grazed his skin. I turned and looked up at Adriana, still behind the steering wheel, in awe.

"Kiss him!" she shouted.

I turned back to the frog and lowered myself into plank position. As I moved my face toward him, he leapt away. Instinctively, I assumed a frog position and hopped after him. I chased him to the edge of the eucalyptus grove, but I wasn't quick enough -- he'd disappeared into the foggy woods.

I stood, balled my fists and turned my face toward the low-hanging Maui moon, howling, "Unrequited love!"

I know you haven't been too interested in traveling to Hawaii, but I think you'd like it here. So many things remind me of you.


4.

Photo by Adriana

Dear Shannon,

I brought three books to Maui (two on my Kindle). This does not include my copy of Maui Revealed, which is the only one I've cracked for six days on this island. I'm carrying my journal too, but my pen only appears to sign checks. Is this living in the moment? I'm writing these postcards now, here on my blog, because stopping to write about anything that happened as it was happening felt impossible. I did buy some postcards on my last day in Maui, which I scrawled hastily on the first leg of my flight, and then mailed when I changed planes in Honolulu. I can't remember anything I wrote.

I hope you haven't found any more poop in your library. I'm still trying to figure out what I should do for Thanksgiving. It's not the same without you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Imaginary Postcards (pt. 1)

Our plane is circling above the island, making our final descent into Kahului, but through the cabin windows, there isn't much to see. Clouds. The darkening sky. Adriana has the window seat and Ji is on the aisle. It seems I have made a sacrifice by volunteering for the middle, but I only wanted a guaranteed sweet spot for the return trip. I am planning for the end before anything has begun. A few moments earlier, Adriana was singing "Knocking on Heaven's Door." We have not yet seen the island, but as we descend, Adriana says, "I want to get pregnant here."

1.

Second waterfall. We hid our cameras in the forest after this. Photo by Ji.

Dear Lei,

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 first waterfall was small, but after scaling the slippery rocks, we were rewarded with the gorgeous second waterfall. Before I could take in my surroundings, Adriana jumped into the pool. She glided through the water, a bespectacled mermaid home to breed.

The pool, the falls, the pebble shore, the birds chirping in the bamboo forest: it was enough for me. More rock-climbing and a trip up a rickety rope ladder attached to a 12-ft rock face would be required to reach the third waterfall. I was ready to call it a day here (guidebook: "This is as far as most people will go"), but Adriana was already out of the water and climbing. "If gyms were this spectacular, I'd be so fit." I remembered the time I brought her once, years ago, to my Burn & Firm class at the Hollywood YMCA. Twenty minutes in, she was balled up in a corner of the gymnasium, head between her legs, hyperventilating under the fluorescent lights. Who was this creature now, climbing waterfalls barefoot in a hot pink bikini, as I slipped around in my waterlogged tennis shoes? Reluctantly, I followed her up the side of the rock.

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.

So . . . have you killed my plants yet?

2.

Photo by Adriana


Dear Mom,

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.

How is James doing?

3.

Photo by Adriana

Dear Chris,

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 drove our rental car through the winding roads of Hana with a Heineken between his legs. I don't know why this seemed acceptable, but it was. Maybe because my father always drove with a beer between his legs? Maybe because the sky was full of rainbows? We made stops for waterfalls, beaches, and to gather food: fruit, banana bread, avocado, and once, a salad (which involved Jesse hacking away at the brush along the side of the road). We listened to the Knife ("This sounds like music for people on Ecstasy") and Bo Diddley, which Jesse liked better, though he kept singing over the vocals with impromptu island songs.

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.

How is the pizza in New Haven?

(to be continued)

Friday, August 26, 2011

moohalo

I went to Maui for a week with Ji and Adriana. We saw a lot of these:

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.

More later...


Friday, August 12, 2011

detritus

A couple of months ago, Chris bought a truck. Last weekend, he crammed its shell full of camping gear, sparing only enough room for Nico and a few succulents. Joel offered himself as co-pilot for the nearly 3,000-mile drive east, where C will spend the next two years at grad school.

A few things I inherited:

Beer: 1 can of La Playa, 1 bottle of San Miguel, 1 bottle of Red Stripe
1 bottle of Jagermeister
1 bottle of Pamplemousse Rose Perrier
Assorted frozen foods including (but not limited to): cheese blintzes, chocolate soy ice cream sandwiches, TJs vegetable gyoza potstickers, eggplant & zucchini, a bag of frozen corn, mini croissants
1 ice pack
1 Bikini Kill cassette tape
1 Crass cassette tape (a gift for Dicky)
1 broom
1 dust pan
1 roll of bubble wrap
Assorted cleaning products
1 bottle of hydrogen peroxide
1 bottle of isopropyl rubbing alcohol
6 light bulbs (of varying shapes, sizes and wattage)
a pile of recycling (which remains near my front door, awaiting transfer to its temporary resting place in the blue bins outside my apartment)
houseplants: 1 mother-in-law's tongue, 1 Euphorbia Obesa, 1 purple shamrock (grown from a cutting I'd given Chris as a housewarming gift when he moved back to L.A.).
1 Echo Park Time Travel Mart mug
countless strands of dog hair

Chris spent his last night in L.A. at my apartment, and when I woke Sunday morning, he'd already picked up Joel. I could hear them bounding up and down the stairs, loading up the truck. I didn't want to watch, so I hid in my room for a while, and when I sensed they were nearing the end, I made my way downstairs, into the unwelcome sunlight. The truck was parked in front of my building and they were making the final adjustments. My neighbor -- a middle-aged black woman to whom I had never said more than "Hello" -- was taking photographs, trailing Chris and Joel, their arms laden with boxes and crates, like she was some kind of moving day paparazzi.

She turned to me.

"I'll get you the pictures later. You'll want to remember this day."

Which is funny because I've already forgotten the moment his truck pulled away.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

kitchen drive

Dicky's work challenges me. In last year, much of it has become performance-based, which is to say that his participation (e.g. projecting slides, playing recorded sound, etc.) has become part of the work. He'll usually leave some elements to chance, rendering each performance unique.

Generally, these performances are long. If he's projecting film, it's not edited. The camera is handheld and sometimes it's out of focus. If he's projecting slides, there are a lot of them, projected for varying durations. The images are often scenes that I find unpleasant: Phoenecian landscapes, the meeting of desert and concrete. If a score accompanies, it is tape-recorded and tinny, projected from a single speaker cassette player, and it often sounds like noise: random sounds, snippets of conversation, rustling, breathing, etc.

Everything about it is defiantly analog. It's raw and without technical sophistication. It tests my patience, and that's part of the point, but it doesn't make the experience any less uncomfortable.

A recent six-hour performance featured the re-creation of a roadtrip in someone's kitchen on a Monday afternoon. I wasn't there. Dicky sat at the kitchen table, projecting slides, drinking coffee, playing his score, making conversation with those who had come to watch and who had become, unwittingly, his roadtrip companions. Some of the images were from trips we'd taken together -- of note, our annual holiday ride to Phoenix, on the I-10 across the most bleak stretches of the Sonoran Desert. I hate that six-hour drive, but I appreciate his rendition of it. Particularly in the form of a six-minute clip where INXS kicks in toward the end.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

two days

July 3:

The yellow dress was a mistake, I think. Biking from Hollywood to downtown on the hottest day of summer so far, it showed every streak of perspiration. When we stopped for iced coffee, I asked Chris if I looked dewy or sweat-soaked.

"A little bit of both?"

He was being kind. We sat under an umbrella and wiped the sweat from our brows with paper napkins.

The dress was a parasail, catching the wind and billowing around me as I rode toward the museum. I tried to contain the skirt with the grip of my legs, but I wasn't always successful, the white of my thighs flashing at oncoming traffic.

At MOCA, I heard my recorded voice come through a single speaker, childish, played on a cassette tape as Dicky projected the accompanying slides onto a screen. We only caught the tail-end of his performance, and I'd walked into the room just in time to hear myself. The images and recording were from Big Family Day a month prior. I remembered following him around the museum that day, frustrated because he seemed to be running away from me, camera and tape recorder in hand.

"What are you doing?" I'd asked.

"Creating documents."

His response had annoyed me because it seemed like ambiguous art-speak, but now it struck me as quite literal.

On this day, the museum was filled with experimental music. In the courtyard, Liam was making noise by touching dry ice to triangles.

Hours later, I was on a rooftop on the edge of downtown, drinking Modelo and Jim Beam. The heat and the alcohol were bringing out the best and the worst in all of us. We told stories from our childhoods and some of us became children. There was crying and hair-pulling. A girl punched a boy. Someone grabbed my head and tried to kiss me as I stood very still, lips clenched, as he pressed his face against mine. When he tried a second time, I pushed him away, saying "NO."

On the plant-covered rooftop, mosquitoes buzzed beneath the yellow dress, sucking on my thighs. Above us, fireworks burst and faded.

July 4:

I love a good fireworks show, and I can't remember the last 4th of July I didn't watch one, but when Dicky suggested an 8 p.m. showing of Tree of Life, it seemed like the right idea.

The film was flawed, but when it worked, it was wonderful, evoking certain feelings from childhood I'd forgotten. It also made me deeply sad to confront the reality of never again experiencing things for the first time.

I'm not planning to have children. As I've grown older, I have a hard time identifying with kids despite willfully living much of my life like one. The film made me recall what it actually felt like to be a child -- not just pretending at it. The truth is that kids intimidate me, and I wonder if it's because I envy them.

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.

On the Walk of Fame, a black woman sat in a plastic chair wearing only a bright yellow bathing suit. As I stared, taking in her outfit, I tripped in my three-inch platform sandals. Then I decided she had the right idea -- the night was an oven.



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

muscle memory

It is my instinct to always pay for valet. I believe that my time is valuable and should not be squandered driving in circles. An even worse of use of my time? Driving in circles, annoyed. That said, I will hesitate before valeting because I hate my car. I hate my car so much that I do not wish it upon anyone -- even a valet attendant. So I will usually drive in circles for five minutes, annoyed, before acquiescing to the thing my heart of hearts desired all along.

On Friday night, I valeted the Bookmobile in West Hollywood (for obvious reasons if you've ever tried to park in West Hollywood on a Friday night). When I retrieved my car, I became flummoxed because I could not get the gearshift out of park. I kept trying to force the stick until I eventually sprained my thumb -- an old derby injury, aggravated. Finally, I had to call over the valet attendant, saying, "I don't know what you guys did to my car, but I can't get it out of park." The attendant reached inside and turned the key, igniting the engine. This fixed the problem. I drove to Echo Park, thumb and ego aching.

I played derby for the first time in seven months last night, landing on that bad thumb once again. I skated with my former teammate Crystal Deth in Wreck League -- the recreational leg of LADD. I was a little nervous going in -- seven months off-skates is an eon in Derby Time. But I surprised myself by seemingly picking up where I'd left off: still pretty fast, able to take a hit (many, actually), recover from a fall quickly. My agility and lateral movement didn't seem compromised.

It was bittersweet. I had a blast skating, and it was reassuring to discover that I could still hold my own after a considerable break, but I left practice with a welt on my thigh and an angry thumb. A couple of times during the night, I felt my left arm tingle following a fall. This is really the worst thing that seven years of derby has done to my body: a compressed nerve that runs from my neck down the length of my arm. I still wake up in the middle of the night, my arm completely numb, hand clenched. It's been better since I've stopped playing, but it's still with me.

Practice used to be my favorite part of derby. I was always a more consistent skater in practice than in games because nerves too often got the better of me. During my last season, I felt like I'd plateaued, and practice became a chore. When the only thing I looked forward to was skating in a bout, I knew I was done. So, it was nice to have that old feeling back last night -- of playing a game, for fun, with friends. I just wish it didn't come at such a cost to my body. I'm still thinking about going back next week though.

I have a strong, flexible back. I realize now what a critical role this must've played in my longevity as a derby skater, and in particular, my ability to always bounce right back after the worst of hits. Backbends are one of my strengths in yoga, and I surprised myself by dropping into full camel pose during a class on Saturday. I think now of my mother's back, her spine grossly curved and rounded from scoliosis that went untreated during childhood. Now in her twilight years, her internal organs have shifted.

In other news, during a hike in Chantry Flats on Sunday, I discovered an orchid in full bloom. We found it on our way back down the mountain. We'd missed it on our way up, or perhaps it wasn't there before. At the top of the mountain, we removed the cover to a water tank, which may or may not have been the gates of hell.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

beautiful noise

I attended Big Family Day at MOCA last weekend, and the highlight was my friend Liam's Styrophone Orchestra (Liam is an experimental musician, his instrument of choice being styrofoam). Every participant was handed a styrofoam cooler and a drumstick, which we used to "bow" the cooler.

Liam gives instructions to the musicians.

The cacophony begins.

Adriana gets bossy.

Shit gets punk.

What surprised me most about this event was the lack of boredom. I expected the kids to get sick of playing their Styrophones, but nearly everyone kept going until their instruments were obliterated. I don't know if it's more or less surprising that the same thing applied to the adults. We played our hearts out, chunks of styrofoam flying into the air all around us like a blizzard. As we experimented with the range of sounds we could draw from our Styrophones, the expression on most everyone's face was bliss.

At home later that night, after eating the most satisfying bowl of udon at a Little Tokyo cafe, I sat on my sofa with Adriana and Liam, watching Planet Earth: Ice Worlds, and happily picked styrofoam from my hair.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Haiku Friday

Nightfall: clip clip clip
In bed I hear Lei's toenails
Fall like snow on tile

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mexican Bike Ride

Last weekend, I participated in the bi-annual Rosarito-Ensenada 50-mile bike ride, now in its 32nd year. In the weeks beforehand, whenever I mentioned the ride to someone, the response was invariably the same.

"Is that safe?"

"I'll let you know."

It's an organized event and thousands of people participate each year. On the route's urban stretches, children lined the road with outstretched hands, waiting for the passing riders to toss candy. I felt bad that I was unprepared for this, so I plan to load up next year.

Here's the ride in photos, most of which were taken by Chris.

Chris sizing up the competition at the start line. I appreciated his ensemble because the yellow shorts were easy to spot in the distance when we got separated.

Lady Gladiators (Kathy included).

"If only he was towing a dog . . . and not drinking Tecate Light."

Jesus Shaves.

Message to Zico Coconut Water: SMD.

Fun with photostitch.

The ride is billed as the "number one party on wheels." It seemed like a lot of riders blew their wads early and walked some of the gnarly hills. The route was challenging (and an interesting choice for a party ride), but even after stopping for the occasional beer or margarita along the way, I never considered walking my bike.


And the video that says it all:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

exercises in restraint

I don't know how to throw, hit or catch a ball. I have no aim, no follow-through, no swagger. It's a glaring omission from my jock's repertoire, but I was a bookish kid, a late-blooming athlete. In school, I barely participated in P.E. Even tetherball filled me with existential dread.

My dad was an obsessive baseball fan, but he was a listener -- not a player. The dial on his car radio never strayed from 660 AM, New York's WFAN. It became the soundtrack to certain stretches of my childhood: every other weekend and then, for a few years after I'd moved to Phoenix with my mother, Long Island summers. But when my dad moved to Florida, that signal faded, and I didn't see him anymore. I read A Fan's Notes in my mid-20s, and it remains one of my favorite books. Exquisitely written, it's a brilliant portrait of the emptiness found at the heart of fandom.

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.

Game, set, match.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

beach reading

I am always resolving to be friendlier to strangers. In Tulum, I felt uncharacteristically open. I smiled and sung "Hola!" to nearly every person I passed on the street. Mysteriously, "hola" is more difficult for me to say in English.

On the beach, I read things, though not necessarily in this order:

1. "Freckled skin ages prematurely." -- Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad

2. "The people who knew David least well are most likely to speak of him in saintly terms. What makes this especially strange is the near-perfect absence, in his fiction, of ordinary love. Close loving relationships, which for most of us are a foundational source of meaning, have no standing in the Wallace fictional universe. What we get, instead, are characters keeping their heartless compulsions secret from those who love them."--Jonathan Franzen, "Farther Away"


3. "The first Europeans to see Tulum were probably Juan de Grijalva and his men as they sailed reconnaissance along the Eastern coast of Yucatán in 1518. The Spaniards later returned to conquer the Peninsula unwittingly bringing Old World diseases which decimated the native population. And so Tulum, like so many cities before it, was abandoned to the elements." --guidebook.


4. "And when did we just, like, throw in the towel? I'm surrounded by adults wearing jammiez and eating Chips Ahoy." --personal correspondence


5. "The curious thing about David's fiction, though, is how recognized and comforted, how loved his most devoted readers feel when reading it. To the extent that each of us is stranded on his or her own existential island -- and I think it's approximately correct to say that his most susceptible readers are ones familiar with the socially and spiritually isolating effects of addiction or compulsion or depression -- we gratefully seized on each new dispatch from that farthest-away island which was David." --Jonathan Franzen, "Farther Away"


6. "Monotony collapses time. Novelty unfolds it." --Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein


7. "come home soon!" --personal correspondence

On our last day in Tulum, I was chatting with one of the hotel employees.

"What do you do for a living?" he asked in flawless English. He'd lived in Santa Barbara for 18 years.

"I'm a librarian," I said.

"You don't look like a librarian."

No one has ever said that to me before.

Friday, April 8, 2011

when librarians take ill

Tuesday at the reference desk, a patron sat before me and muttered something unintelligible.

"Excuse me?"

[mumble mumble]

"Excuse me? I need you to enunciate more clearly."

"YOU HAVE A BOOGER IN YOUR NOSE."

"Is it a big one?"

"Nah, but I can see it."

"Well, thank you. I appreciate that. Now, why don't you tell me what you need so I can go take care of my booger?"

"A book of speeches for my public speaking class."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

race wrap

The final stretch of the race was a two-mile descent. At the bottom of the hill, I looked out onto a beach and watched the gray waves roll in, the kids building sandcastles as their parents sat on blankets. It was an idyllic ending to a race that had taken me 2,200 feet into the rolling headlands, past just-blooming poppies, through marshes, under canopies of eucalyptus trees, past World War II gun bunkers, and awarded a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline in the distance.

Then I realized I would have to run my last half-mile across the sand.

A tide pool separated the beach from the finish line. I removed my shoes, waded through, and crawled up a small dirt hill onto the asphalt. I ran the last 100 feet sans shoes, crossing the finish line barefoot, covered in mud.

I finished the race in 2:22, four minutes under the average finish time and placed within the top half of runners. Not bad considering how completely unprepared I felt going into it. My friend Kathy finished in 2:06. When we had speculated on our finish times the day prior, we were both shooting for three hours.

Back in Kathy's apartment post-race. We didn't make any of our three dinner reservations that night.

Given the difficulty of the course, I think this was the most physically challenging thing I've ever done. It's a an entirely different mindset from derby where I had thirteen teammates depending on me to deliver points, and in turn, I could depend on them to help me through the pack (and let's not delve into the countless instances where we let each other down. It's all part of the game). At the Doll Factory, there were 2,000 people cheering me on -- something I've always had a complicated relationship with. When I finished the race, I had Kathy to high-five and encouraging text messages from my friends. But I also had a singular sense of accomplishment and euphoria that I've never experienced before. I knew immediately that I wanted to do more Envirosports half-marathons (an ordinary half-marathon would probably seem boring after this).

On Monday, I started my research. Big Sur half-marathon in September? Sign me up. Death Valley 30K in December? Yes please. Then I calculated that 30K = 18.6 miles, and thought, well, I still have seven months to train....

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fan Mail

"I'm enjoying your journal after roller derby" -- Jace, South Carolina.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

the runs

Last night, I walked into my apartment and laid eyes upon a familiar scene: Lei, Lee and Pablo gathered at the dining room table, playing a board game. This time it was Arkham Horror. Lee and Pablo have been at our apartment every night since last Friday. I noticed that underneath Lei's chair was a pair of white socks. Beneath the pair of white socks was a pair of black socks -- his socks from the previous day. Our trash can was overflowing with fast food packaging: Wendy's, Chipotle, more Wendy's...

They looked up from the board. "How was yoga?" Lei asked. I was was completely soaked, my hair dripping wet. It was a Bikram night.

"Disgusting," I said.

I made a beeline for the kitchen to make myself a smoothie.

I'm running my first half-marathon on Saturday and I don't feel prepared. I ran 10 miles last Saturday, a personal distance record. I should've run 10 miles a month ago, but time constraints and bad weather have hindered my training. Not to mention, those 10 miles were on a relatively flat paved surface. The course I've chosen for my first race, the Golden Gate Headlands, features a 2,200 foot gain in elevation. It's trail running. At this point, all I can do is hope for the best, and look forward to dinner. I made three separate reservations so I would have options depending on timing and mood.

Background: On New Year's Day, I walked into Vulvy's house still a little drunk from the night before. Weezy started talking half-marathons and New Year's resolutions, and deliriously, I commited. I didn't know what I was signing up for.

Of the group of people who resolved to run that day, guess who's the only person in the race?

From a woman who committed in January 2010 to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks (she ran the Golden Gate Headlands in April 2010): "Looking up at the hills, I started to wonder just how intense this marathon might get...Almost the first 2 miles were heading straight up. No headphones were allowed and with the intensity of the incline, all I could hear was heavy breathing and feet pounding."

And later: "I can honestly say it was one of the most beautiful places I've ever run, but with such steep hills I found myself walking more than running. There was very little flat ground....During the first loop I talked with a couple ladies who were running this as their first marathon. I was impressed! I couldn't imagine picking such an extreme course for my first!"

See the entire blog post with pics of the course here.
...

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, I glanced into Lei's bedroom and saw him standing on his bed. He was trying to step over a pile of board games on the floor. There was no place for him to walk.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

L.A. Bike Ride

Eight Sundays ago, give or take, I rode my bike to Silver Lake to meet Ji and Weezy. The three of us continued north where an ice cream truck waited in front of The Eagle Rock Brewery. The pink and silver truck, which looked like a cartoon brought to life, offered a variety of sustainable, organic, architecturally-themed ice cream sandwiches (e.g. the Frank Behry). I ordered butterscotch rosemary ice cream in a biodegradable cup. I took my ice cream inside the brewery and dropped it into a beer. This was the whole point of our bike ride.

Inside the brewery, we sipped our beer floats while outside, the sun disappeared. Two beers later, it seemed like a good idea to ride our bikes to Shannon's house in Burbank. We took the L.A. river path north, five miles or so. We rode alongside the river in near darkness, save for the white and red flashes of our LED bike lights. A fence separated our bicycle train from the cars barreling down the I-5 to our left. To the right, the river sludged along in its concrete bed, reminding me of the omnipresent canals that slice the Phoenecian landscape. The water was black, and from its oily surface, defiant trees sprouted. It seemed impossible, but there it was, an urban bayou. Tendrils of smoke rose from the factories to our east, swirling in the starless sky. It was beautiful and sinister and in that moment, I felt overcome with joy. I thought: I'm so grateful I don't have children.


In Burbank, we collected Shannon, and rode south to an art show in Studio City. It was a tattoo art show, but I didn't know what this meant. The tattoos were rendered on paper or canvas, framed, hanging inside a gallery. I wasn't sure if the work had been created exclusively to be hung. Or if these hanging pieces were renditions of tattoos that existed elsewhere in the world, on an arm or leg or neck. Or maybe the works represented the artists' dream tattoos, which they waited to inscribe onto a worthy body, should one ever present itself. I didn't feel like asking so I never found out.


I was eating a chocolate-covered strawberry when I heard, "You're my librarian." He was Latino, looked about 22 and wore thick glasses. He was a student at one of my colleges, but I didn't recognize him.


The thing people always ask librarians is for the names of our favorite books or authors. That's what he asked me. We kept trading the names of writers until we found one we both knew and liked: Raymond Carver. The whole time we spoke, I worried that I had chocolate on my teeth. Later, when I smiled at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, I was relieved to see that I did not.


Our bike gang relocated to the bar next door for more beer and food. Around us, the Grammys flickered on four televisions, and we watched Lady Gaga hatch from an egg, a yolk hat balanced atop her head. Drunk, I shared my L.A. River epiphany with the group -- about how happy I felt to be childless, unencumbered.


"It's funny," Weezy said. "Because I had the opposite thought." She revealed that she and her long-time boyfriend were contemplating children. She said: "I kept thinking, would I be able to do this if I had a kid? And I thought, sure. I'll put a seat on the back of the bike, bring the kid to the tavern." I wasn't sure if this was realistic, but I recalled the formative years I spent on an Oyster Bay barstool, drinking Shirley Temples alongside my father. It wasn't so bad.

After the bar, the gang broke up, out of steam, and accepted a ride back to L.A., cramming their bikes into a vehicle. I rode my bike back to Hollywood alone, over the Cahuenga Pass, a dangerous route I'd never attempted sober. The 101 pulsed to my left, the main artery into Hollywood. The lights of Universal City illuminated my path, and as I sailed past so many palm trees, I thought, My life is good. If I die here on this road, that's OK -- a fine ending. I am nobody's mother.

Friday, March 25, 2011

a few things my mailman knows about me

Gas Company, Department of Water & Power, Time Warner Cable
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
paystubs
Dicky Bahto
KCRW
KPCC
LACMA
MOCA
REDCAT
Orange County Performing Arts
San Francisco Opera
Hollywood Bowl
Hollywood YMCA
wedding invitations
The Believer

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

more signs of the apocolypse

I drove south on the 101 Saturday night, en route to a party where nothing would happen, and the supermoon showed itself to me -- a TV moon. Previously hidden behind a swirling cloud cover, it was either the closest or biggest or brightest moon in 10 or 20 or 1,000 years. I forget. Actually, something happened at the party: I ate five pearl onions pickled in balsamic vinegar. They were a revelation. At 1 a.m., as I walked from the party to my car, moon no longer visible, the clouds released their first tentative sprinkles.

The L.A. marathon charged through my neighborhood Sunday morning while I was in bed with a book, listening to the rain. Twenty-five runners were hospitalized for hypothermia. On my way to yoga that afternoon, I drove past the Other Meghan (my ex-boyfriend's ex-girlfriend), running in the downpour, a little hat perched atop her red head. At the intersection of Riverside and Laurel Canyon, I forged a small river, determined to practice my handstand.

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.

So many things are happening in the Middle East and I can't wrap my mind around any of it. Instead, I think about food and sex and fiction. Meanwhile, in Japan, this happened:



(via the Dog Blog)

This morning I listened to a Dorothy Parker story, "Just a Little One," on my way to work. The protagonist said, "I should stop wearing mascara. Life is too sad."

I disagree.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Friday night rituals

A phone call:

"Can I get one order of vegetarian pho for pick-up?"

"This Meghan?"

"Yes."

"5 minutes, Meghan."

"Thanks."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

missing the movie

Tuesday night, I tried to see Minnie and Moskowitz at Cinefamily with an ex-boyfriend, but we arrived to find a gaggle of crestfallen hipsters milling around beneath the marquee. The film was sold out. So we did the other thing we sometimes still do together: drink.

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."

"Good point."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Malibu Tony

In September, I took my mother to a beach in Malibu. The water was too cold for swimming, so we sat on our blankets and watched the waves crash. We were alone on the beach with the exception of a shirtless man and his dog. The dog ran to us and the man followed. My mother played with the dog, some kind of poodle, and the man spoke. It was his girlfriend's dog, he told us. He worked in real estate. The market was bad. He lived up the street. His name was Tony.

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

Podworka

Me: Are any of them hot?
Dicky: I don't know. They're old. They're like . . . adults.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

desert, ocean

I arrived at SeaTac with an hour to kill only to find that my fight was delayed an hour and a half. I was hungry and there was a soggy sandwich in my bag -- leftovers from our final Beach House breakfast that I'd stuffed between two slices of bread: tofu scramble, tempeh bacon and sauteed greens. I contemplated this sandwich as I stood in the central terminal, the neon sign of a seafood bar buzzing, its siren song calling to me.

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.


Photo by Adriana

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.

Photo by Chris

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.

Photo by Sean

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."