Monday, December 21, 2009

Pain in the Neck

It's Tuesday late morning and about this time, one week ago, I woke up from surgery. There were tubes going in my nose and out of places I'd rather not mention, enough needle marks to look like a heroin addict, not to mention the large bore needle that was still in residence in my right hand and, through the hazy fog of anesthesia, a lingering fear that I now looked like Sally, Jack Skellington's quirky bride in The Nightmare Before Christmas. That despite my doctor's prior reassurance that the incision would be small and well sutured from the inside, I would have a large, stitch-riddled slash across my neck as a result of my single-level cervical spine fusion. I actually still don't know what the incision looks like, as it's still covered with a large white bandage that spans the front of my neck. And honestly, at the moment, that's just peachy with me. But the surgery was almost the easy part of it all, mainly because I was asleep. And as I deal with the after-effects, the part I thought about, but didn't really think about, I keep reminding myself that I chose to do this. That a few months from now, the chronic pain that I've dealt with for years will hopefully have vacated the premises as a result. That I should be grateful the things I'm going through are temporary. And most of all, that I have to be a patient patient.

Oldie But a Goodie

At thirty-five, I'm still more than a few decades away from the golden years, but in the last week, I've experienced a new-found empathy for the senior citizen set. Put simply, a major surgery of any kind makes you feel old. I'm tired all the time, everything aches, I get winded at the drop of a hat. In the hospital, after surgery, they had me hobble down the hallway with a walker. My 92-year old grandmother doesn't even need one of those. Not too mention the fact that the painkillers make me feel as foggy-headed as an Alzheimer's patient and then there's the other side effect that they always fail to mention, requiring me to remember a daily dose of regularity medicine to keep my system working in a general approximation of someone my actual age. Thanks to the swelling in my throat and the inconsistency of my stomach, my food has to be gentle in nature and cut into small pieces for ease of swallowing and digestion. Overnight, I turned into a 95 year old. And I don't like it one bit. At least I'm not experiencing an overwhelming urge to sit around playing Pinnacle and talk about the good old days.

Stop Staring!

I've always been appreciative that my body spends most of it's time in optimum condition, all things being equal. What I mean is, I have all of my motor functions and all of my appendages and everything works like it's supposed to. I've had the good fortune of enough athletic ability and inclination to stay healthy and active for most of my life. Surgery changes that temporarily, making you handicapped. I can't take a shower or wash or style my hair without assistance, meaning I haven't been at my most glamorous these days. And at my doctor's insistence, I have to wear a neck brace when I'm in a car or in a public place where strangers could inadvertently jostle my newly joined discs before they have a chance to fuse. It's ugly, it's uncomfortable and it makes everyone look at me, though it does keep them out of my way, an unexpected bonus in the stores during this busy holiday shopping season. Nothing makes you feel quite so handicapped, or quite so sympathetic to those who live with the issue permanently as being, as my boyfriend called it, "the hot girl in the neck brace," which believe, me is the only compliment on my appearance Ive received all week, so I'm reveling in it. A couple of hours out of the house at Target and Fry's over the weekend, under the curious gaze of holiday shoppers, was enough to make me feel like Joan Cusak in Sixteen Candles or Mira Sorvino in Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion. A friend suggested to my boyfriend that he should pull out his neck brace, from oddly enough, the same surgery two years ago and wear it along with me. Now that would really garner some attention, and definitely give me a moment to laugh at the humor in the situation, though I think it would take the promise of a kiss for him from Carmen Electra to make that happen.

Like Fine Bone China

There have certainly been times in my life where I felt like I could shatter emotionally, but never, not even in any previous surgery, have I ever felt so physically fragile. At moments, I forget, but then a turn of the head or a lean back into the pillow taken a little too quickly reminds me that my new fusion like a delicately crafted teacup. That too much force in movement could render it as ineffectual at holding my neck in the right place long enough to heal and stop the pain, as a broken cup could hold my Early Grey in the right place long enough for me to drink it without having to lick it off my hand. It makes me oddly grateful at moments when I hit a bump in the road in the car or get bumped by an inattentive shopper to have that monstrosity of a neck brace. Like an ugly, uncomfortable security blanket. People treat me as if I'm breakable as well, looking nervously when I flinch and offering hugs gently and with trepidation, something not lost on one who loves and is missing a more exuberant expression of human contact, especially during a holiday season when family and friends are near. It's a sobering thing, to feel so breakable, and will be a true test of my patience to make my way slowly to a place where I'm no longer nervous to look over my shoulder.

It's an interesting thing to be squatting in a body that doesn't work the way I'm used to. And a reality check to stop and appreciate the fact that most of the time, I can run, swim, jump or pretty much do as I please. For many people, a handicap or a chronic illness is a permanent sideline, not just an unpleasant but short time out in an otherwise active game. And someday, I will be a senior citizen, and play Pinnacle (if I ever figure out what the hell it is) and talk about the good old days, but thankfully, I can still say that's a long, long ways off. So for now, I'll be grateful for a very legitimate excuse to take it easy over the holidays, try not to think about the fact that my neck bandage feels like it is trying to strangle me, and appreciate every little hug, however gentle, while I daydream about my feet again pounding against the pavement in what really is the very near future.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Food for Thought

I was wide awake at four am this morning, worried about, among other things, whether or not my turkey was defrosting properly. Sleep seemed elusive and my thoughts slowly wound their way through the food preparations I would need to orchestrate with the talents of a symphony conductor to ensure dinner is both fully cooked and on time, a feat in my small kitchen. As my futile attempts to shut down my brain for a few more hours of much needed rest continued to fail, I started to think about the Thanksgiving holiday itself, how it all started and what it represents to me. And somewhere in there, I finally fell asleep.

According to my very cursory internet research this morning and what I remember from elementary school, besides the fact that you can make a paper turkey by tracing your hand, the first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621, a product of the newly settled Pilgrims and the Native Americans working together over the year to evade sickness and ensure a bountiful harvest. The gist I get from all this, is that the real point of Thanksgiving is to celebrate and remember three important things: that sometimes you need a little help from an outside source - call it whatever you like - Mother Nature, Acts of God or just sheer dumb luck, that through our own hard work and perseverance we can accomplish and experience great things and that as much as we can do on our own, we can do so much more when we work together.

I've seen a small share of "miracles," for lack of a better word over the past year, worthy of receiving thanks. Some are big - like the unprecedented recovery of an extended family member we were all certain was staring down the face of death, and some are so small, I might have failed to notice them if I wasn't actively thinking about them, like the serendipity moment I had last week which gave me a chance to spend time with an old friend. Call these things what you will - kismet, fate, God, even magic, it's all good with me. It's not about what religion you believe in or if you believe in one at all. It's just about believing in the fact that sometimes, when you need it, this world will help you out in little and unexplained ways. Who needs to explain it anyway, that's the good kind of mystery, and I for one, am thankful for it, because it keeps me hopeful, that even when I am at a loss, things can still take a turn for the better.

Life is hard. I think we've all got that by now. So take a moment to give yourself a little thanks for all the things that you've accomplished on your own this year and for the things that you like about you. It's not narcissistic, especially not today, to give yourself a little pat on the back. I'm proud that I've started writing this blog, even though I know it needs some work and I should write more often. But it was a big step to put my own thoughts out in the public forum and I'm happy I finally found the courage to do it. And while I haven't completed triathlons this year like I have the past, I've worked hard to stay healthy and athletic, no small feat in a busy world full of tasty treats and easy distractions. I've worked hard on my creative endeavors, I've helped my friends when I can, and I've loved those close to me - all things that are both challenging and rewarding and worthy of being proud of and giving thanks for. Now go on, it's your turn. Thank yourself for your accomplishments this year, even the little ones. Sometimes those are the ones that matter most.

And after you're done with a little well-deserved self-gratitude, turn and hug the person next to you, or the next one you see if you're alone when you read this, and by all means, your loved ones and friends when you join them later for turkey and all the trimmings. Because despite all you do on your own, you couldn't have done it nearly as well without the help of the people around you. The friends and family and special people who love and support you and make it easier to get through the day. You live your life fuller and richer because you share it with them. The colleagues you work with, not all the ones you work with, but the ones you really mesh with, your teammates. You do your job better because you do it together. And you might want to send up a little thank you to even the folks you don't know, or don't know well, who surprise and help you in little ways, seen and unseen, throughout the year. They make a difference, for sure, and as is often the case, strangers can turn into friends.

In the end, we're not all that different from those first Thanksgivingers long long ago, save for a much better wardrobe and a less smelly mode of transportation. So as you stuff your face with turkey and mashed potatoes, which is reminding me that I need to stop writing and start cooking, remember what it's really all about. Enjoy the magic life brings, tell someone you love that they made your life better this year by being in it and then go look in a mirror and say it again. And THEN go eat some turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving to all MY friends, family, loved ones and those of you that I don't know but who have helped me get through the year.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


An unfortunate by-product of living in a sprawling metropolis like Los Angeles is that often the places you need to get to are not just down the way. Giving those of us who inhabit the city of angels ample time behind the wheels of our cars, amidst the commuter crush. And no, this isn't an essay about traffic. It's about the fact that as I drive around this fair city, I'm constantly reminded that some people have an inexplicable need to convey some sort of message that is of great importance to them via their automobile. That is, if you can actually decipher said message. I'm talking about the aptly named vanity plate.

Now, I'm the first to admit that as a burgeoning teenager, I deeply coveted the personalized licensed plate bolted to the front and back of my best friend's older sister's car, proudly proclaiming the phrase "88 GRAD." I now suspect that a lot of it had to do with the fact that she was a senior in high school and had her own car, but regardless, I was only thirteen at the time, so I think that buys me a free pass. And I'll certainly concede that it sometimes passes the time when I'm doing zero miles per hour on the 405 if I have a car in front of me with some illegible but clearly vitally important cipher I am expected to decode. Though it begs the question, if I can't understand what you are trying to say, what exactly was the point of the hours you spent coming up with your secret spy message? Not to mention the time and energy it takes to apply for one of those suckers.

And what about the ones that are easy to read, if usually poorly mispelled, bastardized versions of your favorite catch phrase? If you've tacked one of those on the back of your car for the sole purpose of making people laugh, then bravo. You win, and I'll happily tip my hat to you. But I'm guessing most of you take those little messages seriously. Too bad for you, I don't. Like the one I saw the other day as I was headed down the 101. "KEPUSHN." Okay, I got it. Keep pushing. If I go with the theory that the name "vanity plate" has any bearing, then this statement is about you. Are you an obstetrician? Do you really need to advertise if you are? Or is this your big motivational self mantra? And if so, why the hell is it on the outside of your car, where you usually aren't looking? And if we forget the whole vanity theory, maybe you're just offering me some friendly advice, in case I'm a little constipated. Seriously.

Then there was the black Mustang, again on the 101, I spend a lot of time on the 101, with a plate that read "O BEHAVE." Props for actually using some correct spelling, but what are you trying to say? Because you are clearly not Austin Powers. I know, because I drove up next to you and looked in the window to check. Finally, because things are always good in threes, I recently saw a plate that read "MMMMGRL." I don't even know how to say that without the image of someone in a dress and a jock strap and size eleven high heels snapping her fingers at me coming to mind. So my assumption is that you're a drag queen. Which does not bode well for your dating career if you're the straight-looking guy who was actually driving the car and you are, in fact, heterosexual. And for the love of pete, all of my gay friends have more class that that, so as far as I'm concerned, unless you are RuPaul, there's just no excuse.

Vanity plates are entertaining, and deciphering them is a hell of a lot more fun than playing the alphabet game when you're stuck in some serious traffic or on a long road trip. But if you have one, you need to understand that most of us, other vanity plate owners aside, are either laughing at you or just shaking our heads in confusion and wonderment at the phenomenon. So if you want to take the piss out of your fellow highway goers, by all means, pull out all the stops, give us a plate to laugh at and laugh along with us. But if it's true vanity your after, just buy yourself a mirror and stay home.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Praise for Pumpkin Season

This past Thursday I woke up feeling normal and then around mid-afternoon it hit me. It was October first. Which might be insignificant to most people but I happen to have an intense dislike for this particular month for one really big reason. The 28th of October will mark the nine year anniversary of the death of my younger and only sister. It should be old hat by this time, but every year, as the date approaches, it gets a little harder to breathe, the smiles don't come as easy and tears flow a little faster. October is also the harbinger of the holiday season, two months filled with occasions that are still joyous but will never again exist in my life without the salty-sour tang of bittersweet. And finally, in mid-January, a season that begins in October with a memorial of her exit from this world, ends with another memorial of the day she first arrived.

A very good friend has often said, in regards to the loss of her own sister, "A world does not exist where my sister did not die." It's a poignant statement, and a potent reminder to me that the life I am living is the only option I get. I'm certain that what I've gone through presents a strong argument for my right to wallow in sorrow and self-pity. To blame everything that is bad in my world on this one defining moment. To let it make me bitter and angry. But that's not really my style. Not to mention the fact that my sister would kick my ass if she caught me doing any of that. So to that end, it's high time I took a moment to remind myself of some of the things there are to like about October.

A Change in the Air
Yes, even in Los Angeles, we have at least a semblance of seasons. And because we have an Indian Summer, with temperatures still peaking in the triple digits late in September, it's usually not till October that we get our first glimpse of fall. Today was just such a day. When I opened the back door to let my dog out this morning, there was a crisp coolness I hadn't felt in quite a while. It lingered despite the sunny day and I found myself reaching for a long sleeved shirt and pulling out my favorite pair of bunny slippers for the first time since spring. When summer comes around, I'm usually ready for warm nights and a chance to pull out my sundresses. But once the soaring temperatures that take up residence in the San Fernando Valley have outstayed their welcome by hanging around in late September, I always find myself yearning for a chance to break out my overzealous collection of cashmere sweaters. I'm probably going on twenty-plus, and yes, I know I have a problem. Sure, we'll probably have a few more warms days ahead, later this week, in fact. But I doubt it'll break ninety, and soon enough, the cooler weather will win out, and my only challenge will be which color to wear.

Tasty Treats
Some of my favorite things to cook require a proximity to the holiday season and the aforementioned declining temperatures. Pies and soups and foods with the rich flavors of sage and cinnamon don't go well with a scorching hot day. October means the start of my favorite cooking time of year. A chance to break out my butternut squash soup recipe, a time to roast, well, anything, and a perfect month for a hot apple pie, fresh from the oven. Plus, October means that Thanksgiving is just around the corner and that my annual Christmas party, which is partially an excuse for me to cook for three days, will come quickly on it's heels. Cooking has always been therapeutic for me. The process both distracting and soothing, and the end result rewarding.

It has always been one of my favorite holidays. A chance to dress up and play make believe for a night is a thrill that to be perfectly honest, has not waned all that much since I was a little girl. And in the years following my sister's death, the holiday has provided a welcome distraction. Each year, the challenge of coming up with and creating a new costume has been a creative outlet for my pain. And the Halloween festivities have been a welcome celebration on the heels of a tumultuous day. A chance to let loose, let my hair down, or put it up, and for a few hours, be anyone else but me.

I'm not saying I don't have bad days, because I do. And I think I'm probably entitled to a good cry or a day in my p.j.'s every now and then. But I don't want to throw myself a pity party everyday for what has happened to me. I don't want to let it run or ruin my life. And sometimes, the joy is in finding the little things that make you smile along with the tears. Like a new cashmere sweater on a crisp fall day. Or a slice of warm apple pie, topped with a great big gob of melting ice cream. Or a day when it's okay for even an adult to wear a pair of wings. Reminders that even in this world, the one where my sister did die, there are some pretty okay things.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Taking Flight

So admittedly, it's been a while. Life somehow seemed to get in the way of a regular post to this blog. Which theoretically means I've been out living my life instead of writing about it, and is a good thing. So let's just go with that. It relates to my topic anyway. My current environment, which I'll get to in a moment, got me thinking about the idea of facing fears. Which may mean owning up to exactly what you are afraid of in the first place, i.e. difficult challenge number one. And then it comes down to determining whether or not that fear is actually holding you back in life. If so, it may well be time to face it, head on.

At the present moment, I'm in London, crashing at the home of generous friend, who happens to be off running around somewhere else in the world. Meaning I'm on my own. This isn't my first trip to London, so I'm starting to feel pretty comfy about the place, but there was a time when it was my first trip, and I didn't yet know the above generous friend. Didn't know anyone in the city, as a matter of fact. About four or five years ago, I took my first solo trip overseas. Flying over on the plane, I was terrified. I've had the great fortune to have a wonderful set of traveling companions in my parents. There have also been a few friends over the years with whom I've had great out of town adventures. It's easy to set off for parts unknown when you've got a partner in crime.

But I was writing a book and the story was set in London, so I needed to do some firsthand research about a city I'd only previously dropped in on for a day or two here or there in my family's travels. And I needed to do it alone. After the death of my sister, there was both a fear of being alone and a strong desire in me to fully understand the limits of my own independence. To know if I could really take care of myself when it came down to it. Which meant facing the fear of being able to travel on my own. So off I went and settled in to my tiny hotel room in a nice part of town. Armed with a map and an unlimited pass to the London Underground, I set out each day with a litany of places to visit, sights to see. And I had a brilliant time.

Sure it was scary at first, and I was careful about my outings at night, but I made friends and found my way around. I enjoyed it so much, I've been back several times and now the city is familiar and friendly. And of course, I still love to travel with others and have had some great trips this past year with my favorite partner in crime, screaming children on flights to Portland aside. And yes, even London is better when you have friends, family, loved ones to share it with. But it's also better knowing that I'm sharing the experience because I want to and not because I'm too afraid to go it alone.

There's a bit of a rush involved with facing that which scares the living daylights out of you. I'll warn you, it can be addicting. And might drive you to some interesting new hobbies. Case in point - I have a fear, not so much of heights, but really more of falling. I descend staircases with a death grip on the handrail, though I am neither old or infirm. I am simply terrified I will lose my footing and tumble to my demise. I cannot stand on a fire escape. I don't like high balconies with low railings. You get the point. After my trip to London, I might have been turning into a fear facing junkie, but I still had my limits. I was not, nor am I ever, planning to jump out of a perfectly good airplane to face that particular issue. And let me just say that I think that is completely okay. Facing your fears is not about how extreme you can be, it's about what you get out of the experience, and how that applies to the bigger picture.

So I took up aerial silks. Yes, the kind you see in Cirque du Soleil, though let me please note that I am not, nor will I ever be as graceful as those talented artists. You will also probably never catch me in a shiny unitard. I approached my first climb up the impossibly flimsy looking fabric with sweaty palms and a racing heart. I'm not kidding. My incredibly kind teacher took his time showing me the proper way to climb and was patient when my first attempt took me only halfway up the fabric, not from lack of strength but purely from a desire to not go so far away from the floor.

Over the eight or nine months I've been in the classes, I've climbed my way to the top a zillion times and learned to hang upside down by my ankles and twist the fabric around me so that I can drop through it and still safely end up hanging above the ground. I don't so much fly through the air as I do dangle, albeit as elegantly as I possibly can. I definitely do not have a future as a circus performer, but I've learned to trust that my own strength and skill will keep me from falling. I'll be honest and say that I'm pretty sure I haven't conquered that fear and I'm still not about to strap on a parachute and find out. But I have learned that I can work with it and that it doesn't have to impede me from doing the things I really want to do. Which is a pretty good metaphor for other parts of my life.

Which brings me to the point of writing this blog. I'm literally facing a fear as my fingers fly across the keys of my laptop, and I'll have a minor moment of panic when I push the publish button. Wondering if anyone will read what I wrote and if they'll like it or hate it. I'm a writer with a fear, not of writing, but of having it read. Oh, not my school essays, or business writing - I've always been confident about my ability to tackle a specific topic and wax poetic on it. I'm less confident about my fiction standing up to public scrutiny, and the personal musings of my possibly addled brain? Those are the ones that really make me nervous. But I'm a writer with lofty hopes of becoming an author one day. Which means I can't be afraid to let people read what I write. That's not true. I can be afraid. I just can't let it stop me.

And I think that's the point, really. It's okay to have fears. In fact, it's pretty darn normal. And some of them are good to keep in your back pocket - they keep you alert, they keep you honest and sometimes they keep you safe. But if it's a fear that's ultimately holding you up in life in some way, whether you're afraid to love, or to begin or walk away from a career, or to try new types of food, or whatever it is for you, be it monumental or seemingly insignificant, I say dive in. Face it, embrace it. You might not get over it, but you just might get through it and you'll probably learn something about yourself when you get to the other side. Maybe it'll even be something good enough to make you go back for seconds.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Baring Body and Seoul

Up until yesterday, a trip to the spa, to me, was about big fluffy robes, soft music, dim lights, artfully draped sheets and a nasty dent in my credit card on the way out. But after spending the better part of the late morning and early afternoon at The Olympic Day spa in Koreatown, I learned that I'm more than okay with another type of spa experience altogether. One that requires a little bravery, a dose of open-mindedness and a definite sense of adventure.

Following my visit, I tried to a little research into the history of the Korean bath house experience. Though my Googling revealed that there are Korean day spas in almost every major city in the US, an obvious testament to their popularity, there was little in the way of historical information. What I did discover was that bath houses were first built in Korea around 1925 to cater to Japanese colonists, though they quickly became part of the Korean culture. Families would go to the public bath houses, which were segregated by sex, and scrub the life out of each other around tubs of scalding hot water.

As running water became a more common amenity within the home, bath houses transitioned into luxury destinations, where you could pay someone to the the scrubbing and washing for you. Recreational and communal areas were also added as well as specialty baths and steam rooms for soaking and purifying. The elements of the Korean bath house seem to be fairly uniform from what I could tell, after my cursory research attempt. From the types of soaks and saunas available, and to the overzealous scrubbing techniques, right down to the black bra and panties worn by the little Asian women who are armed with two brillo-like pads, ready to buff you till you shine like a newborn baby. I did say a sense of adventure, remember?

To be fair, I did know what I was getting into. Before I made the suggestion to a few girlfriends that we hit the spa for the day in honor of the birthdays of two of them, I read the reviews on Yelp and checked out the spa's website in detail. I was a little nervous about the descriptions of the scrubbing techniques, but I was prepared for the nudity and even for the ladies in their undies. And I was certainly ready for the Goddess treatment package, which promised an hour and forty five minutes of bliss at a third of the price it would have at Burke Williams.

The lobby of the spa was small, but nicely decorated and filled with high quality products for sale. The women at the desk checked us in, processed our credit cards and handed us robes and towels. The locker room was simple but clean and we undressed, robed up and headed into the actual spa. The Olympic Spa is for women only and once you go through the doors into the wet area, towels and robes become unnecessary, if not impractical altogether. It is customary to shower first so we all rinsed off and hit the pools. This was not all that different from a trip to good old BW as nudity in the saunas and hot tub is also common practice there. The difference here, is that very few women felt the need to robe back up in between pools.

There was a hot tub, a cold water plunge and a tub filled with something called Mugwort tea. It's supposed to have healing and detoxifying properties but all I noticed was that it was really really hot and I couldn't see my feet through it's murky depths. There was also a wet jade stone sauna and a dry sauna. I tried everything but the dry sauna, which has never been my thing, and then wrapped back up in my robe for a nap on the traditional heated stone floor in the dressing area.

I was back in the wet area in time for one more quick dip in the Mugwort tea before a little lady in a black bra and panties called out the number on my wrist band and led me to the treatment area, which consisted of a row of tables covered in vinyl that was inexplicably printed in Burberry plaid. As I lay face down in all my naked glory, I honestly found that I did not care that there were another women doing the same near me, or that I could hear the sound of the water splashing in the pools and the low hum of chatter. As my treatment began, it was both a bizarre and beautiful experience.

My acuma, Noh (acuma means Aunt in Korean) started off by scrubbing the life out of me, not once, but three times over. I'm fairly certain I'll be free of dead skin for a good long time after her attentiveness to practically every, yes every, part of my body. It honestly wasn't that painful, though the stomach was a little sensitive. She thoughtfully avoided my nipples, and each round was finished with buckets of warm water splashed gently across my body, which I found to be a new and lovely sensation. Next she poured so much oil over me that I felt like a baby seal in the Exxon-Valdez spill, and proceeded to knead every last knot out of my body. Between the relaxation and the overzealous oil application, it was a wonder I didn't slide right off the table. Then there was a scalp treatment with more oils and something cool and tingly, a facial with massage and a mask and a thorough hair shampoo and condition, done right there while I was still lying down. She toweled off all the excess oil and finished with one last massage, leaving me covered in a light lotion and something herbal and menthol across my back and shoulders. Ah, bliss. I drifted back into the locker room to change and face the real world.

Okay, yes, it was odd to be that naked during my treatment. It was odd to have my acuma smack me lightly on the butt every time she wanted me to turn over. It was definitely strange to have spa treatments performed by a lady wearing only black Jockey underwear. It all took a little getting used to. But I had such a sense of ritual during the experience, like I was part of a tradition and a community. It also seems like, in Western culture, we've become overly aware of our bodies and nudity. That to be naked is always either ostentatious or sexual in some way. Presumably, as women, we see a naked body at least once a day, maybe less if you have something against showering. So what's really all that strange about a room full of them? For me, nothing.

Don't get me wrong, I still like a trip to a spa that involves big, fluffy robes and water with cucumbers and orange slices. But seriously, if you're watching your nickels, have some dead skin that needs tending to, or just want to try something new, head to the nearest Korean day spa and leave your inhibitions at the door. I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Storytelling Volume 1

This week I seem to have been hit in the head by a big, ugly writer's block. It happens, even to the most prolific of writers, or so I'm told. In my defense, I have churned out two short fiction pieces for writing contests in the last few weeks as well as a soon to be published blog on a site I've recently become a contributing writer for, The Wing Girl Method. In light of this week's lack of inspiration for my own blog, I thought I'd at least share a little of my fiction writing with you. I wrote this piece a few years ago - it's more character driven than plot heavy, my little homage to a very creative mind I know, and interestingly enough, about writer's block. I'm sure I'll be back in full form next week, but in the meantime, enjoy!

New York Boy

The bluish white glow from the small screen of the laptop computer dimly lit the face of the young man as he sat hunched over the keyboard. The hazy glow barely permeated the pitch black of the basement apartment he shared with an army of water bugs and at least one mouse, who seemed to be a part-time resident. Where the mouse went on vacation, the young man was never quite sure. Maybe a time share in the Florida Keys. Maybe he went there with the water bugs, who also took a winter hiatus from sharing the tiny kingdom that the young man called home.

But now it was summer, so his studio apartment was fully inhabited by all its tenants. And it was late, far past the witching hour and yet still time to go before the sun would begin its morning route across the sky. But the young man rarely slept, so it was fitting that he live in the city that never sleeps. A city of skyscrapers and taxicabs and Broadway shows.

His long fingers tapped the keys, the noise a comfortable reminder that the words were coming, flowing out of his mind and into the computer. A thin line of sweat trickled down his back, a reminder of the sticky humidity that was the mark of a New York summer. He paid no attention, dressed only in a pair of boxers and white socks to combat the heat, he had long learned to ignore the sweaty discomfort, knowing that his reward at the end of writing would be a long, refreshing shower before he settled into bed.

He was the picture of a young artist if there ever was one. Lean and angular, good looking in that way that catches you off guard as if you weren’t expecting it, but suddenly finding that you can’t ignore it. And yet, in that moment, still quirky, with hair standing on end, impervious to gravity without the aid of styling products, and eyes slightly bloodshot from the late hour and the long evening at his thankless job.

A job that had simply come after thousands of other jobs and before the next job. It didn’t really matter what he did, it was simply a way to get to that place, the place where he knew he would be one day. He saw it in his head and knew it in his heart, and so he stayed up late and forced the words to come, sometimes screaming at the roadblocks, determined to tell his tale.

The tapping slowed and became intermittent. And then it stopped. It was going to be one of those nights, the young man could feel it. The wellspring was drying up, the words ceasing to exist in his brain. It was as if the canvas was suddenly erased and he had to start all over again, only he had forgotten how to paint. A frustrated sound somewhere between a sigh and a swear word, escaped his lips. He got up to pace and found himself hindered again by a maze of cups. Big, bright, 99 cent stores specials, all bought with the express purpose of trapping and suffocating the dreaded water bugs, who simply did not pay enough rent to share the apartment.

The frustration welled up in him as he danced around the cups in an effort to release the tension. An onlooker might have been frightened to witness this mad sort of jig performed by a crazy-haired artist in his underwear who was still swearing, only much louder now. His blond curls bouncing, the frantic young man finally reached for the phone to call the other coast, where surely someone who cared would still be awake.

“Just tell me how it ends!”

“How about like this?”

“That won’t work, I tried it already.”

And that was how it would go. This was the pattern, the cycle of creation and frustration that held the young man trapped in a small but mighty battle to rip the stories from his mind and put them to paper. So that someday, he could switch on the television, or enter a quickly darkening movie theater and see his own face staring back at him, bringing life to the words he had penned. Evoking them in such a way, that the viewer was instantly caught up in the struggle. The struggle of the character, and perhaps a hint of the struggle of the young man.

And they would see at that moment, what he feels certain might just be a stroke of brilliance. A young man who perhaps has struggled, torn between his frustration and his tenacity, portraying a young man in the midst of his own struggle, wracked by despair, living out a story written by the young man who knows he will yet struggle, faced with uncertainty but armed with determination.

For he knows, even down in the dark basement, where the glow of the computer screen is his only light, and his roommates are rodents and water bugs, that someday he will come through. That he will be back on that sunny coast, where the heat still permeates the summer months, but it is dry. And there is air conditioning. He will be the one in the chair, talking about struggle and fear and the joy of seeing your dreams come to fruition. He will succeed. He must. He is an artist. There is no other way.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Extreme-ly Worth the Price of Admission

The eclectic crowd. The light show. The wannabe opening band. The earplugs I was eternally grateful for by the end of the evening. Friday night at the Wiltern in Hollywood. Ratt in concert. Yes, you read that right. As you've probably guessed, I wasn't exactly the one who made the plans, though I wholeheartedly agreed to them, if for no other reason than to have the experience. But you know what? Despite the nearly five hours of standing and the disturbing sight of an aging rocker in tight, laced-up pants, and thanks to the performance by Extreme and my boyfriend's body shield between me and the unwashed, un-haircut masses, I honestly had a great time.

We made our way there amidst the Friday night traffic, and after a brake-addled journey and a trip around the block, we left the car in a nearby garage and headed in. A new spot for me, The Wiltern is an old movie theater that has been converted into a live music venue. Standing room only on the floor and seats in the balcony. Only the best for us, though. We were in the pit, and despite traffic delays, we got there early enough to grab some drinks and still garner spots in the front row, up against the railing, just a couple of arm's lengths away from the action on stage.

The margarita was strong. The warm-up band was not. While the guitar player was decent, though I'm still not sure about his decision to relax his natural afro and grow it long in the interest of having something to thrash about, in keeping with the hair band genre, the lead singer of Swirl was to me, the consummate poser. Again with the long hair, which he repeatedly flung in an overzealous arc, not to mention the black, black and more black and the sub-par voice sending out vocals I was fairly certain weren't worth the effort it would take for me to decipher them. And really, Swirl? Like a chocolate and vanilla frozen yogurt? That name doesn't make me feel like a badass, it just makes me hungry.

As the crew changed over the stage, the crowd began to fill in. The bands people had really come to see were up next. In the intervening weeks between the purchase of our tickets and the concert date, my boyfriend had played the music for Extreme and Ratt, several times, so as to familiarize me with two bands that to be brutally honest, I really knew fuck-all about, save for their biggest radio hits. He even made me a CD to aid in my rock education, and after several passes, I had already determined that I preferred Extreme to Ratt. A second cocktail and a run to the ladies, and I was back in my front row spot and ready for Extreme to hit the stage so I could rock it out.

They didn't disappoint. This probably only mattered to the women in the crowd, but they're actually a reasonably attractive band, on the whole, especially for the metal set. And the lead singer is borderline sexy, in a skinny, bleached-blond spiky hair kind of way. He's like the Sting of hair bands, with sinewy arms and tight black clothes and deep yoga-like postures peppering the physical aspect of his performance. Then there was the guitar player, Bettencourt. Look I know as much about guitar as I know about the bands I was watching (i.e. practically nothing) and even I knew that was serious business. Their big hit ballad, "More Than Words," was predictably a crowd pleaser, but even when I didn't know the songs, their musicality and stage presence made them a band worth watching. And rocking out to. I'd go see them again, in a heartbeat.

I was a little sad when they left the stage. After about a half an hour in the presence of the headlining band, I really wanted them to come back and play another set. To be a little fair, just a little, by the time Ratt took the stage, I had already been standing in one place for about three hours, save for a couple runs to the bar and the bathroom. Plus the buzz of the cocktails had worn off and my boyfriend was now having to use his body to shield me from the crush of metalheads trying to get closer to the action. When they hit the stage, the sight of the lead singer's old man belly over his too-tight, over-studded pants and not nearly far enough under his too-short t-shirt that read "I love Nymphos" almost had me heading to the back of the theater for a slightly less advantageous viewpoint. Look, I give these guys props for still rockin' after twenty-five years, I just wish they would do it in a little more clothing. On a side note, I originally thought his shirt read "I love Memphis." Until he took off his vest.

And it didn't get better. The music was loud and just a little too heavy in the metal for my taste. The sound was crummy and you could only understand the lyrics when you took out your earplugs. Bad idea all around. Towards the end, we were both tired. Tired of standing, tired of avoiding the flying hair of die-hard head-banging fans, tired of getting knocked about by the mini-mosh pit next to us. But we stuck it out to hear the bands finale, and their biggest hit, "Round and Round," before we made our way out of the pit, now littered with empty cups and discarded wristbands. The night air was refreshing, the sound of quiet in the car welcoming and the waffles and french fries at Mel's replenishing. And the joy of taking off our shoes and getting into bed? Priceless.

The thing is, despite the ache in my lower back and my obvious lack of affection for metal bands named after rodents, it was truly a great night. Because thanks to my boyfriend's penchant for 80's metal, I discovered some great music. Because thanks to said 80's metal genre, I got my first chance to break in my new cowboy boots (and yes, if you read my blog from last week, I did only keep one pair) and wear my fabulously awesome cut-up and restitched rocker girl concert t-shirt (it said Ratt because we couldn't find an Extreme one, but it was still awesome)*. And because at the end of the day, it really was about the experience of it all - the proximity of being in the front row, the music, both good and bad, the crazies in the crowd and the feel of the strong pair of arms that kept me safe from their flailing bodies, all the way to the last reverberating note. See if you can get all that at the movies.

*If you want to make an awesome t-shirt like mine (and you know you do) go here and watch the video. The chick in the video is a little annoying, but it's pretty easy, even after a couple of glasses of wine (I'm just saying) and it really comes out looking great! Two tiny little tips though - don't cut it as short or as narrow as she does (which means you can lace it tight and your sides won't show through) - still super cute, just less trashy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Goin' Country

This afternoon I ordered four pairs of cowboy boots on Yes, four. However, I am only allowed to fall in love with one pair. Something I will probably have to remind myself of more than a few times. The rest are going back. I repeat, the rest are going back. Only the cutest, best fitting pair gets to stay. I promise. Oh, and contrary to what you might believe after reading that, I'm not about to blog about shoes. Again. After I ordered the boots, I got to thinking about the fact that I grew up in Texas. And even though I've spent almost half my life with a permanent address in Southern California, there's just something about the Southwest, or the Old West, or the Wild West. Whatever you want to call it, since Texas really falls into a category all its own. Something that sticks with you, no matter where you are or how long you've been away.

Sure, it was the boots that got me on the topic today, but it was the reason spurring the purchase of said footwear that has really been the biggest reminder of my long but still firmly knotted ties to my native state. Country dancing is a combination of mostly line dancing and two-stepping, with a few other specific partner dances thrown in. I hadn't done much of it in a long time, and certainly not in a fifty-mile radius of Los Angeles. Until I had the good fortune to come across a guy, who among his many other talents and noteworthy attributes that make me feel quite lucky to be in his company, loves to go country dancing and happens to be damn good at it.

After our latest visit to In Cahoots in Fullerton, I came to the conclusion that a replacement for my last pair of cowboy boots, discarded sometime before the new millennium, was long overdue. I'll admit that I'm a little too much of a girly girl to wear my chucks to the dance club, and anything with a heel over two inches is an impairment in a style where there are lots of stomps, kicks and shuffles. So now I'm eagerly awaiting their arrival and am ready to test them out. Seriously folks, how can you not love the two-step? It's a dance you can do forwards and backwards, facing your partner or side-by-side. You can do it fast or slow, twirl till you're dizzy and attempt moves like the butt spin or a back flip. Though a note of caution on the last one - don't try it when you're legs are tired, you might not find your footing when you come down. Which will result in you failing to extract the upper half of your body from around your partner's arm, leaving you looking like a demented pretzel. I'm just saying.

Somehow in the process of reuniting myself with my old friends, the Two-Step and the Tush Push, I've also discovered a new appreciation and enjoyment of country tunes. It might have also been helped by my boyfriend's variety of musical tastes and DJ-sized knowledge of music. I don't love all country music and I don't love it all the time, but there are some catchy beats and country's definitely got some of the funniest, most entertaining lyrics in the business. I dare you not to tap your boot and hum along.

And can I just wax poetic for a moment about a love that's held fast and true, despite many years in the land of sushi and vegetarianism. Let's talk about steak and Tex-Mex. I am a card-carrying red meat eater. Yes, the rarer the better and if it's still mooing a little when it comes to my plate, that's okay with me. Thanks to places like Maestro's in Beverly Hills, you can get a good cut in California. What you can't find is real Tex-Mex. Oddly, no Mexican restaurant in LA seems to know what queso is. You ask for it here, and you get a plate of melted cheese. Yes, I know. Weird. There's good Mexican food here, which is why I don't run screaming from the place. But for the great stuff, it's a three hour jaunt on American Airlines and a car ride to Cantina Laredo.

Thanks to mail order shoe companies, die hards who are determined to keep country dancing alive, if not in Los Angeles proper, then at least pretty close to it, iTunes and a steakhouse in Beverly Hills, I've found that even though I've been in So Cal a long, long time, I've still got a handle on where I came from and can enjoy some of Texas' finest gifts. Because there's nothing quite like hot bowl of chile con queso with a an icy cold margarita, a pair of boots that fit just right, a song that makes you giggle and tap your toes, or cute boy who knows how to "push his tush." The saying is true, as it turns out. You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can't take the Texas out of the girl.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

London Calling

I have a favorite city. It is not the one I live in, nor is it the one I grew up in. It's not even close by, which means I don't get to spend time there nearly often enough. I'm not sure if I will ever live there, or even if I would absolutely want to if I could. But when I'm there, usually for one week out of the year, two if I'm lucky, it's feels like I'm both on a fabulous vacation and right at home.

I know some people think I'm crazy for being crazy about London. It's busy, it's crowded, it costs a fortune to take a taxi anywhere, it costs a fortune to do just about anything and you need a compass to find your way through the seemingly plan-free street plan. All of those things may be true, but it's still my favorite city and I personally think the absurd pattern of streets just adds to the charm. But if you're still in doubt, let me elaborate on some of what makes London my favorite home away from home.

Ever So Helpful
If you've been to England, then you know that they drive on the opposite side of the road. Meaning the traffic is coming from the opposite direction that we as Americans are used to looking. Thankfully, most intersections have "look left" and "look right" helpfully painted on the ground at the start of the crosswalk so you can be certain you won't be surprised by the oncoming traffic. And then there's the Underground, which is in my opinion both the easiest subway to understand and navigate and the cleanest. At some stations, there is a recording reminding you ever so kindly to "please mind the gap" between the train and the platform. And if the general politeness and helpfulness of the city planning wasn't enough, just ask someone for directions. I've never had someone ignore me or refuse to help me, unless of course they were travelers too and didn't speak the language or know where they were any more than me. I was once lost near Borough Market, trying to find my way to the Millennium Bridge and a very nice cell phone sales guy with a head full of flaming orange hair gave me directions not once, but twice, laughing a little when I showed up for a second loop but more than willing to point out the path again.

Hyde and Seek
Without a doubt my favorite city park in the entire world, Hyde Park has a little bit of everything. It is a way to get from West Kensington to Oxford Street when you want a little break from the bustle of the city. It is a place to sit by a pond or stroll through the trees. And my favorite, it is a place to rent a lounge chair for a pound or two, grab an ice cream cone from the vendor if it's a rare warm day, and sit and pound the keys of my laptop while the world wanders by. I've seen family picnics on the grass, orations and rallies at Speaker's Corner, young lovers enjoying a sunny day, kids playing games, even a wedding party. When I'm there on my own, it's a place I yearn to share with those I love.

If you can read English, a walk through London shops is entertainment in its own right. Yes, technically we speak the same language. But even though we use the same words, they often mean different things. A Big and Tall store in London is called High and Mighty. A shrimp and rocket sandwich won't shoot you to the moon, but it will have a healthy dose of arugula along with the shellfish. Trousers are pants and pants are in fact, underwear. A macintosh may well be a computer, but it's also a raincoat. A trip through the market or to a restaurant is sometimes a puzzle-solving exercise. I happen to love puzzles. Bubble and Squeak anyone?

These Boots Were Made for Walking
Okay yes, it costs a small fortune to take a taxi anywhere in London. But the beauty of London is that most of the time, you don't need to take a taxi. I've already said that the Underground is easy to navigate and pretty darn clean, but a lot of times, you don't need that either, if you've got a perfectly good pair of feet and some decent walking shoes. I've easily spent a day in the city without taking any wheel-based transportation at all. It's not a big place and if you've got a little stamina and a healthy does of curiosity, walking is the way to go. You get to see the things you would miss otherwise. Plus you get to burn off the fish and chips you ate at lunch and not feel guilty about the sticky toffee pudding you're planning to have at dinner. Speaking of toffee...

Oh, My Sweet
There's a lot of negative press surrounding English food. I happen to love it, particularly when it comes to dessert. The English call all desserts puddings, something that took me a trip or two to figure out. Incidentally, they call all Indian food, Curry, which was a problem for me since I happen to love Indian food, but detest yellow curry. But back to my sweet tooth. There are a couple of traditional English desserts that to me are without equal in the States. Sticky toffee pudding is one. It's kind of a cake with a toffee syrup on top of it. Incomprehensibly, there are actually dates in the recipe, though you can't taste them at all. It's all brown sugary, buttery, gooey goodness and I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. A close runner-up is Banoffee pie. Now, how we never managed to figure out that if you put bananas and toffee together in a pie it would be nothing short of divine, is beyond me. To all you naysayers about English food, have some fish and chips followed by a slice of banoffee pie, and I think you'll find you stand corrected.

Not to quote from a Julie Andrews movie, but these are just a few of my favorite things. I really could go on about what I love about the place - the historical sights, the quirky pubs, mushy peas, how the yogurt is weirdly better over there, crumpets, Borough Market, Spitalfields, my crazy friend Barbara, the bathtub at my friend Andrew's house and yes, even the rain. It's far from a perfect place, and it's not the only city I want to see, but for an adventure, a break or special trip to share, its the perfect city for me.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fashion Model for a Day

Everyone should have at least one chance to rock their inner runway fashion model, and last night I got mine. Interestingly enough, runway modeling was never even a part of my daydreams, the ones that included me as a famous actress, rock star, international spy or CEO of Paramount Pictures. It might have something to do with the fact that at a moderate 5'5" tall, and without the height to weight ratio of a string bean, I've never been what you would call "fashion model material." Something I'm honestly pretty okay with. Mind you, I can't sing worth a damn (see "Karaoke for Beginners") but I still have secret visions of tearing it up on a concert stage with the crowd screaming and singing along to my latest hit. But don't we all fantasize about that one?

I'll preface the rest of this story by telling you that I am a member of a 1940s/50's style pin-up performance group called the Diamond Bettys. We were invited by the designer for a company called Bettie Page Clothing to model her fashions as part of the grand opening celebration of her new store on Hollywood Blvd. And on Saturday afternoon, as the final touches were being put on the shelf displays and pictures were being hung on the once bare walls, we began a run-through of the twenty minute fashion show, and I took my first steps down the long, elevated runway.

I was excited to get started. Walking? In a straight line? No problem. But as I teetered down the path in my new black high heels, a gift from one of the vendors to wear during the show, I felt a bit like a newborn animal trying to find my legs. This was altogether different from walking on the ground. An elevation of about four or four and a half feet doesn't seem like much, but my innate fear of falling kicked in and it suddenly seemed very, very high. I'm afraid my first pass had little in the way of flounce or flair in it, but I made it down and back without realizing my fear and toppling over the side. The next two passes down and back got easier and once I got into the swing of things, and managed to convince myself that the likelihood of falling was, in all actuality, pretty slim, I was ready for a dress rehearsal.

I learned a thing or two more once we ran it again, this time with full dress changes. Timing is crucial, and all credit goes to Alika, who stood at the side of the curtain, saying "go faster, we're running out of music" or "slow down and take your time, we have too much music." It's really a well-orchestrated event. Not to mention the cooperation needed backstage to get everyone in and out of dresses in record time.

Then it was time for the big day. Yesterday, I had the misfortune to awake with a bit of a head cold so I downed some Sudafed and as much water as I could and set off for hair and makeup. Hey, you know what they say, the show must go on. I've been through the hair and makeup routine before, for other Diamond Betty events, photo shoots, etc. So this part was nothing new, though there's still nothing better to me than someone else curling my hair. Not to mention having someone else put on my fake eyelashes, something I am notoriously terrible at doing myself.

At the store the crowd built quickly - a motley crew if there ever was one. The rockabilly crowd was strongly represented - men in pompadours and rolled-up jeans, girls in Bettie Page bangs and colorful tattoos. Then there was the press and publicity group - the ones with the still cameras, video cameras and microphones. And then the regular folk, including the friends and boyfriends of the Bettys. Knowing how these things can go in a town where flakiness is the norm, I was glad to see a good-sized crowd in attendance.

First up on the performance schedule for the evening was Kalani Coconuts, a burlesque dancer, who shook her tassels and her tailfeathers for the eager audience. I was pretty sure we wouldn't be able to top an exotic beauty clad head to toe in Trashy Lingerie, right down to her pasties, but we were about to give it a go.

I have to say, I got lucky. I know not every girl was happy with her dress choices. I really loved mine. First up was a black and white striped circle dress with a belted waist and a petticoat. Probably not something that I would wear normally, but I loved it, nonetheless. 'll admit it - I was nervous when the curtains parted for the first time and I stepped out on the runway and saw the cheering crowd. As I made my way down to the end for the obligatory poses to the center and sides of the the stage, I felt like I was star. The flashes were going and the people were cheering. At it lasted about five seconds. I know, because I was told later that while I rocked my walk and my poses, I did it all just a little too fast. Nerves, I guess.

I found my stride with outfits two and three, first a girly red dress with hearts on it, the one that I eventually got to bring home with me as a thank you from the designer for modeling in the show, and then a sexy black pencil-skirted dress with a corseted waist and a cherry-printed top. I felt like a vixen in that one. But I couldn't breathe. Not much of a corset girl.

Everyone killed it during the show and the designer was incredibly pleased. I know I had a blast. Who knew walking down a runway could be such fun, especially for a self-proclaimed intellectual. But the flashbulbs, the crowd and the cheers out front, and the laughter, cooperation and camaraderie backstage made it something special. Something I would do again in a heartbeat. Especially if I could do it with those girls. And as long as they don't make the runways any higher.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Blown Away

I'm a week and a day late for a new blog. Something I chalk up to two weekends out of town. And up until a few minutes ago, I was at a loss as to what to write about. Then my boyfriend flipped to a History Channel show about, among other dangerous things, the most dangerous weather events - tornadoes. It immediately took me back to that moment in the Spring of 1985, when I was just 11 years old, huddled under the mattresses, hiding from the storm that had already found us.

Since I had spent my entire childhood in Texas, by the ripe old age of eleven, the school tornado drill was second nature. We all knew it cold - the alarm would sound and all the students would file into the underground rec center on the school campus. We would all line up around the walls to be protected from potential falling debris and curl up on the floor in the fetal position with our hands crossed over the backs of our necks. After ten or so boring minutes our teachers, satisfied with the completed drill, would let us up and send us back to our classrooms.

I remember many a night too when the news would report tornado watches or warnings and dad would open the door to the crawl space under the house and set a flashlight beside it. We would all keep a close eye on the weather updates just in case the foreboding rain and wind started to form into one of the dreaded swirls and we needed to head under the house to take cover. Something that never actually happened. It was enough to make a kid convinced that all the precautions and weather warnings were just hype and that nothing that disastrous was ever actually going to happen.

It was a spring evening. I vaguely remember that we went to the movies, but I could be totally wrong about that. I do know that by ten, my then seven year old sister and I had gone to bed in the room that we shared, just down the long, window-lined hall from my parents bedroom at the end of the house. By the time my mother flew into our room and hauled the two of us off our beds, flinging us onto the floor and pulling the mattresses cross-ways to cover us, the bulk of the damage had already been done. But it was that moment when I was ripped out of my sleep and thrown into terror, that I knew I was finally in the midst of a storm I had previously thought I had little reason to fear.

As it turns out, it wasn't actually a tornado, but a serious of shear winds that carved out their damage in a straight path instead of a swirl. Damage that can be just as intense as that bestowed by their better known cousin. The storm that night left the city of Dallas fraught with destruction and left our house quite literally cut into two.

The story up to the point of my mother's abrupt entry into our room was told to me, and to this day, I am still in disbelief that the noise failed to wake up me or my younger sister. My parents were getting the house ready for bed when the mild winds that had been present earlier in the evening started to build to a blustering frenzy and the raindrops started to fall. It was when my father attempted to close the bedroom window and was unable to push it down against the strength of the wind that they began to realize something was terribly wrong. As a deafening roar started up, my mother turned to run down the hall, shouting to my father that it must be a tornado and she needed to get to the kids.

That's when the glass from the long wall of windows began to fly and my father recalls pushing my mother to send her down the now treacherous hallway faster before he turned and ran to the other side of the bedroom, seeking access to the bathroom and the safety of the shower stall. He told us later how he was unable to open the door because something was keeping it shut, and at the time he thought it must be the force of the wind. By then my mom had torn us from our beds and pulled us to the floor, shouting that we were in a tornado. I remember trying to carefully pull the fishbowl from the nightstand between our beds, terrified that I would slosh the fish out onto the floor in my haste. I remember hearing my sister scream to get the dog and my mom frantically pulling our boxer by the collar to get him under our mattress tent. I have no recollection of the noise, but I remember the deathly quiet and the way our voices echoed when we screamed for my dad.

It seemed like forever before we heard his response and relief flooded through me. He yelled that it was okay for us to come out and we carefully extracted ourselves, pushing the mattresses aside and cautiously looking out into the hall. I could hear my father talking to us, but I could not see him. The American Elm that had once stood outside in front of the hallway now lay across the hallway, through my parents closet and bathroom and out into the backyard, reaching almost to the creek at the back of our house. It was so tall on its side that I couldn't see over it. And it was raining. In our house. As I looked up, I could see a wide swath of night sky where our ceiling had been just minutes before.

As neighbors came to help us tarp the roof against the declining storm, we put ourselves back together and assessed the damages. My mother had glass down her back and bruises on her shoulders from where she had been hit by the falling tree branches as she had raced down the hall. My father had been unable to get into the bathroom because the tree had already fallen down by the time he got there, blocking the door. We had lost several trees all over our property and in a stroke of luck, trees had fallen on either side of the cage which held my pet bunny rabbit, leaving him wet and scared, but otherwise unscathed.

In the end, it turned out that the focal point of the entire storm in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex was just outside our house. There was damage all over our neighborhood, and all over the city. We were incredibly lucky that night. And now that I live in LA, much like I was in my early childhood, I am unfazed by the threat of earthquakes. But a hefty windstorm will always give me the chills.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Life Lesson #42B

Lest anyone think I was extraordinarily lazy about keeping up with my blog on a weekly basis, there was a entry here but I have chosen to take it down. I promise, in the weeks to come, there will be so many more that you will never even miss it.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lost in Translation

Language is a funny thing. I'm a little afraid of the alarming rate at which countries seem to be adopting English as a primary or at least significant secondary language. I fear the expectation that so many Americans have that anywhere you go, you should be able to speak English to anybody. What is that doing to the culture of foreign countries? And are we really that arrogant? Part of the beauty of traveling to someplace new is to experience the culture of the place, including the language they speak.

That being said, if you've ever had the opportunity to travel in a non-English speaking country, you know the unique challenge that this can present. Such was the case for me late last summer during my trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. Picture three hungry Americans trying to figure out which jumble of Cyrillic letters actually meant restaurant as we wandered down the street. When we did find a restaurant and the waitress kindly provided us with a menu in English, the translations were so awkward that I still had difficulty deciphering the choices. In those moments, while I appreciated the existence of a culture that still sticks to their antique alphabet and English is not anywhere near the top three list for the country, I felt a little alienated. The kid outside the clubhouse door, staring forlornly at the "do not enter, unless you know the secret code" sign.

Not having the first clue about the Cyrillic alphabet, I wasn't going to be cracking that code anytime soon. But honestly, the more I think about it, the more I'm okay with that. I'm starting to think that language isn't always about keeping people out of the club, though sometimes it is. It's also about connecting the people that are in. With regards to countries and nationalities, it becomes an identifier. Something to help distinguish a group of people and set them apart from those around them. To illustrate their uniqueness and to give them a common ground.

On a smaller scale, with our own English-speaking population, we create languages for different types of groups. A case in point is Scientology. I'm not espousing anything for or against the religion or movement or however you want to refer to it here. But an absolute fact is that they do have a language all their own. I have a few Scientologist friends and one of them once told me that she was getting "hatted." I had to ask for an explanation to find out that did not mean that she was going shopping for a new hat. But rather that she was being trained for her job. Or when she said she was "out affinity" with her boyfriend, which meant that they were having problems. The point is, having a unique way of saying things is certainly not about being exclusionary, especially in this case, where they clearly aim to increase their membership. It's about creating a connection in communication between the members of the organization that is not shared by the outside world.

I haven't spent much time around teenagers lately, but I can assume they still have language constructs all their own. Remember the days of Arp and Pig Latin? Bizarre derivatives of English designed to be difficult for parents to understand. A way to keep communications between us and our friends unintelligible to enemy ears.

The bottom line to me is that language is about bonding with other people, on both a large and small scale. It's about creating a unique connection between yourself and one or five or five thousand people. It bubbles down into even our smallest and closest relationships. I challenge anyone to tell me you don't have a special way of talking with the people you are closest to, a way that defines that relationship as being unique to the two of you in a way that no one else shares. I sometimes talk to my father in rhymes, something I don't do with anyone else, much to the frustration of my mother. Or we speak in gobbledegook, which somehow makes sense to us, even though no one else has any idea what we are saying.

And when my boyfriend asks me to burgle him, he doesn't actually mean for me to break into his house when he's not at home and steal his valuables. It's a word that has become a part of our own language. And the beauty of finding someone to create a language with is that you're automatically in the club, because you're the one who made up the secret code.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dancing in the Streets

I love to travel. Being a history buff and a lover of culture, new cities and countries provide me with opportunities to explore relics of the past, great moments in time and the differences between a traditional meal or a night out in London and one in Tel Aviv. Though I relish the chance to go to these far away destinations, the same can be said of travels closer to home. The experience of a night on the town in an unfamiliar city is a window into that city's soul. And someplace that's only a few hours plane ride away from home can feel like a new and different universe when the sun goes down.

Last weekend, an old friend's wedding gave me the opportunity to head down to Austin, a place that's a mere three hour drive from the city I grew up and, and just a three hour plane ride from the city I live in now. But a trip down 6th Street on a Friday night was something altogether new to me in the world of nightlife. An experience to marvel at, to laugh at and to relish, down to every last bite.

After a pleasant, if somewhat predictable rehearsal dinner, that involved the most unusual dinner choices - vegan or duck, and the best cobbler I've had in a while, my boyfriend and I made our way back to the hotel. The historic Driskill Hotel, located conveniently at the corner of Brazos and 6th Street. My parents, also in town with us for the nuptials, headed off to bed and we changed out of our rehearsal dinner attire into something a little more Friday night friendly and headed back out.

For anyone who hasn't been to Austin, 6th Street is what you would call the main drag for bars and nightclubs. Just steps outside of our hotel they started. And as we walked down the block, we began to realize that just about every storefront was a bar, or club or music venue. There were a few restaurants thrown in for good measure, and maybe a tattoo shop here or there. And it just kept going. We were so overwhelmed by the options that we made a complete two-block circle without stepping inside a single door. But not for lack of trying on the part of the guys or girls on the doorstep of each venue, doling out promises of no cover and two dollar drink specials to us as we passed by. A far cry from the lines, guest lists and hefty cover charges that are the earmarks of a trip to just about any hotspot on Sunset or Hollywood Blvd. in the City of Angels.

With a veritable buffet of options, all with the same low cost, low commitment allure, how to choose? The live blues music coming, somewhat disconcertingly, from an Irish pub, was the draw for location one. The bar was about half-full, and we found some real estate at a small table near the front, where we nursed a couple ciders and let the sound wash over us, relishing the fact that we could just "drop in" somewhere and hear some pretty great music, complete with some incredibly impressive harmonica riffs, the likes of which I doubt any Hollywood venue has seen in some time.

When our feet started itching for a venue where we could take them out for a spin, we dropped a tip in the band's bucket and headed out. By that time, the streets were closed and there were as many, if not more people, milling around outside than there were in the clubs. An amalgam of college students, tourists, middle-aged locals and a few crazies thrown in for good measure, including the man in a sheer red tutu and a thong. A few doors down from the pub we were drawn in to a nearly empty club by the promise of a good dance beat and the now familiar lure of some good drinks at recession-friendly prices.

We started to realize that this was a late night town, much to our delight, since to us, an empty dance floor in the presence of good music is something akin to oh, say, heaven. It was our playground, and the perfect place to make complete fools of ourselves with something that I would call "dance dramatic interpretation." What the hell right? We were from out of town. As the people finally started to tumble in and fill up the floor, we took ourselves marginally more seriously. The need to entertain ourselves with our own ridiculous dancing was usurped by the entertainment that was now swirling around us. The trio who were out for a girl's night on the town, and well, on each other. They were quite enthusiastically humping each other and shunning all men who tried to break up their estrogen party. I had the misfortune to witness one of them pulling a Britney Spears, as she executed something that I guess was a dance move in far too short a skirt. I suppose she meant it to be seductive, but it really just looked like she was copping a squat. And then there was the group of four or five girls who were probably all of about 21 years and one day old. Their still-teenage bodies poured into tight shorts and heels as they danced on the speakers and gyrated their butts in the air as if their post-collegiate goals included lucite shoes and a pole.

When we were satiated from dancing, drinking and laughing, at ourselves and the colorful crowd, we stumbled, sweaty and a bit drunk, from the club into the balmy outside air. The streets were full. Laughter, music, talking and yelling filled the early summer night. The vegan rehearsal dinner (we both hate duck) had long since deserted our systems, so we followed the smell of garlic and cheese to a late night pizza shop and devoured a seriously tasty slice of doughy, melty goodness. As we left the shop and turned up the street, we realized that for the better part of the evening, we had been less than a block from our hotel.

6th Street was Austin for us in that moment, a mini-city, where you could have it all, for less than the valet parking at one Hollywood nightclub. Not that I don't enjoy a trip to the La La Land nightlife every now and again. Not to mention the novelty of a karaoke club in Tel Aviv, or the thrill of a secret underground bar in London. The real beauty was not in the cheap prices and the proximity to our hotel room, but in the uniqueness of the experience and how I will always remember my trip to Austin, partly because of one great night on one little street.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Mother's Day Protest

Today is Mother's Day. And yes, arguably, it's a holiday that was invented by a greeting card company in an effort to create yet another event that requires a trip to your local Hallmark store. Though, according to Wikipedia, the holiday was originally thought up by a woman named Anna Jarvis, who had noble intentions to simply honor mothers and motherhood, and was notably arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace in an attempt to protest the gross commercialization of said holiday. She later said that the greeting card was for individuals who were too lazy to write an actual letter and that she wished she had never come up with the darn holiday in the first place.

I did not send my mother a card today. Instead, in an effort to honor the true origin of Mother's Day and the wishes of Ms. Jarvis, I offer this.

Dear Mom,

When I was little, I don't remember exactly how old, there was a day when we lost power. It was in the afternoon, a stormy day. You spread a blanket on the living room floor of our house on Brookcove. Out of the kitchen cupboard you produced a couple of cans of sterno, some marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers. You fashioned sticks out of coat hangers and sat with Wendy and me around a makeshift campfire, make s'mores and pretending we were camping in the forest. It was an afternoon I still remember to this day. You were my storyteller.

At around seven or so, you gave me my first cookbook, the one you recently dug out of hiding so it now rests proudly in my collection. We stood together in the kitchen and you helped me make my first recipe, grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You showed me how to dip the sandwich in the egg mixture and watched carefully as I stood over the hot stove and grilled it to perfection. And then we sat together at the end of the island in the kitchen and enjoyed every gooey, melty bite of our creation. You were my teacher.

Later, in school, I got sick. You patiently took me to the doctors to find out what was wrong and then you helped me to understand that my own fears were making me sick. And you were there, every time I needed to call and check-in, helping me make it through each day, until it got better. You were my lifeline.

In high school, you were at every swim meet, feeding me pre-race pasta and cheering me on. You were at every play, clapping louder than the rest. You were there to pick up the pieces when I didn't win the race or get the part. You were my biggest fan.

College brought new challenges - living away from home, managing my own time, making new friends. You were always just a phone call or a plane ride away. And during my hardest round of finals, at the end of freshman year, you were there, quizzing me in the hotel room on music history and talking me down from an overdose of caffeine. You were my rock.

And in the face of the deepest loss imaginable, you listened to me when I no longer had someone else to tell things to. You let me confide in you and talk to you about my life and you treated me as an equal instead of a child. You became my friend.

You are my mom. But that is such a little word for the many things you are to me. And I cannot thank you enough for being the one that brought me into this life and being there for each and every minute of it. I don't think many can claim to have a mom who has never once turned away from her child, not even for a moment. I am one of the lucky few. You are my inspiration and I hope someday to be the kind of mom to my children that you have been to me. Thank you for loving me, raising me, teaching me, fighting with me, making up with me, growing with me and rooting for me. I am blessed to be here because of someone like you.

Love, PC

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sole Searching

It's really all Cinderella's fault. I mean it's really no surprise that most of us have such an obsession with shoes. Barbie might have something to do with it too - I think my first plastic glitter high heels had her name scribbled across the soles. But it was that sparkling glass slipper that turned Cinderella from a scullery maid into a beautiful lady-in-waiting, and even more importantly, that same mystical shoe helped Prince Charming track down his mystery women and turn her into a princess. That's a hell of a job for one little shoe. I'm not sure any pair in my closet at any point in my life has lived up to such lofty aspirations. That's not to say they that most of them haven't done their fair share to make my life a better place, at least in some small measure.

There is a story that my mother tells from when I was a little girl. I don't actually remember the shopping trip in question, I was only around four at the time. We were on a mission to find new dress shoes, my mother and my grandmother both thinking a nice pair of black leather mary janes would be the practical choice. I, apparently, had other designs. Even at a young age, I already knew the thrill of a shoe that was just a little bit special. To that end, nothing, and I mean nothing that I tried on at the store fit. Except for the shiny, RED patent leather mary janes I had my tender young heart set on. Every other pair was too tight, or too big, or they pinched, or squeezed, or something. Most mysteriously, the EXACT same shoe, in the EXACT same size, in sensible, goes with everything black leather, just did not seem to fit my feet quite right. Needless to say I was a conniving little four year, and I got those red shoes. And wore them with everything, fashion statements be damned. It was the beginning of a shoe romance.

Now I am not an over-zealous, walking fashion statement kind of girl. I feel pretty strongly that if you are going for a run, you should actually wear running shoes, that it is perfectly acceptable to wear flip-flops for most summer activities and some fall and winter ones (this is Los Angeles) and that high heels are not at all necessary for a trip to the mall or a casual lunch with friends. That being said, I still wholeheartedly believe that the right shoe can make all the difference to an outfit and the wrong one can do an entire ensemble in. I should note that I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to footwear fashion. I believe in the infinite power of a good strappy high-heeled sandal or a classic peep-toe pump. And for casual days, you can't beat the perfect black flip-flop, or a good old pair of Chucks. I honestly don't get some of the trends. Like the gladiator sandal, which doesn't work on anyone who doesn't have legs up to their armpits, and even then, I really think you still kind of need a toga. Or the "shootie," I think it's called. Something that's a cross between a high-heeled pump and an ankle boot. And sometimes they even have a cut-out toe or a lower part that looks like a sandal and an upper part that looks like a boot. Footwear with multiple personality disorder. I don't get it.

The real beauty about shoes is the way they can make you feel. Shoes are quite possibly one of the best methods of retail therapy available. A trip to DSW is cheaper than a visit to your shrink, well, depending on how many pairs you buy. And the only sole you have to bare is the one that will be sliding into that perfect Charles David wedge, with just the right angle of the heel to make your calf look fantastic and your troubles melt away. Not to mention how the right pair of heels makes you walk. Sexier. Better. Don't believe me? You're not wearing the right shoes. Go shopping. Now.

And if you think guys don't pay any attention to those bits of leather and fabric and whatever-else strapped to your feet, then you (a) need to find a man who doesn't think commenting on your footwear makes him sound gay, or (b) need to tell your man that commenting on your footwear does not make him sound gay, or (c) find a gay man who will happily comment on your footwear because he doesn't care if he sounds gay or not. Though option C guy will actually be the least likely one to tell you if he's turned on by the sight of you in those shoes. He can only tell you if you are breaking a fashion law in seventeen states. And the point of guys noticing your shoes is not whether they go with your dress, something you should hopefully be able to figure out, it's that your selection of footwear tells them something about you, and, quite frankly, can turn them off or on. My boyfriend likes to go to the country bars, where the dancing is the centerpiece of the evening's action. He says he can tell from one look at a girl's footwear whether she is there to dance and have a good time, or there to sit on the sidelines and hope a guy will be awed by her strappy sandals and polished toes and buy her a beer. The moral of the story being that if you want to catch a dance with the hot guy commandeering the dance floor at the country bar, leave the strappy sandals at home. A pair of boots will get the job done just fine. That doesn't mean those high heels should be relegated to the back of the closet, just choose the right shoes for the occasion. And listen to your man. If he's brave enough to tell you that he likes your shoes, make sure to wear that pair when you can. There's nothing better than knowing that those oh-so-high heels with the black straps across the front and the brass buckles will put a smile on his face when he walks through the door.

Over the years I've learned a few things about shoes.
1. If they hurt like hell when you try them on in the store, they're always gonna hurt like hell. And nobody worth their salt likes a date who can't do anything but sit there and look pretty.
2. Close-toes shoes are made for days when you forgot to get a pedicure.
3. Nothing is better than a pair of shoes that look great AND you can dance in them.
4. Men think the red soles on a pair of Christian Louboutins are incredibly sexy. I don't normally advocate spending $600 on a pair of shoes on a regular basis, but it might be worth it to save up for that one special pair.
5. Tennis shoes do not go with skirts. Unless you are playing tennis. Enough said.
6. Gladiator sandals should only be worn by gladiators.
7. Black is always a solid choice and goes with everything, but every girl needs a little red patent leather in her collection too, just to shake things up. Even if you are only four.
8. You can't have too many pairs of shoes. Unless you run out of room for them. In which case you should consider moving to someplace with more closet space.
9. Sometimes, you should leave them on.
10. As great as the pair you are wearing may be, there's is nothing as freeing as kicking them off and just baring your soles.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Soft Spot for Mario

I've never been much of a video game enthusiast. That was always my sister's department. The sole exception being Mario Kart, which we used to play together in the living room of the house we shared when she moved to LA. We'd sit on the floor and race Peach and Toad around the colorful cartoon course. It was all so bright and childlike. Except for the part where I was swearing like a truck driver, loudly, and mashing the controller to the point of leaving bruises on my fingers. Hey, racing a cartoon toad is serious business.

In the intervening years between now and then, I haven't really played many, or possibly any video games. Maybe a round or two at an arcade here and there, but I was certainly not remotely up to date on the serious advancements between the Nintendo 64 version of Mario Kart that I used to yell at in 1999 and the newest incarnation a decade later. But recently all that changed. See, my boyfriend is a self-professed game enthusiast. Which is great, because I love games - scrabble, crosswords, cards, boardgames, you name it. One of my favorite gifts this past Christmas was the deluxe hardwood, 3-D version of my all-time favorite, Clue. Yes, that's how geeky I really am. But his world is bigger than just the classics that I know and love. His home entertainment system sports the latest in Nintendo AND XBox technology, all splashed in full-color graphics on a sixty-two inch television, which makes everything eerily close to life-size. A little overwhelming to someone who only ever managed to grasp the basic driving techniques on the N64. And he is on a quest to find games that I like.

It's been an interesting and entertaining experiment so far. My first discovery was that yes, they still have Mario Kart. But now, you stick the remote in a wheel and actually drive it. Which, in theory, should make the game even easier. But along with that nifty upgrade, they've increased the sensitivity of the controls so that the tiniest twitch of the wheel, and Peach is flying off the course into the ocean, and crying at the end of the race because I made her lose. I'm getting the hang of it. Slowly. With a lot of yelling and swearing.

And then there's the XBox, a whole new experience for me, with POV games and multi-player, multi-dimensional worlds. Call of Duty made me so dizzy with vertigo I had to close my eyes. And then there was the one that was something akin to the video game version of 28 Days Later, where the undead would spit globs of zombie goo on you. Tomb Raider was also a bust, neither of us actually liked that one. And there was one I wouldn't even attempt to play, this one on the Nintendo again. It involved serious slaughter in a comic-book style black, white and red world. I can't say taking a chain-saw to my enemies is my idea of a good time. Call me crazy. Probably, just call me female.

Though all in all, I still think I honestly prefer a good old-fashioned board game, as three and a half hours of Talisman a couple of Fridays ago can attest to, the experiment has been far from a failure. I'm still sticking with Mario Kart. I'm not sure I really love it, but we've discovered that I weirdly good at martial arts style fighting games. I have no skill, I mash the buttons in a mad frenzy, but somehow still win most of the time. I'm a pretty decent drummer when it comes to Rock Band and I can hold my own in the Wii Sports department.

But the newest and probably most successful discovery was a silly little game called Mario Galaxy. Sure the bizarre 3-D graphics make me feel a bit dizzy, and I tend to play the game with my head twisted at odd angles as I try to follow my character around. But I'm getting the hang of the game, I like that there's a mission, silly as it is, and I love that there are no chainsaws, guns or zombie goo. Which doesn't mean there isn't still enough excitement to get me yelling at the TV. The best part though is that we can play it together. Because I think that was the whole point of the experiment, really.