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 Zappos.com. 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.