Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shaken, Not Stirred


That is what you might have thought if you saw the wall-to-wall coverage of L.A.'s big, huge, giant, scary earthquake on Tuesday. If you actually bothered to watch any of the coverage, however, you'd find it mostly consisted of shots of some bricks knocked loose from a building and a few canned goods that tumbled off a store shelf. Heck, John McCain somehow managed to wreak more havoc on a supermarket than a 5.4-magnitude temblor.

Not to say that being in a earthquake isn't somewhat unsettling. But after about 20 minutes of milling around aimlessly outside while trying to get a cell phone signal, everyone pretty much went about their day. Unlike the national media, I find that Californians are somewhat unflappable when it comes to natural disasters. There seems to be an acceptance that the occasional ravaging wildfire, mudslide, or tectonic plate movement is merely the price one pays for year-round sunshine and abundant natural beauty. (The truly weird part though is that it only takes about a quarter-inch of rain for all hell to break loose.)

This was actually the third and largest earthquake I've experienced since moving to California. The first time, it was around midnight and I was alone in my apartment in bed. My initial thought was that a giant truck had slammed into the side of the building. When I realized what was actually happening, the sensation was not what I would have expected. If you're close enough to the ground during a quake, you can actually feel the earth rolling underneath you like waves. And I think that feeling, even more so than the fear of crumbling concrete or shattering glass, is what makes earthquakes scary. For a few heart-stopping seconds you are completely aware of how anarchic nature can be--how with no warning it can literally pull the solid ground out from underneath your feet. It's a pretty convincing example of man's powerlessness against nature.

The second time, I was in the middle of a company-wide staff meeting at the newspaper I used to work at. I imagine that being in a room full of news reporters and editors in the seconds after an earthquake hits is somewhat similar to watching a pack of rampaging wildebeests take off after a gazelle. In one fluid motion, everyone in the room leaped to their feet and made a mad dash for their phones and notepads. (Sometimes I miss the single-mindedness of journalism.)

On Tuesday, when the windows and desk drawers started rattling, I realized pretty quickly what was going on and had the presence of mind to move away from the large window near my desk to a more protected part of the office. Some of the newer California transplants dove under their desks, which I probably should have done, but I just kind of hovered in a doorway exchanging nervous laughter with a co-worker until the ground became firm once again. Shortly thereafter it was back to work--but the rest of that afternoon had that kind of carnival-like feeling that ensues when SOMETHING HAPPENS to break up the monotony of a typical workday.

And maybe that's the trick of living in California, a place that seems to be constantly perched on the precipice of disaster. Eventually, you learn to be more at peace with its unpredictability and sometimes savage beauty. Maybe you even develop a perverse pleasure in challenging it, which is the only reason I can imagine why people would choose to build their multi-million dollar mansions on stilts along the sides of unsteady mountains.

Well, that and the views I suppose.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bats and Wolves and the Apocalypse (Oh My!)

There's been a bit of belt tightening around the old homestead these days, a condition that has opened my eyes to how much life in this city revolves around spending money. Turns out all there really is to do in L.A. is eat and shop and drink, which means there aren't a whole lot of options when you're trying to conserve money (and gas) by cutting back on these delightful pastimes.

One benefit to this is that I've been reading at a furious pace lately, catching up on a number of books that had been sitting idly on the shelf for far too long. I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy this weekend, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head. It's a beautifully written story, but good GRIEF is Cormac McCarthy bleak. I'm actually just basing this assessment on The Road and the movie version of No Country For Old Men, but judging by those two examples, I'd say that The Joker from Dark Knight has a rosier outlook on the human condition.

Speaking of which, I was SUPER excited about the new Batman movie, despite the fact that all the billboards planted around town of Heath Ledger looking maniacal kind of freak me out. It didn't disappoint. I really liked Batman Begins, and I love Christan Bale in the role. But the movie completely belongs to Health Ledger. Even after all the hype I was totally blown away by his performance. It definitely does add to the creepiness of the character to know that the actor died so soon after making the movie, but mainly it's just sad to reflect again on how incredibly talented he was. If for no other reason than his indelible performance in Ten Things I Hate About You back in the late 90s, I will always remember him fondly.

And just so you don't think my weekend was all gloom and doom, I also saw the excellent band Wolf Parade in concert. (I realize that movies and concerts, and $10 drinks at said concert, don't really fit into the new ethos of fiscal responsibility. I plan to do better next week). There are two kinds of concert-going people that I simply don't understand:

1. People who sit.
2. People who stand still.

It seems to me that the whole point of going to see live music is for the experience--to let the lights and the music and the collective rhythm of the crowd wash over you. Apparently, in this area I break rank with my fellow white people because I MOVE at concerts. I tap my foot, I bob my head, I flail my arms around wildly. Yes people...I Dance Like No One Is Watching. Because, really, is there any other way?

Monday, July 07, 2008

The San Francisco Treat

I. Am. In. Love.

I had thought, nay was sure, that I had found my one true soul mate in Boston. But, suddenly and unexpectedly, another has come in to my life and I can't deny my feelings any longer.

Yes, it is true. I went to San Francisco for the first time this past weekend and I am smitten.

I've always found that cities are a lot like people. They have pulses and beating hearts. They can be moody. Sometimes you fall in and out of love with them as quickly as the fog rolls in over the bay. Sometimes they exceed your expectations and sometimes they disappoint. Spend enough time with them and they will almost always surprise you.

San Francisco swept me off my feet. (Almost literally, since it is quite windy there).

It's always interesting to visit a new place and see just how closely it matches the idea in your head. Based on what I knew of it, I thought San Francisco would be picturesque and that its residents would be quirky and maybe just a little smug about living in what is probably the most naturally beautiful and socially progressive city in the country. This turned out to be pretty accurate:

We spent our far too short time in the city being proper tourists. We watched fireworks over the water, ate chocolate in Ghirardelli Square, walked across Golden Gate Bridge, rode a cable car and browsed through the City Lights Bookstore (home to all the great beat poets such as Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and Mike Myers in "So I Married An Axe Murderer"). It was all completely delightful, but I think the most quintessentially San Francisco moment of all occurred when I overheard this snippet of conversation spoken by two uber-trendy girls walking down the street in matching lace dresses, black tights and faux fur coats.

Girl #1: "I so do NOT over-medicate.
Girl #2: "WHATever, Jude."

Here are a few more photos of our San Francisco adventure.

A couple of other noteworthy items:

MANY thanks to Kelli for sending us a list of things to do in San Francisco so comprehensive that we hardly needed to consult the Time Out guide we had purchased. If you're ever looking for a career change, I see a future for you in travel guide writing my friend!

Also, if you happen to drop by my Facebook profile where the rest of the photos are posted, you may notice that I'm wearing the same black sweater in almost every picture. This particular sweater was purchased in a London H&M in 2002, and has been with me everywhere I've gone since then. It was tragically lost during a trip to Las Vegas in 2005 and then miraculously recovered. It's lightweight yet surprisingly warm. It goes with everything and can be easily folded up and transported in a shoulder bag.

If you yourself do not own the perfect travel sweater, I seriously suggest that you invest in one. Particularly if you are ever planning a trip to San Francisco, where layering is key.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sweet Home Chicago

I've been doing a bit of traveling lately for work. Before I started taking them, business trips held a certain allure. It always seemed very glamorous and ADULT to travel and be paid for it. Unfortunately, like many things in life, the reality does not quite live up to the ideal. Mostly, you spent a lot of time being disgruntled in airports and getting a sore shoulder from lugging a 20 pound (or so it feels) laptop around with you all day long.

The first trip I took in May was to Iowa, of all places. I landed at the minuscule Grand Rapids airport and tracked down the shuttle service I had booked to transport me to my hotel. The service turned out to be a very nice elderly man who sat behind a counter at the airport and kept his reservations alphabetized on index cards. Midway through the 20-mile drive to the hotel he commented, "It's a shame you're coming in at night because you're missing the sights." I wasn't too disappointed since I can only imagine he was referring to the roadside Denny's and, let's face it, if you've seen one you've seen them all.

The second trip was to Chicago, which was actually pretty exciting because I grew up just outside of the city and was able to work in some time to spend with my family and friends. I also got to stay in a hotel right downtown for free.

One thing I have discovered is that no matter where you are, everyone you meet will tell you how much they love Chicago. It may be the most universally beloved city in the world. And with good reason. It's a bustling metropolis with great restaurants, culture, sports, a shoreline and an effective public transportation system. It's what New York would be like if New York were clean and its people were friendly and it had a moderate cost of living and didn't smell like garbage. (So actually, I guess it's nothing like New York.)

Every time I'm in Chicago, I'm struck by what a beautiful city it is. On a bright and sunny day the Loop actually seems to sparkle. And everyone who lives there is like seven feet tall (it is the city of big shoulders after all) and loves to jog. They all seem so happy and robust it's enough to make you ill. While I was there I visited my friend who lives in the chic River North neighborhood. It's a former industrial area, and there's still a chocolate factory nearby that makes the entire neighborhood smell like chocolate chip cookies. How could anyone resist such a place?

The funny thing is that I have resisted it for many years now. I left when I was 18 and profoundly bored and desperate to get out of the Midwest and see what life was like in a different part of the country. I've always felt that my true home is among the neurotic and dispossessed, and I've never really looked back. But now, whenever I visit, I feel just the smallest tug pulling me homeward.

That feeling was especially acute when I arrived back in Los Angeles, where it's smoggy and ugly and every one's constantly bitter because their development deal fell through or they got turned away from Hyde last Saturday night. Why, I wonder, don't I flee this horrible place for the magical land of happy giants where it always smells like freshly baked cookies?

But then, of course, there is this.

And if I didn't live in Los Angeles, I would not have ended up sitting two rows in front of Screech from Saved By The Bell on the flight back. (He was sitting in coach...I guess being an early 90s TV actor turned home sex-video star doesn't pay like it used to).

And if that is not a sound argument for living in La-La Land then, my friends, I do not know what is.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


After watching the season finale of Gossip Girl on my resurrected TiVo (it lives, yay!), and after long and serious consideration I have come to a conclusion: I don't quite get the hype about this show.

This is not the first time that I've failed to embrace the current "it" show. But I'm a little perplexed by my ambivalence to G.G. because, you see, I LOVE teen dramas. I actually consider myself a bit of a student of the teen drama genre, which is a high-falutin' way of saying that I have watched A LOT of shows that I'm now probably much too old for.

So why can't I fully get on board with Gossip Girl? I'm not sure if it's due to my advancing age, my evolving taste, or simply the fact that the show is not that good. I'm inclined to think it's probably a combination of all three.

To be fair, I haven't seen all of the first season. I dropped it off my Season Pass after the first few disappointing episodes, then decided to pick it back up after New York Magazine somewhat hyperbolically declared it the Best. Show. Ever. Sure I may finally be older than the actors playing high school students on TV, but that's hardly a reason to allow myself to fall off the cultural radar completely, right?

The frustrating thing is that the show can be addictively fun and it does have flashes of snarky brilliance, usually when it's satirizing the cutthroat machinations of the Upper East Side social scene. But I just don't think that any of the characters--with the possible exception of Blair--are all that interesting. Take the season finale in which (OMFG) no one actually slept with anyone except for the old people, Buffy's sister was sent packing with a minimal amount of drama and Nate "Manbangs" Archibald's dad, who no one cared about anyway, fled the country.

And also, why are we supposed to be excited about the Blair-Chuck pairing? Did I miss something? Didn't he try to date rape at least two of the characters at the beginning of the season? Why are we supposed to root for the romantic inclinations of a would-be sex offender?

I think that my main problem is that even though the show is based on a series of books, which granted I have not read, it still seems so blatantly derivative of The O.C. In fact, a lot of the characters are just watered down versions of their West Coast predecessors.

To wit:

-Often distraught, substance-abusing heroine? Check

-Hyper-verbal, lovelorn hero who finally gets the girl he's pined after? Check

-Kids from the wrong side of town thrust into world of wealth and privilege? Check (although, come on, a giant loft in Brooklyn is still a looong way from Chino.)

-Childhood friend and first love who turns up again for sole purpose of causing trouble for golden couple? Check

-Skinny blond mother character? Check

-Wisecracking but wise father character? Check

-Loser father character indicted for financial improprieties who conveniently disappears from show? Check

-Every episode being built around "THE party of the season," which will inevitably end with someone getting punched? Check

-Season finale revolving around a wedding and a break-up, culminating in poignant slow dance? Check

So does that make Georgina the Oliver of Gossip Girl? And if Josh Schwartz is basically going to re-package every character from his first show, then where oh where is Julie Cooper?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not Easy Being Green

Yesterday, as I'm sure you are all aware, was Earth Day.

It occurred to me that Earth Day has come a long way since my youth. I remember that in fourth grade a girl in my class who everyone thought was weird tried to recruit a few of us to spend Earth Day picking up trash in some field. We all just rolled our eyes and went back to playing Super Mario Bros. or whatever we were doing that day. But clearly she was just way ahead of her time, because now Earth Day is a major annual event during which people re-dedicate themselves to saving the planet, and passionately declare how they are going to accomplish this by doing things like air-drying their hands in public restrooms instead of using paper towels.

I think it's just the contrarian in me, but when a cause becomes super trendy I find myself in the strange position of being vaguely annoyed by something that I actually support. (Celebrity adoptions also spark this reaction). I believe in protecting the environment, and we could all use a little consciousness-raising if we're going to keep our lovely little world from turning into an uninhabitable wasteland. But sometimes I can't help but question the power of one. Particularly in Southern California, where people proudly cart their designer canvas shopping bags around Trader Joe's and then hop into their ginormous cars. (If only SUV's could run on smugness).

There's also the rather frustrating issue of not quite knowing what we're supposed to be doing. Just last week, Nalgene bottles were the go-to liquid receptacles. This week, they might kill you. And people in poor countries all over the world are rioting over the increased cost of food. Apparently all the money that's been poured in ethanol subsidies is driving up corn prices and leaving other grains in short supply. I thought biofuels were supposed to be a good thing. Didn't we all think that one magical day we'd be running our cars on french fry grease?

It's all a little disconcerting, but it still behooves us to do the best we can. My own efforts at being more green fall into three categories:

Good things I do consciously: Recycle, drive a car with good gas mileage, turn off lights and appliances, cut way down on bottled water consumption and plastic bag usage.

Good things I do unconsciously: Take short showers (just efficient in this area), cut my daily commute by about 80 percent (circumstantial), don't use AC (don't have it), only wash clothes in cold water (too lazy to do more than one load at a time. I love the idea that my slothfulness is helping the Earth).

Good things I'd like to do but can't: Install energy efficient appliances in my apartment (I rent), drive less (L.A. not really built for walking, although I suppose that I don't have to drive to the Coffee Bean that's a mile from house.)

And then, of course, there's the fourth and largest category: Things I should be doing that I'm not. If you have any advice on what I can do to become greener, I'm all ears! Particularly, what should I be carrying my water in that won't, you know, poison me?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Negative Affirmations

My pal Sarah, in her-ever gentle way, has nudged me to participate in the insecurities meme. And how better to wile away a quiet late Thursday afternoon at work than a public airing of my grievances against myself?

So here we go:

1.) My age. I know, I'm only 27, I'm still young, I have my whole life ahead of me, blahbity, blah, blah. I really thought that I would greet my late 20s with a certain measure of grace and dignity, but my last birthday hit me a lot harder than I expected. It just seems like time is racing by and there's still so much I want to do before I really become an adult. I realize that I am indeed still young, but "still young" is not quite the same as "young." And that's something that I'll never be again.

Oh, and if you aren't sufficiently depressed now, the members of the recently-reunited New Kids On The Block are all pushing forty(!) Chew on that for awhile.

2.) My nose. During the past few years I've more or less come to terms with my features, but my nose is still kind of a sticking point. Let's put it this way...I'm half Jewish. I think most of that half is contained in my nose.

3.) My lack of hobbies. There are plenty of things that I like to do--go to movies and concerts, read, hang out with friends, drink wine. But these things don't really count as hobbies per se, and when people ask me what I like to do for fun my answers seem very bland. I feel like I should take up tennis, or learn to play an instrument or join a club or something. But the truth is that I've never really been much of a "joiner," and when I have some down time all I usually want to do is settle in with a good TV show on DVD, or see what new fashion atrocity is being committed on Go Fug Yourself. It's a bit of a conundrum.

4.) Highway Driving. This is something I definitely have in common with Sarah. Freeways are just part of life in Southern California, so I'm used to it and I actually like driving when traffic is manageable. But I've had enough close calls on the road to realize just how precarious hurtling down a crowded freeway at 70+ miles per hour can be. Also, I don't like driving with other people in my car. It's not because I'm too lazy to drive or too cheap to pay for gas, I just don't like having other people's lives in my hands.

5.) Being a bride. Just to clarify, it's not the wedding or the marriage that troubles me. It's more about my ambivalence toward the whole bridal culture. The idea that your life--from the moment you get engaged to the moment you march down the aisle in some giant taffeta monstrosity--should revolve around planning every perfect detail of your perfect day is very disturbing. On the other hand, poring over pictures of white silk dresses and sparkling rings makes me kind of giddy, and I find myself having endless internal debates over ridiculous details. This simply does not seem like a respectable way for a proper post-modern feminist to spend her time.

6.) Being so disorganized. I am definitely a "type B" personality. I've never met a desk or closet I couldn't clutter, nor a piece of important paperwork that I couldn't lose. And I staunchly defend my right to live in barely-contained chaos. After all, people who are disorganized are more creative, cooler and laid back. (Right?) But sometimes I wish I had natural penchant for organization. Overall, it would probably save me some headaches come tax time, or when I'm trying remember which of the piles on my floor are the clean clothes and which are the dirty ones.

7.) That I'm boring. Sometimes I worry that my life is just this endless march toward the status quo. I'm taking a memoir writing course this semester, and there's a guy in my class who is writing about being raised in New Jersey by his family of Albanian thugs. He has two cousins who once killed a man over cheese. How cool is that? It's not that I necessarily condone dairy-related violence, I guess I'm feeling like I need a little dose of "Funship" in my life.

So there you go. I guess if anyone on my blog roll wants to participate in this, consider yourself tagged!