Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vitality, Energy, Spirit

I've recently had a new and unexpected experience in Los Angeles: that of a cancer patient.  Here's what I learned: people get cancer.  Even if they're pursuing their dreams.

Over the years, I've thought about cancer a lot, actually.  I've made adjustments in my diet and purchasing habits to prevent it.  I've exercised a lot and chosen foods high in anti-oxidants.  Yet, I think I always assumed the main reason I wouldn't get cancer is that I'm ambitious.  As if bad things only happen to the idle.  This was not a conscious thought, it's something I've realized retrospectively.  But when I was diagnosed, I threw my career-oriented ambition out the window.  All I could consider working toward were cancer-free cells.

I'm now post-operative, and will go through radiation some time this summer.  I have a scar on my neck from the thyroidectomy, and I have to keep it out of the sun.  I used to scoff at women who wear scarves in the summer.  No longer.   My family has a history of melanoma, and now that "cancer prevention" has a much deeper meaning for me, I intend to stay out of the sun entirely.  This is difficult, because I love the sun.  I've arranged my life to have a closer relationship to the sun; that is, I moved to LA so that I'd always be in it.  This year, my trips to the beach will look a little bit different than in the past.  I'm scoping out umbrellas and tents with good ventilation.  I'm shopping for cute cover-ups, and researching non-toxic sunscreens.  I'm devoting myself with a renewed vitality to good health.

I've also allowed ambition to enter my being again.  It was difficult, I'll admit.  The first two weeks of recovery caused me to re-evaluate my goals, to question whether they are worthwhile, achievable, and propitious.  It is now three and a half weeks since surgery, and I chalk my uncertainty up to morphine and codeine.  Now that I am recovered and my energy has grown, I'm once again working toward my goals with the expectation of success.

People get cancer.  And then they beat it.  Even in Hollywood.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The People of Hollywood, Part 1: Jimmy

In the heart of Hollywood, at the foot of Griffith Park and just east of the Walk of Fame lies a street lined with tall, supple date palms.  Their green and orange bursts of foliage frame a corridor of sky that leads straight to the iconic sign on the hill, self-assuredly declaring itself over my humble neighborhood.  I live in the part of Hollywood that is made up of mostly immigrant families, and has a little bit of grit, unlike the part of Hollywood that is well-manicured and inhabited by affluent families of the entertainment industry.  Most of the residences on my street are, rather than craftsman homes and bungalows, apartment complexes of various sizes.  Mine is a four-plex.  The building across the street probably holds nearly a hundred units.  Complexes down the street look like single-family homes, but are deceiving, with add-ons and additional units in the back.  I’d guess my street is home to a population of over two hundred.  My husband Joseph guesses three hundred.

On the day we moved in, a skinny man in his mid-fifties introduced himself.  His name was Jimmy and he was wearing a Vietnam Veteran’s baseball cap.  I felt endeared to him immediately, as my father is also named Jim and is a Vietnam Vet as well.  Jimmy seemed sweet, if a little skiddish, but then he asked us for money.  When we declined to give, he walked away angrily, and we became wary of our neighborhood.

Later in the afternoon, when we’d unpacked the U-Haul and were hefting furniture around our new apartment, I saw Jimmy standing under our side window.  The window is a little out of the way, at the back of our driveway, in what could only be considered our private property.  I called Joseph over and he looked out the window to the top of Jimmy’s head, banged on the glass, and then walked sternly out the front door.  Jimmy had retreated down the street.  Joseph inspected the corner of our driveway near the window, and took off after Jimmy.  Turns out, Jimmy had finished off a forty, urinated, and left the bottle behind.  Joseph told him he didn’t want to see him on our property again, and gave him the empty bottle back.  Jimmy said, “Yes, sir.”

A few weeks later, we learned from a neighbor that Jimmy was an alcoholic who lived in the assisted living unit several doors down from us.  (We didn’t know it was a low-income assisted living unit when we moved to the area - I'm not sure this information would have been a deterrent to our decision, but it certainly was interesting, when we found out.)  Jimmy continued asking us for money every time we saw him.  Sometimes he'd be sitting on the curb in front of his apartment, and he'd ask as we walked by.  Sometimes we’d pass him as he walked, like he did everyday, to the Pink Elephant liquor store on Western Avenue.  When he walked back from the Pink Elephant, he’d be drinking from a paper bag.  He always seemed sad - deeply, traumatically sad.

Several months ago we realized we hadn’t seen Jimmy for almost an entire year.  He’d just disappeared, and we still don’t know what happened to him.  Our first encounter with him may have briefly sullied my view of Hollywood, but as we became accustomed to his presence, he began to represent the character of our neighborhood: diverse, dynamic, and full of hidden stories.  Now, his absence has added a new quality to the character of Hollywood: fleeting.  I hope he's okay, wherever he may be.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The City Observed: Cafe Culture

I’ve always had a thing for cafes. It began in high school, with a search for a personal identity. (That’s an interesting time in a teenager’s life – her first unaccompanied forays into social activities. What one chooses to do, where one chooses to go, has everything to do with one’s true character.)

There were few cafes in Salt Lake City, Utah at that time, and I gravitated toward them because of their clientele: what my friends and I later nicknamed pseudo-intellectuals, the most interesting people in Utah. These people knew Shakespeare by heart, they each had a favorite poet, they carried notebooks full of sketches or scribbled stories, they wore clothes other than the typical Utah uniform of khaki pants and polo shirts, and they – gasp – drank coffee. Coffee was much frowned upon in Utah and most restaurants didn’t carry any. The majority population considered coffee shops the devil’s playground, but I’d been to Seattle, I’d been to New York, I knew that café culture was a place for writers and poets and artists and conversationalists. If this was the devil’s work, I wanted a job.

While in college in New York City, my café habit became one of necessity. Living in tiny spaces rife with roommate woes, the café became a refuge - the only decent places to get any work done.

Now well into my adulthood, the café is once again a place for musing, for nurturing my now well-established personal identity. I read, I write, I work, I drink a lot of coffee, and I love people and people-watching. However, over the years of nurturing this habit I’ve also adopted a fairly judgmental attitude. I am very critical of cafes and their décor, their color palate, their music, their air-quality, and the comfort of their chairs. And with today’s ever-changing technological needs, free wifi and plug-ins also now inform my regard for a cafe.

I have, in my mind, a very favorite café. It has lots of tables and comfortable chairs, as well as a lounge section of clean and plush couches and armchairs. It boasts natural lighting by windows or skylights by day, and by evening is lit entirely by floor lamps, and also has a bank of tables with those green library lamps for people who need to get some real work done. It has free wifi and lots of plug-ins. It has a book exchange. It offers a large selection of loose-leaf teas, and serves good, free-trade coffee with a lot of care. It serves simple egg sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, cheese and onion sandwiches, and the usual selection of pastries, cakes, and bagels. Most importantly, the music selection is entirely instrumental, mostly classical, but also a little jazz or bossa nova or salsa or other atmospheric but non-distracting music. It is warm, inviting, clean, and non-pretentious.

I have never found this café, and I’m not sure that it exists (no café I’ve ever been in plays classical music). I may have to build this cafe myself. In the meantime, here is a list of my favorite cafes in no particular order, followed by a list of my least favorite cafes.


1. Solar de Cahuenga, Hollywood
Free Wifi and plenty of plug-ins. Great coffee, good teas. The décor is warm and cheerful, and there are wrap-around windows that provide a lot of natural light. The chairs and tables are plentiful and quite comfortable. It’s a great place to sit for a long spell and get a lot of work done.

2. The Oaks Gourmet, Franklin Village
Free Wifi. No plug-ins. Great coffee, good teas, delicious pastries. It’s a combination deli/gourmet food store, wine shop, and café. It has a nice outdoor seating area that overlooks Franklin avenue, and the Wifi signal is strong out there. The chairs are very comfortable.

3. Urth Caffe, Downtown
Free Wifi, a few plug-ins. Great organic coffee and teas. Really expensive, though! Tons of tables and chairs. Chairs are decently comfortable, but not the best. It’s located in the industrial arts-district, and is a good café for people watching.

4. Casbah Cafe, Silverlake
I love their snacks. Soft-boiled egg sandwiches, warm brioches, and exotic frittata-type things. They’re kind of expensive, and their wifi rarely works, but the atmosphere is wonderful. It doubles as a middle eastern gift shop, and the goods for sale, in their saffron and jewel-tone color palette, make the place feel really warm and comfortable.

5. Intelligentsia, Venice Beach
Free wifi. No plug-ins. It’s sleek and everyone there is tres fashionable. Whenever I go there, I feel like I’m on a very fancy vacation. Also, their coffee is absolutely incredible.

Least Favorites

1. The Bourgeois Pig, Franklin Village
It’s a café designed specifically for ravers or Fraggles. Horrible atmosphere, just horrible.

2. Sabor y Cultura, Hollywood
Free wifi, plenty of plug ins, but the décor is terrible – the walls are dirty and painted in drab, muted shades of mustard and red and purple. There are not enough tables, so it feels unfinished. The music selection is horribly distracting – they’ll put on Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Metallica, and my ability to get any work done is stamped entirely out. The coffee isn’t good, the baristas don’t know how to make a good latte, and the pastry display and counter area are sparse, which makes everything in or on them look lonely and unappealing. Tip of the trade: always keep a pastry display filled to the gills, and if you’re running out of supplies at the end of the day, put whatever’s left in the top shelf, and push it all to the front of the display closest to the customer’s view (keeping everything well-arranged) and turn the lights off on the bottom shelves. This will give the illusion that you’re well stocked, because the customer’s eye will only travel to the illuminated shelf.

The staff can be very grumpy, too, and very slow. It once took my friend 20 minutes to get a single cup of coffee even though there was only one person in front of him.

3. Starbucks, Anywhere
Starbucks fails at the very thing they’ve attempted to do: provide a warm and comfortable café lifestyle with good coffee, good music, and an inspired atmosphere. Their décor and the floorplan/layout of their spaces are the absolute worst. The whimsical swirls and trite quotes all over everything are just annoying. Also, most Starbucks cafes in urban cities are dirty and unorganized. The coffee chain has become such a behemoth that it can no longer exercise quality control over its staff, and many of them are unprofessional, barely-fit-for-employment, downright terrible customer service representatives.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ongoing Love Affair

As of two days ago, I have lived in Los Angeles for two years, and California for nearly five.

It was 85 degrees downtown just one hour ago.

It is 5:30pm now, and there are a good two hours of daylight left, after the recent adjustment of clocks to accommodate our energy needs.  Energy in the form of carbon emission reductions, as well as energy in the form of Vitamin D, of which there are ample amounts in this golden state.

After these two years, the scent of springtime jasmine still knocks me off my feet, the bright and ever-loving sun still gladdens my spirit with her generosity, and sights such as the yellow convertible porsche that just flashed by filled with ostentatious 30-somethings in thin-brimmed hats and aviator sunglasses still make me giggle.

Here's to you, Los Angeles, here's to you.

Friday, March 12, 2010

To Sleep; To Wake

I have a hard time going to bed.  I have a hard time getting up.

It is 11:56 pm.  My husband and I are people of routine, generally speaking, and our bedtime is 11:00pm.  At that time this evening, we were mixing cocktails while enwrapped in a conversation about teaching math to twelve-year-olds (don't ask).  We are now side-by-side on the couch, each with our respective macbook on our laps, doing general internet research for our careers.  He's looking for travel deals for his impending tour with his band.  I'm submitting for acting jobs (the life of an unrepresented actor or musician is largely administrative).

Anyway, the clock just ticked over to 12:00 midnight, and I just don't feel like going to bed.  There is so much I could get done, if I didn't go to bed.  So much administration to administrate if I didn't go to bed.

But then I'd be above-average tired in the morning.

I'm always tired in the mornings.  So very tired, whether I get eight hours of sleep, or six or nine.  Doesn't matter.  The warmth of the covers, the comfort of the pillow, I hate having to give them up.  In the morning, any hour of the mid morning, is when I get my best, most restful sleep.  Waking up is a real pain, and I never feel like doing it.  There's so much sleeping I could be doing, if I didn't get up.  So many dreams to have, if I didn't get up.

But then I wouldn't get anything done.

And then none of my dreams would matter.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Desire and Her Doubts

I read nearly anything, but especially Hermann Melville, Joan Didion, E.B. White or Virginia Woolf, and I am urgently compelled to be a writer.
What if being a writer is my true identity, and all this time I've just been distracting myself from myself?  (Then, write and see if the universe opens her arms.)

I go to a museum of contemporary art, and I am compelled to be an artist.
What if I completed every visual art idea I've ever written down in my little black book of ideas?  (Perhaps that's all there is to being an artist: doing, making.  Perhaps it really is as simple as that.)

I see a film or a good TV show and I am struck with an overwhelming desire to be an actor.
What if acting can be both my strongest dream and an intellectual pursuit?  What if I can pursue acting and feel that I am doing something of worth?  (Maybe that is the motherlode of fulfillment.)

What if I can stop doubting whether all of my interests are both creatively and intellectually estimable, whether I am living up to my own potential, and whether all of my dreams can be achieved in one life?  Can I be a writer, an actor, and an artist? (Word on the streets is that to succeed at any one craft, a person must singularly devote themselves to it.)  Can I get published, book a role, and have a gallery show? Will I ever get anything done? Is there time?

And what of family, travel, relationships, security, the marks of a life well lived?  What of living?

What of living?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

To Be a Casting Assistant

At an audition this week, I noticed a repetitive scene playing out in the casting room adjacent to the one I was waiting to enter.

Door swings ajar.

CASTING ASSISTANT steps out to summon the next ACTOR.

ACTOR enters as ASSISTANT closes the door behind him.

Thirty seconds pass.

Door swings ajar as CASTING DIRECTOR and ACTOR exchange the usual post-audition niceties:
               Thanks, thanks so much, thanks for coming in, thanks.

ACTOR leaves, hastily.

Door remains ajar for ten seconds while we see ASSISTANT drop to her knees.  She picks Corn Flakes up off of the carpeted floor.  The task seems tedious and frustrating.  A box of Corn Flakes stands on a table, inside the room.

CASTING DIRECTOR speaks from off:
                You missed one, there.

ASSISTANT picks up one last Corn Flake.

ASSISTANT stands, swipes Corn Flakes from her hand into the cereal box.

ASSISTANT enters Lobby and summons the next ACTOR.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Comfort of a Cocktail

I used to be intimidated by alcohol.  I didn't know what to do with it but pour it into half a glass of orange juice or Coca Cola, neither of which I like very much.  In recent years, though, I've begun to understand it.  There was no specific experience or learning curve that brought upon this understanding.  It just happened.  One day I found that I like whiskey.  I'd tried whiskey before, but it never suited me.  Until one day.  Now, I can pour some whiskey over some ice, add some sweet or dry vermouth, a dash of bitters, maybe an orange slice or a lemon twist, or some brandy with grenadine and sweet vermouth, or just benedectine.  Or a little benedectine and some lemon juice.  I just get it.  And in that, I feel secure, at home, comfortable.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hallmark Day

I'm not a cynic, but Valentine's Day does not particularly excite me.  The whole thing feels like a commercial ploy.  I love the idea of showering my husband with love, but why on February 14, why with stuffed animals or big, red, heart-shaped boxes of bad chocolate . . . basically, I don't like being told what to do, or when to do it.

My husband is currently on the phone with our friend who called for advice about what to get her boyfriend for Valentine's Day.  He answered, "I don't know.  I'm different than most guys.  I'd just say a bottle of liquor."

Then she asked him what we're doing for the 'holiday'.  He replied, "We're not big Valentine's Day people, because, you know, every day in this house in Valentine's Day, heh, heh.  We'll probably just open a bottle of wine and eat some cheese."

That sounds about right.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The City Observed: Katsuya

Katsuya is a trendy Japanese restaurant on the corner of Hollywood and Vine.  It is often the backdrop of paparazzi photos and videos featuring the likes of Mark Wahlberg or Charlie Sheen exiting its large glass doors and gliding into their fancy cars at the valet.  There is a lot of Hollywood hype about Katsuya, but I’d also heard that the food is good.  When Dine LA Restaurant Week rolled around, I convinced my non-seafood-loving husband to choose this as our semi-annual dining splurge.

Katsuya’s decor is within a color palate - deep reds, pinks, and blacks – that one might find described as ‘sexy’ in the local glossies.  The clientele is largely made up of the kind of people I’d expect to see standing behind the red velvet rope of Hyde Lounge or Teddy’s, or on the rooftop of The Standard Hotel – that is, trendy – hoping that their shiny lip gloss or fleur-de-lis-emblazoned blazers will help them get discovered.  Joseph and I sat at a corner table at the back of the restaurant, and my unobstructed view of everyone kept me quite entertained. 

My amusement over the atmosphere of the place didn’t, thankfully, inhibit my ability to take the quality of the food seriously.  I really enjoyed it.  The Albacore Crispy Onion was so tender and intriguing in its flavor and texture, with its marriage of soft and crispy, marinated and grilled, that even my non-seafood-loving husband ate a full portion.  The Baked Miso Marinated Black Cod was decadent and reminded me of dusk, if dusk had a flavor.  As enamored as I was by my cod, I was less impressed by Joseph’s dish, the Beef and Mushroom Toban Yaki.  Although the beef did meet all expectations for medium-rare Kobe, the mushrooms didn’t add much of the earthy flavor that I generally expect from them.  Joseph was pleased, though, nodding his head enthusiastically and widening his eyes for emphasis when I asked, “How do you like it?”

Katsuya is known for its cocktails almost more so than its food, therefore, despite the exorbitant price of $14 dollars per, I ordered the Eastern Raspberry Sidecar: “hand pressed fresh raspberries intertwined w/ Hennessy VS Cognac & Nigori Sake, rounded out w/ Cointreau and freshly squeezed lemon”.  I love sidecars as well as every single ingredient on this list, thus I assumed this cocktail would suit my taste.  It did not.  It was watery and monotonous in flavor, like a frappe with too much ice that’s begun to melt. 

Overall, my experience in Hollywood and Vine’s trendy restaurant with trendy cocktails and trendy food was, maybe not top-notch, but upper-middle-notch. I’m glad I went and that I’ve got Katsuya under my belt now (being able to say I’ve been there might help me get discovered).  I will say, though, that I was somewhat disappointed that not a single paparazzo showed up to snap my picture when I exited the glass doors and glided home, along the Walk of Fame that had been wetted by rain (those charcoal tiles are slippery!).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rainy Season

Rainy season is among us, and it’s more insistent than in recent years.  Two weeks now, but tomorrow finally looks to be the last of it.  Rain in California is different than rain elsewhere. It can be dangerous.  Just a few inches, and news outlets scramble to keep up with mudslides, flash floods, and car accidents caused by slick roads.  It comes down in spurts, rather than in steady streams.  It’ll trickle for a while, just a light sprinkle, and then there’ll be a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder, and a violent downpour that never lasts longer than five minutes.  Sometimes there’s hail, and everybody logs on to Twitter.

My friend Maggie once described me to someone by saying, “She likes good weather.”  That’s accurate.  I like sunny skies and warm air, foliage and greenery, and learned, upon moving to California, that I love succulents and cacti.  When I lived in New York, I was amused by the odd olfactory experience of the city.  “Every corner has its own smell,” is a phrase used as frequently as “Only in New York” to describe the city’s unique qualities.  You feel tough, unshakeable, thick-skinned, when you know that putrid aromas can’t assail your devotion to the world’s greatest city.  A rainstorm tends to momentarily stifle the myriad odors, but not for long.

In Los Angeles, you’d use the word scent rather than smell, as it really is a fragrant town  (cherry blossoms in the spring, pine in the summer, maple and other perennials in the autumn).  I am swayed by things like this.  I’ll pause on a walk in the Hollywood Hills to determine the source of some lovely scent, and my feelings for California will be strengthened.

Joseph and I are fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that is extremely walkable by LA standards, and even, I’d say by San Francisco standards.  One of our favorite things to do is to walk to the Hollywood and Vine neighborhood for dinner and drinks.  It’s a thriving, bustling boulevard, Hollywood between La Brea and Gower, and it helps us feel like we still live in a cosmopolitan city.  Last weekend, we had reservations at Katsuya for 8pm, but it was raining, as it had been for days.  We momentarily embodied an Angeleno stereotype when we considered driving the  single mile, rather than walking in the rain.  I’m proud to say that we didn’t succumb.  We dug umbrellas out of the closet, and we walked.  In the rain.  Like New Yorkers.  And I reveled in how nice our wet city smelled.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The City Observed: Wilshire Spa

It had been an extreme winter. I’m not referring to the weather – I live in LA; I’m referring to life and activity. October through December saw a mess of meetings, obligations, rehearsals, online marketing, offline networking, panic attacks and meltdowns, all in preparation for a December performance of one of my original theater works. The highs were terrific, the lows unbearable. Then came Christmas and the New Year, which I enjoyed by ceasing all activity, by sitting in front of a television, alternating my attentions between video games and movies, eating all holiday treats imaginable and drinking cocktails one after the other. Looking back on 2009, and particularly autumn, I felt less than extraordinary, I felt ordinary: easily wrapped up in life’s mundanities, chasing my own tail.

My husband had given me a spa package for my birthday in August, and I’d been holding on to it all this time, waiting for the precise moment when a visit to a spa might save me from utter demise. During the aforementioned months I thought, “I’ll wait until all this over, and I’ll go to the spa to recover.” After the December deadline, I thought, “I’ll wait until the holidays are over, when my body will be all tense from the East Coast cold.” When I returned from the East Coast, I thought, “I’ll wait until after Sundance, when I’ll need some deep relaxation to bring me back to Earth.” Finally, a few weeks ago, I looked at my gift certificate and saw that it was set to expire on February 22. I had to make time to use it. I made an appointment for the approaching Sunday. I now declare that if I had the means, I would implement a weekly ritual of Sunday visits to the spa for the saving of my soul, so cathartic was it.

The entrance to The Wilshire Spa is at the back of a tall, corporate multi-use skyscraper on Wilshire Boulevard. The reception lobby is unpretentious, showcasing no particular luxury or status, showing no signs that it is indeed the portal to an underground bliss. Below a set of stairs, in the sub terrain of the mid-Wilshire district, lies a sumptuous Eden of tranquility.

Basic accoutrements for a pampered experience are provided free by the facility: towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap, q-tips, hair dryers, slippers, coffee, tea, and cucumber lemon water. Two banks of vanity tables give ample space for post-pampered beautification. Behind a pair of doors to the left of the vanity bank sit three tranquil rooms, each heated to a different degree and lined with certain minerals – one onyx, one yellow ochre, and the other mineral salt – each of which, according to descriptions on the walls, has unique calming properties. A set of doors to the right side of the vanities opens on to three baths of varying degrees: cold, hot, and extremely hot. I have a high tolerance for heat, and was pleased when I found myself dripping with sweat immediately upon entering the hot bath; I could only stand five minutes at a time in the extremely hot bath before craving a quick dunk in the frigid water of the cold bath. The proper cycle for getting the most benefit to your circulatory system isn’t something you’ll need to research beforehand – the desire to go from hot to cold and wet to dry will happen naturally. After cooling myself down in the cold bath, my physiological needs led me to the sauna – a typical wood-lined room kept at a controlled heat that I found to be perfectly comfortable, a place where I could lie back and read for quite a spell before finding the pages of my book wet and crinkled from my sweat. The steam room, on the other hand, was far too hot and steamy, even for someone of my high tolerance. I nearly suffocated after a mere thirty seconds in its billows. I removed myself quickly and re-embarked on my cycle of hot bath, really hot bath, cold dunk, and dry room. After a time, a masseuse in black lace bra and panties motioned for me to follow her.

My husband had thoughtfully chosen for my gift the Signature Body Massage after learning that it included two of my favorite things: a massage and a facial. That wasn’t the extent of it, though. My masseuse placed a clean sheet of plastic on a table, splashed a bucket of warm water over it, and instructed me to lie upon it face down. Then, she scrubbed. The website describes this as “a treatment that uses exfoliating cloths to gently remove dead skin cells from your body”; ‘Gentle’ it wasn’t - it was firm and intense. Tension was immediately tossed away - I was like a fleshy mannequin, a pliable material in the form of human only that the masseuse sanded, molded, pushed and pulled into a more perfect form. Entirely nude I lay there, face down whilst she scrubbed me with loofah gloves and cucumber salt. Her gloved hands knew no bounds – every inch of my body received a scrubbing: shoulders, elbows, stomach, inner thighs, groin, and recesses of my behind all received equal attention.  This wasn't a massage for the modest.  She’d turn me from stomach to back to side to side all with a swift push of the hands. At times she’d scissor my legs open, other times fold them over each other to gain access to all surfaces. The scrub lasted at least thirty minutes, enough time to rub off at least my first layer of skin. When there couldn’t have been another single dead skin cell to remove, she squirted a warm lotion all over me and gently rubbed it in. Then, she poured three full buckets of warm water over me. This was my favorite part. It felt like I was lying on the wet sand of the beach as the tide washed over my spent body. Next came a deep and thorough full-body Swedish massage that the masseuse administered with strong arms, digging elbows, and crisp palms.  Again, she left no stone unturned, treating all parts with equal attention, from my fingertips to my spine to my skull. Finally, she worked a green tea conditioner through my hair, layered cucumbers on my face and eyes, and doused my flesh in warm milk. This pure adventure in beauty manipulation lasted a full eighty minutes. I went in an ordinary human and exited a glistening goddess.

My milky, glowing aura stayed with me a good two days. Now, I appear to the world as the self I’ve always been. With my newfound knowledge, however, that I can be so completely transformed in the underworld of Los Angeles’ Korea Town, I won’t wait so long for the perfect time to visit. Perhaps the more often I go to the Wilshire Spa, the more likely I’ll manifest myself into a glistening, enlightened goddess in my daily reality. Good riddance, stress, I’ve found my spiritual practice.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Home is a contradiction.  Home is from where I hail.  Home is where I’m living.  Home is the place I understand best. In that order, then, home is Utah, home is Los Angeles, and home is New York City.  In the same order, home is where my parents are.   Home is where my husband is.  Home is where my career is. I’m all over the place.

Perhaps I won’t know one specific home until I’ve become the older generation, have ushered in the younger and helped them find a footing in this world. Wherever I may find myself surrounded by children and grandchildren, with frequent family gatherings and established holiday traditions, and a decades-old, taken-for-granted familiarity with local roads and markets and shops, perhaps only then will I know unequivocally where my home is.

As it stands, nowhere I’ve lived in the past five years is home for me, not of the fairy-tale type, as in Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. Not of the type mentioned in Christmas songs. I loved living in New York City, and really did consider it home for the majority of my years there. I understood the city, the way it worked, its density and navigability, and the way people interacted with each other. I just got it. About six years in, though, everything about it started aggravating me to sheer anger. The subway delays, the below-freezing temperatures, the piles and piles of garbage, and how far away it was from my parents (my heart ached nightly over how much I missed them after seeing them only twice a year for six years) was just too much to take. I couldn’t call it home any longer.  I spent the next three years conspiring to leave, and finally moved to San Francisco.

I didn’t like living in San Francisco, and I spent the majority of my three years there trying to verbally distance myself from it in the minds of everyone I knew and met. I’m not lazy, not like these people. I’m not a hippy, not like these people. I’m not radical, judgmental, anti-social, provincial or hermetic, not like these people. I observed these qualities in San Francisco residents, and then, yes, I judged them negatively, and began convincing my husband to move. I’ll admit there were some things I liked about San Francisco, such as the air quality, the proximity to wine country, the European beauty of the streets and buildings, but none of these outweighed my distaste for the lifestyle and the people. After three years, we packed up a U-Haul and drove to Los Angeles.

I like Los Angeles. At times I love Los Angeles. There is a vibrancy here, a pulse of activity and excitement. It is a city people gravitate toward to make something happen, make something of themselves, or to just make some thing. In that way, it reminds me of New York. People go out here just to be out and to see who else is out. At bars and restaurants, people observe one another, wondering, “Who is that person and what do they do?” I like that. I like wondering, and being wondered about. Strangers talk to each other here. In LA, you can go to a bar and meet a stranger and actually strike up a potential creative partnership. Some would call that ‘networking’ and be turned off by the notion of it. I’m excited by it.

Still, LA has its setbacks. Last night we went out for Korean food. The restaurant is only three miles from our apartment, but traffic was so bad that it took us thirty minutes to get there. We planned to get drinks at a bar in a different neighborhood later, and knowing it would be another thirty-minute drive, we lamented that we couldn’t just leave the restaurant and walk to the bar and then maybe choose to move along and walk to any number of other bars, like we used to in New York.

En route to the bar later, we realized that we could have taken the subway. The red line stops just one block from the restaurant, and just two blocks from the bar. Then, we could have walked home. Just like we used to in New York. If only we’d thought of it.