Thursday, February 26, 2009

Forward This to 1026 People

Forward This to 1026 People

As himself grimly prophesied before it entered our lives, we watch the big TV, a lot. Spuds likes Celebrity Rehab which is insultingly stagy and of note to me only because it features Bob Forrest of Thelonius Monster, now a drug counselor on the staff of Las Encinas Hospital. For most of the eighties I had regular enough to be disconcerting sightings of Forrest, the wild haired, Scotch taped horn rimmed glasses wearing frontman of the popular local band. Usually Forrest crossed my path in the vicinity of the Silverlake Junction but I’d spot him too at distant valley delis and obscure ethnic markets, mundane far-flung places out of the eastside hipster milieu. It creeped me out but the Bob Forrest who turned up while he was apparently chasing the dragon was far more interesting than the earnest tough love drug counselor.

I'm not sure what about Celebrity Rehab appeals to Spuds. It embarrasses me, but reality shows such as Cops, like good fiction, provoke a rich variety of emotional reactions. I note the consistent reasonableness of the police officers. Nothing is unchanged by the presence of a camera, but even if it is for the camera, I am heartened to see the amount of compassion police officers are capable of demonstrating. The show has been on for twenty years and has spawned many imitators. In addition to its large cultural significance, Cops has modeled a sensitivity that has changed the way that law is enforced in this country.

Lately we’re partial to prison shows. Cameras follow inmates and personnel for months and capture miraculous pockets of humanity amidst the rotting meat consigned to the American penal system. Most of the inmates display mental illness but there is little in the way of psychiatric or psychological treatment. Educational and vocational training opportunities are practically non-existent thanks to the Reagan era notion that prisoners are nothing more than bad people who deserve only punishment. Most of the prison population has been failed by our cities and our schools and a culture and economy that make failure inevitable for many. Himself is gonna try to nail me on the personal responsibility thing here but I think we need to therapize and educate and train the incarcerated population in order to make that a viable aspiration. We have a captive audience and a costly one to feed and house and supervise. It would be prudent to try to salvage what can be salvaged from the broken souls we incarcerate and we would be a better nation if the goal of our prisons was to nurture healing and understanding and knowledge and compassionately dedicate resources to help prisoners evolve into better people. This is also a key to reducing recidivism.

While I’m already pissing off himself with my bleeding heart liberal, pocketbook assaulting, Pollyanna notions I will add that I think Obama has the vision. He is no Jerry Brown but each time he opens his mouth he seems closer. The America he envisions is a good place and maybe one that my beloved curmudgeon, if he could ever get over that Irish Catholic "expect no rewards in this world" thang, would like. I watch the speech to the joint sessions of congress and don’t miss a word. Instead of evoking our military superiority or trotting out 9/11, Obama evokes the history of American innovation and resourcefulness to inspire hope. There is nothing false or hollow or bloated and there is an instructive quality reminiscent of FDR’s fireside chats. All eyes are on Obama, and even though my beloved makes me feel like an acolyte of the People's Temple. I think that many Americans will take Obama's advice. I hope the next eight years sees the selfishness and arrogance that has brought us to our knees blossom into a patriotism fueled by pride at our accomplishments rather than military might. The mere election of Obama changes us in the eyes of the world and in our own eyes and his words flood me with a sense of possibility about America that I've never felt before.

While I rail at himself’s cynicism, when it comes to local politics I sadly share it. Our mayor is running for reelection virtually unopposed. His most formidable opponent is Walter Moore, whose campaign chest is about $200,000. Antonio Villaragosa has spent two million dollars to defeat him. Inevitably he will be elected to a second term, which he will spend like his first term, shamelessly glad handing and fund raising and using his office merely as a springboard to higher ambitions. I hope I am wrong in predicting that he will be our next governor. Perhaps it is just that himself’s cynicism, like cooties, has contaminated me but I already feel depressed that it seems like that California will inevitably choose one of the worst of the So. Cal. machine over my Paul Westerberg of politicians, Jerry Brown.

I have confessed here to my many superstitions and my frequent practice of spontaneous divination. I also read my horoscope (Aquarius) and himself’s (Cancer) and the spawn (both Libra) on AOL and then on the L.A. Times daily. I printed out this year’s "If Today is Your Birthday" prediction and taped it above my desk. It is very good. I hope it is right. Fuck. I hope something is right. I read that superstitious people are control freaks and I own up but suddenly it is more than historical mindfuck anxiety sticking to my craw. There is a cluelessness that exceeds reasonable expectation. Few are unscathed by what feels like financial Armageddon, although the huge company in my misery isn’t as comforting as it would be to a person finer than myself. Our parents did better than their parents and it was assumed we would do better than they did. Many of my contemporaries are reeling that this is most likely not going to be the case.

About fifteen years ago, along with a couple of other non-senior citizens, I was elected to the board of directors to our local ancient synagogue. We were shocked to learn that the substantial monies the temple had amassed due to congregants in the largely working class neighborhood scrimping and saving were kept in a single bank account and earned less than 3% interest. We remarked on this folly to the temple officers, noting the higher interest that even the most conservative of mutual funds would yield. The temple president noted quietly that he survived the depression and 2.75% interest in a secure bank account was just fine. After the meeting I had a drink with the other younger board members and we mocked the old coots and their worn passbook.

I receive
from Marion, who is far too busy to attend bootcamp, an email with the subject: Fw: Horoscope test - it will freak you out!-COOL!. Frothing with disdain at such time sucking stupidity, I pull out my pencil and as instructed I number my paper from one to eleven. I write my two favorite numbers on the first two lines. I like the number six. My birthday's the sixth and that not withstanding; I think it is the prettiest number. The second number I choose is 1026. This stems from nearly 30 years of Harry brainwashing us to remember HIS birthday but I have also co-opted it as one of my own favorite numbers because Harry, for all his sinister mind control, is my tangible reminder of the human spirit triumphant, so I use 1026 as sort of as an ironic/hopeful talisman. The other columns are filled with names of friends and song titles and a "funny creepy outcome" is promised. Because I have psycho listening habits which my family finds tantamount to psychological torture, there are a few songs like Yo La Tengo’s "Stockholm Syndrome" and The Replacements "Alex Chilton" that anyone who knows me well would put on the funeral playlist and then be happy to never have to hear again. To my own surprise, as I jot song titles, Springsteen’s "Rosalita" appears on the page. I like the song but I haven’t heard or thought about it much in years and it has no place in the pantheon.

The next instruction is to make a wish. I even close my eyes, an integral part of wish making. Wish and list complete, I scroll down and my horoscope reveals that himself is my beloved, which is sort of duh. Marlene’s position on the list designates her my lucky star, which is also true and it is sweet to be reminded. The song "Rosalita" apparently is the one that conveys how I feel about life. And if I want my wish to come true I just have to forward the e-mail to 1026 people.

Both sprats are returning, after missing last season, to the Silverlake Children’s Theatre Group. Now, in addition to time wasting crap e-mail chain letters from persons too busy to exercise, we are back on Broderick’s mailing list and on the cusp of the intensity that is children’s theater and a rich and rewarding experience for our not so little anymore thespians. Brod, the heart and soul of the Children's Theatre, the glue of our community, is our Oscar buddy. He is one of the few people who gets that while the Oscars is a fun event, it is not the occasion for the frivolity of a party. Brod knows to watch seriously and reserve commentary for the commercials. Gwenie knows to provide excellent spirits before she falls snoring on the couch. Himself was shushed a few times again this year and is now on probation. This year’s production was one of my least favorites, shamelessly pandering to ratings and straying far from the raison d'etre of paying tribute to Hollywood. The musical numbers had no Hollywood feel to them and some say evoked the Tonys. The Tonys are a class act and never loose their rootedness in Broadway. This year’s Oscar numbers seemed more rooted in zero production value television variety shows of the 1960s.

The device of trotting out five previous winners to give the acting awards was just icky. Instead of clips from the actual performances, nominees were addressed directly in heartfelt ultra personal testimonials by former Oscar winners who were obviously reading scripted materials from teleprompters and most likely hadn’t even seen the films. The Judd Apatow film was hilarious and there was a workmanlike tribute to action films. Callow youth were trotted out in a shameless effort to draw young viewers. The whole ceremony gave the strong message that the Oscars are irrelevant and made a point, albeit a very funny one, of nodding to the movies and movie stars people really clamor to see. David Denby, in his new book, analyzes the difference between satire and snark, satire being a more gentle witty poke and snark a mean spirited cheap shot. The Oscar ceremony has always included self deprecation but this year’s ceremony oozed with a self hatred that crossed the line from satire to snark. Perhaps it is fitting that this most evil of Oscar ceremonies was the time that the Academy finally relented to the political pressure to bestow the Hersholt humanitarian award to the despicable Jerry Lewis.

The failing transmission on my car has gotten a higher word count lately than himself’s stubborn assholelike refusal to use the cellular telephone. I have a small claims date to sue Rusnak Volvo (the Jerry Lewis of car dealerships) over the faulty part and resolution of this will determine if or when the transmission is replaced. I have mastered sort of coasting into second gear for the last four months. I do this Pavlovian laugh/cry thing whenever we jolt roughly into third. I have an appointment with the administrator at the 16 year old’s school. I will say here publicly that he is a good boy and I am not the most rotten mother in the world but the meeting at the school is not for the presentation of a good conduct medal. We are late, as usual, and the car is not shifting smoothly into any gear. The transmission failure light goes on. I manage to get to the school and play the supportive mother with good effect, if not abundant sincerity.

After the command principal's office performance, a root canal is next on my agenda and I coax my car to Nick's, wishing, as I have for decades, he'd get nitrious oxide. Nick is unable, due to calcification, to excavate infected festering molar pulp and it makes me feel sorry for him because he is so sorry. He describes my troubled roots with cunning detail and eloquence, a poetic elegy to my lousy teeth that softens the blow that I might need referral to a specialist. Fiscal shock and awe. Teen troubles. Automotive exasperation. Impenetrable calcification. I forgive myself my spontaneous divination and internet chain letter horoscopes. I forgive myself the hours spent horizontal and watching cinema verite reality. And I can cry a bucket, moved by my new president's message of hope and it doesn't mean I'm Hitler Youth.

I haven't played the Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle for years. I only have it on vinyl. "Rosalita" drifts into my head as I finesse the Volvo into traffic on the Pasadena Freeway. I don't remember all of the words, just "Some day we'll look back on this and laugh and it will all seem funny."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Your Memory May Vary

Your Memory May Vary
Fair Disclosure: Photo illustration of LM, Kaz, Mari and Steve has been cropped because a wardrobe malfunction caused sweater to ride up and reveal an unattractive sliver of stomach. Had it been someone else in the photo, I wouldn't have bothered.

I am warned and blew off as exaggeration, that it might take three hours on a Friday afternoon to reach Redlands from L.A. for the Johnston College 40th Anniversary reunion. It takes three and a half. The rain pounds and then there are clear stretches and the snow clad San Bernardinos explode the vista, the CALIFORNIA that inspired vintage citrus crate labels. West Covina. Fontana. Colton. Center of Industry. Hub of Progress. A double rainbow against the densely gray sky, a halo to drive-thrus and mini-malls and abandoned factories seems a good omen.

The campus looks more prosperous and new construction is a bit less hideous than the charmless seventies buildings it’s designed to obscure. My friend Steve, now of Asbury Park, blanches to be compared to Truman Capote, but Tru was a genius at bon mot and I try to assure him that the comparison is based on wit, emphasis on rapier, not countenance. I cling to him like a terrified kindergartner to Mother’s thigh on the first day of school.

Steve and I stay on the edge of things noting how well or poorly people have aged and taxing our memories to remember who fucked who. We marvel that most of our professors look far less old than we’d expected and realize that even though we thought they were ancient when they taught us, they were far younger than we are now. There is a really charming new firepit on the campus but the drum circle is held inside due to rain. I have no desire to drum in a circle, my drum fantasies confined to being Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo. It is difficult to admit, but once I get over being there, it sounds pretty cool.

My Thomas Merton class was taught by Doug Bowman. He does a professor character, donning in antique cap and gown and pleasing the crowd. There was probably an extensive reading list for the class but I only remember reading Merton’s autobiographical stuff. We were to keep a journal during the class. I probably wrote a few pages but I remember presenting a notebook during my final evaluation which had added gravitas, fattened with pages of work from other classes, and then blushing demurely and asking that it not be read. I did not confess this to Bowman thirty three years after the crime but I wish I’d told him that I can still see the print of the words on the page of Seven Storey Mountain and myself curled up on an Indian bedspread in West Hall reading them.

There was a cataclysmic occurrence at Johnston after my time and as a result the word "buffalo" is constantly evoked to much delight, the Johnston College secret handshake for alums not yet eligible for AARP. There are two buffalo head broomsticks and suddenly two young people start screaming "buffalo" and begin a frenzied dance through the circle, buffalo held high and then handed off to someone else to dance and chant with even greater fervor. This sends Steve and me to the no host bar and we return just in time to see the final dancer rip off his clothes (not wearing underpants). Harry, you are right that I am a total asshole, crying because my Volvo needs a transmission job until I met a man who drives a Hyundai. However after drum circle I will take none of your guff for my treatise on the flaccid dick. (See "The Other Stimulus Package, 2 posts previous)

There is much mythology about the origin of the buffalo thang and the same pertains to the lore of my own era. The coffee house at Johnston was called Coz McMuffin’s. This is my memory of how that came to be. I came to Johnston with my toy poodle, Gladys. John MacRonald took to calling her "Coz McMuffin. She was sort of a white cotton ball because I never clipped or bathed her. Once in a while when I was home on break my mother would snatch her up and take her to the Poodle Parlor. Gladys, with full poodle coiffure, including shaved snout and pompom tail was humiliated to return to Johnston and face the other mangy mutts.

I moved downstairs in West Hall to the Woman’s Lobby to room with Kaz, having little in the way of feminist proclivities but being wildly uncomfortable using the coed bathrooms in every other lobby. Ironically, my destiny now is to live in a house full of men, who just like the college boys who drove me off the coed lobby, pee wantonly. The dorm rooms were small and hideous and Kaz and I paid some boys to build us a sleeping loft. She returned early from class and entered the room to find one of our construction crew lying on my bed masturbating. Little Gladys lay at the foot. Alas, before the loft itself could be fully erected, a borrowed power saw was liberated. Responsibility for its replacement fell on me and Kaz. We decided to earn the money to replace it by cooking in the small dorm kitchen and delivering food orders to dorm residents. We called the service Coz McMuffin’s and John MacRonald drew a sketch of Gladys riding a skateboard to illustrate the printed menu. The saw was replaced and we were offered a room off the commons and began table service. The alumni newsletter, last I read, is called the CozMc News but perhaps it’s been changed to Buffalo Blather.

Day two begins with a big Johnston community meeting. We bemoan the absence of coffee service. When the large body is divided into groups to share feelings, Steve and I high tail it. When we return, caffeinated, the groups are sharing earnestly. We creep stealthily along the periphery of the auditorium and methodically circle group by group attempting to identify former classmates. While our fellow alums engage in sincere Johnstonian discourse, Steve and I observe them, like zoo monkeys and whisper and muffle our giggles discreetly.

Lunch is served out on the lawn. Bill McDonald, the prof who taught the D.H. Lawrence/Virginia Woolf seminar, recognizes me, sans nametag. I didn’t get through To the Lighthouse although I remember Mrs. Dalloway vividly, due to Bill's interpretation. Bill made me wither by suggesting at the only other reunion, a very small local one, I'd attended twenty five years ago that the only way I could possibly be of use to the alma mater would be to endow a chair. Emboldened by his recognition of me, I am able to initiate semi cogent conversation about the novel Disgrace, which I have actually read, as we move through the long line to the buffet table. A collection of essays exploring Disgrace written by Johnston faculty and alums and edited by Bill was published recently. (Note to my editor: You know my password and if you want to insert a link to your review of said novel, you may insert it here: I am too lazy to seek it out.) When we get to the head of the line we discover that lunch tickets have been omitted from our packets and are told we must go fetch them from the office. I express my exasperation that a professor emeritus be subjected to this indignity, particularly for a repast of processed turkey and American cheese sandwiches wrapped in Saran Wrap and Fritos. Bill notes that the rules should apply to everyone and chides me for my lack of empathy for the organizers of the event. Just like when he put me in my place by suggesting I endow a chair, he is correct again.

Different mini courses are held and predictably the Grateful Dead one is the most popular. To clean up my karma for making a mockery of groupthink I attend the session on Judaism. It begins with something I hate and suck at, going around the room, introducing yourself and summarizing how Johnston College impacted your Judaism. There are always a few lonely souls who clamor for a captive audience and yammer on, determined to make a short story long. I get self conscious and needy and like Miss America on the interview question and inevitably stammer, mispronounce words and in the thirty seconds I have to pitch myself to a group of strangers I inevitably come off a witless twit.

After the introduce yourself to the circle ickiness is over, the moderators lead a short discussion about how the precept of welcoming the stranger is central to the core of Jewish teaching, a totally appropriate topic for a Johnston soiree and something I struggle with still. I complain about feeling alienated thirty years ago at Johnston but even now I don't play well with others, snarking and gossiping and eschewing the transpersonal tradition, one of the foundations of my alma mater. My aspiration for the reunion is to confirm that I look at least as good as my former classmates, smoke a single cigarette and avoid anyone I had slept with. I am still padding Doug Bowman's friggin' journal.

The Buffalo (gawd I resent all this buffalo shit) Blues Band is actually pretty good. I even dance, after paying a couple of visits to the no host bar. Most of the current Johnston students attend the reunion. There is plenty of tie dye and vintage duds and oodles of hair. Many of the former students still sport that look too. It is sweet and charming to see today’s youth in flamboyant hippie attire. Call me an ageist but on folks my age it provokes assumptions of diminished capacity.

I bum a smoke, a Camel even, and rip the filter off. My college affectation was to smoke the manly filterless cig in the classically beautiful Camel pack. I grew to love them and don’t really enjoy any other cigarette. I hang and savor it with a few young students. They are fresh and beautiful and smart and full of shit in the way that most nineteen year olds are. They tell me about their classes and their mothers and their towns. I love them. And I bless them for reminding me that while I did graduate from Johnston a dilettante poser, I was as open faced as these lovely creatures and Bill McDonald remembered my name.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Delayed Response

Delayed Response
When I was a junior in high school my sister was in some sort of dire straits and she moved back home. My mother’s boyfriend had died the year before. I remember the 50s modern wood and glass counseling office at Grant High School but I don’t remember the name or face of the counselor who gave me a booklet from Johnston College, an alternative college that shared a campus with the University of Redlands. The cover had woodcuts in brown ink on rough paper and that it was printed so that half was upside down and there were two covers. Half the book was about something and the other half was about something else. I don’t remember what. But it was the neatest thing I’d ever seen.

I averred that I was wasting my time at Grant High School but I had some great teachers and I still remember things I learned there. When I was in my late twenties I was a summer administrator for an at- risk youth program and I was in charge of the campus at Grant. It was seeing the campus, years later and in lousy decline, that helped me appreciate the excellence of my education there. Back in the seventies though, it was of “the man” and stultifying and irrelevant and this was more dignified to say than, “Things are lousy at home.”

Johnston College had an early admissions program. I drove out to the campus and was thrilled by the hippies and dogs and co-ed dorms. At the time it was verboten to call hippies, hippies. You did this wink wink nod nod “cool people like us,” thing. I met some students, had lunch and was shown around by a slick admissions counselor who I believe was later fired for doing a disproportionate amount of recruiting in Hawaii. I may have met a faculty member but I don’t remember. It was a true alternative school. There were written evaluations instead of grades and students determined, in consort with a committee of faculty and students, their own objectives towards accomplishing graduation. Perhaps I am underestimating myself at seventeen but I think I went there because they took me, there were lots of guys with long hair and soulful eyes, and it seemed rooted enough in the principles of free love and universal acceptance that I might get a boyfriend.

I completed some interesting courses there. Thomas Merton and the Contemplative Life, Jewish Folktales, a comparative study of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence. I earned credit for studying textiles in Mexico and Russian Film History in London. I didn’t exactly bullshit my way through but I don’t think I applied myself terribly much. At least the course titles impressed my beloved, back a million years ago when we were courting and I was so intimidated by his geniuslikeness that I padded my own intellectual credentials.

I did a couple of big showy projects to get attention. Video was new then and we took the school’s camera down to the Lucky Market, a few blocks from campus, thinking we would get some extraordinary footage of how the simple minded Republicans of Ratlands hated us. Hairy legged in our peasant blouses and embroidered jeans we asked shoppers their opinion of Johnston College. No one had ever heard of the school.

Feeling unloved and dorky took precedence over any sort of intellectual flowering and relegated me to scholastic mediocrity. Just like high school, I pissed away most of the opportunities for intellectual challenge that Johnston provided, but I formed a couple of relationships that I still cherish, notably, with my most faithful reader Kaz and my economics professor Rosemary. While I might not have availed myself of the great opportunities for intellectual growth the unique little school afforded, there was the connection with Rosemary, and other female professors who cherished and nurtured their own intelligence which countered the lose weight and marry a rich man messages drilled into me in back home in Van Nuys.

I was in London in 1976 and saw Tir na nOg, an embarrassingly unctuous folk rock band with flowing locks, wearing brightly embroidered sheepskin vests, instead of the Sex Pistols, who played at the same venue that summer. I graduated college at age twenty, in 1977. The hippie thang was on the wane and this left me sort of rudderless. I started college aiming to full throttle glom onto a hippie identity and disassociate myself as much as possible from Fulton Avenue, where I never encountered such disgust as when I stopped shaving my armpits (which was very satisfying). By the time I graduated, tie-dye was an embarrassing anachronism. When I started college I yearned for hippiedom as an anchor but when I graduated there were no anchors at all and after being a hippie college poser I tried to reinvent myself in a number of other venues. Thirty years later, I’m still trying.

I attended one small local college reunion about 25 years ago. Earnest and employed and accompanied by an attractive, urbane gay friend and wearing a gorgeous borrowed broach of Mexican silver and black pants I’d dieted into, I felt myself very much a tribute to Johnston. I asked one of my former professors if I could be of service to my alma mater, thinking he’d be all over the chance to avail the school of the most excellent mind they’d molded. His curt and fastidiously honest response was that I could endow a chair. That put me in my place.

I haven’t been to a reunion since. I would be happy if either or both of my boys went to Johnston. We have gone to enormous lengths to enroll them in public charter schools that don’t crush the spirit of learning. I really didn’t flourish at Johnston and suffer the indelible visage of bare-breasted women (we called ourselves that but we were girls) building geodesic domes and the use of community activity funds to buy pot. The freedom I was given to chart my course, even though I navigated it with consistent mediocrity has more than paid off. I was inculcated with the real IT of the place, which is that the best education is one that inspires a commitment to a lifetime of learning.

The 40th anniversary of Johnston College is being celebrated with a reunion this weekend. I was on the fence but succumbed to (flattering) pressure to attend. After I booked my room, non-refundable through Priceline, at the Dynasty Motel, I suddenly felt hugely fat and failed and that the experience of wearing a nametag all weekend that says Layne Drebin, a name I haven’t used in nearly twenty years, would be tantamount to farting on a job interview or having a used Kotex stuck to my skirt, which is what happened to my friend Kim after cleaning out one of the filthy bathrooms at the scuzzy playhouse the kid’s theatre group rents.

I was a big loser at Johnston College but I was changed for the better for having gone there. I am an asshole to worry about the lines on my face and my saggy ass and to feel embarrassed by my hippie wannabe indiscretions. These hard times, that so many of us are gaping jawed to find ourselves in, tempt me to discredit the journey. I disavowed Johnston and my young young self for many years. But, flabby, old, obscure, and even less able than I was twenty-five years ago to endow a friggin’ chair I have still done my alma mater proud. More than thirty years have passed since I graduated, a vapid dilettante, but I am a late bloomer and my dabblings there sprouted into to other curiosities along the road. Johnston, for all of the embarrassment that remembering myself there evokes, informed (my beloved and essential editor I believe will dislike my usage of “informed” here and perhaps will suggest an alternative) my journey. The founders of Johnston dreamed of melding us to become like I have become. Like I am becoming.

I’ve been working with some folks on a kids cooking show and it’s been dormant for a while. The day before departing for D.C., I get the news that an extremely high-powered television producer and on-screen talent wants to meet with us about the show. We are advised that a written treatment and script are inadequate and that we would need to bring a demo of the show. The demo is written while I am in Washington and is shot it in my kitchen on my birthday. I contribute very little to it, except for the original premise. The results are quite charming and remarkably good considering it was produced in less than a week with no resources.

I research Mr. Big Shit Producer and find that he has done tons of work as an on- screen host and has produced many shows. The programs, I notice are without exception cheaply produced and excruciating to watch but have made him extremely wealthy. I practice playing the demo on my laptop and make sure that the audio level is set so as not to blast out eardrums. I spend hours designing a label for the DVD and choosing the perfect font for the treatment. I change my outfit six times before leaving for the meeting. I tell the 16-year-old that a zillion good things get pitched and never produced. I know that the intermediary to Mr. Big Shit Producer is a semi-retired game show creator whose son is a big literary agent. I speculated that Mr. Big Shit Producer might just be taking breakfast with the game show veteran for old time’s sake and that in exchange for letting the old man still feel part of the biz, the big producer would be able to hold forth about his ginormous dick for a while. I may not have used the word “dick” while musing about this possibility to the 16-year-old but I probably did.

I would like to say now that the demo was a huge hit and we’re getting a zillion dollars and going into production next week. I take little satisfaction in being so damned prescient. The old t.v. game show guy is sweet. He started as a page at NBC and went on to work on the infamous "21" which set off the quiz show scandal. Mr. Big Shit Producer informs us in the first five minutes, that while our idea is cute it is of no interest to him. Because I’m not demoralized enough, when I tell him I own a stock footage library, he tells me he never uses stock footage because you always get sued. We are manacled to a table at Jerry’s Deli way the fuck out in Canoga Park politely listening to Mr. Big Shit Producer, the price for his largesse at looking at our three minute demo. Lots of game show talk. I learned that for forty dollars a crack there are live game shows in Las Vegas and Indian Casinos. He enjoys hosting these because he is well compensated and can get “a little risqué." He recites his extremely bicoastal schedule day by day for the next four weeks. He slams his fist on the table at my wrongness when I suggest that viewers of video on the internet are starting to expect higher production value.

We are disappointed but the show’s not dead. From the failed attempt to get people to show their ignorant prejudice about my hippie college to excruciating pitch meetings it seems like years of wheel spinning. I would have taken any bone that Mr. Big Shit Producer may have thrown but his productions are still crap and what does it mean to be rich and famous if you need to get off by lionizing yourself to captive strangers in a mediocre valley deli? I suppose a more favorable response might have motivated me to find something to like about him and the lack of bone tossing does make it easier to feel superior.

The drive to Redlands takes twice as long now as it did in the 1970s. The orange groves have been replaced with beige stucco six bedroom homes, the price of this spaciousness paid for by a life on the freeway. The illustrious alumna, I am debating whether to take the ancient Volvo with the bum transmission but leather seats and a good stereo or the mechanically sound slightly less ancient Volvo with the tinny radio and mud and gravy stains on the light cloth upholstery. It would be cool for the dork loser girl to return renowned and prosperous after thirty years. It would be cool when asked what it is I do to say, “I just sold a series to…” It would be cool to wake up all smooth and liposuctioned.

Maybe it sounds better to be an Eli but I am a Johnstonian and the folks who envisioned that place wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass about the shitty Volvos or saggy asses and I guess I can blame my own pre-reunion regrets on the recession. I will be arrive in a funky car but I will arrive rich beyond the dreams of the seventeen-year-old who slept in a rickety loft in the West Hall Dorm and was publicly ridiculed for owning a toy poodle (Gladys) instead of a big hearty bandanna wearing dog. Even though I was an indifferent student it was there I began to value my intellect and glean that nurturing it did not preclude sexiness or fun. I have no fortune to boast of but freed of the shackles of Fulton Avenue, I have done work that I'm proud of. Some of my fellow alums will arrive in fancier cars and with fatter bank accounts and firmer butts. Some of them will endow a friggin’ chair. But there will be no one in attendance who cherishes a mate more than I cherish Himself or is loved more than I am loved or who has more spectacular loving hilarious children or who takes such sweet pleasure to find a loved one’s note of praise beneath the words I write.
Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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Friday, February 6, 2009

If I'd Known You Were Coming I'd Have Baked a Pie

If I’d Known You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a Pie

This begins in flight, hopeful in row 13. I get some good work done on the laptop until the battery dies (laptops can only be charged with an airplane charger in first class) and feel self satisfied after days of feeling fraught and spread thin with looming deadlines and beset by minor but annoying maladies I have vowed not to discuss here, or anywhere except in the office of a medical professional, despite having given himself a long informative lecture about the shedding of uterine lining. This reminded me, and compelled me to remind Himself, of how boring I find the discussion of physical symptoms, unless they are symptoms that I share and could mean cancer or lead to weight loss. I drifted to the auxiliary subject of my lack of interest and felt compelled to speechify this to Himself for the zillionth time, that I am also bored to tears by the recounting, in life or in literature, of dreams. In my mind’s eye, sleep dreams are just the buzz of the computer hibernating. It’s the day dreams that get me into trouble.

I have a dramatic opportunity, as there is turbulence and the “fasten seat belt” sign is flashing and my writing goes quavery, to write something for the ages. It is a bit rough. Then the light goes back off and I’ve pissed away another opportunity. My mother is confused and pliant now. I remember her constant challenge to me, pre-dementia, to face her mortality and reassure her that the loss of her would be a crushing blow. Whenever she returned from a hospitalization, all were brief and none ever for a life threatening condition, she would foist her tiny wrist to her brow and croak, “That was a rough one kid.”

Each time we return to the hotel she is a bit more surprised to learn that it is her home. Her lungs are congested and she is seeing a pulmonary specialist. She takes less and less care in her hygiene and appearance. I pull into the driveway and she asks, “What is this place?” “It’s where you live, Mom.” She accepts this placidly, but as I park she sighs, “This was such a lovely outing. I’m sorry to see it end. Can’t we stay out more? And it is a beautiful warm day and I would indulge her but the kids will mutiny and time is still an oppressive force in my life. Locked inside the hotel, she is free of that prison. I kiss her goodbye and tell her that I love her.

It’s in the 80s and I am barelegged. She would love walking in sunny Old Town and admiring the high tone shops and crowds of shoppers. I methodically plan my visits to get her a meal to enjoy heartily and a decent cup of caffeinated coffee in as little time as possible. I am blessed by my mother’s generosity to me, and me alone. I will take her to Old Town on the next sunny weekend. The loss of her would be a crushing blow.


People on the streets of D.C. are happier than they are here. The shops and restaurants are crowded and no one seems dispirited or surly. The English t.v. executive tells us in the conference keynote address that Americans are far too grim and that our industry will survive and we need to, as the British say, “keep our peckers up.” The expo though seems to have a hugely disproportionate number of sellers to buyers. My feet are sore and my skin feels grimy from the stale airline air and I push my heavy case through LAX feeling like Willy Loman.

The idiosyncratic enforcement of airport security makes me a nervous wreck. In Los Angeles you don’t have to have your three ounce or smaller bottles of mouthwash and makeup in a clear plastic bag but in D.C. you do. I am stopped by a security guard at Dulles (a very icky airport with lousy signage and stupid shuttles to the gates) and forced to stuff my purse into my suitcase because you couldn’t carry a purse and a laptop. The take off is delayed for half an hour. The gate attendant announces that there is a “mess” to clean up and she crinkles her nose in a way that spells “vomit.” There were a number of Ethiopians on the plane, completing the fourth or fifth leg of a nearly three day journey. An elderly couple (they were probably not much older than I am) in tribal dress sit next to me.

The man is wearing a cheap new western suit over a muslin shirt and there is a roughly stitched leather pouch on his hip and an elaborately carved wooden walking stick under the seat. He covers his head with a beige terrycloth towel for most of the trip. His wife wears a sari type thing of fine white cotton with vivid embroidery and snood like head covering. As soon as I sit down, the man pokes me and gestures for me to fasten their seatbelts for them. I do not lower the armrest when I sit down and when it finally occurs to me that I should, I am afraid that it might give offense. The man, apparently lacking western personal space sensibilities, sits very close to me for the whole flight, pushing me into the aisle to be knocked hard by the cart with the six dollar snack boxes and later the one with the beverages and by everyone heading to the bathroom. One of the other Ethiopian passengers translates that the couple has never flown and they are on their way to visit their son in Los Angeles who they haven’t seen in thirty years. The stewardess gives them cans of ginger ale but they are stymied by the aluminum pull tops so I demonstrate how to open them but they foist the second round at me to open as well.

I discreetly eat a bagel from the hotel but I feel guilty and wonder if on their long journey they’ve been provided enough to eat. I hand them a bag of almonds in a zip lock bag. They are confounded and he pokes me again. When I show them how to open and close the bag they admire the cunningness of its design and taste the almonds warily. Like my birthday mate, Ronald Reagan, I love jelly beans. I have discovered that you can buy a big bag of mutant, misshapen ones at the 99 Cents store called Belly Flops, but leaving D.C. I splurge on the genuine article, a bag of tropical Jelly Belly beans to comfort me on the flight home. Because I am a bleeding heart liberal and because the flight attendant comments about fifty times about how “cute" my seatmates are and makes the astute observation that they are probably from Africa, I rip open the jelly beans and put them on the man’s tray table, next to the almonds. They mix the almonds with the candy and munch away. The man grabs my hand. He stuffs a huge handful of almonds into it, presses my fingers into a fist, holds it ceremoniously and mutters something. I would rather have the jelly beans.

I have a tiny box of mints in my purse with the Shepard Fairey graphic of Obama, that I bought at the airport for the 16 year old. AP is suing Fairey for the use of their photo in the artwork and I guess the economy ain’t all that bad if folks can still litigate. I think about taking the Obama mint box and pressing it into the hand of the man as a welcome to America gift. “See good black man? We like. We make his face many things plastic.” I bet they would have actually been glad but it seems like such a condescending white thing to do and I hesitate to give up the 16 year old’s consolation prize for being in Dad’s care for four days.
I leave work tired and downcast. It is pouring and the 16 year old has been on public transportation for two hours so that I can pick him up in Silverlake and drive him to spend the night at a friend’s in the hills. There is no food in the house and Spuds and his Hebrew teacher are there waiting for me to prepare (a Kosher) dinner. Spuds has no clean pants for school. I have been to this friend’s house many times. The GPS doesn’t work in the area and I always get lost and the steep flooded streets are brutal on my slipping transmission. After nearly an hour and futile efforts at navigation by cell phone, I cave. I stop the car in the middle of the street and I wail. The results are anti-cathartic and I feel like an even bigger asshole when the 16 year old’s friends mother drives down the hill in rainy rush hour to pick him up at Trader Joe’s and rescue him from his insane hopeless mother. I send him off with a pie though.

Jet lagged, scared and weary, I sleep badly and find myself sobbing on the couch in the middle of the night. I return to a warm bed and wake my, weary himself, beloved and beg him to hold me because I am afraid I am going to fall apart and he does. And I don’t. There are many people who deserve a pie. One thing that I will always remember about this shaky weird time is the blast of warmth I get from continual demonstrations of astonishing generosity. In the morning Spuds has made me an origami birthday flower and the 16 year old calls early from his friend’s with groggy greetings. My mailbox is filled with Jacqui Lawson animated greeting cards and my hipster friends have written on my Facebook wall. My mother remembers only her own name and my own. I see her only once a week. The rest of the time she is taken care of by warm strangers. The Ethiopians, hurtled into an alien universe, surrender and trust that some human being will help them get to where they need to go.