Monday, October 27, 2014

To Live and Cry in LA

People cope with stresses in different ways.

Some people get really angry. Some eat, smoke, or drink too much. My sister throws up.

I cry.

Sometimes I cry so much, it eats away at the skin on my lids, leaving weird little scaly scabs. Blood vessels pop, leaving tiny bright red dots around my puffy eyes. I find salty streaks on my chin and down my neck.

It stands to reason that sometimes, this crying might happen in public.

As a female executive, I've tried not to cry at work, but I let go a few times when I was being sexually harassed, and I totally lost it when I got laid off from the job that moved me to LA. That day, I cried so much – mostly in the parking lot of the Whole Foods in Venice – that I short-circuited the cell phone I'd been holding up to my ear. When the T-Mobile store clerk diagnosed water damage, all I could do was declare, "FROM MY TEARS!"

And, of course, cry some more.

I spent many nights crying in public in New York City, those late nights on the Lower East Side after too much to drink, not being able to afford a cab home so waiting for the bus, or not being able to hail a cab home in an overnight snowstorm. Maybe it was because some guy rejected me, or because somebody stole my wallet, but mostly, it was just because I was lonely.

And when you cry in New York, people don't leave you alone. Whether you're sitting on some park stairs or a stoop or a subway train or at the bar, if there are tears streaming down, somebody's going to ask you if you're OK. Somebody's going to try to get you home OK. Somebody's going to buy you a drink, or ask you on a date.

I mean, New Yorkers are pretty miserable. They've probably all been there, at one time or another.

Fortunately, since moving to LA, I haven't had those same lonely nights out on the street. I drink a lot less now. And, since I now drive my own car, I almost always have a ride home. I almost always have a place to go cry.

It's not exactly private, but it's not really public either. Nobody's going to pull up alongside you at a red light and bother you for crying. A cop is probably not going to pull you over for crying.

Boy, have I sobbed my guts out from behind that wheel. It hasn't been easy since I moved to LA. And boy, has it been lonely.

The first time I really remember crying in LA outside of my car, right out there in public for the whole world to see, was after my car accident in April. I started crying immediately after impact, resting my head on the steering wheel, panicking about money and lack of health insurance and the like. Eventually, I had to move my car over to the side, get out of the car, and talk to the other two drivers (the guy who hit me, and the guy I hit). I tried to conduct the business of exchanging insurance information while absolutely bawling my eyes out. When the cops came, they assumed I needed an ambulance because of how hysterical I was. I tried calling friends to tell them what happened, but I was unintelligible. I was just wailing, an absolute crazy lady standing on the side of the road.

No one comforted me. No one came to the scene of the accident. The guy who hit me was driving his girlfriend's car, and when she arrived, she had no patience for my hysteria. Her rudeness snapped me out of the daze I'd fallen into, and just made me cry harder.

I couldn't understand how people could be so apathetic. Aren't New Yorkers supposed to be the rude ones?

Maybe I could dismiss the car accident as a one-time occurrence, a stressful situation for all those involved, not emblematic of the way Angelenos lack compassion for someone clearly in distress. But then, Saturday night happened.

I'd taken the free West Hollywood shuttle and walked the rest of the way to my favorite place, sat at the bar by myself, and had a grand old time eating dinner and having drinks. I hung out with the bartenders. I recognized a couple of other regulars. And then I got asked the question I'd been dreading for weeks: how was the guy I was dating? And where was he?

The truth is, I don't really know. He's back from his trip, but he's gone. At least for now. My worst fears came true. I don't know why. He never said. I just know we're not together. I'm no longer his. I don't think he was ever mine.

So, as I attempted to answer the inquiry, I felt the heartbreak of a thousand souls welling up inside of me. I quickly settled my tab, waved my goodbyes, and got the hell out of there. With no car to drive home in (and too drunk to drive anyway), I sat on a bus bench, ordered an Uber car service, and began to cry.

I don't really remember what happened when my driver arrived, except that I was still crying when I got into the backseat, and he took one look at me and said, "Get out of my car." I questioned it, but he was so insistent and seemed so angry, I obeyed and started to get out of the car. I was so bewildered, I actually stopped crying for a minute, until he sped away with the door still open, my left foot still in the car. I stumbled enough to fall out of my strappy shoe (and destroy its heel), walked barefoot back to the bus bench, and tried ordering another Uber. The hours grew long, the shards of my broken heart slicing into me, and the wait became unbearable, so I took the Metro bus that pulled up, the bus I knew would drop me off a block away from my apartment.

And sitting there, with the driver in the front, and the passengers to my right and behind me, I was amazed at how hard I could cry, and no one offered to help. No one asked me if I was OK. Everyone looked straight ahead as though I were the crazy person on the bus. After all, there's always one.

As an experiment, I didn't hold back. I cried just as hard as I would have in my own car, or home in my apartment. I let it all out.

And still, nothing.

In truth, I didn't really need help on Saturday night, though I could've used some comforting.Thank God I didn't need help. I hate to think of what will happen one day when I do need help in LA.

In the meantime, somebody should take that Uber driver off the streets.

Related Post:
My Inner New Yorker

Saturday, October 25, 2014

This Zombie Life

Ever since the shit hit the fan last spring (in a trifecta of disasters including witnessing a former lover's wedding on Instagram, being betrayed by a former employer, and getting rear-ended on Fountain), I've been a bit of a zombie.

I've been out amongst the walking wounded – injured emotionally, mentally, physically and financially, but not really bad enough for anybody to pay that close attention to.

I look OK.

To the casual observer, the stranger or acquaintance who doesn't know me very well, I seem OK.

I'm conscious.

I'm breathing.

I'm talking.

I'm walking.

I must not need help.

Out of all the disasters, traumas, crises, plagues, and perils in the world, my little problems are of relatively low priority.

I'm expected to be able to work, listen, and help others.

But I am not OK.

And sometimes, like the others who are wounded, staggering around, and neglected, I think I'm doomed.

When it all first happened, instead of allowing myself to heal, I plunged myself into various jobs, professional tasks, and pro bono work, and failed miserably.

Instead of trying to put my heart back together alone, I dove into another romantic relationship – a rebound which was probably doomed from the start, and which may have broken me completely and irreparably, for the final time.

So now, for the last seven months, all this trauma has been eating me from the inside-out like a voracious zombie – starting with my brain, moving down into my heart, gnawing away at all my guts,  my motivation, my moxie – leaving me a mere shell of a living corpse, a living human host body for the zombie within.

I probably could've recovered from any one of these traumas by themselves, as isolated events, cushioned by the successes and joys I could find elsewhere. But, in one fell swoop over the course of a month, every aspect of my life took a hit. And although no single attack would strike a fatal blow, I wonder how many more of these relatively minor punches I can take, before my shell collapses into the vacuous space inside.

I am grieving for the life and the loves I have lost. I am grieving for the life and the loves I'll never have.

In the meantime, I can't do much of anything else.

I don't know what will happen. I don't know anything. I don't know how to help myself, or heal myself. I don't know what to do, because I don't trust myself anymore. I keep making the same mistakes over and over again, no matter how hard I try to do better, use good judgment, do the right thing.

I am not in charge of my life anymore.

And maybe that's a good thing.

Related Posts:
The Forever Now
The Things I Used to Love

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Photo Essay: Boney Island's Magical Skeleton Crew

I grew up in an area where neighbors reveled in their Christmas light displays, though nothing really compares to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn.

But since Southern California isn't terribly Christmasy, it seems like our residents spend far more effort in putting together their yard displays and home haunts for Halloween – a holiday that doesn't require snow, and that gives Hollywood creative types the opportunity to show off their skills.



Case in point: Boney Island, located near the border of Sherman Oaks and Studio City, which is not so much scary as it is entertaining....



...and feels like a little slice of Universal Studios in someone's actual backyard.



In fact, Boney Island is the backyard of Rick Polizzi, Emmy-winning animation producer for The Simpsons for the last several years...



...who created its cavalcade of skeletons for neighborhood families and visitors alike.



Abracadaver!



It's a family-friendly, carnival-style attraction in which sideshow skeletons talk to you, tell your fortune...



...and tell you to pick a card, any card.



Every six minutes, attendees are treated to a colorful, Vegas-worthy fountain show...



...in which cauldrons spew out green spurts in various watery formations...



...egged on by yet another talking skeleton, positioned in front of a four-story treehouse.



You can actually climb up into the treehouse...



...which is such a treat...



...as jack o'lanterns light up the night...



...and you can view the fountain show from above.



And it is amazing.

To follow the rest of this year's Halloween adventures in pictures, click here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Things I Used to Love

I used to be full of love.

Back in 2011, moving to LA was a great kick in the pants for me – the reset button I needed after my four final, difficult years in New York City.

Even though I lost the job that moved me out here, I decided to stay in LA, and not just because I loved its sunshine, and the year-round ability to swim outside, go hiking, and ride my bike.

I loved LA.

Now...I'm not so sure.

I'm not so sure I love anything anymore.

In dire times such as these, I used to seek solace in my apartment, my gorgeous apartment in a charming Art Deco building in Beverly Hills, the nicest neighborhood you could imagine for a hand-me-down girl like me. But when I lost my job in April and began working for my landlady so I could keep paying the rent, everything went sour. Home was work; work was home. I was on call all day and all night, throughout the week and weekends. Boundaries ceased to exist. I ceased to be a tenant, with tenant's rights. I fielded accusatory emails in ALL CAPS from the woman who controlled my living conditions. My own (legit) residential complaints were ignored, my every intention questioned.

And now, heartbreakingly, I hate it here, and can't wait to get away from it all when my lease is up in April.

But where will I go?

When I got laid off in April, I sought a sense of purpose and a feeling of usefulness everywhere around me. I welcomed volunteering. I went way beyond the call of duty for my job as field agent for Atlas Obscura – which, in some ways, had been a dream job for me, working for my favorite website. But beware of working with what you love, because, like the music industry for music lovers, it kind of ruins it for you. And sometimes, when you try to help, when you take initiative, when you work really hard and spend a lot of time on something, your efforts aren't welcomed. Your motives come off as suspicious. You're bossy. You're too opinionated, with a endless supply of criticisms. And so you're ignored, which just makes it worse because you try harder to make your helpful recommendations not fall upon deaf ears. And, after many unpleasant confrontations and a few tears, you finally realize you are fighting a losing battle. You give up, and you shut up. And you don't love it anymore. And you may never again.

Even despite the car accident which rendered me whiplashed, socially awkward, and dyslexic, I tried so hard to remain relevant and indispensable, in whichever ways I could. Even though I was in constant physical pain. Even though I couldn't have a normal spontaneous conversation, especially with strangers. But I could recite rehearsed lines, and I could bypass dyslexia enough to read off a page, so I continued to attend my beloved Tuesday night cold reading series, the first community to welcome me to LA after I moved here. I even managed to fill in as co-host, somehow finding the right spiel to say in front of 100 people when I had a hard time conjuring words in one-on-one encounters. But somehow, after our annual summer break and the time spent apart, absence made my heart grow colder, and I don't love it anymore. I've had a hard time going back since we resumed in September: I've skipped several weeks and have left early the times I have managed to go. I was so devoted to it for so long – I arrived early and stayed late, every week – and now...I just...can't.

I was looking forward to October because the month-long celebration of Halloween always soothes me, but somehow, this year, I'm not getting much out of it. I've got my costumes together, but I'm not looking forward to wearing them. So far, I haven't been filling my calendar with spooky adventures or haunted houses. Not like before, anyway.

So what can I do? What does "do it" for me anymore? Not record shopping, which is how I would pass hours of my time back in New York City. Not talking on the phone to my friends, who I used to call daily. Not even giving out my phone number, or meeting new guys, or getting taken out to dinner. I don't want to do any of it.

I'm tired.

I'm tired of trying.

When I moved to LA, I absorbed it voraciously. I took my ethos of "avoiding regret" very seriously. I took every road trip I could. I crossed every place off my list. I got up at dawn to go hiking in some far-flung locale, changed my clothes at the car, bathed in public restrooms, and spent all day out on adventures, saving enough energy to tear up the night without a nap.

I burned myself out.

I guess I knew it could happen, but I was worried about leaving LA, or LA changing, before I could experience everything. I was worried about leaving a stone unturned.

And now that I'm still here, I don't know what there is left for me. I don't know that I have any energy for those stones that surely do remain.

Maybe LA is too big for me.

Maybe I'm not as strong as I thought I was.

Maybe I just ran out of love.

Related Posts:
Love Is the Drug
To Say "I Love You"

Monday, October 20, 2014

Photo Essay: Hollywood's First Jewish Temple, Restored

You can't really talk about the history of Hollywood without considering Judaism.



And it would be tough to consider the Jewish history of LA without including Hollywood.



The two come together in beautiful ways at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple...



...in what was once the western boundary of the City of Los Angeles...



...with nothing but bean fields between it and Beverly Hills and Santa Monica...



...but what is now smack dab in the middle of Koreatown...



...without a lot of Jews nearby.



Still, Wilshire Temple is the house that Hollywood built...



...under the leadership of architect Abram M. Edelman (also responsible for the Breed Street Shul and Shrine Auditorium)...



...but with contributions and donations from all the major film impresarios of the 1920s...



...including Jewish history murals (starting with Genesis) painted by art director and production designer Hugo Ballin (also muralist for Griffith Observatory), courtesy of the Warner Brothers.



Phase One of the temple's restoration, led by Brenda Levin of Levin & Associates Architects, was completed last year...



...which included seismic, cosmetic, and mechanical alterations (including lots of cleaning, upgrading the air conditioning, adding lighting and speakers, etc.).



It is the oldest synagogue in the LA area, the third home of the Congregation B’nai B’rith (founded in 1862)...



...and was officially closed for two years in 2011 after pieces of plaster literally had started falling down from the sanctuary ceiling.



It is Byzantine and Moorish in design...



...and feels very much like a theater, as was the wish of Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, who chose the new location to be on Wilshire, "The Fifth Avenue of the West," and whose Hollywood friends earned him the title "Rabbi to the Stars."



As you walk upstairs from the Wilshire Boulevard front lobby...



...past the art glass windows in the stairwell...



...under one of the many shadow-casting ornate lighting fixtures...



...you get even closer to the sanctuary's 100 foot octagonal domed ceiling, fully restored, with its oculus lit in a midnight blue...



...and inscribed with the Shema Yisrael, a Jewish prayer from the Torah expressing monotheism – all a gift from Hollywood tycoon Irving Thalberg of MGM, rising high above gifts from the Warners, Sid Grauman, Louis B. Mayer, Carl Laemmle, and all his other contemporaries.



You also get closer to the stained glass windows...



...including the rose window depicting the twelve tribes of Israel, all of which were lovingly restored by LA's own Judson Studios.



But at one point, the sanctuary was in such bad shape, and Wilshire Temple had opened another campus on LA's West Side, there was a question whether there was even a place for a Jewish temple on LA's eastside, and whether the Koreatown location could be – or should be – saved. Fortunately, a master plan was approved, grants were received, and support poured in to restore not only the domed sanctuary, but the entire Wilshire Boulevard campus, inside and out. Handicap accessibility was added, resulting in a new side entrance through a courtyard off the parking lot.


Photo: Levin & Associates Architects

Inside, scaffolding was built to create a platform high enough to clean and paint the coffers in the ceiling. Elsewhere, too, paint was restored to its original color whenever possible, though much of what you see is actually a combination of several different colors of paint, and, in some cases, sprayed with gold on top. The carved walnut wood has been cleaned and restored (with the addition of a new apron at the end of the altar/stage area). The seats have been reupholstered. Flood lights have been replaced with LEDs and less blinding stage lights hidden high off to the side. The Kimball pipe organ was completely refurbished, the pipes and console cleaned and restored.

Since the sanctuary's acoustics are better for music than for talking, the Temple has welcomed a few musical performances and plans a calendar of many more in the future, as well as other secular and non-sectarian cultural events to attract the local community – Jews and non-Jews alike.

This is a real success story in preservation, and one that's not finished yet. For the second phase, they are building a large parking structure behind the temple, and are instituting more community outreach which includes a school, a food pantry, and social services (including medical, vision, and mental health care).

Download the LA Conservancy's brochure on the restoration here.
More great photos of the restoration from Curbed here.

Watch the video that shows the pre-restoration condition of the temple here:


Related Post:
Photo Essay: Breed Street Shul, Unsafe for Entry