August 28, 2013

Ready for My Closeup

There's a luxury to being single, underemployed, non-union, unrepresented, and hardly ever cast: you can be invisible.

Of course, for attention whores like myself, this is torture, but you get used to giving into your nervous ticks as you're driving, combing fingers through hair, peeling skin from nose, rubbing dirt off forehead, checking if ears are clean.

You get used to living alone, letting the dirty dishes pile up, using the same bath towel for what seems like months, only changing the sheets when you think someone else will be lying upon them. Which is hardly ever.

You use the same fork and drinking glass over and over again without washing in between.

You let the bottom of the shower tub get so grimy, it grosses even you out, making sure you never ever ever take a bath in there.

You stare into a lit, magnified mirror for too long, exploring your pores, searching for blackheads, squeezing at blemishes, tweezing at eyebrows too much, until you bleed.

You see yourself - you see it all - but you know that no one else does. You can hide this from the world. You can sit in dimly-lit bars, under the glow cast by a red Chinese lantern, where no one knows your age or how long it's been since your last lip wax, and you drive home in the dark, grateful that no one noticed the fat rolling over the top of your jeans.

You slip into your dirty sheets, smelling yourself and traces of the last other person who was there, letting the oscillating fan blow your nightgown immodestly high. With the lights on, maybe the neighbors can see, just as they might see when you shower with the window open. But when you can't see the neighbors, they are as invisible as you think you are.

And then, one day, someone turns a camera on you. Someone shines a light on you. Someone watches everything you do, closely, with keen interest, admiration, curiosity, bewilderment, surprise, judgment.

And panic ensues.

When I first got contact lenses a few years ago, after a lifetime of hiding behind eyeglasses, my prevailing reaction to my new look was: "I don't like my face." In fact, I'd never really seen my face before, being more than half-blind without my glasses, and my face being completely transformed Clark Kent-style by them.

I had wrinkles I didn't know about.

Was I really that freckly?

Oh God, I'd rather not know.

Oh God, where is the bag I can wear over my head?

Later, after a bout of sexual harassment in the workplace, I wanted to disappear completely. I never wanted anyone to look at me, much less see me, much less desire me, or make any judgments at all, whether favorable or not.

But we humans are naturally social beings. The entrepreneurial, capitalist emphasis on the success of the individual is unnatural for us. We're supposed to pair-bond, breed families, travel in groups. Here, you've got a little something on your back, let me get that for you.

After spending nearly my entire adulthood alone (finally escaping my roommate sister and my parents' house where I wasn't even allowed to close the bathroom door), I was nearly convinced I'd never be able to share close quarters with anyone ever again, at least for any extended period of time, which in my life would mean more than one night (or more than a couple of hours).

But I just had a houseguest who visited me in LA for nearly a week - an event that sent me into a frenzy of hair coloration and removal, nail salon visits, and scrubbing everything - and, under the magnifying glass, I did just fine. Not only did I let him see everything, I wanted to show him everything.

And that made me realize: I'm tired of being unseen. I don't want to be one of the hidden parts of LA. I'm ready to be explored.

I might flub my lines. My makeup might flake. My nose might run. But someone's got to see it.

I'm ready for my closeup. I am no background player.

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August 25, 2013

The Love I Deserve

At nearly 38, which is of course nearly 40, I'm not too old to appreciate a good teen novel-turned-movie.

I recently fell in love with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a movie I watched on a whim, and then voraciously read the book to get the whole story.

It is incessantly quotable and relatable, a period piece that hearkens back to the time I myself was in high school.

One of its nuggets of wisdom is: "We accept the love we think we deserve."

I have accepted a lot of shitty love in my life, which, by and large, has meant no love at all, or verbalized love never enacted, or love as a threat, manipulation, punishment, or prize never rewarded.

I have accepted it all. Because I didn't think I could do better.

I have loved without the expectation of being loved back. And therefore, no one ever has.

I've tried dating some people, tried falling in love with them, despite not being very interested in them, despite not liking them very much, because I thought I should. Because I think I need a real relationship on my dating resume. Because I think my standards of love and romance might be too high, and to settle down, I might just have to settle.

In reality, no one I've ever loved has ever been a suitable partner for me. And while I was dating them, while I was pining for them after we stopped dating, I ignored that fact. I was willing to put my needs aside, to put myself aside, for them. I wanted to prove that I was a suitable partner, despite the fact that they probably didn't deserve me.

At least, they didn't earn me. They never tried very hard. It makes me wonder why I fell so hard.

If I'd never dated at all, if I'd never loved at all, I don't think I'd have any sense of what's actually out there, what's possible within the species of humans. I'd still be fantasizing about Johnny Castle. My only knowledge of the real world would be what I see posted by my friends on Facebook, which feels as fictional as any movie to me - I, the audience, viewing it from afar, aspiring to it, but remembering my father's voice telling me, "It's just a movie."

I need some real experiences of my own.

In the past, I've put so much of myself into other people, I've often forgotten myself. But it's taken me nearly 20 years of dating to realize that starting a relationship isn't like applying for college or interviewing for a job or even playing the lottery. It's not about luck, it's not about being chosen, or winning, it's about two separate equals deciding to do this thing together, for a while, maybe forever.

Finally, now that my life is half over, and perhaps half wasted, now that I have faced my past and gotten closure and am no longer pining, I have finally learned: I deserve to be loved.

I deserve to be with someone...
...who calls me and doesn't make me feel weird about calling them.
...who asks me as well as tells me.
...who is proud to be with me.

...who's attracted to me regardless of how much I weigh
whether or not I waxed
am clothed or naked.

...who doesn't have to be drunk to show me affection.
...who wants to hold me and be held by me.
...who doesn't ever want to stop kissing me.

...who doesn't think settling down with me is settling.

The tragedy of my life is that I don't know how I'm ever going to find what I deserve.

But at least I finally realize that I deserve it, and that I don't have to settle for less.

Now accepting applications.

Qualified candidates only, please.

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A Suitable Partner
My Time Has Passed

Photo Essay: Pinball Forever (Or, At Least, Since the 1930s)

I'm no Pinball Wizard.

In fact, many of the games I play - that I love playing - I play badly. Pinball included. Bowling included (despite having two bowling trophies). Many video games included. Chess and checkers not included, I'm really good at those.

But what does it mean to be good at a game? During some games, it means merely beating your opponent. But what about pinball - especially the early days of pinball, before multi-player was even possible?  Pinball began in the 1930s as a single player, solo game, during which a marble (not even a ball) was launched from a galley and bounced around some pins (hence pinball) until it landed in some kind of hole, which had been designated a points value, which then translated into some kind of cash prize, or maybe a free drink or a snack from the bar.

But with the crackdown on gambling, pinball makers had to get crafty in their player rewards, to keep the players playing, placing their nickels (and eventually quarters) into the coin slots.

They added bumpers with a voltage just strong enough to keep the ball (now, a ball) bouncing around the playing field. They gave free bonus balls after certain points thresholds had been reached (ushering in the add-a-ball era).

And then, they created game play that required certain non-point goals to be reached, actions that must be completed, making the points not matter so much anymore.

At Pinball Forever in Santa Ana, a few, limited, lucky VIP players can enter a time capsule of pinball machines dating back to the beginning of time (well, pinball time: the 1930s) and witness - even play - the evolution of pinball from pins and holes to bumpers and flippers and depressions that eject and return the ball back into play.

In the 1950s room, I was launching and flipping and bouncing and leaning and trying not to tilt (no tilting!) when one of the owners approached me and asked, "OK, so do you know how to play this?"

"I was just trying to keep the ball in play..." I confessed, with the sinking feeling I should be doing something more.

"Oh, that's how I started playing too," she said. "That's how we all start. But let me explain this one..."

And it turns out, as pinball machines became more sophisticated, with lit-up back graphics and wood rails, they required you to accomplish certain feats - to strategize where the ball goes - and not just keep it out of the gutter.

You have to hit certain letters in a row.

You have to hit certain numbers in a row.

You have to knock certain cards down, in a row.

All the while, you have to keep the ball moving, always moving, scoring points...

...flipping flippers...

...bumping balls.

If you play these pinball machines correctly, it's exhausting.

While I was at Pinball Forever, I didn't try to master any one pinball game.

I was more interested in the novelty of each new game, with each new theme...

...though I found the strategy was often the same, though the graphics of the game might change, with new lights, new colors, and new sounds.

Is it ever enough just to keep the ball in play? I mean, you can't keep the ball in play forever - you've all these other balls (as many as nine more!) waiting to be launched. If you just stay on the first ball, you'll never finish.

And you've got to finish in order to move onto the next pinball machine.

I don't want to play the same pinball machine all night, the same game forever.

I want to know what it's like to play them all.

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August 16, 2013

The Lesser of Two Gambles

I'm not much of a gambler. (Though, with my addictive personality, I could easily become a spender on gambling entertainment. Too easily.)

I am strategic, intentional, and calculating. I don't like betting on an unsure thing, relying on luck and chance to determine the outcome. I like to play chess (and checkers) because I don't have to guess what cards are in the deck or in my opponent's hand, or whether they're lying or not. I merely have to predict their next move, perhaps several moves ahead, and respond accordingly. Although there is no certain fate - chess players don't always play perfect games, and sometimes miss the move that could've won them the game - it feels more controllable than, say, roulette. It's not pure probability.

It's like living life.

Today, I had to make a choice between two life gambles:

  1. Enter into jury selection process when I know I am not available for the next five days, counting on the fact that I won't be selected for trial (because I've never been, because I'm too smart and think too critically), and thereby complete my service week, get dismissed, and be done for a year
  2. Postpone my jury duty - even though I've been on the hook for it all week, living day to day, calling in every night to see if I would have to report the next day - knowing that I'll have to go through the same damn thing again in the next 90 days, the last four days having been wasted.
The thing is, this week would've been great for jury duty, and even a five-day trial. Being currently underemployed, I was able to clear my schedule enough so that jury duty would've only been a minor inconvenience.

But next week, I've got plans. Big plans. And although it never seems to be a good time to be a juror, getting selected for a trial starting next week would have been a disaster.

I could've taken my chances and not postponed. If I'd gotten placed onto an actual jury, maybe I could've called in sick Monday, risking the $1500 no-show fine, due process and criminal justice be damned.

But actually, I'd like to serve on a jury, to perform my civic duty on a panel of some potential criminal's peers. I never got to in Brooklyn or Manhattan, having been dismissed from the waiting room because I wasn't needed or from the voir dire because I asked too many questions.

So I chose to postpone the inevitable, and walked away from the juror selection process today with the relief of knowing I can have my week next week, uninterrupted.

But I've still got impending juror service looming over me, sometime after next week. If I'd gambled and not been selected today, I'd be completely free, a win.

But if I had been selected, it would've been a tragic loss.

And sometimes you've got to weigh the risk of losing more over the gain of winning.

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August 15, 2013

Taking the Stairs to a Tower, a Terrace, a Dell and a Bowl in Hollywood

I've done a fair amount of walking around Hollywood, having figured out that parking on or south of Hollywood Boulevard and walking a mile to the Hollywood Bowl is better than taking the God forsaken death chamber of a shuttle bus, and having most memorably walked up to Yamashiro in the Hollywood Hills with Edith until a limo driver took pity on us on the way up and offered us a ride.

So now, once I find a parking spot, I'm reticent to give it up to drive around. After all, where is there to drive in Hollywood? Where is there even to park? There's a reason why Hollywood Boulevard is teeming with people: it's a pedestrian community, akin to Times Square or other public town squares where people amble and wander and look at the pretty lights. Only most visitors walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard in a straight line, rather than meandering through its fascinating side streets, parks, and public stairways.

I found myself finishing a meeting in Hollywood and in close proximity to a good parking spot, with some time to kill, so I decided to change into my hiking clothes, slip on some sneakers and strap on my hydration pack, and set off walking.

I started up a public staircase where neighbors walk their dogs, landing onto a cul-de-sac on Glencoe Way. Wanting to extend my walk, I turned right down a possibly private driveway, walked along another walkway...

...and ended up at the USC-owned Samuel Freeman House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's concrete block creations (like the Ennis House) which is still in severe disrepair after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Though it was stabilized in 2005 using FEMA funds, USC's efforts to complete restoration are so old, they still blame "acid rain" for its deterioration.

If it's anything like the Ennis House or the Hollyhock House, it's leaky, classic Frank Lloyd Wright.

Back up the way I came, back to the cul-de-sac, I went up a partially-handrailed staircase that a dogwalker warned me was private but turns out to be public...

...leading me up to another cul-de-sac, on and off Glencoe repeatedly, to the bottom of Broadview Terrace...

...whose stairs upwards are actually a junction of two separate staircases...

...leading up to Hollywood's High Tower.

Built in the 1920s by architect Carl Kay for his wife who tired of climbing stairs, it's not a belltower. It doesn't house a hunchback.

It's an elevator shaft.

Technically it's not in Hollywood, it's in Alta Loma...

...and rumor has it that only 30 residents have keys to the elevator...

...which, shockingly, still works.

It has to - there's still no way up to the top of that big hill, other than the stairstreets. For those elite few that don't want to walk what feels like hundreds of stairs (which I walked), and have a key because they live in one of the buildings inaccessible by car (and pay a monthly subscription fee), they take the elevator.

This strange little community of homes and their gardens - mostly built by Kay between 1935 and 1956 -  is directly adjacent to the Hollywood Bowl, but you'd never know it's there just driving by. You don't even see it walking by. But moviegoers have seen it - and the streamline moderne houses that surround the tower - as Elliot Gould's residence in the film version of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye.

Less hidden but perhaps equally secret are the stairs surrounding the Hollywood Bowl leading up to various upper parking and picnic areas, all of which are more or less open to the public during the day.

Even more secret: the Bowl itself is open during the day, not only for occasional open rehearsals and soundchecks, but also when it's completely empty and  you can walk around freely.

With a capacity that tops 17,000, the Hollywood Bowl is the nation's largest natural amphitheater, originally built in a naturally bowl-shaped area called Daisy Dell.

Opened in 1922, it's known best for its recognizable bandshell, but the "Bowl" of the Hollywood Bowl is actually the curved land that the seats were built into, for the first time permanently in 1926.

During the day, you can walk all the way to the top of those seats - to the top of the bowl - and look down at the iconic bandshell, which has changed a few times since Lloyd Wright's first incarnations in 1927, 28 and 29, the latter of which lasted until 2003, when the current shell was built and replaced it.

Architect Frank Gehry, a friend of the LA Phil, even got involved in the 1970s and 80s to improve acoustics, installing "sonotubes" in 1970 and fiberglass spheres that dangled over the stage, ten years later.

I was walking around for almost two hours before I returned to my car, but both the High Tower and the Bowl are more quickly accessible for a quick peek if you park closer and walk straight to them. But where's the fun in that?

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August 14, 2013

Remembering the Blackout, 10 Years Later

Ten years ago today, I experienced the most epic night of my life in New York City.

It was the Blackout of 2003.

It was a year after I'd started a new job at Razor & Tie. Sitting in my cubicle, I watched the digital display of my phone disappear. The lights went out, but since it was late afternoon, we could still see the panicked looks on each other's faces.

It was less than two years after 9/11.

It was silent - eerily silent, especially for a record label office where literally every desk would normally be blasting different music.

We couldn't believe it.

We thought it was terrorism.

We looked around at each other.

And then I looked under my desk. I remembered something.

"I have vodka!" I shouted.

I'd gotten a free case of it when Nick Broomfield, the director of Biggie & Tupac, had appeared on the Carson Daly Show. He hadn't wanted any part of his gift basket (or to have to carry it back to England with him), so, as lead marketing person on the project, I inherited it.

One of the upper execs of the company, who I treated as my boss even though he wasn't actually my boss, asked, "Uh, Sandi, do you really want to drink right now?"

"YES." I responded, and began setting up my bartending station at the receptionist's desk in the front, appropriating the ice, juices, and cups meant for our conference room guests.

I served everybody: underage interns, assistants, radio promotion, product managers, sales, and myself. We were biding time. We were coping the only way New Yorkers know how.

When we were finally released from our duty and sent home, there was a caravan of people walking across the Brooklyn Bridge home. Living in Greenpoint at the time, I could have joined them. Although in another borough, across the bridge and across the river, it wasn't actually that far.

But I chose to stay.

A splinter group of us went off to some Mexican restaurant nearby in the West Village, drinking margaritas we weren't charged for, and might never be charged for. I had a cell phone, but the network was jammed. I tried calling Freddy from a pay phone. It wasn't the first time I couldn't reach him since first dating him in May that year. I tried to check in with other friends, mostly to no avail, but I somehow managed to connect with my friend George, with whom I'd had plans to see a movie that night, and who'd been rollerblading around Lower Manhattan when the power went out. With no shoes in hand, he picked up a pair of flip flops in Chinatown and rolled on over to join us for margaritas and the Odyssey that we were about to embark on.

At some point, it started to get dark. Hours had passed, and the lights still weren't on. The quietude of the initial outage had given way to a different kind of buzz - the buzzing in our own ears, the chatter of speculation, the rumble of car engines whose drivers used their headlights to illuminate the road and their car radios to inform the entire neighborhood as to the latest updates.

We walked.

We weren't walking towards my home, but our group was heading towards the apartment of the girlfriend of a coworker - a safe place to go, a place with more alcohol, a cool courtyard, and plenty of room for our group.

We trudged up Third Avenue, not far from the bonfires of Tompkins Square Park, of which we were unaware at the time. Restaurants had hauled buckets full of beer and ice out onto the sidewalk and were selling bottles for $3 apiece, open container laws be damned. I bought a Corona but my thirst was soon eclipsed by my urgent need to pee, and it took very little begging on my part for a restaurant to not only let me in, but walk me back to their restroom, flashlight in hand, and then handed off to me so I could see where I was wiping.

We eventually made it up to the East 30s, where we cracked open a bottle of Jack. I laid my sweaty body upon cool cobblestone, and rocked back and forth. Near my 30 pound weight loss peak (in preparation for my 10 year high school reunion), I started doing yoga poses on the ground, demonstrating for the group, who egged me on. I kept trying my phone, hoping to hear from Freddy, hoping to hear from anyone, but nothing.

I had to pee again, so I brought my phone into Melissa's bathroom, and somehow while I was flushing the toilet, I dropped my phone into it. My drunken eyes couldn't quite understand why the light went out on my phone display as it sailed through the air into the swirling bowl.

"Shit shit shit" I muttered, retrieving the phone from its tidal pool and wiping off its dewy residue. Dead.

I returned to the courtyard with a story about dropping the phone in the sink and not the toilet, and kept trying to turn it on. It surely was a goner from the water exposure, the worst thing I could imagine happening during a blackout.

At some point - without my phone, I'd lost all sense of time - I'd given up on the idea of ever making it back to Brooklyn that night, so George offered to walk me through a darkened Times Square to his apartment in Hell's Kitchen. I remember the feeling of abandonment, isolation. Although I know now that there were hundreds of people stranded on the street from hotels whose electronic keys no longer admitted its guests into its rooms, at the time, I couldn't sense them. I didn't hear them. They silently awaited reentry, as we walked through them to George's place.

Upon arrival, George announced that he'd just made ice cream sandwiches that were in the freezer and would surely spoil if we didn't eat them right then and there. That was probably the best thing I ever tasted, credited either to George's culinary skills, or the urgency at hand, or the alcohol-induced hunger pangs, or the hours since wolfing down salsa and chips and licking the salt from the rim of my margarita.

George put me into his bed, while he slept on the couch, glasses of water by both our sides, a cold compress to alleviate the heat.

I woke up in my gym clothes, into which I'd changed somewhere around the first margarita, sweating in George's bed, into the harshness of daylight, and the deafening silence of a continued power outage. It was a weekday, and we wondered if we'd have to work, but it seemed that the power was still out everywhere.

We could stay in George's smoldering apartment, or we could venture out, and see if we could find power anywhere. We hatched a plan to walk me back to Brooklyn, or catch a bus, or figure out some other way there, to see what life was like on the other side of the river. We found an actual working ATM (a miracle!), and made our way to Queensborough Plaza - somehow - and a couple of hours later, Greenpoint. One of the Polish restaurants was actually serving ice in their water and cooking pierogies, which we ate voraciously, impressed by the industriousness of a restaurant actually open and operating despite no power to be found anywhere nearby.

We thought we were at our end of days. We'd already seen more in New York than we'd ever wanted to see, and I think we all thought we would eventually meet our timely or untimely demise there, surely there, if anywhere, then there.

And then, a buzz.

The noise of the city returned.

As the sun once again began to dip in the sky, the artificial light returned.

And George went back home to Manhattan.

And nearly 24 hours later, we returned to our lives, with our own lights, in our own apartments, sleeping in our own beds.

But for one night, we were one city - sharing beers, sharing beds, sharing light and news and fear and excitement and intoxication and bewilderment and wonder.

August 12, 2013

A Safe Place, Far from Home

Some of us can't survive where we come from, the environment into which we are born.

For whatever reasons, our home becomes inhospitable. We become endangered. We have to leave.

We have to go somewhere else, foreign to us, perhaps not ideal.

It is safer, it is better, but it is not perfect. The new location carries its own perils, limitations, restrictions.

For survival, we must go.

It's not the same.

There are less of our kind here.

Not everyone understands us, speaks the same language, sings the same songs.

We've left behind our family, and if we're lucky, we'll find a mate and start a family of our own.

Or we may stay in a cage by ourselves for a few years...singing...hoping... eating...entertaining ourselves...waiting out our isolation, because it's not it?

It's hot.

It's cold.

It's dry.

It's sunny.

But in many ways, in most ways, it's easy here. Relocated, we can live here. We couldn't live back there.

If we are to live, this is the place. For now, anyway.

Of course, I'm talking about myself (and perhaps some fellow humans), but I'm also talking about gibbons: tree-dwelling, tropical and sub-tropical apes who have lost their habitats because of deforestation in India, Indonesia, China and other parts of Asia.

They've often been captured into the pet trade, improperly domesticated and used as a tourist attraction ("get your photo taken with an ape!"). They are social yet territorial, and, through brachiation, are almost always on the move, yet they are still able to bond in pairs.

At the Gibbon Conservation Center, rescued gibbons without a mate are introduced to one, and encouraged to breed - not only for the survival of the species, but for the suvival of the individual. Left too long alone, a gibbon will get depressed (yes, they get depressed) and will refuse to eat, leave its cage, allow it to be touched by humans.

In their native lands, there are some zoos - some good, some bad - that can rescue gibbons and give them a safe place to live out the rest of their lives (which can exceed 30 years in the wild, 40+ years in captivity).

The Gibbon Conservation Center provides perhaps a safer place, much farther away from home, where they can live longer lives, in a daily routine that mimics their behavior out in the wild (e.g. being fed 10 times a day, though they don't have to forage for their own food in the trees).

What do they do here?

They swing from limb to limb.

They groom each other, even though they're already pretty clean and don't need much of it. It's more an excuse to cuddle and be close.

They raise their young, sometimes for six or seven or eight years until their offspring reach sexual maturity and try to dominate them, becoming hostile and eventually getting expelled from the family group to go live on their own, find their own mate, and breed their own family.

There is one gibbon at the Gibbon Conservation Center who, after expulsion, still lives alone in his cage. He hasn't found a mate. He hasn't fathered any young. He's still young himself, he's got time. He sings his songs, alone. He uses his long forearms to swing. He calls out to the others. He's not depressed...yet.

But how long can he sustain this before the lack of meaning really, you know, gets to him?

The Gibbon Conservation Center is raising money right now to try to address the climate issues presented by their Southern California location, which isn't ideal for the (mostly) Asian gibbons who are used to less extreme temperature changes and more humidity. To contribute (before Friday August 16!) click here.

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