October 29, 2013

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, Or, The Cassandra Complex

"We're all just mice running around a maze," I said, my voice pleading, "just trying to learn where to get the cheese and avoid getting zapped."

You see, this mouse has been zapped before.

And I was about to get zapped again.

When all I wanted was some cheese.

I recently got back in touch with a guy I adored in junior high, who sat in front of me in class and always turned around joking and swayed slowly with me to "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" at a school dance. After our first communique, he gave me his number in case I ever wanted to talk.

"How about now?" I asked, and then winced. What had I gotten myself into?

Despite hating most of my childhood, for some reason I'm constantly trying to reconnect with my past, despite it hurting me over and over again, despite me being too sensitive to deal with it.

But sometimes, I can't forget. I need closure.

And so oops, I do it again.

He agreed to an impromptu call, but it took me a while to dial the number that night. When I did, he seemed genuinely happy to be back in touch with me, as I was with him. His enthusiasm, and that same voice I recognized from back then, calmed my nerves.

After an hour or so of late night talking, I hung up, having no idea that he would call me again the next day. And the next night. And text me. And leave missed calls.

I immediately got spooked.

"You know, I don't talk to anybody every day," I said with some consternation. Talking on the phone is really hard for me, particularly to someone I haven't seen in 20 years. Although I think I initially offended him, making him back off for a few days, his advances resurged, becoming more and more romantic in his approach, more sexually explicit in his flirtation. He even invited himself to come out and stay with me, only a month or two after we'd reunited.

I knew this was going to go badly.

I expressed my concerns to him honestly - citing "too much, too soon," a reason most guys had never had the guts to give me for brushing me off, but I knew to be true. Although he didn't book the flight, he kept calling me and telling me to call him, sometimes multiple times a day.

I understood. He'd recently gone through a breakup from a long-term relationship which had separated him from his son and his son's mother. He was living alone for the first time in years. Although he insisted he wasn't rebounding, he didn't have anyone to talk to about his day at work. So he called me. But I didn't want to be second choice, or a sounding board for someone else's heartbreak. I've got enough of my own. I can't give relationship advice. I've never even had a real relationship.

He was never short of conversation, but I was often silent. When he'd ask me why I didn't have anything to say, I'd simply reply, "I'm just waiting for this to crash and burn."

Undeterred by my resistance, he'd call me under the ruse of asking me how my day was, what I was up to, what adventures I'd been on, but he'd always quickly shift the conversation back to himself, his job, his son, his breakup, his loneliness. He told me how much he couldn't wait for me to come back home for a Christmas visit, persistently asking if I'd booked my flights yet. He insisted that when we saw each other, we were going to hook up.

But to me, and my soft, delicate soul, that felt like a threat. It felt like I was being punished.

Where had this guy been for the last 20 years? (And really, more than that, since we never actually spoke in high school...) Why did he suddenly deem me now, after all these years, datable, sexy, and worth pursuing - relentlessly?

And what had he done to think he'd earned any place in my heart beyond nostalgia for a crush I had on a guy that was actually nice to me, in a time when no one else was?

What right did he have to talk about seeing me naked, and ask what turns me on, what I do in bed?

I knew this was doomed. But I'm so seldom pursued, I let it drag on, even though it messed with my head so much that it pushed me to tears on the phone with him one night, as I begged him to leave me alone, to back off and just be my friend.

I told him about the high school guy who moved to LA, promised we'd become really good friends, and then dropped me like a hot potato. I told him about the married high school guy to whom I'd become hurtfully attached, despite his very healthy, continued relationship with his wife. All these times I've been zapped in pursuit of a tasty morsel of affection and attention.  And, presented with this evidence, my prior experiences with heartbreak from guys from the same school and the same time period, he promised me, "I'm not going to do that. I'm not that guy."

Then my birthday came. He called me in the morning while I was sobbing into the bathroom mirror. Still recovering from being stood up the night before, I answered tearily, saying, "I really don't feel like talking." He thankfully let me go, saying that he was at work anyway, and we hung up.

And then later, after my birthday dinner, he texted me a message that proved he didn't know me at all: "See you're out celebrating don't be so grumpy."

As my birthday came to a close while I drowned my sorrows in a glass of prosecco alone at the Four Seasons bar, I unabashedly told him to STFU, to which he replied, "Yeah bad choice, have fun."

And, in almost a month, that is the last I've heard from him in any form of communication, save for one late night missed call a week ago, which I can only presume was a drunk dial.

Exactly as I'd suspected. I didn't know when, where, or how, or how soon I'd be dropped - what I would do or say to deserve it, how long it would take before I could completely push him away - but I knew it would happen.

I've always thought the worst punishment is be rewarded, only to have that reward taken away. I've been most hurt by those who have pretended to love me and then thrown it back in my face, who've used affection against me, as though I've owed them something in return. Don't let me fall in love with a stray cat and then give it away to the neighbors.  Don't promise me all the things we're going to do together and then not show up, come up with other plans, or just forget to call. Don't tell me you'll love me forever and then stop loving me.

Don't make me even more suspicious of anyone who might come after you. Because now I expect everyone to press the lever, releasing an electrical current into my quivering nose or claw. I don't want to walk the maze anymore. I've stopped caring about the cheese. No cheese is worth being zapped for.

And if I expect it to happen, it most certainly will.

Don't tell me it won't.

Related Posts:
Dispatches from My Soft, Naked Core
Of the Brokenhearted
Damaged Goods, Or, The Female James Bond
My Time Has Passed

Photo Essay: A Garden Haunting

It was just like any other botanic garden on a cloudy day.

But it wasn't really a botanic garden...

 was an arboretum...

...with more trees and (some flowering) bushes than actual planted flowers.

But on that day, it wasn't just any ordinary arboretum:

The trees and the landscape had been taken over... the undead.

Skulls peered out from behind cobwebbed branches...

...while skeletons rose from their graves...

...and rested against their tombstones.

They even went for a paddle.

What haunted this garden in Fullerton, on that afternoon?

Perhaps whatever always haunts it, unseen, hidden from view.

Related Post:
That Which Haunts Me

October 25, 2013

One of My Kind

Since I moved to LA, nearly everything I've done has been informed by my desire to hang out.

I give rides to needy passengers, partially to repay my karmic debt, but mostly so we can chat on the way.

I helped an acquaintance move on a hot summer day so we might become friends, or so that I might make friends with his. Instead of being given the gift of friendship, I got money and a free dinner.

I have taken jobs for which I was unpaid altogether, or severely underpaid, because I liked the people I was going to be working with, and thought we might have fun together. I told one boss (who I'd considered a friend) that he could just take me to a nice dinner in lieu of payment. I just wanted to spend some quality time with him. Several months after the project ended, he still hasn't.

I always suffered office jobs for the sake of business lunches and coffee breaks and happy hours. I quit a job last year, primarily because it was too lonely and isolating.

In my free time, I often go out alone, but I don't really want to be alone. I sit at the bar to hang out with the bartender. I chat up the valet guy and the doorman and the bus boy. They keep me company until I have to go home alone.

When the season allows, instead of sipping bourbon by myself, I've taken to going to Halloween haunts by myself, my trepidation of going alone outweighed by my fear of missing out by having no one to accompany me. The box office staff (and sometimes even the ghouls) always comment how "brave" I am, but I'm not scared of being alone with bloody brides and deranged doctors and chainsaw-wielding werewolves.

I'm scared of being alone, all alone, forever.

Contrary to their intended effect, the haunted houses and mazes and theatrical extravaganzas around LA make me feel calm, comforted, welcome. I feel like I belong there, with the spooks, their ghastly attacks tickling me like a feather.

Earlier this month, I drove all the way to Thousand Oaks for a haunt called Reign of Terror, where the actors jump out at you with a "Boo" and then promptly return to their respective hiding places. Don't they know I want to hang out? Why wouldn't they want to stalk me, taunt me, torment me, spend a little time with me?

I am a tasty snack. Lure me into your death chamber!

Tonight, I hit two Halloween attractions in Pasadena by myself. First, at the Old Town Haunt, I bumped into an acquaintance and his date, who joined me on my journey into the basement. In front of us was another couple, the pack leader a screaming fraidy cat, and his date as calm, curious, and flirtatious with the terrorizing cast as I always am. As her date bore the brunt of all the startles and scares, while she stayed second in line, mostly in silence, he once turned around and yelled, "Are you just OK with this?!"

We both giggled a little, because we both were.  I'd never seen anyone else like me in this setting.

Next at the Theatre of Terror, the guys behind me in line recognized me from Old Town Haunt, and, upon striking up a conversation, swapped stories with me about Halloween attractions and other, real, reportedly haunted places.  When we approached the front of the line, and the ticket-taker asked how many in my party, I admitted I was only one, but - feeling some commonality and shared enthusiasm - we all agreed to go in, all three of us together. And as we ambled slowly through the outdoor carnival and cemetery, past the bushes that grabbed us and into the theater, crawling on our knees and getting zapped by an electrified wall, we remarked at how cool it all looked, making small talk with the characters and sticking around longer than we probably should, just so we could hang out just a little more.

Just like I usually do by myself.

I get these glimmers of hope every now and then that I'm not an island, these inklings that there are others out there like me, I just have to keep looking, look harder for them. The heartbreak is that when I do find one, our encounters are often fleeting, and for whatever reason, they go away. Or I go away. Or we forget.

To follow my Halloween adventures this year in photos, click here.

Related Posts:
Haunting for One
The Island of Misfit Toy
Vast City of Forgotten Encounters
The Last of My Kind

October 24, 2013

Photo Essay: Stoney Point, at the Santa Susana Pass

Sometimes it's ridiculous how much access we Angelenos have to historic sites and gorgeous feats of nature.

Right off Topanga Canyon Boulevard, shortly after exiting the 118 Freeway, right along the Santa Susana Pass (and on the way to Valley Relics), you happen upon a giant bounder outcropping called Stoney Point.

This confluence of boulders forms caves, dens, and alcoves for climbing and exploring...

...but for us trainspotters...

...the park itself also provides a good view of the railroad tracks that pass through a tunnel cut out of the rock, Stoney Point being a milemarker for the Southern Pacific Railroad...

...and originally part of the larger (planned) Transcontinental Railroad, which never ended up connecting the entire country via one railroad as it once intended.

This tunnel, built in 1904 and renovated with concrete reinforcements in 1921, cuts through the rock under the Upper Cretaceous outcroppings (more than 65 million years old), and goes all the way under the Santa Susana Mountains and Pass.

For decades, the narrow tunnel has served such modern trains as the Metrolink commuter and Union Pacific freight lines (their path also visible from the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park), their shared single track unfortunately resulting in a disastrous train collision in September 2008, just east of Stoney Point along the curved part of the track. (According to the Los Angeles Times, it was the worst passenger rail disaster in modern California history.)

Above the tunnel, on the banks above the tracks, you can still find some relics and debris, artifacts of industrial archaeology, perhaps of disaster.

And then, of course, on the tunnel and the boulders, is the graffiti.

Some unusual rock formations remain unmolested...

...while others bear markings that you might see on rain rocks, mortars used by native tribes (in this case, the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe).

I wonder what lurks below.

Although there are hiking and bridle trails that take you around the rocks...

...most people come here to climb them.

I was happy to merely look up at them...

...navigate my path through them...

...leaving the rugged stuff to those better-equipped than I.

I kept listening for a train.

I never spotted a train...

...the train that put the stagecoach out of business...

...whose path, along with the Santa Susana Pass, marks the division between the Simi Hills and the Santa Susana Mountains, between Los Angeles and Ventura counties, where sandstone rises out of chaparral, and commuter and freight trains share a single track.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Along the Old Stagecoach Pass

October 22, 2013

Photo Essay: Rosenthal Malibu Estate Vineyard Tour

I'm no stranger to winetasting, but like many things that entertain or attract me in life, I like the hidden gems, the underdog wine country full of little-known vineyards and small batch wines made from rare varietals.

Fortunately, California is the largest wine producing state in the country, and even better, I tend to prefer Central Coast and Southern California wine over Napa and Sonoma, which are farther away and much more popular with tourists.

I'll go drink wine in Temecula or Malibu anyday.

I'd already hit some of the tasting rooms in Malibu, and up in the hills above - Malibu Family Wines, Cornell, etc. - but one local vineyard, as of yet, had eluded me: Rosenthal Malibu Estate, whose boutique wines could be readily sampled in their tasting room on the PCH, but whose vineyard estate itself was rarely open to the public.

On a sunny Saturday with nothing to do, I headed through the Kanan Road tunnels in the Santa Monica Mountains...

...through an imposing wooden gate... the tasting room in the former stables, where Andalusian stallions (e.g. Black Beauty) were once boarded.

It has the appearance of adaptive reuse of a historic property, but in this case, "historic" is relative: the buildings on the entire estate were constructed as recently as the 1990s, the vineyards themselves first planted in 1987.

Of course, with the rustic hardware and Spanish tile roof and other Mission-style features, Rosenthal's development - which is only a small percentage of the 250 acres, the rest remaining wild and undeveloped - evokes another time, another place.

But make no mistake: Rosenthal, and its RE (and, in some cases, RME) initials are embedded everywhere.

In addition to the tasting room, the stables also house a conference room...

...lined with wine barrels.

You cross a creek on the way to the actual vineyards...

...where you first come upon the Cabernet Franc grapes, usually used only as a blending grape but occasionally produced into a pure, unblended Cabernet Franc red wine.

Up on the sloping hillside (best for water runoff when it rains), the "Block M" Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grow...

...and down below, we sipped chardonnay as we made our way towards the Estate itself...

...through Block 8 of chardonnay grapes...

...first planted in 1992.

We'd already missed the fall harvest, so the branches remained mostly bare, the few seedy grapes remaining shriveling up like raisins, and the leaves turning yellow and brown.

The estate feels small but a bit lavish...

...and oh-so-Malibu...

...with its fountains and mosaic tile and cobblestone and driveways and carport.

After a brief stop up at the estate, it was back to the stables for more wine - and oh, the wine. I'd happened upon an event that coincided with a wine club member's birthday, an event the winery had almost cancelled until its club members protested. So, in celebration of the event, and of the small group of us, the organizers seized the day, and said, "Let's have some fun."

They opened rare, limited, earlier vintage wines that they'd been wanting to try. They poured an exclusive bottle only available for a limited time at the Sunset Marquis (one of their owned properties) for an art opening. They tested bottles that weren't quite ready yet - and we drank them anyway. We paired wines and cheeses and then just mixed and matched everything together. We alternated between reds and whites, eventually not bothering to change to clean glasses or even rinse in between. I tried to abstain from second pours and refrain from overpours, but I tried everything, and really tasted it.

But mostly, I looked out into Malibu Newton Canyon, missing my girlfriends, loving where I was, grateful for proximity to all of this.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Before Malibu Was Malibu