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 Posts:
A Tear's Worth
My Inner New Yorker

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

October 23, 2014

Photo Essay: Boney Island's Magical Skeleton Crew (Updated for 2023—Reopened at NHMLA!)

[Last updated 10/6/23 10:33 PM PT—For my photo essay on the new Boney Island at NHMLA, click here.]

[Updated 9/7/23 12:40 PM PT—Boney Island will pop up at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles this year September 28-October 31, 2023. I've got my ticket for opening night, so stay tuned for my report!]

[Updated 10/29/21 12:18 AM PT—Boney Island closed in 2017 and relocated to Griffith Park in 2018. It's been dark since 2019, but it may come back at the same or in a different location.]

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. 

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"

October 20, 2014

Photo Essay: Hollywood's First Jewish Temple, Restored

[Last updated 9/11/21 1:04 PM PT]

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.

October 18, 2014

To Say "I Love You"

I've loved before, but I never said it.

They probably knew, but I never said it.

I never said it, because I knew they didn't love me back.

So when I finally decided to say it to someone, you would think it would have been hard to get the words out, to utter the sentiment that had been on the verge of my lips and in the core of my heart time and time before, tucked away, hidden, silenced.

Instead, it was the easiest thing in the world.

And once I started to say it, I couldn't stop.

Imagine my surprise when I heard those words said back to me.

It was the best feeling in the world.

It took 38 years for it to happen.

And now I realize it wasn't real.

The love I heard wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the love I wanted. It wasn't the love I gave.

He said "love is love," but this love is not that love.

And now I wonder why I had to open my big fat mouth. Why did I ever have to say anything at all?

It was a gift I gave him that he didn't want.

And the worst thing in the world is to say "I love you" to someone who doesn't want to hear it.

On a Break

Sometimes, you need to take a break.

Sometimes, things are just broken, and you have to throw them out.

Sometimes, things are so bad, you just don't have anything to say about them.

Sometimes you have to give up and do something else.

Sometimes you have to do nothing at all.

You don't cry.

You don't rebound.

You don't distract.

You don't self-medicate.

You don't lash out.

You just...don't.

There is no anger worth having.

There are no feelings worth hurting.

There are no hurts worth feeling.

October 14, 2014

Photo Essay: The Lost Furry Companions of LA's Pet Cemetery

If you love animals as much as I do, the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park – translation: pet cemetery – might prove to be too heartbreaking for you.

But, it turns out, I love to have my heart broken. Apparently.

All over the "park" you'll find statues of St. Francis of Assisi, known as the patron saint of animals...

...and the origin of the Blessing of the Animals...

...which usually takes place on October 4...

...but can occur throughout the month.

I suppose you always find some animal iconography at cemeteries...

...certainly birds and bunnies and big cats and lambs...

...all of which make their appearance in the Bible (both in the Old and New Testaments)...

...but here...

...these above-ground statues and figures...

...are only a small tribute... what's buried down below:

...the beloved companions of individuals and families throughout the LA area.

Some of the families are famous or prominent in some way...

...having enough money to spring for a proper resting place (replete with casket and headstone) for their furry friends...

...but in other cases... Milton Sill, the famed German Shepherd "who knew everything," (even how to spell)...

...or Arras of the Los Angeles K9 unit...

...or even Blinky the Friendly Hen (infamous as a performance art piece in which a frozen Foster Farms chicken was buried and mourned)...

...the animal itself has some claim to fame.

"Room 8" was a neighborhood cat who wandered into a classroom at Echo Park's Elysian Heights Elementary School...

...and who died in 1968 at age 21, after over a dozen years of returning to the same classroom at the start of every school year. The school's students raised the money for his gravestone.

Tawny is probably the only lion buried at LA Pet Memorial Park, and reportedly one of the former MGM lions.

But even the not-so-famous pets clearly had a major impact on their families...

...who were not just "owners"...

...but considered themselves parents...

...often attributing their own salvation to their little angels...

...who were often also considered the soulmates of those they left behind.

I have never seen a cemetery in Southern California so lovingly kempt.

The lawn is green, watered and fertilized.

Many of the headstones are as large and imposing as one would be for any human dignitary or movie star.

The more modest plaques are in terrific condition...

...and are inscribed with the most adorable pet names...

...etchings of the animals...

...and the most heartwarming (and heartbreaking) epitaphs... many languages...

...and for multiple faiths (many of the tombstones carrying a Star of David).

There are a few horses buried here, as well as countless cats, dogs, birds, and turtles.

There's even a mausoleum (and crematory)...

...for above-ground interments...

...including one for a 9-11 hero dog who has passed.

The Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park was founded as a kind of cemetery to the stars in 1928 by celebrity veterinarian Dr. Eugene Jones (the same Dr. Jones of the doomed Jones Animal Hospital that West Hollywood just voted to demolish in favor of the Melrose Triangle development project). Although it was intended as a final resting place for Hollywood's animal kingdom, it has provided consolation and a place for bereavement for many other families – and continues to provide funeral services for new burials today, but also a supportive community for grieving, with occasional candlelight vigils.

Despite those 40,000-plus animals interred (including a number of unmarked graves), reportedly they're not running out of room anytime soon.

And yes, you guessed it: it's also haunted.

October 10, 2014

Photo Essay: Remembering the Civil War at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery

I tend to find larger, more popular (and populated) cemeteries a bit overwhelming. Unless I'm there to visit someone specific, or to see a specific building, I find myself wandering aimlessly, taking photos of the faces that keep me company as I wander.

Angelus Rosedale is one of LA's oldest cemeteries, and relatively large but not that well-known.

Situated on 65 acres in the West Adams neighborhood, it was the first of the "lawn" cemeteries...

...not associated with a particular church...

...and, back in 1884, one of the first to be open to both all races and all creeds.

Every year, Angelus Rosedale hosts a Living History tour with the West Adams Heritage Association... help visitors navigate the cemetery's rich history...

...and the real historical figures that populate it.

This year, the grave sites came alive with the ghosts of those who witnessed the Civil War...

...including wives and other family members of those who fought...

...those who actually fought...

...all he nurses who took care of the wounded...

...all in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States.

Four hundred fifty Civil War veterans are buried in an area dedicated to the Grand Army of the Republic...

...but the cemetery is also where plenty of early LA pioneers and former mayors are also buried.

In fact, as people continue to be buried here, space is at a premium, and a palm tree-lined, paved street was torn up and filled in with dirt and grass... make more room for more graves.

Not just the palms...

...but all of the many varieties of trees...

...really stand out in the meadow... do some of the more unusual monuments...

...and larger tributes to those that have passed...

...including a couple of Celtic crosses.

The cemetery is a bit unusual in its policy of upkeep:

...the families of the deceased are responsible for taking care of the area surrounding each plot...

...including watering the grass, removing debris, and keeping the headstones from becoming consumed by the earth below.

So the cemetery isn't uniformly neglected (and is actually in pretty good condition)...

...but you find the occasional leaning marker...

...or one that has toppled altogether.

Other visitors might prop them back up, have them lean against something so they can actually be seen, but somebody's got to come fix that in a more permanent way, because the cemetery's not going to do it.

And if they don't have anyone left to take care of their above-ground reminder of their underground resting place? Perhaps the memory just disappears.