Secret Pop

Oct 30, 2003

Under the Broiler

It was cool today at long last. Lonely and cool. Grey and lonely. And cool. Legitimately sweater weather. Even when the sky was blue, it had a grey cast to it. I felt like I was wandering. Adrift in it. Even when I had appointments to keep and projects to complete. I felt like I was somewhere else.

There was no sleep to be had last night. Too many burdens on my mind and my mother too close by to forget them. Sometimes this sort of unrest just turns everything surreal. Unbearably surreal.

I put mimolette on bread and put it in the oven. The cheese bubbles and turns leathery and more golden. I remember learning about the difference between a physical change and a chemical change when I was taking science in elementary school. We were given an example of something burning. Once it has been burned, it is irreversibly different in substance. That's a chemical change. Not like ice into water into vapor into ice. I think about that sometimes. How I am changing. How we are changing. How exposure to certain forces makes us into something else. How the previous substance is sacrificed for the replacement. And there's no getting it back. Like innocence. Like fearlessness. Like hope. Like the moisture in the skin that advancing age seems so relentlessly thirsty for.

I couldn't think of what to eat. I had no idea what I wanted. Wasn't even sure if I was hungry. But I knew that I should be.

Today on the phone, Beulah and I talked about the gifts of the crazy. I once helped her with a paper about Vincent Van Gogh, and we had an enlightened discussion in the cramped space of the second bedroom of my apartment in San Diego. I used the room as an office. There was an armchair in there that I loved. It had been my father's when I was a little girl, and I had gnawed on the wood of the wide, flat arms, and I had wanted to sit in that chair forever. So when I moved, they gave it to me. It's back in my parents' house today. I don't remember why. But we were sitting in my office -- me in the chair, I think, and Beulah at the computer. And I was paging through her course texts. And we were talking about genius and madness and the beauty that comes from disturbance. It all seems so metaphorical now. How chaos creates beauty. How art comes from destruction. How the desperate flailing is a transference of energy. Today, Beulah recalled that day that we worked and that conversation. I remember it but in a benign sense. It was forgotten until it was mentioned. And then all of a sudden, it was right there. Accessible. It seems so long ago.

I wanted something to be excited about. Something to look forward to. Even though my bladder told me otherwise, I took a few detours on my way home in the hopes of finding a wig store on Melrose. I thought I might get the last things I needed for my Halloween costume. I was unsuccessful and discouraged. Just thinking about getting dressed up tomorrow saps my strength. And there seems to be precious little reason to do it. I guess I feel that way nearly every year. Costume apathy born of years upon years of poor planning and embarrassing last-minute slapdashery. I wanted something to get excited about today.

But I sat hunched at my dining room table, cutting collage pieces and sifting through art fodder. My neck and back are so sore. I was wearing tennis shoes yesterday at the R.E.M. concert, and still I was in excruciating pain after standing for three hours. If someone showed up at my door with a massage table and good intentions, I'm sure I would burst into grateful tears. Philosophically, I can tell myself that persistent pain is a reminder that I'm alive. And that it makes the experience of my life all the more solipsistic. I can be greedy and elitist about it. I can scoff at those who walk erect without wincing. I can delight in the shallowness of their feeling. I can delight in the depth of mine. I play games like this sometimes. It keeps my brain busy. And distraction is often my only brief salvation from the reality of all that I am failing at.

Einstein called them "insane."

While I was kvetching to Josh last night about my mom's lack of professed pleasure in my existence, he said something that made me laugh. He asked, "But aren't you perseverating?" And I said that I suppose I was. And then he said it was like when you go to the supermarket and they don't have what you want but you keep going around the store as if it will turn up if you just keep looking for it. (I readily admit that I do this.) And you just get yourself more and more frustrated as you get angrier and angrier at the store for not having what you want. He said this happened to him once, and a woman told him "that's what retards do." It's that old thing about doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Apparently, the opining woman "works with retards." I couldn't believe someone who works with retards actually calls them "retards," but Josh assured me that she does. I suppose she was trying to make a point.

Expect what you get.

The Bad Pocket

Josh took me to a somewhat secret, last-minute R.E.M. concert at the Avalon tonight. It's a very little theater (that used to be the Hollywood Palace), and it was a rare-ish opportunity to see the band in such intimate quarters. We got there early, and had to stand on the floor -- staking out our spots -- for a good two hours before the band came on. That had its taxing moments. But we also had no idea we would be sandwiched between a pair of rude, middle-aged jerks in front of us (both of whom were taller than us and one of whom was wearing a Dickensian top hat [and, no, he wasn't Tim Burton, so I can hardly think of a reason for such fashion buffoonery] that he overheard us expressing concern over and snidely told us he would take off when the show started, as opposed to standing there, teaching some of us what it might be like to listen to Michael Stipe singing from behind a statue of Abraham Lincoln -- P.S. He never took off the hat) and a pair of overdrunk, overgrown former frat boys behind us who sang at the top of their lungs, knew the words to nearly all of the songs, and when they didn't know the words, yelled "Woo!" at piercing levels. And when I say they were former frat boys, I just mean they probably sell pagers for a living now. One thing interesting to note about the two singers was that -- gorillas though they were -- even they seemed to grasp that the refrain of a song comes around again. So, when the band played a song they couldn't possibly know the words to yet (owing to the fact that it was written yesterday in some cases), they still managed to catch on to the refrain and sing along at those parts, too. And they sang loudly. As if they were in a church choir singing R.E.M. songs for Jesus. I say this because, in many church choirs, singing badly is seldom frowned on as long as you're doing it for the man upstairs. Then, the more you suck, the more moved people are. They claim that you're "filled with the spirit" as opposed to "lousy" or "cursed with a foul throatbox" or "tone deaf." These guys were actually not singing off-key, but they sang so loudly and so persistently that it wasn't until more than an hour into the show, when intolerable back pain prodded me to go to the back of the room and sit on the edge of a raised booth (where Catherine Keener was sitting -- her hair looked very over-processed, but she was playing air drums in her lap) for the last few encore songs, that I could actually hear Michael Stipe's voice at all. They even belted out the ballads. And when they weren't belting, they were crying out their "Woo!"s and triumphantly announcing to each other that the worldwide radio listening audience just heard them. How sad that is. That any pleasure could be gained from standing out on a radio simulcast as that asshole who yelled just there. During the quiet part of the song. When everyone else was remembering a break-up or where they were in 1991. Or when Michael Stipe was taking a breath. When the band played Losing My Religion and Peter Buck's mandolin solo arrived, the two dudes let out long gasping "Woo!"s that made it impossible to hear what he was playing. And seeing me put my fingers in my ears at the end of every song in preparation for the ensuing "Woo!"s did not deter them. The short, fat one even yelled out "Go Pete!" at one point. As if Peter Buck was competing in a swim meet.

Josh and I had earlier exchanged dubious glances when we realized that there were "winners" there from the local Star! radio station. We wondered if we are actually very uncool to want to go to a concert that Star! would be enthusiastic about. I rationalized that Star! plays all "popular" music. Even some good stuff. So we braved on. But it's clear that the people we were standing next to would have been just as at home in Margaritaville as they were in our company. I even whispered to Josh wryly, "They must think they're at a Jimmy Buffett concert." It seemed possible. Has Jimmy Buffett by any chance ever covered all of R.E.M.'s songs? I wouldn't be surprised.

I guess the other culprit for the overall sense of fizzle was the sound at the Avalon. I just don't think it was powerful enough. Had it been louder, I might not have been able to hear the karaoke twins' renditions. And when I call them twins, I should let you know that I don't think they were related at all -- they were more like the two guys in the cartoon who get stranded on a desert island and one thinks the tall, thin one is a hot dog and the other thinks the short, fat one is a hamburger. I would still have been able to feel the tall one's breath on my scalp every time he aspirated a lyric beginning with "b" or "p." Gross. I feel like I need to wash my head. But, yeah, it could have been much, much louder without having done any harm. Josh and I both noted that the mix was sort of dull and flat. The instruments were non-distinct and the vocals could have stood at least two or three more servings of juice.

Years ago, like in the early '90s, my sister was dating a fellow who woke up one day in a panic having dreamed that R.E.M. had all died. Their tour bus had been in an accident or something like that. And it took some convincing to get him to believe that he had dreamed it and that they were all still alive and well. For weeks and months afterwards. He wasn't completely sure. I sometimes think of that story, which became the stuff of an inside joke for all of us for years to come, when R.E.M. is the subject of conversation or when a song of theirs is playing. It's strange how things like that hang on. And then there are the other things that are true that you sometimes become convinced you only dreamed. All very confusing.

So, the band not being dead after all, it's a shame that this event wasn't more of a coup. Josh got our tickets from some special phone number published by the R.E.M. Fan Club and by the time I called back to try to get an extra ticket for Krissy, the number had been changed to an unpublished number. I understand people were selling these very hard-to-get tickets for huge sums on eBay. I don't wish I hadn't gone, but it's just a shame it wasn't a more majestic evening. I thought about the first time I heard R.E.M., which was nearly 20 years ago, when a cool girl I met at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., named Pauline Chiou told me they were her favorite band, so I looked for them. I think I saw them perform on Late Night with David Letterman before I actually bought their record. Pauline also introduced me to Joan Armatrading by sending me a cassette copy of the wonderful album The Key. So double points for her. She was a bona fide savant in the hip music department. Which reminds me, I was at the gym today, reading the closed captioning on VH-1's I Love the 80s Strikes Back (WHILE I was on the elliptical trainer -- not just sitting there reading), and David Lee Roth was talking about that strange period when KISS took off their make-up. You know, when Lick It Up came out and we all got to see that Gene Simmons was (as was pointed out on the same VH-1 program by that guy who played Johnny Bluejeans on that show Viva Variety!) just a very, very ugly Jewish man. David Lee Roth said that they removed the make-up to "bonafy" themselves. And even though I place this word in quotes, because it's what he said, I assure you that it is not a word. It's David Lee's clumsy verb-ification of the phrase bona fide, as if it was really the past tense of something. He followed this comment by making a bad pun using the word "veil." I don't think this is important for you to know or remember, but I do think it's a good idea to point out mistakes made by David Lee Roth whenever they present themselves. It will limit his influence and protect our youth. So I am vigilant. Wait, though, this paragraph started in an attempt to acknowledge that this band has been making music for over 20 years. That's stunning to me. Imagine getting to do the thing you love and being paid heaps for it and being followed by throngs of devoted fans -- albeit some of them intolerable boobs -- and having it go on and on and on like that. Lucky bastards.

But you're probably still stuck on the fact that I competed in the National Spelling Bee as a child. Well, believe it. It's true. I was the contestant from Guam. And, after I'd been eliminated, when I was in our room at the Capitol Hilton by myself, I tried to watch little snatches of a rated "R" movie -- I think it was Spring Break or Hot Dog -- so that I could see nudity but not have it show up on the room bill. If my mom was ever the wiser, she never let on.

Oct 29, 2003

I'm bigger than this.

I took an online quiz about depression. I can't imagine it was written by doctors. The questions were so obvious. I felt like it was trying to entrap me into admitting I'm worse off than I am. By the time it asked if I think about killing myself, I thought, "Well, I THINK about it. But I'm a philosopher. I think about all sorts of things. I'm not planning to do anything." Internet quizzes are far too unsophisticated for my keen mind. Obviously.

Plus, I might just be keyed down over all the fire news. My family is safe. My friends have been unaffected so far. But I've been looking at pictures of people standing helplessly on the ashes of their homes and on the Union-Tribune online yesterday there was a list of streets and house numbers in Scripps Ranch, and it was just so sad to think that all those homes were gone. And when it would say "Such and Such Court: All homes destroyed," it just made my heart ache for those people. The entire town of Cuyamaca burned to the ground. And, yesterday, a local Los Angeles news reporter made some comment about how the San Bernardino fires may have just turned from a case of arson to homicide, with that typical local news emphatic pause before "to homicide." Apparently, four elderly people died of heart attacks as they watched their homes burn. I'm not sympathetic to the arsonists. Stone them in a quarry for all I care (but not to death -- I'm against capital punishment, for the record). But I was surprised that no one at the news station would have flagged the guy down and mentioned that referring to these deaths as if they had been murders might be a little sensationalistic. It just goes to show you that when you watch t.v., you can pick and choose from many different topics to get all riled up over.

But it's no mystery that all this loss and devastation -- and the nostalgic reconnection with my own family's house burning down a while back -- makes me sad. It's just that I'm pretty sure I was sad already. And I'm finding myself trying to pretend I'm not so people won't get sick of me. I'm sure everyone agrees this is the most important reason to seek assistance for what ails you.

I guess I have to admit that I was raised to frown on seeking medical or chemical assistance. Something about having a dad born during the Depression maybe. Or a mom born Chinese and invincible. Yeah. It's probably her more than my dad. When I complain of back pain after a three and a half hour drive in hellish traffic, she does big circles with her arms and says, "I never get back aches. What's wrong with you?" All with a triumphant grin on her face. She's very proud of her victorious health.

So, when I'm not feeling well, if there is an over-the-counter remedy for it, she's the first to buy me a dozen or so bottles or blister-packs. But if you have to go to a doctor, you're probably making it up. I guess that's the logic. Even though she has been afforded lifelong free medical care from my father's military service, she seems to think that only suckers go to the hospital. Suckers and weaklings.

Even when I've had convenient medical coverage -- even back in the days when I had a luxurious PPO that cost me nearly nothing to use -- I went to the doctor nearly never. Not even for the scheduled stuff you're supposed to go for. I'm really bad that way. And now, I've got an entirely inconvenient medical plan that requires me to go to the doctor in San Diego, so I just don't go. And as the maladies pile up, I am even more reluctant to try and make an appointment with whoever my primary care physician is. I dread having to tell him or her about all the referrals I'm trying to get. I assume I will seem like a scam artist or a hypochondriac. And I'm one of those idiots who thinks denial can be placed in the category of "treatment." If I don't tell anyone there's a part of my left leg that is always numb these days, maybe it won't turn out to be anything. Or I place myself in an imaginary, unhealthy peer group. Maybe everyone spends their entire day with their eyes burning miserably and a slight feeling of dizziness every time they stand up. Maybe everyone sleeps only 90 minutes at a time and can't manage to feel rested. Maybe everyone hates eating or drinking anything because of the immediate discomfort and self-loathing it inspires. Maybe everyone feels like utter crap, but they just keep it to themselves. And if I were to veer from that course of dignity and secrecy, I will be the one to spoil it for everyone. The jig will be up, and it will be on my head that we all have to go around admitting that we're quite uncomfortable really and not "fine" as the saying goes.

Yesterday, I took a handful of different medicines and supplements and vitamins and mysterious, smelly capsules. And by early evening, I felt worse than ever. And depression may very well be the tip of it. I don't think I would be surprised to hear a doctor tell me I'm depressed. Doctors prescribe for everything these days, don't they? I think if you go to the doctor complaining of depression, they pretty much take you at your word. I guess the surprise would come in having a medication actually resolve anything for me. With what I know of adverse effects -- mild though they may be -- I have trouble thinking I would be happier with a cheerful disposition and a perpetual case of drymouth or mild incontinence or nausea. This is a ride I've been reluctant to board. But I'm also tired of being jealous of everyone else I know who seems to be getting on all right. I'm not so bad off. But I'm never tip top. And I'm curious about what it would be like to be. Just once.

Maybe I'm smaller than this after all.

Oct 28, 2003

"Sometimes I wish that I was an angel..."

Jill Sobule played an adorable little traveler's guitar at the Paul F. Tompkins Show tonight. However small it was -- however small she is -- she made an enormous, moving sound. It was wonderful. I feel so lucky when I get to see such things. Go ahead, smog -- corrode my lungs. Urban youths, dismantle my car stereo and break my car window (not necessarily in that order). Traffic, tax my bones. Car insurance, bankrupt me. It's no great price, this L.A. This LOS ANGELES. I can afford it. I must. There is neat stuff going on here.

Kevin Nealon was a guest on the show and played a banjo. Matt Besser was a guest, too. He was wearing a moustache. Eban Schletter continues to be my hero. Not only did he work the Halloween theme into the opening song, he also played a theremin solo in the big finale of Bad Moon Rising.

I'm not writing this stuff down to show off. I'm just writing it down so I'll remember it. Other things I would like to remember:

"What are you? Some prop guy from Barnaby Jones? Come back to haunt us?"
"Her voice is hypnotic... you may suddenly quit smoking or recall a slightly unpleasant memory."
Music and comedy battle it usually ends in a tie...that's basically the premise behind the Special Olympics.
Pomegranate juice.
Time machine.
"Let Hitler live."

See? Don't you wish you had been there? I wish I had been there twice. Too bad I was so tired today. I've been feeling awfully drained of late. Like I turned a valve the wrong way and forgot about it. That happens. I forget which way does what. Just like the little circle and the dash on power switches. I never trust that I remember what these mean. I just toggle the switch to test whatever theory I'm holding onto, and I'm usually wrong, but it shakes out in the end with only an occasional need to reboot my computer.

If Paul F. Tompkins doesn't know by now that I am secretly in love with him, he should. It's not like I've been hiding it very well. Oh, I'm not going to bake him a cake or anything. I don't intend to get all creepy on him. He needn't worry. I'm polite and stable and half-Chinese and raised to live in fear of legal consequences. Plus, if I ever lost it and went nutso, I would be harmless. I might like break in and clean his house for him. And I might leave him one of the good coupons for Linens N' Things by the door. Sometimes they send out the coupons for 20% off your entire purchase -- not just off a single item. That's a real value. He could buy some nice towels or holiday-themed serveware. I know he'd really appreciate that. And he'd never have to know it was me. And no restraining order need ever be filed.

Gee. My fantasy life is about as richly-colored as some grey thing. A monochromatic tapestry of lust and creativity and intrigue. I feel sexy tonight.

Oct 27, 2003

Save that Daylight

I'm a hypocrite. Because I grouse about daylight savings time when it requires me to lose an hour in the spring, but I dig it wholly in October. When it gets dark earlier and I get to pretend I can actually feel the value of that extra hour of my life bulging in my wallet.

This was a particularly memorable daylight savings weekend. One of my very dearest friends had to rush down to San Diego, expecting from earlier reports that his family's home in Valley Center had been devoured by flames. Miraculously, the house was untouched. Surrounded by blackened, charred earth, but untouched. They don't believe in god, so I don't know if "miraculously" is the most appropriate adverb. In any case, it was a fortunate relief. He spent the day dipping a pitcher into the swimming pool and putting out spot fires as they popped up. And my younger sister teaches at a school in Scripps Ranch, one of the communities hardest hit by the patchy, countywide inferno. I hope all of her kids are all right. I also noticed (meanly) that a lot of the street names mentioned in the recap of the Scripps Ranch fire were very French. Rue de la this and Rue de la that. I actually thought, "La di da." But I don't wish those people any harm for pretending that a desert-like inland portion of San Diego County was a village in Provence. Really, I don't. Truthfully, I do hope the devastation wasn't too great. We know about things burning down in my family. And I don't mean that metaphorically.

My family's home burned down a few years ago, but it was just us, and no one was hurt, and we didn't lose everything. I wasn't living in the house any longer, but a lot of my stuff was there. And I went through it all with my family as they relocated for a year and salvaged and repurchased and redesigned and rebuilt. Sometimes, whole sections of your life can be cordoned off llike that, and you don't even realize that you spent two years going through that event. It's hard to swallow it in those terms.

Reading that people were consumed by the flames while running away on foot or trying to drive away in cars is horrific for me to imagine. It made me do that exercise of asking myself which would be a worse way to die. I tend to use recent events as a list for this. Today, it's a) burned to death in your car, b) eaten by a grizzly bear, c) mauled to death by one of those raging zombies in 28 Days Later. I can't decide. I don't think I can come up with a good way to die. I'm against it philosophically. Although, I guess I realize that if we didn't have death, not only would the world be choked with old people, but we also probably wouldn't have ever achieved very much. What's the motivation to do anything if you aren't afraid of dying before you manage to finish it?

Anyway, I started writing with the intention of somehow admitting that I think Justin Timberlake is attractive. I think tangentially.

Oct 26, 2003


The sound of Mary Forrest's post-bender regret. Only exacerbated by the absence of anything good to watch on the t.v. I had tickets to see Black Box Recorder tonight. I didn't make it home or out of my vodka-ravaged stupor in time. I'm sad to think of what merch I missed. Sadder still to be calling it a night while so much still goes on out there. But I have a date with an analgesic. So, if you'll excuse me.

Oct 24, 2003

Sky Aflame

From mid-morning, I noticed that the light seemed different. Dusk-like. The sky was pink and gold. The light warm and golden. There was a haze over everything. A murkiness. And there was ashen snowfall swirling in the air outside my apartment. Rancho Cucamonga is on fire. I have an aunt and uncle who live out there.

And solar flares wreak havoc on cell phone connectivity and whatever else is affected by such things. It sort of feels like a celestial armageddon. Except for the fact that the radio is still talking about how hard it is to be a pop star when you're old and why things are going the way they are on Wall Street. I have a feeling if the sky was falling, someone would be shouting about it.

It was actually a spot cooler this morning than it has been. But Santa Ana conditions are projected to dry us up and burn us out through the weekend. Can't a pair of sinuses get a break?

No sleep till Brooklyn.

And I'm not even headed that way.

Oct 23, 2003

Sink and Swim

The little blue pills didn't work. I was unable to fall asleep in any sort of graceful way, and ingesting them made my tummy hurt. What a gyp.

When I heard that Elliott Smith stabbed himself in the chest, I was very sad. I remember hearing him on NPR one night on the way home from another late night at work, which was at the time It was Waltz No. 2, and it was so beautiful and melancholy and painful and filled with the bitterness of rejection. I was, I thought, happy in a relationship at the time, but the nuances were still so very familiar. I became a fan immediately. A little late in the game, perhaps. But a fan no less. He was supposed to perform at a concert I was planning to attend. I'm sorry I will have missed him at last. And to stab oneself in the chest. Really. Unhappiness can be so brutal.

Here is another place I've not yet been.

This is me not getting there.

And this is me getting somewhere else entirely.

Isn't it strange how things turn out?

Unhappiness really is brutal. I sometimes think that people don't take it seriously enough. People who love you are helpless to offer much more than the imperative, "Cheer up!" And you are powerless to acquiesce to that command. It doesn't always last forever. It doesn't always mean anything. But it sucks the very life and color and substance out of everything when it is upon you. It empties you of everything that might act as buffer. There are days when I feel as if I dislike everything about myself and my life. Most of all, I dislike the fact that I feel guilty and self-conscious for saying so. Because it seems so absurdly self-indulgent to say, "I'm sad." Because it smacks of self-centered, adolescent attention-wanting. And I remember what that was like, too.

Oh, forget it. I can't help but appear to be a jerk when I'm in this mood.

Sweet Dreams

I've just taken two Excedrin PM geltabs. They sure are smooth and pretty. Like candy. Or jewelry that looks like candy. But with words printed on. I watched 28 Days Later tonight, and I shall probably have nightmares. But maybe this way I won't be awakened by them and the zombies can just kill me while I sleep.

Oct 22, 2003

The Rub-In

I was reading an article on about how Generation X-ers always seem to want to write about their kids these days. It started by mentioning how we got dubbed Generation X by Douglas Coupland and then talked about how Reality Bites was heralded as such a triumphant representation of us and our lives. I remember seeing Reality Bites. I remember reading Generation X. And I remember my friends occasionally commenting on how right on certain things were or how insulting some of the characterizations were. But mostly, I remember just feeling very alienated. Because I was never a member of that generation. Despite the fact that I was born right in the middle of the right time to be Gen X, I feel as if I have never been anything but middle-aged. When I was walking a university campus as a freshman, I wasn't wearing sweatshirts and jeans. I was wearing low-heeled shoes and pencil skirts and sweaters with shoulder pads. And I wasn't a fashion throwback either. I was no hipster chick with Mamie Van Doren in my closet. Honestly. I was a fashion wasteland. I know this. I don't know who to blame it on. But it's true as anything ever was.

As far back as I can remember, I have had an innate gift for writing a good resume. I have had a unique talent for business correspondence. I am an experienced debater. I have represented my family in small claims court and myself in traffic court. I have fought the law and occasionally won. But nearly always wearing hosiery and a blazer of some sort. I am unafraid in a job interview. I will speak to the manager if I am treated poorly at a place of commerce. I have been a mother to my younger sister for as long as I can remember. I used to drive her to school and write her excuse notes and pay for her Disneyland victuals when I was only 17 or 18 years old. In some ways, it feels as if that is what has always been true of me. Putting aside the fact that I don't have any actual children, I feel as if I have been a mother my whole life. I have taken care of everyone, looked after everything, tied up the loose ends, colored within the lines. I have been responsible even when it was not called for. And I have had fun only when it made sense to.

Generation X? I never talked that way. I never "slacked." I never colored my hair. I didn't follow fashion or trends. I didn't watch MTV. Ever. Not since it first came out and I was a teenage babysitter. I didn't live at home any longer than I had to. I didn't live in poverty ever. Even when I had no money, I never let it seem that way. And I didn't have to eat government cheese to get by. The only real connection I have to the rest of my chronological peers is that I ran up massive credit card debt when I was too young to know better and I lived to rue the day. But I wasn't buying a car stereo system with muscle enough to tear a rift in the very fabric of heaven. I wasn't buying anything cool. I was buying housewares and bedding and furniture I had to put together myself. And I was trying to find my taste.

I wasn't entirely out of touch. I had a massive grasp on most aspects of pop culture. I just didn't watch music videos very often. I kept up with television and films and politics and world events. I read Spy Magazine and Vanity Fair. I gave to Greenpeace. I listened to the alternative music radio station, and I bought concert tickets more often than anyone else I knew. I was cool enough at the age of 20 to go see has-been rockers like Neil Young in concert and cool enough to not buy a tie-dyed concert tee before leaving. But somehow, I was all growed up already. Or maybe it's just that I got stuck in the wrong relationship before I had a chance to find myself. I wonder about that sometimes. I wonder if I might have moved to a ratty beach apartment and not minded the hand-me-down furniture. I wonder if I would have ever had a roommate. As much as I scrambled and struggled and didn't have it the way I wanted it, I still lament not having scrambled and struggled in the right way or with enough gusto. As hard as it always was, it always feels like it was too easy.

I can be very honest in admitting that I regret the course my life took. I wish that I hadn't bypassed childhood entirely. I wish that I had had the courage to be a kid. To be awkward and uncomposed. To be unsure. It's only in the last decade of my life that I have learned that lesson. The importance of saying so when you don't know something. That it isn't a crime to be wrong or to not have the answer. That it bonds you to people when you find something out together. Or when you allow them to teach you something. It's an important part of being a person -- something I think I have only just begun to be.

This is all just expansion on my previous post. I realize that when I read the part of Dave Eggers' book where he talks about raising his little brother when their parents succumbed to cancer, I relate to it inexorably. But then when he gets into the part of his life when he's starting Might, I disconnect. I feel shame and envy and a familar sense of defeat compounded over many birthdays. And it has slowed down my reading. I can blame it on the fact that the anecdotes sometimes become tedious. But it's still my fault. My commitment to reading with speed and efficiency wanes from time to time. And that's no author's burden. Nor is it the fault of the heat. Which is oppressive these days.

I don't really have anything to complain about. In recenter years, I found a sort of fashion sense of my own. And I began to enjoy buying clothes that weren't obviously designed to coordinate with the water cooler and the copy machine. I have more shoes than anyone I know, but I only tend to wear a handful of the fun ones. I go out without make-up. I keep beer in the fridge. I keep up with things. I fight against allowing my life to become insular and suffocating. I claw away at the protective armor, trying to reveal the raw, pink flesh beneath. I work at it. More than I ever have.

I am languishing in the renascence of the adolescence I never had. Better today than twenty years from now, certainly. And maybe better today than back then, too. Time might tell. I know I sometimes wish I was snugly tucked into the next phase of a human life right now. I sometimes wish I was a wife and a mother. I sometimes wish I was able to burden my parents with the task of caring for their grandchildren. I know they wouldn't mind. I do want those things. But whenever I catch myself wishing for them or criticizing myself for having allowed it all to slip by, I also remember that I don't think I'm ready for it yet. Not yet. Whose approval could I possibly need to reach for more than that of my own children? I'm not ready. If I ever am ready, and if such things are still biologically possible at that point in history, I imagine I will make an exceptional mother. I've had a great deal of practice.

The Guilt of the Unaccomplished

I'm reading Dave Eggers at the moment. I'm reading about the early nineties and the start-up of Might and the edgy, pre-dotcom vibe of San Francisco. And I'm remembering being barely twenty and caught up in keeping a job and doing a little performance at the community college and waiting for college to come back around so I could catch it up on the next lap. I look back, and I'm ashamed. I wish that I had had the courage to be on fire about something. I wish that I had been confident enough to have wanted to try something. I wish that I had believed in the possibility of an unboring life, and I wish that I had sought it out relentlessly. I can only imagine what might be true of me today. And my imagination is generous and cruel.

I get the same droopy, desperate feeling when I listen to certain segments of This American Life. When I hear youthful voices, sometimes cynically assessing mundane worlds. Sometimes eagerly effervescing about magic that dances beyond the reach of the jaded. I feel that sense of self-imposed rejection and failure. "No one will ever ask me to do a segment like that," I might say. Or I will indict myself for having created a lifestyle that no longer affords me the freedom to try out stupid jobs or give my time away with abandon. When I was 19 and 20 and getting reasonably good jobs in offices, I was proud of myself. I was thrilled when a box of business cards with my name on them would appear in my mail slot. I was thrilled to have a mail slot. But I should have been slinging hash or working with the elderly or selling things I'd made on the beach boardwalk or something. Shouldn't I have? Instead, I was dressing too old for my age, preferring to wear stockings and not owning an adult-sized pair of jeans until I was 22 or 23. I latched onto an earlier-bestowed mantle of precociousness. A younger Mary scrambled to be deemed some sort of child prodigy, wanted to be the youngest to have done whatever it was, wanted people to stop aghast when they learned she was only six or eleven or the age she was that year. I hung onto that nonsense for too long, I think. I was never happy being the age I was. I wanted to be further along. I wanted to have done more. I wanted the trappings of experience. But I passed those years with my eyes closed. And I was never really living them. I was in a coma of apathy and fear. And it pains me to think of it.

There is also that secondary component: that I am never really pleased with anything I do. So maybe I would have started my own magazine or written a show or sold a painting. I'm sure I would have lived long enough to be sorry for it. It's the way of things. But at least then I would have something to show for it all. Something individual and mine. Maybe even a resume that indicated that I was more made of creative juices than of academics and industry. That might have helped.

I wonder what I really am made of. I wonder if it's anything worth stirring.

My dad bought a new car this week. A Honda Civic EX. I haven't seen it yet, but the idea of it -- the idea of my dad IN it -- is the most adorable thing ever.

My neck hurts like an announcement of the end of the world, and sometimes I wish I was French.

Oct 17, 2003

The sheriff wore awfully tight pants.

"Doris Day is...The Ballad of Josie." I saw that introduction, and I resolved to fall asleep to that program. I made a lot of observations but was too drained to log them. As a result, they are either lost or now deemed uninteresting. Peter Graves, George Kennedy, David Hartman (as the tight-pants-wearing sheriff) and a bunch of other actors who may or may not have been in landmark airplane disaster films in the 1970s and 1980s, were all dolled up in their finest fake western garb and moseying about in their fake Wyoming. Women's rights and the suffrage were big topics of this "comedy." But I fell asleep before the big overestrogenated riot scene happened. And I dreamed about an office party where someone brought a loaf of blue cake, and I wanted to steal the whole thing, but there was only one crumbly slice left when I got around to it.

My neck and back are stiff and sore, but I've got things to do.

The wrong thing.

I'm not set for sleeping. My eyes are red and itchy. I'm in a funk. I started watching Monster's Ball, because it was on. But it's just loss and devastation in an ugly world with dirt-lined roads and unpaid bills. It made me feel very alone. I even wondered if, when I die, Halle Berry will cry for me. Well, you know what I mean.

I don't like thinking about the end of things. I don't like thinking about death or dying. But I am morose and romantic, so I think about those things all the time. It's how I remind myself of beauty. To think about how ugly things can be. Remembering the worst of things to soften the light on the best of things. To make them glow.

But can't you have a good day in the absence of contrast? Can't it be perfect without having to be stacked up against something horrible? I would like to go for a walk right now. A long, nighttime walk. Where no one sees you, but you see everything. Especially the things you can't see when the sun is out. I wish I was in the middle of a city I don't know. I would walk and walk and read the signs and wonder if all the lights are off in those buildings because everyone is sleeping or because no one is there at all. And I would think about the things that are fun to eat late at night with friends when you're a little drunk or a little off. And I would walk and walk and wait for dawn. Something I am nearly never out to see happening. I see so many sunsets but so few sunrises. But I wonder why it makes so much difference. One feels like the end. One feels like the beginning. But they are both neither, and they are both both. Because it all keeps happening in a circle. And that is even more confusing and disconcerting than thinking that something has ended. Something you can never have back. I'm living my life in circles, too. And I don't know if it's such a big deal to find that you're not going anywhere, as long as your center is something worth circling around. But my center is a mystery to me. Something hiding in a mask with the lights off. I only guess at what it is, and I am always, always wrong.

Whatever I'm looking at, my eyes are burning. And as much as I want to close them, I know I won't.

I left the room for a moment, and I managed to miss the big, famous sex scene. I feel either cheated or lucky. I think those two things feel just about the same.

In the cryptic phrasing

I finished my second art journal tonight. As I felt the end pages approaching, I also felt the sense of triumph draining away, being swiftly replaced by my old friend anxiety. Now, I'm going to have to start a new one. And, really, these are never going to go anywhere anyway. It's just another sink for my fretting. If not this, my career slump perhaps? Or my love life? Or my doomed genetic predisposition towards never figuring it out? Ever?

But I do have two bulging books of it now. My "art." My mess of glue and paint and things cut out of other things. Sometimes I like the way the colors go together. Sometimes I laugh at what came of what I was actually trying. Sometimes I turn the page quickly and hope that no one sees what was on it. Sometimes I bemoan the rubbing of this page's color onto that page's surface. But I almost like that. It's a sign that I'm not getting so hung up on getting it right and perfect. It's the freedom to fuck it up that is keeping my brush moving in the first place. The freedom to make a mess. The freedom to be surprised when someone says they like that one page in particular when it was the one page I was sure was the lostest cause. I will scan some of these pages one of these days. But the books are, as I said, bulgy, and they are hard to get flat on the scanning surface. And they leave bits of waxy aquarelle behind. And they often look sort of disappointing and flat to me once they have been catalogued in that fashion.

I liked the colors on the t.v. one day. It was while Gidget was playing. I sighed and wished that things on t.v. still looked that way. That brilliant, polyester way. Then I took pictures.

Gidget was writing an advice column for the school newspaper, and everything went wrong. Then she played matchmaker. It was a riot. Can you believe it's Sally Field? There was some other actress in that episode -- or maybe it was in an episode of The Flying Nun -- who also made me stop and go, "Wow. I can't believe she was ever not totally old." I'm not known to be generous on this topic.

Oct 16, 2003


Home by eleven. Paint on my fingers. Colorless. Sucked dry by Wednesday.

Oct 15, 2003

What a difference a day makes.

Yesterday, I felt distantly sorry for Stephen King, who had been given that National Book Foundation award, much to the dismay of the self-appointed literati, most notably Harold Bloom, who seemed to take it all very personally. I felt sorry for Stephen King, thinking how it must suck to be that guy -- the one who "made it" but whose work is thought to hold so little artistic merit that, to be recognized in the same halls as Phillip Roth and Arthur Miller is considered a sign of the hopeless dumbing down of our culture. Is considered akin to flinging poop on the walls of those hallowed halls and using said poop to spell out a drippy title. Perhaps Misery. Or Pet Sematary. It's silly. I don't think Stephen King is Shakespeare, but Oprah Winfrey won this same award, too, and Phillip Roth has a reputation of being somewhat of a bastard. My scorecard calls it a wash.

So, yesterday, I was feeling sorry for Stephen King. Today, I have forgotten about him entirely. I have enough to worry over without adding Stephen King to the mix.

And my mom just arrived with the announcement, "I have a bag of soup!" And she gave me a bottle of root beer barbecue sauce in search of my opinion on it. Stephen who?

Oct 9, 2003

The limits of average height.

When you're very short, you can choose to embrace or defy it. You can wear shoes and hats that make you look like a Munchkin. Or you can wear giant platforms and a mohawk of liberty spikes to give yourself added prestige. The same is true when you're very, very tall. You can stand erect and impose your full height on a room. Or you can slouch apologetically, trying to appear closer to the ground with each humble, hunkering nod.

But when you're just average height, you really can't rely on these data to shape your personality or your fashion sense. When you're average anything, this is the case. You can't be "the skinny chick" or "the fat chick." You can't be "that rich girl" or "the pauper." In the absence of superlatives, you leave others to describe you as something more relevant and pointed. You must become "the smart chick" or "the funny chick" or -- more commonly -- "the easy chick." You must scramble for your preceding adjective and hope that it isn't something that would make your parents ashamed or angry.

I think it's easier to be extraordinarily short or especially tall or mindbogglingly pale or disconcertingly thin. When you can't be summed up in such an adjective, your peers have to work harder to know what to think of you. They might even have to learn your actual name, for instance.

I've known people who allow their most-prominent features to become all there is. I've known short girls who go on so much about being short or who remind you of their shortness so frequently that you can be quite certain -- were science to find a painless and inexpensive way to overcome it -- they would avoid the remedy at all costs. Not so with Natalie Wood, who used the Pilates method and yoga to grow more than an inch in adulthood. She was apparently not happy being a mere five feet tall. But I also notice that I never heard her grouse about it.

And, really, I don't know what we would do without our complaints. I have my list of things I'm fine with. And my list of things I wish I could change. And the items on them switch places from time to time. I guess I'm happy that no one talks about how short I am or how tall. Or how fat or how ruddy. But at the same time I'm always a little bit disappointed to be described as "the Asian chick" or "the girl with the long, long hair." Aren't I more than these things? Couldn't I cut my hair and still be me? I hope so. I'm wanting to cut it, and I would hate to suddenly find that -- by cutting it -- I have managed to cause myself to cease to any longer exist.

And there's the additional point that so many of the people I really, really admire are just shadows in my brain. Artists whose faces I have never seen. Musicians who have never made videos. Authors who've never managed to stand out to me as anything more than a guy with glasses. I envy them their talents. I envy them the basis of their fame. To be known by one's work must be something especially marvelous. To be known by one's name and not one's face. I remember making a sort of value judgment about that in my adolescence. I never had any desire to be physically famous. I just wanted to be accomplished. And I didn't so much mind the idea of someone knowing my name without ever knowing how to find me. These days, on the rare but still jarringly surprising occasions when I am recognized out in the world, I realize that I can't very well eschew the recognition. All these pictures of me aren't finding their way online by magic, after all. I admit that with only the tiniest amount of shame. But if the Internet were to suddenly go all text-based, I would hope that my work might still live. That I might end up doing something that would cause a stranger to wonder about me. To be curious about my life in the way I am curious about those I admire. I buy books about artists because I want to know how they got that way. I want to find them out. I want to trace their footsteps. Maybe dance through them for a moment or two. I want to trip the light vicarious, maybe. I want to channel them. Assume them. Become them. Knowing that all of that will inevitably mingle with what already lives here. Knowing that it will create something entirely other, no matter how much of the same it absorbs.

I keep striving. But the act of striving seems so much like flailing. The act of defining becomes the act of deconstructing. Tracing the edges ends up blurring them after a while. Until they become so soft that you can't touch them without bursting through them. So you keep your hands to yourself.

Oct 8, 2003


Arnold Schwarzenegger won. I am chagrined. And amazed.

Tonight, Howard Dean made the point that if a recall were to be held on a nationwide scale, "it's quite possible that 50 governors would find themselves paying the price for one president’s ruinous national economic policies." The handful of Davis-detractors I spoke with in recent weeks didn't seem to be able to process this correlation. That California's economic decline was not an event singlehandedly orchestrated by Governor Davis. That there are countless nationwide factors that have affected prosperity in this state. That things are tough all over. And that there are people on Capitol Hill who should be far more gravely shamefaced over that whole Enron debacle. But they are barely cracking a frown as they take their heart medication.

It's just so easy to say, "I'm not happy with how things are, so I want a do-over." It's easy to say that. But it's also immature, unrealistic, and short-sighted. It's that same sort of thinking that people use to excuse themselves when they break up their marriages or are unfaithful to their partners. But, see, economic growth -- like intimacy -- is hard work, people. Bailing out is easy, isn't it? And fun, too! It's like when your parents let you bring your pool toys in the bathtub because it's raining outside. How great is that? Anarchy! Topsy-turviness! Being wet!

Dean said California voters took their frustrations out on Davis. "Come next November," he said, "that anger might be directed at a different incumbent -- in the White House." Please please PLEASE God, make it be true. Are you there, God? It's me. Mary. And, no, that doesn't mean I just got my period. That happened a long time ago. At school. When I was wearing a pair of pink Gloria Vanderbilt pants. I was at my cubby hole (where I always kept a full mini-mart-size case of Juicy Fruit gum), and this girl Sharon (whose brother was a diabetic) clued me in. I thought she was off her nut. I laughed and ignored her and didn't realize the astuteness of her observation until I got home in the afternoon and sat down on my Raggedy Ann and Andy sheets, ruining them.

Talking about my period makes me remember how disturbing it is to be a woman watching all sorts of articulate, accomplished, and powerful women say that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the bee's knees. A few days ago, I saw Tia Carrera (who is neither articulate nor particularly accomplished nor at all powerful, but she was in Wayne's World) at a podium saying what a gentleman Arnold had been when they worked together on -- what was it? True Lies? -- which included her having to sit on his lap or something. And I wondered what the point of that affirmation could be other than to imply that these numerous women who are coming forward and saying that Arnold violated and humiliated them must all be liars. Way to go, Tia. Taking one for the team. I'll have to do a LexisNexis search to see what Tia's stance was on Anita Hill's "brave" testimony when it was on the front page. Don't worry. I know that Tia had no opinion on that topic. Clarence Thomas is not very cute or very rich or very Hollywood-savvy. What interest would she have had in taking his side? I also know that I don't have access to LexisNexis. That was me showing that my goat was gotten. And, no, that is not a reference to my period.

P.S. This is infuriating.

Oct 7, 2003

The danger of doing. Like clockwork.

I can choose from a great many things to write about, if I wish. Somehow, when the galactic cornucopia presents, it's so overwhelming that it becomes drab. I'm not interested enough in any of the things I could say to trouble myself with saying them. Or, I suppose I can say them, but I lack the verve to say them with any sort of fluorish.

I had another blowout on the freeway today. I put on my spare in under fifteen minutes. No one was killed.

I had another blowout. It almost marks a year since the last one, which happened at nearly the exact same spot on the 405. Uncanny. And if you count my car getting broken into and my stereo stolen and that quarter nearly unraveling me by getting lodged in my seat rail and finding that my sandwich was not in the bag when I drove away from Jack in the Box and getting that letter from my landlord about my rent increase and spending nauseating hours at the insurance agency watching very nice people not know what they were doing and trying to only thrum my fingers in my impatient imagination, it's been a crap week. If you count all of that.

I saw The Raveonettes at the El Rey on Thursday. They signed my CD and 45 single. They were very nice. The bass mix was unfortunately overwhelming. And their touring guitarist is sort of strangely overanimated in comparison to the original Danish two. I wondered if they roll their eyes and make fun of him behind his back. Tom Green was there. So was that other guitarist from Weezer. The girl he was with was rude. I've seen her before out on the concert scene. I'm amused when strangers are so memorably obnoxious that you can remember having not met them before.

I saw Beulah at the Troubadour on Friday. My friend Josh and I went out afterwards and met up with a team of his friends, including a very polite and dear fellow named Zack and an eager would-be musicologist called Jason who called someone on the East Coast at 3 A.M. their time in his attempt to remember the name of Olivia Tremor Control. Silly. We stood out on the street trying to decide where to go, while the smell of bacon and onions from one of those bacon-wrapped hot dog carts that crop up on the club scene enveloped us. I have to say, I'm going to eat one of those monstrosities one of these days. One of these days when I'm out with someone who won't hate me for it. I don't mind saying they smell delicious. Even though I'm certain they are filthy.

I meant to go to an exhibit opening for Jordan Crane at the Giant Robot Store on Saturday, but somehow the day got away from me. Instead, I watched Alice in Wonderland and Mr. Show and something else that happened to be on and painted and was a little bit pleased with myself in the end.

I shopped on Sunday and wished Whole Foods had a prime rib for me to purchase. It's great there. Sunday, I boiled corn on the cob, which I love. I love corn on the cob so much that when it's a-boil, I might be seen wringing my hands in that devious, squirrely way that implies I'm up to something. I get excited over corn on the cob. Sunday, I went to watch stand-up comedy at the Improv and was smoked on by the guy with Nick Swardson at the bar. That guy. The one with the show. You know the one.

While I was waiting for Costco to replace my tire, I had a slice of pizza on the pigeon-ridden patio. An old man to my right also ordered a slice and then topped it with a thick carpet of relish and onions, both meant for the hot dogs. It was an ungodly amount of onions, I tell you. Far more onions than you could ever get them to put on a pizza if you ordered them as a topping. A shocking onion quotient. Pigeons stink. And can I be overlooking the fact that relish can't possibly be a welcome addition to the in-mouth pizza melange. Surely not.

Wow, but there is an ace panel on Tough Crowd tonight. Except that one guy.

In a few hours, I will go vote. That's why I drove down today. Because I am inexplicably still registered to vote in San Diego. I will go vote and get my sticker and wear it to the car audio place where I will get my new stereo installed. I won't dilly dally this time. I can't stomach the silence. It leads to the singing of showtunes and the realization that I can't hit all of the high notes anymore.

It was too hot tonight for the sweater I wore. It was too hot to change a tire in a sweater. It was too hot to have a drink in a sweater in an air-conditioned bar. It was too hot to be October, and I was dismayed. My debate partner at Cornell rebelled against the prolonged snowfall (from October until May that year) by wearing shorts on May 7, because he protested the snow and denied it with his bare, goosepimpled skin. "It's the seventh of May," he said. "I refuse to allow it to be snowing." Sometimes, I find myself rebelling against the tepid, lingering summer by turtling my neck and sleeving my arms. It hasn't ever worked. It's a fool's campaign. If there is any sort of panel of weather gods, they're not paying attention to what I'm wearing. Ever.

It was too hot tonight for what I wore. When I came home, I languished in a shower and acknowledged my headache. I've since dried off, but my head still hurts.

Gross. It's that commercial with the guy who wears the jeans to bed and wakes up in them and wears them day after day because they're so "comfortable." I hope he at least washes his sheets.

I will go vote in a few hours, and I don't kid myself that the largeness of my influence makes this noteworthy, but I command you Californians to vote "no" on the recall and to prevent the Republican highjacking that is predicted to be imminent. Don't elect Arnold Schwarzenegger governor. Even if you think it might be fun. Even if you think it might get you laid. (It won't.) I'm so tired of fortune and favor falling on the undeserving. I'm even more tired of being bossed around by people who are dumber than I am. Don't disappoint me, California. I've had a lousy week.

Oct 2, 2003

Small-Handed Cheapskate Saves the Day

From the files of "It Could Only Happen to Me" comes this rousing tale of unfortunate happenstance, poor customer service, the blood of strangers, and the solution I had with me all the time. It's just like The Wizard of Oz.

I was at the gas station this morning, and I went to put my credit card back in my handbag, when I bobbled it and dropped it alongside the driver's seat, in that scary little canyon, filled with papers with directions written on them, unopened mail, and shocking amounts of my hair. When I went to retrieve it, I managed to accidentally urge it further down and under my seat. But while at this I also noticed an old spare garage door opener, a bottle of Visine, an empty film container, and a quarter. I thought I should fetch those things out, while I was in the neighborhood, so one by one I retrieved them. Except for the quarter, which evaded my grasp and fell further down into the crevice. I shrugged it off. I had to pull the lever and scoot the seat back to gain access to my wandering plastic, which was so easy to get it's not worthy of mention. But when I went to scoot my seat forward again, it stopped hard at a place it usually does not. Far enough back that I would not be able to comfortably reach the pedals, even in my high-heeled boots. I reached under the seat and began retrieving half-empty bottles of water, an umbrella, tax paperwork, a free totebag of some sort. I was certain this would do the trick. But it didn't. I finally realized that the quarter had fallen into the rail that the seat rides on and had wedged itself in in such a way that I couldn't move the seat forward. And no amount of frantic slamming managed to jar it loose.

I looked around in the various receptacles in my car and found a small pair of nail scissors and a large paper clip. I used these two items for several minutes, trying to get the coin loose, but to no avail. It wasn't wedged in firmly, but it was inserted at an angle that made it impossible to grip.

I was meeting a friend for lunch, so I called and asked if he knew of any Honda places nearby where I might be able to get some assistance while we had lunch. He wasn't able to find anything, so I said not to worry and crammed a few jackets and a sweatshirt (handily in the trunk of my car) behind my back and made my way south, propped up by my makeshift booster seat. There's a Honda dealership on my way home that I planned to stop at and see if they couldn't help me with my inane predicament. We tried using a pair of needlenose pliers in the parking lot of Rubio's, but we were not triumphant.

When I got to the Honda dealership, the service manager I spoke with was immediately offputting. I explained my situation, and his facial expression and verbal response made it sound as if I had created an enormously inconvenient problem for him. He said they would have to take the seat out, and it would take a couple of hours. But he would only charge me for an hour, which would be seventy-five dollars. I cringed at the thought of having to pay such a great price to remove this coin. I even began, like an idiot savant, doing the math to figure out how many quarters there are in seventy-five dollars. There are three hundred.

I wasn't happy with how long he said it would take, so I said I would try somewhere else. He seemed to think I was being unreasonable or that I was haggling with him, because he then said it would only take an hour. And I pointed out that he had said it would take two hours only just moments ago, and that he had referred me to the many other patient customers whose cars also required attention today. He said it would probably take an hour and a half. It's not that I think this is unreasonable, I just didn't believe him, and I didn't want to pass the time in the neighborhood. I think my choices would have been Starbuck's or Magic Johnson's Friday's restaurant. I'd already had lunch, and I didn't have a book with me. And, frankly, I'm impatient and have things to do.

Anyway, there's an auto body place right around the corner from my apartment, and one of my neighbors once told me that I should go there if I ever needed work done. So I stopped in to see if they could help. The shop's namesake was helpful, but he was unable to free the coin with the pliers he brought out. He concluded the seat would have to be removed after all and that it would take more than an hour, but they were so busy that he couldn't work on it until next week. Another guy at the shop brought out a screwdriver and another long curve-ended pair of pliers and tried his hand (which he cut, causing it to bleed a little, which he attended to by grabbing one of the crumpled up napkins on the floor and dabbing at his wound -- blecch) at it. He also made comments about how much hair there was in my car that made me embarrassed. They sent me away making jokes about how much money I owed them, and this made me uncomfortable, because even when they said they were joking, I wondered if they actually were. But I drove the block to my house and resolved to try and rescue myself from this debacle. As I pulled up to my garage, I was thinking about whether I could Crazy Glue a popsicle stick to the side of the quarter and then just lift it out as if it had a handle. Brilliant? Maybe. But I don't have any popsicle sticks in the house. I found some tweezers and the Crazy Glue and a piece of plastic shaped somewhat like a popsicle stick. I changed my sweater, put my hair up, and went out to get to work. I was calmer. It was cooler in the shade of my garage. And I ended up being able to use the unbent paper clip I tried the first time around to gently tip the quarter into a position that made it possible for me to reach in between the seat and the center console with my little hand and pick the quarter up with my fingers. Its edges are all misshapen and metal-scarred, but I'll bet it would still buy me some time at a parking meter.

I don't know if that quarter got where it was because of the thieves who broke in on Monday night and stole my stereo. It could have been there already. Or it could have been dropped there as they tossed the little space-filling slot where I had kept my mix CDs and various other odds and ends (possibly including spare change and probably also including some hair). So as I was experiencing the mounting frustration of not being abe to solve this problem on my own, I was continuing to curse the creeps who robbed me. That whole business about insult to injury seems to fit here somehow.

But I outsmarted them. And team Honda. And gravity. With grace, cleverness, and tiny little paws, I managed to keep at bay all of the hideous forces aiming to ruin my day. This was a victory hard-won. But there's very little today that can make me cheer more loudly than swerving to avoid paying an essentially useless seventy-five or a hundred dollars. It's like Christmas. Now I can spend that money getting someone to detail my car so that the next time I need this kind of help, I don't have to cringe as they start showing me the mass of wadded up napkins, old ketchup packets, and valet ticket stubs they just found under my seat. My mother always clucks disapprovingly at how messy my car is. I always cluck disapprovingly at how she drives. Maybe we're even.

Space-Age Disco Nunchaku

Seksu Roba opened for TV Eyes at the Troubadour tonight. I am a big fan of the sort of production value they (Seksu Roba) offer. And I believe that people should wear more white. Me included. Especially the sort of white that evokes the rebel base on Hoth sort of crossed with hot disco seksu. I bought their CDs and got a free button. After all, how often do you get to see a theremin played live on stage? Oh, sure, maybe you get to see one every Thursday at the Lion's Club, but does it also include a dancing sexpot Japanese disco spacechick? I didn't think so. That's where I am luckier than you.

Why does TV Eyes not have a CD out yet? I was so charmed by their show and the glam-era multimedia, I wanted to buy their record and rollerskate to it. There are a lot of things that I don't cherish about the late '70s and early '80s. But it's hard to disrespectfully rumple the hair of the music. These days, as derivative as most things are, you're left to wonder if there ever would have been any new music to listen to if it hadn't been for that period.

When I got to the club, there was no one on stage, so I could see how many synthesizers and organs and databanks were set up, and I marveled at it. I never go "wow" when I see a rack of numerous guitars. But the keys and the electronics make me swoon. I am also known to go "wow" when I see unconventional or unlikely instruments on stage. But that's just because a band that uses timpani or harp or oboe, for that matter, gets extra points in my book just for not allowing the scars of high school band harassment to stifle the boom of those big drums. I should clarify that when I say oboe gets points, I don't mean someone like Kenny G. That's not cool to me on my most generous day.

I looked at Halloween costumes a bit today. There was a half-mask called "Kung Fool" that made me laugh and laugh. I've always admired people who get gussied up as a giant THING. Like the guys I saw at the Comic-Con a couple of years back dressed as the Death Star and Han Solo in Carbonite, whose glory I think I previously extolled on these pages. But I felt the same approval for the adult size hot dog costume I saw at the store tonight. Everyone always had better costumes than the growing-up me. It has made me fear Halloween and resent it rather than spend all year creating some grand, epic masque. This is a great example of how failure begets apathy. Check it out.