Goodbye, Los Angeles

Driving Off Into the Sunset

I’ve said goodbye to many things over the last few years. Things, and people, and experiences. My dufflebag was first. It was followed by a bandana that fell off while I was hiking in Parque Tayrona, (and washed up on the beach an hour later so is once again with me). My travel pack sprouted one structural break after another starting somewhere in Asia, got repaired in Kenya, and sprang another leak before I got back to the states. More significant are the less physical things to which I’ve said goodbye: economic security, a physical grounding in place, an emotional safety net. Recently, constant adventure. And now, the perfect combination of them all: Bessie.

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I should know better than to blog about Bessie. Last time I waxed poetic about my reliable steed, she countered by ‘stranding’ me in Oregon for three days while she was fixed to the tune of more than her worth. It was late last summer, and I was heading down to LA to confirm I should move there. Despite having been on the road in some form for over a year at that point, I had just begun to feel homeless, in the sense that I was not in one place, but should be. I was unrooted. My movement was less of an adventure and more of an aimless pause in a waiting room of mid-life.

The Eugene stranding was a blessing in disguise. It was a reminder that wherever you are, there is an adventure to be had, something new in the mundane. I visited the museum at the University of Oregon, where the art was amazing and the campus a cool respite from the heat.

A Buddha of layered paper

A Buddha of layered paper

I managed to get to the Bell Telephone Pioneer Museum, with cool switchboards and a badass phone-fixing Barbie, during its four open hours of the week. There was good beer (hello, Oregon), decent food and more important, always, than any of this, were the unbelievably nice people of Eugene, from the motel clerk to the amazing team at Action Automotive, who cheerfully ferried me around town. Even when she lets me down, Bessie builds me up.

Colorful phone wire becoming obsolete at the Bell Pioneer Telephone Museum

Colorful phone wire becoming obsolete at the Bell Pioneer Telephone Museum

Since then, Bessie and I have driven almost 14,000 more miles. My commitment to be the one to get her over 200k miles has wavered as I contemplate all the places she may strand me when she gives up the ghost. Lights I’ve never noticed have lit up – and stayed on – in the dash display. Twice, the brake fluid has needed topping. I finally listened to the signs she was giving me. At 198,890 miles, we said goodbye.

When I began to clean Bessie out to sell her, one memory after another came pouring out. There was the fossil found behind a friend’s house in Taos that I keep for good luck, the Italian notebook I use as a travelogue, and the 20-year old swiss army knife I use for everything and anything. From the stick shift, I removed a rosary from Chimayo and from the rearview, a Hello-Kitty phone decoration a friend brought back from a business meeting in Japan. And then there was the visor organizer

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A small collection of small collections in my visor

Inside, I found an entrance ticket to the Santa Fe museums dated Dec 22. The only Christmas I drove to Santa Fe was in 2007, the first year I owned my home, which means that this ticket was used two days before my house was broken into the first time. While unfolding it, I could smell powdered sugar melting into the thumbprint cookies I was making when the alarm company called. 

The art before the con

The art before the con

Tucked into a mesh side pocket of the organizer I found a stack of business cards, dating back to 2003. The gold US Senate crest on one of them reminded me that my parking sticker from some Capitol Hill garage is still tucked way down at the base of my window.

My 1.5x3 inch life

My 1.5×3 inch life

I found a faded receipt from the Dry Clean Super Center in Dallas, onto which had once been written the address and phone number of the owner. The store lost a new dress of mine, and the employee with whom I was discussing this lured me outside the shop to finish our argument because he could tell the rising tone of my voice was attracting the attention of other customers. The dress had only been worn once, and he wanted to pay me no more than half its value. My fury was mostly about the way he bested me in our negotiations, and my frustration at the degree of my anger. Despite it being the least expensive cleaning location in town, I never went back. Two nights ago, while looking for someplace to eat in Red Bluff, California, I noticed Yelp has messaging. In my inbox was a note he had written me several months after the incident to say that he found my dress but had been too embarrassed to contact me. The note is only dated “more than two years ago;” the faded date on the receipt says 2009.

A faded, angry dry cleaning receipt

A faded, angry dry-cleaning receipt

One after another I dug these bits of my life from the nooks and crannies of my car. There was a flyer for a friend’s short film  that showed at AFI Dallas, also in 2009. The friend is now a successful director.  Behind it, two thank you notes, from 2006 and 2007, evidence of my bad habit of opening mail in my car (and not cleaning it out, but that was obvious already). They are wedding thank-you notes from a brother-in-law and a sister.

Long-forgotten, still beloved thank-yous

Long-forgotten, still-beloved thank-yous

In addition to some pots and pans, the sister also thanked me for the flip flops I got the bridal party members to wear during the reception when our heels proved too much. Mine were grey with bedazzled flowers on the thin thong straps. I remember them well because I hardly wore them until the fall of 2013, when I took them with me around the world, and left them with my hosts, and a bit of my heart, in Kenya.

Long-forgotten, still-beloved flipflops

Long-forgotten, still-beloved flipflops

I pulled a removable decal from the windshield.

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It’s a tinkerbell-like fairy.  I have no idea where it came from originally, but I found it on the kitchen window of my apartment in Seattle – the one I moved out of in 2002 when I headed to Texas. She has been flying right in front of me as I drove these last 13 years, and it was time to say goodbye. But now is a time for new adventures. 3,000 miles into my next car, I’m ready to tuck away some different memories that will last me the next decade and a half, and I’ve got a door-pocket full of national monument postcards to prove it.

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Even Spanky was a little sad to see Bessie go

Los Angeles

My Hello Happy Place

I’ve died and gone to my happy place, and it’s full of Hello Kitty.

I have loved Hello Kitty for as long as I can remember, and I blame my maternal uncle. Long ago, for a birthday or Christmas, he individually wrapped and gifted to me about 20 individual, adorable, itty bitty Hello Kitty toys. Tiny erasers, tiny stationery sets with tiny kitty and tiny flowers and tiny stickers to close the tiny envelopes around the tiny little itty bitty notecards. I’m talking a couple inches here, if that. There was a tiny colored pencil set in an itty bitty see-through envelope with a red snap closure and tiny decorations on it. There was a coin purse. There was a pencil case. There was just a bunch of red and white and black vinyl and kitty and joy, individually wrapped, and it stamped the glee of Hello Kitty on me for life, and left me with a disproportionate appreciation for stationery, pens, and sending mail.

This was the mid-70s, and Hello Kitty was younger than I, by two years. The founding principle of her character – a little gift with a big message of friendship – has stuck with me since then. My childhood love for her turned into a teenage nostalgia, a 20s appreciation that morphed into some form of girl-power in my 30s, at which time she experienced a huge, popular and pop-culture resurgence. I didn’t resurge until my 40s, at which time she may have jumped the shark (MAC cosmetics line, Beats by Dre, Swarovski bling, back off).

My active adoration for her continued unabated and public this entire time. In my 30s alone, I was gifted a hTequila_Servers.jpgello kitty Tote.jpgtoaster, which toasted the face of hello kitty, complete with bow, into a piece of bread, to make your morning more joyful; a tote bag, which I still feel is unparalleled by any other tote, and you can see I have loved part of its face off; a cell phone trinket, which dangles from my car’s rearview mirror; and juice glasses, which we use for tequila in my house, but that’s beside the point. This year, I turned 43 and a friend gave me this:

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It doesn’t stop there. A lifelong friend lived in Korea, then Japan, and bestowed upon me an endless stream of fantastic gifts that arrived in vague connection to Christmas and my birthday. The mouse pad next to me right now, barely larger than the mouse and in the shape of Kitty’s head; chopsticks; duct tape; something related to shoes that neither of us can figure out because all the package writing is in Japanese; origami paper; candy; food-like items I was eventually forced to discard because, due to my inability to understand Japanese, I could never figure out what they were.

So  imagine my relief, my first week in LA, slightly out of pace with the world and myself, trying to wrap my head around this ‘staying in one place’ concept, when I saw that the Hello! Exhibit – Exploring the Super Cute World of Hello Kitty – had just opened at the Japanese American National Museum downtown. If HK herself was here for a while as well, clearly LA was the right place for me. I vowed to get downtown as quickly as possible. On the red line, because I was determined to use public transport in LA.

I finally made it, in my car, six months later. And it was ever. So. Awesome.

Even without the big sign outside, you know you’re getting close to the Hello Kitty exhibit because people of all ages and orientations – male, female; Asian, Caucasian, African American, Latin – are wearing the ridiculous paper Hello Kitty crown you are given with your admission. Case in point: the first couple I happened upon the minute I walked into the exhibit: The_First_Couple.jpg

Where else would this man put on this crown? (I don’t know him, so maybe he wears Hello Kitty PJs to bed every night, but judging from his response when I asked to take their picture, I’m guessing not.) And yet EVERYONE was wearing them. Giant Polynesian dude? Wearing it. Two elderly women accompanying an even more elderly woman in a wheelchair? Wearing it.

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Me? Wearing it! Happily, but not well.

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The exhibit starts at the beginning: with a coin purse, a man, and the concept kawaii. The term can be translated as ‘cuteness,’ but is also related to the Japanese word for ‘pitiable,’ “suggesting a fundamental emotional basis of empathy and caring.” By using the English-language greeting with the character, the brand welcomes the customer as a friend and marks Hello Kitty as a global, social character. The original creator, Shintaro Tsuji, intentionally focused on items that “foster ‘social communication,’” which explains why so many of the early Hello Kitty paraphernalia was stationery-oriented. Also, Hello Kitty is a twin – who knew? Poor Mimmy must feel very much in her sister’s shadow – and her last name is White. And they live in London. Wait – what? They are very international. Also, Hello Kitty is not a cat.  I just have to leave that one alone.

Adolescence_of_Joy.jpgThe first half of the exhibit focuses entirely on the building of the brand, by displaying a growing family of branded items. Since I’d had the toaster, the small appliances came as little surprise. I’ll confess the motor oil, in a three quart can caught me by surprise, and the toilet paper just made me jealous. As did the sanitary napkins. I mean, what can make a period happier than HK tp and maxi pads? HK candy, I suppose.

This, however, blew my mind, and there was no description for it other than “mask.”

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A glimpse of the inevitable fetishization of anything girl-plus-Asian appears with the hello kitty vibrator, which Sanrio assures is just a “massage wand,” (though even the exhibit plaque puts that in quotes). They assure the visitor it is, “designed to buzz away one’s troubles around the neck and shoulders with a quick flick of the switch. Ahhh!”

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The Hello Kitty Kiss dolls  are all in good humor and part of her resurgence as some sort of pop icon. Clearly, if HK is becoming a celebrity, she’s going to rub shoulders with the big (shoed) boys. And as those of us who grew up with her help Kiss_Kitty.jpgmorph her character into something we can still use as adults, she is bound to grow too (though the exhibit notes multiple time that Kitty’s birthday is November 1st, “but she never gets another year older!”). Hence, her inspiration of Japanese street fashion (always inspired)

Japanese_Street_Fashion.jpg or her appearance in the western fashion industry, with an entire slew of outfits featured on America’s Next Top Model.

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Then comes the art, which also walks the line between nostalgia, pop art, and fetish. How is this not a sexualized cross between cosplay and a blow up doll?. When did Kitty get boobs (she never ages…)?

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Dark but less sexual is this one, titled, “Uh Oh Kitty Ho.” I’m not sure that isn’t reproductive organs on her shirt.

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She goes on a Life Aquatic-inspired ride with Paul Frank’s Julius and friends,

Paul_Frank__Hello_Kittys_Submarine_Ride.jpgmorphs onto Lincoln, Scott_Scheidly__Hello_Lincoln.jpgstorms Tokyo as Godzilla, . Mark_Nagata__Hello_Kitty_Kaiju.jpgimpersonates the Sphinx, Hello_Kitty_Sphinx.jpgand bursts into bloomMichael_Courville__Hello_Kitty_in_Bloom.jpg 

My favorite artwork, though, is Marc Dennis’s Allegory of Love. Nothing else sums up so perfectly what Kitty has provided to the women of my generation, who were introduced to her when we, and she, were young, and have relied on her to grow, change, express and nurture ourselves, while holding on to a simple, happy semblance of childhood to console or strengthen us when we need it. All of that is wrapped up in this image, which I stood in front of for quite some time, smiling…and wondering where I could buy that sweatshirt.

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Life Skills, Los Angeles

Why Next Year, I’m Celebrating Purim

I’ve never been much of one for Halloween. But next year, I’m celebrating Purim.

I know they are totally unrelated holidays, one about paganism and the other the triumph of a people over oppression. But they are celebrated in very similar ways: costumes and candy. Let me leave my sugar addiction out of this and focus on the costumes.

I’ve never been much of one for dressing up in a costume. Maybe it’s the pressure of creating the complete alter persona, when my personal persona already felt like an act. Maybe it’s the act of acting, which seemed disingenuous. It could be the subtle but persistent undercurrent that “slut” was the way to go – was it the easy way out? Was it a latent desire to be slutty? Maybe it was the tension between my inner feminist and my inner fun-lover that never liked looking that one in the eye. Maybe it’s nothing more than a simple lack of creativity.

I took a break of more than a decade between Halloween costumes. Between my first year in grad school – when I hastily ironed glitter letters spelling “Princess” on a black t-shirt and donned it with a tiara to hit 6th Street in Austin:

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– and my last year in Dallas when I got caught up in the infectious spirit of friends who live for Halloween and Mardi-Gras, and told me I wasn’t allowed to their annual party without a costume, which sent me on a spiral of craftivity that resulted in a “Toddlers in Tiaras” getup

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(a failed one, I confess – most people thought I was just trying to be a beauty queen), I spent most Halloweens pretending not to be home.

I marvel at pictures of my friends who go all out for these occasions, and I can’t get there. Is it competition? Is it confidence? Whatever it is, Purim is sucking me in.

I live in Hancock Park, a neighborhood of Los Angeles that is predominately Jewish. Very Jewish. Forelocks and overcoats and wigs on the women Jewish. Families walking to temple on Fridays and kosher grocery closed on Saturday Jewish. Last night, the world erupted in firecrackers that sent my dog running under the couch, trembling. And this morning, the world is alive in costumes.

In the two miles I just walked, I must have passed 100 people in costume. Only one was dressed like a cheerleader. None was dressed as a slutty nurse. Many were clowns with rainbow hair. One young boy was dressed as a fat yuppie, stuffing overflowing around his belly so that his plaid shirt bulged above the belt holding up khaki pants, and a false butt bugged out beneath them. I saw an astronaut, a ninja, a baker, and an Haredi who had rainbow-striped his shtreimel (his big, round, fur hat, disrespectfully analogized to a lampshade – see below), so that it looked as if he wore a circus tent on his head. The award-winner, to me, was a group of five multi-aged siblings dressed as newsboys from the 30s, complete with knickers and caps. That is, not counting the Mustang convertible of young men in kippas that I saw pulling out of a temple parking lot – but I think that just happened to be how they were rolling this morning.

 

Shtreimel

Shtreimel

Because today is a holiday, all these young people were out in the neighborhood, many going between two bounce houses set up on the front yards of their apartment complexes. Remnants of confetti lie on the sidewalk, sparkling in the morning sun, and boys run around blowing plastic horns. It is a holiday about joy, and creativity, and perseverance. It is a holiday that celebrates one woman, her honesty and her bravery. And maybe some revenge.

I’m not sure whether it’s the creativity, the community, or the history of Purim that has me intrigued, but I’m already contemplating outfits for next year. And French maid is not among them.