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:

Birthday_Cup.jpg

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.

Never_Too_Young.jpg

Me? Wearing it! Happily, but not well.

Wearing_It_Not_So_Well.jpg

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.”

Mask.jpg

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!”

Buzz.jpg

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.

As_Seen_On_TV.jpg

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…)?

Colin_Christian__Super_Space_Titan_Kitty.jpg

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

D_Face__Uh_Oh_Kitty_Ho.jpg

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.

Marc_Dennis__Allegory_of_Love.jpg

Life Skills, United States

The Importance of Feeling Small

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of feeling small. We tend to think of it as a bad thing: feeling “less than” others. Feeling unimportant. Feeling hidden. But there is another aspect of feeling small. The one that allows you to feel the mighty wonder of something else. To feel small against it, and in relation, to feel its power, and relocate our own.

 

I suppose this may sound like a religious sentiment, and ironically, I’m writing this on Easter. But I’m not a religious person. I get my feeling small from being out in nature, and I love it.

 

I started contemplating feeling small in October, when I was traveling through Utah. Newly reunited with the dog after a year of separation, I was generally gleeful, and grateful, but I was also venturing to a new territory and a major life change: living in LA, looking for a job, staying in one place.

 

Spanky and I set out on a couple of hikes – two in Goblin Valley State Park – in Little Wild Horse Canyon, where we had to stop after a mile or so because poor Spanky couldn’t scale the narrow sandstone walls, and out the Curtis Bench Trail, where we wandered among hoodoos and I contemplated how similar they were to the fairy chimneys of Cappadoccia, and marveled at the amazing things that Nature creates. The next day found us in Escalante, heading toward Lower Calf Creek Falls on a sandy trail through a valley where fall foliage danced in the sun. Turning a corner the last quarter mile before the falls, the temperature dropped at least fifteen degrees and we were met with a cool wind, and then a misty spray, and then the falls themselves, rising 100 feet up a cliff of reddish rock. We stood small against it, had our picture taken, lapped the cool water, and wandered back toward the car tired, happy, refreshed.

IMG_7707

 

From there, we made our way to Devil’s Playground to watch the sun set. The unpaved Hole In the Rock Road stretched ten washboarded miles into unblemished Utah, depositing us in a playground of rock formations that look almost like sand towers and the waves that break them. Spanky was nursing a bloody foot pad from two excited days of pantering through the sand, so we kept our wandering to a minimum. I sat him in a stay while I climbed around and recalled with joy the sense of adventure I’d had all over the world at similar sights – formations of natural origin so astounding in sight they seem otherworldly, which reminds me, always, how magical the world really is. And the lookout from that place, out on a valley of alien sights, familiar to me because I had seen something similar a world away, and new and strange here in my own country, made me feel so wonderfully small, so thankfully little in comparison to the magical mastery that is Nature.

IMG_3573

This week, today, April 5th, marks one year since I flew back into the United States, after visiting 17 other countries. Lately, in Los Angeles, looking for the place where I fit and the job that I can both master and enjoy, I have on occasion felt small in the bad way. The way that makes one feel inconsequential, unnoticed, not fully worthy of the wonder that surrounds and as a consequence, less capable of seeing it, even right there in front of me. It is a great reminder to put myself in the place where I feel blissfully small, and so it happily coincided with plans to hit the road.

 

Which is how I found myself in Joshua Tree National Park for the first time. Dogs are not allowed on trails in the National Parks, so Spanky and I wandered on dirt roads around Hidden Valley, again staring up in wonder at stone formations – Intersection Rock, of climbing fame, and Skull Rock, of tourist fame. We drove south to the 10 through the cholla patch, the cactus flowering around us, the sacred datura blooming in treacherous, ostentatious piles by the road side. The ocotillo waved red paintbrushes up at the sky. And the Joshua Trees, of course, scratched up at its surface.

Ocotillo2

 

JoshuaTree2

 

 

Cactusbloom2

 

And then here, to what could easily be considered a Phoenix suburb, where an easy morning hike puts you up against a hillside of cordon cactus, one of which is older than my great grandfather would be, were he still alive. . And 30 feet tall. There was a cautionary rattler sunning itself by the creek, whose watertable is now starting to retreat to its summer home beneath the ground.

01b54cabdfeb6db635f71e7ac01c5b9912af50c3f3

 

At night, the same trail by moonlight has a different face. Cool breeze through the wash, red-spotted toads hopping across the footpath, which you take more slowly in the dim brilliance of the full moon. No headlamp. Just Nature’s magnificence to light your way. And still, you can make out the outline of the giants, standing tall, prickly, resilient among their history, making you feel small in the best of ways. You shrink beneath them, and you feel closer to the ground. Grounded. Your problems less insurmountable. Your place potentially still unsure, but certainly less tenuous. Your place, here.

01f5a2db9968009171e3fbe53e415bbd37ac0b2831

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:

MBAHalloween1

– 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

Toddlerintiarapose

(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.

Moving, United States

Digging In

Transition is an amazing thing. An amazing, exhausting, thing. It isn’t a hibernation. It isn’t a caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation. You don’t go into a cocoon and emerge beautiful, powerful, and able to fly. It is a piece-meal business, changing your life. It happens bit by bit, in unnoticeable ways. You dig in. That’s it. You just dig in.

Right now, for me, digging in means settling in. It is the exact opposite, and yet very similar to, digging into traveling. Rather than finding my rhythm in movement and planning, I’m finding rhythm in planning stillness. I’m looking for a home, and a job, and a routine. I speak the national language in Los Angeles (sort of), but it is just as new to me as a foreign country, and even small things are as big an adventure as they would be in a foreign place. And they involve a big adventure’s worth of energy. To buy yogurt and apples, there are ten decisions to be made: grocery store or farmers market? Which grocery? Which farmers’ market? How do I get there? Where do I park? What city am I in and what is their policy on grocery store bags? You make the same exhausting mistakes you may make on a foreign adventure, like accidentally going to Trader Joe’s on a Sunday afternoon. If you’ve seen the Whole Foods Parking Lot video you know what I’m saying. I’m not saying I did this…just….it would be a mistake.  So is buying frozen food on the night of the Hero 6 premier if you happen to live two blocks from the Chinese Theater. I find myself watching an inordinate amount of television and it bores me, and then I realize I need boredom, since I can’t even drive to a grocery store without gps assistance. Boredom can be bliss when newness is exhausting.

I quickly learned to use Waze instead of the map on my iphone. It’s a cross between the blessing of crowdsourcing at its most amazing and a horrendously distracting video game played while driving. I’ve learned that a Prius can take up two lanes, just like a dually, despite also being able to drive underneath one. I’ve felt compassion for people spending money on Panameras, because good god where can you drive that thing the way it’s meant to be driven in a place where traffic never goes more than 65 miles per hour? I’ve absorbed that driving rhythm in LA is: fast as you can (50-60) on a surface street, slower than molasses on the highway. I’ve learned just how long it can take to go 2.1 miles. And I’m disturbed, but not deterred.

Apartment hunting in Los Angeles is like apartment hunting in San Francisco in the mid 90’s. Every place I go has eight people lined up waiting to view it. Spanky being over 15 pounds greatly reduces one’s housing opportunities. I’m glad I started looking at options online in August, because I had two months to train myself not to throw up on the spot when someone tells me a small one-bedroom with no laundry, parking, or upgrades, but in a great neighborhood, goes for over $2000/month. And I’m thankful for all my presentation skills from business school (and for that one a-hole professor who liked to interrupt up in my face with questions during presentations) because I talk a great game around not having a job, yet still feeling sure I can pay rent for the next 12  months.

After showing up 20 minutes early to every apartment in which I was interested and sitting on the stoop, bank statements in hand, I found one by lucking out. I called about an apartment that of course had been rented the prior day, but discovered that its identical twin had just notified the landlord of a January vacation. The owner (who told me he probably liked me better for having quit my job to travel, than asked me what my sign was and was relieved to hear I was a Pisces, because none of his crazy renters had ever been Pisces) approved me for a preview showing, and I took it on the spot. It’s in a quiet neighborhood where I’ve been warned against going to Trader Joe’s on Friday afternoon because the Hasidim are packing it full in preparation for Shabbat, and I can walk less than a mile to a great segment of Melrose, or to some decent bars on Highland. I get keys on the 8th, right after returning from purging my storage unit and turning my remaining belongings over to a mover.

 

Anybody need a chaise?

Anybody need a chaise?

What you are gifted when the prior tenant is a set designer. It comes with an apology because it's not to scale.

What you are gifted when the prior tenant is a set designer. It comes with an apology because it’s not to scale.

 

The weight that comes off from knowing I have a home is amazing. I’m light as air. It gives me energy to rework my resume and find an internship, where, because it’s California, they insist on paying me minimum wage so they don’t get sued over my slave labor. I was concerned this would hurt any unemployment I would potentially take in the near future, until I remembered that I haven’t had a job in 18 months, so my unemployment check would have been $0. Minimum wage is a step up.

The internship is with the production company for an awards show. I will keep my lips sealed on any luscious details except to say that a 9:30 start time, two kitchens stocked with everything from fruit to candy, and a bathroom so pristine that more than once I’ve been the first person to use it in a day are a far cry from my former (and likely future) life.

Here’s a visual aid of what I’m up to for the next couple months. Details to follow as life gets interesting, and my address gets permanent.

oscar

 

 

 

Life Skills

LAAnniversary

Yesterday marks one month since I arrived in LA. You might be wondering off of which fantastic, far off cliff I fell, since I haven’t touched this blog, or any other writing, for most of that entire time.

I don’t know what happened. I was on a roll – writing every day, on a fantastic road trip, reuniting with the cutest dog on the planet (who has now started agility training, and gotten even cuter). I was in love, again, with the world out of which I had temporarily removed myself while chillaxing on Orcas in September. It felt fantastic. And then I got to LA.

IMG_7824

My goal, when I got here, was to spend these couple months doing absolutely everything and anything I could get my hands on, before a normal work schedule started again, and I had to restrict my museums and bookstores and flea markets to normal work people hours. I would spend this time transitioning to Los Angeles. But the truth is, I’ve done almost nothing.

I haven’t been to LACMA, or the Tar Pits, though I drove by them the other day while looking at apartments. I haven’t been to MOCA, or the beach, or on a Universal Studio Tour. I haven’t been to any of the fabulous bookstores I so looked forward to patronizing. I haven’t gone to see a live show be taped, or hit Disneyland, or the Santa Monica Pier. I’ve yet to make it to the Hello Kitty exhibit at the Japanese American Heritage Museum; I haven’t gone to the Chinese Theater, the bar at the Standard, or a black-tie movie premier. And I’m not best friends with Chelsea Handler…yet.

IMG_7787

I am living, temporarily, right smack dab in Hollywood, a block off Hollywood and Highland. It’s insane. It’s overstimulating. It’s fantastic, partly because I know it’s short term. I can walk to Runyon Canyon in ten minutes, but it takes 20 because Spanky has to stop and pee on every tree, light post, or meter box between here and there. On the way, we walk by the Magic Castle. Actually, everywhere we go except Starbucks, we walk by the Magic Castle.

From the top of the Canyon, which I hike to in my boots to support my old-lady ankles and with a backpack so I have water for me, water and a bowl for the dog, an inhaler, a phone, my keys, and a headlamp and an extra layer and whatever other paraphernalia one may need should an earthquake strike and strand me, I can see downtown, and Century City, and the Hollywood sign across the freeway in Griffith Park. I mention the paraphernalia because in Runyon, one is surrounded by people skipping uphill in tennis shoes, carrying a water bottle in one hand and a script in the other. I’m not one of them.

IMG_7769

On mornings when I go to work at a café, I usually walk to Tiago, which I found online. It’s right on Hollywood Boulevard, set back from the street and sporting a large, dog-friendly patio. To get there, Spanky and I walk by the Magic Castle; by the ASC Clubhouse; by Author Services, which always has an ear-pieced, Secret-Service-esque security guard by the parking entrance, as much to keep people in as to keep them out, and the ABLE (Association for a Better Living and Education) building (Hollywood is rife with Scientology buildings – if I disappear, it will likely be because they’ve taken me); and down a block or two on the Walk of Fame. I try not to let Spanky pee on any stars of people I like, and he has mostly complied.

IMG_7774

Every weekend that I’ve been here, someone has been in from out of town. The first weekend, it was a friend of my older sister’s, and we met for dinner at a tapas restaurant on Melrose. The following weekend, it was a former roommate in town for a conference. We went to a Thai restaurant, called Jitlada, that some locals had recommended to her in the past, and it turns out to be very well known, and more importantly, delicious. The next morning, we had breakfast at Huckleberry in Santa Monica. I joked about how I was going to have to learn to keep myself together when seeing famous people. I was mimicking what potential ridiculousness may befall me if I failed while I untied Spanky from outside the back door, where he had been patiently waiting for us, and when we got back to the car, my friend turned to me and said, “while you were telling me that story, Don Cheadle got into his car right behind you.”

A week later, a friend from Dallas was on a pre-planned trip to visit friends who live in Burbank. We went for a hike up to the observatory in Griffith Park before going to lunch at the Alcove in Los Feliz, which I have trouble pronouncing, because I speak even bad Spanish. An actress I recognized but can’t place by name came over to pet Spanky and tell me how well behaved he was. I confessed he was actually just exhausted. Sunday morning, I met my friend for brunch at the Commissary, a rooftop greenhouse restaurant in the Line Hotel referred to as Roy Choi’s latest installment. Apparently, he’s the bomb, as was this place.

IMG_7817

For Thanksgiving, I had the joy of being reunited with the OG Travel Companion, whose sister lives in Sherman Oaks. They went on and amazing cheese-shop trip that became a picnic for us at the Getty.  Note to readers: you won’t last long in the exhibits if you have a lunch of wine and cheese. But your stomach will be joyful. Prioritize accordingly.

Between these things, I’ve gone to a Moth Story Slam, and to hear Noah Gunderson at El Rey. I’ve hiked in Franklin Canyon with the dog, and had lunch at the Larchmont – thrilling in part because a famous person was there, but more so because I was dining with a friend whom I adore and haven’t had the joy of a solid lunch with in almost twenty years. Come to think of it, that’s the third or fourth time in a month I’ve had that pleasure: sharing a meal with someone who’s known me almost as long as I’ve known myself, and sometimes better. Maybe I have been doing something after all.

Transition is an amazing thing. An amazing, exhausting, thing. It isn’t a hibernation. It isn’t a caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation. You don’t go into a cocoon and emerge beautiful, powerful, and able to fly. It is a piece-meal business, changing your life. It happens bit by bit, in unnoticeable ways. You dig in. That’s it. You just dig in.

IMG_7782