Thursday, May 25, 2006

American Girl Place

Yesterday, I went here:

American Girl Place at The Grove. Actually, I only walked by the Mecca. Although I am currently working on the American Girl chapter of the diss (and by working on, I mean reading in preparation to start writing), I wasn't in the mood to go inside. I instead went to Barnes & Noble and read American Girl books all afternoon, looking out the window at the American Girl Cafe.

I've now met all of the American Girls, or at least the historic ones - Kaya, Felicity, Josefina, Kirsten, Addy, Samantha, Kit, and Mollie. As a rule, they are all resourceful, courageous, spirited, and smart. Not bad, all in all, although I have my critiques.

Which I won't bore anyone but my dissertation committee with.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Old Man Puppet

A few weeks ago, I got the idea for a puppet show. Meet the star, my old man puppet:

Isn't it amazing what you can do with some newspaper and masking tape?

He currently has no name, but hell, he doesn't even have a head. He needs to be papier-mached, painted, and equipped with rods. Then there's the question of a set, a solidified story, other puppets, voices, music, and the rest, but I say All In Due Time!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Recipe for a Perfect Saturday

Start by turning off the alarm and sleeping late. If you have a grey baby, you'll get better results. Percy, who takes sleeping very seriously, enables a Zen-like state of relaxation. His job around the house - which earns him ridiculous amounts of attention and too many soft cat food treats - is to keep our lives in perspective by reminding us of the importance of a good nap.

Here's an action shot of him on duty:

After waking up, spend the remaining morning hours leisurely drinking coffee and watching the Giro d'Italia. Then hop on your bikes and roll around Los Angeles, taking side streets to avoid traffic and making sure to enjoy the beautiful Southern California weather.

This past Saturday, our riding took us first to the USC campus. Dave had some work stuff to do, which not only provided a starting place for our wandering bike travels, but also allowed for a slight sense of accomplishment by being a task easily completed. After some iced coffee, we continued on to lovely Echo Park, which according to my half-assed Internet research, is one of LA's oldest neighborhoods, developing at the end of the 19th Century and seeing its greatest surge of growth between 1905 and 1935.

Prior to riding through it, my only other exposure to Echo Park had been through Allison Anders's 1993 movie, Mi Vida Loca, which presents life through the eyes of Latina Gang Girls in Echo Parque. Anders conceived of this movie while living in Echo Park at a time of increasing gang activity; she was at once terrified by her gang girl neighbors and extremely curious to know them and understand them as real human beings, not just as a feared stereotype. She collaborated with them to write and create the film, and many of the girls on whom the main characters are based appear as extras in the film. Whether or not her telling is accurate is subject to debate; comments on imdb range from "It's not really like that!" to "This could be a home video of my family."

My Saturday experience, though nothing like a movie, was fantastic. We rolled past lovely Echo Park Lake...

...past the Angelus Temple of Aimee Semple McPherson, an early radio evangelist and founder of the International Church of the Four Square Gospel...

...and arrived at the Brite Spot for a mid-afternoon breakfast. Our Country Fried Steak and Eggs, California Benedict (eggs, spinach, tomato, and avocado on English muffins and smothered in hollandaise), and Butterscotch Chip Pancake was made all the more delicious by the many honeys, babies, and darlings our spitfire of a seventy-something waitress Margaret sprinkled on us as we sat in our shiny brown booth.

The key ingredient to a perfect Saturday, though, is a picnic with friends in a cemetery while watching a creepy movie. Yes, that's right. A picnic with friends in a cemetery while watching a creepy movie.

With beer and Popeye's chicken in our bags, we rolled up to Hollywood Forever "Resting Place of Hollywood's Immortals" whose "residents" include Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Peter Lorre, Cecil B. DeMille, Mel Blanc, Bugsy Siegel, and Johnny Ramone. Other oddball celebrities interred there are a handful of Li'l Rascals and that guy who played Darren's boss Larry Tate on "Bewitched." Also, there are headstones for people who aren't buried there - Jayne Mansfield (she's buried in Pennsylvania and her two headstones bear different birth dates) and Hattie McDaniel (although it was her last wish, this Oscar-winner couldn't be buried there because she was black. In 1999, 47 years after her death, Hollywood Forever put up a Memorial for her). It's a very popular place - folks are dying to get in!

On Saturday nights, they screen movies at the cemetery.
This week's selection: Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. In watching it, I was struck by how ambiguous and unresolved is its terror. Hitchcock provides no real answers for anything in the film, which I think is why it is so successful. Throughout the story, both people and animals behave strangely; their motivations are never clear, only their actions. I'm a great fan of ambiguity - I think it is more scintillatingly useful than the clear-cut because it opens up thought by forcing the audience members to interpret ideas, messages, and meanings based on the clues that are left for them.

I'm also a great fan of collective events in cemeteries. This Saturday night, a public space was (re)activated. People came together in a very unusual and yet oddly uplifting way; we smashed ourselves together on blankets and lawn chairs in a big green space normally held apart from life by its nearness to death and our own social barriers were lowered. As a mass we cheered Melanie Daniels's (Tippi Hedren) ability to pilot an outboard motor in a little skiff while wearing heels and a fur. We chuckled when Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy) brought up with distaste that Melanie had been arrested for swimming naked in a fountain in Rome and warned her son Mitch (Rod Taylor) to be careful. We cat-called during the forced conversations between Melanie and Mitch's ex, Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), howled during Melanie and Mitch's first kiss, and sat silently, holding our collective breath when the birds attacked.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

More Travel Misadventures

Over the weekend, Dave and I continued our streak of travel mishaps and annoyances (past events: locking ourselves out of our B & B wearing only robes, Karen sleeping through her alarm and not getting to the airport for Dave several times, missing numerous flights, getting really lost in the Canyon of the Ancients after nightfall, and driving in terrible conditions) on our trip to Austin for the Shiner Bash bike ride. American Airlines played their role in the fun, which left us vowing NOT to fly them again.

It all started with boxes. Bicycle boxes. Cycling enthusiasts know the difficulty of transporting bikes. Even though they are light, they usually incur an $80 charge (skis and golf clubs do not). But American has a policy that allows you to fly them for free if you purchase their boxes for $20. Or at least we were told that they had this policy when we started out. Dave dutifully picked up the boxes, which have a huge AA logo on the side, and we packed them up and were ready to go.

When we got to the airport, the ticket lady refused to let me check us in, even though I had all the luggage, because Dave was parking the car. Because of this, we missed our flight to Austin and had to go instead through Dallas with a connecting flight to Austin that would have gotten us into Austin too late for the start of the ride. But we took the flight to Dallas.

Then the new ticket lady said she had to charge for the bikes. No, no, we assured her, you don't because we are using AA boxes and can fly them for free. "Where did you get the boxes?" she asked. Um, we manufactured them ourselves, of course. We carefully stencilled the company logo on the side, using advanced techniques that allowed our handiwork to appear as uniform as a printing press. We're very talented. But she checked with a supervisor, who said we were right, and we flew to Dallas without paying extra for our bikes.

From Dallas we drove to Austin. In the pouring rain, thunder, and lightning. We saw at least a half a dozen accidents on our way, one severe enough to divert traffic off the interstate. We hydroplaned while riding inches from a semi. We watched a bolt of lightning hit the ground, produce a huge blue haze, and knock out all the power in the area - hotel signs, gas stations, street lights, everything. Fun!

But we eventually arrived in Austin and tried to find our hotel, which was difficult because we failed to print off the name of our hotel before we left. It started with an H, we thought, so we tried the Hyatt. Nope. The front desk manager called the Hilton for us. Nope. Finally, we called, whose number the front desk manager had to look up for us because cell phone information didn't have the listing (866.HOT.WIRE). Capitol Place Hotel. No H (but it was a Hilton Garden Inn affiliate, whatever that means). Head to the room, jump into some bike clothes, and off we go.

We sat at the starting location for some time, trying to decide whether or not to do the ride. The weather had followed us from Dallas - rain, thunder, and lightning. We came to a group decision that a 90 mile ride after a night of no sleep was not going to be fun. So we loaded up the bikes and went to breakfast.

The rest of the trip was great, catching up with old friends, rolling around Austin (the 13.86 miles I've actually ridden this month), having beers on 6th Street. We saw bad music in a club, good music on the street, and a report of the terrible Texas storms that we'd driven through on CNN.

Just an easy ride home to LA. Or not. Again with the bike boxes. The AA people assured us that the bike box scam they assumed we were trying to run was not going to fly with them. The reasons:
  • They always charge for bikes except for trips overseas (or trips from LAX, apparently).
  • The bike boxes were outside of their size restrictions (why would you sell a box that doesn't conform to your own size requirements?).
  • Just how many free trips did we think we were going to get with our boxes, anyway? (Um, one round trip seems reasonable).
Words were exchanged. Calls were made. The supervisor walked away from me as I was talking to him. More words were exchanged. Although we never raised our voices and always called him sir, the supervisor threatened to prevent us from flying. We paid the fee and headed to the gate. Our bike shoes and allen wrenches prompted a bag search, and as we chatted with the TSA employee about the ordeal, even she was appalled, saying that the supervisor should have to apologize to us.

Which is ultimately what we want. Nick Juen of Austin, Texas, you were rude! You strike us as the W. type of Texan - arrogant, entitled, and not about to waver in the face of some uppity West Coast crazies with big ideas and facts on their side.

Apologize, Nick Juen, apologize.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Monthly Ticker

No, this isn't related to menstruation.

You'll see in my sidebar the new section "Tally Ho!" This is me holding myself accountable; it's like a congratulation/flagellation machine in which I keep track of the important work and play I've done or not done throughout the month: books I'm reading or have read (for the diss and for pleasure), diss pages written (as of May 1, a big zero, but that's why I'm slogging through Distinction and The Culture Industry; it takes books to grow a dissertation), miles ridden on the road bike (also as of May 1, also a big zero, but you'll see that number grow). Just a semi-public way to keep myself honest and motivated (or demoralized, depending on the numbers).

On a completely unrelated subject, I love Stephen Colbert. Anyone who can bring out Laura Bush's Death Stare at a highly public event is doing something right. His performance at Saturday's White House Press Correspondent's Dinner was, to quote Jon Stewart, "balls-o-licious." There's been great coverage on the lack of mainstream coverage of his speech - check it out at Editor & Publisher, Slate, and; read the transcript; watch the video (you can get it at Crooks & Liars, among other places). Kudos to Helen Thomas for her part in the fun.

Monday, May 01, 2006

My First Official Celebrity Sighting

Last Thursday, I experienced my first official celebrity sighting, where here official means the first celebrity I've seen since I moved here. I know I said that I am not into celebrity culture, but we all live with our contradictions, don't we? Besides, celebrity sightings are very LA, and therefore they fit well with this blog. The celebrity in question: Michael Rappaport. He was getting into his big stupid SUV, I was sitting on a bench. He was talking on his cell phone, I was talking on my cell phone. Because I was talking to my mom, who wouldn't have a clue who Michael Rappaport is, I didn't mention it.
In case you are like my mother and don't know who Michael Rappaport is, feast your eyes on this still shot from Bamboozled.

The nice thing about Michael Rappaport is that he looks exactly like what you expect him to look like; many celebrities are shorter or fatter or less handsome in person, which leaves people let down by reality. Not Michael Rappaport. He's as gangly and dorky in person as he is on screen.

Seeing a celebrity got me thinking more about celebrity culture, about why we like to see them, and why we like to see them doing glitzy celebrity things and also doing everyday activities. According to Baudrillard, celebrities are the "heroes of consumption" whose extravagant lifestyles becomes a sign of the affluence of the society at large, defying penury and signifying abundance. They are the "great wastrels (even if the imperative is often that they be shown, by contrast, in their daily 'simplicity', doing their shopping, etc.) is always the excessiveness of their lives, the potential for outrageous expenditure that is exalted." (The Consumer Society, pp. 45-6). Thus our sighting them reassures us that we, too, have all that we need; that we, too, may achieve extreme wealth; that we, too, live in a society that provides for all. And when we see them in the quotidian, it suggests that the distance between us and them is not so great.

While Michael Rappaport is my first official celebrity sighting, I have seen other celebrities in my travels to California. Reflecting on this list of "wastrals," I created a sort of non-hierarchical taxonomy of celebrities I've seen:

  • Rappaport is of the category celebrities in whom I am generally interested - he does a lot of really good work, usually performing in movies that strive to be more than a mindless diversion from life. He also takes interesting risks as a performer and plays roles that have social relevance, as in Bamboozled.
  • Celebrities with the "that guy" quality. These are those people who have been around forever, who you see and say, "Hey, look, it's that guy!" Sometimes you don't even know their name, you just recognize them, as when I saw Elliot Gould eating lunch at the hotel I stayed at in Santa Monica. In many ways, the "that guy" represents the Hollywood workhorse, who has been around, steadily doing his or her job for a long long time.
  • Celebrities who are important to someone else and meaningless to you. Case in point, The Pussycat Dolls. Before I worked on the Best Buy commercial with them, I didn't even know who they were. I don't much care for their music. Most of all, the marketing of this group (did you know that they are literally to become dolls now?) makes my consumer culture meets feminist critical sense go haywire. That being said, I have to admit I now have a soft spot for PCD, only because working on their commercial (and EA Sports) for Best Buy is what brought me to LA last fall and helped make possible my romantic reunion with my boyfriend. To their credit, I also have to say that The Dolls have an incredible work ethic. They put in two really long days of shooting and interviews, and they never complained and they never halfwayed their performances. They are very personable and professional.
  • Celebrities who are of HUGE importance to me and seemingly nobody else. I don't even know if these guys qualify as celebrities or some sort of specialty niche personality, but they are huge in my book. And in the case of El Vez, The Mexican Elvis, I mean this literally - he is Chapter Three of my dissertation. These are photos from his 2004 El Vez 4 Prez tour.
    I voted for Kerry. I should have voted for El Vez.

    Also hugely important to me: George Hincapie, my all-time favorite cyclist from the USA. These shots are from Stage 6 of the Tour of California. His jersey is green because he was leading the points (sprinters) category after having taken two stage victories.

    Georgie on the Podium.

    Fabian Cancellara of Team CSC in the red Swiss ITT Championship kit.

    Georgie after the stage finish. He looks amazingly cool on a bike.

  • Celebrities who are of HUGE importance to me and everybody else.

    Lance Armstrong.

    I say more?