…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

girlz n the hood

I returned home from work yesterday to find graffiti on our garage door, which is not how I left it. That morning the garage had been painted two shades of green, just as it was when we bought the house. Two shades of green wouldn’t have been my color choice, but it was the color of the house we chose.

Had the graffiti been more attractive I might have embraced it as a goodwill gesture from budding young neighborhood artists. I could totally live with something along the lines of this:

But it was a basic black spray-painted gang tag of the sort that repeatedly shows up on our fence and gets painted over by Operation Clean Sweep, a graffiti-removal service offered free through the Los Angeles Board of Public Works.

“OCS challenges residents to become part of the solution and play a major role in the maintenance of their neighborhoods!”

I accept their challenge! And I accept their help, because painting my own fence every time it gets tagged would utterly exhaust me. Hell, I’m too exhausted to do much of anything these days, so it’s my partner who regularly calls the city regarding matters of illegal dumping and graffiti.

Speaking of illegal dumping, we’ve had two whole other abandoned-sofa incidents that I haven’t even mentioned since the storied couch of yore. One of them spawned a computer monitor, a carton full of containers of used motor oil, and a trash bag too skanky to get near enough to reveal its contents here. My partner called to report the first of these dumped sofas so soon after the removal of the storied couch of yore that the city employee to whom she spoke thought she must be re-reporting the same sofa and fussed at her for being impatient. Nope, we’re just that lousy with soiled sofas.

We were naïve new homeowners the first time our fence got tagged. Our inaugural blush of rage toward this bald act of vandalism invoked every cliché ever uttered by our parents: The nerve of kids thinking they can claim our house as their turf! Just who do they think pays the mortgage around here? They should put all that destructive energy into earning a paycheck—then maybe they’d have more respect for private property! I guess we just can’t have nice things.

When OCS came to remove that first tag they asked what color we would like the fence to be, which confused me: It was a natural wood fence; I wanted it to be natural, like it was before the mean boys came around. I’m not sure what kind of fairy dust I expected them to sprinkle over the graffiti to lift it cleanly from the fence, but I was quickly made aware of my choices: white or brown. It didn’t occur to me at the time that painting it white would make it just about the most inviting canvas in all of gangland Los Angeles. So white it was, and white it’s been ever since.

The fence is one thing, but our garage door getting tagged is a whole new sack of potatoes. The garage is so integral to the look of the house—what Realtors would call our “curb appeal”—the tag may as well be on our front door, which stirs up a whole kettle of neuroses in me. For months after we moved in I dreaded coming home, so certain was I that it was just a matter of time before I would find “LESBIANS GET OUT” painted in giant letters across the front of our house. In fact, when I pulled up Monday night and saw that our garage had been defaced I scrutinized the nonsensical letters to rule out any coded meaning.

Before this incident we already had a tag on the fence, which had been tagged over, then tagged over again. So OCS had been summoned, but they wouldn’t be able to paint our garage being that it’s those two shades of green I mentioned. Also, not to impugn their services, but the OCS crew is all about efficiency, so if there’s a little dirt or grass in the way, well, that gets painted right onto the fence. So even if they had color-match technology, I’m not sure I’d want them painting my garage.

I wasn’t so sure I wanted my partner painting the garage either. At night. In the rain. But when I arrived home at 7 the second thing I saw, right after the big ugly tag on the garage door, was an open paint can in the middle of the garage. In a rehearsed tone meant to convey that I didn’t mean to question her judgment or be controlling in any way, I mentioned that a storm was coming in within a matter of hours and suggested that we might want to put off painting until everything dried out again. She responded, rightfully so, that tags beget tags—exhibit A being the current state of the fence—and that to leave the graffiti is to invite more. So paint the garage she did. At night. Just as the storm came rolling in. We’re pretty sure we’re going to have to repaint it once everything dries out, but in the meantime, with any luck, our driveway won’t play host to a turf war.

Monday, March 27, 2006

no woman's land

I’ve kept my office door closed all morning because I don’t want to engage with anyone. My supervisor will knock if she needs me—she knows I’m here—but I want to discourage unnecessary social contact. In truth, coworkers seldom come around here, so shutting my door will likely make no difference in my level of social interaction today. But isolationist tendencies are preemptive by nature, and the closed door makes me feel more secure from within, even if it piques interest from without. It’s like hiring a bouncer to work the rope at a club no one has ever cared to enter.

This weekend I acknowledged that the fog of sadness I’ve wandered through for the past couple of weeks isn’t lifting. That doesn’t mean that I’ve embraced the depression; I’m simply acknowledging its influential presence. It’s the worst kind of uninvited guest, an unlovable, overbearing relative who regularly comes to visit, monopolizes my time, and refuses to go away. He sleeps in my bed—sometimes atop me such that I can hardly breathe—he eats my food, he won’t clean up after himself, and he taunts me for being too weak to make him leave. He’s a lot like my brother.

It’s difficult to write from the state of depression, and even more difficult to write about depression. It clouds the mind such that every nondepressive thought emerges only in half measures, and the bleak thoughts that dominate come on so strong that any attempt to express them seems excessively dramatic. Still, whatever I manage to express here, it feels worse than it sounds.

I think self-hatred is more responsible for depression than any native sadness. I see a Venn diagram wherein one circle contains sadness and one contains self-hatred; where the two overlap they create a pocket of depression. I see arrows shooting across the depressive subset from the respective circles of sadness and self-hatred—they feed and perpetuate each other while reinforcing the no man’s land they create. The depressive center bulges beyond its previous confines to dominate the picture.

It's pretty simple stuff when I visualize it, and my theory goes that if I can just tolerate the sadness I feel, whether circumstantial or chemical, while imposing an embargo on its accelerant, self-hatred, I can shrink that center circle, diminishing my depressive episodes both in strength and longevity. I know emotions are seldom so neatly subtracted and divided, but I'm all about trying to make the illogical logical, so my '06 resolution is to banish self-loathing from my life in an effort to manage my depression. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to test my theory since the turn of the New Year. I know I'll just hate myself if my theory doesn't work. (Get it? *heh heh*)

My first three months (nearly) of 2006 were filled with astoundingly good feeling, almost an entire fiscal quarter of rapid growth and boundless prosperity. To those who have never experienced clinical depression, I would describe not being depressed as akin to waking up every day with the eagerness of a child bound for Disneyland. It’s heroin-good, pure bliss—the nasty side effect being all those days of despair spent jonesing for it.

Knowing what not being depressed feels like is precisely what makes it so difficult to keep from hating myself now. From the other side it seems easy enough to say, “Hey, I know, I’ll just refuse to feel that way ever again, because feeling this way is so much better.” Mind over matter, or maybe matter or mind. But when I’m feeling fine I can’t touch this level of sadness, and when I’m depressed I can’t imagine how I’ll ever feel grand again. The respective states seem impenetrable, their borders closed. It seems all I can do is sit here in depressionland, taking pleasure in what I can—my partner’s love, friends, coffee—and wait for the corrupt border guard to take pity on my soul and wave me back over. Where I belong.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

happy b'day, sweet knees!

A kind of creepy guy who works in my office poked his head in my door yesterday and asked why I had a pound of butter on my desk. I answered, as any sane person would, “because it’s easier to bake with when it’s at room temperature.” He seemed satisfied with that and moved on.

My partner’s birthday is today, and last night I made her most favorite cake in the whole wide world: pound cake with orange-butter frosting—from her grandmother’s recipe. As I said, I needed the butter to be at room temperature, and I had shopped for needed ingredients on the way to work Wednesday. Leaving the butter in the trunk of my car with the rest of the ingredients would have resulted in butter soup, so there it sat on my desk, left in plain sight so that I’d remember to take it home.

I was very relieved to receive a call today confirming that a custom gift I had ordered was ready for pickup. It was one of those deals with an artisan type, so it really could have gone either way. He knew I had a Thursday deadline, but he wasn’t sure he had the materials for what I wanted. (I can be less vague about this in a later post, once she’s already received the goods.) Suffice to say, I’m thrilled that this guy delivered, ’cause I didn’t want to crap all over her birthday by not having something meaningful to offer. I mean, she’s not a material girl—I don’t want to make it sound like I had to buy her something—but I was going to have to scramble to, I dunno, make her a decoupage jewelry box if my idea fell through. She’s already received shampoo (!) from her mother, and an unmarked box from Amazon courtesy of her father—he hadn’t checked the “gift” box. She opened it thinking it was something she had ordered and found some DVDs that she had asked for. Her father, normally aces at the gift-giving thing, had forgotten to have the Amazon elves wrap them.

Since she already knew what many of her presents were and was going to work and therapy today, she was feeling kind of down about her birthday, so you can understand why I didn’t want to be responsible for more disappointment. Thank God for artisans who take deadlines seriously. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

culture threat

For Christmas I gave my partner the new 30-GB video iPod she’d been romancing at the Apple store, and as a result I inherited her first-generation 10-GB iPod. I had played around with her old iPod before, once, on an airplane, while she was asleep and I was wide-awake and completely disinterested in watching Monster-in-Law. I had to admit that it was nice having a virtual record collection in the palm of my hand and, having thus far resisted the iPod juggernaut, I wondered whether I might like one after all.

Nevertheless, the old iPod has been sadly neglected since it came into my possession. (Actually, I've never really taken "possession" of it since I feel that I shouldn't profit from a gift I gave to my partner, so really she has two iPods, one of which she keeps trying to tell me is mine.) My pop-in-law gave me a $50 iTunes gift card to kick-start my digital library, but I haven’t yet visited the site. My partner thinks that I have trouble adapting to change, or that I simply resist the unfamiliar. But that’s not entirely true. I transitioned from LPs to CDs quite nicely.

I spent the better part of my youth, which by my calculation penetrated far into my 20s, hanging out in record stores. For nine of those years I actually worked in them, my first full-time gig being at the now-defunct Record Trading Center. As the name implied, RTC dealt in new and used records, though soon after I began working there we stocked our first CD: a Japanese import of the Beatles Abbey Road album. (Just in case anyone’s wondering, it’s OK to call a CD, or even a collection of music files meant to represent an artistic whole, an album. The term comes from the days when 78-rpm discs, which generally had just one song on each side, were sold in binders (or albums) that contained five or six discs comprising a cohesive collection. When 33-rpm LPs were introduced they retained the name, signifying not so much a format as a collection of music.)

While the compact disc took off in Asia, U.S. record companies were slower to embrace the new format. CDs were treated more as an audiophile novelty than a viable replacement to the LP. Most of the initial offerings were classical recordings, with only proven rock acts receiving CD treatment, and in those cases the disc releases lagged behind their LP counterparts by a number of weeks. Even then quantities were strictly allocated since manufacturing plants were scarce and their production was limited. As the price of CD players came down from thousands of dollars to hundreds, more and more customers clamored for the relatively small catalog of music available, with demand outstripping supply for the first year or so.

After I graduated high school I took a job as a buyer at an upstart store with a crazy business model: They would sell only CDs. I worked there for the next seven years, a witness to the CD revolution.

Now, just 20 years later, my friend J has gleefully announced to me, “We’ve decided to liquidate our CDs!” He and his wife have made three piles: music already transferred, music to be transferred, and music they no longer care about. When all their music is converted J figures they'll have only a handful of CDs worth keeping—those with sentimental meaning—otherwise they're going the way of so many dusty boxes of records before them.

I know I’m a dinosaur for liking the tangibility of CDs and LPs. (I still have a turntable, as well as a small collection of records that have never been released on CD.) I like to hold them and read their liner notes. I like madly searching through bins of used CDs at stores, hunting treasure, just as I used to dive into boxes of records at music swap meets.

I didn’t much mourn the passing of the LP. It had served us well for decades, but it also degraded with every revolution, filling its music with unintended pops and hiss that now sound as quaint to us as the key strikes of an old manual typewriter. I wasn’t even terribly concerned, as many record collectors were, with the loss of A and B sides as discrete sequences, with the B side of an album often kicking off with a song meant to set the tone for the second half. I figured that not having to split the album in two (with imposed time limits per side) would be more freeing to the artist, and back-catalog albums would still retain their original flow when released on CD.

My partner thinks I'm a snob for insisting that most serious artists intend that their albums be heard as carefully arranged sequences of music, the whole of which adds up to an artistic statement. It's this prejudice that causes me to announce, more frequently than my partner would like, that greatest-hits albums are for pussies. Sure, it’s an overstatement—and I have a number of best-of and greatest-hits albums myself—but I do prefer the listening experience, and sometimes even the challenge, of music in its original context. I think it puts us closer to the artist's soul. And I know that iTunes offers complete-album downloads, but I can't help feeling that the album as a concept is in trouble.

Also in danger: album art.

As much as I love music, I also adore its ephemera. I used to decorate my room, and later my apartment, with promotional posters, album covers, and 45 sleeves I found meaningful, interesting, or flat-out strange. There were times when my living space resembled one of the rare record haunts I’d seek out in far-flung places, where the clerk/owner seemed disinterested in actually selling anything, regarding his collection more as a museum than a store. I still have hundreds of promotional posters from my music retailing days, brought home because I couldn’t bear to throw them out. I still can’t.

I know there are Web sites dedicated to downloadable album art for display on the iPod, but the iPod users I know don’t seem particularly interested in covers or liner notes. That said, I offer the following visual reminders of why album art is essential to our culture:

Save the album cover!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

please send goat pics

I’m getting a new sister!

I’ve always wanted a sister, assuming, perhaps falsely, that I might have gotten along better with my sister-in-potentia than I did with my brother-in-corporea. But after I was born my father had a vasectomy—no offense intended, I’m sure—consigning me to a childhood of loneliness and terror in my older brother’s shadow.

My new sister may well be older than I, but intuition tells me she’ll be younger, and I’m hoping she’ll be Rwandan, not because I have anything against Kosovars or Congolese but because it was a Rwandan who this morning served as my sisterhood catalyst.

Listening to NPR on my way to work I heard this story. The specifics of the Rwandan’s experiences were sadly not unique to her: She had been raped at age 9 by militia during the 1994 genocide, contracting HIV as a result, and now cares for children orphaned in the attacks. Her parents still grieve for the two sons they lost in ’94, but their daughter's rape remains a taboo subject—for them, anyway.

In 2003 she joined a neighborhood organization of women similarly brutalized, and in coming to terms with her past she's thrown off any shame she once felt. She supports reconciliation efforts and offers forgiveness to her attackers. She currently receives HIV meds through a charitable organization and was also gifted with a goat, which she bred. Now she has six goats.

I thought, Golly, I’d like to give someone a goat. I wonder how much goats cost.

My head spins at the mounting poverty and horror at home and abroad. The world seems so overwhelmingly bleak right now, with my own government acting not as part of the solution but very much as part of the problem. There are a thousand holes that need plugging and it sometimes seems that all I can do is idly stare at my 10 fingers in despair.

I admit that I harbor crippling levels of news fatigue. Sometimes I just can’t listen to any more details about Iraqi insurgents or Sudanese warlords or American abuses at Guantánamo, so I tune out. I pop in a CD I’ve heard a hundred times rather than listen to a news story that only seems like the hundred that came before. Occasionally I even wonder whether it’s part of the Republican strategy to numb the American public so thoroughly with demoralizing news that we stop paying attention. It certainly sounds Karl Rovian to me.

I recently received a 4% raise, which kicks in with my next paycheck. I don’t make a pile of money, and 104% of not much is still not much. Nevertheless, I had been thinking about increasing my 401(k) contribution to sponge up the raise before I even see it reflected in my paycheck; out of sight, out of mind and all. But this morning it struck me that 4% of my salary would represent a fortune to some, and I wondered how I could go about getting one of those Rwandan goats.

I have a bit of an obsessive personality, so I could have spent weeks or even months deciding where to donate my tiny sum, but it seemed important to pull the trigger today. Through Charity Navigator, an online database that rates charities by criteria including fundraising efficiency, administrative overhead, executive compensation, and so forth, I found an ideal fit: Women for Women International was founded by an Iraqi woman named Zainab Salbi, who in 1993 decided with her husband of six months to forego a honeymoon and instead spend the money traveling to Croatia to help survivors of rape and concentration camps. Taking her cues from what many of her first beneficiaries said they needed the most, Salbi parlayed her $2,000 honeymoon purse into a nonprofit organization to help women in war-torn countries regain stability and self-sufficiency—or perhaps realize those goals for the first time. Charity Navigator gives her group four out of four stars.

WFWI matches Western donors with women in need. My 27 bucks a month—which, at the yearly rate of $324 still costs less than subscribing to my local NPR superstation KCRW at the "angel" level—will directly benefit my new “sister” in providing basic needs as well as job training and rights-awareness education. WFWI also encourages sisters to exchange photos and letters, providing translation services to enable us to communicate. The model is similar to the Christian Children’s Fund—which, by the way, earns only three stars from Charity Navigator—the group Sally Struthers did all those crazy late-night commercials for. CCF infomercials have always struck me as shrill, and I’ve often wondered whether those kids feel put upon for having to take time away from their daily struggles to write letters to their sponsors.

My pledge contract says it’ll take about 12 weeks to match me with a sister. I stated my first area of preference as Rwanda—in honor of my radio friend—and my second and third choices as “wherever the greatest need.” I’m pretty excited to meet my new sis, and I already know what to say in my first letter:

Dear Sister—

I’m so pleased that we have this opportunity to be in each other’s lives, and I look forward to sharing bits of my silly American life with you. But you must promise me, if you find yourself pressed for time and ever feel obligated to write me a letter, please feel free to go milk the goat instead.



Sunday, March 12, 2006

coffee achiever

I was feeling sad Thursday afternoon, sad enough that I broke a hard and fast personal rule by going out for a post-lunch coffee. I avoid p.m. caffeine and sugar during the week since both substances wreak havoc with my sleep rhythms—so much as a scoop of ice cream will have me staring at the ceiling and drumming my fingers on the headboard hours after lights-out. So the Thursday afternoon coffee was a devil-may-care treat.

I’ve heard about decaffeinated coffee, but here’s the thing: If I could drink coffee all the damn day long—say, if it didn’t keep me up all night—I would, and I don’t think the increased acid intake would do my stomach any favors. Since my stomach still bears the scars of ibuprofen abuse from my dark days as a waiter with plantar fasciitis—chronic inflammation of the tendon that traverses the bottom of the foot that causes excruciating pain with every step—having taken 2400 milligrams per shift for more than two years, I probably shouldn’t push my luck.

Besides, a November 2005 article in New Scientist reported a study wherein decaffeinated-coffee drinkers showed elevated bad-cholesterol levels, compared with control groups of caffeinated-coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers showing no appreciable difference in cholesterol. It would appear that the robusta beans found in decaffeinated coffee, used because they retain more flavor through the decaffeination process, also produce more fatty acids than arabica beans, your standard source for regular coffee. In other words, real coffee is healthier, dammit. *smirk*

Fascinating facts about decaffeinated coffee:
The decaffeination process was originated in Germany in 1903. When the inventor had his business confiscated during World War I by the Alien Property Custodian, he lost the rights to the name Kaffee HAG, under which he had been marketing his successful product. He reestablished his invention under the name Sanka, combining the French words “sans caffeine.” And it is from Sanka’s packaging that orange became the international color of decaf.

I was an impressionable 16-year-old when the “coffee achievers” commercial hit the air in 1984. Who were the coffee achievers? David Bowie, Heart, Kurt Vonnegut, the Cinncinati Bengals, and Cicely Tyson. At least those were the folks who appeared in montage, while a confident male and a tranquil female held forth:

Male: “You are the new American society: the movers, and the shakers. You are the new coffee generation.”
Female: “Because coffee is the calm moment that lets you think, coffee gives you the time to dream it, then you’re ready to do it. No other drink does that like coffee.”
Male: “Join the coffee achievers!”

Oh, and Electric Light Orchestra’s “Hold on Tight (to Your Dreams)” served as the soundtrack. This PSA was sponsored by the National Coffee Association. But don’t take my word for it—check it out for yourself.

American coffee was a pretty weak brew in the pre-Starbucks era. We’ve since moved on to become espresso achievers.

It was at Starbucks that I sought solace Thursday. The coffee supplied at my workplace is watery and unsatisfying—just like our accountants like it—so us editorial staffers tend to buy coffee on the boulevard. (Most mornings I bring a thermos of extra-strong from home, but it was long since gone.) And I was mighty glad to have been beckoned from my office to Starbucks that afternoon; otherwise I wouldn’t have heard a suited businessman ask, after having waited for his sissy beverage, by his estimate, a full five minutes, “Has the mocha gone on break?”

Though I’ve left my retail and waiting days behind, I reflexively sigh on behalf of service workers dealing with asswipes. I remember their pain. I remember laughing disingenuously when asked by diners whether the kitchen had caught their chicken yet. I remember customers exclaiming upon my approach, “Oh, we thought you’d gone home!” a passive-aggressive way of saying, You’re a crap waiter. I’ve been called worse, like when I was walking down a boulevard in West Hollywood and a guy yelled from a passing convertible, “Oh, my God, you’re our favorite waitress!” In that moment I willed my heart to stop beating.

My friend J—to whom I apologize for this entry since she’s given up the elixir of the gods (among other beverages) for Lent—used to be a Starbucks barista. I asked her if she ever took revenge on unpleasant customers and she replied that when people were mean to her she made their drinks decaf. Having read a harrowing scene in “Trainspotting” in which a pub waitress manages to sneak urine, excrement, and menstrual blood into the food and drink of a particularly disagreeable patron, I found J’s payback positively innocent, even charitable: Assholes don’t need stimulants.

Coffee is one of the few things I can experience daily and still look forward to every time, probably because it was an acquired taste. I like to theorize that the longer it takes to love something, the longer the love will remain. It’s possible that I’m especially fond of this theory because few people like me the first time we meet, but for my part the maxim especially holds true for music: An album I respond to instantly is likely to peak and fade quickly; a slow-grower stands a far greater chance of becoming a lifelong favorite.

My first taste of coffee came at the age of four, in my grandmother’s kitchen. I wanted some of what all the adults were having, so she poured a little bit into a juice glass with an equal amount of milk and plenty of sugar. I took a sip and promptly made a face, or so I’m told.

I wonder how we ever get past our first cup of coffee or shot of bourbon or taste of tofu to discover their peculiar pleasures. How do relationships that begin badly gain the experience and traction necessary to engender love? Whatever magic happens there, my everlasting gratitude, as both a consumer of peculiar pleasures and as a bit of an acquired taste myself—or so I’m told.

Friday, March 10, 2006

jack dumps rose for ennis

On my way to work Tuesday morning I passed a western wear store with a message board out front that said, “Them ain’t cowboys; they’s sheepherders.” And no, this isn’t going to be an entry about grammar. I understand the shop’s owners were being ironic and intentionally down-home, and despite my partner’s accusations to the contrary, I really have little interest in copyediting the world.

That this particular store jumped on the Brokeback-bashing bandwagon is surprising not only because of its geography, located in bluest blue Los Angeles within spitting distance of three film and television studios, but because the store gets a lot of queer traffic. It’s situated just one block from the only country-western gay bar in Los Angeles—with line dancing, two-stepping, and even a certain brand of homosexual chivalry—and it’s the go-to outfitter for the gay rodeo. Even my partner and I laid up a few provisions at the joint before we went to a dude ranch many years ago, and damn if our unflinchingly helpful salesman wasn’t as gay as Randy Jones (you know, the cowboy from the Village People).

Not that a store has to pander to its clientele. Nor do people have to pass a “Brokeback Mountain” litmus test to prove they’re not homophobes—any more than folks have to love “Crash” to escape being labeled racists. Disliking “Good Night, and Good Luck,” however, might mean you’re a Bushie.

I’ve spent at least some of this past week wondering why I’m so disappointed “Brokeback” didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, both for its merits as a well-crafted, well-told story and for the importance of the story itself. This is certainly not the first time I’ve felt the Academy’s grand prize may have been, er, misappropriated: 1994’s “The Shawshank Redemption” losing to “Forrest Gump” seemed unconscionable to me, and, hindsight being 20/20, cinefiles likely feel a deep sense of injustice over 1941’s “How Green Was My Valley” besting a field that included “Citizen Kane.”

But life goes on for us riffraff who merely attend films. We can cop attitudes that our opinions are somehow more right than the opinions of the voting members of the Academy, but it seems silly to give the enterprise more power than that—to be hung up on a film winning or not winning an award voted on by people who may as well live on Jupiter for all we have in common. Nevertheless, toward the end of the Academy Awards telecast, when “Brokeback” had lost more awards than it had won, I began to despair for it, and I guess a little bit for myself as well.

First thing’s first, the film utterly destroyed me emotionally. During the last 15 minutes or so I cried like a little girl whose best friend had just moved away. I guess I identified a little with Ennis’s self-denial and shame, and with his better-late-than-never realization that he had let everything but his own desires govern his life.

But it was more than that. After seeing it I left the theater feeling that something extraordinary had happened. My partner and I had sat in a full theater at a suburban mall cineplex with mostly straight people who had paid money—American dollars!—to watch a big-budget film showcasing homosexual love, and no one giggled or heckled or booed or ewwwed. In that moment I could see a not-so-distant future when same-sex relationships aren’t aberrant or gross, when arguing over whether Ennis and Jack are “real” cowboys is totally beside the point, when my partner and I are just another couple—and I have to tell you it was pretty cool.

Of course, in the not-so-pleasant present the Republican Party uses populist disgust over my “lifestyle” as a wedge issue, and Gyllenhaal and Ledger answer more questions about what it was like to kiss a guy than about the film they kissed in. The actors’ heterosexuality is asserted in every interview, and for goodness sake, don’t forget that Ledger got Michelle Williams pregnant during the shoot!

We take it for granted that gays can play straights without freaking out: I don’t think Jodie Foster has ever been asked whether on-screen kisses with Richard Gere or Mel Gibson were difficult for her or put her career in jeopardy. (Personally speaking, there aren’t enough acting coaches in the world to make me comfortable kissing Gibson. Gere I could probably wrap my lips around, just for giggles.)

Growing up, I took movie love scenes as convenient breaks to use the restroom or buy some Red Vines. I saw “Grease” just as many times as my friends did, but for me it was all about Kenickie fixing up his car and whether that wiseacre Rizzo would ever let down her defenses and accept Sandy. When my friends all started talking about and dating boys, I thought they were just trying to fit in. I was sure that they would secretly rather spend time with me, just as I far preferred hanging out with them to going out with my “boyfriend.” Nevertheless, I thought the known lesbians in my high school were gross. I remember laughing along when some punks threw half-eaten burritos at them.

I wouldn’t come out to myself until years later, at 25, when I could handle it—sort of. I still shuddered at the idea of watching two women or two men kissing, but somehow I had come to accept the idea that it might not be so revolting to make out with a girl myself. When I road-tested my theory several months later it felt more right than kissing any of my boyfriends ever had.

I didn’t take the love scenes in “Brokeback Mountain” as exit cues. Nor have I left the theater during blue moments in any of the other gay and lesbian films I’ve seen. They represent cultural revolution to me, and evolution of self, and missing them would be as anticlimactic as leaving “High Noon” before the gunfight.

Hollywood knows there’s nothing like a love story to make just about any narrative that much more compelling. What is the sinking of the Titanic without the drama of Jack and Rose? (A better movie!) Given that male-female romance remains the decisive standard, I figure I choke down about a hundred Jacks and Roses for every Jack and Ennis out there. And during the love scenes between all those Jacks and all those Roses I’m still like as not to take my potty breaks. It’s not that I’m offended by the idea of heterosexual love—after all, some of my best friends are straight. But watching men and women kiss and copulate, well, it's just so damned boring.

Monday, March 06, 2006


When I woke up this morning I had a great idea for a blog entry that I’ve now forgotten. Aren’t those the best kinds of great ideas, the ones you forget? Because that means they can remain great forever, unexamined by second thoughts that reveal them to be stupefyingly mediocre, serviceable at best.

A friend of mine once told me that he had come to understand the meaning of life, in one startling instant, while high on pot. Upon awakening the following day his existential concept had flitted away, irretrievable to his sober mind. But he was certain that he had discovered “it” and was pleased to have had this vision while high, reinforcing his idea that stoners are god’s chosen people.

I’m having what I’ve come to call a hypoxic-brain day. It feels like my mind is suffocating, and no matter how deeply I breathe I can’t draw enough oxygen to clear it. It’s like trying to see the world through a shower curtain, or trying to drink oatmeal. Everything takes longer—walking, reading, writing—and requires more effort. I feel more like a liability than an asset at work right now, but I can’t go home because that would require driving and when I’m like this my reaction time sucks and I can’t seem to keep my attention from drifting no matter how hard I try to focus on the road. And it’s raining. Being a liability at work is one thing, being one on the road is quite another.

Around my partner and friends I sometimes refer to my supposed brain damage—as diagnosed by a neuropsychologist after a battery of tests that followed last year’s seizure/stroke/whatever—in a joking way. It comes in handy when excusing oneself for a lapse in memory or judgment. Usually, though, I doubt I have a genuine brain injury. But then there are times like these, when I have to keep prying myself out of mini fugue states to refocus my clouded faculties on whatever I was doing before my mind wandered off. Just now I feel addled with all the costs of being high and none of the rewards, and for the record I feel impossibly far from discovering the meaning of life.

Friday, March 03, 2006


“It is like fanny pack,” the Russian cardio tech told me as she fastened a pouch around my midsection. And she wasn’t off the mark. While my heart monitor’s mission control, the ambulatory EKG recorder, was not quite as large as your classic fanny pack, it was nowhere near as sleek as an iPod—think more Walkman circa 1979 (when, by the way, Sony initially introduced their portable cassette player as the “Soundabout”).

The Cardiac Studies receptionist apparently wasn’t kidding when she told me to wear a loose-fitting blouse to Thursday morning’s appointment, where I received a Holter heart monitor to wear for 24 hours, just to see if there’s any cardiac mischief to account for my blackouts. (When the receptionist called to schedule me for a “Holter fitting” I thought she was saying “halter,” which left me wondering for several days just how many straps might be involved.)

The first shirt I put on Thursday morning was voluminous, from about two sizes ago, back when I treated my depression with food instead of meds. When I saw myself in the mirror I felt unconscionably dumpy, and I couldn’t imagine that the wires and such would need that much wiggle room, so I changed into a shirt that was biggish but not ridiculously so. As it turned out, that shirt was just big enough to contain my gadget-augmented girth.

Shouldn’t portable medical technology be at least as advanced as portable music technology? My partner’s current-generation iPod—and only the 30GB model at that—stores 7,500 songs; my heart monitor was to store only 24 hours worth of cardiac activity (on a 64MB chip) and was about five times the size.

When I poked around online I found that Kaiser and I weren’t exactly on the cutting edge; there were Holter systems that looked far sleeker than the one I was wearing. But noting their price tag of around $1,500, I understood Kaiser’s hesitation to replace the older models. They have to trust us riffraff to wear these things for a full day without absentmindedly diving into a swimming pool or wandering through a magnetic field. Besides, they probably do have some shiny new units that they reserve for their real patients. (I fear that Kaiser has written me off as a head case and is merely humoring me with dummy tests; my suspicion is reinforced when my MRIs are performed at a unit outside the hospital in a trailer marked “MRI 2,” which my partner jokes should read “MRI too!” being the fake one and all.)

So I went to work Thursday feeling like I was packing a bomb or wearing a police wire, what with the electrodes and surgical tape covering my chest and midsection and the hard, bulky box strapped to my stomach. The tech joked that she hoped I didn’t need to go to the airport that day. I told her I didn’t but that I was worried about scoring drugs later that night.

As the day wore on, I grew increasingly itchy and uncomfortable. My “unit,” as I had come to regard it with grudging acceptance, was the least of my worries; at least its straps were adjustable. But my tape-covered chest made me feel like a papier-mâché girl.

And the worst was yet to come.

The worst being that I had to sleep in this thing, the wires of which crisscrossed my bra such that it, too, would have to stay put until the following morning. For our lady readers, what’s the first thing we want to do when we get home from work? Take off our effing bras! It’s onerous enough making our pendulous pods defy gravity all day, but curtailing their freedom to flop around all yippee-skippy once we're abed is beyond mean. The wee hours are when my breasts exercise their natural inclination toward ptosis. To deny them their due is to offend nature.

The best thing about wearing a heart monitor for 24 hours was that it made me appreciate not having to wear one. It is one of two tests I’ve undergone that I would not ever like to repeat, the other being my sleep-deprived EEG, prior to which I had to stay awake for 30 hours, toward the end of which time I would have given up nuclear secrets, the identity of the Black Dahlia’s killer, or even my friend Hugh’s cheesecake recipe, anything that might promise to earn me some horizontal relief. I’d submit to another spinal tap—without a local—before I would willingly repeat either of those tests.

Having my monitor removed this morning can be counted among my life’s great moments, assuming that we’re speaking liberally and are including the top 500 moments or so. I’d put it above finding five dollars (at age 12 in the parking lot of the Rusty Pelican) and beneath learning to swim.

I was supposed to have a female tech for both attachment and removal, but this morning a male tech came to fetch me from the waiting room. Maybe the Kaiser folks figured I was androgynous enough to go either way. At any rate, I didn’t care. I popped my shirt’s snaps open so fast you’d have thought we were shooting an exam-room porn scene, except that women in porn films seldom wear long-sleeve corduroy shirts—too seldom if you ask me. The tech countered my sexy move with his own, tearing the electrodes and tape from my bare skin like a crazed animal, or at the very least like someone who had other patients to see and no time for procedural foreplay.

After our frenzied exchange he said I was all set and turned away to futz with the equipment. Covered in conductive gel and adhesive residue, I stood at the exam-room sink with a paper towel pitifully dabbing at my angry red skin—even angrier now than it had been the previous morning, when the Russian woman rubbed it mercilessly to rough up the areas where the electrodes would sit. “Oh,” today’s tech said, removing the lid from a canister of presoaked gauze. “You can use alcohol for that.”

So I’m electrode-free, and I’ve shed my unit, and I can’t wait to free my boobs, which have been in their current state of bondage for 32 hours. Were I a woman of lesser endowment I’d consider giving them a weekend furlough, two luxurious days of braless hedonism, but nature is a cruel mistress, having saddled this tomboy with D-cup glands that forced her to stop boxing the neighborhood boys just as she was hitting her prime.

In a few days I’m certain to receive a call from my doctor telling me that everything looks normal; what else could be expected of a placebo test? A few days after that I’ll be scheduled for another appointment at MRI too! And thus life moves inexorably forward in Jabberwocky, where I’m thinking about buying a fanny pack to house my new Sony Soundabout.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

an office of one's own

Yesterday afternoon I moved into my new office. Actually, “new” is a misrepresentation. Badly in need of paint, my walls are scarred with countless scuffs and gouges, perhaps from employees throwing pens, staplers, phones, and all manner of office accoutrements in moments of rage. Also left behind is adhesive residue from the pictures and art previous inhabitants brought from home to personalize this workspace, decor that said, “Hey, I'm not just an accountant/editor/marketing manager, I also happen to like Fellini films/quilting/Shannen Doherty.” (Though most employees advertise their private lives in an incomplete manner. They're unlikely, for instance, to bring in pictures of themselves in animal drag from a plushies and furries convention. That would be oversharing, even for a Care Bear.)

My coworkers and I were moved from our little maze of Workitrail cubicles to a suite of offices recently vacated by staff relocated to our New York headquarters. Actually, the departed employees weren't so much relocated as they were fired and replaced with New Yorkers, and they weren't so much fired as they “left the company to pursue other interests”—that's what the e-mail announcements said. I have other interests as well, but few of them, however vigorously pursued, would likely produce income.

I found out about our impending move only an hour or so before the IT guy came to my cubicle and said, “I'm here to disconnect you.” That's not much notice for the average employee to clean out her desk, take down her personally expressive wall hangings, and bid her taupe fabric panel walls adieu. But I'm not your average employee. My workspace erred on the side of asceticism, looking not unlike a temp's terminal, sharing little about the person who labored within. The only nonessential items in my cube were a bamboo plant, my 5-year service award (proving that I'm not a temp), and a toy cubicle (with a toy employee named Anne whom I introduce to coworkers as my trainee). Everything could be packed into two plastic grocery bags and wheeled over on the seats of my two chairs—that's the most extravagant thing about my workspace, that I lay claim to two chairs, one in which to lean back and scrutinize hard copy in search of grammatical and stylistic infractions, and one in which to sit up straight in front of my computer to enter corrections…and read the blogs mine hopes to be just like when it grows up. My chairs are like my (theoretical) children; I love them equally for different reasons. And if the office manager ever tries to impose a one-chair limit on me, I'll start agitating for disabled parking…and maybe a Rascal mobility scooter like this racy number:

My office doesn't have a window, but it does have four walls, a ceiling, and a door…that shuts! (There's a sign above the knob that says, “Por favor, de no cerrar la puerta. ¡Gracias!” but I'm pretty sure it's directed at the cleaning crew.) Now when I call the pharmacy for a refill and I'm asked which medication I need, I won't need to cup my hand around the mouthpiece and stage-whisper “Seroquel.” Now I can call my therapist for a quickie, knowing that when she calls back I can shut my door and have my sessionette in private. Now I can put that bulk pseudoephedrine I bought on eBay to good use in my very own meth lab—taking care, of course, not to burn down my shiny new office.

Life is sweet from here on out. I don't even care that the receptionist told someone who called for me this morning that no one by my name works here. I have an office, dammit.