…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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

the book of scout

A certain blogger recently spake her desire for a new Bible, not a new copy of the KJV, mind you, but a newly written Bible. Never one to ignore a gauntlet thrown, I offer my contribution.

The Book of Halo, as Witnessed by Scout

And a calico kitten of unblemished coat came unto Scout and spake unto her, imploring her mew be heard and heeded, for she was the one called Halo, spokeskitten of all the creatures of the land and sea, and it was she who beheld the keychain to the kingdom of peace, though the key be lost, last seen in the tabernacle of the congregation, where she smote it with her right paw and it did sail across the linoleum of the kitchen of the tabernacle of the congregation to points unknown. And verily the calico kitten sayeth unto Scout that, lo, all the creatures of the land and sea may cherish thy gods, whosoever they shall be, and cleave to thy beliefs, for those are they that speed some through thy day. And Scout was pleased, for she had rent her garments at the coming of the chosen kitten, quaking amid believers and unbelievers all of a piece, with foreboding that thus was not so. And the calico kitten did soothe the worried brow of thy messenger, and Scout, daughter of Beverly, the second begotten of Edith from the fertile plain of Iowa, did implore of the calico kitten, daughter of the feral one, whether the creatures of the land and sea should smite one another over cherished gods not of one but of many, apropos of which the calico kitten mewed a proverb of peace, and so it was delivered unto Scout, daughter of Beverly, second begotten of Edith from the fertile plain of Iowa:

Whosoever shall smite her neighbor over this or that cherished god, she shall behold in the pall of night a vessel bereft of fatted kibble.

So sayeth the calico kitten to all the creatures of the land and sea. As it is written, so it was told unto Scout, daughter of Beverly, second begotten of Edith from the fertile plain of Iowa.

Friday, September 22, 2006

demography killed the country radio star

L.A.’s last country music radio station, after 25 years serving that market, switched formats August 17. If I seem a little slow on the uptake on this one, it’s only because I had no idea anything of the sort had transpired until Saturday, when I went for a haircut and was filled in on the news by my gay black West Hollywood hairdresser, who’s despondent over the loss.

“When I went out for coffee the other day I heard strains of Carrie Underwood and started following the SUV she was coming from,” he said, doing a little Frankenstein monster walk to illustrate his blind desperation.

When I asked what format the station had switched to, he spat, “Hip-hop R&B crap,” then he joked that his “people” were after him, that they’d heard about some black guy listening to KZLA and just wouldn’t stand for it.

My hairdresser certainly isn’t the only one in distress. “I almost threw up, I was so upset,” said longtime KZLA listener Ruth Rogers, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I think it’s racist.”

Really, Ms. Rogers? What kind of racism would that be? The 53-year-old Orange County resident continued, “This is becoming a nation of minorities. I’m not going to turn on my radio anymore. Country music promotes patriotism and family values, and they’ve replaced it with something that just promotes money and hate.”

Oh, that kind of racism.

I’m not what I would call a country music fan, though I do like country music. I’m sure you get the distinction. The appellation “country music fan” just has too much baggage, an unpretty, jingoistic, Republican, NASCAR vibe. A Ms. Rogers, not-my-demographic vibe. So while I have a fair amount of classic country and country-influenced singer-songwriters in my music library, I hesitate to tell anyone that I like country music.

In truth, I was raised on the stuff, back when Southern California had any number of stations to choose from. My mom leaned toward KFOX, which played a mix of contemporary and classic country, and our radio was always on. Always—even when everybody was watching TV. It was all I knew for years. Very much like Chinese food in China is just “food,” country music to me was “music,” and as a kid I loved calling the radio station with special requests, first asking Mom what she wanted to hear then ringing them up. I was put on the air a few times, probably because the DJ thought it both disturbing and cute that a kid was asking for songs with titles like “Barrooms to Bedrooms” (among my mother’s souvenirs there’s a cassette tape of me requesting this very song, recorded straight off the radio with my boxy portable cassette player).

Through both subliminal and active processing, I absorbed quite a lot, and I can sing you a startling number of 1970s country songs, a talent on display this weekend as my partner witnessed the full extent of my childhood inculcation into the country music fold.

“You don’t remember ‘Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man’? Conway and Loretta?” I asked, with the proper amount of shock, then tried to jog her memory by singing the hook.

“Hey! Looziana woman, Mississippi man
We get together any time we can
Mississippi River can’t keep us apart
There’s too much love in this Mississippi heart
Too much love in this Looziana heart.”

Blank expression.

We were in her Little Blue Truck™, leaving a local shoppertainment center. Before lunch we had gone to one of my favorite previously owned CD stores to search for the latest Hem album and a decent George Jones & Tammy Wynette hits package. Hem was swiftly located—and bargain-priced because the young people who work at the store have no idea who Hem is—but the only George & Tammy collection they had was a three-CD set, which I passed on. I’m not sure anyone needs that much G & T. After lunch I drifted into Tower Records, located at the aforementioned shoppertainment complex, in search of same. There were no George & Tammy CDs to be had, but I did emerge with hits collections from Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton and Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn. (Country convention demands that the man’s name be cited first.)

My present fixation with country music duets was sparked by the recent Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris album All the Roadrunning. It’s been in my car’s CD deck for months, spinning down only on rare occasions, when even I have to admit that it’s becoming the aural equivalent of wallpaper. I’m a longtime Harris fan, so I was destined to like the collaboration—inasmuch as anything she touches rates somewhere between pleasant and transcendent on my very subjective scale of liking. As an Associated Press reviewer noted, “Emmylou Harris would sound good matched with a singing hinge.” He went on to dismiss the album as lacking chemistry. I couldn’t disagree more.

All the Roadrunning is one of those albums that took a few listens before I embraced it with ferocity, then I was surprised at how much I liked Knopfler’s songs—all originals—and vocals (his fretwork always being unassailable). But the way they came together with alternating sincerity and playfulness is what really won me, and their interplay reminded me of some of the great country duet partnerships.

Whatever happened to country music power couples anyway?

Through the 1970s, country radio was lousy with duets, and they weren’t isolated tracks from otherwise solo albums, they were from dedicated duet albums, from superstar singing partners who were often dating or married—making their songs of love and loss that much more resonant.


If you don’t, you have something in common with my partner.

“How about George & Tammy’s ‘Two Story House’?” I asked, quoting its bouncy refrain: “ ‘How sad it is we now live in a two-story house.’ ”

“Why is it sad that they live in a two-story house?” she asked flatly.

“Because there’s no love about,” I said, solemnly. “They strove so hard for success, they had no time for each other and they fell out of love.” Then I broke into song again:

“I’ve got my story
And I’ve got mine too
How sad it is
We now live in a two-story house.”


“You see,” I said helpfully, “they each have their own story about what went wrong, and they also each have their own story.

“Yeah, I get the complicated layers of meaning,” she said, with no small amount of sarcasm. “But no, I’ve never heard the song.”

“ ‘Golden Ring’?” I offered, not even pausing this time before singing the final chorus.

“Golden ring (golden ring) with one tiny little stone
Cast aside (cast aside) like the love that’s dead and gone
By itself (by itself) it’s just a cold metallic thing
Only love can make a golden wedding ring.”

I studied her face for a glimmer of recognition and found none.

“Sweetie, I didn’t grow up in your mother’s house,” she said.

For years I had been under the delusion that these songs were ubiquitous, part of our collective American experience, our national fabric. Come to find out, not everyone grew up under the unrelenting influence of country radio. Weird.

Weirder still, I had failed to notice the long, slow death of country radio in my own hometown.

“The Los Angeles radio market is basically 40% Hispanic, 11% Asian, and 8% black, and country fans are about 98% Caucasian,” said Rick Cummings, a top executive at KZLA’s parent company, Emmis Communications Corp., according to the Times. “My job is to attract as large an audience as possible.”

And so it was that immediately following rush hour on the morning now known unironically as “Black Thursday” by KZLA listeners—who call themselves KZLAnation—the morning drive show DJ was reportedly told to segue from the Keith Urban track he was playing to a Black Eyed Peas song, after which he and his fellow staff members were let go.

I know from experience that format changes are as a rule executed unceremoniously. For three golden years, 1994–1997, 101.9 KSCA played an “adult album alternative” format that won my heart. For the first time since high school I felt like a radio station “got” me, that I was part of a recognized demographic who liked singer-songwriters and artists who blended elements of rock and folk and pop and soul and jazz and country into music that sometimes defied categorization and almost always ducked the top 40. Then one day I turned the ignition in my car and Spanish-language programming filled my interior; my little bright spot on the dial was gone forever.

While I understand that my piddling singer-songwriter demographic isn’t an advertising magnet, the death of country radio is more curious. Los Angeles reportedly accounts for 3% of all country music sales nationwide, making it the number 1 sales market in the genre for most major record labels. The very night KZLA crooned its last, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw played their first of three sold-out nights at the Staples Center: capacity 20,000. That’s a lot of cowboy boots for a supposedly urban market. Sure, on any one of those three nights I could likely have rolled a bowling ball from one end of the arena to the other without hitting a Democrat, but still, those folks deserve a radio station too. It placates them.

“What will all the Republicans listen to?” I asked my hairdresser.

“Now, now,” said my demographic-defying friend. “They’re not all like that.”

I couldn’t help but notice that when he talked about KZLA listeners and country music fans, he said “they,” not “we.”

Country music is appealing, I think, in a broader way than it’s marketed. The audience doesn’t have to be 98% Caucasion, nor should anyone who likes country be made to feel like an outsider for being black or gay or Democratic or antiwar—or for not appreciating a goddamn car race.

I don’t miss KZLA, whose play list was dominated by your Tim McGraws, your Brad Paisleys, your Gretchen Wilsons—whoever was hot at any given moment. Even my mom had stopped listening to the radio long before the death of KZLA, her taste having gone completely retro. She’s resorted to a mail-order catalog (with no Web presence—that old-school) called Country Music Memories, where she can purchase Boxcar Willie, Stanley Brothers, and Ferlin Husky CDs with abandon.

Me, I prefer your Donna Fargos, your Loretta Lynns, your Bobbie Gentrys, and to Tammy Wynette I guess I’d have to say, Tammy why not? So I do miss country radio, at least in theory. I miss the radio of my youth, when it was just “music.”

By the way, if anyone knows a gay country music lover in SoCal who’s available, my hairdresser is tall, fit, and handsome. He does a mean two-step, and he’s a Democrat.

Friday, September 08, 2006

playing by the rules

In my capacity as an operative for the Gay Agenda™ I must sometimes perform tasks that I find disagreeable. Should any representatives of the totally agenda-free, just-trying-to-save-your-eternal-soul-ma’am religious right be reading, I’m not talking about propagandizing and recruiting your children: I haven’t yet achieved that clearance level. No, what I’m doing is far more insidious; indeed, it may be counterproductive to the cause: I’m editing the coming-out story of a piss-poor role model.

The Gay Agenda™, while whimsically characterized by televangelists and sundry Republicans as almost irresistibly powerful, is really rather desperate, and as such we’ll pretty much accept any new recruits who come our way. It’s like a giant game of Red Rover, except that substitutes are almost invariably sent in place of the recruits we call for. For instance, we call, “Red rover, red rover, send Cher right over!” and over charges Chastity to join our team. At first we think, Hey, that’s not who— But then we shrug and go, “Yay, the more the merrier!” Then sometimes we call out, say, “Kevin Spacey!” and they send the right guy, and we cheer him on as he comes running over, but when he reaches us he angrily denies that he’s gay, breaking our spirit. Per the rules of the game, any opponent who breaks our team’s spirit not only returns to his own team but takes a member of our team back with him, which is what happened to Anne Heche.

Clearly our recruiting strategies are flawed, and I have to think that the weakness of our educational materials looms large in our failure to surpass the 10% market saturation we achieved decades ago. While the heterosexuals advertise their “lifestyle” in the Bible, the best-selling book in America, we long ago realized that, given our budget constraints, the only venue in which we could truly access nationwide crossover market reach is the PennySaver. And compared to straight advertising, our own material lacks a certain kickiness: “Did you know homosexuality has been decriminalized and declassified as a mental disorder? Give it a try—if you can get past that societally ingrained ‘ick’ factor.”

With recruitment materials that underwhelming, we can’t afford to be choosy, which is why we’ve offered open enrollment since the mid 1950s (following a politically embarrassing “sexual purity” movement among extremists agitating to restrict membership to Kinsey fives and up). And since homosexuality is a tough sell based on its historical image, we increasingly rely on contemporary spokesmodels to represent our brand. Heterosexuality, while harboring its fair share of losers, is hawked by a dazzling array of celebrities. Even fringe sects like Christian fundamentalism and Scientology are endorsed, respectively, by Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise. And us? Now, let me be crystal-clear: I’m not dissing Ellen—we all love her; she’s cool people—but I think we can all agree that upon her shoulders are not empires built. Plus, there are a lot of would-be lesbians who just don’t think they would look good in a suit and sneakers; we lose that demographic before we even get a chance to highlight the more alluring perks of our benefits package: potentially shared wardrobes, no more accidental procreation, etc.

So we take what we can get. Thus I’ve spent the last couple of days tracking down articles and sources to verify facts in a top-secret, exclusive coming-out story—a rare glimpse into the personal life of…well, a person who won’t exactly cover the Gay Agenda™ in glory, and for this I apologize to my teammates in advance. But we called “Red rover!” and this is who the straights sent over, and that’s the way the game is played.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

what you don’t know can hurt you

I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I certainly didn’t realize it at the time. I actually felt well rested and pleasant enough upon awakening, knowing as I did that for the next few days I would be free of my labors: the nudging around of commas and such. Let misplaced punctuation flourish throughout the land this Labor Day, for I care not. What I do care about, among several other things, are reference books, and no one can make me give them up, not even on a weekend during which I’m encouraged to eschew the tools of my trade.

Ever seen the Hepburn-Tracy film Desk Set? Kate is the head of the reference department at a television network and Spence is an efficiency expert hired to assess where his newly developed supercomputer can replace employees and save the company a few bucks in payroll. I’ve watched the movie at least a dozen times, never giving a flying fig about the inevitable romantic sparks between go-getter working gal Hepburn and her perceived archenemy Tracy. I’m in it for the scenes during which Kate and her team field inquiries ranging from the total weight of the earth to the names of Santa’s eight reindeer, sometimes answering off the tops of their heads but more often searching out answers in their glorious stacks, an upstairs loft with thousands of books collectively containing all the information any of the various employees of a TV network could ever need to know.

A teenager when I first saw the film, I suddenly knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: Hepburn’s fast-talking, whip-smart human encyclopedia, without the messy romantic entanglements. Why did she have to moon after Gig Young or fall for Spence when she had the greatest life ever—a single woman with a head full of steam and a roomful of knowledge?

Years later I would at last locate my sexuality and understand the complications therein, though I still found no appeal in Gig or Spence. How great it would be if Kate instead fell for her coworker Joan Blondell and they forged a life together, two books unbound, swapping fascinating bits of information amid winks and smiles—it is a 1957 film, after all; adult relations are merely hinted at through the symbology of bathrobes.

I did eventually grow up to assume a career in which facts and figures figure prominently, though most of the data I need can be gleaned more quickly via Spence’s cursed computer than through the thousands of books that make up our research department. Still, there’s great appeal in physical volumes, their relative weight often indicative of their information wealth, their indices irresistibly inviting the reader in multiple directions at once. God help me when I have to look something up in a real book, because on my path to whatever I was looking for I’m liable to engage with some other entry and forget what I was supposed to be doing. If you ever happen to lose me in a bookstore, before having me paged like an errant child, check the reference section for my glassy-eyed self, hypnotized by the visage of so many compendiums of information, sorted and ordered for my tidy, systematic gratification.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a home without an encyclopedia. I know, I know. But there’s nothing we can do about that now; we can only shoulder on when faced with such retrospective adversity. It’s not that my parents couldn’t afford such—we always had shoes in the wintertime—they just didn’t particularly see the point in spending all that money on a stack of books they figured would ultimately serve only to collect dust. Besides, we had a branch library well within biking distance; I could go pet their encyclopedias whenever the mood struck.

So this morning I was flipping through my Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, ’cause that’s the way I roll. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just, you know, flipping. This is the second copy I’ve purchased of Robert Hendrickson’s 800-word tome, having bought the first during the 2004 holidays as a gift for my therapist, who had only weeks before asked if I could recommend a good book about the etymology of idioms. My therapist had not only asked me for information, she had asked me for information regarding a volume of information—somebody pinch me! I did my research and settled on the Hendrickson volume, then I wrapped it in holiday-nonspecific paper—she’s coy when I try to discover her belief system—slid it into a manila envelope, just in case my HMO forbade gifts between doctors and clients, and left it with her secretary.

When I came for my appointment the following week she told me the book was precisely what she had in mind and that she adored it, so much so that she bought a second copy for her father and a third for the office staff: When she showed them her copy they were reportedly loathe to give it back. For weeks afterward, upon arrival for my appointment, her receptionist would regale me with reportage: “According to the book ‘happy as a clam’ comes from ‘happy as a clam at high tide,’ because clams were dug at low tide, so, you know, they would be happier at high tide. I never thought about it, but ‘happy as a clam’ doesn’t really make sense, not without the tide part.” Truly it doesn’t. (This is why copy editors often excise hackneyed expressions from the work of writers who have slipped into autopilot mode—commonly heard idioms become furniture in the American lexicon, to such a degree that our brains no longer bother to process the words or their [potential lack of] meaning.)

I later bought a copy for myself, because how could I have lived this long without one? And as I glanced through it this morning I noticed the entry for “getting up on the wrong side of the bed.” In keeping with the age-old superstition that the left is sinister and unlucky, Romans, particularly Augustus Caesar, always got out of bed on the right side to ensure good health and humor.

Good to know: The left is the wrong side of the bed. This explains so much. You see, my partner and I, we have our sides, and mine is the left—always has been—which means that for close to 12 years I’ve been getting up on the wrong goddamn side of the bed!

Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? Has my partner known all along? After all, she’s my Hepburn, retaining every shred of information she’s ever gathered, ready to spit it out on demand. Me? I often can’t remember my phone number; I’m Joan Blondell, always having to climb up into the stacks to ferret out my answers.

She’s left me to languish in the ill health and humor of the wrong side of the bed for over a decade—and she claims she can’t keep a secret! Sporks, you are officially busted. Starting tomorrow morning I’ll be getting out of the right side of the bed, thank you very much—and don’t think I won’t be rolling over your ass to get there.