(Report on yesterday’s earthquake: Everything’s fine, of course. Just a few seconds spent standing in the doorway thinking, “Hey, this isn’t going to kill me or anything, right?”, followed by an afternoon spent reassuring my kitty that the world wasn’t ending.)
On Sunday, I went to a friend’s baby shower at a demure restaurant on the Sunset Strip. I hoofed it there and back, about three and a half miles each way. I stuck to La Cienega on the way out: a gradual slope up to Santa Monica Boulevard, then a dizzying incline the rest of the way. I arrived at the dainty, girlish soiree sweaty and frazzled, though I soon revived, thanks to the restorative powers of a couple of mimosas and some tasty chopped salad. I walked home on San Vicente, past the vivid green and blue glass monoliths of the Pacific Design Center, the cheerfully monstrous Beverly Center, and the ever-burgeoning sprawl of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
I’ve logged some serious miles on foot lately. I’m unemployed, and I tend to go stir-crazy if I’m cooped inside, so I’ve been doing a whole bunch of wandering. On Monday, I did a fifteen-mile loop to Silver Lake and back via Sunset and Beverly; the previous Monday was occupied by a meandering walk to USC and then downtown (fourteen miles). Tuesday: up to the crowded, cluttered weirdness of Hollywood Boulevard, then down to Sunset and over to Gower (twelve miles). Thursday: bucolic Westwood and UCLA via Wilshire (eleven miles). Saturday: the Westside Pavilion and Century City via Pico and Olympic (nine miles).
The walking’s nothing new. My folks didn’t have a car for much of my childhood in Spokane, so I missed the window of opportunity to take driver’s education; there’s little point in taking the class if you have no way to practice. Hence, I never got around to getting my license (this used to be a mere eccentricity, but now it’s starting to seem like a gaping character flaw). In my junior-year AP English class, I wrote an essay about my pedestrian status, which was published in the Spokesman-Review (oh, I used to be ever so smart).
Despite this, I didn’t walk much in college. At first, I was badly intimidated by the vast sprawl of Los Angeles and the common knowledge that walking is not a popular activity in these parts. (My unofficial theme song from my USC days: “Walking in L.A.” by Missing Persons, in which the lyrics are a series of speculations upon seeing a pedestrian on the otherwise vacant sidewalks: “I don’t know, could have been a lame jogger, maybe?”). USC was and is located in a rough area of the city -- South Central, since rechristened South Los Angeles to remove the stigma associated with the former name -- and that made the campus seem like an island, remote and removed from the rest of the city. I should have walked more: the neighborhood is less scary than advertised, and walking goes a long way toward making the city seem less daunting.
Here’s my advice to incoming USC freshmen, especially those from out of town and those without cars: take a stroll from campus to downtown Los Angeles. Start on Figueroa, the street bordering the campus to the east, and head north in a beeline approach toward the cluster of downtown skyscrapers. Downtown comes up much faster than you’d think (when I ran in the 2006 Marathon, which started and ended downtown, we approached the campus not long after the 1-Mile banner). Upon leaving the jumble of fast-food places in North University Park, you’ll reach the multi-block sprawl of the Staples Center/Convention Center complex. By the time you clear that, you’ll already be smack in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. Easy, breezy.
There are drawbacks to walking, mostly in terms of too much sun exposure and too much wear and tear on body and soul. I seldom wear cute shoes: heels are out of the question, and I don’t often wear sandals, because I can’t stand having dirty feet. I douse myself in sticky, stinky, pore-clogging 50 SPF sunblock every morning, and it’s still not enough: despite my best efforts, this summer I’ve developed a deep surfer tan, and my left shoulder is an unhealthy red-brown from where my purse strap rubbed off the sunscreen.
People do walk in Los Angeles, more than you’d think, though I’m enough of an anomaly that strangers notice and comment upon me. Recently, someone approached me in the supermarket and, apropos to nothing, asked me if I had some grudge against taking the bus. He’d seen me walking, often and everywhere, and wondered why I bothered. L.A.’s public transit system is an essay for another time, but the short answer to his question is this: I have nothing against the bus, but I greatly prefer to walk. A few years back, the MTA adopted the slogan “It’s Getting Better on the Bus!”, which held an endearing note of apology and fragile optimism. They were right: It has gotten better, though the buses are still overcrowded and too infrequent. Walking avoids those hassles.
Apart from the simple elegance of getting from Point A to Point B with a minimum of fuss, walking also helps sort out my thoughts and soothe my demons. Last week was a crappy one: the job hunt is still going nowhere, and I received a form rejection letter from a literary agent in response to her request to read my novel. This is a bad trend: I’d never received a form rejection for solicited material before, and now I’ve received two in two weeks. I understand the use of form rejections to manage a deluge of unsolicited queries, but after an agent has requested material, the only acceptable response to that material is a personal one. A ream of paper wasted to print my manuscript, sixteen dollars in postage to mail it to the agency… after that, a form rejection is a punch in the nose. You know what I don’t need these days? A punch in the nose. So I’ve been unhappy and pessimistic. Walking helps work through the frustration.
I’ve got a few holy grails of walking: I’ve never walked to Burbank, or to Pasadena, or to Sherman Oaks or to anywhere in the Valley, because I’m not sure it’s possible. I’ve been thwarted in my attempts to walk to Universal City: the only direct route is along pedestrian-hostile Cahuenga, where the sidewalk vanishes for a nerve-wracking, precarious stretch. I haven’t worked out how to get through the Hollywood Hills on foot, as the only obvious options -- Laurel Canyon, Coldwater Canyon, and Beverly Glen -- all look serpentine and unfriendly to pedestrians. I’m still working on it.
I hated feeling isolated at USC, so reliant upon my car-owning friends, when a casual excursion to Westwood or Beverly Hills would be fraught with concern about how I was going to find my way back to campus. Tackling neighborhoods on foot makes the city seem small and understandable. It’s interesting to observe the differences between neighborhoods: some have firm boundaries (the 405 Freeway forms a pretty definitive barrier between Westwood and Brentwood), whereas others have permeable membranes (posh Hancock Park slowly bleeds into ragged Mid-Wilshire, until it’s impossible to figure out where one stops and the other starts). Hollywood is an entirely separate beast from West Hollywood; Culver City has a different energy than nearby West L.A.
I’m sitting in the Westside Pavilion as I write this (longhand, because that’s just how I roll). When I’m done, I’m going to drop down Overland to Culver City and stroll around the Sony studio lot, then take Washington or Venice back home, where maybe some good job news or good book news awaits me. And if not, tomorrow I’ll start walking again, somewhere unknown or somewhere familiar, over and over, until circumstances change.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Big changes in recent months: the cute little title insurance company at which I’d worked was bought out by a big, glamorous title insurance company, which shut down our corporate office and sent us all packing.
At first, I had a pretty plucky attitude about this. I badly needed to stop dithering and shift back into the entertainment industry (a film degree isn’t good for much, but it’s a whole lot more relevant in television production than in title insurance), and sudden unemployment provided me with the perfect opportunity to do just that. Also, the unemployed downtime would, in theory, give me an opportunity both to launch into a big new writing project and to focus on getting an agent for Charlotte Dent.
The best-laid plans of mice and Morgan: it hasn’t worked out that way. Here are things I’ve done since getting the boot:
Rediscovered how shamefully wretched I am at job-hunting. Extensively rewrote and reworded my résumé. Applied and applied and applied for production jobs online. Heard nothing back. Reminded myself that nobody finds entertainment jobs by responding to online postings. Reminded myself that all my prior production jobs came via recommendations from people I know. Damped down my lingering USC issues and went to a career fair at the film school. Felt old and out of place and loser-ish amongst all the fresh-scrubbed recent graduates. Made a game attempt at chatting up representatives from studios and production companies. Came away with nothing to show for my efforts, save for a free t-shirt (thank you, Disney Interactive) and a rejection letter for a job I hadn’t applied for (thank you again, Disney Interactive).
At the urging of an agent, rewrote the book in first-person and resubmitted it to her. She passed on it anyway. Shopped around the new first-person version to more agents. If anyone suggests it might work better in third-person, the brilliant Dan Liebke advises I go on a Batman-esque spree of vigilante justice. Sounds good to me.
Decided to audition for a community theater production of Pirates of Penzance. Spent a couple weeks getting my unused coloratura soprano back in fighting condition by trilling about my apartment (“Climbing o’er rocky mountain/Skipping ri-vu-let and fountain”), thoroughly annoying my neighbors in the process. Gave myself innumerable pep talks. Trekked out to the auditions. Couldn’t find the auditions. Slumped home in disgrace. There’s a metaphor about my entire summer in here somewhere, but I’m too discouraged to root around for it.
Went to Spokane for a trip down memory lane. Spokane, to the best of my knowledge, does not have a Memory Lane. It does, however, have both a Candy Cane Lane and a Christmas Tree Lane. Spokane’s sort of awesome that way.
Failed to update my blog with anything resembling staggering frequency.
Starting from my apartment in the Miracle Mile district, walked to Glendale, just to see if it was possible. Answer: possible, but not optimal, at least not on a hot July day. After a long, dusty trek through Hancock Park, through Hollywood, under the 101 Freeway, through Little Armenia and Thai Town, through Los Feliz, along Griffith Park, over the 5 Freeway, over the Los Angeles River, and through Atwater Village, I ended up in Glendale, heat-sick, dehydrated, and thoroughly sorry for myself.
Watched too much afternoon television. Assembled my Law & Order (Original Recipe) All-Star Team: Jerry Orbach (of course), Jesse L. Martin (because he’s a song-and-dance man at heart), S. Epatha Merkerson (because she’s a Battlestar Galactica fan), Sam Waterston, Jill Hennessey, and, for a touch of controversy, Diane Wiest over Steven Hill.
Brainstormed ideas for a new screenplay. Got distracted and derailed. Wrote a slash-fiction story under a pseudonym instead, which some kind soul (or souls) nominated in four categories for a slash fiction award. Have yet to return to work on the screenplay, most likely because it does not involve Sylar groping Mohinder inappropriately. Perhaps that’s the entire problem.
Furthered my love/hate relationship with Battlestar Galactica. Watched as the list of characters I still enjoy following (joyously despicable Baltar, foxy Felix Gaeta, scary/sweet Six) got dwarfed by the list of characters I’ve grown to despise (vindictive Roslin, ineffectual Adama, self-absorbed Starbuck, self-righteous Apollo). Attended a Los Angeles Times-sponsored screening/panel, where I stood in line for far too long for far too little, but met some pretty awesome people in the process. Decided to put the kibosh on attending any more fan events, as I don’t like long lines or big crowds, and I’m genetically incapable of squeeing at the appropriate squee-worthy fan moments.
Got excited over the slew of promos for the new season of Heroes, especially the one featuring Mohinder dangling from the ceiling whilst shirtless. Decided there was nothing so awful about Season Two that couldn’t have been fixed with judicious doses of naked Sendhil Ramamurthy. Got less excited over the promo featuring HRG lecturing to a petulant Claire about the Great Evil Out There. Realized I haven’t missed HRG and Claire much during this eight-month hiatus. Hoped the writers really, really work on making Claire a better (read: less odious) character this season.
Friday, July 4, 2008
I found myself in Spokane last weekend.
It was an unplanned visit, mostly. My sister was flying out to Spokane from New York to visit a few of her old friends. I had nothing in particular going on, so at the last moment I flew up and joined her.
I was born in Spokane; we were both raised there. Our parents moved out of Washington right after I graduated from high school, so we haven’t found much reason to go back. We both like Spokane, we really do, but there have been other priorities.
This wasn’t the best weekend to visit. In addition to having record-breaking heat, Spokane was also in the middle of hosting some monstrosity called Hoopfest. Hoopfest bills itself as the world’s largest three-on-three basketball tournament; while I have no reason to doubt this statement, I do sort of wonder how many other three-on-three tournaments are out there. In any case, Hoopfest was a big honking deal, drawing 24,000 players and monster hordes of spectators. Hotels were booked, restaurants were crowded, streets were closed to accommodate the dozens of makeshift courts, and the sound of incessant dribbling continued far into the night.
Still, we had a good time. My sister saw her old friends, I saw my old friends. We walked around far too much and got far too much sun exposure. We ate some good food and some godawful onion rings. We grew thoroughly sick of this Hoopfest nonsense. And then we flew home to our respective coasts.
I’m glad we went. Spokane has a lot to recommend it. Specifically:
The Davenport Hotel. Closed and near-condemned throughout our childhood, it’s now renovated top-to-bottom and open for business. It’s gorgeous. The lobby is so pretty it almost made me burst into tears. Even though we had a perfectly acceptable room at another downtown hotel, we spent a great deal of time at the Davenport. I had crab salad and girl-drinks with a childhood friend in the Safari Room; my sister and I breakfasted on bagels and lox and crab omelets at the Palm Court. We loitered in the lobby, staring at the fish swimming in the fountain. We bought postcards in the gift shop. We peeked into the Peacock Lounge. We shopped at the candy store on the ground level twice. Instead of rambling on about the history of the place (opened in 1914, first hotel with air-conditioning, home of Crab Louis), I’ll just link to the official website and, in particular, their photo gallery. It was breathtakingly lovely, really.
Looff Carrousel. (It looks like I’m spelling it wrong, doesn’t it? Confirmed: that second “r” is indeed supposed to be there.) The carrousel, built in 1909, is in Riverfront Park. Spokane is very proud of the carrousel, and it should be. If you don’t understand how a carrousel can provoke such affection and awe, either you’ve never seen the Looff Carrousel, or you have a twisted, blackened little soul. The carrousel features hand-carved wooden horses (and a giraffe, and a goat) with manes and tails made of genuine horse hair. Like the Davenport, the carrousel reeks of history in the best possible way.
The garbage goat. Functional art in Riverfront Park: press a button, and this steel goat sculpture becomes a powerful vacuum, suctioning up any garbage you feed it. If Spokane had vacuum-powered goats instead of garbage cans on every street corner, it would be the most awesome little city in the world.
The bus ride from the airport. Spokane’s a small place: the bus ride from the airport to the center of downtown takes about half an hour and covers about ten miles. The trip costs a dollar. On the downside, the bus only runs once every hour, and it doesn’t run nights or weekends. (Pshaw! No one ever needs to get to an airport at night or on a weekend.) The roadside scenery is quintessential Spokane: volcanic rocks and pine trees. For years after the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the sides of the road were covered in volcanic ash. (Mount St. Helens is not especially close to Spokane, but thanks to some fluke wind patterns, the bulk of the ash that shot into the air post-eruption sailed neatly over the Cascades and landed in a glomp on Spokane, blanketing the city and forcing all of us to wear surgical masks outside in the days immediately following. As a six-year-old kid, this was the neatest thing ever. For Christmas that year, we gave all our relatives jars of ash.)
Lewis and Clark High School. A gorgeous turn-of-the-century building, Lewis and Clark looks precisely how a high school should look. Like the Davenport, LC was extensively renovated a few years back. Spokane does renovations well: it looks fantastic. Too bad the same can’t be said for our junior high, Sacajawea (Lewis and Clark, Sacajawea… detect a trend?), which is still a collection of monstrously ugly one-story brick buildings, set upon an unlandscaped patch of grass. Sacajawea might be the ugliest building in Spokane. At least it has a swell totem pole out front.
Manito Park. The reality of Manito Park looked a little ragged compared to my memory: the duck pond was sludgy, the topiaries in Duncan Gardens weren’t the perfect gumdrop shapes of my imagination, the Japanese Garden made some changes for the worse (they ditched the crooked bridge designed to thwart evil spirits and added “Keep off the Grass” signs written in an incongruous Chinese Menu font), and Upper Manito paved over the wading pool. (The wading pool in Comstock Park is also gone. In both parks, the original wood playgrounds have been replaced by pre-formed plastic equipment, which probably cuts down on the risk of splinters, but is a bit of an eyesore. It’s kid-friendly! It’s safe! It’s hideous!) Still, I love Manito, and always will.
Boo Radley’s. A cool little novelty/curio shop downtown featuring a good selection of gag gifts with a dry sense of humor. While shopping in Boo Radley’s, I was possessed by a near-uncontrollable urge to own a Spokane Ninja Society t-shirt. I abstained, but it was close.
Taco Time. Slogan: “It Really Is.” We were delighted to find Taco Time still in existence. It’s a chain, but one you don’t find much anymore. At least not here in Los Angeles, where presumably the locals would be quick to point out that, traditionally, an empanada is not a deep-fried flour tortilla stuffed with cherry pie filling. Taco Time is the home of Mexi-Fries, a divine culinary creation consisting of crispy-fried tater tots covered in a mix of vaguely Mexican-ish spices. Prior to this visit, I hadn’t had Mexi-Fries since 1991. I’d missed them.
Rocket Bakery. New since our time, we spotted at least three of these cute little coffee shops around town. We’re indebted to Rocket Bakery for providing a place of calm refuge on the first day of Hoopfest, where we could linger over coffee and pesto bagels and commiserate with the countergirl about how much Hoopfest really, really sucks.
Spokane Falls. The Spokane River rips through Riverfront Park. Precarious wire-strung gondolas swing out in a circuit over the falls. You don’t mess with the Spokane River: you know how you sometimes look at a river and think about how you could probably swim across it? In Spokane, you look at the river and think about how fast it could kill you.
Five Random Observations:
Spokane is terribly afraid you’ll show up someplace without your shirt or your shoes. I saw more “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs – in restaurants, on buses, in shops – in one weekend than I have in seventeen years in Los Angeles.
Spokane restaurants do not want your business. At least this is my conclusion from looking at the exteriors of many restaurants: windows shuttered, no OPEN signs, no menus posted by the door, no hours of operation posted anywhere, no outward signs of life.
Spokane is home to the Skywalk System of the Damned. Spokane’s downtown area has an extensive system of second-level skywalks. In my childhood, the skywalks linked together the major department stores – the Crescent, the Bon Marche, Nordstrom, JC Penny, and Lamonts. Of the five, only Nordstrom remains; the Bon is now a Macy’s, and the other three are… mostly vacant. While there are a lot of shops and restaurants on the street level, the skywalk level is gutted and abandoned in large part.
Spokane has too many shouty people. There are two classes of shouters in Spokane: the marginal folks on the street who mutter to themselves and shout incomprehensibly at nothing in particular (yeah, we have them in Los Angeles, too, but it somehow seems more pronounced in tiny Spokane), and the annoying jerkwads who shout at pedestrians out of their car windows as they pass. Those in the former category need proper medical treatment; those in the latter need a better hobby.
1974 was a very good year for Spokane. 1974 was the year of my birth. Of somewhat more importance to the city, 1974 was also the year Spokane hosted a World’s Fair: Expo ’74. At the time, Spokane was the smallest city ever to host a World’s Fair; this is roughly akin to the Olympics being hosted by, say, Muncie or Wichita. It’s hard to know what the world thought of this, but Spokane got a lot out of it: a re-energized city center, the IMAX Theater, the gondolas, the garbage goat, and the Riverfront Park Pavilion. The Pavilion, intended as a temporary structure for the purposes of Expo, started out as an enormous structure of canvas-covered cables. The Pavilion became an iconic part of the city skyline, but the canvas rotted away, which looked bloody marvelous for several years. Now, only the skeletal frame of cables remains. Oddly, it’s much cooler that way.
(Photos looted from Ingrid Richter's Facebook page, because her phone can take pictures and mine can't. Speaking of cell phones, mine turned into a paperweight for an entire day in Spokane when it couldn't find a network. I'm not sure how, but I blame Hoopfest).
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Wondered if the world really needs another Punisher movie.
Wondered if the world really needs another Mummy movie.
Decided not even my secret guilty love of Talladega Nights can get me to see Stepbrothers.
Got my hopes way up from the cool opening sequence.
Decided Wanted could really do without James McAvoy’s inane voiceover.
Thought about plugging my ears and humming softly to drown out the voiceover.
Wondered if any voiceover in the history of voiceovers has ever improved a movie.
Wondered if the red stapler was an homage to Office Space.
Decided Wanted is no Office Space.
Wondered if the filmmakers really thought Googling the name Wesley Gibson would produce zero results. Wondered if the filmmakers had ever actually used Google. Decided I was being too grumpy and pedantic. Decided I should just relax and grant them a little artistic license.
Decided Angelina Jolie deserves every penny she makes.
Thought about how Angelina Jolie has come a long way since Hackers.
Hoped Morgan Freeman would bring class and dignity to the proceedings.
Discovered Morgan Freeman did not bring class and dignity to the proceedings.
Took umbrage at the suggestion that an assassin is more noble of a profession than an account supervisor.
Winced at McAvoy’s verbal smackdown of his mean boss.
Thought about how, instead of whacking his smarmy best friend upside the head with an ergonomic keyboard and shattering his teeth, McAvoy could have simply stopped being his friend.
Thought about how, instead of making out with Jolie to make his one-note shrew of a girlfriend jealous, McAvoy could have simply broken up with her.
Suspected the script was written by fourteen-year-old boys.
Wondered if I’d like McAvoy’s character more if he used his delightful real accent.
Wondered why they made McAvoy’s character such an unlikable dickwad.
Hoped McAvoy would get less annoying after the training sequence.
Gave up hope of the training sequence ever ending.
Felt guilty about enjoying seeing Jolie beat the stuffing out of McAvoy.
Thought the film placed far too much faith in the restorative powers of paraffin baths.
Wished they’d give Common more screen time.
Wished the film starred Common instead of McAvoy.
Felt a vein in my temple throb ominously at the part about how the Loom of Fate magically produces the names of assassination targets.
Wondered which was goofier: the Loom of Fate, or the secret magic bullet-bendy powers.
Gave the edge to the Loom of Fate.
Was chagrined at how long it took McAvoy to work out how being an assassin might be considered kind of morally wrong.
Theorized that McAvoy is stealing Ioan Gruffudd’s career.
Remembered I liked McAvoy just fine in Atonement.
Remembered I liked McAvoy just fine in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Remembered I was pretty neutral on McAvoy in Starter for 10.
Decided Dominic Cooper was the best thing about Starter for 10.
Thought about how awesome Dominic Cooper was in The History Boys.
Mulled over whether the presence of Dominic Cooper was enough incentive to see Mamma Mia!
Figured it probably wasn’t.
Decided James McAvoy, while erratic, is far superior to Shia LaBoeuf.
Puzzled at the mystery of Shia LaBoeuf’s skyrocketing career.
Was delighted to discover Terence Stamp is in the movie.
Tried to decide who was cooler: Terence Stamp or Morgan Freeman. Gave the edge to Stamp, if only for Superman II.
Wondered if they really needed to kill that trainload of innocent bystanders.
Cringed at the realization the climax would hinge upon a garbage truck full of rats wired with teeny tiny bombs.
Wondered if I’m getting too bitter and jaded to enjoy movies about secret magic bendy-bullet powers, exploding rats, and Looms of Fate.
Thought Jolie discovered a pretty good use for secret magic bendy-bullet powers for her final act.
Wished director Timur Bekmamdetov’s Hollywood debut had been as flat-out cool as Night Watch and Day Watch.
Wished Bekmamdetov had finished up Twilight Watch instead of bothering with Wanted.
Thought it ended pretty decently, all things considered.
Thought I'd probably see the sequel, if they ever make one.