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November 1996

This "Perfect Love" Business Is Horseshit!

I’m pretty convinced of it. I desperately want to believe that such a thing exists, but I’m immediately suspicious whenever people claim to have found it. I think they're deluding themselves.

Don't get me wrong. I think love is out there — I’ve gotten to play the game myself a couple of times. I just don't think love is perfect. It's not all goodness and light, chickadees and rainbows. Love at first sight — the happy, Davey Jones eye-twinkle, babytalk love — is a crock. It's lust that somehow manages to make the successful transition to an actual relationship without too much agony along the way. I think love is made up of lots of compromise, patience, friction, and the reluctance to just bag it when the going gets rough.

Even to me, my words sound a little harsh. Although a lot of the last paragraph is paraphrased from the writings of love guru Leo Buscaglia, it nevertheless has the stink of the charred hair of someone who's been burned. I must be frank — I have been.

I haven't been burned by love. The couple of times I’ve really felt it, it's been good. It wasn't easy, though — not instinctual, not always enough, not meant to last forever. Instead, I’ve been burned by the desperate, incessant search for the elusive perfect love. I’ve been burned by silly romantic notions and the delusions they create. I’ve been burned by my powerful longing to love someone, a longing which usually strips me of rational, critical thought and puts my self-esteem out on the corner to be flattened by a passing bus. I’ve been burned by people who thought we should just be friends (but didn't mean it); by people who just plain blew me off; and by myself all those times when I saw in someone just the things I wanted to see, only to be soon enough reminded that I filled in too many of the gaps with my own imagination.

Like most Americans, I’ve been crippled by all the fodder that our culture has spewed out on the subject of love. From Shakespeare (or, dare I say, popular misinterpretations of his work) to Big Top Pee-Wee, with stops just about everywhere along the way, we are trained to think that love is easy, to think that conflict and loss are plot complications rather than real dangers that can rip us apart from each other. We're trained to believe that Lois Lane can truly love a big lunk who rarely has a conversation with her, and that Tony and Maria could love each other truly enough to die together after one dirty dance and a date in a dress shop. How can images like these, and every single notion perpetuated by pop music, possibly prepare normal human beings — man or woman, gay or straight, young or old — for the very real emotional risks and hurdles presented by intimate, romantic interaction? We are trained that love is both chaste and hot, that sex is both our right and our shame, that relationships are both the final goal and the eternal prison, that we should be true to ourselves yet sacrifice our identities to win another's affection. What are we to believe? How are we supposed to muddle through all this fiction? No person has a team of scriptwriters to identify the one perfect life mate, and that bites.

I’ve not had a lot of luck with dates and relationships and romance. I freely admit that. I’ve had enough luck, though, to know what I keep missing. Who can say whether it's been the successes or the recurring snubs that keep my foolish romantic optimism alive? I could see a case for either.

In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to feel the flush of infatuation, the tinglings of burgeoning romance, and the hills and valleys of real love. ("Real love" is a separate entity from "perfect love," but that’s a diatribe for another day.) I’ve gone into these episodes with my head overflowing with all those visions of domestic bliss by which I’ve been conditioned my whole life. It makes me feel as if I’ve come so close, so why couldn't there be the possibility that I just haven't been lucky enough yet? The myth might still exist.

At the same time, I know that I’ve been disappointed or hurt a lot in the past (and certainly will be in the future). At those times, it's been the notion that something better must be lurking out there, just waiting to finally make me happy again, that keeps me going despite the disappointments. I can be as rational as I want, and keep telling myself that no Prince Charming is really going to charge in on a white steed to whisk me away to dreamland; but it's a tempting enough fantasy to keep alive when there's little to keep you company except for the mindcud being churned out of the television set. I’ve needed the myth to exist.

I could probably write a book about all the reasons I’m such a freakish loser when it comes to dating. I could probably write a book about why I think I’m so bad, when I’m probably no more awkward or clueless than anyone else. What it boils down to, though, is mostly the realization that when I’m dealing with another person — with his own feelings, scars, and hopes — I lose control of the situation. In other areas of my life, I’m often a wonder to behold — confident, intelligent, insightful, forward-thinking, and efficient. Put me in the same room with someone, though, tell me it's a date, and I begin to babble and blather like a moron. I just have no instincts with interpersonal relationships, and that forever puts me at square one in that giant Candyland race for love. It can be hard enough to read other people, but when you have a personal stake in the matter, all the possibilities for disaster are magnified on an often overwhelming, paralyzing scale. I never know whether or not someone finds me attractive, and my instincts fly much further out the window if I’m attracted to that person. If you throw the possibility of real love into the equation, it gets even worse. Despite all the dates in all the situations I’ve had, I don't know how to act, how to present myself, how to be charming, how to be appropriately frank or coy. If the whole process is a search, then I’m armed with welding goggles and soundproof headphones, the map long since discovered to be a fake.

I keep trying to find love, heaven knows. When you get right down to it, I have entirely too much pluck to give up. As dejected as I get from time to time, I keep looking, and I keep clinging to the notion that I'll find the right guy one day. Maybe not the perfect man, but that’s okay. Perfection is for movies and television and the simps at American Top 40. I want reality — I just want the good kind. I want to beat Michael Tolliver's rule and have the great job, the fabulous apartment, and the hot lover all at one time, because I’m worth it, damnit!

Sparky Gets Dissed Again

Over and over, I keep thinking of that one thing you said: "You're the last person I want to . . . hurt . . . like this."

I’ve got a fucking news flash for you — TOO FUCKING LATE! You hurt me, and you hurt me a helluva lot. You hurt me with your cowardice, you hurt me with your self-absorption. You hurt me because you knew that I was falling for you harder and harder, and you didn't have the balls to tell me straight out that you didn't feel the same way. You let me continue to feel sorry for the troubles you were having, and you kept neglecting to hint that maybe I was one of them. You told me you liked me, and that you liked being with me, and maybe you did. The fact remains that you didn't say shit when your feelings started to change, even though you constantly dwell on everything that bugs you.

It was like I had to pull fucking teeth to get you to even suggest that things weren't okay. I had to ask what was wrong, and then say the words for you, only to have you numbly agree. That first time, I felt like I was completely losing control because you couldn't even get out a whole sentence. I had to do all the work, and most of the talking, and you just gave up and said you wanted to be with me. Couldn't you just be honest enough to come out and say it? Why did you have to make me say all those things about how much I cared about you and about how scared I was about that? When I told you that appeasing me — sticking around even though you didn't feel anything — would be far worse than simply telling the truth about whatever you felt, why did you do it anyway? What kind of a chickenshit bastard are you?

The other night, after we spent the whole day together having fun, after I made you dinner again, what were you thinking when you just picked up and walked out without so much as a handshake? Were you thinking it would be easier to just tell a little lie and see how long it would take for me to put all the pieces together? Maybe it was easier for a coward like you, but it was a pretty rotten thing to do to someone who had invested as much in the relationship as I had. It was pretty rotten to make me call you and demand an apology and the truth.

The worst part of all this is that I would take you back in two shakes of a rat's ass if I thought I had a chance. Your moodiness is a problem I can deal with — I have with lots of other people before — so that in itself is not enough to scare me off. If I thought that you could love me anything like the way I was starting to love, I would set myself up without hesitation. Maybe you're fucking screwy, but other than that (maybe because of that?), you are incredible.

I think that’s what stings the most. I’ve had so much trouble finding all these nebulous, rare qualities that I value in people, and you had so many of them. You were offbeat and quietly funny and smart and unpretentious and fucking beautiful in just the right way. You also had other qualities that I hadn't realized I needed so badly in a lover — you made me feel calm, relaxed, like I could really pull it all together for once. You were most everything I could have wanted, and now I can't even think of who else could pull it off, certainly not how I could even meet someone like that again. You're a bastard because you couldn't feel for me, even though I "did nothing that was ever wrong." You're a bastard and a chickenshit asshole and I want you and I need you and that pisses me off more than I can really say.

The Painful Truth Is It Might Be Worth It

Written by Mark Scarola

"I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy,
To touch my person to someone else's < br /> is about as much as I can stand."

— Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

So, having been informed that the topic of this issue is the ever-elusive "perfect love" (or, as Winnie-the-Pooh might say, "the emotional Heffalump"), I sat down and took pen in hand. Oddly, I simply couldn't bring pen to paper. At first I thought it might be fear that my current companion would take offense at something I wrote and abandon me, forcing me to rewrite the entire essay. That certainly wasn't the case, so I stared at the paper for a few minutes, and then it struck me. The problem is that "perfect love" does not exist.

You see, "perfect love" is an oxymoron. Anyone who has experienced love can testify that it is awkward and clumsy, ill-timed and clammy, embarrassing and demeaning, elevating and debasing, and yet there is no greater endeavor. To expect love to be pure joy and elation is to miss exactly what makes it so wonderful. Love allows one to experience the full range and scope of human emotion. The highs give you nosebleeds, and the lows set you up for the bends. Even the time in between is filled with interesting emotional spasms. (Personally, I enjoy the moments following a phone conversation, when I realize I’ve said something very inappropriate, and verbally thrash myself out loud for the next few minutes.) If one experienced only the euphoria and not the nagging doubts, then one is not truly in love but truly moronic. If only the exaggerated moments of self-loathing are explored, then once again, it is not love but phone sex.

True "lovers" are deaf, blind, and mute. They hear the intonations of voice and carefully chosen words of their companion, but are unable to register the meaning of these things, leading them to ask questions like "What do you think he meant when he said he really likes me?" and the inevitable follow-up: "Do you think he really likes me?" One in love sees his lover's face in microscopic detail, yet is completely incapable of reading its countenance. "What in the world is she staring at?" asks the man who cannot fathom that another might find him attractive. The one in love presumes it is a physical deformity that is being assessed, rather than the beauty he possesses.

Of course, the greatest disability of a person in love, and the one that causes the most pain to those who surround him or her, is the inability to semicoherently express feelings through the use of language. Some try anyway, which is why we are tortured by such songs as "I Can't Smile Without You," "I Honestly Love You," and "Hey, Did You Happen to See the Most Beautiful Girl in the World?" (not to mention "Georgy Girl"). A lover who happens to possess a simulacrum of taste chooses instead to say as little as humanly possible, for fear of blurting out something like, "Hey, you know, Debbie, I just wanna let you know that I got all these feelings and stuff that I got for you and I wanted to let you know because sometimes I think you know but I really don't know if you do, so I figured I’d tell you."

Trying to deduce the feelings of your possible mate is perhaps the most anxiety-provoking part of this enigma we call love. And for those of you who need a bit of assistance, I offer an ancient piece of wisdom that I have just recently concocted. My theorem states, "The strength of one's feelings towards another is directly related to the number of segues used in normal conversation with that significant other." One who has been smitten by another is often over-cautious when approaching a conversation, especially if the conversation is of no interest to the listener. Rather than directly stating what needs to be said, the conversation is characterized by the use of particularly awkward segues. For example:

Woman: I was thinking that we might see a movie tonight.

Man: That sounds good . . . which reminds me that I just saw a preview for that new John Waters film, Serial Mom, and I got to thinking that I’d call my Mom because I haven't talked to her in a while, so I did, and then I started to feel bad because she hasn't gone out much since Dad got his goiter, so I invited her along with us tonight, if you don't mind.

Here we clearly hear the nervousness and hesitance in the man's words, because I would have rewritten it if we couldn't. His verbal constipation is demonstrative of his desire to please his companion. Compare this with the speech of a man who has little concern for his prospective mate's feelings:

Woman: I was thinking that we might see a movie tonight.

Man: Quit yapping, I’m scratching myself.

My theorem is correct! Just as I would have hoped!

Love is buoyant and unsinkable. No, that was the Titanic. Love, in fact, is fragile and easily corrupted. Into each relationship we carry the weight of all our past relationships. We expect love to raise our disenchanted and world-weary spirits and we simultaneously expect it to heal old wounds. What it really does is create new and more painful wounds — so painful that we simply forget about our old scabs, which eventually fall off, leaving us with only the new ones to tend to. Much like a good parachute jump, love must be approached with great fear and determination. (Note: the elderly, those with heart problems, and pregnant women please be warned.) In fact, love is like falling into a bottomless pit with Astroturf walls: one simultaneously feels the euphoria of freefall combined with the intense pain of rug burn when one accidentally brushes the sides.

Despite my obvious wisdom and level-headedness, I would hereby like to let you know that you should discount all that you have read so far. I’m an idiot. I know nothing. I’m in love.

It Just Don't Come Easy

Welcome, humans, to the second fab-u-luxe trip into the depths of the rumpus room. As promised, this issue is devoted to "The Search for the Elusive Perfect Love," a topic near and dear to all of our hearts, presumably. The chat this time has pretty much come to the consensus that love may be out there, and even be worth the painful efforts to find it, but . . .

IT JUST DON'T COME EASY

All in all, this was one hell of a gripe session to put together. Lots of folks bagged on their initial promises to write stories, but that’s okay. Illustrations required hours of thumbing through the books and magazines littering my overstuffed apartment. Without going into the messy details (other than the ones you'll read about in twenty-one pages), I ran the full-scale of emotions connected with an unsuccessful bid at romance, only to be left with a good story to vent in the rumpus room. Also, I have found myself dirt-poor after putting out issue 1.1, which was slower to catch on than I might have hoped. I don't even want to get into everything that’s gone down since my family read the last issue . . .

Bitch, bitch, bitch. I'll stop wallowing in self-pity now (cut me some slack — I just woke up to a rainy Saturday morning in a messy apartment) and get on to the glories of the hot little number you're holding in your hands. This time around, I’ve invited a few friends, and even a stranger, to spout off on the topic at hand. The results are a nice mix of laughs, fun, and pathos. Like I said last time, this is not for the squeamish or the faint-of-heart: the personal commentary can get pretty raw. On a lighter note, though, we have free stickers in every issue! Seven in all! Paste 'em to your cat, paste 'em on a friend, collect and trade with friends!

Welcome, and remember to wipe your feet at the top of the stairs. There are some snacks and Cokes on the mini-bar, so help yourselves.

Where All Men Are United in the Love of Chicken-N-Waffle

Eddie outside Roscoe'sRoscoe's the name
and they call me the king,
grandmaster of the chicken
and the waffle thing.
I said read my lips and, friends,
don't miss a word
'Cause the grandmaster's gonna
give you the bird!

Eddie and MattWhen I first saw Tapeheads, I nearly hemorrhaged from laughing during the commercial spot that the two main characters did for Roscoe's House of Chicken-N-Waffles. I thought the idea was so crazy, so inane. It was a stroke of brilliance on the part of the screenwriter.

Boy howdy, was I amazed when I found out that Roscoe's really exists. Actually, there are three of them scattered throughout the greater L.A. area. When I found out that I was going to be in L.A., I knew that if nothing else, I had to make a holy pilgrimage to this soaring tribute to entrepreneurial spirit.

Roscoe's is mostly a soul food restaurant, with big hearty meals at good prices. Despite a tantalizing assortment, I knew I had to have the #20 — the "Carolina" chicken plate with a buttermilk waffle on the side. This was some good eatin's — the creamiest butter, the thickest syrup, the tenderest chicken breast. If you have chicken and waffle, trust me: you really have to eat both at the same time. The combo sounds scary, but it's truly delightful — hot, sweet, and rich.

This place is no secret, either. We showed up right before the rush, apparently. When we left, totally satiated and deliriously happy, there was a huge line down the street. Obviously, California cuisine can also mean biscuits, gravy, grits, and — without a doubt — chicken-n-waffle.

The Yin/Yang Karma Wheel of Self-Love

By David Melito

When contemplating the search for the elusive perfect love, I feel the need to borrow a phrase from the Diet Coke Diva herself — "Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." It's true, Whitney: the greatest love of all is easy to achieve; all it takes is self-confidence. But how do we become self-confident? Can it really be achieved alone? that’s not as easy an answer. You see, Whitney, there are two types of people: those who grew up with a sense of well-being and security, and people like me. We are the Painfully Insecure People (PIP) of the world. What does this have to do with the search for the elusive perfect love? Stick around: it will all make sense.

The PIP's Karmic dilemma:

Axiom A: You can't love another till you love yourself.

Axiom B: You're nobody till somebody loves you.

You see . . . you can't get to B without first attaining A, yet it's pretty damn difficult to attain A without getting to B.


Before we continue, let me assure you that there are many advantages to being a PIP. As a PIP it is your goal in life to get people to like you. By the time PIPs are in their twenties, they've either learned how to get people to like them or they have killed themselves (or they have a talk show where they are addressed by an iconic first name such as Maury or Geraldo; but I digress). We, the PIPs, are generally the funny people at parties. PIPs were the class clowns that you found most entertaining at lunch during high school. We take risks in order to get attention. We are the Liza Minellis, Divines, John Candys, Steve Spielbergs, Rush Limbaughs, and Sam Kinisons of the world. Some PIPs tell vulgar jokes, some spew right-wing politics, some sing showtunes — we come from all different walks of life. However, PIPS all share one primary objective. We broadcast the two following vibes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:

I. Look at me.

II. Love every single thing I do!

PIPS will do anything to get attention, including telling everyone how painfully insecure they are (hence this article . . . you are enjoying it aren't you?). There is hope for PIPS: PIPS can slowly overcome their fears and learn to love themselves but it usually takes years and millions of adoring fans. Barbara Walters' specials are chock-full of reforming PIPS. The typical PIP interview generally has three parts:

1. How bad things used to be.

2. A good cry with Babs.

3. How he/she conquered all and made it.

(Note: Part 2 can take place at any time.)

Of course, the most famous PIP speech of them all is the one Sally Field gave at the Academy Awards, crying, "You like me — you really like me."

And the point is . . .

By now you're asking yourself, "Where is all this going?" Well, let's look at The Karma Wheel. The Yin/Yang Karma Wheel clearly shows that we slowly start to love ourselves only while others slowly give us praise and affection. The PIP has a problem: in order to obtain a successful relationship, the PIP must learn to love him/herself (see Axiom A); however, in order to do this he/she needs love from others. If two PIPs are to fall in love they must not only have lots of things in common and be attracted to each other, but their Karma Wheels (Cupid's biorhythms, if you will) must be in sync. Since this is seldom the case, the PIP's quest for companionship typically generates a 15-step cycle of self-love/self-hate. Let's see if these patterns mirror your life . . .


The scenario: You've just asked Johnny on a date. He says no. You're crushed. You cry, "What's wrong with me? Why doesn't anyone love me?"

"It must be my [check all that apply]  arms  stomach  personality  video tape collection  other________________."

This has happened before. You knew Johnny wouldn't be interested because you projected a negative attitude. Did you really think it would work out if you were looking so hard?

"The Wheel"

Step 1: Stop looking so hard.

It is a common belief that if you stop looking for love it will come and find you. This of course is as easy as trying to forget your name. You can't do it. The PIP pretends he/she isn't looking. But secretly in the dark, repressed corners of the PIP's mind he/she knows that every single person they meet is a potential Mr./Ms. right.

Step 2:

a. Give up trying to pretend. You are on the prowl.

b. Accept the fact that no one will love you until you love yourself.

c. Try to love yourself.

Step 3: Use the following argument in order to fail:

No one else loves you. How can six billion people be wrong? If you thought you were a potato and six billion people thought you weren't, you'd seek counseling right? Of course right.

Step 4: Get really down on yourself, but pretend to hate the world.

This is a good time to get drunk and talk to people who have rejected you. Try calling them up to ask such questions as, "What's wrong with me?" At first people will resist, but eventually, with enough persistence, you'll get answers and boy do they hurt! Wallow in it.

Step 5: Now transfer your hate toward yourself to the world.

This is called "getting bitter." Art students are notoriously good at this. It is at this stage that you should probably start smoking again. Hang out in coffee shops. Don't talk to anyone. When you do have conversations, always make sarcastic comments about how alone you are. If the person who has most recently rejected you is present, even better.

Step 6:

a. Once you hate the world (God too, if you can swing it), watch a little bit of television and come to the conclusion that each and every one of the six billion people who live on the planet are assholes.

b. Decide that you are actually O.K.

Step 7: No, you're great! Fabulous! Top of the hill!

Accomplish something. Write a novel. Make a movie. Organize your videotape collection. This is the time to start putting together that stand-up comedy act you've always wanted to do. Show the world your stuff!

Step 8: YOU LOVE YOURSELF!

Listen to Whitney Houston songs. Smile at children. You don't need anyone 'cause you have you. In essence, you are repeating Step 1, only with much more vigor. You have truly fooled yourself into believing that you are not looking. Now, and only now, are you ready to get your heart broken.

Step 9: First meet someone who you think is different from all the rest (see next step if you think this is tricky).

Step 10: If said person is not different from all the rest, simply convince yourself that he/she is (the longer it's been since you last had sex, the easier this part is).

Step 11: Obsess about the person — it's fun.

Call all of your friends and tell them about him/her. There are virtually thousands of ways to obsess — too many to include in a short article. I am currently writing a Time-Life series on the subject — look for it on "Amazing Discoveries" next month. Just remember to be creative, have fun, and try not to harm any animals.

Step 12 — CRUCIAL STEP: When it is painfully obvious that the person is not interested, humiliate yourself by making them say it to your face.

Don't let them off easy, don't pick up on their body language. Ignore their subtle hints (such as if they say, "I am not looking for a relationship," then propose). MAKE THEM HURT YOU! Then they'll be sorry . . . yessir-ree-bob.They'll embarrass you so terribly that they will be sure to feel ashamed for hours!

Step 13: Try and hate that person.

Of course you can't. Just a few days ago you were in love and completely obsessed. You've already picked out china patterns and the site for your commitment ceremony. You can't hate him/her; you need to hate the one thing that is keeping the two of you from being together, which is of course none other than yourself! (Move on to Step 14, don't pass Go, etc. . . . )

Step14: Transfer the hate onto yourself.

Remember that the higher you build up your self-esteem in Step 8, the more atrociously insane you are allowed to act. Sit in front of the mirror and scream. Pretend you are on an episode of "The Donna Reed Show": lie on your bed, clutch your pillow, and yell aloud, "Dear God, I may not be the prettiest girl in the world, but don't I deserve some happiness?" Listen to the silence. Take it as a No.

Break something that symbolizes your accomplishments: burn your Pulitzer Prize­p;winning book; smash your Academy Award. Now is the time when many people decide to move on to substance abuse (people like Liza Minelli and Elton John).

Step 15: Return to step 1.


If we could scientifically prove that PIPS are bound to The Wheel, then we would be content to live out our rotten, miserable, stinking lives quietly understanding that we will be forever alone. However, PIPs can get out of their rut, seemingly overnight — and that, folks, is the pisser! You never know when the hand of fate will gracefully lift you off The Wheel.

I have come to the conclusion that we all travel The Karma Wheel at varying rates but all at the same time. Remember, while you are riding along and lusting after person X and person X is breaking your heart — remember that person Y is probably thinking you are his/her person X. As a longtime PIP I have seen many of my fellow PIPs move on to successful relationships. This has been both encouraging and irritating. While it means that the quest is not futile, the overwhelming question still remains: "Goddammit, when?!"

I am going to be a damn fine guest on a Barbara Walters special.

Checklist

Media junkie that I am, I naturally checked out a lot of stuff while I was in L.A. In the interest of passing on useful information, here are brief reviews of movies, music, and zines that came my way during my vacation. If you're one of those people who reads reviews to be up-to-the-minute, move along. These will all be hopelessly out of date by the time you read them.

Forever Young
Directed by Steve Miner, 1991

I came into this movie late, since it was on television when I was trapped in a Minneapolis motel room, but I think I got a pretty good sense of it.

This is the movie where Mel Gibson is a test pilot who was frozen back in the thirties and then defrosted by two kooky kids in the nineties. Basically, this is entertainment-lite. Not a fantastic flick, but soothingly bland. There are vast gaps in logic and plot scattered throughout, but Mel looks good, Jamie Lee Curtis gets to look concerned a lot, the young Elijah Wood gets to show that he's a pretty good actor for a little kid (I don't think that little kids have to prove their acting talent by faking cancer or anything melodramatic; I’m won over by believability), and the job is utterly mild overall. Beware, though: if you can't stand saccharine, heartwarming endings, stay away! You'll blow all over the screen.

The Good Son
Directed by Joseph Rubin, 1993

Elijah Wood pops up again, if just to prove that Macauley Culkin is a gimmick, not an actor. This cinematic atrocity was forced upon me during a five-hour airplane flight, so I won't take responsibility for choosing it.

This is a turkey. It uses every goofy cinematic gimmick to build predictable suspense and dull, anticlimactic action sequences. The only shining moment is watching Mac plunge to his death, dropped from a high, rocky ledge by his mother, who realizes that Elijah Wood would be a lot less hassle to have around the house.

Blink
Directed by Michael Apted, 1994

I caught this at a cast-and-crew screening, so there was a lot of excitement in the audience, since everyone there had their messy little hands all over it at one point or another. These people were applauding during the credits, if that puts it in perspective.

This flick is worth seeing, though. The lovely Madeleine Stowe plays a violinist in an Irish rock band, blinded as a child by her loopy mother. After getting a cornea transplant to restore her vision, she sees a serial killer leaving the scene of a murder upstairs from her, but doesn't realize it, since her eyes are still adapting to being able to see again.

The thing is, she has a rare condition where her brain processes information long after her eyes see things, so she keeps seeing this killer, and other wacky things, at totally random times. She's the only eyewitness, though, which forces misogynist, abrasive detective Aidan Quinn (looking a little puffy and over-the-hill, but still okay), who once mooned her in a bar when she was still blind, to stick around her until they catch the guy.

I know this sounds like a hokey premise, and I guess it is, but it works. The optical effects are really nice, and the suspense is nicely crafted, with a few good twists near the end. All in all, my only complaint is that once again, a blind woman in the movies has impeccable taste in trendy clothes, skillfully applied makeup, and a fabulous apartment.

Philadelphia
Directed by Jonathan Demme, 1993

This is not the definitive AIDS movie, nor do I think it's trying to be, despite the assumptions of its detractors. This strikes me as more of a portrait of the way different people react to AIDS, whether they are understanding and supportive of PWAs, terrified of the threat of the disease, or well-meaning but thoroughly homophobic.

The cinematography in this one deserves a note, since it seems a little affected and overdone at first, but eventually it drives the point home with incredible impact. This is an actor's movie all the way, relying on clear, direct performances with more emotion and reaction captured by the camera, rather than on witty or powerful dialogue. Two thumbs up for Tom and Denzel, and almost all members of the stellar cast, except for David Drake, who just couldn't grasp the need to underplay his minor role for maximum effect. He makes Doug Savant, the master of the sympathetic reaction shot on Melrose Place, look like a stoneface.

This movie really shook me up, largely because it doesn't provide pat plot resolutions. Instead it forces the viewer to grapple with the issues it leaves open. My initial reaction to the movie was to bawl my eyes out as it reached its conclusion, but later, feeling a little clearer as my pal Ed and I picked apart what the movie seemed to say, I was able to articulate why it had affected me so much. Even though the battle lines and allegiances are very clearly presented from the outset of the film, everyone in it makes a case that someone could probably understand. As a workaholic gay man with a straight HIV+ brother, I definitely was pissed off by the attitudes of Jason Robards' paranoid old-boys' legal club, but I have to admit that they might not have been truly guilty of the crime with which they are charged. Denzel Washington's unresolved homophobia seemed terribly small-minded, but you can see where it makes sense in the context of the film. Ed's politics pretty much agreed with mine, though homophobic persecution and AIDS panic don't hit as close to home for him, and he also saw the ambiguity that ran rampant through the film. This could play in Peoria and get reactions drastically different from ours.

Any and all politics aside, this is a fine film, riveting and emotional without being too manipulative.

Spencer the Gardener
At Club Lingerie

Spencer the Gardener is a band from Santa Barbara who do a nutty mix of pop, country, and Latin music for the sake of fun, fun, fun. Every song they performed was pretty jumpy and accessible, either lyrically or at least musically, depending on whether it was an English funk/pop tune or a salsa two-step. Ed claimed they were a lot like Chucklehead since they had a horn section, but aside from their devotion to fun, Spencer's sound is definitely their own. My only criticism would be for Nate, their moody trumpet player: get a little spunk, man!

Ben Is Dead
Summer 1993, "Modern Transmission & Sensory Overload."
Published and edited by Darby Romeo. Letters to: Ben Is Dead, P.O. Box 3166, Hollywood, CA 90028.

I’ve been hearing a lot about Ben Is Dead as I’ve gotten deeper into the zine world, but I’d never stopped to pick up a copy until I grabbed this issue from a sleazy newsstand somewhere in L.A.

Unfortunately, the people behind BID are more famous for their I Hate Brenda Newsletter. The tragedy of this is that BID is a fantastic effort in its own right. The writing is both extremely intelligent and laid-back witty. Darby and her assistant editors Kerin Morataya and Michael Carr (aka Kitty Lu Kemia) have a lot of fierce attitude about what they think and what they like, yet are still willing to explore and to flesh out new ideas.

This particular issue features scientific explanations of the human senses, a bawdy interview with Duran Duran, an exposé of The Jane Pratt Show, a discussion of the limits of copyright law, and interviews with the publishers of bOING!, bOING!, Future Sex, and Mondo 2000, among lots of other goodies.

BID has a very slick four-color printed cover and decent web printing, although the design and layout is a little Mac-happy. Luckily, they have the budget for actual photographs and some neat computer graphics, so the overall look is pretty good. Even if you're a design snob like me, though, you should get this publication. These people really kick some serious butt!

TeenMom
Vol. 2, No. 1, "Birthday/Holiday Issue."
Published and edited by NB. Letters to: TeenMom, 2211 N. Cahuenga Blvd. #306, Los Angeles, CA 90068.

This is one nutty zine. Factsheet Five places TeenMom in its queer section, but I don't know if that’s really appropriate. Granted, the editorial tone vacillates between gay camp and fun-loving feminist satire, but even if it is a covert fag rag, it's very limiting to look at this as a queer zine.

TeenMom is a very wacky parody of teen heartthrob magazines, with a lot of black humor, pop culture awareness, and photos of beefy guys. The hook is that it's supposedly written from the point of view of giddy adolescent moms. This particular issue features tips on grooming your offspring for teen stardom, choosing the genetically right TeenDad, a suspicious "interview" with Juliette Lewis, and TeenMom's Turkey Baster Award to Antonio Sabato, Jr., for being the year's biggest stud with the most promising sperm.

I am also quite fond of their clip/found art illustrations and their color laser copy cover. It's a low-budget job that uses the means at its disposal quite well.

Ooze
Vol. 1, No. 1
Published and edited by Matt Patterson, Ed Schmidt, and Joe Wagner. Letters to: Ooze, 1553A Baxter St., Los Angeles, CA 90026.

Ooze is a smart, subversive humor mag put out by three lunatics I know in L.A. This is an outgrowth of similar publications the guys made at Vassar, and in high school before that. The jokes in Ooze are rife with pop culture sensibility and a disdain for the editors' mainstream suburban upbringing. It's a little bit April Fool's Day and a little bit "Kids in the Hall." It's a little bit country, and a little bit rock 'n' roll.

The first issue features a games page, suggestions for alternative prom themes, medical advice for the lovelorn, and a treatise on the merits of acting stupid.

The design right now is fun, with lots of clip art and Photoshop experiments. They also do an electronic version with sound available via Internet (at drbubonic@aol.com). These guys are hoping their alma mater will give them a grant which will allow them to do a slicker job with Ooze. But even without the extra dough, it's definitely worth a peek.

No Duh
Published and edited by Geoff F.
Letters to: No Duh, P.O. Box 921, Allston, MA 02134

It figures that I would have to travel all the way to California to discover this nifty little zine published right here in Boston, more specifically in my old neighborhood, Allston — the B.U. student ghetto and the zip of Zoom!

The editorial content of No Duh is fairly standard alterna-teen personal experience and travelogue with articles about Providence, cheap beer, Seattle, and historical zines. Don't get me wrong — I really like the writing in this. It's pretty smart, very honest and anecdotal, and definitely entertaining.

The real kicker, though, is the look of No Duh. I bought it for its packaging alone, a plain gray paper cover with a scooter illustration, all sealed in a clear plastic bag with a tiny sticker describing the contents. Very minimal and stylish. I was glad to see that the insides didn't let me down. Although the design isn't really sophisticated, Geoff draws from an apparently encyclopedic collection of mod-era advertising art, thirties clip art, and old sundry ads and visuals for a really witty, fun-lovin' package. Even handwritten pieces, of which I am usually very wary, are used to good effect here. Kudos!

While tooling around, I also got lots of old records and whatnot, which I'll just list for the sake of brevity:

An Entertainment Bonanza

Me and Mary and ElayneI don't know if it's possible to really explain Marty and Elayne. At least, I don't think anyone could express exactly what it's like to see them, to hear them.

Marty and Elayne are a husband-and-wife lounge act who perform nightly at a Los Angeles restaurant/lounge called the Dresden. This place is the toniest. It's all brown velour walls and furniture and gold light fixtures. Circular booths and small tables surround a baby grand piano ringed with a counter and chairs.

Elayne sits at the piano with a pile of sheet music and a couple of extra Casiotone keyboards. Next to her is Marty and his stand-up bass, with a drum kit on the side just in case. Marty is the stone-faced protector of Elayne, the ethereal artist who lives through the music she plays. It sweeps her away, and Marty makes sure everyone respects that. Together, as they've done for the last twenty years, they wail out popular favorites and old standards. They don't just perform simple smarmy covers, though. Every song is transformed into something unique, something unbelievable, something bordering on the incomprehensible.

Without fail, they start every song in a simple way, with either Marty singing in his pitch-for-pitch Sinatra voice, or Elayne in her own jazzy, high-frequency way. After a verse and a chorus, though, the fun begins. Elayne scats. She scats like a cat in heat. She scats in song and plays improvised, otherwordly riffs on the piano. Marty keeps the beat and keeps it strong, plucking or pounding away a steady rhythm that moves Elayne along like a runaway roller coaster. The overall effect seems pretty cheesy, but there's something about it — something way beyond the humor and the impossible.

You see, these guys have passion for what they're doing. They're serious and it shows. If they were just going along in a happy state of shtick, I don't think it would work. It would be too over the top. This is the real thing, and it makes all the difference. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Of course, I saw people in the room who were watching them with a superior, Lettermanesque shit-eating grin, but most everyone, the people who looked like they kept coming back, was having fun: they all really appreciated Marty and Elayne in a goofy way. Dresden is by no means a cheap gin joint. There's no cover, but people wouldn't pay those drink prices if the show wasn't worth it.

Marty and Elayne perform a huge selection of tunes, mostly on request, like "Girl from Ipanema," "Staying Alive," "Fever," "Mack the Knife," "Muskrat Love" and other crowd-pleasers. The most amazing number I heard of them all, by far, was "Light My Fire." This transcended mere performance. I think it transcended mere music. With Elayne taking the vocal reins and the keyboards, and Marty on the drums, these two wailed away in a frenzy I couldn't have ever expected. I haven't seen musicians swept away like that in a looooong time. All hail Marty and Elayne, keeping the sanctity of the lounge alive!

Spurning Los Angeles

Written by Mark Scarola

For some, culture shock can be an ugly and brutal reality

Mark ScarolaMark Scarola has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He fled Los Angeles shortly before I arrived there. This is his story.

"What folly," archaeologists muse as they survey the ruins of ancient Pompeii, "to have built a city along the side of a highly active volcano!" Tracing the edges of urns and caskets with their fingers, they note that the citizenry of Pompeii were highly skilled craftsmen, but lacked any semblance of common sense. I wonder what archaeologists will say, centuries from now, when they inspect the ruins of Pompeii's spoiled little brother, Los Angeles. Will they sort through piles of stucco and asphalt and cry, "These are the remaining fragments of an over-burdened metropolis?" Or will they simply acknowledge that twentieth-century man had such little sense for an animal with such a voluminous brain.

Los Angeles is, much like Pompeii was, a city that simply should never have existed. It is as if Angelenos are fighting a war against good judgement. Death knocks on their door biannually in the form of mudslides and brushfires, yet instead of abandoning death's favorite vacation hideaway, they try to ignore his golden tan. "It would be so . . . East Coast," they say, "to be worried and tense about something over which we have no control." This remark is often made from a cellular phone in the midst of heavy traffic. Their attitude is often described as "laid back," but it does not take much of a psychologist to see this as a form of self-defense using state-of-the-art passive-aggressive techniques. "Run for your lives!" we scream at them, hoping that self-preservation will take hold and they will scramble for safer ground. But they refuse to budge: they struggle to appear not to be struggling — to show us how a stress-free life is led. They are more concerned with earning a merit badge for "Most Masturbatory Form of Disinterest" than they are with simply surviving. They pooh-pooh the notion that they are only an earthquake away from being permanently laid-back, noting coolly that it's supposed to be 85 degrees down in San Diego on Tuesday, with four-foot waves.

I must admit, being a New Yorker, that I do sometimes feel that I’m a bit too judgmental, and perhaps I exaggerate when discussing the City of Angels, but I feel I have a right to. I lived in Los Angeles for a six-month period ending just before the Northridge Earthquake. In a town where one industry monopolizes the money and the attention, I was an outsider. Interesting social conversations (those that did not involve Hollywood film) were rare, as I had no desire to discuss the film industry. I soon grew tired of listening to stories about people I didn't know and things I’d never see (much less care about). And, as you might already have guessed, everyone was too busy relaxing to have taken notice of my perpetual boredom.

The "laid-back" nature of Angelenos leaves them, as we have witnessed in recent years, in a state of chaos when havoc strikes. The hands-off approach to improving race relations resulted in the 1992 riots, and the relaxed police department exacerbated the already disastrous situation. It still amazes me that there are people sleeping outdoors after this year's earthquake. "Hmmm," says Mayor Riordan, "perhaps we ought to build a few shelters, seeing as we live in such an earthquake-prone region of the United States." "Your honor," replies one of his many aides, "then we might seem concerned about our own welfare." "Good point," says the big white guy, "forget I ever mentioned it."

I left Los Angeles knowing that I was heading back to New York, the drug-infested, foul-smelling, crime-ridden center of my universe. I know that I’m placing my life on the line every time I take a stroll after midnight. At least I can take a stroll after midnight.

Angelenos, by the way, take to walking like cats to the backstroke. Angelenos have never heard of public transportation, either. (Note to Angelenos — "public transportation" is when the government supplies you with an inexpensive and moderately efficient means of moving around urban and suburban areas. I don't expect you to know this now, but you may be tested on it later.) When my car decided it needed a few days in the shop after the cross-country trek to L.A., I was rendered absolutely immobile. As my car racked up additional wear and tear, I found that if I stayed in L.A., and my car passed into the next world, I’d have no need to work, for I wouldn't be able to get there anyway. Besides, I’d certainly be helping to decrease the density of the smog, even if I had to starve to do it.

It seemed to me that the only days I enjoyed being outdoors in L.A. were the days after it had rained. The air seemed somewhat cleaner, and certainly less arid. Of course, it only rained twice while I was in L.A. (one of those days was the day I left), so perhaps my opinion isn't truly an informed one. I like having precipitation, and there are only two kinds in L.A.: 1) rain and 2) brushfire residue. My experience allows me to tell you that ashes and soot fall more commonly than rain, so if you are asthmatic, consider yourself warned. Before I finish with my tirade against dry, sunny, 75-degree weather, I’d like to let you know that as I write this, I’m suffering from the flu brought on by the 24 inches of snow N.Y.C. has received during the past week. I’d still rather be here than in Los Angeles.

Almost as annoying as the climate of L.A. was the environment. Mainly, I would like to address the fact that L.A. has approximately twelve palm trees per square foot. This would not be notable except for the fact that palm trees aren't even indigenous to California, and quite simply, they're ugly. In essence, the city is overcrowded with imported, ugly trees. They line the streets, the hillsides, the patios, the beaches, and the indoor malls. They're all over the place, and they're hideously unattractive. (Have I mentioned how ugly they are?)

Above all, L.A. lacks any sense of history. Being so concerned with setting trends, it has forgotten its own past accomplishments. I remember the day I stepped out of the Subaru dealership where my car was being operated on. At my feet was a plaque that read, "This site was once the home of Hal Roach Studios." I’m willing to bet they don't even remember who Hal Roach was.

I think I ought to now spend a few seconds extolling the one virtue of L.A. Just outside of La Brea on Fairfax is L.A.'s one beacon of hope — The Silent Movie Theatre. The only silent movie theatre still in existence, it contains all of the magic that L.A. has squandered. A live organist improvises to the films of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, et al., while the rest of L.A. goes to pot.

Boogie Nights at the Moonlight Rollerway

When was the last time you went roller skating? I don't mean sleek rollerblades, I mean four thick wheels, big orange stopper in the front, disco blaring all around you. that’s what happened to me and my friends at the Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale.

We were originally attracted by the novelty of going to the only rink in California that had a real organ player, but we found that it was the organist's day off, and the rink was actually a time capsule from 1982.

Now in 1983, I was a regular patron of Skate Odyssey on Staten Island in New York. Moonlight had all the same elements that defined my early adolescent years — earth-toned rugs, slushees, disco balls, and "Jam On It." They were even having a birthday party for some kid while we were there, and he got his own solo skate on the rink.

I would only sound gushy and totally retro if I spent too much time raving about the fun to be had here for four dollars, so I'll keep it simple. We did a disco hokey-pokey on skates. We ate a big soft pretzel. We skated to "Double Dutch," "YMCA," and even Elvis. I learned I could still skate backwards, and my friend Monica, a Ph.D. candidate in religion and philosophy, was so moved that she stripped down to a catsuit to boogie on the rink. I’m sure all the twelve-year-olds will never be the same again.

Gawking in L.A.

Dan Rhatigan, your resident megalomaniacal self-publisher, wrote, lived, and photographed this shocking tale of disaster and wonderment.

Accommodations provided by Northwest Airlines and the sinister Dr. Lau.

This was my first time
Wow.

I mean it — wow. Wow. Wow! Freakin' WOW!

I just returned from my first trip out West — a brief week in Los Angeles to visit my oldest pal Eddie and see what the whole West Coast thing was like. It would be a criminal understatement to say that I got my money's worth from my discount airfare tickets. I got adventure, trash, sorrow, glamour, nostalgia, chicken and waffles, and natural disaster. Bad omens, however, started pouring in as I left Boston. I left work early so I could get a head start to the airport for a six-thirtyish flight. I optimistically (foolishly, whichever) ignored the warnings of snow, fiercely determined to escape to the land of seventy-six-and-sunny come hell or high water. The plane left a little late, but I wasn't too worried, since I had a direct flight, needing only to switch to a different plane with the same flight number in Minneapolis. (You can see this coming, right?)

I packed my warmer layers into my tote bag and checked it once I reached the airport. I patiently waited at the airport, eavesdropping on a conversation between a jappy girl and a trashy family as they compared notes on their respective trips to Portugal. This girl was sitting around reading, and soon the thirteenish daughter from the family recognized her and started interrogating her about her vacation. Soon, the whole bunch got into the act, bombarding the slightly horrified young lady with ardent small talk. At one point, she was struck dumb when the young son of the family started asking her about her romantic life, and if she knew "Joe Escobar," apparently a friend of the family's in Portugal. I left before I started to suffer brain rot.

The plane ride itself was uneventful as those things go. The selection of music was catastrophically poor — the blandest possible assortment of inoffensive pop hits and country-western ditties. This was not the best assortment for someone who prefers music that’s a little more challenging. The in-flight news and travel show, a shameless promotional vid by the airline, was a paltry attempt to distract the passengers from the fact that we were getting no movie. Again, it was meant to be singularly inoffensive. Their little travel info pieces on different cities like San Francisco and New Orleans would suggest that every city in the country is a pleasant racial mix, straight, and affluent. A lifelong city-dweller, I was skeptical. The news was little more than entertainment dreck profiling Michael Bolton and some retail magnate. Admittedly, though, I have never been one to enjoy lowest-common-denominator entertainment. Craving distraction from that cultural vacuum, I scarfed down free snacks (those honey-roasted peanuts aren't as bad as standup comedians would have us believe, don't you think?) and Cokes (they'll give you a full can of Coke as opposed to a thimbleful of anything else) and struck up conversation with the guy sitting next to me, a music scene guy from Minneapolis who was visiting his sister in Beantown. We talked about the state of rock clubs in Boston and junk like that, and I thought it was really wacky that you can have a long conversation with someone while traveling without exchanging names, since they're largely unimportant. I started getting nervous when the airline began to make announcements about which connecting flights had already left Minneapolis, since they made no mention about the fate of the flight I was on. I’m a pretty unseasoned traveler, so I had no idea how these direct (as opposed to non-stop) flights operated.

The Pit Stop
Sure enough — BAM — I was stranded overnight in deep Minnesota six-degree winter with nothing but a pullover shirt, a barely quilted leather jacket, and the emergency toilet kit in my camera bag. Once settling accommodation and rebooking issues with the airline, I set off toward a fabulous evening in the posh Comfort motor lodge.

On the shuttle bus to the motel, I struck up a few more anonymous conversations, this time with two girls from Rhode Island who were fiercely determined to get drunk, and a Minnesota man who inadvertently proved that people from that state are way too friendly for their own safety. Once at the hotel, the two girls invited me to go to the Mall of America with them to a bar called Hooters, and I agreed on the spur of the moment. I walked upstairs to my freezing earth-toned room to drop my junk, and then back down to the lounge to see if anyone else from my flight was there. "Cheers" was on the TV, and I thought it oddly fitting that I was stranded en route to my vacation only to be faced with a TV show set in the city I’d fled earlier in the day. Placing my order for a really early wake-up call, I realized that a trip to the country's largest mall with two Rhode Island townies who were probably trying to pick me up would probably cause me to draw blood. I knocked on the door of their room and announced that I was gonna bail. I decided to stay in and wallow in the injustice of my inability to escape subfreezing temperatures and watch a goofy Mel Gibson movie. (A date I’d had the night before mentioned a big crush on Mel Gibson, so I thought I should ponder if that was a scary thing or not.) I couldn't even draw weird pictures and write unsettling messages on the backs of the prints in the room because they were bolted onto the walls. I wrapped myself in four or five blankets and went to sleep.

In the morning I commiserated with a guy who was on my flight the night before. Boy, did the two of us switch into bitchy queen mode as we rehashed every indignity forced upon us, from travel delays to bitter cold to Middle America to generic toiletries. At least our new plane did provide me with my first celebrity sighting of the trip--Olympic wash-up Scott Hamilton. Other than that, the flight was largely uneventful--imitation Egg McMuffins and dry cereal, The Good Son, lots of free beverages.

I was blown away when we flew over the desert, however. A lifetime in the Northeast left me totally unprepared to see terrain that was so vast, colorful, and empty. It was hard to shake the feeling that I was just looking at more Timothy O'Sullivan pictures, not actually passing over this huge patch of dramatic terrain with its monolithic landforms. The East is so godawful round and bland — the mountains are so old and worn, too much green and babyshit brown, everything blending into everything else. It was a real shock to fly over a jagged mountain range and then suddenly see a huge, flat sprawling metropolis nestled between the hills and the water.

Sparky in Venice Eddie

Finally. . .
Ed had to work the day I arrived, so his roommate Matt picked me up and brought me back to the Chinese palace where they live. (Trust me, that’s the best description.) If you've never seen L.A., let me assure you that every description you've heard — good or bad — is totally true. The city is trashy, beautiful, eclectic, hideous, smoggy, sunny, and just plain different from any of the big cities I’d been to in the East.

Matt drove me around and I began my photo essay of an outsider's view of Los Angeles. We hit Hollywood Boulevard, with its old glamour degenerated into kitsch-laden decadence; the Sunset Strip, with its info overload; and Beverly Hills, with its hodge-podge of revivalist architecture. It's like the whole city buys into the notion that everything in it was built for a movie set.

We drove up to Malibu and examined the fire devastation in the hills around Topanga Canyon. Already I’d witnessed the effect of hitting beautiful, sparsely populated nature minutes from a crammed downtown. To celebrate the fantastic day (it had been a full 75 degrees colder when I woke up that morning), we decided to park by the side of the road and jump into the ocean. I felt remarkably uninhibited as I stripped down to my Calvins and frolicked in the Pacific for the first time in my life. Damn, that water was cold. I thought my willy would retract all the way back to my intestines. "Oh that’s right," I remembered, "this is still January, isn't it." The "Baywatch" fantasy shot to hell, I suppose.

The next few days were filled with wackiness, as various sidebars will show. On the whole, I had heaps of fun. I liked the city a lot, and seriously entertained thoughts of life there. I was transfixed by the notion of a city where the spirit of trash and pop culture is so alive, so ubiquitous. Aside from every other sight reminding me of a movie or TV show, the L.A. aesthetic is invariably misguided and amusing. I don't know how to drive, though, and have spent a lifetime growing to love walking in big cities and seeing people all the time. Car culture like L.A.'s might well kill me.

Despite all my adventures, some things were just not in the cards. We didn't do much in the way of nightlife, since the fellas weren't big club fans. That meant I didn't get to see if any notable celebs were secret closet cases. We were refused service when we went to Trader Vic's, since we apparently weren't classy enough for their Polynesian Revival theme. I never got to plunder the costume and prop warehouse at the movie company where Ed works. I never got to see how much Disneyland will tolerate before throwing someone out. I would have liked to have done some serious shopping, but none of us had enough money to justify reckless behavior like that. I would have liked to have seen Weird Al's house in Beverly Hills, but I didn't get the chance. I did, however get Burt Ward's phone number, so if anyone wants to wish Robin their best, call him at 310/376-8060.

Just Like an Irwin Allen Flick
The big event, of course, was the earthquake.

As fate would have it, Los Angeles was ravaged by a 6.6 Richter-scale act of god whilst I vacationed. Truth be told, I was pretty oblivious to the devastation that leveled the San Fernando valley (THE valley, of Valley Girl fame), but it was a pip just the same.

When the first bang hit, I woke up and thought it was one of those frequent minor tremors that I’d seen so often in movies like L.A. Story. It was a pretty cool rumbling (not unlike airplane turbulence) followed by a distant smash of glass and lots of car alarms and barking dogs. Ed and Matt both rushed out of their rooms and were amazed. It was apparently the biggest they'd felt since moving there a year-and-a-half ago. The two of them were stunned that I was so blasé about it. We didn't know the scope of the whole thing till later, since the power went out and there was no transistor radio. All we knew was that Ed got a rug-burn scab on his knee from crawling across his floor to the doorjamb of his room.

The damage we found was pretty much along these lines: a poster taped to a wall fell down, a roll of linoleum toppled over, a mirror fell without cracking, a latex severed head dropped off a shelf, and a lone champagne flute cracked. Ed's friend Brad was the first to call and check on us. From him we learned that the tremor we felt was actually a really big deal. His apartment windows shattered and lots of stuff flew off shelves and walls. We all went back to sleep, often waking to aftershocks and phone calls. Prompted by my panic-stricken mother in New York, Ed's dad called to see if we were okay, since they had heard on the news that there was this huge quake which collapsed sections of the freeway and caused fires and floods all over the city. News to us!

We had power and fairly reliable phone service a couple of hours later and saw exactly what had happened. Basically, in Matt's words, "the earthquake hit where Whitey lived." Maybe the riots had claimed the inner city in the past, but natural disaster had taken its toll on more affluent neighborhoods and suburbs. Some major freeway sections collapsed, which will make commuting utter hell for a while, and there was lots and lots of property damage. The entire valley was almost sealed off from the rest of civilization. Heaps of people died. Over seventy trailer homes went up in smoke. We watched footage of fireballs shooting up from the street as water mains sent torrents past them. The rumble was felt as far away as Las Vegas, and electricity went out as far away as Portland, Oregon, because of the drain on the western power grid. Blah, blah, blah — for a long time it was hard to watch the news without hearing all the gritty details rehashed.

Let me digress and say that Los Angeles journalists are the biggest bunch of yahoos that ever lived. Every time a scientist at CalTech issued a caution about possible structural damage, a reporter would chirp in, "You mean to say we're seeing massive destruction on a cataclysmic scale?" One newscaster was reporting on hospital crowding because of quake injuries, and said that a particular hospital in the valley was facing a flood of emergency patients &mdash so she leans into the camera and says, "So just don't go there!" Great way to keep the masses calm, cool, and collected, eh? Another woman — in Northridge, the town with the dubious honor of sitting on the epicenter of the quake — urged viewers to listen to the sound of gas leaking from a collapsed house, while she poked her head into the rubble from which a man just been freed. What kind of nimrod stunt was that? "Gee, you can actually hear the gas, not just smell it! Let's look into this pile of rubble and see what's there. Got a match, anyone?"

We soon started to find out what had happened to the people around us. Matt scanned the Internet to see what news had seeped through. We called anyone we could, and heard stories of collapsed wall units, shattered glass, near misses, and overall disbelief that the whole thing had really happened. Once we had contacted just about everyone we knew and either compared stories or reassured them of our safety, Ed's friend Laurie from work called and said that their Beverly Hills office was trashed, so there would be no work. Instead, she invited people to her house in Pasadena, where she and her hubby hadn't seen any damage. Basically, while parts of the city were engulfed by cataclysm and catastrophe, a group of us basked in the sun, playing croquet and drinking (there was no fiddler playing in the background). It was pretty L.A. — pretty decadent and jaded — if you stop and think about it.

What's with these people ?
The city of Los Angeles on the whole seemed to react in strange ways to the whole catastrophe. Aside from the aforementioned loopy newscasters and general panic, the city seemed to have some very peculiar responses. Lots of people on the news seemed to feel no regret that they lost everything, as if the climate made it all right to put up with natural disaster. The other half of the people spoke of plans to depart immediately, with reckless disregard about whether or not they had someplace to go. One of the city's first acts was to impose a citywide curfew, the fear of looting still fresh in everyone's minds. (It was definitely strange to feel that I might be arrested if I even went to the convenience store for snacks. I never had a curfew growing up, and suddenly stuff worse than being grounded could happen.) Too many people seemed to worry about how soon the federal government would reimburse them for lost property. I’m used to New Englanders whining but stoically putting up with their own climate. Panic really surprises me, but there's a world of difference between a Nor'easter and an earthquake.

Off like a prom dress
There were no problems with the airport by the time I was supposed to leave the next morning, so I got on the plane and resumed life as usual. I talked to a girl sitting next to me who was a musical theatre major returning to school in Boston. I managed to hold my end in a conversation about show tunes and Barbra Streisand (Gee, where might a young fag have learned to do that?), all the while trying to throw in more interesting tidbits about myself in hopes of catching the interest of the really cute guy with the shaved head and the striped shirt sitting in front of me. Hey, man, if you're out there and recognize any of this, don't be shy!

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