Category Archives: memoir

Target: Entering the Void

I could count on one hand the number of items on my shopping list before going to Target last weekend, yet somehow my receipt did not stop printing until it reached the length of Pau Gasol’s femur.

(In case there was any confusion...)
(In case there was any confusion…)

The list was concise and straightforward, as lists tend to be: garbage bags, alarm clock, foam roller, makeup remover, shampoo.

So how did it come to be that at one point, I had to verbally talk myself down from pulling a four-pack of Bicycle playing cards off the shelf?  Why did I spend so much time deliberating between place-mats, and seriously considering whether or not I should buy a Mariners jersey?

Well, first of all, thank God I didn’t buy Mariners gear.  Not only should that degree of posing (as in, actively being or exhibiting characteristics of a poser) be illegal for people who have lived in Seattle for as short a time as I have, but also… I went to a game shortly thereafter.  Though I did nearly get hit in the head with a home run after staring uncomprehendingly, through the fog of three overpriced beers, at a speedily approaching baseball (something to tell my grandchildren, surely), the team really just sucks.

In other words, both rumors about Seattle are true: the weather IS certifiably crap, and the Mariners DO play like a bunch of sissies.

But nonetheless, Target, in its subtle, cunning way, had me on the cusp.  It had me right where it wanted me: vulnerable, tempted, intrigued, and so deep in the white-tiled bowels of the store I couldn’t have dropped everything and sprinted for the exit if I wanted to.

Of course, that’s crazy, because I didn’t want to. Not even a little bit.  I had yet to reach the Office Supplies.

Notebooks, Sharpies and gel pens make me weak in the knees.  Binders sing to me.  Roller tips tease me, taunt me, lure me in with the promise of writing that is sensually smooth and endlessly inky. Neon highlighters beckon me, challenge me to test them out by striking through the entire text of Atlas Shrugged.  I can’t say why exactly… maybe it’s nostalgia for those first days of school, when a trip to Staples felt like a very specific type of Christmas. Or maybe it’s that these aisles invite me (and you too, probably, I know I’m not alone) into the irresistible illusion that starting RIGHT NOW, I could become outrageously, pathologically organized.

… all I’d have to do is feed that insatiable red-mouthed beast they call Target…

Anyway, I abstained. I’m safe… for now.  But turns out I got the wrong kind of garbage bags, and I have to go back and exchange them.

Now that I think about it… maybe it was a subconsciously intentional error planted in my brain by subliminally communicated messages sent out over the loudspeakers to ensure my speedy return.  Maybe I’ll just keep these garbage bags out of spite.  Maybe this entire post is a pedantic justification towards not having to haul my ass back to that money-vacuum of a store.

Before I go back to my crossword puzzle, I feel it is my duty to inform you that foam rollers are absurdly overpriced.  Over forty bucks for a cylindrical chunk of Styrofoam?  Thanks, Gaiam, but I’ll find another way to massage my calves.

Feel the burn.
Feel the burn.

He Needed More CDs: A Trip to Tower Records

He needed more CDs.

This came as no surprise to me as his thirst for more music was only ever temporarily abated, and during those periods of “abatement,” if you could call them that, he was always drunk with sound.  Empty disc cases would litter his room like discarded beer cans, his prone body amongst them, limp but alert to the unceasing influx of audio. At the moment, however, all evidence of his last binge had been carefully picked up, discs clicked back into their appropriate cases, then inserted neatly into alphabetically allotted slots on the wire racks lining his bedroom wall.  And he was itching for more.

tower_records_logoSo I found myself, not for the first time, driving Sam to one of the only remaining music stores in the area – a small Tower Records tucked humbly off to the side of Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa.  My silver SUV idled in the late afternoon traffic as the lowering sun’s modest warmth took the edge off of the cool breeze that had wandered in through the open windows.  I reached and turned the volume up a notch for the Violent Femmes’ Gone Daddy Gone.  Sam turned, snapped out of his reverie, and allowed his hand to sneak slyly across the center console and make its way to my upper thigh, where his fingers began to tap the beat of the song against my blue jeans.

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It took only a few steps onto the scuffed black tile of Tower Records for me to sense the rapid shift in Sam’s demeanor.  During the short walk from the car we had giggled as our bodies swayed playfully into each other, clasped hands swinging; Sam had stopped me abruptly in the center of the parking lot for a tight hug and a sloppy kiss.  I had blushed and reprimanded him for blocking the path of a Volvo that was pulling in nearby, to which he had replied, smiling and turning defiantly toward the oncoming vehicle, “So what?!” Laughing all the while, I had resorted to tugging at his wrist, then more forcibly yanking his arm nearly out of its socket to get him to move his stubborn, scrawny, but surprisingly strong body out of the way.

Now, however, before the glass doors had even shut behind us, he was suddenly distant and focused, eyes narrowing as they scanned the store from wall to wall.  His hand fell away from mine and reached up into his long brown hair, mussing it up absentmindedly.

I gazed for a moment up at Sam’s sharp profile. Behind it I imagined a tiny, intricate system of machinery clicking and whirring, collecting all of the visually available information and using it to calculate the optimal location at which to begin browsing.  Then his eyes stilled.  The cogs and wheels gave a satisfying click, and Sam walked purposefully away without a word.  I stood and watched him go with a tinge of sadness, or maybe it was fear, that I could be cut off from him so swiftly, that our closeness could turn so far inside out it seemed inconceivable that it could ever turn completely back.

I pushed the thought out of my mind and trailed along slowly in his wake.

Twenty minutes later, I was milling around noncommittally somewhere between Nirvana and the Pixies, stopping occasionally to flip through jewel cases, taking one out, putting it back the wrong way.  Peering around the store for Sam.  Discreetly peeking at the album selections of other shoppers and making judgments accordingly.

Music was tricky.  Especially when you were dating who I was dating.  What I really wanted, though I would never have admitted it, was for him to march over and tell me exactly what to buy.  That would have made things so much less complicated.  After all, he always knew what I would like, and, as had happened many times before, when I did pick something out for myself, my selection was sure to elicit from him a condescending wince or, best case, an indifferent shrug.

Just one time, I would have liked to surprise him, to impress him with my secretly sophisticated, obscure and somewhat ironic musical taste… only problem was, it didn’t exist.  Or, at least, it hadn’t fully matured.  (So I told myself).

I finally spotted that familiarly greasy head a few aisles away, bent down intently, obviously still on some other planet.  Eh, fuck it, I thought, and, turning, picked up a colorfully quirky-looking album.  This is going to be so good.

I knew it wouldn’t be.

Continue reading He Needed More CDs: A Trip to Tower Records

Maybe I’ll Get Seasonal Affective Disorder

As it happens, I’ve become relatively employed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still scrambling for cash.  I’m working for free where it costs money to park… you do the math.

Oh no, I ask myself with grave concern, is my blog title now rendered inapplicable?

Well, I answer myself reasonably, perhaps, but I’m not changing it because then I would get fired, obviously, because that’s how things work, and then I would have to change it back.

Plus, I still don’t really feel employed.  I think that in order to really feel employed, you have to post something about the state and nature of your employment on Facebook, capped with a multitude of exclamation points and/or creatively hyphenated smiley faces, and fetch at least 16 likes.  I’m pretty sure.  (I’m also sure, despite what you may think, about my use of the word “fetch” in that sentence.)

Things happened very fast.  One day, I was sitting in my parents’ house in beautifully boring Newport Beach, counting down the hours (okay, days) until my next one-hour-long tutoring session [CHA-CHING], staring down Pebbles, our shamelessly black kitten, seriously considering the idea of blaming her for all my bad luck… and the next I am wiping raindrops off my glasses, wandering aimlessly around the streets of downtown Seattle, fearlessly fighting off bums and trying to come to terms with the fact that I just secured two, maybe three, jobs.

Clear skies are overrated
Clear skies are overrated

Maybe things are starting to work out.  Maybe whether or not things start to work out is actually, and entirely, under my own control.

Maybe I’ll get seasonal affective disorder.

Continue reading Maybe I’ll Get Seasonal Affective Disorder

Happy New Year, Let’s Dance Barefoot in a Gay Bar

“Happy New Year!”

… I said to my friend Phil as I clinked my water against his beer and looked hopelessly around the desolate T.G.I. Friday’s  for someone to kiss.

Where were YOU at the dawn of 2013??
Where were YOU at the dawn of 2013??

Nine of us were in the middle of a ghost town business district in Costa Mesa, having sprinted to the nearest alcohol-equipped establishment  in order to have a drink in our hands come midnight.  I was barefoot and my feet were dirty.  (It had only taken about twenty steps out the door for me to reluctantly accept the fact that my sexy, sassy New Years heels were both too big and too high.  I doubt I could have held my own in a race with an infant.)

Resolution:  Either learn how to walk in heels, or stop trying to wear them.  Not everyone can be a Carrie Bradshaw.

Anyway, with the exception of our drunken party, Friday’s was practically empty, and the apathetic bartender averted his gaze when he caught my absinthe-glazed eyes wandering in his direction.  So I drank my water.

Because none of us was stoned or starring in a commercial written for obese, midwestern Americans, T.G.I.Friday’s was decidedly not our final destination.  So we left.   And, one way or another, I ended up standing on the curb with Phil and Alex, watching two-thirds of our banging New Years party take off in a minivan.

Next thing I know, the three of us (me still barefoot, heels in hand, feet getting dirtier by the minute) have linked arms and are swaying wildly as we meander across a major freeway overpass, twenty minutes into 2013.  There’s not a soul around, not even on the 405.  And that freeway has like 500 lanes.

Which leads me to believe… we must be the only humans left in Costa Mesa, or in Southern California, or maybe even the only humans left in the New Year!!   Someone must have miscalculated the World’s Ending.

However, when we finally turn up at Garf’s (Which-i-have-Yelped),  there are plenty of human weirdos, and our friends (“Oh hey! What took you guys so long!”) and even my favorite bartender Eddie.  So we’re good.  I let out a sigh of relief, which you could take to mean: phew! the burden of single-handedly repopulating the planet hasn’t fallen on me!

I walk to the bar and order another water from Eddie.  A 50-year-old black man to my left, who looks like Gus from Breaking Bad (see photo),gus-fring turns to me suddenly and – instead of offering me a million dollars to cook meth in a state-of-the-art laboratory – tells me I just made his night.  By just being there!  Wow, I am so flattered I take his sparkly hat, then bail and walk over to the booth where I stashed my heels.

Of course, it’d taken the three of us so long to walk there that, barely ten minutes after we’d arrived, everyone else is ready to move on.

So off we go to Tin Lizzy’s, a bar within reasonable walking distance, leaving Alex behind at Garf’s to hit on some skinny blonde.  (I did not actually see this girl, but I’m assuming she fits that description, as Alex has one type and that is it. I hope he’s reading this.)

On the way, we met a hefty lawyer named Doug who apparently moonlights as a bouncer outside Garf’s, and is known for generously giving cigarettes away to young people.

This may not actually be true.  It is likely that Doug is just a lawyer who was standing near the street entrance smoking, and who happened to give us a cigarette.  …Believe what you want to believe.

As it turns out, (who woulda thunk) the slightly damp tile floor of a dark gay bar past midnight on New Years Eve is kind of a gross thing to be dancing on barefoot.  I tried the heels again, took two perilous steps, then almost fell on my ass when the right stiletto heel simply gave up and broke off.  I threw the stupid shoes on a bench somewhere and haven’t seen them since.

After ordering drinks, the single, straight men in our group of friends (well I guess there were only two at this point – Dane, a buff rower who looks like a Norwegian king, and Phil, a scrappy rapper who could almost pass as black) promptly dispersed to perv on some women.  Rumor has it gay bars are full of vulnerable, half-naked girls who let loose like never before.  So they were on their game.

Meanwhile, I danced with Natalie and Alicia until the soles of my feet screamed at me loudly over the music, “MICHELLE! WE ‘RE GETTING SYPHILIS!”

Continue reading Happy New Year, Let’s Dance Barefoot in a Gay Bar

I can play piano, I swear, I’m just a little tipsy…

I started learning piano when I was quite young.  I’m afraid I can’t pinpoint a precise age, but I do know that I was small enough to sit between Mr. James’ generously proportioned legs on the piano bench while I played, and old enough to feel a vague discomfort in doing so.  Now that I think about it, that scenario was not unlike those in which old, affluent men with wandering eyes take it upon themselves to assist aspiring trophy-wives with their golf swings by wrapping liver-spotted arms around them from behind and swaying gently side to side.

[If you are not sure what I am talking about, or would like a more visual demonstration of the aforementioned seedy scenario, watch this clip from Californication:

You can stop at 0:40, if you want, or keep watching because David Duchovny is a sexy beast, and his golf shorts fall down.]

Anyway, I don’t know what happened to Mr. James, nor am I particularly curious.

My next piano teacher was a happy-go-lucky Asian woman named Toshi.  She always held a mechanical pencil in her hand, and was quick to use it to cross out any nonessential notes on my sheet music, especially the ones that were making my rendition of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On more trouble than it was worth.

Of course, as I got older, I was allowed to play all the notes.  Lucky me.

I thought I was pretty damn good at piano.  My friend Christie (who also learned from the ever-smiling Toshi) and I would race each other through Mozart’s Sonata No. 1 in C Major, banging on the keys with abandon, maintaining a consistently loud volume, not having quite yet mastered the intricacies of crescendos or diminuendos…  I’m sure our mothers cringed together in the other room.

I took the same approach during piano recitals.  First, I would sit through the other players’ performances with my binder of sheet music perched on my lap, hair tied up with ribbons, feet tapping impatiently, as I secretly and harshly judged the quality of every piece I heard.  Every mistake – even those made by six-year-olds – gave me a guilty, satisfying pleasure.  “Just wait till they hear me,” I would think, “I’m going to be the best one.  They are going to be so impressed that, by the end of it, their socks will be scattered all over the chapel due to the unimaginable might of the force that will inevitably blow them off.”

By “they” I was of course referring to the modest crowd of piano students, proud parents and exceedingly bored siblings that filled the five to six rows of fold up chairs aimed strategically at the baby grand.

Finally, my name would be called.  I’d walk up there, sink into my practiced curtsy, sit down at the bench, and rapidly bang my way through Tchaikovsky’s June or some other piece that really should not be banged through.  As you might have guessed, however, I wasn’t playing for the toughest of crowds.  Toshi was proud (and smiling, obviously), my doting parents caught all the magic on tape, and the little kids who struggled with Hot Cross Buns were sufficiently flabbergasted.  I bowed and went home with a belly full of Costco-brand sugar cookies, a styrofoam cup of tepid cider and a considerably inflated ego.

Oh, and with one of those little plastic busts of classical composers, seen here.

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Continue reading I can play piano, I swear, I’m just a little tipsy…