There’s a Rock In My Belly.

December 29, 2009

In typical worst-case-scenario fashion, I have been wondering for a while when my minor or major medical catastrophe would hit.  So many friends and family members have already had theirs – Cousin Jeremy had gallstones, Uncle Marvin had a heart attack, this kid I once took care of in day care had a swollen spleen, there was that girl in college with appendicitis, and we mustn’t forget various strokes among the elderly. Relatively speaking (because we were just speaking of my relatives… bwa, ha, ha, ha), I have always been healthy as the proverbial horse. It seemed that I was health insurance’s exception. They should have been clamoring to insure this girl… nary a broken bone, nary a trip to the emergency room, nary an illness that required more than a bath, sleep, liquids, and over-the-counter medication.

It seems, however, that my day has come. As we speak, an 8mm kidney stone rests in the confines of my belly, waiting to be birthed. I am completely comfortable, but drinking lots of pure, unfiltered apple juice and water.

“If you are completely comfortable, how did you discover this kidney stone?” you may ask. That is a good question. Thank you for your inquiry. I will tell you.

I took a long vacation from work for the holidays because I’ve been working like an ant on drugs for the last three months. I came home to Minnesota to visit my family, and, while getting ready to head downstairs to help my parents clean for the impending family gathering, I noticed a pain in my right side. Being a female used to various stomach pains, due to elements that make child-bearing possible, I thought little of it. A few hours later, however, the pain had spread to my lower back on the right side, and I took some ibuprofen and laid down, hoping the feeling would pass. Mom came in to check on me, and while speaking to my mother has never made me nauseous before, this time I had to jump up and high-tail it to the bathroom, where I promptly vomited. “What did you vomit, you may ask?” I will tell you. I vomited up tomato soup and crackers, of course. Thank you for asking.

The pain in my side became increasingly worse, and even though we were experiencing the first phase of the epic blizzard that swept the nation, Mom and Dad took me to the emergency room, where a doctor rudely pounded on my lower back, which forced me to vomit once more. I got my first-ever IV, my first ever dose of amazing pain medication, and my first-ever experience having a nurse insert dye into my rectum to determine through X-Ray whether or not my pain was caused by a faulty appendix. Did I mention that the only X-Ray nurse on duty was a guy, my age, who used to think I was cute in high school? Also, the other 2 nurses on duty were present the day I was born, so my mother says. Afterward, I called this dashing young man that I’m dating (yes, I’m dating someone), told him the story, and said, “THIS IS WHAT YOU GET WHEN YOU GREW UP IN A SMALL TOWN!” It was my most embarrassing experience since the Great Speculum Incident of 2006, which shall remain off the blog.

A few urine and blood samples later, the doctor came in and announced that we would not have to depart in this crazy weather to the big hospital in the next town to remove my appendix – the X-Rays had confirmed that I had a kidney stone stuck right between my kidney and bladder.

The doc loaded me up with a few prescriptions of really strong pain medication, and I went home, but since the escapade in the ER, I have felt very little pain, even without the medication. I wondered if the stone was still there, but a trip to the clinic to get another opinion from a different doctor confirmed that the stone is still in there, just hanging out, rent-free.

The docs seemed to want me to try something invasive pretty soon if the stone hasn’t passed, but I’m not one to jump to expensive, invasive procedures right away. I’ve never been a girl who likes to take medications. I’m often skeptical about their true effects on the body, and I have this theory that doctors often prescribe things because patients want an immediate answer, an immediate practice they can do to feel like they’re working against an ailment, even if that practice isn’t really helping.  I am young and healthy, so, in most cases of sickness, I find that my body knows what it’s doing. If I have a bout with vomiting or diarrhea (I have become pretty open about these since traveling in India), it means that my body is trying to expel something that doesn’t belong there. As long as it doesn’t become chronic, I’m not going to take something to stop the process. It’s natural and important. I don’t believe in taking medication to stop a runny nose or divert a menstrual cycle. If the nose-running becomes chronic, then let’s talk about what we can do medically. If it’s just a normal runny nose, then let’s let my body use its own crowd control.

At this point, I have no signs of infections, and all bodily functions are normal. I’m not in any pain. So, I’m trying a more organic, natural approach to birthing this stone.

Many people have offered their advice on kidney stone expulsion, but my Aunt Marge sent me a very specific recipe. She says that this potion has worked every time for her, and I’m inclined to believe her. She writes, “Here is the remedy that has worked good here at our house and one I have given to many others. I passed a stone as big as a small hen’s egg one time. It looked like light green plaster of paris.” (I love the way elderly people write.)

So, I am on Day 3 of the process, and it’s pretty simple thus far. The gross stuff comes later. Here is the secret, magical concoction, for those of you who are interested:

–       For seven days, drink at least one quart daily of unfiltered, unsweetened apple juice. Continue to eat regular meals, but eat lighter, preferably mostly fruit and vegetables and no red meat.

–       On the evening of the 7th day, at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., dissolve 2 Teaspoons Epsom salts in 8 oz. of warm water and drink quickly.

–       At 10 p.m., squeeze ½ cup lemon juice and shake into ½ cup pure olive oil. Drink down quickly. (Here’s Aunt Marge’s note… it cracked me up: “Loren chugs his down like candy but I have a hard time making myself drink it. I say that you deserve to get well if you can drink that stuff.”)

–       Go immediately to bed and lie on your right side for at least 30 minutes.

–       Kidney stones should pass painlessly

Besides the small hen’s egg, she says she has painlessly passed several more that “looked like jelly beans.”

I’m hoping this works. It would be a shame to drink lemon juice mixed with olive oil for nothing.

On Finding a Setting

August 13, 2008

This evening D and I had a conversation on the phone that lasted more than our typical phone conversations now-a-days. Actually, we had an argument, but that’s not what this post is about. In the midst of all of it, during the resolution of the whole thing — the time when we are done with the heightened feelings and adamantly trying to prove a point, when we both re-cap what we need and try to find some sort of compromise — I closed my eyes for a moment and could picture my apartment back in Arkansas so clearly, right down to the feel of my bed and the cat’s tail ticking against my leg and the way my bed creaked when I moved. We spent a lot of time talking on the phone in those days, back when he was the California branch of our relationship.

It’s funny that the very thing the argument began with (our arguments rarely end with what they began with) was the very thing I was picturing: Setting. This post is not about the argument, so I’m not going to go into the details of what transpired. For the past few days, however, I’ve been attempting to put into words a discovery I made on the beach Saturday. But I’ve also been trying to challenge myself to improve my writing style so it’s slightly less amateur and emotive. Today I tried writing a post entirely devoid of “I” as a subject. It just doesn’t work in blogging. This is what I came up with:

“One of the major components that separates a seasoned writer from an amateur is the emphasis on setting. The category of seasoned writers is by no means this girl’s dwelling place, but freshman year fiction writing left me with a better understanding of setting in writing. Heck, this blog nearly tripled in its readership once it took on the personal of a Midwestern transplant living in Los Angeles. Or maybe it was the advertising to friends on Facebook that did that.” Can you say boring textbook? I just need to stop trying to justify blogging with failed attempts to turn this entirely narcissistic thing into something literary. It’s a blog. Of course it’s going to have a high degree of gush.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that often amateur writers neglect setting in their work, and they leave their poor characters floating around in a readers’ mind in banal, shadowy places like generic bedrooms, rather than putting them someplace specific. In real life, we live in specific places: not just any room, but my room with the pile of laundry on the bathroom floor and the broken blinds and the stale scent of herbal shampoo. Not just any old park, but the park with the statue of the man who invented the chocolate bar. J.R.R. Tolkien is so fantastic with his settings that I am having such a terrible time getting through The Lord of the Rings. Any time Frodo or the other hobbits think of the shire and how they long for their home, I start crying. Homesickness…meh.

Saturday, le roommates and I went to the beach, and the fact confronted me that I’ve only been to the beach three times in the last seven months even though is less than five miles from my apartment. And by going to the beach, I mean donning a bathing suit with at least a slight intention of getting wet. Saturday was the first day since I moved here that I actually immersed myself in the Pacific. And then I realized that part of the reason that I have been homesick to some degree since I left for college back in 2001, moving away from Minnesota for the very first time, is because I have never given myself a chance to get to know the land in any other place.

If you were to ask me about Minnesota, I wouldn’t just say that I lived in a house there or went to high school there. I would tell you about the countless snow structures we built and how we would hang our mittens and hats and scarves over the radiator in our first house to let them get warm before we put them on. I would tell you about the mulberry bushes in the backyard and how they would become so ripe and juicy that you could bump the branches and they’d fall to the ground, washing it in purple, and how the birds would poop mulberry seeds all over the patio. I would tell you how our family built that patio with bricks and sand and cement blocks, and it all went quite well until the ice that winter built up under the bricks made them explode. Every winter the fire department would flood the park for ice skating, and Jack Frost would paint our windows. I remember how it feels to lie in my bedroom, the exact way the bed fits my body, and how it is to wake up there to the sounds and smells of absolute comfort — to knowing the people you love most in the world are only a wall away. When I was a little girl, in our first house, I could always tell who was coming up stairs by the rhythm of their steps. Mom would always stop at the bottom to pick up toys and bring them up. There were twelve steps at my first house. Sixteen at my second.

I never gave myself the chance to know Arkansas that well. There was the damp and musty feeling of our house on Maple Street, where I lived with 3 other girls, and the sounds of the frogs outside my window in that studio above a professor’s garage. There was the feeling of desperation and sadness when I finished college, broke up with my boyfriend, and moved out of that apartment all in a few days. But the same elements and concretes are not there. I was so busy being productive that I didn’t take the time to memorize the number of steps from the ground to my door. These were merely places, apartments for a temporary life. It’s no wonder they never felt like home.

Sometimes I think that I will never feel at home again unless I get married, have kids, and settle down somewhere. Nothing reminds me of home more than watching my niece and nephew play and seeing again the things that are important to children. For my niece, it is wearing pink, putting on chapstick, and reading books. My nephew just wants to run everywhere with his binky in his mouth. They want other kids to play with, adults to entertain them, and lots and lots of cookies. They remind me of what it was like to grow up with an older brother and what it was like to have such a big living room… what it was like to have a house not just cover you, but protect you. There were all the alcoves and crannies to that place… the towel cupboard you could climb inside and close the door, the secret storage closet in my brother’s room, the turning cupboard in the kitchen corner where breakfast cereal was kept.

At the same time, I know that my life is here in L.A. now, at least for the next few years, and I need to be investing myself here. I need to pursue the land with the same intention that I pursue the friends I am making here. I need to count the steps from my carport to my apartment. I need to go to the beach every weekend and find a spot to memorize. I need to stop floating around in this generic place and make it specific. I need to find my setting.

Men must’ve been walking on the roof, and I said as much. “What are they doing up there?” I asked when the building moved.

The night before the earthquake D and I were driving back up to L.A. from Newport Beach after spending Sunday and Monday in the O.C. with best friend L and her boyfriend JT. Saturday night offered a birthday party at D’s house up in the Hollywood hills for a roommate; spending the night at JT’s aunt’s home — a big-whig CBS person; a Sunday brunch with JT’s sister and brother-in-law — a studying architect and a cinematographer; a Sunday afternoon lounging on JT’s grandma’s deck in the Newport Bay while watching JT windsurf; a Sunday night snuggling on the couch to the romantic-est of romantic movies, American Psycho; a Monday driving around Newport in a 1970s convertible Volkswagen, license plate similar to but not exactly THE THING, with a surf board sticking out the back; and a Sunday early evening watching JT, L, and D surf (and attempt to surf) in our very own little section of the ocean.

In the car, on the drive home, we were tired. And satisfied. We love our friends. In the quiet satisfaction of the drive, I sang aloud the song that has been stuck in my head for days and days now, Natalie Merchant’s “San Andreas Fault,” a song I put on a mix CD for D before we started dating. It is off the album Tiger Lily, an album that has been somewhere in my head since I was 14. I know every lyric on it. When I was 14, I almost wished I had a broken heart so the song “Seven Years” could be true of me. It was that lovely and tragic, and I was that masochistic. Still, “San Andreas Fault” is my favorite on the album:

Go west
Paradise is there
You’ll have all that you can eat
Of milk and honey over there

You’ll be the brightest star
The world has ever seen
Sun-baked slender heroine
Of film and magazine

Go west
Paradise is there
You’ll have all that you can eat
Of milk and honey over there

You’ll be the brightest light
The world has ever seen
The dizzy height of a jet-set life
You could never dream

Your pale blue eyes
Strawberry hair
Lips so sweet
Skin so fair

Your future bright
Beyond compare
It’s rags to riches
Over there

San Andreas Fault
Moved its fingers
Through the ground
Earth divided
Plates collided
Such an awful sound

San Andreas Fault
Moved its fingers
Through the ground
Terra cotta shattered
And the walls came
Tumbling down

O, promised land
O, wicked ground
Build a dream
Tear it down

O, promised land
What a wicked ground
Build a dream
Watch it all fall down

For as long as we’ve known it, the West has beckoned people with dreams; first those literal gold-diggers with their shovels and pans, those unsinkable Molly Browns. Then Hollywood boasted gold, a Golden Era where riches dwelt not in rocks but in pictures. It is that gold that people come with their pick-axes to claim now-days. There are so many people here, so many, many people who are fighting for that gold, like Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in A Star is Born. One must wonder if this role resonated a little too deeply with Frances Ethel Gumm/Judy Garland when she played it. Like me, she was born in Minnesota. She crossed the fault line into Hollywood. Perhaps she wouldn’t have died of a drug overdose or attempted all those suicides without all those insecurities about her appearance, exacerbated by studio execs pushing her to be a skinny woman. She might’ve had a long and happy life in Minnesota. Perhaps there really is no place like home.

Sad songs are always the best songs, and I never really understood “San Andreas Fault” until I moved to the wrong side of the actual one. At 14 I didn’t know much about youth even though I possessed it in abundance. Now that youth is ticking away, it has become a precious commodity, more precious than the number in any bank account — even William Randolph Hearst, circa 1928. I moved here not for a dream of wealth, but for a dream of youth. I came here to spend my years of sweet lips and fair skin in a land of water and seemingly endless sun.

You would think that a City of Dreams would offer its residents lovely neighbors, that the opportunities would abound like the pigeons, and all the people would drown in gold and get grills for their teeth. But maybe L.A. is called the City of Dreams and not the City of Successes because so may come here with a dream and leave without it. It doesn’t slip through just any old crack. It slips in the San Andreas Fault. That’s why we have earthquakes: All those orphan dreams are rolling around down there.

When the earthquake happened I stood up. Others I know dove to the floor. Apparently the plastic electrical plates burst off the walls in office buildings close to the origin of the quake. D’s sister E had an awkward moment with her boss under a desk. In my office, we stood in the hallway, each in a respective doorway, watching the juice our company manufactures slosh in the bottles to see if the building was still swaying and that it wasn’t just our scared little knees. A California-native hugged me. This was my first quake, wasn’t it? Was I scared?

Scared? No. So thrilled I felt it through my whole body? Yes.

It isn’t really the San Andreas Fault that scares me, even though my new homeland will supposedly someday fall into the ocean. My own faults scare me much more… faults like financial irresponsibility, worrying so much about my life that I fail to live it, the ways that I take my anger out on the people I love, the inability to figure out what I’m really doing with my life, my tendency toward depression. Meanwhile, youth ticks away. My birthday is next month. My twenties are more than halfway over.

The earthquake didn’t really scare me because the ground did not jump or shake here like I expected it to. I expected it to shake us like pennies in a jar. Instead it moved like the L.A. traffic does when you watch it from the Hollywood Hills at night. All those lights snake up the hills, in a choreography of curves and different sounds. Sometimes when I’m driving home I listen to the classical music station because its like we’re in an orchestra. Enter Ford F150 with your booming tympani; come gently little old Volkswagen Beetle with your flighty piccolo; El Diablo, bring your classical guitar; don’t forget your French Horn, Mercedes Benz. When you’re in it, it can feel jerky and unpracticed — some people play the wrong notes. But when you look above and see it happen with a different perspective, all of it works together. You see the beginning, and you see the end and all the lights and buildings and hills in between.

And when those faults do act up as they inevitably do — the Angelinos have been expecting The Big One for years now and are relieved this small one came to relieve some pressure — perhaps it truly is the best idea to run to the first doorway and stand in it until the swaying stops, and on scared little knees, take a new step.

Dear Los Angeles,

At first I thought I ought to write something heightened and romantic to celebrate our six-month anniversary. It would be a vulnerable comeuppance, full of all the six-month sentiments I have developed for you in our time together. I thought I should go to a place fitting for this sort of letter, taking my quill and pen to the ocean, for instance, to write to you from the very edge of the continent. Or I could bring my pencil and notebook to the gardens at the Getty and tell you about art and flowers. Yet the more that I thought about the atmosphere for this letter, the more I realized that the most appropriate setting is right here, in the bedroom of my little, messy apartment, full of the every-day noises that are slowly becoming home.

Right now there are six of us living in our three-bedroom apartment, which is quite a change for the girl who used to live alone with her cat, slowly degrading into a life of crochet and watching library movies on her laptop computer. Four of us are legally bound to our place, and the other two are here for the summer, completing internships before they return to their respective institutions of higher learning, both in the South, where it rains. I would not have mentioned the South, except that it rains. I miss rain. You would not understand, Los Angeles. It has been so long since I have smelled the earth.

Right now the closest thing to rain is the sound of E’s shower in the next room. There is also the faint movie mumblings from the living room where M and J are flattened against the couch, watching the TV, and there is the periodic clank of dish and spoon as G washes the dishes. I will never get used to the noise of our little house, nor your noise, Los Angeles. Over my bedroom balcony waft in the noises of the second largest city in the U.S. (I mean you, you fat, fat city) — the distant freeway, the chatting pedestrians on their evening walk, the passing sirens, and the nightly helicopter hover, which I like to pretend is the news instead of the LAPD spotlighting its latest criminal’s rise and fall.

For a while I would miss home at these moments, and I still do sometimes. I miss the kids playing in the lot next to my dad’s auto repair shop, above which my family lives. I miss the dank, musty basement smell of the shop, and having my dad make his living right underneath our home, just a staircase of 12 steps and three rooms away. I miss the quiet evenings and the settling of summer — the stars in the corn fields and the country drivers, my church and my cousins, and the people who have known me longer than I’ve known me, the people who know me because they knew my grandparents. I miss the hospitality, the neighborliness of it all, in the place where all the Thrift Store Owners know me by name.

Do you remember, Los Angeles, a few months back when I left you for the first time in three months? And do you remember how hard it was for me to come back to you, how I cried all five hours back on the plane, and I wondered why I was coming back — why I had to leave my parents and my niece and my nephew and all the comfort of being known? D was busy that week, and I felt so very alone, surrounded by thirteen-million people, coming home each night to this little apartment with a few roommates that I only just met. I think this is what they call culture shock, a thing I only mildly experienced when I moved from Minnesota to Arkansas for college. But after that initial breakdown, things got better. They really did. I think I came to the decision that I was here, with you, and here I would stay. Perhaps I needed that last goodbye, that last purge of what it was like to be a child.

At D’s encouragement, I have recently begun reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It has been so very long since I have read a book. I think I’ve been afraid of falling back into my girlhood, where I would hide in my room, reading stacks of books, instead of making friends. It is a lot harder to be an obsessive reader when you have a job. I’m only about 100 pages into the first book, and oh, how I’ve cried. I know, I know, it’s a little early to start crying, but Tolkien has just introduced one of the major themes of the book: Home. Frodo is speaking with Gandalf, and he is first realizing that there is a large and courageous journey he must take, and that no one else is going to do it for him.

He has never left his home, the Shire. He tells Gandalf, “I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.”

I read this after I got off the phone with my mother, after I told her I will not be able to make it home for the Clipperton Family Reunion in August. High gas prices have made it nearly impossible. This is the first Clipperton Family Reunion I have missed in my life, ever since I was 6. And I will be 26 next month. Mark my words, Los Angeles: If you do something to prevent me from going home for Christmas Eve with my family, going to Grandma’s church for the same Christmas Eve service I’ve attended since I was born, I will up and quit my job and move home.

You cannot ruin 26 years of Christmas, Los Angeles. I do not care how big you are.

All my love,

Ann

Inspiration

April 8, 2008

Yesterday evening one of my favorite art bloggers, Emily Martin of The Black Apple, posted a link to a podcast of an interview on Craftsanity. The interview is a long one — over an hour and a half — but inspired me at this I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-with-my-life period because Martin took something that she loved and made a successful business of it in just a few years. I listened to part of the podcast last night before going to bed, and while I enjoyed hearing about the process of her business, I was struck by how similar her experience living in Brooklyn for a few months was like my recent experience moving to L.A. Martin says that when she moved to Brooklyn, people never asked her what she was doing in Brooklyn — the moving to Brooklyn in and of itself was the large accomplishment. I’m not patting myself on the back here in saying that moving to L.A. was some gigantic feat. It’s just that what Martin said about it resonated with me. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that anyone besides my mother asked what I DO at my job. A year ago when people would ask my parents what I was doing, my parents would have to tell them that I was working at a church in Arkansas. Now they can just say, “She moved to L.A.,” and that is interesting enough. Perhaps it is such a huge accomplishment because of the sacrifices one must make to live in cities like New York or L.A. or Chicago or San Francisco. The cost of living is so high, the traffic is so crazy, parking gives you ulcers… I paid $400 a month back in Arkansas for my huge one-bedroom apartment with two walk in closets and abundant parking. Now I live with two other people and pay… well, that’s my secret. It’s shameful for a mid-western girl to admit how much she pays for rent in L.A. I’m doing all right though. Working at a church for a year back in Arkansas and getting paid on the non-profit organization level taught me a lot about what my mom likes to call, “living on a shoe string.” Plus I’m not too far removed from the student stage of my life when having $60 in my checking account was a solace.

So, what do I DO here? And more importantly, is this job contributing to the big scheme of my life? Well, I work at an organic juice company in Santa Monica, as I’ve stated before. It’s a small start-up company, but it’s quite successful, and the products are high-quality and sold nationwide. The company has grown 50% in sales since last year. It feels weird for me to be talking about all this because business never really interested me until I took this job. My official title at said job is Administrative Assistant, but I mostly assist on the financial side of things. This is a new realm for me, and even though the thought of entering numbers and searching for missing pennies and balancing accounts once sounded like prison to me, I have to admit that I sort of like it. My last job was almost entirely creative, and while I loved it, my creative energy was completely sapped at the end of the day. It’s kind of nice to have a job that is one giant formula, so all I have to do is plug the numbers in.

And the real reason I am kind of liking my job is because I’m learning a bunch of things about running a small business. Now, I’ve only worked there a few months, but I did grow up in a small business as well, so I’m catching onto things pretty quickly. And even though this job isn’t the answer to my quarter life crisis, at least it seems to be leading somewhere. Which brings me to another somewhere:

Today I signed up for a beginner and intermediate sewing class. It’s an adult evening class at a nearby elementary school. It starts April 21 and will continue for 5 Mondays, 6:30-9:30 p.m. I know how to sew already at a rudimentary level, but my skills need some refinement.

And this class, small as it may be, fills me with excitement. Maybe I’m not doing exactly what I want to be doing right now, but in some ways I believe this class may be the beginning of something very fulfilling.

Emily Martin’s podcast

Promises, Promises.

March 23, 2008

Ann has just parked her car on a street parallel to Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood. She is going to a thrift store to purchase a few more dishes to use for the Easter Feaster she is hosting the next day. She has just gotten her hair cut, the temperature is in the mid-seventies, and she is feeling relatively good about her appearance and about life.

Enter Young Gangsta Gentleman in a pimped out, black car in the Starbucks parking lot, which Ann is cutting across to arrive on Fairfax. Young Gangsta Gentleman is sitting in his car, listening to music with the windows rolled down. As Ann approaches, he glances out the window, stares at her, smiles, flexes his massive tattooed muscles, adjusts his backwards cap, shines his gigantic gold cross necklace and calls out, “How you doin’… Baby?”

Now, Ann, being of the somewhat quiet and intellectual sort, usually blows off politely ignores guys who not only drop “g”‘s from their verbs, but also give her pet names. Some examples from her Arkansan past include “Honey,” “Sugar,” and “Sweetie.” Up until this point, she has never heard “Baby,” except when she and her boyfriend are being facetious.

But on this particular afternoon, Ann is having such a good day that she stops, turns toward Young Gangsta Gentleman, smiles, and exclaims, “WON-der-ful!” with palms up and head tipped back toward the sunshine.

And then she keeps walking.

Now what, you may ask, caused Ann to respond in such a delightful manner?

Saturday felt like a day I’ve lived before. The sun was out, the weather was AMAZING, and the freedom of a Saturday fell on my shoulders like the sunshine. I got my hair cut, I went to some new thrift stores, and I went grocery shopping for items to create a special Easter Feaster meal for a group of terrific friends who came over today.

As I was driving on Venice Boulevard, the day suddenly felt like a moment I’ve lived before. It felt exactly like an evening I spent in Mexico seven years ago where this boy I’d just met and later dated showed me his first little step of affection. We’d talked on the drive down to Mexico, and I had a giant crush on him, but I wasn’t sure what he thought of me. One night our whole group was walking back to base camp from a Mexican restaurant, and this boy caught up to me and walked beside me the whole way. He gave me a piece of gum, which is still my favorite gum to this day, and the wrapper is glued in my journal from March 2001. That was the beginning of something very sweet, and very special. That is why this exact memory hit me with its overwhelming deja vu while I sat at a stoplight on Venice Boulevard seven years later with my windows rolled down.

The only real contact this boy and I have anymore is through Facebook, and even though nothing came of that, I still remember how full of promise it felt to be his pursuit.

Saturday felt like that: Full of Promise. I am finally feeling healthy even though I’m constantly exhausted, and I’m starting to explore more and develop favorite things about this new place.

L.A. is a harsh city. Once you start loving it and feeling at home and feeling like you belong, it will turn around and bite you in the assembly line. But perhaps people stay here because it’s called the City of Dreams, and we all know that dreams can also be crazy and scary and baffling. So, in the midst of all this complaining I’ve been doing about being here and how difficult it is and how my perseverance has endured some heavy testing in the past few months, let me tell you, some of the things I have heard and seen and felt since moving here have left me speechless. Here are a few things that I’m LOVING:

1. Getting to know my old friends better and making new ones. I LOVE being around creative, ambitious people and am honored to call many of them my friends. So many people have shown me true kindness since I arrived, and I am very thankful.

2. The writing inspiration that a city provides, especially in a place that is supposedly the creative capital of the world.

3. Walking to Whole Foods grocery store on my lunch break to eat fruit and nuts for lunch and sit outside, in my patch of sun, on their huge wooden bench to watch people walk by. (Yes, my eating habits are beginning to turn slightly granola… there are just so many good foods here that are all natural, and the fruit here is like candy.)

4. Getting involved in a church again, which I plan to do much more now that my health is returning to me.

5. Being young in a big city with my whole life ahead of me…. and the beach five miles away while I still look fabulous in a bathing suit… white pasty skin and all.

A couple of weekends ago these hands touched a public payphone for the first time since, oh, probably the summer of ’03 when I went to London and Ireland for five weeks. Now, London and Northern Ireland, because they both belong to the UK, have cool payphones, payphones which are so asthetically pleasing that one can almost forget the germs festering on the handle and buttons and the advertising for naughty massages papering the inside.

 

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Since the summer of ’04, I’ve been a mobile-r and have joined the throngs of distracted multi-taskers who will likely develop brain tumors in our seventies because of constantly cuddling an electronic device to the sides of our heads. Next year California is supposedly banning drivers from using cell phones without hands-free devices, and who can blame them? According to the journal Quarterly Factors, “Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States every year.” My cell phone has caused headaches, neck aches, facial break outs, and cost a total of approximately $2,380 since its acquisition in May of ’04. Not to mention the panic… when dropped. This past winter I dropped the beloved cell phone (let’s call her Bess, shall we?) from a high table bar stool in a restaurant. She crashed to the floor, and her battery shot out, sliding across the linoleum to land underneath some lady’s foot. Thankfully, she did not step down and crush the battery. Because of this instance, I was forced to exclaim a near explitive in front of a room full of elderly people getting their afternoon coffee at the podunk cafe; spring lithely from my seat and rush to kneel on the floor where I scooped up Bess’s parts; and crawl on my knees on a restaurant floor, underneath a table, with my rear sticking up like a stretching cat in front of all, just to retrieve a stupid battery.  

Sometimes, I admit, I’ve even had the thought, “Why doesn’t Grandma just get a cell phone? It would be so much easier to text her this question!” Grandma just turned 82 in January. Heaven forbid that I should actually have to call my grandmother on her land line and have an actual conversation with her.

No matter how much grief this small, red device has caused me, my cell-love never manifests itself until the sans-cell phone situation emerges. A few weekends ago, D treated me to some lovely date-time, in which we decided to go see a movie. We drove separately from my apartment so he could leave to go back to his place from the mall. It wasn’t until we were about to enter the parking garage for the mall that the horrific truth arose:  I had forgotten Bess at home.

Mall parking on a Sunday in LA is never easy. One will rarely find a parking spot in the garage next to one’s party. One must simply hit the gas and zoom toward the closest spot available, whether it be on the second floor or the tenth. On this particular occassion, that special spot meant for me was on the seventh floor. By the time I parked Mable the Sable and hopped the elevator, D was nowhere to be found. Well, my naive small-town self said, I’ll just wait until D rides the elevator down, and we’ll meet at the bottom.

Half an hour later, I finally figured out that there are several entrances to the parking garage. I took a few loops around the area, paying specific attention to the movie theater. No D. Maybe I should go wait for him in the philosophy section of Barnes and Noble, my romantic side whispered. I made a comment to D a few weeks ago that I’d like to know how much time we’ve spent in the philsophy section of Barnes and Noble in the course of our relationship. A pay phone loomed in the corner of the courtyard where I waited, but two problems reared their ugly heads:

1.) No change. What savvy city girl goes anywhere without quarters? Give me a break. I grew up in population-4,000 town in Southern Minnesota, where paying for parking is merely a legend and you could more easily walk to someone’s house than dial their number.

2.) No phone number. Yes folks, now is the time to sheepishly admit that D and I have been dating for nearly 20 months, and neither of us know one anothers’ phone numbers.

My mission became clear in an instant. Find quarters. Call any number I have memorized that might know D’s number. Call D.

Finding quarters seemed like it would be easy in a mall. Except that California mall clerks don’t have the wholesome helpfulness that Minnesota or Arkansas clerks do. D and I went to a high-end mall called The Grove. The thing has its own trolley tinkling its little bell through the cobblestone streets. The only remotely lower-class store I could find was J. Crew. I went in to get some change and ended up having to purchase a $6 plastic barette so the cashier could open the cash drawer.  It was the cheapest thing I could find. I had previously recoiled when picking up a $26 coin purse.

The accrual of change brought me to the next step: Calling someone I knew to find D’s number. The deposit of four quarters affords a pay phone patron a mere 4 minutes of conversation. First, I called my friend A in Arkansas. She got her cell phone back when I didn’t have a cell phone and still memorized people’s phone numbers. I got her voicemail and left a frantic message. “Hi, A. I know I haven’t talked to you in a long time, but I need you to do something for me if you get this in the next few minutes. I’m going to call back in five minutes. I’m on a payphone in a mall in California, and I need D’s phone number. I thought you might have it somewhere, and you’re the only friend I have that I actually know your number. So, please pick up when I call back.” I called back three times. No avail. My parents weren’t home — they were spending the afternoon at my brother’s house, but I figured it was worth a shot. Mom is one of the most prepared people I know… the type who will carry wadded up plastic bags in her purse, just in case. I thought I might know her cell phone number. I dialed. It was dad’s.

“Hi, Dad. It’s Ann. I’m calling from a payphone in a mall in L.A., and I need your help. Does Mom have D’s phone number?’

“You don’t know his number?”

“I don’t. You’ve got to hurry. I’ve only got four minutes until I need to deposit another dollar.”

“I’ll ask her.”

Muffled voices in the background. “She’s checking,” Dad said.

“She has G’s number.” (G is D’s twin brother.)

I pause. “Why does she have G’s number?”

“I don’t know. I’ll ask her.”

“No, it’s okay. G’s number is good. Give me that for now in case we get cut off before she finds D’s number.”

We got cut off before I had a chance to say goodbye. Mom didn’t have D’s number, but for some reason she had G’s. So, I called G.

“Hi, G. It’s Ann. I’m calling from a payphone at the Grove. I need D’s phone number.”

“You don’t know his number? You’ve been dating how long?”

“I know, I know. I only have four minutes. You’ve got to give me the number. You’ve just got to!”

G hooked me up with the digits I needed, and my triumphant “Hi!” to D when I finally heard his voice on the line an hour and fifteen minutes after we parked our cars was enough to turn the heads of several by-standers. We met in front of the movie theater. “I’ve been walking around this whole area,” he said when I hugged him. “I guess we just missed each other. I thought about going into the philosophy section of Barnes and Noble.”

“Really?! Me too! This is our plan if this ever happens again. We’ll meet in the philosophy section of Barnes and Noble.”

And so, we went, hand-in-hand into the movie theater to purchase our overpriced confections and find our seats.

About seven minutes before the end of the movie, entitled Definitely Maybe, we got evacuated from the movie theater. But that, my friends, is a story for tomorrow.

I am sick for the sixth time since October. I took a sick day from work today, and while it’s not fun when your body aches all over and burns with fever then chills up, it is nice to have a day of rest. Why have I been sick so many times? I wonder if my immune system has been all wacky because of stress. Since October, this little body o’ mine has undergone almost constant stress, what with moving twice, saving money, finding a job, finding an apartment, and all the other obstacles, tra la la.

Speaking of stress, I went to the DMV this morning even though I’m sick because I need to get all my driving stuff transferred over to California. Thankfully I made an appointment, so I didn’t have to deal with the front desk lady who was reaming out the guy in front of me because he didn’t get the title on his car changed and had bought the car in July. She stood up behind the desk, turned to the people waiting in plastic chairs and yelled, “Did you hear that, y’all? Don’t you come in here trying to change over a title that should’ve been changed back in Ju-ly. If your car had gotten impounded, you wouldn’t be able to get it back.” I was standing behind Reamed-Out Guy when it happened because I hadn’t yet realized that I could slyly escape that line and move to another line for those who already had appointments. Reamed-Out Guy turned around and glanced at me — probably for sympathy — and he had a can-you-effing-believe-this??? look on his face and ultimate fear in his eyes. I smiled at him and widened my eyes, like, “I know, Dude. I know.” I then caught sight of the sign just above the counter, which said the line I was standing in was for inconveniences customers who had not made appointments. I had made an appointment, hurrah! hurrah! and stepped over to the much shorter line for appointments only. The only thing was, I forgot my passport or birth certificate. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I rushed home, hoping I could find my passport in the boxed rubble that is currently my bedroom, but I have no idea in helsinki where my passport is. I used to keep it in my jewelry box because I could find it easily there, but since I packed everything up and sold my jewelry box on a garage sale (it was getting too small for the multitudes of precious gems bestowed upon me by a vast queue of handsome suitors), I have no idea where I put it. I know exactly where my birth certificate is. In Minnesota. In my filing cabinet.

Drat.

So, I came home, exhausted from the exertion of skirting Mean DMV lady and from the effort of wildly digging through the boxes of rubble to find the passport. Geez, it annoys me when I can’t find stuff. But, I brought the paperwork with me and am filling it out to have it ready for my next DMV appointment on Tuesday.

Now I am in my pajamas, getting fat on chips and M&Ms, hoping my fever goes down so I won’t be so cold anymore.

Here are some photos. I’ve been trying to post these for a while, but the internet has been wacky:

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I snapped this on the commute home one evening. This is Los Angeles on a clear day, just before sunset. If not for this, the commute would kill us all. And, more realisticly speaking:

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This is LA on a normal day, taken atop of D’s brother G’s street in Laurel Canyon. The other day Mom told me she wanted to be in California too because I was telling her all the terrific adventures I’ve been having. Then I said, “Mom, the pollution and traffic are killing me.” When people say it’s bad, there’s no pessimism about it. IT’S BAD. But there are, literally, breaths of fresh air, and when they come along, they’re spectacular.

(Speaking of breaths, there’s this guy I know who is originally from Italy, and he constantly says, “breathe” in statements, such as “we can hardly breathe,” except he says it pronouncing a “d” instead of the “th”, and I constantly think he’s coming on to me: “We can hardly breed.” “Let’s clean some of this up so we can breed in here.” “Whew, I can finally breed.”)

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A few weeks ago Roommate J and I were still staying with D’s brother G because we had yet to find an apartment of our own. I had just started my job and had the opportunity to go to a promotional luncheon for fresh produce growers to attend and promote their products. (I work at an organic juice company. I tell people that I squeeze the oranges all the live-long day, but really folks, I’m the bookkeeper.) I got a whole bag of free food, and I brought home a vegetable tray for the three of us to sup together. So, we had dinner on the floor of Galen’s bedroom (the only warm room in the house as Californians do not believe in central heat) and drank the product of my labor: blood orange juice.

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This is Roommate J and me on the same evening:

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On Valentine’s Day, D and I celebrated the fact that we’ve been poking one another on Facebook for an entire year.

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You know it’s a special occasion when I wear earrings. I don’t own any of my own, so I borrowed these from Roommate J.

He came over and made me dinner:

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Later that weekend, D came over again, and we celebrated my first paycheck. I took him to dinner on Washington in Culver City, which is only a mile away from my residence. And let me tell you, Culver City is magical in the evening, dining el fresco with your boyfriend at a delicious Italian restaurant, with well-dressed people milling by and white lights wrapped around all the trees on the boulevard. This was one moment of breeding breathing amid the traffic, smog, and general frustrations of living in a big city.

Yesterday a man came into the office and reamed me out for parking in the Tai Kwon Do parking behind my building. This parking was not marked with any signs, but he told me that if I did it again, he’d charge me. I felt bad, started taking it personally, and said, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware I shouldn’t park there. I’ll move my car right now.” I should’ve not let it bother me and said, “So, you’re a Tai Kwon Do master? If it were anyone else I would have fought you for it.” A friend once told me that the city hardens you and squeezes out your sensitivity. I have experienced that to a degree, but it is my goal to hang onto that sensitivity I have, which some consider to be a fault, but I consider to be valuable.

Yesterday, while searching for a specific apartment in the Los Angeles area, I realized that in the past three weeks, I’ve learned a ton of stuff. It hasn’t been the book learning that college gave, but a multitude of city smarts that have rained down on me because I’ve had to use them. They always say the best way to learn something is to immerse yourself in it.

So, without further ado, here are a few things these last weeks have taught me:

– Where NOT to look for an apartment in LA. Before this, I had a general idea, which basically came down to NOT COMPTON. There is a certain rapper that Roommate J uses as her guide. “In one song, he does shout-outs to different parts of LA,” she says. “Any place he shouts out to, we should not live.” Just the same, I have a much better picture now of what is shady and what is acceptable from actually driving through the places.

– How to use a Thomas Guide. Before coming out here, many people recommended that I purchase a Thomas Guide for both Orange and Los Angeles Counties. I did so. At first it was quite confusing, but I figured that there must be something to it because everyone loved it so much. Gradually I am learning how to use it. A Thomas Guide is a huge book with maps in it of every street in LA, even the little itty bitties. My recommendation to any LA newcomer is now, also, to get a Thomas Guide.

– The directions of each of the highways and which are the worst for driving. (I’ve even begun placing the Californian “the” in front of highway numbers, as if each highway is an entity unto its own.) Stay away from the 405 and the 5 as much as possible. The 10 West turns into the Pacific Coast Highway.

– Parallel parking. I’ve always known how to parallel, but man I’m good at it now. I can even do it on the left.

– Excellent interview questions to ask. Roommate J’s aunt gave us advice on this, and so far it’s worked — I got called back for a second interview at a job where I asked the following questions: What process are you using to choose the candidate for this position? What does the timeline look like? Where do you see the company going in the future? Based upon the qualifications, experience, and skills we’ve discussed today, how do you think I fit into this position? That way if they are hesitant to hire you because of something, you can answer their fears right in the interview.

– The general commute time for most LA people is about 45 minutes. It’s rarely less. I can do this. I’ve done it before.

– Don’t try to get anywhere when it’s rained. Any type of weather will freak out the Californians. Accidents will occur. After work, go to a restaurant and wait it out, otherwise it will take you one hour to drive three blocks on Santa Monica Boulevard.

– If you go in to Westside Rentals to start an account, be sure to speak of your financial situation loud enough so that an innocent bystander will hear your plea, slip you a note, and offer to let you use his account free of charge. Then quietly sneak out a few moments after him, meet him up the street, and have a new contact in a guy who has lived in LA for the past seven years and is in a band that once opened for Alice in Chains. And as a thank you, give him some publicity on your blog. Click here.

How amazing would it have been to live in Hollywood during its golden age, back when it was all about fur coats and glamor and long cigarettes and coifs, before people acknowledged that Frank Sinatra was a jerk and Bing Crosby beat his children, before Marilyn Monroe committed suicide (or did the Kennedys kill her to prevent the scandal of her involvement with their sons?) and before Lucy and Desi split? Now it seems odd to think of this place as the setting of what went before it. It is about dollars and producers and shallow connections, connections you could later shove downward to elevate yourself. The street cleaners don’t really clean the streets anymore. They just give the city an excuse to hand out tickets.

This morning the street sweepers came between 8 and 10, so I got up early to move my car from its parking spot on the left side of the street to the right side. A tree had dumped woody gunk all over my windshield. It rained last night. I looked in the back seat of my car to pull out my planner – I have to call the Director of Human Resources at that museum today to see what the next step is in the job process – and had to dig through a bag of stuff. Yesterday roommate J and I became nomads.

Though living in suburbia was quiet and calm and clean, it wasn’t the Los Angeles that J and I sought. Now that Hollywood Boulevard is just a block away (I had to park about a half mile away from the apartment where we’re staying) the city has emerged all around us. We’ve already been advised to purchase safety clubs for our cars. We will take the advice.

The area we are in is residential and full of well-kept houses with middle- to upper-class cars out front, so it doesn’t appear to be dangerous. Still, we adhere to the street smarts we know: try not to go out alone at night, call to check in, lock your car doors while you’re driving, bring a boy. D encouraged me to get some pepper spray to carry in my purse, just as a precaution. Perhaps I will go on a safety shopping spree and get the club, the pepper spray, steel knuckles, chaps, protective glasses, a gas mask, a flame thrower, and a helmet all in one trip. You can never be too safe.

Today is a holiday for many workplaces, so plans are on hold. I spoke to the landlord of the apartment we are dying to have, and I negotiated a little. I’m a good tenant, I told her. Just call my references. I have plenty of money in my checking account. I will soon have a job. I have never paid rent late. I have excellent credit. I can give you additional rental references and even character references if you need them.

Last night before J and I left my relatives’ home, where we were previously staying, they told us that if we really wanted the apartment, we should pray over it when we handed in our paperwork and claim it. “Have faith that God will give it to you,” they said. “You have his favor.”

They made the distinction between faith and hope as if hope is a fleeting, ungodly thing, and faith is complete trust in God. I could’ve prayed over that apartment when I was there. I could’ve claimed it. But what if God has something else? I am not putting my faith in that apartment. I am putting my faith in God, and I will not set up limitations for him in my mind. It seems like the perfect place, but in the past, many things have seemed perfect that weren’t: that guy I hoped to someday marry, that make and model of car I really wanted, those plans I had in college. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. I hope that we will get this apartment. I have faith that God will take care of us, even if we don’t get this apartment.

And the same goes for this job. This museum job would be amazing. Every time I’ve mentioned to someone that I had a phone interview there, they blink a few times. “Seriously?” I was shaking with excitement when I got a call to initially schedule an interview. There? You’re calling me from that place? Seriously? Roommate J’s mouth dropped when I told her. “Ann,” she said, “that’s prestigious!”

I hope for this job. I repeat, it would be uh.may.zing. But my faith doesn’t lie in a job. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.

Yesterday J, her friend A, and I went to First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. This is the fourth church I’ve been to since my arrival here. Each church has been distinct. First there was the sparkly, white-toothed, high-fashioned church that I will not go back to. I left disheartened that a church could focus more on the accumulation of things, on judging God’s love according to his bestowal of material wealth, than on the sacrifice of Christ.

The church of yesterday was a complete 180. Amid Hollywood’s moral crumbling, all the drunkenness and prostitution and dishonesty and violations and selfishness rests a church that is dynamic because it has to be. The homeless use its steps to sleep. This church is attractive because yesterday we applauded a woman who had attended a Martin Luther King, Jr. march in 1965 and helped one of the first African American families find a home in the area. It’s about doing more than talking. It’s about building a future that exemplifies the innate dignity of all people, home or no home, wealth or no wealth, and it builds that future in the name of Christ.

In every church that I have attended so far, in some form or another, a lyric has shown up on that big screen, a lyric that became part of my legacy back in high school, back when I was deciding if I was going to really pursue this belief in God or turn the other way: This is my story, this is my song. At this time in my life, when I am untangling all these unknowns, it is good to know that all this is my story, and all this is my song, and I am praising my Savior all the day long.