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.

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

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.

More Trafficking…

February 13, 2008

Los Angeles traffic is everything people say it is and then some. My place of employment, thankfully, has provided me with the option of coming in at 8 a.m. instead of the usual 9 a.m. work time so I can miss traffic in the morning; taking a 1/2-hour lunch break; and leaving at 4:30. For the most part, I forgo the craziness of the traffic. The first week I arrived I realized that learning to drive in Minnesota has prepared me at least somewhat for the wonky city traffic: Driving with L.A. drivers is like driving during a blizzard.

It is a rare occurrence when I don’t see an accident on the road in the course of a day (Mom, don’t panic). Over and over again, the audacity of my fellow-drivers on the bright roadways of this sunshine-y state baffle and perplex me, while, so far, providing more cause for laughter than for bitterness. Take yesterday for example:

I am driving home from work and stop at a red light, which promptly turns green. I begin to proceed across the intersection when a white Lexus SUV sitting on the intersecting street guns it to make a right turn in front of me. I repeat, I have the green light. So, I honk. Honking is just what people do around here. Then big sunglasses lady inside tells me I’m #1… but with the wrong finger. And not only does she extend said finger in the rear view mirror, but she also shakes it… a good strong shake, not a dead-fish shake.

Los Angeles may be the only place on earth where other drivers get pissed at you when they make traffic violations.

*EDIT*

I forgot to tell y’all that it’s only a month until I get to see these beloved little people!!! (My brother and sister-in-law and their two kids are coming to visit next month. Disneyland, here we come!):

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Niece Lydia

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Nephew Ezra, and yes he is holding a bust of Elvis.

Living In a Movie

February 11, 2008

On the way home from work today, I was waiting at a green light for a homeless woman to cross the street so I could make a left turn. She stopped in the middle of the street, reached down, and picked up something, while I was waiting for her with a line of cars behind me, unsure if I should just go around her, lest she decide to run right in front of me. I figured she must’ve stopped to pick up some change, but I realized I was wrong when a thunk hit my roof, and I looked up to find her waving her hand dismissively and glaring at me. All I was doing was waiting to make a left turn. I didn’t even honk. There’s a reason Los Angeles’ largest industry is film: More often than not, living here feels like living in a movie.

Quick Update…

January 31, 2008

It’s about 12 minutes before I start my second day at work. It’s going well — thanks so much for the well-wishes. Yesterday after work I went for a walk by the beach, which is about a mile or less from work. Then D’s brother G, one of G’s friends, and I went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Arclight theatre on Sunset Boulevard. 2001 was great, but I never want to see it again. It’s bizarre. As a lover of bizarre movies, I did not mind it’s bizarre-ety, but as a tired working girl, I had to hold my eyes open to stay awake.

I’m so behind on blogging right now — there’s so much I want to write about, but the past few days of moving to yet another friends’ home, looking for an apartment, and starting a new job have taken up quite a bit of time.

My great news of the day is that I got to work in 30 minutes today because I left earlier than yesterday and took a different route. Traffic was no problem.

I’m off to the ol’ daily grind.