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November 28, 2011

Operation Occupy Honeybaked Ham: Successful!

I'm back in Los Angeles after a happyhappy trip to Florida to see my family.

There were nephews:

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Andrew, cracking me UP.

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Brett, handsome as always.

There was the boat:

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My brother, the real captain.

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Me, driving backwards.

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Kelli and Brett just rolling with it.

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Notice we aren't actually going anywhere. And how happy I am.


There was kid art:

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Because honestly, what else is there but God, Mom and Xbox?

And of course there was Puff:

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And a good time was had by all! Hope your Thanksgiving was happy and fluffy.

Posted by laurie at 1:28 PM

November 17, 2011

Barfly

Chicago is a bar town. San Francisco, New York, they're all bar towns because you can have that one extra drink, there's a subway, cabs are nearby. Los Angeles has all the mechanical charm of the suburbs, stretched out end-to-end for a thousand miles and everyone is in a car. It is not a bar town.

Yet all across the Valley floor you will find the corner pocket is filled with a dive bar. When I first moved here and I was at the Daily News, reporters would congregate at a dive in Sherman Oaks called Pineapple Hill. The bar is still there, and still only bearable because of its proximity to In-n-Out Burger. Back then everyone smoked indoors and we would order pitchers of beer and baskets of fries and wonder if we were all writing about other people as a way to avoid writing about anything real.

Reporters.

Later when I was with Mr. X we would visit the Tonga Hut or the Starlight Lounge, part of our modern-day Nick and Nora L.A. lifestyle. I loved the jukebox, I adored the long, polished wood bars with rings stained in the grain. I liked sitting in a dimly lit room with a cast of characters nearby. I would sometimes eavesdrop. All the best stories are at the end of a tab somewhere in the Valley.

As a single woman now I don't go to dive bars anymore. The story changes then, doesn't it? Becomes a lurid tale, maybe with an unhappy ending fit for the headlines. Instead I am at the grocery store or the gym or more likely I am just walking and living outside the world, outside looking in.

Last night my friend D. was in town and he took me to a local pub and we had Newcastle on tap and chatted friendly with the Blue Moon beer gals. D. is in the trade, his company distributes the alcohol to the bars and pubs and dives, as he says, "I'm in the booze delivery business." He's conflicted about it, an enterprise I never think about, the logistics of pleasure. We sat at the local pub and ate bad chicken strips and visited with Molly and Ashley, the Blue Moon beer girls.

"How do they make money?" I asked him later, as they were off smiling and working a customer.

"Twenty-five bucks an hour," he said. "It's customer conversion. They all think it's their ticket to Hollywood."

"Is it?" I ask. The girls are so young and lovely and friendly, and as soon as they recognize D. is in the business the relationship changes, they aren't on the sell, they're real people and they're just hungry. Everyone has a job to do.

"I don't know," he shrugs. "Maybe they think it will make them into someone."

"Maybe they're already someone."

Later I tell him about a dive nearby, a hole-in-the-wall I've never gone into. I pass it on my morning walks and at 6 a.m. you see rumpled drunks stumbling out the doors. For Los Angeles it's unusual, this town likes its veneer and an Irish pub serving eye-openers on the boulevard is unseemly. We pass it and he laughs at me.

"Oh no way you are getting out of this, we're going in," he says.

"I'll need a full decontamination shower afterward," I say in protest.

"You can't make me look into the abyss and not have a sample," he says. And no one can argue with that logic.

He orders our drinks and we settle in on the smarmy couches under the flat screen. From this spot we have a view of the whole bar. There's a pretty girl of perhaps 25 who is very intoxicated, she keeps asking men to dance with her. To our left a dark-haired woman is alone in a booth with a laptop -- this is Los Angeles, after all. Someone is legally obligated to be working on a screenplay nearby. Two men play darts. It's early still, and the bar is just beginning to spar.

D. watches the young woman at the bar swaying with the music and trying to dance with someone, she finds a young man who will tangle with her but he loses steam midway through the song. She drapes her arm across another man, the young man's friend. He smiles but his body says he's wary. He leans out.

She isn't dressed sexy and suggestively like other girls at the bar. Our girl is in faded jeans, a white tank, with a plaid shirt buttoned over the top. Her hair is long and curly and wild and she seems lost like a puppy, looking for affection. She stands alone at the bar for a moment and sways along to the music by herself.

I want to watch this out to its inevitable end. But D. is tired and needs to get a move on and has to drive all the way back to the beach. And anyway he's not as interested in the outcome. He's seen it all before. He says I'm too optimistic.

But I want to know what happens. Does she go home with him? Does she find a man for the night? How does it play out in the end, do they leave the bar hand-in-hand, does she tell herself she loves him? How does a woman love anyone here, herself included? I want to know what happens to her, I want to believe there is an ending I'll appreciate.

Instead I go home and I don't get the answers. Los Angeles isn't a bar town.

Posted by laurie at 10:54 PM

The building of dreams

I live in the building of dreams. I did not know this when I moved in, of course, I thought it was just another Los Angeles box with bad countertops but it was move-in ready and I needed a place yesterday so I signed the lease.

After a few months it became clear that I had stumbled into a little pocket of the city where everyone has a budget and a dream. The building itself is squat and bland and is surrounded on all sides by equally generic apartment buildings. The neighborhood straddles the space just between the Valley and Hollywood. It's the building of dreams. Location is everything and parking sucks.

The hippie downstairs is a musician and he walks home from gigs with his guitar on his back and a new girl on his arm. He's got wild, unruly hair and wears sandals, but every night he has a new love interest. When he's entertaining he plays Old Crow Medicine Show and you know it's on. A few weeks back he was entertaining an older woman -- perhaps my age -- and his lovin' music was Pink Floyd's "The Wall." I appreciate a man who adapts.

The pretty lesbian in 2B is a stand-up comic. She does shows in North Hollywood and once appeared in a club in Calabassas, and her girlfriend is an actress. There's an actor next door, he drives a Prius and wears plaid and we often pass in the garage, he has a face made for the big screen with wide, high cheekbones and a perfectly straight nose.

It's not just this building, the whole neighborhood is a block of dreams, my neighbor in the building next door sits out on his patio with a pack of New Spirits and a bottle of wine and pitches endless scripts to unknown listeners. He's hilarious, what he lacks in creativity he makes up for in charm and enthusiasm. He could sell ice to an Eskimo. I love the nights when the weather is mild enough to keep my windows open, and I listen to him talk on the phone and pitch his future.

There's a woman I've never seen who lives in the building across the alley. I wouldn't be able to pick her from a lineup but I can hear her every day, she sings in the shower and she's loud and her voice is so pure you wish she'd just get a record deal already.

Los Angeles is a hard city at times, superficial and extreme and lonely. But my God it's hopeful, filled with desires, and this is a town where you can change your life. Everyone here wants something. This is where you come to make your wild ideas spring into reality so the whole city vibrates with a feeling of longing and desire and possibility.

And dreams, of course.

Posted by laurie at 12:51 PM

November 16, 2011

Salad emergency!

Best vinaigrette recipe? Anyone? Bueller?

Posted by laurie at 3:55 PM

November 15, 2011

Cocktail Shrimp

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Posted by laurie at 10:35 AM

November 13, 2011

The Process

When I was a little girl we lived in the country and I didn't go to school. I read everything and anything -- to this day I believe this is why I am terrible at math and positively enamored of words. We would make trips every few weeks to the public library and I was allowed to check out any book that interested me, no matter the appropriate age range. I read books the way people eat food, to live. I loved the smell, the feel, the escape of a book. Books were my life.

My job at age seven -- I took it quite seriously -- was to check the salt licks on the farm. A salt lick is a cinder-block sized chunk of salt and minerals used to attract the cows and wildlife. Can you believe I live in Los Angeles now, where we use Botox to attract the fawns? As a child I would walk out into the pastures through fields of cedar trees and scrub and I would walk and walk and walk and in my head I composed my stories. I was obsessed with the Little House books and I would roam the fields with thoughts of pioneer girls and create my mental scenes and I would work them in my head over and over and over until I couldn't contain it anymore. Then I would walk home and scribble it all down in neat little cursive in a dime-store notebook. My notebooks were my whole life, I kept them under my bed. I would pay anything today to have one of those notebooks.

Now I am forty years old and I write the same way I did as a small child. I get an idea and I work it in my head obsessively, walking, walking across the Valley, walking in a loop, on a path, cross here, pause there. I chew the dialogue, the ideas, the very words, all of it inside my head with comma splices included and I hear the sound of it and then one day I'm ready and I come home and sit down (usually with a glass of wine, but sometimes coffee) and it all comes out in a rush. I run it over an over inside my head as I walk and then I write, usually in a gush.

Writing essays was a natural fit, but a novel has been a test. How do you write a whole novel? I don't outline or card sort or spec out. I walk and I obsess. I have gleaned enough from other writers to know my process is infinitely weird but it works for me. And of course all that matters is what works for you, even if you are a ghost who roams the streets of the Valley to work out your dialogue issues.

There's no wrong way, that is what I'm saying. I have no idea if I'll make it. I have no idea if this risk I took will pan out. I worry, I wonder, and in the end none of us knows. But today I walked and I brought my characters with me and I had conversations in my head. What do you do with that? How do you live when your head is full of scenes? I have conversations in my head with my future, I have envisioned myself down to the shoes. Every minute and beautiful detail is measured out in words. All I want is a happy ending. But how can you know until you go through the scene?

Posted by laurie at 7:55 PM

November 11, 2011

Indie flicks and Christmas lights

Movies. Hey, independent film industry, let's talk, shall we? I understand that it's part of your arty street cred to make downer movies with vague, ambiguous endings. All those staged, hazy shots of naked women and chairs and people in bathtubs together get spliced into a trailer that looks inviting and cozy and highbrow but really it's just all that time you spent at film school watching porn that's creeping into your scenes. It's been this way for a while now. I keep thinking you'll surprise me but you're all starting to look the same. I'm going back to formulaic Hollywood blockbusters, but I'll be back, so get to work on a happy ending, OK?

Earlier in the week I saw Like Crazy, which got rave reviews at Sundance and I was very excited to see it until I realized that it's a true indie film, meaning poignant scenes with no real resolution and lots of unresolved longing, so if you have just had a minor heartache and want to feel like walking into traffic while singing along to dark Cat Power ballads, then yes, go see this movie.

Yesterday my movie buddy and I caught an early showing of Martha Marcy May Marlene Laurie Soba Frankie. The Other Olsen is a really great actress and she is beautiful, as evidenced by the filmmaker's habit of lingering on her naked and semi-naked form in scene after scene. It has another prototypical indie ending and after leaving the theatre you want to sob into a bucket of chicken. My advice to the world is that if you plan to make a movie about a young girl who joins a cult, at least pick a cult that makes some sense. For example a yarn cult or a religious cult or a cult of Clooney. But if your cult is just a bunch of mixmatched kids making up dumb songs for a skinny weirdo, I am not buying it.

Nonetheless, it's always good at the movies. Going to the movies is such a splurge for me, and I do it because it gets me out of my head and later I can write clearly. Something about switching from all words to all visuals frees up the mechanics of my brain.

Walking has a similar effect on my body but since I stay in my head during the whole walk it's not the same freeing experience as a movie. Other things that get me out of my head: yoga, Prime Suspect (please don't cancel this show, TV Gods! I love Maria Bello) and pinot with a friend. The beach. An excellent book. Salsa classes, though I haven't taken one in a while. You?

Books. I'm thisclose to getting done. I feel happy and exhausted and nervous and hopeful. We'll see.

Green tubs in my living room. I know it's crazy but I don't care. I want to decorate already, get out my tree and the lights and make everything pretty and sparkly. I still haven't all the way crossed back into holiday shine, it can be a lonely and blue time for those of us with a maudlin streak. But I love Christmas, too. I appreciate that it is a period at the end of a year, the last of one more chapter. It doesn't matter how this one ended, the best thing about a closed chapter is turning the page and reading something brand new.

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Soba avec teddy bear.

Posted by laurie at 12:18 PM

November 10, 2011

Snapshots in the Valley

Just some Tuesday things on a Thursday.

1) Seen in the parking lot of the Galleria:
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You're a few states off, bud. But since we have no football team we'll let it stand.

2) The weeklong manicure, caught in a shadowy low-light iphone picture:

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This photo of my little pink nails is solely for the benefit of those two picky people who constantly warn me I am single-handedly ruining feminism with my love of nailpolish and mascara and smooth beaches on the ladypond. Let's be free to be you and me, people. And when I am free to be me I will have on pink nail polish (that is Opi soft shades "sweetie pie" for those of you who also get your manicure on.)

A few weeks ago I read a little piece in Newsweek (I think, correct me if I'm wrong) about nail polish being the recession splurge. It's like the lipstick splurge of the war years, that one little luxury that makes you feel pretty in lean, grey times. I would post a picture of my red toes to prove the point that you really can dress up a pair of feet as ugly as mine, but since I prefer to believe feet don't exist I will skip that.

3) Rainbow in Sherman Oaks:

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That's the view from the patio at Crave on Ventura and Van Nuys in Sherman Oaks. It was rainy and then sunny and then rainbow! People honked at it. That is how we roll around here.

4) Hat made entirely of discarded Taiyo colors:

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I've been making a zillion and one hats out of Noro Taiyo (free pattern here) and in one of the colorways there is a spontaneous weird jolt of black and green and white. It shows up in the middle of purples, blues and pinks and it's just Noro-certified weird. So I started snipping the acid green and black parts and tying them together to make a big ball of goofy, funky yarn which is turning into an excellent goofy, funky hat. And you get some wildlife in the background just for kicks.


Posted by laurie at 11:35 AM

November 6, 2011

Time Change

It's raining in Los Angeles. A rainy, lonely Sunday. It's good weather for drinking coffee, for writing, for feeling vaguely sorry for yourself.

So instead of talking about that, let's talk about good things. And there are good things: I got a manicure that lasted an entire week. I finally made it to the 900-mile mark (!) of walking on my Nike+ tracker. Bones is back on and Brennan is pregnant. My jeans fit. The Ralph's in my neighborhood started carrying my favorite kale salad.

What's on your good list?

Posted by laurie at 8:36 AM