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December 29, 2011

Listmaking, Bonhomme Janvier, and other crazy white people things

By now you already know this little stretch on the calendar is one of my favorites, the end of an old year and the crisp optimism that comes with a brand-new set of months. All possibilities are back in play.

Yesterday I was at Umberto getting my hair cut and absorbing the wise counsel of Aharon, hair stylist extraordinaire, who knows more about people and human nature than almost anyone I have ever met. He also knows quite a bit about the right shade of blonde. Aharon has an assistant named Troy who is exactly the picture I have formed in my head of what the perfect assistant should be: funny, easy-going, happy and ridiculously good looking.

People, I plan to have an assistant one day. Along with a hefty insurance policy covering sexual harassment claims. And also I want to get a horn for my Dad that plays "Deep in the heart of Texas..." What can I tell you. I have lofty aspirations over here.

ANYWAY. Troy and I were chitchatting about New Year's Eve, I love to hear what everyone has planned for that night. Some folks are very contemplative and nesty on that night, some care nothing for it, some plan dramatic excursions to Hawaii or Las Vegas or go to big parties in the Hollywood Hills.

"Are you going out?" I asked Troy. "Your girlfriend is still in town on winter break, right?"

"Yeah, we might go out to a party." he said. "But I think my mom wants us to be with her. It's a Korean thing."

This is probably a good time in the story to mention Troy is Korean.

"What is a Korean New Year thing?" I asked.

"My mom wants us to go to church with her," he said. "In our culture we have a service just before midnight, like to get rid of the old year. Then there is another service right after midnight, bringing in the new year."

I thought this was one of the best things I had ever heard and I said so. I was so taken in by this idea that I was just about to invite myself along until he mentioned the whole service is in Korean and all of it lasts about three hours.

"Do white people have any crazy traditions like that?" he asked. "I've never heard any, not about New Year's anyway."

I enjoy being the representative for all white people, especially crazy white people. I feel I could take it on as an ambassadorship of some kind.

"Well," I said, "Southerners have all kinds of weird superstitions around the New Year, like you have to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day for good luck and even if you hate black-eyed peas you have to eat at least a spoonful or the year is done before it starts."

"Black Eyed Peas? Like the band?" he laughed.

"Oh they're better," I said. "Especially with hot sauce. And Cajun superstition is a whole 'nother ball of wax, because for Cajun people New Year's Eve was when Bonhomme Janvier brought little presents."

"Bahn ome who?" he asked.

"Bonhomme Janvier, he's the Cajun Santa," I explained. "And down in the bayou there's all kinds of stuff about sweeping bad news off your porch, and there's one superstition about whatever tasks you do on January first set the tone for the whole year. So you don't want to bury a body or scrub toilets or get scabies. You can only do happy things like eat and drink and get naked."

Troy tipped his head back and laughed.

"I don't think I've ever met any Cajun people, but they sound almost as nuts as us Koreans," he said.

"Oh trust me," I said. "Southern people and Cajun people are much crazier than Koreans. We might both be from cultures with good food, and you might even have the edge on spare ribs, but we have you beat on crazy. We invented drinking, I'm pretty sure."

He started to argue but I hit him with the last and very final word in crazy.

"We invented country music," I said.

I had won the argument. Do not even get me started on Zydeco!

Eventually I left, of course, one inevitably must leave the comfort of the Beverly Hills flat iron and return to the Valley floor. It was so warm outside that I zipped the windows off the Jeep and cranked up the radio. Driving up and around and through the canyon roads of Los Angeles on a balmy December day is like pure honey, there is nothing better. When traffic is moving and a good song is on the radio there is no other place in the world you want to be.

I thought about the few little squares left on my calendar, the last days of the year. In my head I started making a list, all my resolutions, my goals, my tasks, people I need to email, people I need to call, bills I need to pay, stuff I need at the market, I'm almost out of half-n-half.

I came around a curve on Crescent Heights and I was singing along with the radio, making my list, and out of nowhere I saw a guy on rollerblades walking a giant black poodle up a driveway. Or maybe the poodle was walking him. And it was 78 degrees on a December day at the very end of 2011 and in that one absurd moment it didn't matter who I needed to call. Everything would still be there in a few days.

All I had to do was stop at Ralph's and get a can of black-eyed peas. The only thing you must must do on New Year's Day is eat your black-eyed peas.

That and avoid burying bodies.


So tell me, I want to know: What is your New Year's tradition? What is your unique superstition? What is on your list? Do you eat your black-eyed peas, do you go to church at midnight, do you sweep the porch?

I love the New Year because it is the one night and day that everyone (all of us, hot Koreans and crazy white people and Cajuns and everyone in between) mark in the same way, flipping a new page on the calendar, recognizing the dawn of a new year.

How do you do it in your house?

Do tell.

Posted by laurie at 10:36 PM

December 24, 2011

Christmas 2011

I was on the phone yesterday with Jennifer N., talking about the holidays.

"You are the only person I know who loves and hates Christmas so much," she said.

And it is true. The expensive therapist has told me this feeling of opposites is a state called cognitive dissonance, when the brain can hold two conflicting emotions at one time. She's nice (and expensive) so she says it's a sign of enlightenment. Ralph Waldo Emerson -- who I have not paid for therapy but to whom I owe much in the way of growthyness -- once said, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Meaning, I suppose, that this idea of being consistent and never changing and holding true to only one feeling is actually a big, dumb fake out. It's OK to not know, or to be in the middle, or to both love and hate Christmas. Emerson would have used better adverbs. But you get it.

When you expect a person to stay who they were, you imprison them forever and you restrict your own life. You become limited by what you expect from others. Like it or not, people change. Everything changes. It's like my dad says: The only thing you can count on is change. (I hate that saying, by the way. I'm way more into the hobgoblins.) So you go out to dinner with someone who always orders a pinot grigio and one night, out of the blue, he orders a stoli on the rocks with a twist. Why is it you're the one who feels left out? If your sister becomes a vegetarian this week, why are you feeling an overarching need to defend the cheeseburgers? And when Christmas rolls around and it's both lovely and loathsome, which side do you pick?

Old Ralph Waldo and the spendy therapist would both say it's healthy to hold a little of each. It isn't a sign of weakness of schizophrenia to feel simultaneous love and loathing for Christmas, it may indeed be the only sign you have that you're ready to write that novel you've been marinating on.

The ability to hold two very conflicting ideas is quite a feat. It's perfectly all right to love providing a holiday home base for your family and meanwhile want them all to leave, now. It's absolutely understandable to be alone and feel both relieved and ruined with sorrow.

It's Christmas. They make movies about it, you know.

So I wish only the happy parts for you, but I accept the inconsistencies, the disasters, the hide-alone-in-a-bathroom parts of the day, too. This is what makes us enlightened! Or so says the expensive therapist and our old pal Ralph Waldo.

Merry Christmas, y'all. Every piece of it.

Posted by laurie at 5:25 PM

December 21, 2011

Three good things

There are eleven days left in 2011. The end of the year is always a tangled time especially for those of us who naturally bend toward insanity, but I like the dusting out of the old year and finishing up the last odds and ends. And this year has certainly had its odds and ends.

I'm going to spend the next eleven days finishing what I started, thinking ahead to a fresh new year, and on at least one occasion I will paint my nails bright red while watching a Nick & Nora movie.

My three things for today:

1) The weather is sunny and chilly and clear and I get to wear my Uggs, and that makes me happy.

2) I figured something out that I couldn't see until just this morning and I feel relieved and freed up by it. I love the way the brain works, all wrapped up in confusion and mystery and emotion and then one morning you wake up and *click*

3) Barbecue sauce.

What are your three things?


Posted by laurie at 2:16 PM

December 16, 2011

Earrings always fit

Yesterday I was at the mall returning a T-shirt. I'm not sure which Einstein in the fashion world thought it was a good idea to create a black T-shirt that requires dry cleaning but I can assure you, dear friends at Macy's, no matter how cute that little top is I will not be dry cleaning a shapeless pocket-front T-shirt.

While I was standing at the sales desk waiting for my return to be processed a man approached the sales clerk.

"What size is a large?" he asked, holding up a dress for the clerk to see. "Is this a large?"

She checked the tag inside.

"Large is really more, well, anything starting at size eight and up is the large range," she said. "Eight, ten, twelve..."

I must have cocked my head to the side like a puzzled basset hound. A size eight is a large? Perhaps my brain was working so hard on digesting it that I made noise, because the man looked right at me.

"What size are you?" he asked.

"UH. WELL," I said. "It often depends on the item."

(And the crowd goes wild, with an excellent save from Perry out of left field!)

The poor man was just standing there, holding up a hanger with a black dress, looking exhausted and defeated by the mysterious world of women's sizing. And in that moment I felt his pain. Because women's sizing is just ridiculous and it's Christmas and anyway the fourteen-year-old sales girl thinks a size eight is a LARGE.

"OK," I said. I turned to face him. "Is she smaller than I am? Or bigger?"

"Oh thank you," he said. "I'm completely lost here." He scrutinized me for a minute.

"She's taller than you are," he said. "And she's definitely bigger than you are. Maybe not on top but bigger in the middle."

The clerk made a little giggle and the man suddenly realized what he'd just said. His face started to turn red. I couldn't help it. I laughed.

"Well let's all be glad you're not lingerie shopping today," I said. "OK, if she's taller this isn't the right section anyway, this is all petites. Is it a gift? Does she need a dress for sure?"

"She likes dresses," he said. "Petites? I don't understand. Where does it even say that?" His voice had taken on the desperate sound of a man who had hit the shopping wall. He was out of oomph, his shoulders dropped even deeper into his collarbone. He'd been beaten.

In a moment of Christmas kindness I decided to level with the poor man.

"Look, unless you know for sure she needs a dress and unless you know her size and favorite style and unless you can be absolutely certain she won't clock you for buying her a LARGE, therefore telling her she is a LARGE, I highly recommend you go with jewelry. You can never, ever go wrong with jewelry," I said. "Or a gift card. One size fits all."

It was like seeing a man come out of a fugue state. He must have been trapped in the dresses section of the Sherman Oaks Macy's for a lifetime because the look of pure gratitude on his face was something out of coffee commercial. In that one moment you could see his brain forever abandon the gift of clothing, perhaps remembering some time in the not-so-distant past when his wife or girlfriend or concubine surprise-attacked him with a stealth does this dress make me look fat, honey?

"You're right," he said. "THIS IS NUTS."

"Jewelry is one floor down," said the helpful size-zero clerk, the one who believes a size eight is a tent dress. She handed me my return receipt and the man handed her the now-abandoned dress.

"OH! And just for the record," I said, smiling, "a size eight is a solid medium. It is definitely a MEDIUM."

Good grief, people.

Posted by laurie at 7:24 AM

December 15, 2011

Thursday, the best day of the week

There must be a scientific reason that Thursday is the best day of the week. Perhaps it's all those good TV shows programmed for Thursday nights combined with the psychological midspace between week and weekend and the proximity to the future. Thursday feels closer to the future.

Here is Frankie relaxing in a single sunbeam:


She's been doing some light reading with If The Buddha Dated by Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D. Literate cats, what can you do? Speaking of dating, I'm wrapping up the magazine article I've been writing about digital dating so if you have any last burning questions you want to see addressed in print be sure to post them in the comments. And what about you? Since we last talked have you been dating? Have your experiences been good ones, funny ones, creepy ones? Are you still too terrified of the full-body picture to even begin?

I've discovered a through line in all the research I've done for this article. Most men and women simply want to feel appreciated and happy and attractive, no secret there. Some find the only way to be happy or feel good is to see themselves reflected back in the eyes of a partner. Others are on the very opposite end of the stick, at the first feeling of closeness or intimacy they close up tight, they bolt in self-protection. Human beings are fascinating little creations, aren't they? So much mysterious stuff all swirled up in a pair of jeans or a suit jacket.

Speaking of swirled up, the hippie downstairs has a new ladyfriend. She's a musician, too, and I've bumped into them several times at the locked gate, always fumbling for his keys. He's got his wild hair and funky T-shirts on, she's small and dark-haired with delicate features and her guitar strap has flowers embroidered across it. Yesterday they sat in his living room and they must have had the sliding patio door open because when I walked past his apartment on my way to the laundry I could hear them singing. It sounded pretty. It sounded like two people falling in love.

Posted by laurie at 7:58 AM

December 13, 2011

Nineteen days

The year 2012 is just nineteen days away. Have you started pondering the fresh new year ahead or are you still mired down in traffic and giftwrap? Here in Los Angeles traffic intensifies as we crawl closer to Christmas, by Christmas Eve everyone is honking and gesturing madly at each other with the sign-language finger.

Today, however, it's beautiful in Hollyweird. The rain washed away the brown air and brought snow to the mountains and on my walk I had the perfect view of the city with mountains framing it, if I go back out later today I'll take my camera. There's a good resolution -- take more pictures. (You know you're a listmaker when you add "make new year's resolutions" to your to-do list.)

I made a special point of going to the grocery store yesterday when it was raining so that I could observe my fellow Angelenos in their rainy-day gear: plaid shirts, sweatshirts, pajama bottoms, Ugg boots. Everyone looked bedraggled and askew and sleepy.

This is such a funny place.

Posted by laurie at 1:11 PM

December 7, 2011

Kepler-22b, meet your match.

Sure there may be an Earth-like planet orbiting around a sun-like star but I present to you the gravitational force of fluffy tummy meets very cold day:


And folks, it has been COLD! Yesterday morning on my walk it was a chilly 32 degrees. This morning I waited a bit before stepping out and it had warmed to a cheery 37. I love winter, I love bundling up and wearing my hand-knit fingerless gloves on my walks and feeling very smug indeed that my hands are warm but my fingers are still available for tasks such as re-tying shoelaces and such.

While out on my walk yesterday I also saw our old pal Ed Begley, Jr. drive by in his electric car. He was on the phone (hands-free, natch) and as he talked he was gesturing wildly with his hands, which made me like him more and also made me feel a little bad about messing with his head. Christine and I also saw him a month or two ago having breakfast at Hugo's in Studio City, but I had my back to him and kept my antics to a minimum. What can I say? I was really digging the hash browns.

Do you have any great cold-weather stew or chili recipes? I'm thinking I might make a pot of chicken and white bean chili for tomorrow night unless you have some other outstanding recipe ideas. Also, what do you normally serve with your chili? Corn chips? Sour cream? Salad? I don't know how to make that into a meal for a guest. Maybe cornbread. Or pasta, is pasta good for a cold weather dinner thing? What do you think? I'm open for ideas!

Posted by laurie at 11:46 AM

December 5, 2011

Uh, just the cutest thing you will ever see in your life. That is all.

My brother texted this to me:


Puff the Christmas dog!

Posted by laurie at 1:15 PM

December 2, 2011


On the days I get anxious, I walk. On the days I feel happy, I walk.

I love that forward feeling of moving through space. I walk a lot. Yesterday I did twelve miles (seven in the morning, five in the evening) and for the first time I wore a Band-Aid over the rough spot on my right heel. The gal who gave me a pedicure is the one who recommended it, and I believe she is an expert in such matters so I took her advice. It takes constant maintenance to keep well-worn feet like mine in a pretty condition -- if feet can ever be considered pretty, which they cannot, because they gross me out -- and mine get a lot of mileage.

ALSO I haven't checked my email in a month. I am the Encino Man version of myself, trapped in ice or mud or just behind on everything.

It's the holidays, the constant forward march of Christmas, always there, the good stuff (Christmas tree, lights, visits with old friends) and the other stuff (lonely). You are not supposed to say this. You are supposed to be resilient and single and fabulous and volunteering at the mission on Christmas and just happy to be alive. You are supposed to be thankful for while you may be alone you are at least not covered in scabies. But secretly I am dreading Christmas Eve, the one night of the year I feel lonely. If that makes you want to send me unsolicited advice on how to be happy please resist the urge, just this one time, it can be your little Christmas gift to me.

This year I declare it to be okay for all lonely people to rise up and be crazypants maudlin. It is one season out of the year, let's be out of our minds with sorrow, let's be rancid with longing, or let's be just kind of irritated in traffic (whatever works for you). We will be the truest versions of ourselves. Let's honk and maybe roll our eyes dramatically. Sigh. Send a tipsy text message to the one who got away. Let's get it all out of our systems so the new year can be fresh and shiny and full of forward motion.

Posted by laurie at 11:03 AM

December 1, 2011

Like Santa Claus said she's a ho-ho-ho!

Grainy iPhone pic of the tree:


There was so much good help this year when it came time to decorate:



We watched one of my favorites while decorating and de-wining:


All of this excitement left some just plain tuckered out:


Today in Los Angeles it's windy and insane with big swirls of leaves piled up on the sidewalks and enormous downed palm fronds blocking the streets nearby. We're having cold Santa Ana winds, we don't get these very often. It feels like real weather and it's all anyone is talking about, the crazy California wind.

I can't believe it's December first already, the beginning of the end of the year. In 2012 I'm going to do my monthly roundups again, this year was too interior and growthy for all that but next year (which is merely 30 days away) (!) will be a good time to bliss out on list making and goal-setting.

Take it from Santa, it's never to early to make a list!

Posted by laurie at 11:24 AM