In My Backyard

I almost wish I just got rear-ended, not because I’m after insurance money or I’m trying to do away with my car, but as I drove towards home, I looked in my rear view mirror and the woman behind me was driving holding a parrot, a big white parrot that probably could almost have driven the car itself.

And they say cell phones are a distraction.

I figure collecting this story by way of a collision would have upped the dramatic value, but it was not to be. The vision of parrot in driver’s seat was enhanced by the fact that the parrot-toting driver didn’t need to be holding the bird while navigating her vehicle, for beside her sat an able-bodied passenger who could have cared for the parrot or at least driven the car. So, of course, I questioned the decision to drive while holding a bird, but I also questioned this motoring couple’s choice of driving with their top down, which not only seemed risky but also a taunting gesture to the parrot as if saying, “Feel the breeze through your feathers? See the open sky above you? Isn’t it beautiful? Sorry, you’re relegated to my captive arms. This is all just a tease.”

Maybe parrots love living in the confines of human life. Maybe a ride in the car is the equivalent of taking a dog on a walk. You see, I don’t know much about parrots, but I do know you can’t give full attention to driving while holding a bird. Think of ‘wing flap.’

I have heard that parrots live an extraordinarily long life – up to eighty years – so an owner must be prepared to will the pet to a future owner, for the bird is nearly certain to outlive the human caregiver. Now that is commitment. I’m worried about finding someone to watch my dog if I want to go out of town for the weekend. Finding a friend you can bank on outliving you who is parrot friendly and interested in a hand-me-down pet? Phew. Talk about stress.

The parrot-driver and I parted ways three blocks from my home as I watched in concern/amusement while the driver successfully achieved a one-handed right turn onto a street that dead ends into beach parking. I suspect that means that the parrot got to go for a walk, which is a nice gesture on the part of the pet owners. Hopefully they headed south on the boardwalk, for then they were likely to encounter a long time Venice regular, a guy who totes around his own parrot of the royal blue variety whenever he goes out for a bike ride (another brave undertaking). Bike rider and parrot park at a local restaurant, and then dine al fresco, the human ordering off the menu while the parrot enjoys carted-in sunflower seeds and then spews shells everywhere creating impromptu art upon the gravely boardwalk.

The fact that this image no longer registers as odd to me shows that I’ve been living in Venice a long time. We collect these kind of visuals in my neighborhood, though I wonder how much longer that will last. Venice is changing under the escalating real estate values, and I don’t imagine many new colorful creatures moving into town. These days when I discard furniture to the alley for any taker, items actually sit there for up to a day. They used to vanish with the speed of a David Copperfield trick. Ah, the good old days when a donation trip to Good Will was a waste of gasoline. Nowadays I suspect my tabletop-size tree of clustered, fake red apples that create the canopy – supposedly quite valuable in its day (and received by me with an awkward smile upon completion of a film job) – would establish a rather secure spot in my alley.

I have to wonder if the days of traveling parrots, rollerskating guitarists, and python-carrying walkers will come to a close, and crazy Venice will only live on as a memory. I hope not, for a slice of history will die when that day comes. In order to preserve the insanity I’m even willing to (cautiously) accept some parrot drivers. And I do hope that the white and blue parrot got to have an encounter. That would be a true Venice Beach moment.

(if anyone is interested in my red apple tree, email me and we can arrange a hand off before it journeys to the alley...)


An Open Letter to David Sedaris

July 21, 2007

Dear David,

I’m standing at the counter at a Mexican/Cuban eatery at the Farmer’s Market in Hollywood with my son by my side. A young woman stands next to him hearing me ask what he wants, and she jumps in and says, “Aren’t you the David Sedaris kid?” He answers yes, and she says, “I saw you two years in a row.” She goes on to express sadness that you’re not coming back to appear this year, and we compete to see which of us has seen you the most years in a row. I win, which is an odd thing to boast of, but we bond over the moment and she advises my son as to what to order because she’s been through this menu a few times and can comment on the effect of the spices.

“Don’t skip the potato soft tacos,” she says. “They’re like Mexican potato knishes.” My son has no idea what that means, but he smiles and says okay. An older woman who seems to be her mother walks up to join her, and our dining advisor turns and says, “Look, it’s the David Sedaris kid. You were with me when we saw him.”

We get down to ordering and thank our consultant as we add to our meal one soft potato taco, which is called something far more elegant in the Spanish we don’t speak. Sitting down at a table, I turn to Anthony and say, “Well, David Sedaris doesn’t have kids, but he kind of has you.” We laugh, loving this little recurring appearance in the spotlight. He gets noticed every once in a while, but usually not with such gusto as this time.

I’m sad that you’re not coming back in 2008. I’ve started the rumor that you’re probably busy writing a book on your experiences in Japan. I don’t imply that you told me as much, but I can imagine you sifting through all those wonderful tales you shared during your last visit to Royce Hall. In 1986 I spent two months in Japan hiding from Hollywood and trying to recover from an extraordinarily long stint on a film job. I took six Japanese lessons in Tokyo over the course of two weeks and then decided I was good to go in rural Japan. Amusement did follow. While I’m certain the country has changed a lot since then, I related to more of your stories than you can imagine.

Just thought I’d share this tale. Sorry we won’t see you in 2008. Los Angeles will miss you.

Anthony’s mom

for the back story, go here for part one, and here for part two...


You Gotta Be Good at Something

A funny thing happened on the way to this post. I became an “expert” (picture my fingers miming in the air) on internet dating. Yes, I have people ringing me up for advice that ranges from which sites to join, which includes questions about the peculiarities of each one (an acknowledgement that points to my site hopping tendencies) to how to conduct the entire process.

Once I place my friends onto the appropriate site for their personality and goals, I graduate to an actual Cyrano, which is great because I love that my writing skills aren’t going to waste. These friends audition their email responses seeking my input on tone and word choice, and allow me small tweaks to rein in over-eagerness or to up the level of enthusiasm. Balance, I say. You must maintain balance. They then seek further guidance when trying to decipher a response by way of “What does he mean by that?” I cheerfully weigh in, tossing around advice as if I actually know what I’m doing. It is fun.

But I must pose the obvious question: Why would my friends want my advice on internet dating when I am impressively single after journeying around these sites on and off for years? Yes, I’ve developed a wealth of good stories, have tucked away a healthy dose of flings, and can entertain with tales of younger (and I mean younger!) men. But would you want me helping you to find the love of your life? Doubtful. On the other hand, if you’d like guidance as to how to become a career internet dater, I’m your go-to girl.

The first thing to know is not to take it too seriously. In other words, don’t agonize about what you write on your profile, and those self-timer photos with dodgy lighting and focus are just fine. Only the truly serious run their writings past friends for feedback and enlist others to snap the stills. Jeez. That would be too much group activity for me, not to mention far too revealing. I’m fine with strangers hearing my wacked words on how I present myself, but I certainly don’t want to reveal the five things I can’t live without to my friends.

The first thing you need to know if you want to remain in the dating pool is to be sure not to be too flexible. My age range is nice and narrow – 40 to 50. At least that’s my public declaration. The reality is that I’ve dipped into the 20s for the right letter writer, but I’m certainly not going to post that option for fear of being labeled as one of those ‘cougar’ types. I’ve yet to cross the divide past 50, which I know is pretty brutal of me, but remember the goal here: Remain single!

Create a healthy list of reasons to knock people out of consideration. Wrong job. Wrong height. Wrong part of town. For the unplanned accidental meeting with a charming lad live in front of you in line at the dry cleaners you can be flexible and toss all these requirements out the window, but in internet dateland you’re hiring and it’s all about the quick romp through resume. This is what makes it so efficient. You don’t want to wade too long in the vast pool of probably nots.

If you’re a man, this process is far quicker and simpler: Don’t bother reading anything but just scroll through the photos in gallery mode. Distracting yourself with words will just get confusing and is counterintuitive to the male dating model. Remember, if you want to remain single, basing all you criteria on appearance is the perfect way to assure delightful flings with no risk of long-term connection.

Much gets debated as to how quickly to respond to emails. Too immediate and you seem desperate and without a life. Too slow and you project a lack of interest. With this I say, “It doesn’t matter.” Most email exchanges vanish after two back and forth letters, which is just enough to allow you to maintain the illusion of ‘polite.’ Usage of a nails on the chalkboard phrase, such as ‘nails on the chalkboard,’ can speed this demise along. Other common clichés that knock you out of the running are ‘I love walks on the beach at sunset,’ ‘I’m as comfortable in jeans and T-shirt as a little black dress,’ and ‘don’t be on meds.’ That last one really limits the pool in my town, for nearly everyone I know is on meds.

I warn women that guys offer up their phone number almost immediately and expect a call often before you’ve revealed your name, so you must come up with a way to identify yourself. (Funny, guys don’t care much about getting that name first.) So, while you’re dialing prepare yourself to say, “I’m the woman from the email,” and then be ready for a long pause as he runs through the lengthy list of woman he emailed his number to. The other option is to refer to yourself by your screen name, which should be the first cautionary tale in internet dating: If you can’t say the name out loud, you might want to choose a handle besides the boastful ‘GoodInBed.’

Don’t worry too much about what you will say on this preliminary phone call. Basically, it’s just the equivalent of looking at a photo. You’re sizing up each other’s voice for desirability. If you have a tendency when nervous to constrict and screech, this would be a good time to rein that in unless you actually believe that your soul mate would love that quality in you. Of course while this isn’t about finding your soul mate (remember goal: Lifetime internet dater!), even the short-termers don’t like screechers.

If you actually decide to meet, enter Starbucks – why doesn’t Starbucks just have it’s own online dating site and cut out the middleman? – and scour the room for someone who once upon a time might have looked like the photo you saw online. As mentioned, I’ve been dancing with this process on and off for years and several of the men I met still have the same photo posted from before our meeting four years ago, and even then it was hard to match photo with face. Men, you have no authority to complain about old photos of women. You can claim laziness when it comes to putting down the toilet seat, but that camera on your cell phone? It’s there for a reason.

One side note on dating the younger men: You don’t have to worry about looking too old when you show up for your date. They want old. That’s why they emailed you. You can’t fail in this arena, so relax and let the guy pay for your drink. He’ll want to, trust me, to prove that he’s old enough to have a job or that he’s good at saving his allowance.

Gosh, I could go on and on here, but I have an email in my inbox demanding my attention. If you want more of my pearls of wisdom, just drop me a note. I’m excellent at the one on one. I love my expert status.


Unrelated piece of trivia:
For those locals who would like an opportunity to experience me in person, I’m reading Sunday, July 22nd at 2 p.m. on Dutton’s patio on San Vicente in Brentwood. I’m not trespassing; I was invited.

If my words and those of my fellow readers don’t lure you (some stellar folks who far outshine me in their brilliance), perhaps the offer of free wine, cheese, and home-baked goods will. Go ahead, pull yourself away from your computers and face the glare of the outdoors.

As far as you singles, you may meet someone to add to your list of, “I can’t believe I ever went out with him/her!” That alone is worth the trek.


When Asked to Write about Courage

I close my eyes and look for courage, look for the incidents, look for the word. And letter by letter it comes at me through space, first the ‘C’ growing large and then shrinking to make way for the ‘O’ and then right down the line.

But no incidents come, no memories, no grand gestures of overcoming fear. And I realize that as a child I just did. My relationship with fear and banishing it with courage didn’t exist. Every act of every day was courageous. I never considered being otherwise. Either that or I have a convenient memory.

And now. Me and courage. We do well together. I take risks. I decide that if something has a hold on me I must take it on, and with that acknowledgment an act of courage leaps forward demanding attention, saying, “Remember me? Remember me?” The act wants to be recounted, wants the spotlight, wants me to tell you of the time my college roommate comes to me and says, “There’s a guy coming to our dorm to talk about skydiving. I’m gonna go listen to him. Come with me.”

I think she’s crazy, but I walk downstairs with her. We sit through a presentation of photos and description, how the training will last eight hours and then we’ll go up in a plane, line up, and one by one leap from 3000 feet. No need to pull the ripcord – we’ll be on static lines that do the work. Unless they don’t. Then you’re up.

When his words wind down, I turn to my roommate and say, “Okay. I’m in.” And she responds, “Are you crazy? No way.”

But I go, and it is a story. I’ve never faced fear like I did when I dangled my legs out that open airplane door, felt the rush of speed, and saw the tiny doll-sized life on the ground. I convince myself to jump by saying, “I don’t think this is my time to die,” and I cap it with, “I was drawn to this for a reason.” These sentiments partnered with the jump instructor’s palm on the small of my back giving me a less than gentle nudge send me through the door to hit the wind, to try to scream out 6-5-4-3-2-1 as instructed, hoping to never hit ‘1,’ for if I do it’s time to go into emergency action through a set of learned steps ending with “Pull ripcord on emergency chute.” But I never even get to ‘5.’ The speed of descent contorts my mouth to unmovable motion locking my lips apart and, I’m convinced, pressed somewhere around my ears. Stunned by my inability to vocalize, I lose count and pray that my distraction won’t render me a cartoon pancake upon the ground.

Luckily, the chute opens with a reassuring assault that sends me skyward in defiance of gravity. And then I float through the most beautiful two minutes of my life.

I come in hard on the landing, on an angle, they say, and take all the impact in my left ankle. I can barely stand to celebrate my act, the pain great, but I don’t care. This was all a gift.

But I must say that that was an easy act of courage, and I almost didn’t speak of it when considering the topic. Doing is not my nemesis. I can do. But there is a foe, the kind of courage I can speak of if I dare, and that is the courage to step forward and be willing to be seen beyond the casing of my being. What demands my courage is the willingness to strip off the façade and let you know the weakness that lurks within. The power does well for itself, but the weakness has never had a turn on stage, and letting it out would be an act of courage far beyond leaping from an airplane.


On Editing

Bill stood and opened the lid to the toilet, unscrewed the top off the bottle of red nail polish, and poured the flamboyant color into the water. When he flushed, it swirled around like spin art and disappeared down the drain. He threw the empty bottle into the trash and covered it with used tissues like a murderer hiding his weapon.

“I don’t think nail polish would behave like that,” my editor says. “I don’t think it would spin and go down the drain.”

I deflate, bonded to the image my brain had concocted. Could she be right? Am I prepared to offer up my own toilet bowl as a guinea pig?

I sit on her note for a long time, but finally my curiosity speaks and demands resolution. I open my bathroom medicine chest and locate the two bottles of nail polish I own. I opt for the tiny container of light blue thinking that if something goes wrong, the color is more subtle. I unscrew the top and tip it sideways to peer inside. The contents are all dried out. Useless. I reach for the other bottle. Blood red like in my story. I give it a good unifying shake. Plenty of liquid within.

I close the sink drain and fill the basin with a couple inches of water considering it a more manageable locale to navigate than the toilet bowl. Slowly I pour in a few drops of polish. More dramatic than spin art, the color scurries across the surface separating into odd flat creatures that get me thinking of amoeba. Some race to the edges and cling to the porcelain. I stare for a moment and then release the drain. The water descends leaving behind all the red – filmy and flat – to decorate my sink.


I quickly reach for nail polish remover, splash it onto tissue, and rub away. Some comes off easily. Some hangs onto the basin. With a little elbow grease, my sink returns to its original white.

Time for a rewrite.

Bill stood and opened the lid to the toilet, unscrewed the top off the bottle of red nail polish, and poured the flamboyant color into the bowl. The color dispersed quickly dancing on the surface of the water, splitting into odd-shaped particles that resembled amoeba. He flushed. The color clung to the porcelain walls as if mocking his desire to banish it. Bill sighed and vowed to deal with it later. He threw the empty bottle into the trash and covered it with used tissues like a murderer hiding his weapon.

I thank my editor for catching my creative gaffe. I’m still learning about the writing world, about what literary editors offer and how they work. Through the many years of my career as a film editor, I encountered the question, “So you get to decide what to take out of a movie?” and I’ve had to explain that film editing isn’t really the act of ‘taking out.’ That comes in at a point, but film editing is the act of putting a film together, that every time the image on the screen changes, an editor made a cut. As editors, we sit with miles of film (now in digital format) broken down by scene. We have assorted angles to work with from wide shot to two shot to close ups, over the shoulders and inserts of objects. We pour through it all selecting performances and figuring out where to be during each moment of a scene. Do we want to watch the speaker speak or the listener listen? Where does the heart of the moment reside? At what point do we go in tight for emphasis? When do we pull back for air?

To me editing is the act of creating visual music. What motivates a cut is often the editor’s sense of rhythm. We work with the director to incorporate his/her notes and desires, and then are sent off to “do what you do.” And what we do includes little tweaks of frames here and frames there, mere fractions of seconds that if left untouched make an editor squirm.

I have been away from editing for nearly two years. It’s trying to lure me back due to less than stellar progress in the writing arena and a bank account that’s crying, “Foul.” My heart wishes it could keep thinking of spin art nail polish and dancing amoeba blobs. I’d love to know that this blind walk down an unmarked path will get me through the woods, but the reality is that right now I know nothing. And going on when we know nothing is the real art of life. Saying ‘no’ to a paying job because I must get Amber and Cassidy, my newest born characters, through their lives is a leap of faith, and these days I’m finding it easier to help them find their way than to find my own.


Drive By

As I stroll down the street with my strutting Chihuahua, I detect a voice to my left. A wisp of a voice. I turn and see a black SUV pulled alongside a parked car. Window down. Male inside. His face turned my way, lips moving, a hint of sound floating through the rolled down passenger-side window.

“Excuse me?” I ask.

More near-silent lip movement.

“Sorry?” I say formatted as a question.

“Do you live here?” he says, finally in an audible tone.

“Yes,” I reply imagining he’s about to ask for directions.

“Do you want to get coffee some time?” he asks.

Okay, is this really how it’s done? Drive by pick up? Perhaps I should be flattered, but the lack of precision to the event leaves me less than.

“Uh, that’s kind of random,” I say, not certain how else to respond to a stranger, motor running, tossing out an invite from ten feet away based on, uh, how I walk my dog.

It’s been a dry spell. Very dry. Drought dry. But no, sir, I can’t leap to for a drive by. I can’t believe you are very discerning. I can’t accept an invite that way. I can’t. I’m sorry. Maybe if you had parked, walked down the sidewalk and appeared to have happened upon me, struck up conversation. Maybe if you’d at least given me something to go on besides, “He drives a black SUV and speaks the same language as I.”

The driver pulls away, and I continue towards the park with Speck who always gets a lot of action in the sniffin’ meet ‘n greet scene. Despite his diminutive size, he’s very bold in his encounters. I’m the one who grows cautious when the bigger beasts come bounding up imagining my precious one carted away in the jaws of a stranger.

But it wasn’t caution that kept me from exchanging numbers with Mr. SUV. It just felt off. LA has a reputation for being a tough place to meet new people. We move through space in our encapsulated vehicles, our portable homes, my trunk stuffed with every need a whim could desire. That is, except for one. The chance encounter. I love them. Crave them. Smile over them. Some people prefer the fix up, a history laid out in advance, a guarantee of civility assured by a mutual friend, but not I. I like mystery and happenstance.

But again, the drive by factor. Looking back, I’d now like to question this guy on his method. I’d like to sit him down like an investigative reporter removing my personal role in the story and ask, “What prompted you? Is this your normal m.o.? Has it worked before?” I’d like to know if he headed out with the cruising in mind or if he’d leapt forth on a whim. I mean, when I said how random it was, he didn’t come back with a witty reply. He didn’t work to lure me in.

Being the initiator is tough, and in response to Mr. SUV’s gesture I have decided to put myself in the driver’s seat by pledging to reach out and launch my next encounter. The one thing is, I plan to get out of the car.


Reach Out and Touch Someone

I’ve been thinking about prisons and the absence of touch. The two go hand in hand, don’t they? Can’t an absence of touch land someone in prison, and can’t prison bring others to an absence of touch?

And then there is the prison that is the absence of touch, the prison that moves with you wherever you go. We don’t talk about that one, but we should. A lot of people live in that prison and something really should be done about it.

Not to defend the wrongdoers, but if we lock someone away for a crime committed, we must choose between a desire for punishment and a desire to return a healthy being to the world at the end of incarceration. If you have ever lived in the absence of touch, if you have ever lived in pockets of aloneness that turned to pockets of loneliness, you know that that is not the way to become whole. Maybe for short periods of time where there are lessons to be learned, but prolonged, that absence of touch is a killer mightier than any sword, deadlier than any weapon of mass destruction. It may not kill your body, but it kills your spirit.

I think of what gets prisoners to prison in the first place, what turned the innocent child into the not so innocent, what birthed the cruel and the heartless, the one to be feared and hated. If we want a healed society, we all must care. We must reconcile the religious view of good vs. evil and the belief in the Devil embodied with earthly context and opportunity and injustice and inequity. We must remember what hurt and sadness and isolation breed.

My stepfather was a doctor who believed in the healing power of hugs. He mandated a hug a day for everyone, prescribed it like medicine. And you could see the instant effect from resistance to acceptance to easing into the moment.

And no, I have no idea how to apply this to prisons and prisoners. I have to idea how to connect the unconnected in the world, the criminals and upstanding citizens alike, the ones who go days and weeks and years without the simple touch of affection, the ones who never get to spill the words choking the base of their throats, who want to bond with another, who want to find a way to liberate what is buried within, who want feedback and guidance and consolation and comfort, who want to offer the same in exchange. I have no idea.

I think of the traveling prison of isolation and what that does to our society. Despite the connection that technology offers, that solution is feeble compared to the power of touch to heal all that wounds. But maybe if we put our heads together, if those who live enfolded share their success, the rest can find a way to join in. Maybe if we reexamine the goal of incarceration, if we intervene sooner and better, maybe we can cut the number of victims. And maybe, just maybe, if we start talking about all this we can move forward towards a whole lot of healing.

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