This month signaled the release of what I would term the Beastie Boys’ “comeback” album. With the exception of “Ch-Check it Out,” To the Five Boroughs managed to fall flat on the ears of even the most devoted Beastie Boys fans. The album was overly-political in nature and seemed to be more of an album rooted in protest than one dedicated to the celebration of music itself. Furthermore, it was just not “fun.” In a BBC review, Stevie Chick reiterates what every Beastie fan already knows: “Beasties albums, at their best, are immense amounts of fun.” Their lyrics are always clever, and often intoxicating; but, one thing the band can never be accused of is taking themselves too seriously. Yet, in To the Five Boroughs, Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA all seemed to be lacking in creative energy and exuberance as their main focus was critiquing our former political leader (which I applaud them for), rather than collaborating to create the innovative and experimental beats that we, as their fans, have come to expect from them. With their first release off of Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (“Make Some Noise”), it is clear that the Beastie Boys have returned with full force.

Rae Bryant’s short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, releases from Patasola Press, NY in June 2011. Her stories have appeared in BLIP Magazine (formerly Mississippi Review), Opium Magazine, and PANK, among other publications and have been nominated and short-listed for several awards. She has work forthcoming in Puerto del Sol, Gargoyle Magazine and other journals. Rae has received Fellowships from the VCCA and Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a Masters in Writing, awarded as Outstanding Graduate. This summer she’ll be attending the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Conference on Craft in Florence, Italy as a JHU Fellow.

We caught up to Rae at her home outside Washington, D.C. for this interview.

I grant that I’ve only been here for eight months, but my experience does not match a single stereotype of LA. Unless we’re talking about gridlock on the Hollywood Freeway (see how assimilated I am becoming?) or sunshine 300 days out of the year, the public perceptions of non-Los Angelenos bear more resemblance to Tea Party talking points than any reality that I’ve experienced.

“Los Angelenos Are Vapid Assholes”

Since moving to Los Angeles, I think that I’ve read more books than any time since college. What’s more, I’m able to discuss books with other people who have read them, or at least people who have read other, similar books. Like many misconceptions of Los Angeles, this is probably true of a very narrow layer of aggressively substance-free folks working in Hollywood. It bears no resemblance to reality when you’re talking to some Mexican skinhead from East Los who has all kinds of opinions on the book he just read about Zen Buddhism or the omnipresent homeless guys outside of the public library.

And the people here are nice. I don’t mean nice in the way that a 65-degree day or a sweater from your favorite aunt at Christmas is nice. I mean welcoming, friendly, helpful, “homely” in the British sense. Whether it’s South Bay gang members packing another bowl and asking me questions about what the hardcore scene was like where I grew up or the server at a local vegan restaurant putting on her best — best — fake smile before bringing me another refill of coffee, Los Angelenos know something very useful: In a metro area of almost 18 million people a little bit of kindness, deference and ability to laugh at oneself is what keeps us from degenerating into Rwanda.

“Everyone is Tanned / Has Fake Tits / Capped Teeth / Botox”

I live in Hollywood and even I don’t get this. While I’m sure that if I went on a plastic surgery disaster hunt I’d come back with some impressive big game, I don’t see how a stereotype of Los Angeles was formed that was so damned white and middle class. For starters, over half the city doesn’t have to tan. The issue, however, goes far beyond the obvious social marker of race. Los Angeles is a bit like a third-world country in the sense that you have grotesque opulence and abject, shit-eating poverty existing within a stone’s throw of one another. The plastic surgery industry no doubt thrives in Los Angeles, but I often wonder at what income percentile the number of people who’ve had a little work done sinks like a stone.

“Nobody Walks in LA”

While granting that 98 percent of the people ambling around Hollywood Boulevard on any given day are a plague sent here from Germany, Kansas and Australia, it’s simply not true that Los Angelenos don’t walk anywhere. For one thing, if you live in a halfway decent neighborhood you can get most of your errands done simply by walking if need be. On a Friday night it’s far easier to shuffle from one bar to another by foot than it is to get in your car and risk a DUI, and as anyone will tell you this is a drinking town with a football problem.

Los Angeles has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the country. This figure must, however, be taken with a small grain of salt. Remember the truly astonishing (and hard to quantify) number of Angelenos who don’t so much have a car as they have a museum piece that they rub down six days a week before driving half a mile to the 7-11 to show off to other guys with similar museum pieces. Put simply, a 51 Buick low rider counts as a car about as much as the 100-year-old straight razor owned by my great-grandfather Claude Pell counts as something I can shave with.

While we’re on the subject — our public transit system is extensive, clean and relatively safe.

“Everyone Is / Wants to Be in Movies”

While I do own up to knowing a former VP of Miramax and a guy with two AVN Awards, this stereotype is largely a product of selective attention. If your friend who moved to Los Angeles moved here to be a screenwriter, chances are they have surrounded themselves with assholes who are “in the industry” and have become the type of asshole that says things like “the industry” with an air of mesmerized awe. Some of the most interesting people in Los Angeles, however, are not those in The Industry ™, but those existing at its margins. For everyone ten people here trying to be the next Brad Pitt or Michael Bay, there is someone trying to be the next Tura Satana or H.G. Lewis. Considering the gobs of buffoons wandering the streets of LA who expect to be discovered, this is a numbers game I’m more than willing to play.

My Los Angeles

I see the world of Los Angeles through a different prism than those living in New York, Detroit and Seattle, and perhaps even many living right here. To me, Los Angeles is a hard-working, mostly blue-collar city filled with people from every nook and cranny of the earth, living every lifestyle, alternative and otherwise, possible. Our people are honest, straightforward and love a good joke as much as they love a day spent grilling in the sun. They love playing pool, shooting guns at the range, watching boxing at the bar and taking a drive up Mulholland at sunset while making jokes about how clichéd that is. They love shopping at the swap meet, chihuahuas and pit bulls, hamburgers and old movies.

For the first time in my life I have a home. Thanks, Los Angeles, for being everything that people say you aren’t.

This is a partial list of everyone I met, hung out with, exchanged cards with, worked with, or stalked during the various events at last week’s Book Expo America. This is not an exhaustive list; I’m sure there are people I’m omitting, and I already feel bad about it.

With that disclaimer, here is the list, in alphabetical order:

 

ADAM WILSON

Editor at The Faster Times, and author of the forthcoming Flatscreen, which sounds fantastic. Hung out with him at the swankier-than-swank Authors Guild cocktail party.

 

ALISON SKAPINETZ

Blogs at Alison’s Book Marks. Met her at the Harper blogger party at Bill’s Gay Nineties. Like me, is from Jersey. Like me, is half Italian. Like my wife, had just taken her kids on a field trip to the Crayola Factory.

 

ANDY SHAFFER

AKA Evil Wylie. Author of Great Philosophers Who Failed At Love, which, unlike The Financial Lives of the Poets, really is about philosophers who failed at love. His line of “Evil” Christmas cards was featured on Colbert. Wore heart-shaped Disney glasses on his head. Is from Iowa. Does not seem like he’s from Iowa. Very funny.

 

BETH FISH

Nom de plume of [real name redacted]. Blogs at Beth Fish Reads.

 

CAROLINE KENNEDY

The biggest name on the docket, it says here, but she was a no-show. The official reason is that a family matter compelled her to bow out, but I think it was a conspiracy involving the Mafia, the CIA, and Fidel Castro.

 

COLLEEN GORMAN

Blogs at Books in the City, which is one of the best-designed book blog sites out there. Spends the holidays in Dallas, so maybe she’s also in on the aforementioned conspiracy.

 

DAWN RENNERT

Is too fond of books. Has four kids, whom she left home with her husband for BEA. In a related story, she looked very relaxed whenever I saw her.

 

DAVID GUTOWSKI

AKA Largehearted Boy. Wanted to meet him, but our paths, alas, did not cross.

 

DIANE LaRUE

Blogs at BookChickDi. At the party at Bill’s Gay Nineties, I mistakenly called her blog BookLadyDi, which would not be nearly as interesting, unless you’re into royal gossip and “Goodbye English Rose.”

 

DIANA SPECHLER

One of the featured authors at Monday’s Harper blogger event (the day after her TNB chat). Author of Skinny. Just a super nice person (real-person nice, not car-salesman nice). Wish we could have spent more time talking shop.

 

ELISSA SCHAPPELL

Author of the forthcoming Blueprints for Building Better Girls, a collection of inter-related stories that has one of the best titles going. Has more literary bona fides than you can shake a stick at, were you moved to shake a stick at literary bona fides. Met her at the Authors Guild party.

 

ERICA BARMASH

Perennial marketeer extraordinaire. Taker of vitamins.

 

JASON CHAMBERS

Managing editor at the increasingly-misnomered Three Guys One Book. Is launching a new venture called LitBreaker, a literary and pop culture ad network. Can totally pull off a white hat.

 

JASON RICE

He’s tall, and he has cool glasses.

 

JEN SCHULKIND

My excellent editor and companion-in-wandering around Javits. Waited with me to meet Russell Banks. Texted me showtimes for Bridesmaids.

 

JENNIFER HART

AKA Book Club Girl. Harper’s marketing director and associate publisher. New Jersey apologist.

 

JIM LEYRITZ

Former New York Yankee playoff hero who has written a book about the financial meltdown in Iceland. Just kidding! He wrote a book about his time with the Bronx Bombers. Spotted him on the NJ Transit platform in Madison.

 

JOHN LITHGOW

Keynote speaker at the Authors Guild dinner. Saw him at the cocktail party. Tried to play New York cool, but when I held the door for him, felt it would be rude to not say hello. Told him he was great on Colbert. Kept bumping into him for the rest of the party—when I went to the men’s room, for one thing—and again at BEA. Got to be sort of funny. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was stalking me.

 

JOSEPH PAPA

My publicist and handler for the autograph table. Thought an event was open bar; ordered two Champagne cocktails. It wasn’t; cost him $38. Was a bit shaken when the insane person came by the table (I used to recruit at job fairs, so I’m used to insane people).

 

JULIANNE MOORE

Walked by her on the way to my table; saw the back of her more-brown-than-red head. She’s small, and was folded up under the table like she was trying to vanish.

 

KIT STEINKELLNER

Blogs at Books Are My Boyfriends. Big fan of TNB. Was wearing a really cool dress.

 

LAUREN CERAND

Invited me to the Authors Guild cocktail party, which was awesome, and then did one better by introducing me to people when I showed up by myself, parched, early, and feeling quite out of place. As art deco swanky as the Edison Ballroom is, her outfit was even swankier.

 

LORI HETTLER

Longtime supporter of Yours Truly. Blogs at The Next Best Book Blog. Mastermind of The Next Best Book Club at Goodreads. First in line at the Fathermucker signing session. Introduced me to a lot of cool bloggers. Even nicer in person than she is online.

 

MARY SASSO

Harper’s marketing coordinator, which means she does the dirty work. Did a great job putting my stuff together. The lollipops turned out great!

 

MATTHEW NORMAN

Author of the very funny Domestic Violets, which drops in August. Lives in Baltimore. Is very tall.

 

MEGAN ABBOTT

One of the few American writers at the Quais du Polar festival I attended in March, in Lyon, France—and we were both at BEA, on the same day, at almost the same time slot, promoting two different books. Unlike in Lyon, the book she signed(The End of Everything) is in English, and is next in my stack.

 

MICHAEL FUSCO

Art director who designed the invitations for the Authors Guild event. Emma Straub’s husband, and the designer of the awesome book jacket for Other People We Married. Hung out with me at the Authors Guild party.

 

MOLLIE GLICK

My intrepid agent, who went with me to the Harpers party at The Park (her dog we left at the office).

 

RACHEL MANWILL

Blogs at Home Between Pages. Distinguishing mark: tattoo on her neck.

 

REBECCA COLEMAN

Author of The Kingdom of Childhood. Waited in line for a signed copy of Fathermucker; seemed surprised when I waited in line for a signed copy of her book.

 

ROB SPILLMAN

Editor of Tin House. Wearer of the coolest shirt-and-tie combo at the Authors Guild party.

 

RUSSELL BANKS

One of my favorite authors. I waited in line for a signed galley of his new one, Lost Memory of Skin. I actually said, “Hi, Russell; big fan,” like I was calling a sports radio talk show or something.

 

T. OLMSTED

BookSexy. Huge Colbert fan. Has tastes very similar to mine (guess how she feels about Franzen?).

 

TALIA CARNER

Author of Jerusalem Maiden, which sounds terrific…and releases today. Very elegant.

 

VANESSA VESELKA

Author of Zazen, which I’m reading now, and which is as superb as advertised. Has a tattoo of the New York Public Library lion on her arm. Met her at Javits, and again at Bill’s Gay Nineties. Inspired my wife and I to eat dinner at Veselka, our favorite restaurant in the East Village, after the party.

 

Dear Dust

Sarah Palin is officially running for president. Sarah Palin!

That is all.

Connie.

First come, first serve. One per person. No returns.

  • The Hypnic Jerks
  • Riff Medusae
  • Harumph!
  • My Share of the Dildo
  • Animals for Feminist Research

You

By Zoe Brock

Movies

YOU are a woman.

You might not have been a woman before you started reading, but for now, you most certainly are. Have fun with it, you slut.

You are a woman.

Whenever I see a tails-side-up penny on a sidewalk, or in a parking lot, I think of her.

Every time she spotted one, she would kick it as hard as she could.

Everybody knows that only a heads-up penny is good luck, so she kicked the tails-up pennies.

I found this to be terribly endearing, like she was kicking out at the Fates. Take that, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos.

Or perhaps by kicking a penny into the heads-up position, she selflessly passed on good luck to an unsuspecting stranger. Numismatic altruism.

Whenever I see a penny on the ground now, I think of her.

I think about what a talented songwriter and musician she was.

I think about my ruined credit from using plastic to pay for our band van repairs, gasoline, and groceries. Trying to survive in a rock band full of rich girls was not easy for a poor kid with no parental parachute.

I remember them coming into the Subway where I worked, alcohol buzzed midday and having fun. They had no idea how badly I wanted to be a carefree twenty-something on a day drunk too, but nobody was paying my way.

I think about all of the time I put into our band: the hours I spent on the phone with A&R reps, booking gigs, mailing music, and hanging show posters. How I quit college one semester from a degree to go on tour, only to be kicked out by her after we finally signed a major label record deal. And how they had to hire a manager to do all the promotional work I’d been doing to get us signed because nobody else in the band could ever wake up before noon.

I think about how she organized it so that the whole band and our label rep from New York kicked me out chickenshit-style as a group, rather than having the human decency to do it one-on-one. I was the fourth person she’d fired from the band in two years, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.

I think about how I missed the chance to play at the private R.E.M. end-of-tour party in Athens, Georgia, even though I had everything to do with Mike Mills noticing our band.

I think about the time we got into such a horrible, drunken fight that we threw full beer cans at each other.

I think about the next day, when she asked me how my bathroom mirror got broken and I sarcastically laughed until I realized she really didn’t remember throwing the beer can at my head and missing. (I ducked. Seven years bad luck.)

I think about her annoying rich-kid-with-nothing-real-to-think-about ramblings. “What is the Absolute Truth?” she often pretentiously wondered aloud. “What are we doing here on the planet?” she would toss into a conversation. But most of us were tired from working a job all day here on the planet and just wanted to relax.

It was irritating to be around, to be constantly slapped in the face with someone’s existential angst. Struggling with unanswerable questions is not how I choose to live my life — that’s why I’m not religious. I don’t care who put us here, why we’re here, or where we go when we die. I’ve got bills to pay.

She had no job and her parents bought everything: her college, rent, brand new car, and musical gear. She could spare the brain space, as she had nothing to do but think about such things. Money can make a person crazy that way.

Sometimes I think about the cat she named Abby, short for Absolute Truth. She later abandoned it when she moved into an apartment that wouldn’t allow animals. I wonder what the Absolute Truth was for that poor creature.

I wonder if she’s doing drugs all of the time, and if she still thinks that when she trips on acid she’s getting in touch with her Native American heritage, as if her great, great, great-grandmother being Cherokee makes her drug-induced hallucinations “visions” instead of drug-induced hallucinations.

I think about her insane rages whenever she’d attempt to drink anything stronger than beer — when she’d become violent, uncontrollable, and even piss herself after shots of whiskey.

I wonder if she’s still ruining the lives of the people around her.

Whenever I see a penny on the ground now, I think of her.

And I kick it.