Departure

At half past five in the morning on a Wednesday Melbourne Airport is empty anyone but airline staff. The sun hasn’t yet risen, and the big bay gate windows face out into a vast darkness broken only by blinking red lights and the dim movement of the great shapes of planes.

Deserted airports are unsettling places. As many of the flights I’ve taken have been during peak traffic hours, I’m used to being surrounded by people; long lines of people, stretching away from the check-in desks manned by energetic, white-shirted staff with great skin, or waiting to be herded through the thin cream plastic gateways of metal detectors while security guards turn their heads away to joke with each other, but never with passengers, or standing bored at the boarding gate, the long blue-carpeted corridor and the sense of forward momentum that just being on a plane brings only a tantalising few steps away.

Sitting here all by myself is a little eerie.

I want to stay awake as long as I can, in order to reset to California time faster – if I can go to sleep eight hours into the flight from Brisbane, I’ll be well on the way to coaching my body over the line and past the worst of the jetlag on the other side of waking. But because I’m up so early, I’m already fatigued, and if I go to sleep too soon, I’ll end up setting myself back further. My plan is to sustain myself by drinking thin, complimentary airline coffee, the taste of which, inexplicably, I love anyway, and focusing on some writing I want to get done until it’s time to sleep.

The flight from Melbourne to Brisbane is OK, although Brisbane Airport is no place for a young man. Leathery middle-aged women with missing teeth and low-cut pink halter tops over their flat and freckled breasts and entire families resplendent in identical rat-tail mullets and Juicy Couture roam the halls, delighted with the presence of a solitary Krispy Kreme outlet staffed by a lone and defeated Indian man.

I make it through to my gate and find there’s no one here, either. Just a long concourse, clinical and neat in its white tiles and in its empty tables and chairs. It’s quiet; lifeless in a way that seems to have no expectation of ever being anything but.

Where is everyone today?

People arrive and sit in pairs and groups around the departure desk throughout the next hour. When boarding is announced and I take my seat on the plane to Los Angeles I wonder idly if there are going to be any young children sitting nearby. I’m situated two rows behind the main bulkhead, and as the plane starts to fill, my insides clench. Beside me is a family with an infant. To my right, a family with two toddlers. Ahead of me, two more families with young kids. As I watch, another two families, infants in tow, come down the aisle and take the rows across the aisle to my left.

‘Isn’t this nice!’ one mother exclaims to another. ‘All these families here! All the kids can play together!’

On cue, one of the younger babies starts to bawl, which sets off another on the other side of this grid of horror, this devil’s game of tic-tac-toe I have found myself imprisoned in.

‘Excuse me,’ I say to a stewardess as she walks past. ‘I see a seat up ahead is spare. Do you think I could…?’

Thank God, thank God, thank God I’m so good-looking, I think. She’s going to give me anything I want.

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she says, smiling professionally. ‘That’s Premium Economy. I can’t let you sit there. But there are some seats spare down the back. After take-off, you could go and have a look to see if there are any still free? If someone else hasn’t beaten you to it?’

‘Thank you,’ I say, and sink back into my seat for take-off.

As soon as the fasten seatbelts light chimes off, I’m up and moving. Like a hungry ghost, I fly down the aisle.

And I see it.

It.

An oasis of solitude – empty seat surrounded by empty seat surrounded by empty seat; row after row of unreserved space. With one smooth motion, I strip my jacket from around my shoulders and launch it through the air. It soars in a graceful arc, its empty arms lifting like the eagle wings of sweet liberty herself, and lands perfectly in the middle seat of one of the empty rows, a message to the thieves and jackals who couldn’t think as fast as I: mine.

That night we hit the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced, and my three empty seats bring me no comfort. High above the Pacific, one of my three blankets tucked under my chin, and my three pillows gently cushioning my head against the shakes and buffets of the squalling wind beneath our wings, I close my eyes and think  Goddamnit. I’m never going to get to sleep on this flight.

I am right, and my next chance to close my eyes and rest comes at LAX. I catch a fifteen minute nap there, and thank God for the opportunity to sleep on the connecting flight to SFO, even if its only for an hour or so. After I’ve taken my seat, a pale and tousle-haired hipster kid slinks his way down the aisle. He is wearing jeans so tight I worry for his future children’s IQ, and a loose beige cardigan that matches his perfectly dishevelled, scruffy hair. He sits next to me, and before I take my nap I wonder what he would do if I warned him that sometimes I scream in my sleep.

But I do not, and I’m sure I will be sorry for this later.¹

*

Arrival

It’s Wednesday, still, more than twenty four hours later, and I wake from a deep and dreamless sleep as we’re touching down in San Francisco and catch a taxi from the airport to my hotel. The Huntington is a towering old building just below the top of Nob Hill on California Street that I can only afford because of the cut-rate prices on Priceline.com. My room number is 11-11, which I take as a good omen.

‘What brings you here?’ the desk clerk asks as I’m signing in.

‘Halloween, man,’ I say. It is the first of a hundred times this week I will say this.

‘You came just for Halloween?’ he asks. ‘Really?’

It is the first of a hundred times someone will ask this.

I shower and unpack before heading down the hill to buy toiletries and food and coffee. I’m here. I’ve done it. This is my time.

At last, I will have my Halloween.

*

Inside Baseball

It’s Thursday, and Meredith texts that she and her friends are going to watch Game 2 in a bar in Glen Park. On arrival, I am greeted by a sea of Giants fans in orange and black, and a buzz of friendly noise. I order a drink, Meredith introduces me, and I have to ask the group: ‘So how do you play this game?’

The rules are explained to me, and suddenly the bar erupts as we score against Texas.

‘OK!’ A, one of Meredith’s friends says. ‘Let’s drink a shot every time we score!’

In the eighth inning, Posey singles up the middle. Holland walks Schierholtz and Ross to load the bases, then walks Huff. Lowe walks Uribe, Rentería singles to left field, and Ross and Huff score. In the space of five minutes, the Giants score six runs, and we decide it may be in our best interests to abandon the drink-a-shot-whenever-we-score rule. Instead, we start drinking freely, and when the game ends with us victorious, we pour out into the night looking for another bar.

This is much better than any Australian sport.

*

Before Halloween

Just as I’d hoped, Halloween is everywhere and by serendipitous coincidence, with the city in the Series, the streets are decked out in orange and black.

Everywhere I look, there are carved pumpkins on porches,  or toy ghosts hanging in store windows, or cartoon witches soaring on broomsticks through supermarket shelves.

It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

My first real taste of the day comes as I’m getting a haircut at a salon a floor above street level. ‘Oh, quick!’ Joey the hairdresser says and puts down her scissors. ‘The kids from one of the schools nearby are trick-or-treating! You have to come see this, you’re going to love it!’

She drags me to the window and from our viewpoint about the street we can see the long lines of kids, held in formation by the watchful shapes of teachers, dotted at regular intervals along the column, dressed in costume. Sunlight glints off astronaut helmets, off fairy wings, off the blades of cutlasses worn through belts.

I hate all of the children. Their bright and shining faces remind me that this could have – should have – been mine, and it never was.

Also, one of them has a bitchin’ Lady Gaga outfit.

I could never pull that off, and I know it.

Saturday night is Meredith’s all-girl football team fundraiser. Ten bucks at the door buys unlimited PBR, and Sue’s packing a giant bowl of Jello shots. Me and Zhu and Emily, Kate and Tara and Lindsey, and Lyn and Erin and Casey shout at the TV as the Rangers take the lead in Game 3 and beat the Giants. We turn to the bottomless PBR to drown our sorrow. Someone puts twenty bucks in the jukebox. The fundraiser tails into an invitation to a house party in the Mission, and we drag ourselves away from Stray Bar in Bernal Heights and work our way there across 18th, across Dolores, by bicycle, by taxi, by car.

The house party is being held by someone named Tersch, a werewolf with a kitchen full of Brazilians. She paints my face in black and red and shows me where the drinks are.

Zhu and I make it our unspoken mission to have more fun than anyone else here. We drink the unfinished Jello shots, we shoot Tersch’s whiskey, and when someone starts passing around a bottle of Jager, we can’t seem to avoid it. Twenty minutes into the party, Zhu’s doing a handstand against the wall and I’m holding onto her boots while she drinks a cup of water upside down to cure her hiccups. A nerd and a Native American and Cupid look on and laugh as Zhu proclaims her temporary illness finally fixed.

Somehow, a half dozen of us end up sitting on the side of the street, under a blanket in the bed of Cupid’s truck, crowds of hundreds of migratory Halloweeners laughing and partying and shouting out around us. Someone steals Tara’s crutch while we’re not looking, and I run across the street to ask security at the nearby street party if they’ve seen it.

I see a girl sitting holding onto a crutch and I think Aha! I’ve got you now!

Then I see she’s wearing a giant moon boot.

‘Can I help you?’ she asks.

‘Oh.’ I say. ‘Well, see, someone stole my friend’s crutch, and I thought… ‘

She looks at me, and with the honesty of someone who’s been drinking for about six straight hours, I say ‘I figured maybe you’d be the kind of awful human being who would steal someone’s crutch, but now I see that you have that big boot on, so you probably need your crutch, but I kinda hoped that whoever stole the crutch maybe thought it was part of a costume, because who steals a crutch? So I came over to check, but it looks like you actually legitimately need your crutch, and you didn’t steal it from my friend. Oh. Both of your crutches, I see.’

‘Your poor friend!’ she says. ‘I wish I could give her one of my crutches.’

‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Anyway, I’m gonna go.’

*

Halloween

It’s Sunday, and I’m going to meet  friends in a bar in Bernal Heights to watch Game 4 and grab a few quiet drinks. I catch the 22 to the top of the hill, and when I get off, the sky is still that perfect hazy shade of powder blue and ice-cream white.

I have no way of knowing that Bernal Heights is where people take their children for trick-or-treating. It’s like the whole suburban neighbourhood turns into a small town for the night – I crest the hill to see an ocean of people with their children, everyone in costume, wishing each other the best and knocking on doors. Jack O’Lanterns sit outside houses and stores alike; ghosts and witches hang from streetlights, the doors of haunted houses are thrown open to reveal thick cobwebs and polished skulls and grinning demons.

This is so perfect I’m almost on the verge of tears. This is everything I ever wanted from my childhood, and it’s right here. This is exactly how I pictured Halloween as being when I was a kid. I move through the crowd, taking photos, talking and smiling and never wanting to be anywhere but here.

*

Fear the Beard

It’s Monday night and Meredith and I are in the Mission. We’re sitting and watching Game 5 with two friends of hers. Lincecum is pitching what may turn out to be the game of his life – firing off eight innings of death from the mound. I wonder if he’s related to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and why his face looks like it’s always going to crumple into tears.

The ninth rolls around with the score 3-1 to the Giants.  Wilson takes the mound. He strikes out Hamilton, Guerrero grounds out, and Cruz takes the plate.

We’re watching the game on a TV with a delay of maybe two seconds, so as we see Wilson wind up for his final pitch and a roar suddenly goes up over the Mission, we know we’ve won.

Meredith and I take to the streets to meet some people I know, and the city has become a madhouse. Everywhere, Giants fans are roaring, running through the streets, slamming their palms down onto the horns in their cars. There are cops and roadblocks in the Castro, while people shout and sing and throw rolls of toilet paper over the streetlights. No one is inside; it’s like we just won every war that’s ever been fought.

Later that night, as I’m walking down Market Street, I come to a pedestrian crossing in front of a line of cars that goes back three blocks.

Unable to help myself, I yell ‘Go Giants!’ and the intersection explodes with the sound of people calling back to me and honking their horns. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The next day I read that people were burning mattresses in the streets.

Those guys party much harder than I do.

*

Jornada del Muerto

It’s Tuesday, and we’re in a giant open warehouse with a skull-headed DJ playing beats. For five dollars, make-up artists will paint your face with spray guns, shading paints, brushes and pads and pencils. But there are too many people here, and the line is too long, and the parade starts at seven. Zoe takes me to the DIY table and makes me up with black eyes, a hollow nose, and lipless teeth. She makes up Lexy too, before we head off for the parade. The organiser with giant hoops in his ears is bitchy about giving me my money back.

‘Well, I guess you’ll have to get here earlier next year, won’t you?’ he says.

Well, I guess that would help if I lived here.

Five of us start off through the Mission, following the route of the parade for Dia de Los Muertos, but Zoe’s stylist, whose name I can’t remember, hangs back to meet some people. Lexy and I and the other girl, another forgotten name, lose Zoe, then find her, then I lose the group. We stay in phone contact as I wander through crowds of the dead. Hundreds, thousands. Skulls and candles and offerings are everywhere. A giant black coach emblazoned with calaveras moves slowly through the mass of people that packs the streets. People hoist paper skeletons high on poles. Dead women in white dresses and dead men in black suits move through the crowd to the beat of graveyard drums.

I find myself at the head of the parade; dancers in long headgear shake and writhe under long banners. Somehow, I’ve overshot the mark of meeting everyone. There’s an anonymity here, all of us dead together and reaching out to offer a spark of life and love to that other black world that crowds in around us tonight.

I can’t believe I’ve never been to Dia de Los Muertos before.

This is the best week ever.


 

*

San Francisco

It’s Wednesday, and I start to realise just how much I miss it here as I walk into Walgreen’s for the first time.

I miss the way the light breaks over the top of houses in Bernal Heights and Noe Valley.

I miss the way coffee shops with dark wooden interiors and twentysomethings with yoga mats using Apple computers sit alongside Starbucks full of professionals with that wholesome mid-Western American look.

I miss that cold clean breeze that moves through the streets when the end of the afternoon starts to deepen into the start of twilight, and I miss the inexorable chill that signals the sun is going down.

I miss standing on the porch in the Castro and seeing the city spread out in front of me at night.

While I’m here, I walk from Chinatown to City Lights bookstore. I catch the Muni as much as I’m able, from Powell to Church, to the Castro. I catch the BART out to the Mission. I walk through Nob Hill, through the Mission, through the Embarcadero. At long last, I catch a cable car. I sit in Barnes and Noble and drink caramel lattes, and I want to be back here.

We drink at the Lex, we drink at the Argus, we drink at Stray Bar. We get coffee at Philz, at La Taza, at Urban Bread.

I get lunch with Angela Tung, and a bird relieves itself in my hair.

I sit in Dolores Park with Meredith, and we talk about traveling and settling down.

I buy a Giants cap at the Westfield Mall, and, unwittingly, take off and throw away the hologram on the brim that will result in it being worth money some day. I don’t care; I’m never selling this thing.

I promise myself that I’m going to get back here. Some way or another.

 

*

Los Angeles

It’s Wednesday, and I arrive, exhausted, at the Grafton, on Sunset. I make a couple of calls, send a few texts, and open up my laptop  to discover that the loose casing (my fault) has finally cost me. A wire is visibly broken, and my computer won’t turn on. I sit down on the bed and wake up the next morning.

*

My American Year

It’s Thursday, and my friend Erinn comes into town from Ventura and spends the day ferrying me around. We go to Olvera Street and I buy a bunch of Dia de Los Muertos souvenirs for people. I pick up a 50-piece jigsaw puzzle for my mother, suddenly acutely aware that I have never once brought her back anything from overseas.

Better late than never, right?

We head out to the beach and I insist we find a place where I can buy a yearly planner for 2011. My reasoning is that if I buy it in America, it will be a sign to the universe that 2011, for me, will be a year spent in America.

I’m wearing my Giants cap, and we pass a woman wearing the same as we cross the streets.

‘Go Giants!’ I say, cheerfully. The woman stares at me blankly as we walk past.

‘Who were you talking to?’ Erinn asks. I shake my head and make a note not to show off any more.

Then as we’re in line at Barnes and Noble, where I’ve found a planner I like, I see a guy wearing a Giants cap two places ahead at the counter. He sees me looking at my hat as I see him looking at mine. He doesn’t say a word, just gives me a silent, satisfied nod of affirmation. Erinn laughs beside me.

‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘I saw.’

*

The Usual Suspects

It’s Thursday night and I can’t help it; if I think of Hollywood I think of Los Angeles, if I think of Los Angeles, I think of Lenore and Duke. If I think of Lenore or Duke, I think of Los Angeles, and I think of Hollywood. It’s just the way it goes.

Lenore and Duke pick me up from my hotel and we go to Delancey’s for dinner. I like that this is where we go when we’re together in Los Angeles, like it’s kind of where you go if you write for TNB. There’s an empty place at the table for four, and we allocate it to Zara, who calls a few moments into the meal. The food, as always, is good. Duke gets the chocolate cake for dessert, and I am jealous, as his choice is superior to mine.

It’s good to see them, and it’s strange to think I just got here and already I’ll be leaving tomorrow night. On the way back to the car we pass a cat who wants to play with us, and we decide that Zara’s place in the group can be taken by our new cat friend.

I secretly cannot wait to tell Zara she has been replaced by a cat.

*

Departures

It’s Friday, and I’m hanging out with my friend Linz. I’ve stolen Ben Loory’s delicatessen, Greenblatt’s. This is his place, as far as I’m concerned, but I want the hot pastrami dip sandwich. I must have it. I can have nothing else. The waitress is from San Diego and makes idle chatter as we wait about how good San Diego is, but has trouble pulling out specifics.

‘Hang on,’ I say. ‘We’re going to settle something.’

I call Joe Daly and ask him what the best place in San Diego is.

‘My house,’ he says, sounding surprised that such a question would even occur.

I promise Joe that Zara and I will make our next trip soon, and we will come to San Diego.

The day goes by too quickly, and soon I am back at LAX. I talk in my bad Spanish to the woman in front of me at the security checkpoint. She is from Colombia and going to Wisconsin, of all places. She is old, with bad teeth and a shy smile. We sit together after going through the metal detectors and put our shoes back on. Something falls from her bag, a piece of paper, and I hand it back to her.

‘Gracias, senor,’ she says.

‘De nada, senora,’ I say in reply. ‘Que tenga un bueno noche.’

‘Si,’ she says. ‘Y tu.’

I have no idea how to say, ‘I’ve had one of the best weeks of my life and I don’t want to go back to Australia yet,’ in Spanish. We haven’t covered that at El Patio Spanish Language School. So I smile and go to catch my flight, and in my head, I am laying plans for my return.

This week I have had my first baseball game, my first Halloween, my first Dia de Los Muertos. I have drunk my first Old-Fashioned, eaten my first tamale, done whatever it is you do with your first Jello shots. I have seen people I love and don’t see enough, people I don’t see nearly as much as I want to, because they’re so far away.

I could do this week every day of the year.

 

 

 

 





¹ – correct.


As you may know—but may not, because of my Scorpio predilection for Dick Cheney-level secrecy—I am a semi-professional astrologer.*For many months, I have been quietly collecting birth data from TNB contributors** whenever the topic came up on the comment boards, a sort of horoscopical scavenger hunt that netted quite a few charts for my burgeoning collection.

I had seen neither Twilight nor New Moon, and yet, shortly after touching back down into Los Angeles, I found myself at a preview screening of Eclipse with my friend Lindsey and two of her friends. As it turns out, you don’t really need to have seen the previous two movies if you’ve paid attention to any newspaper in the entire world for the last two years. Vampires, werewolves, no sex, Taylor Lautner without a shirt, and you’re good to go.

Dakota Fanning.

What a bitch.

It starts innocently enough.You are experiencing the tedium of the afternoon, restlessly wishing the ticking second hand on the clock would just only tick faster, though you’re not entirely certain why you might wish for this to occur, as not one single thing will be different by dinnertime, and in fact, there is a good chance you will feel worse when dinnertime does come, because dinnertime is in the future and more of your life has been wasted and thrown away in the future.Nevertheless, you wait, and you begin to feel the anesthetizing languor take hold.In order to combat this sensation, you start a game of spider solitaire.Your father loves this game, and you love your father, so you play the game.It is more challenging than regular solitaire (a game for neophytes), and when you win, you know your father, sitting in Miami in his tropical print shirt, is psychically proud to have had a hand in raising such a brilliant child.

New York, man.

What can I say that hasn’t been said?

I doubt I’ve gone more than a week in my life without hearing, or seeing, a reference to that city.

They say it’s the greatest city on earth.

The drive from East Randolph to New Paltz was, I think, one of my favourite legs of the trip. It’s not often you get the chance to use the word ‘verdant’ and not come across like something of a tool, but verdant is the word to describe the woods that line the roads as you hook out east over peaceful highways that, more often than not, you have to yourself.

You could get lost out here, and be happy for doing so.


LENORE ZIONDr. Zion, to you.


One of the original TNB writers — you might say she’s a first-round draft pick — and still one of the best.  And the funniest.  I mean, she’s hysterical.


She’s danced provocatively to the seductive stylings of Joni Mitchell, but she no longer drives a scooter.


She has some weird midget karma going on.  Here she is discussing it.


She’s fascinated by dead pets.  And old people getting busy.


She’s a reluctant Christmas caroler, but a proud Squiggle-Wiggle Writer.


Morbidity does not bother her, although she suffers from food panic.


Oh, and…she smells.


What day is it? Is it Blurnsday today? It feels like a Blurnsday out there.

Time has ceased to have any real and true meaning – the days have become a blur of highway, movie scenes come to life, and the varied ranks of TNB. I’m keeping track of the weeks by marking off the vague offers of visa-superceding marriage I’m accruing from people I haven’t met and the one from someone I have (please note, ma’am, not only am I totally serious, but I’ll tell all of my friends that I think you’re really cool).

That being said, here’s what happened at the start of the week.

Yes, I agree, I deserved to be sat next to a big fat person for thinking Jesus, I hope I don’t have to sit next to a big fat person on this flight.

Yes, I agree, I deserved to be sat next to the biggest, fattest person on the flight after watching this person in particular walk down the aisle and thinking Jesus. Like that one right there.

There’s a disgusting commercial on the television. They keep flashing photographs of some unfortunate woman’s foot – she appears to have a lot of trouble keeping the skin on her heels healthy. They’re yellow and cracked, and frankly, they look diseased. But then, the product the commercial is pushing came into her life and now she has happy feet and she could maybe even be a foot model, and everyone knows that men want to date models, so she’s pretty set. She doesn’t have to worry about anything anymore, unless, of course, she doesn’t want to be a foot model. Not every girl would want to spend the working hours having her feet photographed, day in and day out. Maybe she wanted to become an accountant. She might just really like numbers, you never know, not all girls are bad at math. If she were educated at a Montessori school in her formative years, the educators would have encouraged her to develop her natural skill set – they would have nurtured her true, instinctual interests by removing any road blocks standing between her and her professional destiny. I guess this would mean the teacher would give the kid a calculator or an abacus or something and tell her to go nuts. If the woman really did always want to be a foot model, I suppose the obstacle standing in the way between her and her dream job would be this nauseating foot disease, so the teacher would probably have given her the product in the commercial and maybe shown her how to apply it. “Do it in little circles. No, smaller. Smaller. Smaller.” I don’t really know what I’m talking about; I’m not a teacher.

 

I went to a Montessori school. The different wooden farm animals outside the door distinguished the classrooms from one another. There was a sheep and a cow and a duck – I’m pretty sure I have a memory of wanting to be in the duck room, and looking forward to the day that would happen. I don’t remember doing any work while I was in the Montessori school. Unless I’ve imagined it, I don’t think I did anything there but peel carrots and oranges. All day long, that’s what I did in school. It makes me wonder what the hell my natural skill set is, if this is what I did while the teachers removed the obstacles that might stand in the way of my professional development. I suppose I was preparing diligently to obtain employment at Jamba Juice – and hey, that job might actually pay me more than what I’m doing now, if I worked my way up to becoming manager. And most people who go to Jamba Juice are in a really good mood because they’re about to get some juice, and everyone likes juice. It’s nice to work in a friendly environment.

 

My parents took me out of Montessori – or maybe I graduated from Montessori, I don’t remember – and then I went to University Primary School, which was called Uni-Pri. It was the school associated with the University of Illinois, and I’m assuming it was also the school responsible for derailing me from my goals of becoming an orange and carrot peeler. Probably, because my interest in carrots and oranges was discouraged upon leaving Montessori, I repressed this urge to be active in food-related activities. This repression spawned an unconscious obsession with food, which would explain why I began sneaking extra fruit snacks (it’s no coincidence I preferred the artificial orange flavor) when my parents weren’t looking, and it would also explain why I’m unable to go more than five minutes without my brain screaming to me about food food food FOOD FOOD FOOD! I mean, what the hell do you people who don’t think about food think about? Please tell me, maybe I can train myself to be like you. I’m so tired of thinking about food, and really, I’m tired of thinking about most of the crap I think about. Why does my hand feel dirty? I was petting the cat. Is the cat dirty? Cats clean themselves, so you’re not supposed to wash them. But they clean themselves with their fucking tongues, and they stick their tongues in their assholes. Is there cat shit on my hand? Should I go buy some food? No one is looking, it’s okay, I can have more food. You can confess to facebook tomorrow if you feel guilty. Am I special? Do people think I’m special?

 

Meanwhile, as I was damaging my psyche with this repression, I was being changed. Uni-Pri, the school I actually remember quite fondly, was offering me up as a participant in psychological studies measuring child development and the like. I didn’t know about this until I took a class in cognitive development, and we watched a video about object permanence. Object permanence is a concept children achieve at some early age – I’d tell you which age, but I can’t remember because it’s not that important to me. If I ever get pregnant, I’m sure I’ll suddenly care, and then I’ll think it’s the most important information in the world and I won’t believe that some people out there don’t care! What it is, is when a kid realizes that just because he can’t see an object, doesn’t mean it ceases to exist. So if you show him a toy, and he’s all happy, then you hide the toy, a child who has achieved object permanence will cry and reach for the hidden toy and etcetera, while a child who has not achieved object permanence will be all “woah, that thing is just fucking gone now, it’s just gone.” It’s easy to fool kids because their brains aren’t fully developed yet. They can’t be, otherwise they’d be so big that they’d destroy a woman’s vagina on their way out. In any event, I was enrolled in a cognitive development class, and we watched a video about object permanence, and, to my surprise, I was in that video. “Lenore, can you find the Snoopie doll?” they were asking me, and there I was, in a really cute little dress, representing, thank god, the kid who had achieved object permanence. How humiliating it would have been to be the slow kid in the educational video. “Did you ever involve me in any psychological studies?” I asked my father, and he said: “I don’t know.” It’s okay with me, really. It’s not like it’s upsetting – all they were doing was having me locate a stupid doll.

 

But I do wonder if maybe this is why I ended up getting my doctorate in psychology. Because at the same time I was being deterred from developing and nurturing my natural skill set of peeling oranges and carrots, I was compelled to take part in psychological studies. I was young, my brain wasn’t fully developed – it couldn’t have been difficult to confuse me and replace “carrot peeling” with “psychology.” I really don’t know what I’m talking about. What the hell am I doing? It’s 2:10 AM between Friday and Saturday and I’m just sitting around. I haven’t even read a book or anything tonight, I’ve just been sitting here, and my neighbor is serenading me with his loud burping. I don’t know why he isn’t asleep. I can see a number of lights on and televisions flickering in the neighborhood. The middle of the night used to be so peaceful and quiet – it used to be my time, this was my fucking time, and now everyone’s wide awake, burping out of their windows at me. I should really get a boyfriend or something, this is getting really fucking boring. I guess I can read a book and stop all this complaining, do something proactive about my lassitude – I mean, I’m a doctor of psychology for crying out loud, but Jesus Christ, I just looked up and that diseased foot commercial is on again. It must be cheap to buy air time in the middle of the night between a Friday and a Saturday, and those foot people are smart, because the only people who would see it are the other slobs who didn’t do anything at all other than sit around in their pajamas from the night before, and those are the people who probably get skin diseases on their feet. I hope I don’t get one, but hey, at least now I know what number to call if I do.


Ladies and gentlemen, it’s official.

The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience will be taking place at The Echo on Saturday, April 10th, 2010.  Celebrating National Poetry Month.

Many thanks to our friends at Stories Bookstore in Echo Park for their help in making it all congeal.

The details:

I have stolen the keys to the TNB blog and am now going to take it for a spin. I may get booted off TNB for doing so, but before I’m found out, I thought I’d show some pictures of me hanging out with various TNB contributors, just to brag about the fact that I personally know them and stuff.

Eponymous

By Greg Olear

Writing

Back in April, Megan DiLullo wrote a post called “I Was Gang Banged by the Lollypop Guild and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.” I don’t know if we keep statistics on such things, or that we could if we wanted to, but I’d venture to guess that pretty much everybody who checked the site that day clicked that link. Because, you know, there was a chance that the piece was actually about her erotic misadventures in Lilliput. And who wouldn’t want to hear about that?

(The answer to that rhetorical question: everybody but Lenore).

In cyberspace in general, and The Nervous Breakdown in particular, long, audacious titles tend to yield more hits than single words no one uses, like, say, “Eponymous.” Some of Reno’s titles, for example, are almost as long as his posts, and he’s one of the most popular writers on here.

With so many books coming out every year—and so many other media that compete with novels for your entertainment dollar—a catchy title is absolutely essential, especially for an emerging author. So, you know, the heat is on to come up with a good one.

I did a survey of titles, mostly of novels, and found that most of them are what I’d term safe. They are riffs on one of a handful of accepted formats. To wit:

 

Names

Hamlet, Macbeth, David Copperfield, Justine, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jane Eyre, Lolita

 

Places

Peyton Place, Preston Falls, Empire Falls, Wuthering Heights, Great Jones Street, Casablanca, Prague, Chinatown

 

Dates

1984, “December, 1963,” Ash Wednesday, Saturday, Friday, Twelfth Night

 

Red, White & Blue

American Tabloid, American Psycho, American Beauty, American Pie, American Gigolo, American Graffiti, American Idiot

 

Pairs

War & Peace, War & Rememberance, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Sons & Lovers, Crime & Punishment, Angels & Demons

 

Definite Articles

The Exorcist, The Alchemist, The Alienist, The Wrestler, The Idiot, The Moviegoer, The Kite Runner

 

Feelings

Atonement, Affliction, Possession, Lust, Persuasion, Unforgiven, Despair

 

Allusions

For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sound & The Fury, Tender is the Night, Pale Fire, Brave New World, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Paths of Glory

 

-ing Around

Saving Private Ryan, Being John Malkovich, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Romancing the Stone, Waiting for Godot

 

Euphemisms for Death

The Big Sleep, The Big Chill, The Sweet Hereafter

 

This is not to suggest that any of these titles are bad—some of them are excellent, I think—just that they are safe. They don’t take any chances.

Atonement is the perfect title for what is, in my estimation, the best English-language novel of the last quarter century—what else would it be called?—but it’s not a title you see and think, “Wow, that sounds good; I have to run and buy that.” But then, Ian McEwan can get away with that.

Prague is actually set in Budapest; the title derives from the fact that all the expats in Hungary would rather be in the Czech capital. A cool title, once you find that out—but unless you’re Darian Arky and you were just on the Charles Bridge this morning, does it really want to make you pick it up and read it?

A good title—a really good title, I mean—should 1) pique your interest—that’s a must; 2) have more than one meaning; 3) suggest the time, place, setting, and/or theme of the work; and 4) be realized in an unexpected and interesting way.  It’s also helpful if it sounds really cool.

Here are some of my favorite titles of all time:

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • The Bell Jar
  • Tropic of Cancer
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • The Crying of Lot 49
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Landscape of the Body
  • Bonfire of the Vanities
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • The Financial Lives of the Poets

What are yours?  Do tell.

 

I went to a spa for the first time the other day.

Booked myself a massage and a facial at Burke Williams. It’s very fancy, and when I checked in I was immediately escorted to the ladies’ locker room, where there were Jacuzzi baths and showers and a sauna and a steam room and dozens of beauty products and expensive blow dryers and fuzzy bathrobes and towels, all of which were available to me.

I’d been told when I made the reservations that I should come at noon, as this was when the spa opened, and I was free to spend the entire day there, soaking in various baths with other naked women.

My spa escort brought a number of rooms to my attention during the tour.

“This is the Silent Ladies’ Room,” she said. “You can come here and be quiet.”

Inside, there was a woman being quiet.

“This is the lounge,” she said. “You can sit here quietly.”

Then she brought me to my locker and told me to get naked and please remember to wear my special spa slippers. “They’re in your locker, along with your bathrobe.”

I put on my bathrobe. It was very large, too large. I put on my spa slippers, which fit perfectly. I found this strange, because I am an average sized female, but my feet are smaller than average.

I had an hour before my massage appointment, so I walked to the steam room. On the door was a large sign that said: “Do not use the steam room if you are wearing contacts.”

I was wearing contacts.

So I went to the sauna. Same sign on that door.

I noticed a bowl with bananas and apples. I hadn’t been told anything about the bananas.

Could I have a banana?

I looked around me.

No one.

I quickly took a banana. I hid in one of the showers while I ate it, just in case.

It was still only 12:20. My appointment wasn’t until 1:00. I walked around. Where were the other naked ladies?

I went to the Silent Ladies’ Room.

I sat quietly for a moment.

I went to the lounge.

There were more bananas in the lounge.

I stared at the bananas for a moment, then grabbed one, unpeeled it, and ate it. Right there in the lounge. An employee walked by as I ate the banana. I got nervous and stuffed a giant piece into my mouth, just in case she was planning to take it away from me.

She didn’t take the banana away from me, though, so I became bold and took another one and ate that right there in the lounge, too.

There was nothing to look at in the lounge. There was a fireplace, but I’d hardly call that entertainment.

Another lady in a bathrobe and special spa slippers entered the lounge. I got nervous in her presence, so I got up and went back to my locker to get my cell phone. Maybe I had some good emails.

No service.

I ate another locker room banana.

I went back to the lounge, and sat down. My masseuse walked in and asked if I was “Leonora.”

“Yes,” I said. Because there’s really no point in correcting her.

She put her hand on my back and kept it there as she guided me to the massage room and spoke to me in a thick accent. This made me feel as though I was in trouble.

In the room, my masseuse told me to get naked.

Everyone wanted me to get naked.

She left, I got naked, she came back in.

“No no, darling. You need to be on your stomach,” she said.

I predicted she might want me on my stomach, but it seemed rude to have her enter the room with me not even facing her with a nice smile.

“Oh my goodness! So many tattoos on your body!” she said.

“Heh heh, yes,” I said.

“You have large bruises here,” she said, poking my right butt cheek.

A few nights before I let a stranger in striped pants and a feathered hat spank me with the riding crop at the after party for the TNB reading series, and he wasn’t very gentle.

“Oh, ha, yes, that’s because of this person, I don’t know his name, and this event…it’s really not a big deal,” I said.

Then massive amounts of oil were poured all over me.

As she rubbed me down, the masseuse verbally pointed out all of my bruises and scars.

“What happens here? You have bruise here, also,” she said, holding my arm.

“I think I fell,” I answered.

“You have scar here,” she said, tapping my chin.

“Yes, yes, I drove a scooter into a parked car,” I said.

“You have bruises, many bruises here,” she said, holding my leg in the air.

“Right, I’m fairly certain I was sleepwalking,” I said.

“Also many scars on toes,” she said.

“Scooter accident again,” I said.

This went on and on for the entire massage.

Then it was over. She told me to drink plenty of water and guided me back to the ladies’ locker room with her hand on my back, telling me about how I should really use the steam room.

I had an hour before my facial.

I stood in the ladies’ locker room. Now there were more naked ladies in there with me.

My contacts were still in, so I still didn’t use the steam room.

I ate another banana.

I accidentally looked at a woman’s bush for too long, and she caught me. I pretended I was looking at something behind her. Hmm, that’s interesting, what’s that? A used towel? Interesting.

I got into the Jacuzzi with two other naked women.

No one was speaking, even though we were not in the Silent Ladies’ Room or the lounge, where we were free to sit quietly.

It made me uncomfortable, to not speak to my naked Jacuzzi partners, so I got out, put my robe back on, and ate another banana.

Then I went and sat in the lounge quietly. I pretended to be very relaxed.

The lady doing my facial came to retrieve me.

She also placed her hand on my back as we walked to the room.

We got to the room, and even though I was there for a facial, I was told to get naked again.

The lady smeared many delicious smelling things on my face and then, for some reason, massaged my feet, which are not a part of my face at all.

As she was removing the face mask she’d applied to my skin, she tapped my chin.

“You have a scar here,” she said.

Then I was brought back to the ladies’ locker room with her hand on my back.

I took a long shower, and then dried off while trying not to stare at an old woman’s naked body.

I put two bananas and an apple in my purse, and then left the locker room.

Many people put their hands on my back as I was walking out, all of them asking how my stay had been.

“Oh, very relaxing, just wonderful,” I said. “Your bananas are very nice.”

Parking was twenty-one dollars.

I called Brad Listi from some sleepy little suburb in Sacramento. We chatted. I think I strong-armed the poor fellow and told him that I wanted to read at TNB’s first L.A reading. He’s too kind. Dear and charming.

I got the gig.

So, L.A.  I had to go. Haven’t seen my birth city in years. Memories of crowded streets and concrete buildings tumbled through my head. 

I gassed up and hit I-15.


On my way in, I picked up a friend of mine, Christy, at the Ontario airport. Ontario is ugly. My friend is not. She’s gorgeous and has the deepest blue eyes I’ve ever seen.

We zipped into Eagle Rock where my mom’s side of the family was having a family reunion. We ate tacos, drank beer, yapped it up, and I danced to some Michael Jackson cuts, slapping my aunt’s ass who was grooving in front of me. People cheered and snapped pictures.

I love to dance. 

Go figure.

I’m supposed to be the rock and roll dude. All spikes and metal. But I love a good beat. And when I hear one my ass shakes and I start snapping my fingers and smashing my brown eyes. What can I say?

Give me Al Green and I’ll give you my body. Hips, dude energy, and all. I’m easy that way.

Way.

* * *

Saturday night I caught up with Rich Ferguson, Lenore Zion, and Megan DiLullo for some drinks.

Zion: cute, funny, and she has nice hands. I like girls that have nice hands. I couldn’t believe that I was in her presence after all these years of literary tomfoolery. It was surreal.

Megan: tattoos and black hair. Rock and roll with a hint of danger shifting in the background. I think she could kick my ass. I didn’t provoke her. After all, I had to read the next night. Didn’t need a black eye. Or two.

Rich: what can I say? I met the man before. But Listi told me years ago this dude was the salt of the earth. And he is. If I had just a dash of what this man carries in his heart I’d sleep better and would have a better appetite. He kicks ass, period.

We talked music, movies, and literature and I think I may  have dropped too many F-bombs. But fuck it.

I cuss. 

So there.

That night I slept horribly. Had a weird dream one of my ex-girlfriends – disguised as a maid – was at the hotel door demanding we talk about our problems. Huh? Everything was a problem to her. The color of the sun. Bargain car tires. Green beans. The taste of water.

Lord have mercy.

Please, sir, send me some mercy.

* * *

I walked into Hotel Cafe and saw some dude in a beanie: Duke Haney. In the flesh. He was there right in front of me. Crazy.

“Haney?” I asked, and went in for a hug.

“Reno?” he asked.

See, folks, I’m a huggy-type guy. Sure, I gave the man a handshake like men do, but I went in for the hug because I have an affinity with the dude. He’s a happening thoughtful, talented, man and I knew this long before we met eyes.

Then I hear: “Is that Reno Romero?”

I turn and there’s Listi standing there. Listi, people! With eyeballs, fingers, and tennis shoes. This is another happening dude. But you know this. Or should know this. And I owe him billions for giving me a forum.

Then: Rachel Pollon. Dear, adorable, and way cool. Everything I figured she’d be. Great eyes and a lover of pooches.

Does it get any better than this?

I was in heaven.

* * *

First to hit the stage was Stefan. Funny guy, solid writer, and he delivered a great intro to his reading and carried a tiny guitar that apparently can’t be tuned. He killed.

Next was my turn. Some story about putting a book on hold, some concert I went to, and straight memory. I think it went down well. Heard some laughs. I think. But not too sure. I hopped off stage thankful and feeling slightly giddy. Buzzed from the vibe. Or maybe the Guinness I bought from some chubby dude that was bartending.

I chatted with Phat B and found him dear, smart as fuck, and cool. Hey.

Lenore took the stage and talked midgets and fear. I, unlike most folk, love fear. I find it appetizing. Like a good Kir Royale. Or a basket of wings extra hot. Anyhow, she’s cute. But, I already addressed this. She was great.

And then Ferguson took the stage.

That motherfucker.

The pictures say it all. Nipples, feet, pink suit, and genius. A true Bond Girl. He blew us off the stage and took over Hollywood like I’m sure he’s done a zillion times. It was a stellar performance. Part philosophical, part comical, and nothing less than astounding. The house roared and later that night I locked lips with him minus the tongue.

(I would have given that handsome devil the works, but we didn’t agree on what bands were cool and which ones sucked dick. His loss. I’ve heard I have a real soft tongue and give one hell of a kiss.)

Anyhow, this guy is the real deal and a glorious, beautiful, human being.

I was floored.

Everyone was.

After we were done drinking and spanking each other we moved across the street for more drinks and more irresponsible adult crap. 

I met Milo Martin, his girl, Ben Loory, and Listi’s wife. More sweet people.

Shit! Does it get any better?

And that’s when I told Rich that Rush sucks.

And they do. I pinched up my nose and gave my best Geddy Lee impersonation. It was the best thing I ever created in my life and Rich was sickened. He likes Rush.

Haney agreed with me.

“They suck,” he told Rich.

“Fuck you guys!” Rich shouted.

We all laughed our asses off and I will never forget that moment.

Ever.

Folks, as I write this the word count is telling me I’m over the thousand words. I’m out of time. Way.

In the end, Haney gave me and the girl with pretty blue eyes a ride back to our hotel. We floated through the Hollywood streets and I was yapping some lame shit in Haney and Christy’s ears. What I said, I can’t tell you. But I was loud and ridiculous.

Which is normal.

That night I didn’t dream of that ex-girlfriend in a maid uniform. Which was fine by me.

Okay.

I’m done.

What a great time. Full of love and craziness.

And that’s me.

I love you all.

Really.