Monday, December 31, 2012

End of Times


As 2012 comes to an end I feel obliged to close out of the year with a reflection.  The phrase that comes to mind most is the oft-used British-ism that 2012 “took the piss out of me”.  The year simultaneously tore me down and built me up.  In a nutshell, it showed me what I’m made of.

The year started with uncertainty, heartbreak, and utter loneliness but gradually morphed into one with clarity, fortitude, hard work, reasonable success, and more uncertainty.  I made new friends and lost old ones.  Some relationships were strengthened while others were shattered.  I juggled through 8 different jobs that each gave me a new vision of myself and dealt with one morbidly-obese egomaniac boss.  I attended countless auditions throughout the greater Los Angeles area and met some of the weirdest people I’ve ever met—and this coming after having been in the dance world for 8 years…

I entered a business I had dabbled in throughout the years but only fully immersed myself in this year.  I dove head first into the lion’s den and have since built a strong network of creative teammates, a growing portfolio, little snapshots in commercials, music videos, and print ads, on set experience, minimal negotiation skills, and a better sense of navigation in LA!  I made some friends in auditions and shoots and possibly a few enemies, too along the way.  My smile grew as my waistline shrank.  I experienced moments of weakness and immense jealousy surrounded by moments of absolute pride and joy in seeing my colleagues succeed at their dreams.  I realized—truly—that everyone is going through their own personal struggle and there’s no need to discourage anyone from anything regardless of my personal opinions and general judgmental bitchiness.  I learned not to take myself too seriously but to take my work seriously.  Because after I’m long gone from this earth, my work will be what remains of me.

I lost, re-gained, and re-lost a relationship that I so desired to keep with a reluctant partner and learned that finding my own self-worth through the eyes of one person was entirely the wrong way to go about things.  I hit my lowest lows this year but managed to find the inner-strength to carry on.  I literally cried for days, laughed uncontrollably, cried some more, sang along angrily to Fiona Apple, drove in circles, escaped to the farthest corners of my heart, made bad decisions, made good decisions, and slowly got through it.  And I know that I will be okay.

I ventured to San Francisco twice, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Las Vegas (ugh), Kyoto, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Israel, and Palestine to broaden my world view.  Sometimes I had an organized, set itinerary and other times I took it as the wind blew me.  I had moments of complete solitude that I thoroughly enjoyed partnered with moments of lonely isolation where I wished for nothing more than a kind word from a stranger.  Other times I felt surrounded to the point of suffocation and found company where I least expected it and also felt moments of complete love and compassion from my closest friends and loved ones.

The year 2012 proved to be one tough cookie and I don’t think anything could have been different.  There were times I absolutely cursed the universe and my place in it and wanted to jump in front of a bus but quickly shook my head and reminded myself that there’s just too much left to do.  Watching the news I witnessed moments of atrocity that put my own personal suffering into perspective and made me count my blessings.  I became even more frightened of the world I live in—a world where mentally unstable people hurt others for the pure sake of making a name for themselves in history; where governments brutally crush their citizens to the point of revolution and endless massacre; and where fundamentalists still live according to ancient and irrelevant religious texts that cause them to harass, discriminate against, torture, terrorize and murder people who think differently—yet felt astounded by the new heights technology has reached; the compassion of young people worldwide; the art created around me; and the growing awareness people are acquiring through technology, travel, and communication.

With a tendency to only acknowledge my weaknesses and deficiencies, I finally learned to realize my strengths and qualities.  It may have taken a while but in being surrounded by positive people who appreciate my company I learned that it’s okay to feel confident about my talents and to push myself closer to reaching my goals.  I learned that I don’t need to feel so inferior all the time in a business where there’s always another level to aspire to, but rather to embrace the challenge. 

But mainly I learned what I’m made of.  This year took a toll on me, one in which I didn’t always think I’d get through.  But I did and I know one day I’ll laugh at all the misfortune that befell me.  Maybe even write a blog or two about it.  Until that day arrives though I live moment-by-moment.  Sometimes I’m fine.  I sit still, quietly and breathe.  Other times I’m falling apart.  And it’s okay.  Do I have any New Year’s resolutions?  Not really.  Well, maybe one: to think differently.  I have a small group of close friends who taught me to love myself.  It wasn’t their job to teach me anything but they did.  And I paid close attention.  Now it’s my turn to make the changes I need to make so that 2013 will be an eventful and productive year.

One last thing.  I learned that I’m a pretty good liar.  And as always, I only mean half the things I say.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Be my friend...


You make a lot of friends* in this city.

*Acquaintances; professional contacts; you network; you schmooze; you make drinking buddies; you make fuck buddies; you meet manipulative people; people who only want to be your friend if it furthers their career; shallow people; fair-weather friends that don’t really care; pretentious people; Facebook friends who want to invite you to their shit and promote their projects; people who want something from you; people you want something from; casting directors; people that will stab you in the back in 2 seconds; people with over 1,000 Facebook friends and Instagram followers; competitive personalities; people who will judge everything you say and do; people who will talk about you behind your back; people that will invite you to a party but won’t actually talk to you; people who are fucking someone important therefore feel a transference of importance; desperate people; shallow people; delusional people; people with too much confidence; people that don’t respect you; people that will talk down to you; people that will promise you the world but won’t follow through with any of it; people that ask you questions but don’t listen to the answers; people that love to talk about themselves; people that just aren’t really good at anything; people quick to give advice but hesitant to accept it; people who want to fuck you; people you want to fuck; etc. etc. etc….

Yes.  You make a lot of friends in this city.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holy Cow


It’s a complicated place, the Holy Land.  Thousands upon thousands of years of bloodshed, hatred, suffering, one-upmanship, conquest, and death have taken its toll and to even begin trying to make sense of things there gives me a massive feeling of unease. 

With the recent outburst of violence in Israel and Gaza, I found my Facebook news feed pouring with status updates, photos, and links either supporting or denouncing Israel’s actions against the Palestinian population in Gaza or vice versa.  I probably have well over 100 friends on Facebook connected to Israel in some way, whether as Israelis, children of Israelis, or people who lived in Israel at some point.  The reactions were varied all across the board; some shocking and some predictable.  I discovered people’s true feelings regarding the situation.  Some people were more eloquent than others, maybe some wrote in English while others preferred to write in Hebrew to get their point across.  Debates broke out.  People generally agreed.  Some disagreed.  Many images of propaganda were posted, most of which were anti-Palestinian.  Some people got downright racist.  Others remained hopeful for peace and love.  Some showed humor while others displayed desperation and stress.  Many posted news stories from around the world from pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian points of views.  Very few chose not to acknowledge the situation at all. 

I think it’s too easy to sit here thousands of miles away and form an opinion either for or against either side.  I’ve never been awoken by a siren, never heard the thundering boom of an Iron Dome intercepting a rogue rocket with its loud screech.  I’ve never received a leaflet from the sky warning me to evacuate my home for an impending missile attack nor had to stop my car in the middle of the highway, get out and take cover.  I’ve been inside a bomb shelter once, but only ironically. 

In the end I feel like I always feel when these things happen---that there really won’t be any peace.  Maybe it’s because I’m a pessimist or a cynic, but I just don’t feel like things will get any better-at least not during my lifetime.  There is simply too much anger and misunderstanding on both sides among the general population and too much arrogance and hatred among the ruling parties.  People will just keep dying and the cycle will continue.

Of course I wish for peace for all Israelis and Palestinians and that they could exist independently and peacefully in their own states without interference from the other side, but that simply will not happen.  There are too many obstacles standing in the way of peace.  But slowly, there are people on each side determined to make a change, to stand for peace and understanding and to move forward.  Give them a voice and maybe there will be a glimmer of hope.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

History In the Making


I was asked in an audition recently that if I could live in any period in time, which would I live?  Without hesitation I answered that I would have loved to live in England during the Middle Ages, but only if I were the king or queen.  I explained that life was pretty awful for everyone else.  If you were a peasant you didn’t live very long, you worked in hard labor all day, ate awful food, slept on the floor next to your animals, and generally lived an unfulfilling life.  If you were the king or queen however, you lived in a castle, traveled the kingdom, attended festivities, ate good food, wore fine clothes, and bathed once a week.  No question about it. 

Being the history and geography nerd that I am, there are a few other periods in time I would have liked to live.  I would love to have been an explorer in the Middle East during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  To travel by caravan for long weeks in the desert with local guides and servants while creating the very maps that would one day be used by future explorers and travelers to cross the same everlasting sands.

It might have been fun to be a member of the elite circles during the Renaissance period where vice and great art were the priorities of the time.  On a similar note, I would like to have been a model for Austrian artist Egon Schiele.  Sure, it might mean that I would have caught a severe case of syphilis and died young, but I’d also be immortalized by one of the greatest artists of his time in a painting or sketch that would one day hang in a museum in Vienna or New York City.

I would like to have been a can-can dancer in Montmartre during the decadent and colorful days of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec in 19th century Paris, when men wore top hats and monocles. 

Sometimes I wonder what life was like in 1980s New York City for a gay man.  I imagine it was a time of great transition, of uncertainty, of decadence, of hope, and of tragedy.  To survive that scene and witness the rapid evolution and generational changes taking place in one of the greatest cities in the world would have created the best stories to tell.

I would like to have been a casual observer in the court of the ancient Chinese emperors or perhaps to have been one of the emperor’s eunuchs.  But why a eunuch, you ask?  They carried all the secrets of the court and knew everything that was happening in the kingdom.  They planned strategy and closely guided the emperor in his day to day activities.  They were kept close to the ruling parties without anyone feeling threatened by their presence thus enabling them to have constant supervision on all matters governmental, social, economical and regal.

1066 at the Battle of Hastings within eyesight of Harold of Wessex (no pun intended).

And of course, I would love to have witnessed the construction of Angkor Wat, the great pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, Notre Dame Cathedral, Mt. Rushmore, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Hagia Sophia.  Last December I spent a gray day in Paris where the top half of the Eiffel Tower was completely obstructed by clouds and I smiled as I imagined seeing an unfinished monument in the making.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Now what?


Act I

So the reality is that I’m a 20-something American girl stuck on some weird course otherwise known as a “path” and I really have no idea what I’m doing.

I often ask myself, “What are you doing?!”  And the tone is less inquisitive than accusatory.  The truth is I have no idea what I’m doing.  I often times make bad decisions.  I don’t think things through.  I react emotionally more than logically.  I have pretty bad self-control in most aspects and I tend to offend most people I come across.  Furthermore, I have about as much money in my savings account as an illegal immigrant has in his mattress.  No, I think an illegal immigrant has even more money.

I also have this weird habit of only meaning half the things I say.  I’m not a liar in the traditional sense, but I am a good liar.  I don’t consider myself dishonest.  On the contrary, I am extremely honest.  Maybe a lack of truthfulness would be the correct description. 

The truth is I have no idea how to be a contributing member of society.  I feel like a resource-sucking, self entitled, misunderstood, but ever-so-sharp lady with a quick temper.  Or basically like any other 20-something in this country. 

If memories of experiences were tangible things, there’d be a trail of them all around me, all over the world, containing the joys, pains, and misconceptions of myself and the people in and out of my life like paper shadow puppets connected at the arms, tightly embracing one another along a shred of dainty paper.

I use things like Facebook and Instagram as a sad form of self-validation.  While I haven’t completely lost sight of myself I do find a lot of self-perception through these time consuming applications.  I get jealous, judgemental, indignant, self righteous, proud, and curious when I view other people’s profiles.  I’m ashamed to admit but it totally happens.  And I find myself comparing my life to others’ my age and wonder if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.  And usually the answer is no.  And the next day I’ll realize that no two lives are alike and how easily people can manipulate perception by simply posting and deleting certain bits of information about themselves.  In other words, it’s all bullshit!

I’m trapped inside myself.  I’ll elaborate more on this in another post, because I cannot even wrap my brain around just how much this affects me.






Act II

Older men intrigue me.  It’s not so much the air of wisdom or the life experience I lack that sets them apart, it would probably be the utter clarity they display without even realizing it.  I learn so much from them in an unemotional, un-bitchy way.  Maybe they censor themselves around me or maybe they say things they shouldn’t.  They can be encouraging or discouraging.  They can be full of good advice or full of shit.  I love talking to them but I don’t know what to say.  I love listening to them but I can also get bored.  I find them amusing and offensive.  I don’t really know how they see me or what they want from me (usually) but they’re always there and hold different significant places in my life.

When I think of two of my older straight male friends, I am often amazed by how completely opposite they are from each other.  They come from similar cultural backgrounds but have found themselves existing in universes where presumably nothing makes sense to them.  One talks at length about himself and his opinions while the other listens as I talk at length about myself and my opinions.  One hears my opinions and picks out the flaws and misunderstandings and offers his learned advice while the other smiles to himself as I proclaim with absolute certainty and stubbornness that I have a clue.  One answers my questions before I’ve even though to ask while the other challenges me to figure it out and get back to him.

If I could share my most honest opinions with them, what would I say?  Would I feel the need to impress them by taking on an air of pseudo maturity that I do not really possess?  Or would I acknowledge that I really have no fucking clue what I’m talking about in the grand scape of things but at this point in time, it’s exactly what seems right to me and I won’t think otherwise until I have proof before my eyes?

Act III

A friend and I swap motivational quotes as a sort of inside joke.  I make the occasional rounds on Facebook among the profiles of my artsy friends (be they dancers, models, actors, or photographers) to find inspirational quotes copied and pasted to cheesy, Instagram-ed photos depicting scenes of triumph, challenge, or general cutesiness.  I find tons of them, some more ridiculous than others.  But in the course of collecting these sappy quotes I’ve found an enlightening insight to my general bitterness.  I practically laughed tears as I realized how unbelievably repressed I felt in almost every way from my own doing.  No one held me back.  I realized the biggest obstacle facing me was me.  That no matter how much others encouraged me or believed in me, so long as I didn’t believe in myself I would never accomplish the things I wanted to.  Fuck readiness.  What is readiness?  You’re as ready as you’ll ever be and if you really want something, you’ll do everything in your power to find it and not let anyone take it from you.  There was no deep philosophical train of thought required to come across the realization that life is exactly what you make of it.  No, all it took were some silly motivational quotes.

Which leads me to Act I.  Part II.

Why the fuck do I keep messing up?!  No, really.  The dialogue in my head goes something like this:
Q:  Did you really think that would work?
A:  You know, I didn’t really think about it at all.
Q:  And why not?
A:  My mind was someplace else, sorry.
Q:  Your mind was “someplace else”?  Really convenient.  You do realize that pretty much every adult on this planet has their mind on a million different things at once and yet they find a way to figure it out.
A:  Yeah, but I’m not like them.
Q:  So you think you’re on a different level?
A:  Yes.  Well, no…I mean—
Q:  So what you’re saying is the rules don’t apply to you?  That you can just say and do what you want without any regards to consequences or other peoples’ feelings?  That’s pretty fucked up, you know.
A:  I know.
Q:  So what’s the plan?
A:  I don’t have a plan.
Q:  Maybe come up with one?
A:  I’m too tired.
Q:  Get off of Facebook, that’s a good start.  It’s all bullshit anyways.
A:  Yeah I know.  It’s distorting my views on things.
Q:  True.  But what do you believe?
A:  I think I’m moving too slow.  But I need to move slowly in order to think.  Otherwise I make rash decisions that I cannot make sense of later.  And you know I hate apologizing.  I wish I could be like Liam Neeson’s character in “Taken”.  I wish I had the instincts of an assassin!
Q:  Now you’re just talking crazy.

Act IV:  Conclusion

Make me walk on egg shells and you’re gonna have a messy floor.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bizness People


I wanted to write a blog about silly audition stories and the crazy personalities involved from the casting staff to the talent.  I wanted to shed some light on the not-so-secret world of what happens when the people you see on TV go into a waiting room with not enough seats among a sea of aesthetically gifted individuals buried in their smart phones.  But I fear if these stories fell in the wrong hands I could potentially embarrass myself or offend someone.  So I need to think about it…

I wanted to tell the story about the time I overslept my alarm clock and rushed out of my house to make an audition for a low-paying job that I highly doubted I’d even book, that in such a hurry I only managed to put on mascara and a horribly mix-matched outfit.  I barely made it on time and was assigned a strange task to perform.  I left feeling so silly and couldn’t help but roll my eyes.  The next day I learned I booked the job with a 100% pay increase.  And to think I was THIS close to shutting off the snooze and returning to sleep.

Granted, that story might make me sound cooler than I actually am, but I also wanted to share an experience where I showed up to an audition in relatively low heels that I could barely walk in.  I walked to the audition in flats before switching to heels and noticed every other girl doing the same.  I sat patiently awaiting my turn whereupon I was instructed to do a full catwalk in two variations, the first being “NYC top fashion model on heroin style” and the second being “upbeat commercial happy style!”  These were the exact words the casting director used.  My chest pounded like a convicted criminal hearing his verdict followed by immediate disbelief.  My brain went to mush and I laughed at my childlike inability to walk in 3 inch heels.  I thought of my former classmates at 8th grade graduation stomping in trashy platform pumps onstage to receive their diplomas taking each step like a circus elephant.  An endless montage of rolled ankles filled my head as my chest filled with hiccups.  My turn to audition.  I walked and turned and walked and turned while peripherally scanning the floor for threatening cords and wet spots.  I survived the walk and stood to the side as four other girls did the same after me, one-by-one.  I felt partial relief at seeing that not everyone was supremely adept at the art of heel-walking and decided to thank my lucky stars I didn’t fall.  Note to self:  Practice!

Another story I wanted to share was the time I attended a cross-generational audition amongst the surliest motherfuckers I ever saw.  I thought I was in the wrong office at the sight of what looked like a North Pole biker gang convening over cigars.  “Jesus Christ, I can’t believe they let you in here!” a tough biker shouted to his fellow cronie, a big bearded man with a cigar hanging from his mouth.  I found a seat next to a senior citizen covered in tattoos including a gnarly tattoo on the back of his scalp.  I overheard a conversation across from me where an old man reported that he almost missed his call time because he got pulled over by a cop for screaming at someone on the street.  As more old biker dudes showed up the models in the room lowered their heads to avoid eye contact.  An old man in a fishing hat remarked to me that we looked like mourners at a funeral.

Oh, here’s a good one!  I went to an audition where we were told to remove all facial accessories and headpieces.  I took off my earrings and waited alongside my audition group.  Once inside the casting director asked a model to remove her eyeglasses and 20s style headband.  “But this is my gimmick!” she shouted.

How can I forget the Dutch bodybuilder who bragged about being the first European member of Chippendales?  Or the kid who wore a suit and tie to a “beach party look” audition.  Or that random white girl at the Asian casting.  Maybe she was hapa?  I couldn’t tell.  Or that well-known girl from a popular reality TV show whom everyone stared at trying to figure out where they recognized her from.  Or that girl I recognized but couldn’t place only to walk into a store and find her picture staring at me every few inches?  Or the audition at the producer’s house where we held a potato war?  And of course, the time a contact lens fell out rendering me half blind.  And then I had to walk like a mummy—arms outstretched—to find the chair I was to sit on.

I also thought to share a cultural reference in the casting process that I discovered by innocent mistake.  In my earlier days I wasn’t quite aware that wearing a loud pattern would cause the camera to internally combust in horror.  I showed up in what I thought was a cute and colorful halter top but was immediately escorted back to the waiting room where a casting assistant asked if I had a change of clothes.  Luckily I did so I changed.  Back in the lobby she told me to never wear that shirt again unless I was auditioning for something in the Latin market.  Yes, it was that loud of a print.

It pains me to keep this one in, but I really wanted to share the one about the two auditions for a principal role in a huge commercial.  I felt elated at receiving a callback audition until I showed up and saw everyone and their mother in the waiting room.  I got a call a few days later from one of the casting directors inviting me to participate in the commercial as an extra.  Wait a minute, what?  “But,” she explained, “the director really loved your look and thinks you have a cute pixie haircut.  We’re going to cast our principals from the extras and you have a really good chance of getting upgraded!  Please say you’ll do it!”  I was pretty convinced, not gonna lie.  I showed up to the set and saw the same faces from the two auditions.  Everyone seemed to have an air of unusual over-confidence in them.  We all felt a little untouchable.  As we sat and chatted one guy informed us that he was hired as a principal but had to work background first.  A puzzled look crossed all our faces.  Another girl added that she was told the director really liked her energy and wanted to cast her as a principal as well.  “Me too!” a breakdancer chimed in.  One by one we all realized what had happened.  Like old world country farmers being promised a better life we stuck around and waited for our chance.  And the best part?  We all believed it would happen!  Just goes to show, appeal to our ego and we’re putty in your hands. 

I think one of my favorite stories is the one where I might have witnessed the most absent-minded woman alive!  She showed up slightly disheveled and confused.  The casting assistants couldn’t quite figure out what she was doing there.  After a few minutes of quiet speculation, one of the assistants gathered a photo and brought it to her.  Holding it in front of her he asked, “Is this you?!”   “Oh my god, is that how I’m supposed to look?!  I’m supposed to be the mom?  I didn’t even know what audition this was!”  I snuck a glance at the photo in hand which depicted her in a ponytail and pastel colored cardigan—the mom look.  But the woman herself wore a crazy, artsy-fartsy outfit, tall heels, and her hair in an afro.  She really had no idea what she was auditioning for.  She eventually auditioned and left.  Moments later I saw a guy frantically searching the waiting room for his car keys.  He searched between the sofa cushions, under the furniture, presumably the entire parking lot, and even asked us all to check our bags.  No one could find his keys.  He decided to jimmy his car open with a broom from the custodial closet.  How could he have possibly misplaced his keys?  As he headed outside with the broom, the aforementioned absent-minded woman walked back in and announced, “I grabbed someone’s keys by mistake!”  She set them on the table and left.  We literally stared at each other in disbelief.  Someone ran out to call to the guy before he tried to break into his own car.

I’m not really sure if these are worth sharing or not but I think I’ll throw them out there…

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

History Lesson


With a car of my own and not a single reliable companion, I got in and drove for miles to get as far away as I could without losing track.  My sun visor held my top 10 prized CDs at the time, each one revolving with another providing the soundtrack to my adolescent escape.  I never had a destination or a fixed route, I just wanted to listen to my angst filled tunes and dwell inside myself.

I just didn’t have anyone to talk to, or at least anyone to explain myself.  I carried long and meaningful conversations in my head, amused myself, and provided myself with rich company.  I could memorize any speech, song, list of names, historical facts, and text book because I had already rehearsed it in my mind over and over and over until the very words rolled off my tongue into the back of my mouth, down my throat, into my stomach and back up to my brain.  At least, that’s how I thought the body worked.  How information was passed from day to day.

I dreaded with terror the upcoming weekend because I knew it would be like every other weekend past.  I would sit quietly in my room looking at photography books or maps waiting for the phone to ring, half expecting an invitation to a fun event and half expecting a death warrant.  It was the “news feed” of the time.  I set up a personalized ring tone, a depressing Fiona Apple song that never rang.

When I finally got my own car I somehow believed that everything would be different.  People started inviting me to more things, I suddenly started to have conversations outside my mind and with my mouth, it was almost too much to bear.  Being the only one with a car soon made it clear that I wasn’t all I thought I was cracked up to be.  My mom said I was sweet.

So I opted to rebel, to fight back against the weekend, to give my middle finger to the very notion that as a young American I was supposed to be somewhere doing something with somebody or something like that.  I got in my car and drove away.  East or north tended to be the directions I travelled.  I hardly ventured west for fear I’d be caught and branded with an “I do not belong” on my forehead.  I knew not to go south, that’s where people get killed.  So east and north it was, locked inside my air conditioned box ignoring the top-40 hits on the radio to find whatever it was I was searching so desperately for.

I had seen everything I cared to see.  My curiosity was satiated and I returned to my photography books and maps only to realize I had merely looked upon the scenery through the windows of my car.  I never spoke to anyone or learned anything.  I logged into my MySpace to see the festivities that had prevailed over the weekend, none of which I partook in.  Surely if I had known I would have forced myself to put on a nice shirt, eyeshadow, and carry a shoulder purse with $20 in my wallet.  But it wasn’t meant to be. 

In and out of book stores and toy stores, I made purchases that I intended would keep me company.  I couldn’t understand the point of youth and wished to be 30 already.  In high school I couldn’t even imagine being in college.  It felt like the end of life to me.  That I’d go to college and die with one quarter left to finish my History degree upon which I’d turn in my thesis about Henry II and Thomas Becket and how their loving friendship had gone so awry that it changed the course of medieval European history, that worlds fell apart, lives destroyed, and the idea of God re-examined all because one man instilled upon his best friend the greatest and worst gift of all—trust. 

I fell disastrously out of love with my surroundings that I decided a change was in order.  A very big change.  I flew to Australia by myself for 10 days to find something I had left behind 2 years earlier.  Buried somewhere on George St. around Capitol Square I left a clue to my future self that I would only come to understand upon return. 

Since then I have ventured east, north, and west to find little clues I believe to be scattered around the earth in places I stared at in my maps that were only silly names to my teenage self.  Now they have become real places with vivid memories and sensations, where I’ve found friendship in train tickets, passport stamps, suitcases, foreign books, subways, and sparkling water.  I couldn’t imagine traveling with anyone else, to share the burden and desire to find the missing pieces to my puzzle.  The responsibility was in my hands and in every corner a new clue it left behind.

If Emerson taught me anything, which is pretty much everything, I cannot truly leave behind what remains within me.  A new location, a new scene, and a new air cannot combat the simple fact that this world is fucking running me down.  Maybe in my search for missing clues there’s the familiar feeling of escape I once felt put on a grander level.  I swapped the car for an airplane and the mysteries of Los Angeles for the other side of the ocean.  And I’m running.  Running alone in a foreign language without a phrasebook.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Standard Night


It started in the hotel room.

It was a trendy hotel with no discernable theme catering to the rich and the beautiful-or at least people with enough money to seem beautiful.  Like a group of boy scouts, we sat in a semi circle on bright orange couches figuring out sneaky ways to re-attach our tampered wristbands.  Apparently the party on the roof was filled to capacity and even our gracious host, who self righteously proclaimed “I’m gonna spend 25 grand easily on this place!” couldn’t do much about it.  He was a lanky corporate CFO by day and a hard partying, rhinestone adorned goofball by night.  He threw his wristband on the table out of frustration.  My wristband was still partially intact so I managed to squeeze it around my skinny little wrist.

It continued at the escalators.

He shook his head.  “It’s been tampered with, I’m not accepting this” the doorman said to me as he examined my wristband.  I wanted to defy him but our host ushered me to the front of the long line that snaked around the block.  Girls in slinky dresses shivered in the chilly LA evening breeze as suited men ogled them point blank.

Our host nonchalantly marched us to the gatekeepers after our resourceful but foolish plan imploded.  He handed the well-coifed list holder a thick wad of rolled bills.  We were in.

The 13th floor.  Wait, isn’t it bad luck for a hotel to have a 13th floor?

Towering (by LA standards) among the Downtown skyscrapers a loud and dark scene unfolded before me as the heavy echo of the bass pounded in my throat.  Champagne flowing, a full dance floor, and people sprawled about giant couches—basically the kind of scene I try to avoid.

I took my place with the rest of the posse.  A waiter arrived with 2 bottles of champagne and filled our glasses.  I took a few sips and remembered that I don’t like the taste of alcohol, no matter how sweet.  Across from me a drunk, fat girl plopped herself onto a couch and passed out.  An old bearded man reminding me of the scary neighbor from Home Alone stood behind her at roof’s edge taking in the sprawling view of Los Angeles like a boss.  Sitting--or lying, I should say--directly behind me was a shiny, bald head.  I don’t even know where the rest of him was but his shiny dome kept bumping into my spine.  I was not amused.

Moments later I was joined by a talent agent who works in the big leagues.  Upon his offer to fill my glass I explained that I don’t drink alcohol because I’m Muslim.  He paused and stared.  “No I’m just joking” I laughed.  He laughed as well, uneasily.  During a long conversation he encouraged me to embellish details on my professional “real work” resumé since no one checks that stuff anyways, except on the tertiary level.  He then explained what the “tertiary level” meant.  I felt like a dumb actress.  But I quickly recovered with my ability to pick up a Portuguese phrase he taught me.  The agent lavished me with compliments about my beauty, intelligence, and charm.  He was certainly nice and found me to be an intriguing person worth conversing with.  That or he just wanted me to suck his dick.

The agent departed to the dance floor and was replaced by a twice-divorced artist with an air of brilliance and mental instability—my cup of tea I suppose.  He proposed an artistic collaboration but was interrupted by a tipsy girl asking if he was in the movie business.  He confessed he was and I found myself sitting between an ear-splitting conversation about an art director gluing individual hairs onto a monkey costume.

The artist managed to tear himself away from talking shop and paused for a long time.  I thought I was boring him but in retrospect, he might have been high.  I told him that I like to draw caricatures of Arabs and Orthodox Jews and create political cartoons and that I used to live in Israel.  We talked about the Middle East and I learned he was a soldier and was shot in the back with a non-automatic weapon in Yemen.  “I was up and moving and next thing I know, I was on my back looking to the sky.  I don’t know who shot me.”  

In another round of musical chairs the artist was replaced with the bisexual wife of our host, a psych major about to begin a massive test study with suicidal teenagers in need of some kind of therapy with the word “cognitive” in it.  She thoroughly explained what her study entailed and the magnitude of working with this particular organization.  Personally, I’d like to see her let loose on a group of depressed and suicidal teenagers.

In the final round of musical chairs our generous host cozied up next to me.  Glowing abuzz he tried to divert my attention toward his cigarette-smoking, Diesel-wearing Korean friend.  He proclaimed to us, “You’re both beautiful!  And you have the brains of….” he trailed off, “Take advantage of each other!”  I see.  Well, the intellectual Asian was never really my thing.

The music stopped and the lights came back on.  The party ended as waves of drunk people took last swigs of their drinks and made for the elevators.  Our host and his posse opted for the stairs instead.  If drunk people were loud and sloppy in the dark, under the light they became hideous monsters with smeared mascara, bare feet, drink stains, watery eyes, and the general inability to walk downstairs without looking like a rollerblader:  both hands on the rail and sideways.

A pause on the 9th floor.

Our host couldn’t find his room key.  The drunk girl (formerly tipsy) begged him to hurry up because she really had to pee.

It ended in the hotel room.

The shower and jacuzzi tub took up half the room with only a curtain separating them from the rest of the suite.  Families not welcome.

Maybe I didn’t notice before, but there was a giant sculpture of a foot in the middle of the bathroom.  People took turns taking pictures with it.  Mysteriously, two random black guys showed up.  I remembered seeing one of them earlier at the party upstairs.  He ordered me to pour him a glass of champagne.  Now he had a friend with him.  They both claimed to be doctors.  The drunk girl did not like them one bit and kept asking our host to make them leave.  I think black men scare her.

I retreated to my place on the orange couch with my Korean kimchee brother.  He seemed very uncomfortable with the scene, slightly aglow.  I looked over to the massive bed and saw the bisexual psych major’s best friend jumping on  it.  Her arms were swinging wildly over her head.  I looked closely and noticed a huge red line across her left wrist.  I thought back to myself as a teenager.  There was no doubt in my mind.  Then I wondered, “Do adults still do that?!”  I guess this girl could have been a participant in her best friend’s psych study.  Except she wasn’t a teenager anymore.

My attention was diverted to the center of the room.  One of the doctors tackled our host to the ground, taking his doctor friend down with them.  In the tangled mess of three grown men rolling on the floor it was hardly noticeable when one of them stayed down.  Like a dog playing dead, one of the doctors laid on his back with his knees up.  And stayed.  Our host got up, dusted himself off and joined me at the orange couch.  His face was inches from mine and I could see my reflection in his bloodshot eyes.  I thought he might have sneezed on himself in the melée and I was about to let him know he left a little something behind when I suddenly registered what it was.  Again, I thought back to my teenage years.  But I didn’t need to ask myself if adults still did that when I knew for certain that they did.

He rubbed at the powdery residue and said “oh, this?” and feigned an apology.  I think he even blushed a little.  I just remarked that he had an adult booger.  But of course it explained everything.  Over and over he said, “Everything’s amazing, everything’s beautiful, everything’s great!  We’re good?  Are you good?  Are we all good?” as he rubbed my shoulders.  I turned to look at the doctor on the floor and watched him vomit all over himself.  “Guys!” I shouted.  Everyone in the room looked at him and gagged.  One woman nearly barfed herself and ran for cover.  Her boyfriend followed her.  He wore a Dustin-Hoffman-as-Captain-Hook-mustache and a fedora.  The sight of him nearly made me gag.

The drunk girl and her boyfriend abruptly left.  Our host ordered the dead dog’s friend to clean after his mess.  In a fit of drunken anger he grabbed some towels and toilet paper and shouted, “This is below my pay grade!”  Seriously, who the fuck says that?!  Do you not wipe your own ass after you shit?  A few minutes later someone asked him why he became a doctor.  He answered, “So when bitches ask me how much money I make, I can say A LOT!”  

As if nothing happened everyone kept partying.  The psych major began to fill the Jacuzzi with water.  The artist disappeared into a dark corner to silently brood.  The agent sat alone near the window.  “Everything was silent then everything was loud” he said before departing.  Shortly thereafter my kimchee brother took off as well.  With the semi-sane people gone, the Jacuzzi half full, and a drunk doctor passed out with pools of vomit covered by hotel towels, I didn't even noticed the giant foot moved to the couches.  When the fuck did this happen?  I knew it was my time to leave.  I didn’t really want to see where the night would lead.  I didn’t want to know what would happen when the Jacuzzi was full or when the felony rings would grow in size and quantity.  I was in a daze and yet I was wide awake, more sober than anyone else in a mile radius.

Walking to my car I gave a homeless man a dollar.  I guess I can also throw money around like a bitch.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Birds


There’s a family of birds that live in a nest inside my garage roof.  Whenever I walk by, they fly away.  The other day while reversing my car to leave I saw two birds fighting to the death.  I stopped the car and watched the two birds wrestle with all their might using their legs, their wings, and their beaks.  They didn’t even notice I was parked there, intently watching them.  Other birds flew closer to watch and cheer them on.  Not one bird intervened.  They simply gathered nearby or watched from a safe distance on the telephone wires.  All the birds chirped in a loud commotion.  I felt kind of sad watching them, but also intrigued.  What could they have been fighting over?  They weren’t wrestling over food.  Did one bird insult the other?  Did one of them try to evict the other from the nest?  Did one of the birds sleep with the other’s wife?  Or were they having a lover’s quarrel?  I rolled my window down and began to tsk at them but they paid no mind.  None of the birds did.  I guess its best not to interfere with nature.

Yesterday while shooting in Downtown LA I witnessed a pigeon limping close to a wall.  He was shaking and could barely move.  He tried to get up and fly away but his weight kept him grounded.  He flapped his wings violently but managed only to rise a few inches off the ground.  He was back where he started, getting closer to the wall, shaking.  I pointed this out to the photographer.  He glanced over with a sympathetic expression on his face and said “he’s probably going to die soon.”  “What’s wrong with him?” I asked.  “He probably broke his leg and cannot move.”  “I bet he’s in so much pain and really scared of us.”  I moved closer to the pigeon to offer comforting words but realized the complete futility of my gesture.  I didn’t want to scare the pigeon anymore than he already was so I backed away.  I wanted to end his suffering but he wasn’t just some bug I could squash.  As if reading my mind the photographer said, “If I had my pellet gun, I would just put him out of his misery.” 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

In Good Hands

I woke up this morning with the feeling that today was going to be different somehow. But actually when I think about it, every day is different. No two days are ever alike. I wake up, I pray, I make my offerings, I put on the coffee, and I eat a small breakfast. After that it's anyone’s guess. I never know who will ring the doorbell or what they’ll request. Some days I’m in a better mood than others. Some days feel redundant while others leave me guessing.

When I came to this country at a young age I knew I was destined for something great. Everyone always told me how beautiful I was, how I could be a model or an actress or in the very least, the wife of a wealthy businessman. Instead I found myself working in this small massage parlor in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
When I dreamed about America I pictured the tall buildings of New York City, the Golden Gate Bridge sweeping across the San Francisco bay, or the movie stars in Hollywood. Alas, my family settled in the capital city of a dull, white-washed, God-fearing state like Oklahoma. It could have been worse of course, we could have ended up in the freezing north or the racist south. Oklahoma City was quaint and quiet. People were pleasant and life moved at a steady pace but it could never match the excitement of New York City or Los Angeles. Although I confess that I’ve never been to either city. I’ve never even left Oklahoma.
The afternoon was a quiet one. A customer rang my bell around noon. He was a heavy set white man named Robbie, or at least that’s the name he chose. He was a new customer. I invited him in and he requested the full service. He must have been referred by another customer. Robbie was in and out in 45 minutes. He was sloppy and quick, the way most Americans are. I experienced many like him before and probably would many more to come—no pun intended. I knew exactly what I needed to do and how to do it as efficiently as possible. Robbie was one of those guys that like to lie down and do nothing. Which is okay, I guess. He is a paying customer after all.

When our appointment finished he quickly dressed and gave me an extra $20 for my “speedy service”. His words, not mine. I showed him out and took a quick shower. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so I prepared a small vegetable dish to appease my hunger but I have to be careful not to eat too much because I don't want to get bloated. I was pretty sure Robbie had a wife and family. Most men like him do. In the beginning I used to fantasize that one of these men would rescue me from my mundane existence only to share their mundane lives with a few more comforts. My bedroom was a few doors down the hall from the massage room. It was impossible to separate life from work but I eventually managed.

I sat at my linoleum table eating a late lunch while watching Judge Judy on TV. What an awful show and what an awful woman! Where do they find these people? But then I realized what I do for a living and stopped judging.

When I was a junior in high school I fantasized about going to some fancy college in the Northeast or abroad. I knew it was nothing more than a fantasy, but I really wanted to get an education. I got very good grades even though I didn’t find any of my classes interesting. What I found most interesting was earning money by tutoring my classmates in algebra and biology. One week I spent every night tutoring that I forgot to do my own homework. So ironic that the tutor was failing her own classes!

I started this job right after graduation. I was always considered a beauty and my family knew exactly what that meant. I had my suspicions but instead relied on the hopes that I might forge my own path in life. I tried to take classes at community college but didn’t have enough time to work, attend classes, and study. I took a few semesters off. I haven’t been back since.

Judge Judy delivered her verdict and ordered the defendant to pay $1000 to an angry black man who began crying and praising the Lord. I was eager to watch the next case about two Mexican women fighting over a pawned ring.  I thought this might be a little promising…

The bell rang. I switched the TV off and went to the window. I saw a tall man standing at the porch. He was sweating and looked exhausted, like he had just crawled through the desert to get here. I considered going back to Judge Judy but noticed that he looked foreign. I opened the window slightly and asked what he wanted. He hesitated a moment then nervously said he wanted a massage. I told him to put $60 in the mail slot. He pulled his wallet from his pocket and began to fumble with the bills. I was getting slightly impatient and wanted to turn him away but I was intrigued. In all my years working here I had never once met a white foreigner. Maybe he was British like James Bond? No, he was too awkward to be like James Bond. Perhaps he was Swedish like the Vikings. No, too skinny. I couldn’t tell much from his accent. He eventually fished out three $20 bills and dropped them in the mail slot. I closed the window and went to retrieve the cash. $60 exactly. I quickly wiped my mouth and sprayed my breath with freshener to mask my lunch.
I opened the door and welcomed the tall man in. He had kind eyes and a crooked smile. I wanted to ask where he was from but I also didn’t want to engage in conversation. I usually try to avoid personal conversations with my customers.

I led him into the massage room and offered him a wet towel to wipe his perspired face. I offered him a table shower which he accepted. He undressed as I prepared the oils and lathers. He got on the table silently and stared at the ceiling. I could tell he was trying not to stare at me. Some men cannot help but stare. Others simply close their eyes and fall into a peaceful daydream. But this man stared intently into the ceiling, burning a hole with his gaze.

He was certainly European I soon found out.

I finished the shower and instructed him to turn over to begin the massage. I spent the next half hour doing what I do every day--kneading my hands through every crease, wrinkle, bone, and fat pocket of countless men from young adulthood to senior citizenship. He remained very still and calm as if he received massages often. No tension, no inappropriate moans, no pained flinches, and no awkward shaking.

As I continued working I studied the back of his head. He had such short hair. I always imagined European men with long, flowing hair. I thought that in my sudden discovery I might unlock some secret to his existence and what brought him to Oklahoma City. I was curious. Then I thought about Judge Judy…

Half an hour passed and I finished the massage. I paused and waited for him to make a request. He turned over and covered himself with the towel and looked right at me but said nothing. I was slightly taken aback by his overt eye contact. He went from being a strange, clumsy man to a confident and poised gentleman. Had this been my first year of work I might have assumed he was waiting for me to leave the room so he could dress in privacy. But 8 years later I knew this was not to be the case.

During my third year I encountered an obviously homosexual male customer. He was quite flamboyant and acted like a “fairy” as the Americans would say. It was unusual to meet a man like this in Oklahoma City. He spoke like a gay man and talked openly about his “boy toy”. I was surprised but amazed. I wanted to know more about his forbidden lifestyle in a conservative Christian state like Oklahoma. He talked a bit while I massaged him and I felt comfortable. I reasonably concluded that once I finished the massage he would leave. But when I finished he turned over and nervously asked if I could provide him a “happy ending”. I was shocked. I told him it would cost him another $20 and he agreed. I began my work when I noticed his eyes pinched shut as if he were in pain. I asked if he felt okay and he said yes. I continued but saw him bite his lower lip. I asked him if I was too rough and he said no, it was fine. I kept going until he bolted upright and forcefully removed my hands from his genitals. He burst into tears and I couldn’t understand why. Did he feel like he was cheating on his “boy toy”? I turned around and considered returning his $20. He kept apologizing and said “I can’t…” over and over. I walked out the room and waited in the hallway. A few minutes later he came out with his head down. He politely thanked me and hurried out the house. A few days later I saw on the news that a local man had killed himself in prison after being arrested for hiring a street walker and doing drugs with her. They dared to show his picture on TV and it was him, the homosexual “fairy” I had unsuccessfully tugged on. It wasn’t that I had never seen a former customer on TV before, in fact I had seen quite a few but this time I felt horrible at seeing his mug shot plastered across the TV screen like he was some sort of criminal. I was surprised after our ordeal that he would attempt another encounter. I wondered how he got caught and where the drugs came from. Could she have been an undercover police officer? What hit me hardest was the reality that he killed himself. He killed himself in prison. I wonder what his last thoughts were and if I had anything to do with his decision. The mystery deepened and I decided I wouldn’t ask questions or draw conclusions about a customer ever again. I didn’t want to know who they were, how they felt, or who they were fucking.

The European man looked me in the eye in a way that reminded me of the homosexual, but with less sadness. The man before me looked curious and intrigued. I couldn’t bear his staring so I asked him if he required anything else. He asked for the full service. I told him it would cost another $100. He agreed and took his wallet from the counter. When he opened his wallet his face reddened with embarrassment. “I’m afraid I don’t have enough cash.” It was my turn to stare back at him. “Do you accept credit cards?” he asked. I answered yes and he produced a credit card from a foreign bank. I glanced at it but still couldn’t figure out which country he came from. I decided to ask for his ID. He pulled out a large and colorful ID card that looked like no driver’s license I had seen before. He was Austrian. I laughed at his funny name.
I went to the office across the hallway to ring the transaction. I left him alone in the massage room without saying a word. I figured it was better to leave him guessing.

I noticed his birth date and was surprised by his age. He looked about 10 years younger than he was. The information on the back of his ID was written in German with strange symbols over some of the letters. I had never met an Austrian before. I didn’t really know much about Austria except that it’s next to Germany and home to Mozart. The card was approved and I returned to the massage room to find him sitting exactly where I left him, unmoved even by an inch.

I handed him his cards and remarked about the ID size in comparison to American driver’s licenses. He smiled bashfully and put the cards back into his wallet. He seemed to have taken a liking to me which left me feeling both flattered and unsettled. I thought back to the homosexual and how friendly and open he was only to turn up dead a few days later. No, I didn’t want this Austrian man to like me. In fact, he was no longer Austrian. He became another white man like all the others, like Robbie an hour before him.
He sat still like a stubborn child not wanting to go to school. I was amused. I instructed him to lie down. He did as I said. I removed his towel and began to disrobe. I didn’t look at him while I did, I didn’t want to know where his eyes were, whether they were watching me or continuing to burn a hole into the ceiling. I stood naked and grabbed a condom from the counter. I put it in my mouth and hopped onto the table.
He was thoroughly satisfied and perhaps even slightly overwhelmed.

Judge Judy had long passed by the time his appointment ended. I decided that I would rule against the defendant since she pawned something that didn’t belong to her. The Austrian seemed much calmer and began to chat as he dressed. Not since the homosexual had I accepted such banter from a customer. Either they left as abruptly as possible or I quickly escorted them out. But I admit I felt endeared to him and really wanted to know how the hell he ended up in America, in Oklahoma City, in my massage parlor. He was very straightforward with his answers and I didn’t get the feeling he was inventing anything though the things he described seemed so unreal to me, that a person could get paid to do what he does and have the privilege of being flown around the world. He was quite modest about his occupation and seemed as if he couldn’t believe he was getting paid for his services either. He found America so interesting. He reminded me of a little boy.

He wished me luck before leaving. I asked him to send a post card from New York City. After he left I took a quick shower and switched on the local news. They presented a small story about the band he was traveling with. It was probably old footage from months ago because the Austrian briefly appeared with longer hair, the way I imagined a European man ought to look. I laughed then felt relieved. I laughed at seeing another customer on TV but felt relieved to see this one with eyes full of life and curiosity, even if it was from a few months ago. I hoped he wouldn’t wind up dead on the news but I wasn’t too worried. He seemed to be in good hands—no pun intended.

After the headlines I switched the channel to watch Ellen.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I probably should not share this with you, but...

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be loved.

When I see the aftermath of a car accident on the freeway I always think today could be my day.

When I see a sign that says “Restrooms for Customers Only” I get nervous that if I use the bathroom someone will bang on the door and force me out. When I enter a fast food place with said sign I usually glance at the menu to pretend like I’m going to order something and then sneak into the bathroom. Of course I realize this is ridiculous and that no one actually cares.

I always wonder what kind of person I am. Am I the person I want to be? Am I the person I need to be? Can I take pride in myself? Should I take pride in myself? Do I deserve to be a person?

My 25th year on this earth started off pretty crappy. At the half-way point it seems to be getting a little better. I hope by the end it will be “good”. Whatever that means…

My closest friends are scattered around the world. This makes for insightful and deep conversations about all sorts of things with a diverse range of people but also leaves my daily life rather lonely.

I truly think that society has accepted mediocrity as the norm.

I use racial and homophobic slurs in my head while I’m driving. Kind of ironic all things considered…

I recently wandered into a bar by myself and stared at the floor the whole time.

I have had my heart truly broken twice in my life. People might say that overcoming these things makes you stronger but for me they've become anchors slowly dragging me to the bottom of the sea. How many more must I endure until I drown?

Sometimes I use my ethnic appearance to get away with things. When I last visited Paris the museums did away with student discounts and created “youth” discounts instead. Most places gave discounts to people 25 and under--which worked for me. One gallery only gave a discount to 23 and under and was checking IDs. I wore a big smile, put on a faux Japanese accent, and said in broken English, “Please. One admission. I am 23 years. Thank you.” The lady at the ticket desk gave me a weird look and replied, “3 euro please.” It worked. A few years ago I was in Istanbul. A large group of Asian tourists was being admitted into an historical site with an entrance fee. I joined the group and was let in by the Turkish ticket collector. When I lived in Israel I went to see a performance in Tel Aviv. The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company was performing and I didn’t feel like paying for a ticket since I lived in Ga’aton and felt rather indignant about it. It just so happened that the Beijing Modern Dance Company was also in town that week and the dancers were invited to watch the performance for free. I mixed myself into the group of skinny Asians and was admitted into the theatre without question.

Once I visited the West Bank and left my passport in my hotel room in Jerusalem. Upon passing through a checkpoint into Israel, a soldier asked to see my passport. I showed her my driver’s license. She looked puzzled. Then I started speaking English really fast about nothing in particular. She made a weird noise with her mouth (as Israelis do) and walked off the bus.

In another of my West Bank jaunts, I was met by an Israeli checkpoint soldier carrying a piece of paper with Japanese writing on it. He held the paper in front of my face and shouted, “Do you read Chinese?! Can you tell me what this says?” I told him, “Occupation bad.” I don’t read Japanese.

I have a sensitive stomach and get sick from almost anything. With that said, I eat just about everything. Except liver.

I fall into an existential crisis nearly every day. Life and death are recurring thoughts in my head, themes of my being. I am plagued by my own mortality.

I don’t want to bring children into this world.

I build Legos. I don’t play with Legos. I build them and I leave them on display. Once a month I dust them.

Over the years I’ve found more creative ways of being self-destructive.

I wandered into the bagel-y part of town and got a free drink at the shawarma place because I lived in Israel. The Israeli man working there was actually on the phone with a woman who works in Ga’aton. Small world indeed. Fuck, Israeli shawarma is so expensive in LA. I sat in the restaurant watching a closed captioned Tom Hanks movie on TV. He peed against a tree, decided to carve his initials into the tree, but tipped over the tree instead. Anyone? While sitting there I noticed a young girl standing by the door with a pained expression on her face. Her dad walked up as she pointed to the “Restrooms for Customers Only” sign on the window. He shook his head and took her to the bathroom anyways. They left without so much as once looking at the menu. Good dad.

While descending the escalator in a Parisian metro station I saw loads of police officers frisking and searching young people and their belongings. The officers were standing at the bottom of the escalators taking aside all youths for search. Black, white, Asian, and Arab youth, male and female. I got nervous they might stop me as well. Of course I wasn’t carrying any drugs but I didn’t want the experience of having my person and bags searched in a train station. However I think my tote bag from the Bayeux Tapestry and colorful knit cap kept the officers at bay. That and my aforementioned big Asian smile.

My least favorite holiday is Halloween because it actually scares me a little.

I’m an awful listener.

When people ask if I’m a “glass is half full” or “glass is half empty” type of person, I usually respond that I’m a “there is no glass” person. I don’t believe in life yet I have an immensely high regard for human life—just not my own.

When I was little my Chinese and Taiwanese classmates told me I wasn’t Chinese because I couldn’t speak Chinese. My Hispanic classmates told me I wasn’t Mexican because I had thin eyes. Eventually I became your standard, typical, whitewashed Asian who wore Gap sweaters, Abercrombie & Fitch polos, and Roxy flip flops. Now I realize how much bullshit it all was. Not being “something” enough to a group of people. I am who I am no matter how much or little I look, act, talk, or think like one expects me to. I am a Chinese-Mexican American non-Jew who speaks Hebrew. If that’s too much for you, go back to Kentucky.

On that note, when I was a little girl I thought I was a black boy. I don’t know why.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wearing A Swim Cap to Wrestling Practice...Redux

The two guitars collecting dust in the garage? Those would be mine. How about the tennis rackets hanging on the walls with their strings bent and twisted? Mine as well. And who used to play that keyboard standing in the hallway by the heater? No one, actually. My mom has always been 100% supportive of my various activities no matter how half hearted they were undertaken or how untalented I was while doing them. She always wanted me to follow my dreams and try everything. Some experiences turned out better than others.

League Basketball

I don’t even remember how I got involved with the Jetts Storms community basketball team. I never wanted to play basketball, I wasn’t particularly athletic, and the practices weren’t even near my house. But somehow my mom managed to sign me up and every Saturday I attended a 2-hour practice in some school gym to prepare for Sunday morning games. I was just awful I tell you. I hated getting my hands dirty by touching the basketball, I couldn’t shoot, I was not an aggressive defender, and I couldn’t run more than a few feet without my sides aching. My teammates were a bunch of spoiled girls whose mothers gossiped about each other and belittled their husbands in public. On the first day of practice my coach asked me if I was “quick”. I shrugged. He threw a basketball in my face and I cried all afternoon.

I continued playing league basketball for a couple of years and I really hated going to practice. Games were even worse. I think the only points I scored were from free throws I was awarded for tripping over my own feet. I was a bespectacled child and one day someone threw the ball in my face and broke my glasses right at the bridge. I couldn’t play without them so I quickly taped them up with white athletic tape turning me into a proper nerd. During one game my coach decided to sub me in and I accidentally ran right onto the court in the middle of game play. I had totally forgotten to wait for the referee to call me in. Because of my interruption a technical foul was called and my teammates looked at me like I was Judas himself. I ran back to the bench and buried my face in my hands. Shortly thereafter I was able to convince my mom to let me quit basketball.

Tae Kwon Do

When I was 8 years old I decided to enroll in Tae Kwon Do classes because I wanted to learn how to “beat people up”. I had watched enough Jean Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan movies to know that fighting was fun and hurting people was even more fun. My mom reluctantly signed me up for classes taught by a visiting Tae Kwon Do instructor from Taiwan. In the first class Master Wang made us swear an oath never to cause harm to another person or show off what we learned in class. I was immediately disheartened but I continued with the classes anyways. I really enjoyed Tae Kwon Do and Master Wang was a great teacher. He eventually opened his own studio and after being promoted two belt levels, I started attending classes regularly at his school. I gained a lot of confidence by studying martial arts and was able to get over my shyness by sparring with other students once I reached more advanced belts. Some of my classmates were scary motherfuckers. As a skinny little girl I had to spar with boys my age. The problem with boys my age at that time was that they were much stronger than me physically, but not mature enough to realize it so they would spar with me as if I were another equal-bodied boy. I can honestly say I’ve had my ribs kicked and shins bruised more than the average first-world-country 12 year old. The girls I had to face were sometimes scarier than the boys. I remember this one girl, Roxanna, who was such a sweet natured person one moment then turned into a scary, high-shrieked, warrior woman the next. I was deathly afraid of her. When time came to switch sparring partners I always tried to avoid her. There was another girl, Samantha, who was very quiet and unassuming but once geared up and ready to spar, moved at rapid speed and had the force of a fully-swung baseball bat.

After 7 years of training I reached the level of first degree Black Belt. I took regular exams where I was able to spar with boys and girls of varying ages, break wooden boards, and memorize long forms from each belt level. I worked hard and pushed myself but eventually tired of Tae Kwon Do and stopped rather abruptly when I was 16.

Piano

Like every other Asian kid I went to school with, I played the piano. Every Saturday my mom dropped me and my sister off at the house of our piano instructor, Mrs. Kubo. She was an old Japanese woman whose children had grown up and moved out. She had a cluttered house full of mementos, souvenirs, pictures, and knick knacks collected over a lifetime. She was nice, but strict. She had a huge white dog named Yuki that used to frighten me and she collected those “Love Is…” cartoons from the newspapers and stuck them on her refrigerator.

Volleyball

“She can’t serve for beans”, my 5th grade teammate’s mother observed rather accurately summing up my volleyball skills. I played a few meets and was laughed at when I confessed I didn’t wear a sports bra. I didn’t have to. I weighed about 80lbs and was tiny as a stick. But all the other girls wore one so I begged my mom to take me shopping for my first sports bra. I couldn’t even find one small enough to fit but I desperately had to have one so I bought a size XS that looked more like a tank top when I wore it.

Cross Country Running

Remember that girl who couldn’t run a few feet without getting intense side aches? Nothing changed. How I ended up on the cross country team was more a scheduling mistake than anything. It was the only way I could fulfill my PE requirement freshman year and all the other sports were full. On the first day of practice I reported to my coach and asked him what I should do. He told me to run 4 laps around the track. “Without stopping?!” I gasped.

When I finished my body was aching and tears were rolling down my face. Now that my “warm up” was over, I could start practice. I had to run around the block to a nearby church and back to the field. I began to think what would happen if I just opted out of PE altogether? Could I take a music class instead? Anything else! I began jogging away from the field but once outside my coach’s eyesight, I sat at a bus stop and waited for my teammates to return from their run. Once they were nearly back to the field I got up and walked after them.

One of my toughest cross country meets was the Mt. Sac Invitational. It was a 3-mile course spread over hilly terrain in the hot summer heat. I made the mistake of not going to the bathroom before the race because I wouldn’t pee in a port-a-potty. I ran the first mile without stopping but the hills became too much and I had to start walking. Some feet ahead of me a girl tripped and fell. In a total “Center Stage” moment, I wished it were me who had fallen instead. How I wanted to find a nice clean bathroom and end this damn race!

Wrestling

Oh yes. I was a high school wrestler. It was as planned as a teenage pregnancy. My 9th grade history teacher Mr. Williams doubled as the school’s wrestling coach. One day in class he asked how much I weighed. I told him 95lbs and he asked if I wanted to join the wrestling team as a featherweight. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t.

I walked into my first practice wearing glasses, sneakers, and my hair down. Coach Suarez was going to be my trainer for the season and his first words to me were, “Take off your glasses, put your hair up, and go buy wrestling shoes this weekend.” He began to teach me various wrestling positions and moves and explained the rules of a 2-minute wrestling match. When I showed him my newly purchased shoes a few days later, “Bitchin’” was all he said. He was a man of few words. The other boys in the JV team were assholes to put it mildly. They didn’t appreciate that I pranced into their macho world of swinging dicks and “girls are sluts” talk. They resented my presence and let me know it. Because of my long hair I had to wear a swim cap that the boys always pulled causing me to be blinded by my own hair. It didn’t take much effort to pin me since every single boy outweighed me by at least 20-30lbs. Sometimes for pure amusement they’d throw me into a headlock and hold me there as long as they felt while I squirmed like a fish out of water. I cried a lot during those practices. Not because of the physical pain but because of how mean they were. None of them wanted the possibility of losing to a girl so whenever they had the chance to wrestle me, they’d use extra force just to ensure their physical superiority. One day a new kid named Carlos joined the team. He weighed the same as me so Coach Suarez decided we’d be wrestling partners for the season. Carlos was a little bitch when he wrestled. He used every dirty trick he could find and slapped me in the face while taunting “don’t cry” every ten seconds. I hated Carlos immediately. He was friends with the rest of the boys so they always cheered him on when we wrestled. The things they said were so demeaning and inappropriate I’m surprised any of them ever had girlfriends. The amount of locker room talk I was exposed to was unsettling. It became blatantly clear just how much teenage boys lie about sex. If the old wives’ tale is true that your eyes could get stuck from rolling them, I’d be blind by now. Even the fattest, ugliest, pimply faced boy had some story about a “girl” who really “wanted” him and he only “gave it” to her because he “felt sorry for her”. Whatever. I also learned that one of my older teammates was in the closet. It was surprising because he was a very popular jock whom many girls liked. By the end of the school year however, he would attend Prom with a male date.

The Varsity wrestlers were like older brothers to me. Once they saw I lasted longer than a week they became a dependable source of encouragement. They told me to toughen up around the JV guys and offered to kick anyone’s ass who gave me trouble in school.

Before matches Carlos and I had to wrestle each other to determine who would compete in the match. I usually lost so Carlos got to compete before I did. In every match he got pinned within seconds of starting. It was actually pretty embarrassing and the other guys gave him a lot of shit for it. He took his frustrations out on me and his dirty tactics became increasingly sadistic over the weeks. I finally had enough of his cap snatching and face slapping that during one practice I dove right into him, slapped him in the face and put him in a full nelson—a move illegal in wrestling. He whined, “Ouch, you’re hurting me!” and I called him a pussy. I decided I was done taking shit from him.

I won our next wrestle and got to compete in the following day’s match. It was my first wrestling match and I was up against a boy who weighed 107lbs to my 95. I was frightened. I was more than frightened. I knew there was no chance I could win but my only goal was to not get pinned and to last the entire 2-minute match. The Varsity guys wished me luck but the JV guys messed with my head, reminding me how weak I was and how I was going to get pinned in seconds.

The match felt like an eternity. My opponent wasted no time in taking me down. He was 12lbs heavier and in no mood to lose to a girl. He moved quickly and aggressively and threw me around like a ragdoll. Coach Suarez coached me through the whole thing from the sidelines, giving me step-by-step instructions to get in and out of the various holds I was stuck in. My brain stopped working and strategy went out the door. My body just kept fighting and struggling, refusing to wind up on my back. I never felt so tired in my life. I had surprisingly survived the first round. My teammates were both ecstatic and shocked. Coach Suarez advised me to just “stay alive” and “don’t get pinned!” The referee asked me if I wanted to continue. I just stared at him then nodded. Once round two began my opponent took me down right away. My muscles were aching and I wanted to give up but I knew that was exactly what my teammates expected me to do. In one big “Fuck you” to the haters, I stayed alive and didn’t get pinned. My opponent won, but I was no loser. Mr. Williams, Coach Suarez and my Varsity teammates shook my hand, a major sign of respect in boy world. The JV guys just laughed at Carlos telling him, “SHE didn’t get pinned.” I managed to survive 2-minutes of mind and body numbing hell.

My confidence was lifted and I could see my teammates looking at me differently after that match. Mr. Williams started to acknowledge me in practice to the jealousy of the JV boys. Coach Suarez lowered his guard and was able to joke around with me.

One day in practice I was wrestling with a tough guy named Jose. Overall Jose was an immature asshole like the other guys but as a wrestler he was dead serious and dignified. I was certainly intimidated by him. He was a lot stronger but knew not to use full power against me but I got sloppy on this particular day and next thing I knew I was on my back gasping for air. I could neither inhale nor exhale and I literally felt paralyzed. I thought I was going to die. Coach Suarez came running over and told me to keep breathing. When I was able to breathe normally he carried me off the mats and gave me a big crooked smile. “Congratulations, you just got the wind knocked out of you.” Some of the other guys shared their stories of how they first got the wind knocked out of them. I guess I had lost my wrestling virginity and could join the ranks of the initiated.

My experience as a wrestler was a character-building one, no doubt. I toughened up both physically and mentally and I had no idea at the time that my training would one day prepare me for an even tougher type of training—as a dancer.