Monday, September 20, 2010

It’s Like a Logline but a Few Thousand Words Longer: A Reading of LA Literature

The Joan Didion Guide to Fabulous: Your Eyewear Must Weigh More Than You
This summer I checked out a reading at Skylight Books in Los Feliz of The Cambridge Companion Guide to Literature of Los Angeles.  Yes, there are other words written by other people in this town that are not James Cameron or the schmucks that stare at their five-year-old, incomplete screenplays on their laptops at various Coffee Beans.   I moved to Los Angeles from New York last February and carved out an identity in my stand-up and this blog as a fish out of water, lifetime New Yorker that doesn’t get this crazy world of Master Cleanses and being late to everything.  As time passed, LA began to feel like a home and everyone around me would rather I return to New York, than hear me utter another sentence that began with “See, in New York, this would never happen…” I realized I should embrace this city and get to know it.   At the reading, I learned that Bertolt Brecht lived in Santa Monica.  I wonder if he also bitched about the traffic and felt entitled that everyone on the east side should come to him. Contributor Eric Avila discussed Joan Didion’s interest in LA crime, particularly the Manson murders:  “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true. The tension broke that day. The paranoia was fulfilled.”  If I was as skinny and rich as Joan, I certainly wouldn’t bother mussing my best Halston pant suit by sitting through murder trials and visiting former Manson followers in prison.  I learned a little history about the building I was sitting in.  In the 70’s until it’s closing in 1994, the store that is now Skylight Books was another independent bookstore, Chatterton’s that supported and sold books of the LA poets at the time, including one of the evening’s readers, Bill Mohr. The gentleman next to me, who did not possess an inherent understanding of personal space and was leaning on my shoulder the whole time, nodded wildly at the reference to Chatterton’s.  By the look of him, it’s possible he’s been sitting in that same spot since the days of Chatterton’s and let Skylight Books be built around him.  When my 22-minute sitcom attention span started to wane, I checked out my fellow audience members.  Like at every event that requires quiet, rapt attention, there’s always a lady rummaging through a plastic bag who never quite finds what’s she’s looking for.   I noticed there was another “Mad Nodder” in the front room.  Every time a reader mentioned a quote, or a book title, this guy would nod away in that overtly presentational way.  I wondered if this how you pick someone up at a book reading since you can’t buy a drink or talk.  “Hey, look at me. I know a lot of stuff about the stuff this guy’s talking about.  Want to come over to my place and do…stuff?” After the reading, I noticed him schmoozing with the writers and I realized his intention was never to pick anyone up (certainly not women), but rather to pick up some job prospects.  “Hey writers, I know a lot of stuff about stuff you write because I also write about the same stuff.  Can you refer me to your lit agent, so I can get paid…for stuff.”  When I was driving back to Echo Park, Sunset was closed off from Douglas Street to Elysian Park Ave because of a murder in a marijuana dispensary.  I wondered if the murder would be worthy of a Joan Didion essay, or if Echo Park would be worthy of Joan Didion.

This post was originally published at Say Something Funny...B*tch!

Monday, September 6, 2010

LA Field Trips #12: Huntington Library

"To Catch a Predator " in 1913
Is your house overflowing wit creepy child hobglobins or do we live in Victorian England?
I went to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens to check out the exhibit, Child’s Play?: Children’s Book Illustration of 19th Century Britain.  Huntington Library should extend a free bus trip and admission to parents that spend their energy screaming at School Board meetings about “inappropriate books.”  For as long as adults are in charge of creating children’s literature, children’s movie and television shows, kids have always been reading and watching fucked up, crazy shit.  Most of the crazy will go over their heads, but the small subconscious impression that will be left can prepare kids for a world that ‘s bigger than their Justin Bieber bedspreads.  After getting lost in a Zen Garden, a Rose Garden, a bamboo forest, a long line at the cafĂ©, a giant lawn full of marble statues that looks like the opening credits of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, I made my way to the actual exhibit I came to see. I was allowed to take pictures as long as the flash is off, so now I have a lot of blurry pictures of nothing.  The exhibit was small but chock full of child molestation, naked male fairies, child hobgoblins, murderous trolls, and a biography of the illustrator, Charles Altamont Doyle (dad to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) that includes details about his alcoholism and stay in a lunatic asylum.  One of my favorites illustrations is of the Miss Muffet nursery rhyme from a book of Mother Goose Fairytales, illustrated by Arthur Rackham.  Miss Muffet is chilling with her curds and whey, and lurking behind her was a spider that also happened to be rocking a top hat and old man glasses.  The illustration took a rhyme that means nothing and made into a “Stranger Danger” cautionary tale.  “So Muffet, my web is right about us, want to come over for curds and whey candy and play that hoop and stick game that’s all the rage with you kids these days? And when I say, “hoop and “stick,” I really mean…” Today if there was a graphic on a lunch box of that monkey that Dora the Explorer hangs out with, eyeballing Dora in that “To Catch A Predator way, the heads of mothers would explode in the aisles of Target and Costco stores across America.

This post was originally posted on Say Something Funny...B*tch!