Sunday, August 24, 2003

Boring LA

Looking for Los Angeles

Even though I was at a conference “in L.A.” all this week, it wasn’t until Friday night that I really ended up in L.A. But even then I wasn’t in Los Angeles; I was in Hollywood.

Friday night Jennifer Pelose (whom I worked with in Boston) gwSarah (whom I met by chance at the conference) and I all ended up down on Hollywood Boulevard.. We walked around Mann’s Chinese Theater, El Capitan Theater, and discovered quite by accident that the mall we wandered into was actually attached to the Kodak Theater where the Oscars are held now. It was really odd; there were giant plaster elephants on top of the mall whose main court was an open air semi-circle. I understood it though; the builders were using the same type of plan used in Stratford-on-Avon, but all the symbology was very Hollywood, giant props and odd faux-Egyptian motifs. Underneath the giant props in this awesome design space, a pretty bad theme-park style show was conducted in center court. Dry ice smoke wafted out while giant screens cast clips from famous Hollywood moments. Beneath the screens, Rocky-Horror style, a few costumed performers went through the motions of unintentionally mocking the very industry the building raised up to honor.

Jennifer took pictures of us with famous footprints and pink cement stars. The stars are set into the sidewalk all the way down Hollywood boulevard. If my picture with Ray Harryhausen’s sidewalk star doesn’t come out, I’ll be really bummed. The footprints in cement are in front of the Chinese theater. The footprints and handprints really surprised me. They have a big impact on you when you see them. It’s irresistible to put your feet where Jimmy Stewart’s were, and impossible not to feel affected when you do so. I found myself fascinated by C3PO’s small steps, amazed at how many women sunk stiletto heels in, making their actual foot size impossible to gauge. Shirley Temple’s tiny marks made me feel bad, realizing how small a child she must have been, wondering if she was ever frightened by the crush of people here, and all the popping lights.

The best part of Hollywood boulevard for me was simply that it was crowded and full of odd people. I spent most of the week in Beverly Hills, at a famous old hotel that was quite nice but far too distant from anywhere I wanted to be. Tuesday night gwSarah and I walked in after a day of conferencing on digital archives to find the very real red carpet rolled out, because a benefit for St. Jude’s was being held under our noses. We found out later television stars had been in attendance, but we were too wiped out to even care. We spent the evening with Jessica, a computer program designer, eating dinner beside a swimming pool where Esther Williams once swam in all her glory. We ate at the hotel because our other dinner option would have been a restaurant on Rodeo Drive, and after only two nights of Rodeo, we were all done with it. None of us went into this field for the money, and so we were sort of stranded in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the wealthiest nation in the world. Beverly Hills is not L.A.

Wednesday night I went to Melrose to shop, and gave up after much searching. The clothes were the best I’d ever seen in my life, but while they were no where near Rodeo Drive prices, they were still far beyond my reach. Not to mention that none of them would fit anyway, because I’m 6 goddamn feet tall. I don’t know why I occasionally forget that. Melrose is exceedingly long and there are few buildings more than 2 stories tall. I did get a charge out of seeing the West Coast design building, which looks as if it were built out of blue and green legos.

I ended up at a really good comic bookstore there, ‘The Golden Apple’. I was impressed. But I didn’t feel like I was really in L.A. The night was warm and there were plastic chairs outside of the comic book store, so I sat while I waited for a cab back to the hotel. I had to wait for a cab, because when I waved at taxi drivers to hail them, they either waved back or simply made a telephone gesture with their hands. Since I was in a fairly hip retail district, there were a few people out on the warm night. But for the most part the wide white sidewalks were vacant, or home to people who only walked a few yards to their shiny expensive cars. Nice cars are evidently very important in LA. Perhaps that’s why the cab I called never showed, but eventually I did manage to flag down one of the cab drivers, who I can only assume hadn’t been in LA long enough to know that taxi hailing is simply not done on Melrose.

I never saw a public housing project while I was “in LA”. I was actually in Beverly Hills, and while this was very nice in some ways, in other ways it was everything I dislike in the world: it was difficult to navigate, everything was ridiculously spaced out, and all of it was horribly expensive. I was outside of the city, not in it. I was in Century City. Avoid Century City.

But the best part of the trip was my night at the Getty museum. Which you can read about here later this week. It was one of those nights I’ll never forget. But really, I’m too tired out to write about it just now.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Did I mention I love what I do?

News agencies love to report misdeeds occurring in or around libraries, hoping the Madonna-Sodom dichotomy of innocent libraries and criminal sin will give their stories extra oomph. Don't be fooled. Libraries are far from the rarefied cathedrals of secular humanism they pretend to be, while librarians are the shadiest creatures this side of the Russian mob. Scratch the adamantly bland demeanor of any librarian and you'll find trails of broken hearts, bathtubs full of meth fixings, and covert careers in porn. You can't even get a job interview at a library unless you've gone to jail twice. Trust us, and beware.

- -The Stranger

So. I’m enjoying my new job more than I could have hoped, and I’m even getting some good reviews and recognition. A tiny bit, but it’s there. And those who know me will tell you: I’m a junkie for external validation.

But I have to say that I totally agree with what Chris Cumo wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He’s got a Ph. D. in History, and he cuts lawns when he’s not a substitute teacher.

You go into higher education, and school prepares you for a life in academia, and then you get out and find out that…there’s probably not a life of academia ahead of you. Aral and I spent a lot of time talking about this last year. We referred to the fact that you kind of have to “detox” after grad school, that you have to spend some time just getting back in touch with reality, back in touch with life on the outside, you know, outside of school.

I mean, Cumo is definitely bitter. But then, wouldn’t you be bitter too? I was certainly bitter while I was working crap jobs just to feed myself, despite the fact that I have a MS. Luckily I now have a job that I love, and that makes me happy. But it was really close, you know? I could have easily ended up managing a Borders – which is a good job, but not what I’d like to do with my life.

Sunday I fly to Los Angeles to attend the Society of American Archivists meeting. And while I’m there, you had better believe I know exactly how lucky I am. For a whole week I get to hang out with people who love to talk about archives as much as I do. I get to learn about preserving different kinds of film, and about digitization projects on the west coast, and I get to go to the Getty museum and look at illuminated manuscripts. I'm a lucky bastard. And I'm glad Chris Cumo reminded me of that.

Monday, August 11, 2003

300 days

300 days until the third year

Ford and I were sitting in the Majestic on Ponce de Leon. The Majestic is southern and greasy and serves breakfast all day long. You can feed two people stuffed-full for less than $15, and there is a cigarette vending machine in the back, great neon signs out front, and small standing pools of water under the ice machine.

And Ford says to me:

Look, the thing that [name deleted] is most afraid of is just that people will find out what a liar he is. I have lived with this for years. The thing [name deleted] is most afraid of is that people will know me and know that I’m a good person, that I live a good life. The best thing you can do is just be yourself – just do what you would normally do, act how you normally act. Live your life.

I’m miserable over how the summer has gone. How not much has happened the way I would have liked it too. When I started planning back in March, things should have happened – well, family things, romantic things, financial things, creative endeavor things. And it all happened, all right, but the payoff – well, 50% of expectations met is not satisfactory. I don’t say this to Ford. I eat a bowl of bacon and black pepper grits.

So he’s afraid of me?

Deathly afraid. [This person] slandered me to my aunt, and it was funny because of course he had slandered her and her kids years back. So when [this person] tried to tell my aunt these type of things…well…I don’t know what exactly she said, but I’m pretty sure she told him exactly where he could stick it, and how far up.

Ford chuckles into her decaf coffee. I can’t believe we’ve known each other for seven years now. There have been times when we’ve been deeply annoyed with one another, for sure, but beyond all that, we’re pretty good influences on one another.

Christy Ford came to visit this weekend, and it was the first proper visit we’d had in two and a half years. The last time we’d visited properly – and when I say a proper visit, I mean a visit where just you and a guest have enough time to sit, talk one an one and get the flow of ideas and concepts going again – the last time we’d had a proper visit was March of 2001, when she drove all of my stuff from Murfreesboro to Boston by herself in a U-Haul trailer I paid for.

I mean, it had really been just that long. We’ve seen each other at parties, and had some meals together since then, but this time she came down and we had almost two whole days to just sit and talk and eat. It was nice. I watched her suck in all the city she could in 24 hours, all the urban textures and sights and smells she hadn’t been around since Boston. We talked a lot about art, and the strange paths our lives have taken in the past two years. I tried to fill her up with good food for the mind and the body. I hope she visits often; I think she will.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Loss in a coffee house.


We’re on the phone, and he says:

Look, I want you to know that you can call me. I want you to know that you can call me up and tell me anything. I want you to know that I’m here for you when you need me. And I’m still going to call you. But when you need to have a break from me for a while…If you need to have a break from me for a while, I understand that.

I don’t think I should call you. I think that me not calling you – it’s been two months and – I think you calling me is better. I think you should have to call me. I think it works, that way.

But how am I supposed to know when you need a break from me, if I’m the one doing the calling? Do you see what I mean?

I’d let you know. If I needed a break. I’m OK…I might need a break from you in June. June would be good for this. I’ll start getting over you in June.

Wait. You’re scheduling when you’ll…

Fine. That’s fine.


For the first time in two months, I had the time and money Friday night to do one of my favorite things in the whole world. I went to the comic book store, picked up my week’s worth of comics. Then I took the comics and some writing stuff to a coffee house, where I could get a treat and sit for a while just enjoying myself and my $15 worth of luxury items, a good snack and a good read and the proper space to write a letter to a friend. This is one of my favorite things to do for myself: comic books, coffee house, letter writing. A big splurge in personal down time, believe it or not.

I got into the habit while in Boston of counting the other single women sitting by themselves in coffee houses, reading and writing. We’re a surprisingly large demographic. On any given night in any given coffee house, there is at least one other girl in her twenties indulging herself this way. The most I ever counted was in Coolidge Corner two years ago; 7 different women at 7 separate tables, alone in the coffee house. I have counted women in Atlanta, in Marietta, in Nashville and Knoxville and Boston and Jacksonville. I plan on counting women on the west coast next.

We are a nation unto ourselves. The women never talk to each other. There is a grim understanding among us that we enjoy being alone, or at least enjoy being alone with our angst about being alone. Friday, in Little 5, there is only one other girl, reading a magazine by herself, hunched over. But to be fair, there was that other girl writing in a spiral bound notebook outside the coffee house, looking suitably angry and displaced.

Women who read alone: we are a legion of the romantically dispossessed.


Ron was good friends with the last solid, reliable boyfriend that I had in a serious way. Ron still has an album that this boyfriend copied for him onto CD. The Blue Man Group Soundtrack played just once in our living room about a month ago, and I froze. I asked Ron to stop playing the disc. He sighed and took it out of rotation.

The music reminded me forcibly of the morning I was last in the boyfriend’s car. The night before he had broken up with me, late, as I was all ready tucked into his bed. So the next morning we had this horrible ride into the city. And quite bitterly, I said:

Well, this is it for me. I don’t think I’ll ever get into a serious relationship again. I’m pretty much determined to be on my own after this.

The now ex-boyfriend turned to me in shock.

How can you say that?

Because I just know, OK? This was it. This is the last time I’ll ever get this involved again. I mean, I’ll date, and of course I’ll have lovers, but this was the last big deal for me.

It’s strange for me to remember that, over two years later. I almost never think of that boyfriend anymore. I spent a summer in grief for him, but all things considered, I moved on rather quickly. I’ve dated since then, messed around since then. I’ve fallen in love again, since him. But I remember the sound his car door made as I slammed it shut on the Fenway that morning. I was late to a conference on microfilming, newspapers, and brittle books. I couldn’t have known then how important that day would be for me.

My attendance to that conference would help make my career.

Decisions that would affect the rest of my life turned on the hinge of that car door.

It’s funny, how the conversations that change your whole life are rarely pleasant ones.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Dustin Doesn't Share!

Dustin Doesn't Share (and I'm telling)

I picked up my comics for the first time in two months this weekend. A sign of a good comic book store is that they’ll hold your comics for weeks and weeks. Of course, they did forget to put a lot of stuff in my box though, and this irritates me. I don’t have the ending of the Titans and I don’t have end of Young Justice. And there’s not much I can do about that. Not that I have the money anyway, but I like keeping up with these things.

When I say that I caught up on my comics, it’s another way of me saying “Dustin came to visit last weekend”.

He brought an excellent ‘zine about Superman from the West coast. I need to own this zine, and yet there was none of the usual write me here and I’ll send you another, probably because the writer also works for McSweeny’s, and therefore doesn’t really care how much his darn Superman zine sells.

Dustin also brought the new Swamp Thing graphic novel, and he totally didn’t share it, (because he wasn’t done with it) and I consider this to be a gross violation of our comic book sharing philosophy. After all, I let him read my new Hellboy, and Batgirl and Birds of Prey besides, and the end of the latest Tim Hunter thing. And yes, I totally am nine years old. I’m still nine and I’m telling on Dustin. This is our first visit in forever where we didn’t leave with stacks of each other’s reading material. It’s just intolerable, I tell you. I won’t stand for it.

The last good swap we had was back in March. And then at Devonstock he brought me my stuff back but I didn’t have his…so he took his stuff back this time and I had little to share, because the move just wiped me out, financially, you know? Our fandom is a very commercial thing. So when you’re poor, you’re out of the loop. He took back his golden age DC and his Madman. I read some awesome back issues he brought me, he read some of my currents, and we left each other with nothing.

So we’re not sharing comics like we usually do. I’m not sure if we ever will again. This makes me grumpy. I would have little grumpy-ness lines coming off me if I were manga. Also my frown lines would extend off my chin, and I might’ve cried tears the size of my teeth.

Not that he meant anything by it at all. We really did have a lovely weekend, except for the part where I found out I need tons of HEPA filters, and Dust found out he’s allergic to our cats. I did manage to feed him decently, and he polished off most of the rabbit Kati and Michael left. And we went to the puppet museum and scrutinized the Skexis, and had a fun time operating the servo puppet head of Xelas, the Indian goat-man. We also saw Pirates of the Caribbean and ate at the Majestic.

Breakfast at night in a properly greasy place. With a friend, who knows my language and speaks it himself. That’s one of the best things in the world.

But it would have been better if he’d loaned his Swamp Thing, the puppeteering bastard. He knows I'm all about the green man. And I can knock on him about it, because he knows, in the end, we'll trade again. I'm going to be flying alot in the coming months, and I won't fly without comics.

So I'll have Transmetropolitan, and more Hellboy, for a start. And if he wants to play with my toys, he'll have to start sharing his again.