Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reality TV vs. Erotic Urban Literature, or "Is Your Thong On Fire, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?"

I think I often take my education for granted.

No, I'm not claiming to be the world's smartest human, nor would I want to be. Boys don't like smart girls (duh) so, to such a station I shall never aspire. But that doesn't necessarily detract from the fact that I have enjoyed what some might consider a "lavish" education, thanks to my own naive ambition* and the great state of California.

I went to college, ladies and gents, and every once in a while I am reminded of this.

Like today.

Unfortunately our receptionist at work is out sick this week (I miss her), and so we have a temp girl filling in. Candace is her name. For the three days Candace has been working the phones, filing the mail, giving me whiteout when I request it. She has been polite, pleasant - albeit somewhat confused - and coridal.

"Good morning, this is Candace. How may I direct your call?"

She pretty much nails it every time, and I like her.

Today Candace impressed me even more. More than I ever thought possible in a million years... Witness the exchange, if you will:

Me: (Preparing a fax cover sheet) So, how's it going up here? Getting the hang of it?

Candace: Yeah, it's been pretty slow today.

Me: Well that can be good and bad. Slow can be a lot less stressful. But it can also be --

Candace: Boring. Yeah, that's why I brought a book (gestures to open book on desk).

Me: (Interest piqued - she's a reader! How interesting!) Oh cool, what are you reading?

Candace: "Thong On Fire."

The unassuming interim phone operator then lifted her book up revealing its scintillating cover.


This is when I lost it. In my head, at least. Really I can't remember what was said next because all I could think was oh my God, this is the funniest thing I've ever seen and please don't laugh out loud at this PLEASE. I raced back to my office where I Google'd this literary gem to read for myself what it was about.

I strongly suggest clicking here because you will not be disappointed, and no amount of wordsmithing on my part could make the actual fact of this book's existence any more hilarious.

However, I will say this much... "Thong On Fire" was written by the National Bestselling Author of "Thug-A-Licious."

Joking aside, Candance is a sweet girl. And to be honest, no matter the content I'm just glad that she's reading. More people should choose to read to keep themselves busy and entertained. In a culture that pumps out the mind-numbing shit like "Moment Of Truth" and "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?" it's good that Candace is at least sticking it to The Man by picking up a book - that no fifth grader should ever, ever read.

I mean I suppose she could be spending her free time at the switchboard watching Youtube clips or playing Scrabulous...

But then she'd be just

*A young girl has no way of knowing that no man will ever ask her how many AP classes she took.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Years Resolutions and the Inevitable Disappointment That Follows, or Building My Muscles...Breaking My Spirit

For better or worse, at the beginning of every year I inevitably find myself making a list of New Years Resolutions.

In the past they have mostly been impossible tasks like Wake up every morning at dawn and run 5 miles, or Write a Novel, or Stop Drinking Coffee, or Go Out on Every Date I'm Asked...

And yet about a month into the new year, every bit as inevitable as the act of me making these resolutions, I start hitting the snooze button 3 or 4 times before dragging myself out my bed. I get as far as maybe a paragraph into the novel. My unhealthy caffeine addiction nags at me with debilitating mid-day migraines, and when I glance at my calendar all I see are blank spaces or little pencil drawn notes reminding me that I've effectively replaced a fulfilling relationship with a man with self-pity and such spinsterly activities as reading, painting, and cooking elaborate dinners for myself.

Yeah, LA can pretty much suck it.

At least I haven't resolved to end the parade of bitterness.

This year, like many years in the past, I made another list of things I think I should do to shift the focus inward and make myself more awesome. And here, 14 days into 2008 - the year that I'm declaring will be the best of my life to-date - I'm actually holding up my end of the bargain.

Meaning, I haven't disappointed myself. Yet.

But I know it's coming...

With holiday party backlash rearing its ugly head, one of my standard resolutions is to "be healthier," which is really just a euphemism I like to use for "lose weight." But it makes me feel like I'm doing it for the right reasons when really it's mostly out of vanity because isn't everything we modern humans do out of vanity and isn't it always swimsuit season in Southern California....

So, as someone whose scorn for Socal knows no bounds, I did the worst thing I could have possibly...ever...done.

I joined LA fitness.
This is a picture of what it feels like to join LA fitness.

I know! I know what you're thinking. It sounds so miserable. But it's actually going to be great. I've resolved that it will be great, and I've also resolved to keep all resolutions. So I'm not bitching out on this one. I got a really terrific discount on the enrollment fee, and the monthly charge amounts to one dinner out which is doing me a favor anyway. They'll even validate my parking for 90 minutes. Lord knows what a treat that is!

What's funny about the whole thing though, isn't the fact that I joined a really toxically shallow gym. What's funny is that I've actually become toxically shallow.

Just kidding.*

Really though. Yes, there are 12 foot high glass windows paneling the cardio room facing Wilshire Boulevard - one of the most heavily trafficked sections of boulevard in Los Angeles. Yes, the clientele shows up habitually overdressed (probably for everything), but one thing I have seen over and over and over again when I go work out is that no matter where you are, fat or thin, suburb or city, actor or waiter (probably both), everyone wears the same awful face. I call it...

Gym Face.

It's a phenomenon similar to that of O-Face. Meaning you wear it only in certain situations, it is similar across demographics, and it is ridiculous. Once you've identified said phenomenon, and if you haven't already you will, it's impossible to see anything else because all gym-goers for some inexplicable reason walk around with the same blank, self-conscious stare.

Gym Face typically reflects one of several attitudes, including but not limited to the following: "I'm working out, and I'm really fucking proud of myself." Or, "I don't know how to operate this machine, but I don't want anyone to know." Or, "Do I look like the kind of girl who gets off the crosstrainer after 20 minutes? Bitch please..."

At LA Fitness, this face alone makes it possible for me to make harsh, sweeping generalizations about my fellow Westsiders without conscience or remorse.

Case in point...

It's Monday night. The after work crowd has poured itself into said fishbowl cardio room. A good-looking-from-a-distance guy walks toward me as I wreck myself on a stationery bike. Tallish, sandy blonde hair, 5 o'clock shadow. Hmm, I think to myself. He's not bad. I wonder if he's nice. Smart? Charming? Would he make a good father? Could he love me forever? [Insert judgement] Eh, prolly not. Looks like a frat boy...

He comes closer. Damn, I can see the letters on his t-shirt - a dead giveaway. Frat confirmed.


And with each he takes step it gets worse, but it isn't his shirt that seals my disgust. Nay, I would be a fool to dismiss a prospective gym-crush for such a slight infraction as this. I could forgive the Boy he may have been in college for the Man he is today. But I'll never get that far. Not with this one.

Because plastered across that stubbly chiseled jaw is that face. That arrogant, self-involved, iron-pumping, fuck-you-and-your-resolutions face. Gym Face.

He glances at himself in the mirror and conspicuously flexes his calves.

And as I ferociously pump the peddles on my bike, as my heart beats a tribal rhythm inside my chest, a small part of me dies. Sacrificed to the god of botox, modeling agencies, and LA Fitness.

I break my gawking at the asshat's disproportionately large calves and resolve to press on. He may be one of a thousand disappointments I'll have to endure this year, but I'll be damned if any one of them comes from me.

It's been 20 minutes and there's a line of women waiting for my machine...

They can wait.

I reset the timer, gather my strength, and stare blankly ahead.

Happy New Year.

*Please don't tell me that you believed me even for a second.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

You Can't Take the Small Town Out of the Girl, or "Down the Street From Folsom Prison"

Everything has a dark side. An underbelly. An unsightly to speak.

Every record collection holds a few shitty tracks. Every family has a retarded aunt no one ever calls (right?). Every PG-13 movie has at least one F-bomb, and every clean, quiet, suburban town has what my parents might call an 'Element.'

Element shmelement. I call it the good part.

When I go home, it is to the only place I've ever really known as home. I eat dinner at the table where I did my kindergarten homework, in the house my family has lived in for the last 18 years.

The living room carpet is newer, as is the paint on the kitchen walls, and snazzy granite now rests where once-fashionable pastel blue tile graced the counter tops. But underneath the updated decor are the same beams and sheet-rock that saw me grow up.

When I drive through my neighborhood, I see myself at different heights, like one of those diagrams depicting cavemen evolving over thousands of years from monkeys into men. At 4'6" I'm an orangutan hunting down a cat in the empty lot next door. At 5'2" I'm a biped gorilla picking a bug out of her eye on the way home from school. At 5'8" I'm a full grown human girl, trying to convince her parents that later curfews aren't necessarily the cause of teen pregnancy.

I know all the shortcuts and all the potholes. It's safe. It's clean. It's suburban. Sure, some things are different, but mostly they are the same.

And there is something very comforting in that.

....By the way, how gross is that picture... I had to.


Until just last week I had not seen how unbelievably shady my suburbia is, and has always been, just beneath its shiny surface.

See, while the El Dorado Hills / Folsom Area is indeed a nice place to live, you can still find a backwoods, trailer-trash, whiskey-swilling, hillbilly element if you look in the right places. Those places are called bars. Maybe it's because there's a major state penitentiary--Folsom Prison, of Johnny Cash fame--just a few short miles away, or maybe it's because you can still find cows grazing in between cookie-cutter housing developments*. Whatever explanation you try to come up with, it's damn near impossible to answer the question What makes this place so special?

Oh, oh... it's magic?

That's really all I can think of. I don't think it's the prison.

The other night, I had the unique pleasure of going out [read: drinking lots of beer] in Old Town Folsom. Folsom is indeed a very old town. Right down by the river, where 49ers used to pan for gold, is a tiny street that is home to a few carnival-like watering holes. Growing up, when the concept of grown-up entertainment is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, I had no way of knowing the magic that existed just beyond the saloon-house doors.

Walking in, I immediately got the sense that the night would be the stuff of catchy country songs... this was one of those "low places" where Garth Brooks probably parties down with his hick friends.

Which was fitting. I am probably still at least 7% hick.**

It had to be magic, not hairspray, that kept the mullets in the room stiff to perfection. It had to be magic, not good taste, that kept the cowboy hats from falling off. And it had to be magic, not alcohol, that made every person there, present company included, dance like an imbred assclown to the 80s cover band.

God, I love 80s cover bands.

What I didn't know as a child was that while I was in my backyard collecting rocks and jumping on an over-sized trampoline, fun-seekers of all ages (21-150... I think some of those people may have actually been 49ers) were drinking themselves into a jubilant stupor just a stone's throw away.

From the prison. Which is incidentally a stone's throw from my backyard!

Sarcasm aside, there's a hometown subculture there I'm really glad exists. One that lets everyone play the village idiot and never turns away an eager drinker from joining the parade. Only on the dark side can you watch an intoxicated man in a cowboy hat beat two overweight women in their 40s in a Tahitian dancing contest just before the band turns on their homespun fog machine.

I don't mean to make it sound precious, because I'd take long necks and bad hairdos any night of the week over the bullshit of waiting in a line at pretentious club on Sunset, only to be judged for not dressing like enough of a whore by some starving asshole actor wearing an artificial ball-sack and bad cologne.

Seedy hometown fun is hard to beat. Especially when you're down the block from a maximum-security detention facility. Hicking-out actually doubles as a celebration of freedom.

And it's really fucking fun.

*It's true. Cow-tipping is a real pastime and was once common practice in my hometown.
**Which makes me 93% sophistication, and 100% awesome.