Monday, September 29, 2008

What 41 Year Old BFF Women Do When They Get Together

We play. At least Betsy and I do.

I visited Betsy in the Bay Area this weekend. We had a blast, and we spent the majority of the time on bicycles.

Here's what 41 year old women do when they visit, at least from where I'm standing:

We roll out of bed and immediately practice track stands on a converted Bianchi fixed gear bike in our flip flops. No need to brush the hair or teeth or wipe sleep from the eyes. There are stunts to be practiced!
We weren't that good, but not terrible. A few more mornings like this and we would've had it.

FYI, I'm in love with this bike. I love it more so now being away from it. I thought about trying to fit it in my car over the weekend when Betsy wasn't looking. She and her husband only have twelve bikes between them so I thought maybe she wouldn't notice, but this particular bike is definitely the beauty of the bunch.This thing is light enough to be picked up with a finger or two. Dang! I shoulda taken it. But maybe that's not what 41 year old BFF do.

Here's what else we do: We do a lil impromptu strength and stretch session after track stands. Still in our pajamas and flip flops. There was a lot of light-hearted, Can you do THIS? She certainly has me on strength. I have her on stretching.Then we double fist coffee cups, which incidentally I'm back to drinking. Good thing too, because Betsy's not fucking around when it comes to coffee. She roasts her own beans for god's sake. Knowing this, I'm still not sure why she made me a cappuccino AND a cup of coffee so strong I was later plucking hairs from my chest. But I went with it anyway . . .Bottoms up!High on caffeine, it was time to hit the bikes and roll around the cities of Oakland and Berkeley because nothing else that we could've done interested us; not shopping, not lounging, not spa'ing. We couldn't wait to ride. First we rode around Betsy's beautiful neighborhood of Lafayette, no longer in our pajamas.

I can't explain my lure to cemeteries. I'm not interested in celebrity tombstone sightings nor am I particularly macabre. I just think they are beautiful, when the vibe isn't too heavy. I also think they are a fascinating waste of land. I say this with all due respect. It's just that I can't wrap my mind around saving the empty vessel. But I do immensely appreciate symbolism and shrines of remembrance. The Mountainview Cemetery in Oakland is an equal mix of lavish shrines and forgotten broken plaques. The land is rolling and steep with a view of the bay. It is spectacular. And there is hardly a vibe here if any. As we climbed the hills on our bikes I tried to conceptualize why. Did the breeze off the water sweep it away? Were we in a section of plots so old the dead no longer lingered? There were many tombstones that read things like: Mother. Father. A last name only. And I wondered if burying the dead goes through trends.

This family plot reads from top to bottom: Son. Mother. Father. And on the bottom, Daughter, Daughter. We tried to figure out why the son was on top. He didn't die last, and sadly I only imagined that he was valued most. Or maybe the sisters wanted to be next to each other. The stone in the back says Metcalf and underneath is says ABSENT. This baffles me.
The top was stunning. After hours of riding around and exploring neighborhoods and bike shops, we took the BART back towards Lafayette. While we were off riding around, Betsy's husband Jim was on a motorboat in the bay braving extreme chop and the carelessness of a thousand other boats because the Maltese Falcon was rolling through San Francisco for the first time, possibly the last. This is the largest privately owned sailing vessel in the world. It's over 289 feet, employs a full-time staff of 16 and cost on the upward of $300 million. Check out how small the people are on the bow. They are standing in front of two full motor boats parked up there.
The sails are fully automated thus the sick radar system. Jim said it is spectacular, especially when the sails tack and self adjust.Still, $300 million? Sigh. I'm concerned whether WaMu will cash my paycheck and a fuel fill up of the Maltese Falcon costs more than I've made in five years. Hey, who am I to judge?! The rich are free to squander their money in the most unhelpful and frivolous ways until their heart is (temporarily) content.

Speaking of the finer things, later that night Betsy pulled out a bottle of Anejo rum from Cuba that she bought in Mexico not too long ago. We drank it straight and from vintage miniature glass goblets. It was delicious. Speaking of finer things still, I woke early on Sunday morning and caught the sun climbing over Mount Diablo from Betsy's deck. In these moments I can be nothing but thankful for my life. And speaking of the finest things of all, I drove the five hours home deflecting thoughts of finances and instead day dreamed of bicycles and bicycle training and of seeing the girls and Papi, who I always miss terribly only an hour after leaving them. And I thought a lot about how much fun Betsy and I still have no matter the age; how it still feels like 24 years ago. I think by the time we're sixty-five I could almost beat her in a push up contest. Bring it, B!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Music In Schools

As an artistic type, I believe it's important to fight to keep music in schools. I believed that whole-heartily until Mina took up trumpet this week. Dude. Trumpet. She sounds like she's part of the Spirited Bowl Jubilee. It's funny. For the first ten rounds of Hot Cross Buns. Then I wish I had hot cross bun earmuffs. "GOOD JOB, MINA!" "KEEP IT UP," I yell over the halted, air-filled blurts as I cry quietly to myself. Although, I'm revitalized when she tries a little Satchmo improv finger-work, all fast and screechy. Then I'm like, "Oh yea, Mina. Play it!"

I won't complain about the rental contract I had to scrawl in blood for the trumpet. I won't because I support music in schools! I most definitely support how it helps Mina's brain -- fires off some extra synapses -- even at the expense of our ears and pocketbook.

On many days, I pick up Mina from school on my bike. I put a pillow on the back rack, shove a helmet on her head and she squeezes me as her little straddled legs dangle. Old school! We ride home at a very leisurely pace. We talk about the day. The breeze and sun's position against the trees at that time do a number on us. Her tiny death grip around my waist and her voice vibrating off my back as we ride do a double number on me. Getting the trumpet home today took a new negotiation of space and balance. Mina rode no differently, but I held the trumpet's case handle with my left hand, a bit out to the side. It worked out fine, but it was more laborious than our regular dreamy after-school pick up. Drat you, Trumpet!

Mina decided to play out to the courtyard. This was funny. For another two rounds of Hot Cross Buns. Then I shut her down. Until tomorrow, Trumpet. But still, here's to the music that's still taught in schools! Even when it sounds like this: Bur bur bbbbrup. Bur BUR brr. Burp bur burrp. BBRR bur. Brup.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shelf Life

My mind and the way I run my life, I'm finding, is like a shelf with limited space, and if I get excited about something new, something else falls off the shelf. It's easily forgotten as I clap my hands and squeal over the New Thing. I feel very simple lately and I catch myself only thinking about a few things; shiny, glittery things. I'm oblivious to what was on the shelf just a week ago.

Oooo, bicycles . . .they're so pretty and fun = Core/strength classes fall off the shelf (To be fair, I've always loved bikes ever since I first got on a Big Wheel at age 4, but lately I'm so blinded by them, like they slipped me a mickey. Like, my love for them was not expressed enough before and I must now pay a penance for not waving the banner high enough and I'm required to shout this from the roof tops. "You know I love you, Bikes, I'll love you forever. No, really baby, I will. Your place on the shelf is permanent.")

Writing Workshop . .. wweeeeeee! So sparkly = All forms of cooking/baking/raw food prep have fallen off the shelf. (Ok, to be fair again, writing has been on and off and in the shadows of the shelf since I was 10, but I've been so mean to it. Writing has just been waiting, tapping its foot wondering when I'd get over that cooking tramp. Or that time I was off with the jewelry making floozy. Or whatever other secondary creative whores I've dabbled in. "Oh Writing, I've been no-good. I'll love you forever. You gotta believe me this time, honey.")

My kitty, TeaCake . . . he's so soft and handsome and lovey. Ride or die, TeaCake! Please note nothing has fallen off the shelf here. I still love my pugs and my children. I just love this cat so much!

Obama must win . . .I'm fired up to tell the news about the impending doom if he doesn't = Where'd the Prop 2 noise go? Goddamn me. Prop 2 is hanging by a string off the shelf and I'm trying to juggle the monumental importance of this presidential election and the importance of this proposition getting passed because 20 million animals will get a little bit of a break when it does. You know the story. But I've told the family that if McCain & Whatshername get voted in, our bags are packed for Spain. Or maybe we'll join Zoey & Keith's commune in Iceland; they're mapping one out in case of emergency. Husband's up for Vancouver too. At first Maya was like, "Woohoo! Spain!" But after a while -- after the notion fell off her shelf -- she said, "I want to stay here." I said, "Me too."

That's about it. That's all I have room for because there are the mandatory fixtures of the shelf too, of course: workingcleaningpreparingmealsmanagingthehouse, and my fav fixture Being Mami.

Oh man, Dia de los Muertos is coming up. You know how I feel about that. I robotically clear everything off the shelf for a solid two weeks for that brilliant bit of distraction.

I asked Betsy last week if she'd be up for touring the California Coast on bicycles next year. I don't know anyone more up for such an adventure. I thought it was a lock until she said, Hell No. She said I'd have to be nutz to ride Highway 1 on a bike, which really is a precarious, windy and often foggy death-trap of a road. Every time she drives by cyclists on the 1 she says, "INSANE!" She just shouts it out in her car. Damit, Betsy. What about a ride to the Grand Canyon? Would you be up for that? Through the Mohave Desert and over the Dead Mountains? Because touring and bicycles are so cool and fun and glittery, don't you know?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

This & That

I've been craving cinnamon-sugar toast lately. I always think that's a sign that my grandmother is hovering. But then I'm embarrassed by the notion, like it's too romantic. Maybe I just crave that sort of comfort now and again. And who doesn't crave cinnamon-sugar on a regular basis? That's probably it.

I've received a few concerned notes from my out-of-town friends about the Metrolink train crash here, which is now the most tragic incident in Metrolink history; fifteen deaths and counting. Thank you so much for the concern, but I wasn't anywhere near it. That train goes in the opposite direction as my train, but still, the disaster has me a bit freaked out. It should be such a secure mode of transportation -- it's on a fixed track! -- and I don't understand why they wouldn't know well in advance when a freight train is coming at them head on. The investigation continues, but there's speculation that either the red light warning of an on-coming train wasn't noticed or it malfunctioned. There's no back up? Either way, it seems such a gross, needless oversight. Sometimes when I'm on the train, I think the driver is going too fast, like I know anything about train driving. But I can feel when it's going faster than normal and there are rougher parts of the track, between Fullerton and Union Station, that when rolled over causes the train to shake more violently than seems normal. I write the feeling off to Another Anxious Traveling Moment. I guess that's it; all forms of transportation worry me; car, plane, train; not so much the bike though that's complete denial, isn't it? Please tell me I'm not turning into that lady: The Scared of Traveling Lady.

I started my writing workshop. It's been going for two weeks, and I show up early and leave late. I ride the line of over-anxiousness. During my bike commute home afterwards, I don't ever remember pedaling. I float it home. I've turned in two stories so far. One received good reviews, the other so/so reviews. The So/So story has been a pain in my ass for over a year. I can't seem to get it to a place where it would be more moving. My teacher, who is amazing and thoughtful, X'ed out pages of the story. Pages! And I know as a writer you're not supposed to fall too in love with your own concepts and phrases when they need editing, but I don't always know how to move a story along passionately otherwise. I cut about 300 words from the story because of his suggestions, but I left the pages pretty much intact due to the fact that I'm in love with certain concepts and phrases. Kill me. I think I just need to move on. File the story away in the Nice Try folder.

But I wasn't discouraged. Which is a fresh concept for me after criticism. Fuck it; keep going. So I'm not instantly brilliant no matter how much I've fantasize that I am. Back to work because hard work has always been my most reliable characteristic. Day dreaming, not so much no matter how endearing.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Bicycles Are For Me

I got Loops tuned up last week, and wow she's humming like a dream. The love affair continues with no signs of ever fizzling. Tim, the young mechanic at my local bike shop, is warm and charged with bike enthusiasm. He looks at all bikes with affection, whether it's a ten thousand dollar stunner or a hand-me-down like Loops. Tim wears the uniform of a fixie junkie; old straight jeans rolled up to the knees, cool and sleek sneakers, ankle socks and a fitted t-shirt. He has a chain of elephants tattooed on his forearm that melts me. When I brought in Loops, he was backed up with work, said he didn't think he could get to her for six days. I said, "Oh no, what do I do until then?" Looking lovingly at Loop's stickered frame, he said, "I'd feel exactly the same." When he looked in my back basket and saw Mina's toy ring with a huge plastic purple diamond accidentally left there, he sighed and said, "I'll try to push her to the front of the line." Loops was ready in three days, running like a charm and affixed with a new brake handle that Tim had replaced for free with a salvaged part that happened to fit perfectly. I slipped Tim a tip for the tender care, but I think he appreciated most my over-expressed gratitude.

I told you Loops was a stray? Left alongside a millionaire's house in Newport Beach with a herd of other decent bikes. The ocean air got to them a little, rusted up some bits here and there. The bikes had stiffened from lack of use. Husband rescued two of the bikes for me, Loops and a mangy sweet thing that seems beyond repair to me, but may not be for a savvy mechanic. My intention is to donate the mangy one to a bike CoOp for the parts. Speaking of which, there are a few great ones in LA: The Bicycle Kitchen in the east West Hollywood area, and their sister shops The Bike Oven in Highland Park and Bikerowave in Santa Monica. You can use the bike shop and tools for $7 an hour --less if you don't have that kind of money-- and they'll teach you things while you're there, like how to fix a flat and beyond. They'll let you have parts too if they have them. It's all run by volunteers. It ain't fancy; it's for the those who have found true love in a bike, from the goofy to the serious. I'm heading over soon to learn this flat fixing business, at the very least.

I've been reading a lot lately about the history of the bicycle. Fascinating stuff actually; about how the roads in the U.S. were improved mainly because of the outcry of bicycle advocates whose teeth were pretty much falling out of their heads as they tried to commute on our tore-up roads back in the 1880's. About how a lot of the blueprints of the car stemmed from the bicycle; Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers all were fine bike mechanics. About how the bicycle back then was the fastest thing after a steam locomotive, even outracing horse-drawn carriages. About how African Americans were part of the sport from the very beginning at the turn of the 1900’s, and how the bicycle was an early and rather stealthy symbol of feminism. Susan B. Anthony said: "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

The bicycle has been a liberator since the beginning of its history! And I havent met a bike enthusiast that doesn't say the same today. I never feel a more elated sense of freedom than when I'm riding my bike.

I've been reading another book called Over the Hills. It's written by David Lamb a former war correspondent for the LA Times. Around his fifty-fifth birthday, he decided he'd buy a touring bike, pack it up with a minimal amount of stuff and ride across the country alone from Virginia to the Santa Monica pier. What I love most about this guy is that he had high cholesterol, was out of shape, hardly trained, smoked, drank, but he was like screw it, I'm off to experience the states like I can't in a car. The book is a detailed account of the ride and I love every single word of it. The book also goes into much detail about the history of cycling and the history of the areas he rides through. He stops for smoke and coffee and whiskey breaks and talks to curious locals. He's a regular guy doing an extraordinary thing. Needless to say, I’m inspired. I've been looking into California touring maps and sparkly new touring bikes. We'll see. One thing's for sure though, Loops has nothing to fear. She's still my number one.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Seeds Were Planted

When I was nine, my mother rented us a room out of an apartment in Santa Monica from a woman named Jean who was an ex-nun. Or a former nun as my grandfather would say because ex means they're dead, he had said. The apartment was a run-down, first-floor dingy two bedroom place cluttered with a million years of Jean's stuff, but the apartment sat across the street from a bluff that overlooked the ocean. Inside, the place was grey and heavy and dark, but the windows revealed brightness and a sense of the spectacular.

My mother and I shared the back room off the alley which was sunlit during the day. What fit in the room was my mother's full-sized bed that we shared, our dressers and a thirteen inch black and white TV complete with wire hangers shoved into the rabbit ears. My mother hung every piece of art she owned or had painted on the walls and they covered it floor to ceiling. Every night my mother would watch TV from her side of the bed after I was told to roll over and go to sleep. I caught many episodes of Fantasy Island or the Merv Griffin Show with one eye open.

At the time, my mother was part of a team that put together the ceramic Heritage Floor of Judy Chicago's brilliant and feminist iconic art piece, The Dinner Party. The Dinner Party is a huge installation piece of a triangular table set for thirty-nine famous or impactful women in history. Each place setting features a cloth banner depicting some of their story, a plate, a challis-like cup and flatware; all made of ceramic. The Heritage Floor contains the names of 999 more women that have made a mark. The piece is on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum and I highly recommend visiting it because when fully assembled it looks like God put the table together Herself. That entire summer, I hung out in and explored the massive warehouse-studio that was filled with the constant smell a fired-up kiln and freshly glazed ceramics. The plates were fashioned into the shape of colorful three-dimensional and flower-like vaginas. The glaze was often iridescent and without realizing exactly what they were -- though there was constant talk about the plates as vaginas -- I thought they were beautiful. Thirty or so women artists assembled the piece within the warehouse, all orchestrated by Judy's powerful vision and presence. I stayed clear of Judy as much as possible -- she scared me -- though I did get yelled at by her once when I knocked over some blueprints in a back concrete hall way. Of course I had bumped into them just as she was rounding the corner. The team of artists eventually taught me how to embroider a caterpillar for the Mary Wollstonecraft banner, which was terrifying. I did not know how to sew and my hands shook as I tried to make a perfect, shag-like caterpillar. During the process, I stared constantly at the scene embroidered on the main part of the banner which was of Wollstonecraft dying during childbirth. The satin crimson thread used for the pool of blood on the bed was a gorgeous color. It haunts me still a bit. Needless to say, this experience is a highlight of my life because the residual empowerment inherited to me locked into my young mind, and never left. Many of the women who worked on the project raged hard to reclaim this empowerment; they were boisterous and rebellious advocates of the ERA movement and of women's rights. They said things like "herstory" instead of history. They constantly sited how men were holding us down. My mother told me -- and they echoed -- that high heels were invented so women couldn't run from rapists. My mother also had a bumpersticker that read: "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle," which is sadly ironic coming from her. But that's the point; these woman, including my mother, had to exaggerate a sense of entitlement to their rights to reclaim them, to even recognize what they were. While assembling The Dinner Party, we all received a tremendous herstory lesson that many of the women, no matter how bra-less or how much armpit hair they grew, still might not have known excised. And I, as a kid, absorbed it, without having been too tainted by sexism just yet. I was able to build a strong base of my womanhood first.

Jean The Former Nun didn't talk about why she had left the church. This seems a heavy and personal decision that would not be easily discussed with a child. I spent enough time with Jean for her to have had the opportunity to tell me, and I was still attending Catholic school which made the topic even more accessible, but Jean never did fill me in. I wish I knew now, but back then it didn't matter to me. I loved Jean nun or no nun. She was in her fifties and shaped like a ball. A ball with a short steal-grey haircut. She had two Siamese cats; a mother named Katrina and a cross-eyed son named Ivan who often fell off the TV when he napped. Jean worked at what was then called The Museum of Science & Industry and I would often go with her on the weekends she had to work. As she worked I would wander the halls of the museum alone for hours, staring at the kinetic energy display and the neon exhibit. The dental exhibit was one of my favorites because the set of teeth on display filled an entire room. I pretended to get eaten a thousand times.

Jean was a champion for me. A champion in an even stronger sense than my grandmother Mama because Mama never confronted my mother in regards to me, especially not in front of me. But Jean did; Why had she hit me for that? Why did she leave me alone? I couldn't believe my ears the first time I heard her speak up.

Months before my mother and I moved out of Jean's place, Jean had cleared out the front hall closet and crammed in a small desk for me to use. She clicked on the overhead light and said I could work in there, for homework or whatever I wanted. I said, "I can do what I like in here?" She said, "Absolutely." I promptly painted a portrait of Susan B. Anthony on the wall. I don't think that's what Jean had in mind, but she wasn't too mad at me about it. In that tiny closet, I tried to close the door with a chair at the desk, but it wouldn't shut all the way. I pretended anyway that I was in my own private office, and I decided then that I was going be a writer. I had written one small composition for my fourth grade class and it was the only piece of school work that the had nuns complimented me on. My teacher even read it aloud to my class and I temporarily soared out of by body for those few minutes. I sat at the desk in my closet, staring at Susan B. Anthony botched in acrylics. I never did write anything else in there, but the dreaming about it was grand.