Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

Five Days in Pacific Standard (Part One).

Before I begin transcribing my traveling log [1] from my recent vacation to Los Angeles and surrounding areas, I want to raise a glass and toast the murder charges brought yesterday morning against “The Reverend” Matthew Hale, founder and exalted leader of the World Church of the Creator. I sincerely hope he’s guilty. Furthermore, I sincerely hope the jury sees fit to punish him for it if he is. Anytime I have seen and heard the leaders of white supremacist groups such as Hale’s on television reports, they come across as obnoxiously smug, and when that sort of smugness is coupled with the ignorance and bile you find in your garden-variety hatemonger, it’s all I can do not to drive my fist into the TV screen. This is, of course, both ineffective and hurts like a bitch. Hale, whose website and hate tracts I have also read during moments of curiosity, strikes me as one of the smarmiest Nazis on the cultural landscape, so seeing him get any sort of comeuppance strikes glee into even the farthest corners of my soul.


January 4, 2003
Airplane Etiquette / Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell / The Elected Official / The Triumph of the Arachnid / Priorities

Vacation begins at 5:00 AM in Hinsdale, Illinois, when Donna and I are driven to O’Hare Airport to catch an early flight to Los Angeles. This being our first experience with an E-ticket, both of us take our time trying to figure out how we’re supposed to go about retrieving our boarding passes, but as soon as I figure out how to use the consoles, I’m so pleased with the convenience that I’m converted almost instantly. “So long, paper tickets!” I shout. Immediately I am rushed by four security guards, who jump on any brown-skinned man loudly yelling in an airport.

I’m joking, of course. In fact, I’m barely given a suspect glance as I go through security. I am not held back for a more thorough search. I am not asked any probing questions about my luggage. The elderly woman behind me is being delayed for some reason and complains loudly that she’s never traveling by plane again.

While standing in line, I do a double-take at the man behind me and realize that it is Gus, an acquaintance of mine from elementary and high school. We say hello, catch up briefly, and then he is off to New York City.

Breakfast on American Airlines–coach class, at any rate–is given to you in a large paper bag that can so easily be used as a vomit bag that one wonders why they bother labeling it “Bistro.” I imagine that simply calling the whole package a “Meal Receptacle” would cover both ends of the spectrum. Our bags this morning contain a granola bar, a packet of raisins, a cup of strawberry-banana yogurt, a plastic spoon, fork, and knife. The mother of three sitting next to me, who is on her way to Hawaii and who calls every member of her family “Babes,” pulls the knife from the bag and loudly observes that plastic knives were not allowed past airport security, but are supplied to you once you are actually on the plane. I wonder why anybody would need a fork or knife–these are delivered loosely, not as part of a fast-food style plastic bag–to eat any of the items we’ve been provided with.

Regardless, one-third of breakfast remains off-limits to my girlfriend and I: Donna cannot eat the yogurt due to a profound banana allergy, and I cannot eat the yogurt because I’d like to be able to breathe on her without causing her extreme itchy discomfort [2]. We do our best to stretch the raisins out.

Hours later, after we land in Los Angeles, we have a discussion about seating etiquette on airplanes, and are unable to come up with a satisfactory solution to the following problem. When we first got the tickets, Donna and I were unable to reserve seats next to each other. When we got to our departure gate, we asked for–and received–the desired seating arrangement, garnering seats 12A and 12B. After getting onto the plane, however, we discovered aforementioned mother of three sitting in our seats with her eight year-old son at her side. When we politely mentioned that they were in our seats, she asked if we could take seats C and D, which were across the aisle from each other, so that she could “keep her family together” (her husband and two other children were in seats 11A-C). Although chagrined by this request, upon later examination, we realized that this woman had put us in the untenable position of being the Unreasonable Jerks On The Plane, were we to deny her. “We would have had a great trip, except for these Unreasonable Jerks On The Plane.” In this woman’s vacation stories, Donna and I would have been immortal, as Unreasonable Jerks always are. We relented, and sat across the aisle from each other, which seems so much larger when you’re watching a movie later and you realize that the simple act of hand-holding ultimately creates a walking hazard.

The film, by the by, is Neil LaBute’s Possession, with Aaron Eckhart, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, and Jennifer Ehle. It’s good, although the final moments’ Big Reveal seems a bit far-fetched. Eckhart continues to amaze me with his range and ease as an actor, even if his part in the upcoming film The Core seems to be little more than explaining the science.

We are picked up at the airport by Donna’s brother Carter, with whom we will be staying for our time in Los Angeles. He either does not know or does not wish to tell us what the X in LAX stands for. There are major differences between Chicago and Los Angeles, obviously, but I fixate on several more subtle differences, such as fonts being used on everyday signs, or the fact that the signs on the 405 don’t say Speed Limit 65 but rather Maximum Speed 65. Billboards have more celebrities on them. Traffic is congested, but constantly moving. Carpool lanes.

Carter lives in Westwood, near UCLA, where he is currently finishing up the work required for his doctorate in Biochemistry. A Los Angeles Federal Building looms over his neighborhood, across the street from a large war veteran’s cemetery. In front of the Federal Building, a woman sits on the sidewalk holding up a homemade sign that demands peace, and we are informed that she has been on a hunger strike for four days now.

In front of the cemetery is a white marble statue meant to honor the fallen soldiers, but we find it impossible to ignore that the sculpture is one of the most blatantly gay pieces of artwork to serve such a purpose we’ve ever seen. It consists of a nude female angel as its centerpiece, but on either side are a soldier and a sailor, and the poses they strike are ones you might see in certain all-male revues. They’re ambiguous enough to also be justified as regular military positions, but the incredibly phallic cannon shell cradled in the arms of the sailor is almost obscene. One can only assume that the statue’s homosexual overtones are simply not discussed in polite company, but I doubt that they were agreed upon before the sculptor began his work. [3]

We spend our first afternoon in Los Angeles at the J. Paul Getty Museum, a fantastic piece of architecture built into a mountain and overlooking both the city and the ocean. We can’t stop talking about the architecture and the view, because the fact is that it isn’t much of a museum…half of the exhibits are closed at the moment, and the atmosphere is more that of a open-air mall or the most extravagant community library in existence. The garden is wonderful, although not quite in bloom, and it soon becomes a running gag that everything in Los Angeles would be better if only we come back “two months from now.”

We spend a low-key evening of grilling and conversation at Carter’s apartment, alternately approving and nixing the idea of seeing a movie later, based on how tired we are from the day’s events. Carter serves a fruit tort with the words “Happy Birthday” on it; his birthday is not until January 27th, but he has decided to “surprise” himself with birthday desserts for the rest of the month just for the hell of it. We take a photograph of him being astonished and chuckle about it for the rest of the evening.

Carter’s apartment complex, or so he tells us, is populated mostly with young Asian college students, and one burly individual who sticks out like a sore thumb, and who Carter refers to as “The Drug Dealer for Westwood,” leading me to imagine him as some kind of elected official, and the campaign slogans that might go along with such a race. “Vote Benny. He Gots The Good Shit.”

Carter’s apartment has an ant problem, and no matter what he’s tried, they continue to infest. His latest strategy is more passive; he simply doesn’t kill spiders. At the end of the evening, as the four of us—Carter’s roommate Anthony having joined us—digest our meal, we watch as one of these amnesty-enjoying spiders makes several attempts to climb up the wall, failing miserably several times. Considering that the ability to climb walls is one we expect from the average spider, being so much a part of being a spider that it’s considered one of the cooler things about being Peter Parker, [4] this particular arachnid’s inability to scale the apartment is disconcerting. Fifteen minutes later, when it finally figures itself out, and scurries to the top corner of the room—which, to be fair to the poor thing, is two stories above us; Carter and Anthony’s apartment having a loft—there erupts such a cheer from the ground that the spider nearly falls back to the floor.

The LA Weekly serves the same function in Los Angeles as Chicago’s Reader does, but again, I notice subtle differences. I decide that nothing will give you a truer sense of a city than the advertising space it sells. In the Reader, by and large, most ads I see are for jobs and job training, which makes sense, since Chicago has a reputation as being The City That Works. In Los Angeles, one out of every three ads, and often the largest such ads, go to plastic surgery specialists. In the last section of the magazine, this number drops significantly, but that’s largely because the last section is reserved for adult ads; strip clubs, escort services, and the like. Priorities. Were I a more cynical soul, I might assume that the paper is designed so that the front pages show you how you can look more like the models in the back pages.

January 5, 2003
Compacted Time / The Scariest Bridge Ever / Dying Birds and Sunset Drummers / Dr. Seuss, Big Game Hunter

Sunday sees us driving down to San Diego in general, and the island of Coronado in particular. My uncle lives in San Diego, so I’ve been there before, but it is only as we’re driving down the 405 that I realize that it hasn’t been two years since last I was here, but six. It’s a discomforting feeling to realize that your perception of time is blurring. Furthermore, the mental evidence of how long it had been since I’d been in California is my memories of being separated from somebody I was madly in love with, and who I’d written to often over the course of that summer from my uncle’s home, so the memory of that swimming around in my head is a raw thing, nervous energy that is mixed with too much sunlight. I am uncomfortable for several miles.

Point of interest along the 405: Western Exterminator Company has one of the funniest logos I’ve ever seen for any sort of company, much less for one that kills rodents and insects. It’s a cartoon, of a man in a top hat and tails leaning over a cockroach. The two appear to be engaged in conversation; the cockroach standing upright and fairly close to the dapper man’s nose. But—oh ho!—the cockroach is being fooled, as behind the man’s back, held in one ready hand, is a tremendous mallet, the kind used by Warner Brothers characters for years, and one that can surely dispense with this gullible roach. In any case; along the side of the 405, there is a three-dimensional version of this cartoon atop a large post, easily visible from your car.

The island of Coronado is located just west of San Diego, and to get there you have to traverse what I still contend is the Scariest Bridge Ever. The bridge to Coronado is a giant arch that hangs a few hundred feet above the San Diego Bay, and goes about two miles, including a graceful curve as you begin a descent. It’s a thin bridge, and while I’m informed that the barriers on the outside of the bridge are designed to direct out-of-control cars back onto the road, they’re also low enough so that you can see how high up you are as you travel fifty miles per hour. It’s thrilling, but it seems like you’ll go flying off it any second. Add to that the signs, every twenty feet or so, that have the phone number of a suicide hotline on them, and the fact that there was a minor accident on the bridge, in the opposite lanes, and it just doesn’t quite feel like someplace you should be, ever.

Coronado is a town that feels like a resort. La Jolla, where we go next, feels like a town, but a town where the weather’s never bad, where the ocean is a living, breathing, noisy neighbor. We arrive in La Jolla at three o’clock and walk along the coastline, watching families packing up their picnics, calling to their children, at least one of whom is named “Axel.” We have been told that the sun is due to set at four-thirty, so we decide to wait, not often having the opportunity to watch the sun set over the ocean.

Four-thirty comes and goes. The sun is still hanging in the sky.

Around this time we notice two things. The first is a sea gull, washed ashore, its legs both broken. Nearby, a man and a woman move the gull away from the increasing tide, leaving it on a rock and then standing next to it, wondering what they could possibly do. The second thing is a man sitting on the rocks with a small board of some kind, drumming away with his hands, focused on the horizon. We look back intermittently and he does not stop drumming. The light begins to fade; we can see the gull sitting in an advancing shade and we know it will not likely survive the night. We consider moving the gull back to the shoreline, letting the waves take it back out, but cannot decide, ultimately, if it is more humane to leave it dying cold and alone on this rock, or to let it be washed away to drown in the ocean. And so we leave it. The sun continues to descend, the man drums. And only when the last luminous sliver disappears under the line of the sea do we look back and see his hands have rested. It is five o’clock. We can only assume that this man has drummed down the sun.

On the way to dinner, we stop off at a small art gallery and accidentally learn a lot about the process of etching, as Rembrandt did it. The question had been “Are these authentic etchings?” and the answer had been a half hour long. An interesting half hour to be sure, but certainly a case of getting more than one had bargained for. The exhibit that really interested me, however, was the display of little-seen paintings and sculptures by one Theodor Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss. While many of these seemed as simple as cartoons—including a wryly funny one in which a creature in a coffin explains to a friend over the phone that “I’d love to, but I’m absolutely dead today”—some had more depth and feeling to them, offering a reminder of the sheer originality of the man as an artist. The sculptures, especially, had a certain poignancy to them, since all the sculptures were structured as if they were the stuffed heads of game animals. But as the animals were fictitious, the creations of Dr. Seuss, it seemed as though the man had created a beast such as the Two-Horned Drouberhannis specifically for the purpose of hunting it to extinction.

We get free dessert with dinner, having convinced our restaurant that it is Carter’s birthday. I realize that in most instances, restaurants take you at your word that it’s your birthday, and I can’t figure why until I realize that the only restaurant—an Applebee’s [5] somewhere—that ever asked to see proof of the birthday now seems like some kind of viciously cheap spoilsport in my subconscious, an eatery so paranoid and greedy that it can’t part with one precious slice of a dessert that they’ll likely throw out at the end of the evening anyway. Still, we begin to map out the potential for abuse.

I had more to write than I originally thought. To be continued.

[1] I say “transcribing” as if I’d written this by hand first. No. This is all coming from the ol’ noggin.

[2] And I used to love bananas. These are the sorts of sacrifices that relationship gurus never warn you about.

[3] I may have mentioned this in a previous entry, but this is similar to the story of the the Chicago skyscraper that was designed to be more vaginal than phallic—the one with the diamond-shaped face at its top.

[4] The wallcrawling and enhanced strength and speed are all very good, but for my money, the best thing Peter Parker got from that spider bite was his tingling Spidey-sense.

[5] I was informed some time ago that Applebee’s is the largest restaurant chain of its kind—by “its kind” I believe I’m referring to Chili’s and Bennigan’s as comparable restaurants—in the nation. And now you know, too. Isn’t that special?

Current music: MP3 list, Beth Orton, “This One’s Gonna Bruise”

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This entry was posted on January 10, 2003 by in News of the World, Travel, Vacation.
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