Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Back in my office blues.

Despite applying SPF 30 in our room before heading out for only a few hours, last week in Panama I procured a sunburn that would make you cry.

On the other hand, this is the beach where I got the sunburn.

What's that, you don't see anything besides our backpacks on the shore? Exactly.

Here's the boat we hired on the street to take us to this beach (Red Frog, in Bocas del Toro).

Now, my back resembles a yellowed and parched topographical map of a very, very dry region, covered by sand dunes and craters.

Does anyone think it's weird that I had a moderately sexual dream about someone I went to grade school with? Second such dream in a few months.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Gatos y perros - it's raining them.

Hi from San Jose, where it's raining like somebody's been building an arc out back. Seriously, the impending rain this afternoon was refreshing toward the end of a 5 hour bus trip in from Puerta Viejo. Looking for a place to stay wasn't especially bad once we arrived either. Cool breeze, black clouds in the distance-- but no pasa nada, we kept walking for the better part of an hour. In fact, it didn't really even become a problem until we'd been WALKING IN THE DOWNPOUR WITH OUR BACKPACKS for TWENTY MINUTES. At this point my sister gives me her breaking point warning and indicates that although she has seen one hotel on the same street as the one we're looking for, it is not the hotel we are looking for, nor is it one she plans to set foot in.

Fortunately the "A.B.C." hotel had room for us. The owner told us we could dry off before we paid and he'd left by the time we headed out. The cleaning lady assured us we could pay upon our return. Hopefully he had planned to steal the copies of our passports and try on our sexy clothes after dinner.

Last night was one of the most miserable I've spent on earth. More about that later.

Overall the trip is fun. I have some funky bug bites. One is starting to look like the logo for the Houston Texans.

Also this is the first time in a few days I've had caffeine. Delight of delights! Those of you with a similar addiction should detox for a couple of days, it's such a cheap high once you start up again.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Phone it in Friday.

Well, Saturday really, but Friday starts with the F sound and Saturday doesn't.

I'm supposed to be doing all the things I've put off all day to get ready for my trip tomorrow.

Unloading the dishwasher.

Calling the shuttle.

Packing snacks.


At 5AM I'm off for San Jose en route to Bocas del Toro, a collection of islands in northeast Panama. It's going to be sweet, but you don't have to take my word for it:

If this promotional picture doesn't convince you, then I don't know what will. But I have a hunch I'll have an idea when I get back in a week.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


"I have just a few lil' items for you Kelly, when you have a chance," my dad would say when he wanted to remind me to change my oil, to really, really read some book about saving and investing money, and what time we were leaving for some miscellaneous road trip.

Here are a few lil' items for all of you:

Everything I'm wearing today is either blue or grey. Aside from my underthings (including socks) and shoes, everything came from a thrift store. When I take the stairs from my office to the bathroom I often use the time to account for the percentage of my outfit procured from a thrift store. Today's standout item is a pair of pants I bought for $.70 when the Salvation Army had a "closing for remodeling" 75% off everything sale. This beats the red tank top I bought in 1998 for $.80 on halfprice Sunday at Goodwill.

I got a haircut about 2 weeks ago.

Here's what was left behind:

Here's the result:

Lately I've been thinking a lot about French Toast. Whenever I mention it, people groan appreciatively. But they don't understand. I'm not talking about the run-of-the-mill Ihop affair with maple syrup and a modest sprinkling of powered sugar. Nothing shy of a pool o' butter engulfed by piles and piles of fluffy powdered sugar would satisfy my needs. In addition to calling referring to things to tell me as "items," my dad also knows how to make really good French Toast. Because I'm a remedial cook, I just learned [to remember] how last summer. I finally relieved my craving Sunday night:

Today is my dad's birthday.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Finders keepers, publishers.

Who knew that indie magazines go on tour? Why would the cheapest girl in all of the land pay $12 to attend a show on said tour? Probably because FOUND magazine is totally awesome, the perfect antidote to my voyeuristic and elitist tendencies.

Friday night found some cronies and me at the Steve Allen Theatre in Los Feliz. It's a pretty cool venue if you've never been there. If even cooler if you know beforehand that it's byob.

FOUND magazine is letting its dirty little secrets out of the closet with Dirty FOUND , a new magazine, for - you guessed it - gems too smutty for the only-moderately-tacky-on-occasion FOUND.

Briefly, the premise of FOUND is sharing with the world the quirky little things people discover in their daily lives: a nonsensical note left on a windshield, a child's drawing, or the breakup email someone forgot in the printer of the computer lab. An example from the website:

The idea is the common human condition behind these finds rather than what other people plan to buy at Safeway. I've been buried in an issue of FOUND I bought after the show (we got a copy of Dirty FOUND with our admission, but I started reading over breakfast and wanted to play if safe). It's exactly what would happen if the "Have you seen me?" people commissioned Sark as artistic director.

FOUND is found wherever specialty magazines are sold - at tens (more than 100) of independent bookstores in lots of states. The website is good for interesting perusal as well.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Rats and brats

From B.F. Skinner, nannying, and third party rumination over cryptic conversations, emails, and text messages, I have deduced that random reinforcement will drive rats, children, and women in threadbare relationships crazy.

TAing is finally over and none too soon. I like learning new things at the undergraduate pace and depth and teaching these new things to students. I even like teaching them remedial 3rd grade Texas public school grammar, such as the appropriate use of apostrophes and semicolons. I don't particularly like trying to grade papers that I can't read or getting emails that say things like, "it would be gr8 2 meet with u b4 class 2 go thru the last exam - thnx." Maybe next time I'll implement a policy not to respond to emails composed in text/AIM dialect.

Monday, August 08, 2005

No seriously, you can't beat the real thing.

Yesterday afternoon I did something I'm not proud of.

I've done it before and I thought I wouldn't do it again.

Like last time, it left me feeling cheap, empty, and just a little bit used on the inside.

I tried to resist, but it didn't seem like I had any other options. I told myself I would regret it later, but any approximation of willpower I had was laughable in the face of unmitigated temptation and longing.

So for what I hope is the very last time, I gave in. But take my word for it, I will never, ever again drink Coke Zero instead of regular Coke.

Daily installment of additional useless information: In 1906 Coke introduced the slogan, Coca-cola: The Great National Temperance. In 1904 it was Coca-Cola is a delightful, palatable, healthful beverage. And Fast Food Nation makes McDonald's out to be the beginning of the misleaders. . .

Friday, August 05, 2005

Who discovered you lately?

Okay, this is long. I tried to hit the highlights, but there was a lot of material to cover.

“Hey ladies,” a stereotypical ‘California boy’ calls to a friend and I last Friday as we walk to happy hour at Palomino in Westwood. Immediately I run through a mental checklist of the things he might be selling that I don’t need (discounted spa days, discounted trips to Mexico, mufflers knitted by orphan amputees.. .). As it turns out he’s not hustling for our cash, but is “discovering” us! He wants to recruit us for the reality speed dating show Next on MTV. I’ve never seen this show, but he assures us that there are no “thought bubbles.” Already heady with the merriment sure to ensue at happy hour (as well as the flattery of being mistaken for someone who watches MTV), I tentatively agree to audition for the show.

All weekend I’m unsure about whether I’ll do it. Do I really want to look at a jackass on television? On the other hand, I haven’t spend much time inside a television studio. . . Alas, as my life is a practice in obscurity and humiliation, Wednesday afternoon finds me outside the MTV studios in Santa Monica, waiting on overpriced outdoor furniture I noticed in last month’s Design Within Reach catalogue when I “practice shopped” a la 3rd grade at my grandma’s house with the Sears-Roebuck catalogue.

After checking in with security, I chill on the lime green plastic couch, salivating with thoughts of selling out on all the ideals I preach in the Psych of Gender class I’m TAing to join up as part of the problem. The kids who work at MTV are way too cool for school. Not only are they sporting awesome clothes, they have electronic entry name badges around their necks. My envy only worsens when I hear two of the cool kids talking shop. “There’s gotta be some blog where people write in about their exes,” says the cool guy to the cool girl. She’s writing on her cool kids’ notepad ™ and I chime in, “Yeah, there’s Breakupnews.com.” The cool girl and cool guy look over at me; I give them the web address. All this time I’ve been under the impression that most of my time spent online is wasted time, but really I’m conducting important field research in other circles. I should’ve asked to touch one of their name badges as a finder’s fee.

I contemplate the airbrushed designs on the finger and toe nails of the woman waiting beside me, some more MTV folk arrive and we’re cleared to fill out the recruitment inventory and background check releases. This isn’t eHarmony, folks. Just a taste of the challenging and provocative questions MTV throws at its applicants:

What is your biggest physical turn on (nice teeth, good body, etc.)?
What is your biggest physical turn off (ugly feet, big nose, etc)?
I feel like MTV is getting down to the things I really care about.

Why are you single?
Because I’m not currently dating anyone.

Do you usually do the usually (circle one):
Do the dumping Get dumped
Um, hello, MTV how could you be missing out on the ‘passive breakup?’ It’s not about “dumping” people anymore, it’s about being sufficiently disinterested that the other person is forced to end things with you first. Duh.

Have you ever been involved in a love triangle or been the third party to come between another couple? Please describe how you broke them up.

An essay asks you to describe what you offer that other contestants don’t. I use short sentences, beginning with: I recycle, vote, and email my congresspeople. I look over at my neighbor’s application (the one with the airbrushed nails - the fingernails are black with flowered designs and the toenails are construction zone orange with flowered designs) and see a loopy scrawl that begins, I’m a real down-to-earth girl. . .

Returning my forms to the table, I see the recruiter that approached my friend and me last week. Here’s the deal, I don’t care how terrific your togs are, or that you’re taking the red-eye to New York to scout locations for your friend’s indie film, I absolutely loathe your smarmy, fake familiarity. Highly concentrated smarm.

At one point my recruiter attempts to chat me up while giving me advice about the audition. I express my skepticism of the producers’ benevolence toward singletons as contrasted with their desire for an exciting show by making someone the scapejerk. “Don’t go in there and be all shy,” he says, “Just be yourself.” I didn’t mention that I’m not so much shy as I am judgmental.

Someone takes my picture. I was a little concerned because my regular smile was feeling off and I have a two day old haircut that hasn’t quite gotten its sea legs yet. Soon after, I find myself annoyed at the recruiter’s display of yet even more repulsive fake charm when he comments on my polaroids. When I sneak a glance, however, I find them quite cute and wish I could keep them for myself.

Four of us are briefed about what we’ll say on camera for the casting director. Wrapping up her schpiel about how we’re to describe the type of men we’re interested in, the woman says, verbatim, “We want to know about personality, but we mostly care about looks – and be very specific. I think that’s it, we’ll bring you all back in soon. .. Oh, and one more thing, if you want to be considered for a beach date, you’ll also need to show us your abs on camera.”

The casting director arrives and the four of us line up on red Xes marked on the floor. A little about my fellow auditionees, so you know what I’m up against. In regard to clothing, let me just say synthetic, small, and see-through. Also having just (albeit begrudgingly) paid upwards of $100 for a cut and color, standing among these women, I’m evermore resolute on my stance regarding quality dye jobs. All three are wearing quite a bit of make-up, two seem to be schooled in the orange foundation tradition. As soon as the cameralight blinks green the woman farthest away from me tosses her dismally dyed hair, lifts her chin, and cocks one of her tightly-jeaned hips to the side– she stays this way throughout the entire audition. The woman next to her also engages in some serious hair flipping and head shaking throughout.

The where-you’re-from, what-you-do portions of the audition aren’t especially memorable. All three women hail from distant suburbs of Los Angeles and work in the food service industry. One is currently “headhostess” for a restaurant chain, but notes her impending move to a different, nondescript suburb where she’ll be a server. The next is a server for The Macaroni Grill, but is soon relocating to Las Vegas– she demonstrates her best cocktail waitress pose. The third works for her dad, but is training to become a masseuse. She uses her best sultry voice to make it clear that she enjoys giving massages. On my turn I say that I’m a PhD student in Psychology at UCLA. When asked what I like to do for fun I mention being outdoors, running, hiking, and that I volunteer during the KCRW pledge drives. “Woah,” says the casting director, looking up from my questionnaire, “You’re like a good person. You help people.” Go figure.

Next we’re supposed to describe what kind of guys we like. The first woman refreshes her pose with a flip of her hair and says she digs Italian men. The next likes men with darker skin. “So does that include Black men? Or dark White men and light Black men?” asks the African American casting director. Apparently, not unlike Burger King, you can have it your way at MTV. The woman specifies that she means olive skin– her skin tone or just darker. I’m guessing this calibrates into 3 – 5 tanning bed sessions a week. She continues, “I like guys with spiky hair and lots of piercings and tattoos.” The casting director has some clarification questions as to the specific genre of spiky hair guys, but is obviously clear on the tattoos and piercings. The third woman, next to me, takes the ‘badboy’ fetish one step further when she says that she likes guys that “are a little rough, that look they just got out of County.” We all laugh and the casting director jokes about him still wearing the jumpsuit. This exchange goes from clever to priceless, however, when this woman and I walk toward our cars after the audition and I say, “Yeah, I felt bad when we had to say what kind of guy we liked.” She concurs, “I know, when that girl said she liked guys with piercings and tattoos, I was thinking, ‘Hey, that’s my guy.’ I don’t know. . . Three of my ex-boyfriends have been in County, but they have their side that they show me. . . ”

Back at the “build your own man” portion of the audition, I mention that I wouldn’t want to date someone super fastidious about their own grooming. I’m a low maintenance person and don’t want to feel pressured by a guy to spend more time getting dressed. As soon as these words leave my mouth, a chorus of sad “aahs” erupts from the three women to my right. Yes, three people who either attend, or aspire-to-maybe-one-day-if-they-get-around-to-it attend, junior college with bad dye jobs and too small tops from TJ Maxx are moaning in pity for me.

Wrapping up, the casting director asks us to describe the date we’d go on if we had MTV’s Visa for the day. The first woman begins, hip still jut out, “Well, he’d pick me up in a really nice, new car and greet me with that big, warm smile. . . ”

“—Wait,” interrupts the casting director, “you’re taking him on a date.”

Hip girl looks like the casting director has sprouted a second head and stumbles through the rest of her ideal date. Essentially, I hear 3 variations on the theme of “hitting the clubs, checking out his moves, maybe get some drinks (with their 20 year old CA driver’s licenses?), and seeing how things go<wink, wink>.” Newsflash: no one wants to see unclassy birds make out with unclassy blokes on television.

I also want to be clear on exactly how foreign the idea of being responsible for a date was to these women. They didn’t know what to do with it. In fact, the third one began her ideal date with, “Well, he’d pick me up – I mean even though I’m taking him on the date and all, he’d still come to my house.” On my turn I say that I like to do something I’ve never done before on blind dates, so in case the date goes south, at least I’ve had a new experience. I suggest watching the horse races at Hollywood Park, taking in some tasty sushi at Nobu in Malibu, and going to a dive bar where people (other people) sing karaoke. For just a moment I notice a tiny glimmer behind the eyes of the staff people, as if I had reminded them of that other world they once knew, long ago, before they got into the business of convincing people that the world that these other three girls live in is real.

So there you have it – my day at MTV.

Am I going to get a call from MTV? I have no idea.

Do I think all dating shows make people look like jackasses? Yes.

Am I willing to be a jackass on TV to eat at Nobu on MTV’s tab? Most certainly.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Ambivalence: The new infatuation

Last Friday a poor, unsuspecting young man accompanied a friend and his friend's girlfriend to a Psycholicious Happy Hour. For single men in Los Angeles, happy hour with the psychology department is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Not so long ago, I counted myself among 3 women who had shamelessly flirted with a friend of a friend before asking if he was straight. On the other hand, my track record with set-ups isn't so hot. In any case, against all odds (and moreover, my expectations), there was nothing wrong with the guy in question. For real. He was an attractive looking guy who didn't seem to take himself too seriously. Sincere. Humble. He did not go on at length (or even at all) about the French philosopher he studies. He was not mustached. He was not dressed in all black. He was not chain smoking. He didn't talk a lot about himself. I didn't speak two words to him exclusively. It's not like we hit it off or anything. In fact, the most memorable things about him are the aversive things that he's not.

Nonetheless, I've been thinking about him all weekend. Maybe it's a sign of the times, or the city, or more likely, my neuroticism, but these days a little neutrality goes a long way. I know next to nothing about this guy, but I do know that I probably don't hate him and that he probably wouldn't hate me. Ah, the foundation for a happy relationship. . .

Before I go, does anyone want to play "who made the most ridiculous purchase this weekend"?

I bought a pair of tap shoes.