When I wake up in the morning, my eyesight is equivalent to that of a right hook recipient when they blearily come to in an animated TV show. In other words, I haven’t yet reached blindness on a bat’s scale, but I’m getting there. This myopia results in lots of hilarious mishaps like putting tights on backwards, scrunching my face in a not-so-cute Renée Zellweger impression, and witnessing blurry somethings out of the corner of my eye that should not be there.
This morning, for instance, I ventured into the bathroom and immediately saw a big, dark shape moving like discolored lightning on the far side of the room. Being ballsy (or stupid, as many a horror film casualty has proven), I edged slowly up to my mystery beast to avoid instigating a predatory attack akin to the physics-defying dorm room spider that once leapt three feet from a wall to my face. Still unable to see the perp, I leaned down to the floor as close as I dared and adopted my habitual squint, prompting the question: What the hell is that thing?
Quick as a spooked whippet, I turned and darted for glasses to figure out whether my David would be up against a Goliath of a roach (I know I’m technically the Goliath in this situation but we’re going by phobic proportions here), or if I’d merely trespassed on a butterfly mating ritual. While Hollywood proper is renowned for its household roaches, I’d had yet to encounter one in our current apartment, and my familiarity with the gargantuan palmetto bugs of Savannah and the millions of tiny brown roaches that hosted raves in the cupboards of my former downtown LA apartment still hasn’t honed my mom’s warrior woman ability to slap cockroaches to smithereens with her bare hands. Plus, I’ve always had a faux Buddhist sympathy for creepy crawlies that prevents me from crushing them unless they’re presently engaged in sapping my veins dry or look like they’re thinking about it (my hand is poised and ready for you, mosquitoes). So as I fled the bathroom in search of vision, my rationale was, “Let’s take a real look at what I’m about to try and catch.”
When I returned to the bathroom, four-eyed and ready to behold miniaturized Satan himself, horror ensued. The thing was now racing up the door that adjoined our roommate’s bedroom to our shared bathroom, and damn was this bugger mobile. Long, jointed legs seemingly sprouting from every millimeter of its wriggling body, it looked like a spider that had been stretched by some sociopathic scientist bent on terrorizing domestic comfort. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before, and as such I had no name or knowledge of its toxicity. I’d need a good trap and possibly a shot of adrenaline to the heart to brave the act of catching this sucker.
So I hurried back to the bedroom knowing that my time was limited to the speed of Dash Incredible plus 30 legs, and proceeded to hunt for trapping tools. Because the law of situational necessity requires that the tools you need in a desperate moment must go into hiding, no handy cans or boxes made themselves apparent to me, and I was forced to sacrifice an Urban Outfitters candle that happened to have a lid. As I grabbed my cucumber-melon scented snare and swiveled back toward my hunting ground, I heard the unmistakable click of the door locking: someone was in there, unknowingly holed up with a monster.
I waited until a second click affirmed my reentry, and lo and behold, the fiend was nowhere to be seen…
Terrified that my latency might have unleashed a deadly pathogen-wielding demon into the house, I pulled on sneakers and practically flew over the gap between the bathroom and our bed, tucking my limbs up as far away from the floor as possible and wrenching open my laptop to devote myself to an hour of Google research. With no certain place to start, I used child logic to guess at the insect’s species and plugged “Types of Centipedes” into the search engine. With a little digging through images of thick red, multi-legged, pincered behemoths, I came across my culprit, and thanks to the blog of biological science writer Madeline McCurry-Schmidt, I learned that my centipede went by the forename House.
According to McCurry-Schmidt and Kate Conway’s similar xoJane article, the house centipede is actually a helpful arthropod in the business of eating other household pests, like cockroaches, silverfish, and poor, poor spiders (don’t you know you could team up and hunt vermin together!?). House centipedes bleed purple (a good incentive not to squash them on that prized Van Gogh print), meticulously groom themselves (that there’s a clean varmint), can reach speeds up to 16 inches per second, live from three to seven years, and lay up to 150 eggs at a time. 150 x 7 (assuming they’re weird enough to reach reproductive maturity upon birth) equals 1050, so within the time it takes a puppy to turn 49, you could have a whole colony of house centipedes patrolling your hallways at night.
Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about disgusting infections the likes of which nobody wants to see while scrolling through Google Images, because your new cohabitational battalion is harmless to humans. With fangs tailor made to gobble up the tiny insects their hind legs have lassoed into submission (because yes, that’s how these bizarre creatures wrangle up their cockroach supper), their jaws are simply too small to penetrate human skin and the most damage they could inflict on our tough epidermises is a slight bee sting sensation or a brief allergic reaction. In fact, house centipedes are so nonthreatening when you inhabit our realm of giants that some Japanese people have taken to domesticating them for pest control purposes. Regionally known as “geji,” house centipedes are even available for purchase beside your hackneyed song birds and passé kittens in Japanese pet stores. That means, if I ever catch my newest roommate, big bucks may ensue.
Armed with all my new knowledge, I felt a little better about returning to the bathroom once the heebie-jeebies started to dissipate–that is until I stepped into the shower and noticed the drain was completely uncovered, indicating the intruder’s entryway. So we may have an infestation on our hands if 150 eggs just happened to be unloaded beneath our bathroom sink, but at least our new friends will continue to prevent our nonexistent cockroach problem. I’ll just have to endure these phantom crawling sensations while little Mr. HC browses for comfortable real estate somewhere in the dark corners of my house.
Through indeterminate acts of nature or nurture, some people are born or bred with the insatiable desire to knock themselves out… gifting. To some, if there isn’t sweat when partaking in the sport of gift-giving, then you haven’t combed the aisles or blinded yourself by the LED light of e-commerce long enough.
I first recognized this peculiar mania in myself when at age ten a friend expressed that she pined magazines or candy for her birthday. In a whirlwind of prepubescent energy and dishwashing allowance money, I proceeded to clean out a magazine stand of every teenybopper rag they possessed and fill a paper bag of Ikea proportions with the king sized candy bars that usually eluded me unless my dad took us trick-or-treating in the ritzy neighborhood. While adult retrospection notes that my friend’s dentist probably would have preferred the gift of a couple magazines and one candy bar, child logic dictated that gift recipients should be spoiled to the same degree of rottenness that my family had always reserved for myself and my sister on gift-giving holidays. Even if money was tight, the little Moon sisters always had a staggering array of store-bought, hand-me-down, or homemade gifts to parade through like pint-sized kings every birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. And besides, buying my friend magazines and candy by the bucketful was way more fun than spending my chore money on yet another Now That’s What I Call Music CD.
Thus, the gift-giving fever took hold and replicated throughout my genetic makeup over the next thirteen years, culminating in last Christmas’s ardent desire to make everyone personally-tailored gift baskets (or gift crates and gift ice buckets in some cases). The overzealous process of analyzing each of my loved ones’ personalities, brainstorming potential gifts, imagining up different themes and titles, and then organizing the baskets themselves proved to be so fun I don’t know why I haven’t started seriously considering a career as a professional basket case.
I know this passion (or outright obsession) is a little eccentric and I know I have to warn newcomers to my close circle about the overbearing nature of my gifting, lest they abandon our friendship or break up with me out of shock (because yes, I can count myself among the very few people on this planet who’ve been dumped solely for excessive gifting). But I assure those of you who are coughing “CRAZY” into your hands, I garner sincere pleasure from the chance to plan a gift for someone I care about, and when I have enough money, the right artistic tools for the task, and time aplenty to make everything just right, manifesting the present I’d long visualized is sheer bliss.
That is, when everything goes right.
To foster such a manic love for crafting or comprising pre-envisioned presents means that the collapse of said plans produces equally strong emotions… in the opposite direction. If anyone was ever to accuse me of bipolar disorder, the accusation would absolutely arise from a Christmas in which most of my loved one’s gifts are executed to a T, but one gift goes horribly wrong. Then all that built up excitement and anticipation I’d been harboring for the gift’s completion storms out as irate despair: a great surging, catastrophic, gift-mania flood that only my sister–or Emily’s External Conscience–has ever had to witness. Fortunately for the sake of my sister and my future risk of stroke, my insane gift-giving schemes don’t often backfire to such calamitous proportions, and if anything goes wrong at all, I’m usually just left to sour internal-monologuing about how I wish I could have afforded a nicer piece of jewelry, or how I wish I’d had more time to make that painting look more professional, or how I really wish I hadn’t developed irreversible writer’s block just before finishing that book seven years in the making that was intended as a giant, surprise anniversary present.
In recent years, however, I’ve added someone to my heart’s Excel sheet of loved ones that God, Allah, and that sneaky, scheming Buddha seem intent on sheltering from my voracious attempts at gift-giving. And that person would be my boyfriend.
When you have a significant other and a major, albeit strange, facet of your personality is a life-fulfilling addiction to assembling gifts, the world suddenly embraces you in a haze of polychromatic zeal. Not only do you suddenly have more holidays for which to indulge in the joy of gifting (such as that day devoted to love that you previously spent commiserating with the first half of Bridget Jones’ Diary or the anniversary that you’re not sure whether to attribute to the first date or the first proclamation of, “What the hell, let’s throw caution to the wind and make this official even though you’re graduating from college and leaving in a month!”), but you also have the opportunity to make any old day a gift-giving day because he dotes on you so much that mere holiday gifting could hardly suffice. Thus, as anyone with a knack for algebraic algorithm could tell you, significant other + gift-giving psychosis = absolute, unadulterated euphoria.
Unless of course, you factor in unforeseen variables that hinder or outright sabotage almost every gift you’ve ever tried to give that special someone. Then absolute, unadulterated euphoria tends to be equal or lesser to sheer panic.
To exemplify this mathematical anomaly, let’s examine the evidence. The first birthday present I ever tried to give my boyfriend should have been thwarted by the hurdles of that summer’s time-consuming 16 hour work days, limited space for artistic production, and the 2,761 miles that separated Oregon from Maryland, but miraculously the whole thing came together, arrived on time, and resulted in perfect orchestration. Until I realized that after just four months of dating, I hadn’t yet warned him that I’m a nutty fanatic prone to over-gifting, and had to suffer the consequences of my omission.
After surfacing from that debacle, I was determined to get things right five months later when Christmas rolled around. My first gift, a week-long trip to his family’s beautiful home in Maryland, was set in motion without a hitch. I reserved my plane ticket well in advance, bought a myriad of warm clothes befitting an actual white Christmas (not that unreliable Portland, Oregon shit), put in my two week’s notice a month in advance, and even booked a seat on my vehicular arch nemesis–a Greyhound bus–because the fifteen hour drive from Baltimore to Savannah would be an hour quicker than the three airport layovers that for some godawful reason decelerated what should have been a two hour flight. Ultimately, the planning was impeccable and I was so excited that the bank account I usually had to empty into my private college’s pocketbook miraculously had the quan to fund my cross-country reunion. This gift was perfect.
Until a friend’s birthday trip to Las Vegas gave me a dose of the flu to rival the scale of New York, New York, and the successive, germ-riddled flights from Vegas to Portland and Portland to Baltimore (first flight I’ve ever puked on!) only aggravated my condition, ensuring a good three weeks of fevered incapacitation. I still pity the unsuspecting Marylanders whose Christmas was sieged upon by my Vegas disease like the boa constrictor’s invasive and carnivorous take-over of Florida.
But even if the biological warfare raging in my lymphatic system dared mar my boyfriend’s Christmas, at least there was the physical gift I’d purchased online a month prior. The physical gift that, come to think of it, hadn’t arrived in the mail in time for my departure to Maryland… In fact, no matter how much I heckled the seller, my purchase didn’t arrive at my Portland address until March, when I was well entrenched in a heap-load of college torture in the city of Savannah. Despite my wonderful boyfriend’s unyielding capacity for forgiveness, I was ready to crumple up Official Gift No. 2 and toss it in the dumpster where failed attempts at happy memories go to die for being both the most contagious and latest Christmas gift it had ever been my mortification to bestow.
Now Nutty Gifting Lady (less-famous cousin of Crazy Cat Lady) was really reeling to get things right. But the curse that catalyzes hyperbolic old wives’ tales had officially set in. “Gift yer man wrong once, shame on ye. Gift yer man wrong twice, shame on he for not tossin’ yer virus-plagued body out into the white Christmas ye ruined. Gift yer man wrong thrice, and it’s gift-giving limbo ye’ve sentenced yerself to fer life, me dearie… Cookie?”
After a one-year anniversary gift I’d assumed wouldn’t count in old wives’ ledgers for having gone only slightly awry (arriving in shambles after the United States Postal Service forgot about that “FRAGILE” stamp I’d requested), it seemed certain: I was cursed to flub my man’s gifts for the rest of eternity. Hence it came as no surprise when the next gift I purchased was charged to my card three times, succeeding my bank account and causing me to reevaluate my choice. Fortunately, the original idea I’d forgone due to sold out tickets suddenly opened up when scalpers began pawning off seats to The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival featuring Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Conchords. Hadn’t we been re-watching Flight of the Conchords and obsessing over Jemaine and Bret all summer? And didn’t we love comedy!? AND WERE WE NOT ODD AS HELL!!!???
It all seemed too good to be true. Far too good to be true considering my nightmarish track record when it came to doting on my boyfriend. Thus, as the summer wound down and the date of the festival approached, I jealously guarded those tickets with my life, terrified that at any moment they might blow out the window or spontaneously combust, and absolutely petrified by the thought that my scalper tickets were fake and we’d be denied entry after three months of whooping and whinnying in excited anticipation. That would be the cherry on top of my attempted gift-gifting travesty, and it’s certain I’d shrivel up and die of loss of identity right then and there at an irritable security guard’s feet.
Looking back on it now, I really can’t believe that The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival didn’t explode under the weight of all the old wives’ points I’d racked up for being such a gifting failure. But I guess they’d decided to let me off easy for a change, and the only thing that was truly lamentable about the whole shebang was the abominable bubble font I added to the card.
Fortunately for the more malicious members of the Universal Fate Association (which in this blog entry seems to have witnessed a merger between superstitious wives and a couple vengeful deities), their contracts must have contained only one Let Her Off the Hook clause, and this past Christmas they obviously relished the chance to get back to their scheming.
À la the aforementioned Yuletide Gift Basket Extravaganza, I spent December running around Portland in search of an array of man-things for my boyfriend (tools, Irish whiskey, 2 liter flasks, the likes). The centerpiece of this man-thing assortment was to be a vintage drinking horn that I’d committed to memory months prior when my boyfriend glanced at it and compulsively said, “I want that,” perhaps because it’s Celtic accoutrements appealed to our collectively fervent pride in our Irish ancestry or perhaps because my boyfriend harbors a secret affinity for those Celt-murdering vikings. Either way, so began the drinking horn debacle that’s aptly summed up by a review Amazon repeatedly refused to post until I whittled it down to two measly, inadequate sentences:
I suppose the entire drinking horn fiasco is a lesson never to trust any business that goes by the title The Man Cave (aren’t man caves the dens men retreat to to actively avoid work?). But beyond the opposing concepts of business and men at rest, this experience and the shit storm of unsuccessful gift-givings past has taught me a larger lesson. In the realm of obsessive-compulsions, it’s important to actively practice letting things go astray. While frenetic in its overbearing nature, my gifting isn’t at the top of my obsessive-compulsions list, and as such, I should use its occasional divergence from The Plan as an opportunity to learn to readjust and not set such avid stock in the fate of material presents. After all, gifts are fleeting: physical objects get lost, break, pass from owner to owner, get shelved, and eventually lose their significance, and Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festivals only last one glorious day. So instead of melting into a melodramatic puddle that my sister has to mop into a dustbin every time one of my big present schemes goes amiss, I should work on my ability to ignore imperfection, to learn from and harness the outcomes of mistakes, and to ultimately accept failure, thereby making my relaxation, flexibility, and optimism one of the best and longest-lasting gifts I could possibly give those closest to my heart.
Every once in a while, a moving asseveration comes barreling your way through the routines of diurnal life. In my case, yesterday’s unexpectedly stirring experience resulted from a long chain of quotidian events. Forgoing my usual desire to remain bedridden until 10 a.m., it all began with a sudden spurt of productivity at 7:30 in the morning. Hopping out of bed with a vigor my body hasn’t demonstrated since Saint Nick still existed, I got right down to business and washed the sand-steeped vestments that comprised my suitcase while vacationing at Newport beach, entered a juried gallery exhibition on the subject of portraiture, conducted an array of business calls that my indolent-self would have delayed, safeguarded my bank accounts against the Target hacking fiasco, rendezvoused at the grocery store, and ventured to Victoria’s Secret to exchange a blind pity buy I’d made after receiving word that Steve Job’s infantry of Geniuses couldn’t salvage my fried laptop. Because my newfound productivity was so potent, I then decided to take up my neglected hobby of drawing for the first time since completing a festively gruesome Christmas gift that parodied The Walking Dead. Avid illustration led to a late night of BBC mysteries, and watching Mark Williams of Mr. Weasley fame merge Catholic priesthood with amateur sleuthing soon segued into one of OPB’s film critic programs. Thus, at the very end of my long day, it was this adventitious sequence of causality that ultimately introduced me to The Spectacular Now.
I had never heard of The Spectacular Now before, but with my detachment from zeitgeist culture that hardly comes as a surprise. After conducting some curiosity-fueled research and interrogating my movie database boyfriend, I learned that the film’s reception had deemed it “a slightly better than average coming-of-age film.” This response, coupled with the OPB critics’ repeated comparisons to The Way Way Back (a story that only cultivated grins and furrowed brows as it strove for profoundness), made me question whether The Spectacular Now was actually worthwhile. But when restlessness prompted me to watch it at 2 a.m., I was pleasantly surprised by a genuinely resonant narrative: one of those rare, arresting movie experiences that we’re lucky to encounter in a film era where unoriginality runs rampant amidst an endless procession of sequels and remakes.
As its average reception suggests, The Spectacular Now isn’t for everybody, and anyone whose stomach turns at the thought of teenage insecurities, judgment calls, and hormones would be wise to avoid this film. Considering my personal retrospection on the roller coaster that commences at thirteen and keeps you dipping and diving until you’re twenty, I regarded The Spectacular Now as one of the most honest film depictions of teenage sentiment I’ve seen to date, and was very grateful that someone finally endeavored to do it right.
The film starts out in typical teen-flick fashion à la She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. Our protagonist Sutter Keely serves as both a party animal and wounded recipient of a recent break-up, two stereotypes that pervade the coming-of-age genre for their existing veracity. As the diegesis advances, Sutter’s preoccupation with his ex is gradually sidelined by an interest in his humble classmate Aimee Finecky. While the OPB critics dubbed Aimee “the quiet girl,” I would argue that the original author and screen adapter devised a character refreshingly atypical of Hollywood’s teenage pigeonholes. From my perspective, Aimee straddled the archetypal barrier between solitary academia and the whim to experience new phenomena, just as a real teenager exhibits contradictory mannerisms. Not to mention, it was nice to see a character who laughed her way through her dialogue just as persistently as I laughed my way through my entire institutionalized education. Once Sutter and Aimee’s courtship comes to fruition, the film turns to examine another relationship, that of our main character and his absentee father. Subsequently, we witness an estranged 18-year-old become increasingly entrenched in the pathos of inherited alcoholism, subject his relationships to an utter disdain for the future, and ultimately face the crux of how to approach the “now.”
The plot is no revolutionary tour de force by any stretch of the imagination, but the way in which the filmmakers divulge this prosaic concept is immensely effective. The critics discussing the film remarked that cinematic analyses of teenage experience are becoming more frank and relatable, citing The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an exemplary character study. In my opinion, The Spectacular Now takes human verisimilitude to a whole new level by evading the flawlessness coveted in celebrities like Logan Lerman and Emma Watson and instead presenting a cast that looks so natural you might as well be watching a documentary. The last time I was this impressed by the film industry’s stab at reality was when the latest Star Trek franchise allowed Chris Pine’s pockmarked complexion to fill screens in high definition. But even then they had Pine’s pre-established sex appeal to justify such tight cinematography. In The Spectacular Now, makeup was mostly foregone in surrender to the Georgia heat that would have melted it off, and in an uncommon scenario, we’re free to scrutinize scars, pores, double chins, and ultimately the unique beauty of real human visages.
It is this visual candor and the equally credible performances by the film’s principal actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley that result in a tangible, recollective look at youth. It’s a shame that my first exposure to Woodley was the trailer for Divergent, in which we’re expected to believe that this unthreateningly skinny girl could aid an ass-kicking insurgent squad while decked out in false eyelashes and thick slabs of concealer befitting children’s beauty pageants and the aging Southern belles who “jog” Forsyth park in hot pink sweatsuits and teased up-dos. If my familiarity with The Spectacular Now had preceded said trailer, I could have saved myself some initial cynicism, revering Woodley as a thoroughly endearing actress whose conjunction with Teller’s charisma yields palpable on-screen chemistry.
Fortunately for those of us with flighty attention spans, this is not your typical Mandy Moore and Shane West love story. True to its sense of authenticity, Sutter’s newfound feelings for Aimee don’t drastically alter his character, and their relationship is periodically marred by an ongoing reverence for his former girlfriend and the assertive asides he makes to a buddy that he’s “just giving this girl a first boyfriend experience.” Where Aimee’s concerned, it broke my heart to watch her fall victim to the rapid stages of First Serious Boyfriend Syndrome, an ailment that can be very detrimental if the first serious boyfriend is emotionally unavailable, infatuated with a previous girlfriend, and prone to abusive behaviors inherited by no fault of his own, all of which define my first serious relationship to a T and serve as further evidence of this film’s cathartic impact.
Examining The Spectacular Now from a critical perspective, there were a few sensationalistic scenes that took me out of the otherwise pragmatic depiction of adolescence. And don’t worry parents, not all senior girls who become helplessly besotted with the school’s resident Bacchus start taking casual swigs from engraved flasks. I also have to admit that some of the dialogue was a bit trite, but overall these clichés reinforce the fact that the characters are in the awkward throes of high school, a period where mentally engaging conversation is few and far in between. Despite this minor limitation, every moment of teenage discomfort, joviality, and sorrow is illustrated perfectly, reinforcing the fact that high school truly is a lodestone for insecurities, superficial behaviors, and the drive to find your personal definition amidst a throng of amorphous identities. Comparably, my own high school experience was riddled with self-centered ephemera and laughably awkward anecdotes, such as the many times I was seated behind one of my boyfriends in Advanced Algebra II and found myself repulsed by the fact that his hands looked like rubber whenever they lay motionless on the desk before him. Or the way I consistently vacillated between extremely loud, obnoxious tomfoolery and respectfully silent and diligent studiousness. I even used to pour serious effort into keeping my eyes wide open at all times to reap compliments about how attractively large my peepers were, and can clearly remember the day I opened my eyelids to their natural resting position and thought to myself, “Why does this feel strangely comfortable?” Lastly, I would be remiss to exclude the hilarious occasion on which I finally succeeded in ensnaring a crush of many months by taking him on a date in my dad’s wholly unsexy Astro Van.
The fact that The Spectacular Now transported me back to the emotions of youth and evoked so many parallel memories speaks to its powerful effectiveness. In striving for an organic ambience, this film melds the universally visceral experience of growing up and harboring raw feelings for others with a very personal story about the perceived absence of love. Not only does the visible heat of the Georgia landscape appeal to my personal ideologue of living in Savannah, but the many dimensions the filmmakers have imbued in their characters allow you to identify with, or become engrossed in, or harbor sympathy for the candid nature of human experience. It’s not often that I see myself, my former boyfriends, and my high school cohort reflected so frankly through the frames of a film, but thanks to the detailed attention paid to actuality, The Spectacular Now proved to be quite the sincere and poignant mirror.
SyFy’s Face Off is the second reality TV competition I’ve ever exhibited real interest in (the first being a bewigged, tucked, six-inch-heel race to a rhinestone tiara), and thanks to my mom’s testimonial, my boyfriend and I started watching it in October and finished all five seasons in the time it takes Halloween candy to be forgotten in an over-abundant closet.
Akin to my confessions in several previous blog entries, there’s always been something incredibly alluring about the ability to transform oneself into another entity: to step inside both the psychology and physicality of someone else. And without the funds for those elusively reputable plastic surgeons or the gall to allow a Romani medium and her phantasmic constituents to possess you for the price of a green Ulysses S. Grant etching, makeup is the perfect vehicle for accomplishing said feat. With malleable facial features ripe for the morphing, makeup fanaticism came to me with the same gusto that impelled Claude Cahun to don a guise of androgyny, Martha Wilson to emulate the squinty, grey visage of Bill Clinton, and Leigh Bowery to manifest nightmarish acid trips in human form. Despite my odd childhood disinterest in the adult makeup my four-year-old sister idolized, once puberty hit my cocooned metamorphosis produced not a fully actualized butterfly but a chameleonic canvas upon which I would spend eleven years imagining an array of guises, utilizing this pliant mug of mine to artistic advantage.
Without any formal cosmetic training or a kit that exceeded thirty dollars, pounds of acrylic paint, wood shavings, and chip brush bristles were expended before I discovered nirvana in the form of a class description my freshman year of college. The heaven-sent Introduction to Makeup Design was a course harbored away in the production design department whose only prerequisite was the monk-like patience necessary to nab a spot on its coveted roster. Finally, after three years of waiting, becoming hopelessly smitten with RuPaul’s Drag Race one fateful all-nighter with my life-altering friend Erica, and discovering relentless idolatry in the form of Sharon Needles, I was admitted into Makeup Design my last quarter senior year. As if that turn of events wasn’t enough to make me click my heels in euphoria, happenstance scheduling conflicts enabled my Bajan bestie Logan to join the vanity mirrored mix, resulting in a more idyllic class configuration than I could have imagined. With this fortuitous development, I was ready to end my college education with a resounding, greasepainted bang.
But that was before I discovered that the usual Makeup Design professor had stepped down that quarter, and his replacement was an improv actor whose only experience courting the fair maquillage was in applying rudimentary black eyes for theater audiences whose vision was marred by distance and bright stage lights. As photo majors bent on creating conceptual, camera-ready designs that elicited either realism or hyper-fantasticality, Logan and I were less than enthused. Especially when the professor revealed the book he expected the class to teach themselves from.
If your eyes perceive four makeup designs befitting a festive elementary school parade and an overwhelmingly blue cast that is no fault of any scanner, then thank your lucky carrots: your eyes are very astute. I won’t bash the publishers for comprising this collection of what someone must have deemed a valuable tool for beginning cosmetology, but based on the fact that the lesson plans contained within this book’s pages only deteriorate in technical skill from the cover on, this is no educator for a class full of college students.
Fortunately, our professor, new to his academic profession and still unscathed by the autocracy that develops after too many impositions on the school board’s behalf, was incredibly lax about our approach to the curriculum. Fully aware that he’d relinquished his teaching duties to an outdated book, Professor Improv allowed us to do whatever we pleased as long as it involved our faces and Bill Nye’s cosmetologist cousin Ben.
Thus, the creating began. While the majority of the class dutifully practiced red pandas, burn scars, and oversized foreheads, my four-person offshoot of the room fathomed into existence living tree bark, geometric cubism, Cirque du Soleil reveries, reptilian scales, and, my personal favorite, the glue-sticked eyebrows and over exaggerated cheekbones of drag. Amidst this fascinating inventiveness, the boundless ideation of my peers encouraged me to bring in a new amalgam of inspiration on a daily basis, combining the evil queen of The Magic Flute with the traditional makeup of Kabuki theater, weaving together Native American symbolism and Maori tattoo patterns, experimenting with Nordic and African horn designs, and even going all-out scary she-male by emulating my screenwriter boyfriend’s incarcerated tough-gal character Sheila.
While the education I received certainly wasn’t worth the weight of my hefty tuition (a slight on the school’s behalf that could fill an entire blog entry of its own), the chance to utilize unfamiliar tools in an encouraging environment of like-minded creativity definitely had its merits. And with the numerous portfolios and theses I’ve crafted on the art of disguise and its psychological forbearance, the comparisons to Cindy Sherman my middle school oeuvre received before I even knew who she was, and the duped professors who’ve asked of my self-portraits, “Who’s the model, a friend?”, perhaps the experimental ambling of Intro to Makeup Design will get me one step closer to achieving Skin-Walker status… sans the murderous aura Native American legend associates with it. For the face and its many facets is a powerful tool, and as any prosthetic artist, title-hungry drag queen, or student rising in the ranks of production design could tell you, they don’t call that baby your money-maker for nothing!
In the words of a comedic band I didn’t want to admit were aging as I beheld their greying, mutton chop-less visages at the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, “The city is alive, the city is expanding, living in the city can be demanding.” I’m sure having travelled from the sheep-shearing, Hobbit-roving bliss of New Zealand to all the major cities of the United States, Flight of the Conchords delivers this message with the same heartfelt sincerity that every city dweller employs when they stick their head out a bedroom window and yell, “SHUT UP!” It’s such a commonplace notion that it’s hardly worth stating, but cities are loud and generally don’t come equipped with James Stewart’s euphonic pianist and soprano neighbors in Rear Window. On top of this corroboratory fact, city noise always amalgamates into the same nerve-wracking din no matter how disparate the individual components nor how varied the population size.
At 8 o’clock this morning, I was jostled from a sickbed completely surrounded by flu remedies (including DayQuil, NyQuil, Ricola, Emergen-C, and Sex and the City season 6) by a mariachi album set to full blast, a barbershop quartet of dogs who might have been hyperventilating through their barks, and a car alarm that could easily alert its owner from the middle of the sea. This early symphony–coupled with a daily opus of ever-celebratory fireworks, 2am basketball games, and rival ice cream trucks distinguishable only by their repeated children’s song of choice as they circle the block at least eight times a day–may be specific to my new neighborhood, but downtown Los Angeles is not alone in its incessant emanation of sound. Nor are LA’s outer boroughs, such as Culver City where my boyfriend’s next-door neighbors are constantly regaling the whole neighborhood with drunken arguments at the nightly parties they seem to throw and the entire family downstairs might be diagnosed with Tourette’s.
In a much smaller city on the opposite side of the country, the noise may come in a different flavor but barrages your eardrums with the same torrential force. During my last year in Savannah, Georgia, I moved from a quiet, woodside dormitory where the introverted inhabitants avoided eye contact at all costs, let alone uttered a peep, into an apartment that might as well have doubled as a palace compared to the cubby hole I occupy today. The only downside to Heaven on Montgomery was that it was on Montgomery–one of the busiest streets in town, especially when your block resided in “downtown.” Rather than illegal fireworks and ever-festive mariachi bands, this corner of Montgomery and Alice hosted a cast of noise makers that verify the zaniness John Berendt immortalized in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
First, there was the “Ey” Man, an older gentleman consistently dressed in what the 1960s would have deemed “the nines” who walked down Montgomery looking pleasantly dapper and intermittently calling, “Ey… Ey… Ey…” Then there was the late night serenader: a young man prone to slowly pacing up and down the street after dark, singing the latest R&B hits at the top of his lungs as if wooing the city itself or simply shouting to hear his voice over headphones. Along with these and several other vocal individuals like an infamously impolite mother, there was a weekly congregation of people who spent hours cackling at the tops of their lungs like a coven of witches while ironically mingling in a church parking lot. And we can’t forget the honk-happy populace eager to lay their entire body weight on the horn at the slightest hint of inconvenience, a far cry from the Oregonians who take extreme offense if you timidly tap the horn by accident.
Immersion in this incessant cacophony from the east to the west can make a girl miss her childhood home in the mountains, where yards that contemporary suburban developers couldn’t fathom separated everyone from even the slightest noises their neighbors might make and any hillbillies keen on disrupting the peace with a blaring horn were hindered by the shoddiness of their rusting trucks. After leaving this quiet respite at the age of nine, you’d think spending the majority of my life amidst the endless hubbub of sirens, babbling passerby, screeching tires, and Savannah’s garrulous night birds, I’d have grown fond or at least accustomed to the soundtrack of city life. But lately if there’s no Enya playlist to drown out the racket, all I can do refrain from leering out my window at the ice cream man is wistfully dream about pattering rain showers, ocean tides, or a future ranch in Montana complete with a team of middle aged corgis to keep me quiet company.
Despite the cultural ballyhoo that inflicts a mere calendar date with a barrage of black cats, shattered mirrors, and ladder-strewn walkways, both my sister and I are in agreement over the fact that nothing earthshaking has ever plagued us on Friday the 13th. In fact, we quite often find find ourselves accruing fortuitous luck on said ominous date. But the cultural obsession with a day that condones the old wives tales of yesteryear has got me thinking about another day that’s amassed some bad juju in the past couple of years–and thinking further still about how these negative stigmas manifest in the first place. Are people so smitten with the notion of an unlucky day that they’re personally responsible for aligning the negative cosmos in their lives? Do my sister and I enjoy Friday the 13th simply because we’ve always concentrated more on the positive aspects of what’s most likely nothing more than another average day?
While Friday the 13th produces feelings of trepidation, birthdays are calendar dates that operate on a more subjective level, and from my experience, people either love their birthday, hate it, or (for the family and friends keen to celebrate) are aggravatingly apathetic towards it. As a child who bore her fair share of witness to the birthday cynicism of parents inching towards middle age, I’m well accustomed to what it means to dread that extra candle atop a seemingly mocking cake. But to the fortunate contrary, I’ve always enjoyed my birthday, just as any juvenescent child, egocentric teenager, and party-savvy young adult should. Recently, however, I’ve begun to feel slight disdain towards a day that’s supposed to celebrate life, and now that it’s right around the corner from what is proving to be another unremarkably peaceful Friday the 13th, I feel an explanation is in order, if to at least appease the gods of fate and cure me from what may very well be a birthday imprecation.
My birthday blues have absolutely nothing to do with the typical thanatophobic fear of getting one step closer to death. While I’m a day dreaming idealist in many facets of life, realism pervades whenever the subject of death comes up: my parents taught me well, I have no delusions of immortality, and I quite look forward to the day when I can officially call myself the female equivalent of a silver fox. So instead of stemming from a Friends-esque terror of the “decrepit” age of thirty, my birthday nerves relate to personal anecdotes enveloping my last two birthdays.
Everyone and their grandma looks forward to their 21st birthday in this country, the age when the whole world (sans the rental cars needed to get you there) becomes your playground, a number that officially resonates with adulthood, and a tradition that’s been kept up since 21 connoted the physical strength necessary to bear the weight of armor and achieve knighthood. While our values may have altered greatly from the honorable intentions behind donning 110 pounds of hindering steel armor to attempt to rescue damsels from evil sorcerers and the likes, even people who aren’t in the market for a good 21st birthday shwasting still look forward to the party that commemorates their transition into liberating adulthood. Rather than living it up with my compadres and relishing the act of showing my ID to every waitress, bouncer, and unfortunate passerby, however, I spent my 21st birthday in a hospital. And no, it wasn’t because of the expected culprit: a wheelchair was in order before anyone had time to consume any alcohol.
I turned 21 while enrolled in my junior year of college in Savannah, Georgia, and despite the mild flavors of small Southern city cuisine that this Northwest foodie always complained about while living in Savannah, I wanted to round up a large group of friends and celebrate in chic, indulgent style. Thus, we met up at the slickest (and only) tapas joint in town, prepared for an evening of jazz and pampered taste buds, and anticipated enjoyment that was quickly snuffed by a hostess who refused to seat us due to two late guests, a waitress prone to sneering, and the insatiated hunger pains of a primarily male entourage when we were served the smallest tapas plates I’ve seen to date. So, to salvage my reputation as a good host and to simply revel in the summer air that persists well beyond late September, I suggested we walk down the block, buy some big pizzas, and revive the merriment that had been quelled by our disappointing (and jazz-less) tapas experience.
On the way to the pizza place, we passed through Ellis Square, and despite my newfound adult sophistication (and supposed armor-bearing prowess), some deep southern magic in the autumn air evoked the overexcitable ankle-biter in me, and I was compelled to turn on my heel, disregard the snazzy attire I’d compiled for tapas, and run straight through the dancing fountain that’s made Ellis square a hotspot for many a mother in need of respite from her clinging children. Rather than chuckling nervously and continuing onward to Americanized-Italian goodness like some of them probably wanted to, my friends followed suit, proving that inebriation is not a requirement for being a nut in a fountain. In this way, the evening was ushered along by splashes and shrieks of laughter for some time, when suddenly I turned and saw one of my friends outright sprawled on the concrete between multicolored columns of water. I knew it in that split glance: the joyousness was over.
Turns out, several of my friends had taken to outright sprinting through the fountain instead of practicing the careful little pansy hops I’d been performing all night, and rather than merely slipping on the wet concrete like I’d feared, two of them had collided into one another–at a sprint. The less fortunate of the two now lay drained of color on the concrete with a tooth broken in splinters and a possible concussion. Fortunately for my injured friend and my completely shocked self, the more levelheaded party guests took charge and organized a trip to the hospital, during which I sat completely stunned, friend’s tooth in my palm and tears tending to whatever mascara hadn’t been affected by the fountain water.
While I hate the fact that my nerves seemed to be jiving to the tune of, “it’s my party and I’ll cry it I want to,” for the rest of the night–disabling me from the mien of strength and reassurance I should have adopted for my friend–I can’t eradicate the memory of how terrifying it is to see someone you care about devoid of color, toothless, and practically unconscious. On top of that, I felt entirely at fault and still wonder to this day, if I hadn’t been drawn into that fountain like an eight year old failing to masquerade as a 21-year-old, how peaceful that evening of pizza would have been.
Flash forward a new tooth, a new year, a new E-Learning schedule from home, and another birthday. While turning 22 is about as societally exciting as scheduling an optometrist appointment, I was looking forward to the first birthday celebration with my family in three years with a reinstated sense of optimism. And just as I expected, the day started out wonderfully.
I’ve stated it before, but my sister might as well be a conjoined twin with the amount of adoration I feel for her, and while my father was at work and my mother across town, I was looking forward to a whole birthday of my sister’s company like Charlie looking forward to his rendezvous with the chocolate factory (pre-Gene Wilder’s psychopathic tunnel song). And boy howdy, does that girl know how to show you a great time. We started out the downtown celebrations with lunch at the swanky Heathman Hotel where I was buried in an avalanche of gifts that I still overwhelmingly can’t believe she doted upon me. Because one of the presents was a weighty gift card and because one of my favorite past times is trying on ridiculously embarrassing things with my sister, we figured when in the market, shop!, and proceeded to the shopaholic enclave that is Pioneer Place.
Our excursion began like any other as we thumbed through racks of things we coveted and, more importantly, things that would look hilariously heinous when donned on in the dressing room, and even though this statement plays right into the hands of cliché feminine tropes, I honestly thought it was a great way to spend my birthday. But that was before I realized my sister was no where near me, and I was shopping alone, an activity I take very little pleasure in because once the jokes stop flowing and camaraderie dissipates, the fluorescent lights, pushy crowds, and superficial floor staff make for a nightmarish ordeal.
But I wasn’t too put off by my sister’s sudden absence. I allowed logic to coerce me into the reassurance that this store was only two floors tall with few visible obstructions beyond five-foot tall racks and hordes of nattering women. So I went about my shopping, aura of birthday bliss intact. When I’d acquired a stock worthy of changing room scrutiny, however, my sister was still awol, and without the desire to relinquish full feedback privileges to a mirror, I decided it was time to initiate an active search. I can’t tell you how many times I went up and down those stairs, back and forth through various partitions, and in and out of the changing rooms to call her name, but by the time the stairwell was beginning to draw a sweat and phone calls had only connected me to her voicemail, I figured I might as well just try on my accrued ensemble in silence and hope she magically manifested on my way out.
When she didn’t, my sweat became more a product of panic than physical exertion. Because this store really wasn’t that big, and because several more trips up and down those stairs still weren’t yielding any results, the nervous wreck in me assumed the obvious answer must be that someone had abducted her out of this crowded, security guarded shopping mall. After all, the phenomenon of just missing someone by a millisecond when you comb every inch of a store only happens in crappy rom coms like Serendipity, right?
After an hour had passed, I gave up on the hunt, invoked my inner “stay in one place” boy scout, and sat down on a couch, my now purchased parcels around me as I blinked back tears of near-hysteria and envisioned an array of serial killer investigations involving the cheap fashion acolytes of Forever 21. She still didn’t pick up her phone or appear out of a rack of ponchos singing, “Jokes on you: you’re on Candid Camera!” and by this point I was too incoherent with worry to ask a sales person to conduct an all-store page for “the girl with flaxen hair.” So I sat there and waited for quite some time.
Obviously, this story ends happily, because if anything had happened to my sister this blog would have had a much darker tone since day one. Instead, she came bounding up to me almost two hours after her initial vanishing act, laden bags in tow and a bright smile on her face that was clearly miles away from the Ted Bundy and Ed Gein visions that had been tormenting me to the beat of the store’s hip playlist. To be angry with someone clearly so euphoric about the prospect of a larger wardrobe should be a crime in itself, but I was furious, and whenever I try to express my upset sentiments to my sister, she gets twice as furious. Thus, the rest of the day was spent in boiling conflict and pathetic bouts of tears until my dad arrived home and asked, “Who wants cake!?”
To fear that the negativity of birthdays past might affect birthdays in the near-present and future makes me no better than the worry mongers who think the number 13 was devised by Satan, but I can’t resist the cultural lore that bad things come in threes. While I should be ecstatic that this is the first time I’ll get to celebrate another year of life with my boyfriend (not to mention turn 23 on the 23rd, for all you old wives out there), I can’t help tainting thoughts of the oncoming date with some sense of foreboding. Yes, I’m well aware that dwelling on the negatives (like we’re practically taught to do on Friday the 13th) can’t produce much in the way of positivity, but with that uncontrollable accident in Ellis Square and that unusual solo shopping trip at Pioneer Place, one can only guess if the third time’s truly fated to be a charm.
For someone who still hasn’t learned how to cope well with change, even after uprooting and inhabiting fourteen different homes in my lifetime, I sure do revel in the drastic changes produced by a much-needed, thorough house cleaning. It’s the kind of cleaning that requires a reserved schedule, an extra large bottle of 409, and a hefty playlist that won’t run out on you when you’re elbow deep in dust bunnies that makes my heart sing. But as a life long neat-freak whose only recently learned how to turn a blind eye to a little disorganization, the mess that precludes a therapeutic cleaning session sets my teeth on edge. Thus, fate must have had a hankering for a hearty bowl of irony when it made certain that some of the people I love most would come equipped with a blatant irreverence for cleanliness.
Besides the sanitary nirvanas I established in my private bedrooms at my grandma’s house, my mom’s old condo, and all three of my college dorms, I spent my entire life wading through my sister’s ever-amassing mess–just a handy byproduct of the money two bedroom apartments can save a parent. Sharing a room with a sibling can be a very beneficial experience as far as interpersonal development is concerned, but when a sibling’s disdain for clothes hangers, trashcans, and any semblance of organization begins to extend to your territory, sharing a room can become a massive source of contention. Thus, I thank God for the zen retreat college offered before I suffered a filth-induced break down and threw away my sister’s excessive sombrero collection for good.
Little did I know, my privacy-affirming stint amidst college recuperation would introduce me to another best friend with the same lifelong affinity for interior chaos: my boyfriend. Hanging out at his house in Savannah (the canvas of his hardwood floors awash with an abstract expressionistic collage of stuff) was perfectly fine in the beginning. I was in the giddy throes of a new relationship and therefore could overlook the daily hassle of tiptoeing around half-empty and cap-less Gatorade bottles, heaps of clothes supposedly arranged according to memorized cleanliness, and antiquated pizza boxes that you couldn’t get me to open even if you blindfolded me and told me you had a surprise from Nordstrom.
Today, over a year later and with a different locale’s palm trees comprising the vista from our windows, things have changed a bit. With the adrenaline of giddiness replaced by the comfort of familiarity, it’s harder to ignore the causal relationship between an orderly environment and a sense of internal stability, and therefore some serious cleaning was in order. But I went about it with extreme trepidation. Pop culture and personal experience have long demonstrated that you should never attempt to change the habits of a man lest you’re in the market for a short relationship, and even more critically, you should never attempt to change the habits of a disorganized person, lest you wish the heaps of wrath to triple out of spite. But having respected these taboo philosophies for years, I can’t help but pose the question: how do two people whose lifestyles differ so drastically in the cleanliness department make a homestead merger work? When both sides of a partnership need very different environments to feel comfortable in their home, is there any feasible solution?
In my experience, the hoarder always wins. Just like the female weight gain plight, creating a mess is much easier than cleaning one up, and therefore we neat-freaks generally surrender before the losing battle’s begun. What’s the point of procuring immaculate cleanliness if the other party will drop their jacket, keys, lunch leftovers, and receipts on the floor the minute they return home? In some memorable situations, I was even chastised for cleaning my sister’s side of the room because it imposed upon her methodologies and added stress to her leisurely lifestyle. Inversely, no one was reprimanded when her belongings began crossing the imaginary barrier that separated our space, seeking refuge in the wide open spaces that I strained to preserve.
When it comes to cleaning your boyfriend’s house, that’s an even bigger taboo. While your sister will presumably always love you no matter how many times you threaten to donate the stuffed animals she crammed under your bed and neglected for years, your boyfriend has the privilege of opting out of the partnership whenever he chooses–especially if the messiness you just vacuumed away and took out with the morning trash made him feel comfortable in his domain.
But at least my loved ones know I’m not a completely heartless tyrant when it comes to the devoid lifestyle I lead. Despite the hoarding genetics I come from, I’ve always been one to throw out unnecessary belongings, a trait my mom employs whenever she needs an insensate outsider to clean her studio. When I prepared to move back to the west coast upon college graduation, however, it was a different story. I didn’t possess much in Savannah, but what I did own I’d accrued over four years and looked to as a source of comfort when homesickness struck or when I needed a reminder of the strong, independent woman that had burgeoned out of my eastern isolation.
I had gifts from family and friends back home, household necessities that catered perfectly to my interior design palate, and emblems of my life as both a photographer in need of antique props and an outdoorsy adventurer who loved finding industrial remnants of bygone eras. When I made ready to leave my short-term home in Savannah, almost all of those possessions had to be thrown away, and what few belongings I could transport were scratched, torn, or completely destroyed by the Transportation Security Administration’s haphazard searches. While both my mental solace and nomadic lifestyle require a trove of few possessions, the Savannah exuviation was a difficult thing to undergo, and every now and then I still get remorseful pangs for that Detective Narratives anthology that I never finished, the heavy-weight tripod I had to part with, and the vintage BB gun that some happy little boy in the fifties probably shot at irate family members.
Via these experiences, I’ve learned a few life lessons when it comes to cleaning frenzies. In some situations, the space you have really isn’t as important as the memories emanating from the objects that fill it. Perhaps my sister kept all those excessive sombreros to remember the Chevy’s birthday parties that had yielded them. And for all I know, my boyfriend may very well stockpile memories in The Mess himself. So while he may disapprove of my sudden need to regain household solace when he arrives home and bears witness to the carpet for the first time in months, he can rest assured that nothing was thrown away beyond half-empty Gatorade bottles, indeterminate wrappers, and endless receipts.
Dreams have a funny way of capitalizing on reality.
Last night I dreamt that myself, my sister, and my former roommate Greta had gathered at my mom’s old condo for a home alone slumber party for adults. While my compadres prepared a wholesome movie night, I crept away to my bedroom to concoct what my dream-self must have considered a pretty slick prank, and doused myself in the menthol-flavored fake blood left over from PROD 150 Makeup Design. When I entered my sister’s room smelling like candy canes and looking like Sissy Spacek in Carrie, all I received were pity chuckles, and I quickly discovered the brunt of my failed trickery when it occurred to me that cleaning this gunk was going to put movie night on hiatus.
Fortunately, the time frame of a dream is malleable and the next thing I knew I was standing in the bathroom, immaculately bloodless save for my hair. Moving to the shower to finish the job, I was met by a strange scene: the bathtub was filled to the brim, and standing in the midst of the water was an ironing board. But as usual, the surrealism of the dreamscape was lost on its participant, and instead of pondering the ironing board’s strange location, I was distracted by one of our cats as she attempted to leap from one side of the bathtub to the opposite, undershot it, and landed in the mysteriously drawn water, instantly clawing her way back to arid freedom. Laughing at the sodden cat’s expense, I left to rejoin my friends, and was stopped in the hallway by what my dream-self could have sworn was a figure framed within my bedroom doorway. I brushed this off as myopic deception, however, and reentered my sister’s room where faulty electricity was further hampering their movie plans. All around us, the lights were dimming, and to investigate we walked out into the hallway, where the lights rapidly dwindled out.
At this point, the mood of the dream changed dramatically.
“Is that a bird?” my sister asked, staring up at the dark ceiling. With no inkling of what she was observing, I stared around wildly and noticed another one of the cats and our dog had convened beside us, their eyes fixated upward as well. Suddenly I could hear it, something beating against the ceiling, as if moving erratically, but my eyes couldn’t seek the source in this dark room–perhaps it was coming from the room down the narrow hallway, shut behind a closed door: my mom’s room.
Anxiety beginning to heighten, I ushered everyone back into the bedroom where I suppose my bravado meant to shield them from harm. Moments later, perhaps via a noise forgotten since waking, I was drawn into the hallway again, this time attracted to my bedroom. Framed by the doorway and backlit by a blue glow from my window was a silhouette of what I thought was a little girl, a girl that clearly lacked the cheery disposition of most children. I opened my mouth and tried to scream as that silhouette seemed to draw closer to me, but the inhibitory nature of dreams caught my scream in my throat, allowing me to emit only an alto note that sounded as if I was screaming under water. My sister and Greta would never hear that yell, but my boyfriend certainly did and prodded me awake as I made that same drowning moan in reality.
If this were the concept for a horror film, it would receive scathing reviews, tank at the box office, and join the same cinematic leper list as Mama and White Noise. However, because it was a dream that fused elements of reality with the surrealism of my imagination, it was terrifying. While my boyfriend returned to sleep immediately after prodding me (evidence that his dream-self must have been KO-ing a moaning adversary), I stayed up with post-nightmare jitters, reliving not only the sense of panic that pervaded my dream but the honest memories that undeniably inspired it.
In reality, my mom’s old condo resided in a complex that would have been beautiful if all the edifices weren’t inspired by oversized gray boxes. Fortunately, the surrounding manicured landscape suggested a tranquil park, cut off from the bustling thoroughfares of Tanasbourne by an enclave of trees, and partitioned into rolling slopes that convened at a large, nutria-filled lake. With winding pathways, a recreation center, tennis courts, and a large pool, it was the perfect place to walk your dog, raise your children, and establish a relaxing homestead. But like any seemingly impeccable suburban neighborhood, cracks began to mar the wholesome visage and reveal a seedier interior than one would expect from a neighborhood filled with old people and children. On the block over, neighbors were evicted for erecting a meth lab in their condo and smashing out their windows, robbers hit numerous houses, including our own, and on one very frightening occasion my sister was followed by an eerie man who stood at the head of our street and stared at our unit for an unnervingly long time after she’d arrived safely behind our locked door.
But beyond the unseen thing encountered on an evening walk that made my dog bolt in the opposite direction, dragging my mom to safety with the power of a much younger pup, and the strange noises that once emanated through our floor from the crawlspace under the house, one of the most unnerving incidents we experienced on Midlake Lane occurred halfway through our nine-year occupancy.
It began one night while I was sitting against my wall-length closet, reading a book for freshman Lit while my mom and sister watched NBC primetime downstairs. Despite all the bizarre occurrences that plagued my otherwise peaceful neighborhood, my room was a place I always felt safe. It was my pristine refuge from the pet hair that had infiltrated the rest of the house, and better yet, it was far from the downstairs windows that burglars might peek through and the crawlspace that something had once inhabited. My room was a peaceful sanctuary, a place where I conducted photo shoots by the natural light of my enormous window, designed the interior décor to differentiate from the chili pepper color palette downstairs, and entertained guests on a futon that folded into a couch. So while sitting on the floor beside my closet in the midst of cleanliness and soft, ambient lighting, I felt totally at ease.
Until someone started breathing in my ear.
Prone to methodical conduct, I’m an individual who seeks reason and verification for the unexplainable, and as an older sister, machismo instinctively kicks in when faced with fear. So instead of reacting to the hairs that prickled on the back of my neck and running for the hills, I continued to sit there, listening intently to make certain I wasn’t hearing things. When the labored breathing didn’t desist, I pulled the dumb stunt that always offs the investigative characters in horror films and opened the closet doors, throwing caution to the wind despite the fact that I was inspecting a space that comfortably fits six grown men in a neighborhood prone to break-ins.
But there was nothing there.
With no sister to act courageous in front of, I let perturbation prevail and quickly made to join my family downstairs, allowing sitcom hilarity to pacify the situation.
I’m not quite positive of the order in which the rest of the events occurred, or even how spread out in time they were, but unfold they did and at an exponential rate. One day I was sitting downstairs, home alone, engaging in some leisurely couch-potatoing when suddenly the stereo in my upstairs bedroom blasted at full volume. After what might have been the closest I’ve ever come to a heart attack, I hurried upstairs to quell the noise, and found the stereo behind my closed door, playing on its own volition at a volume that I’d never amped it up to. The first time my sister was inducted into the unusual happenings, we were again seated on the downstairs couch, all four pets accounted for around us and my mom in transit from work, when something began to run back and forth across the upstairs hallway. The footfalls were so audible that there was no mistaking the sound, and I finally had someone to verify that what I was experiencing couldn’t be chalked up to schizophrenia.
Say what you will about veracity or fiction, but these experiences, whether paranormal or strangely logical, were very real, and ever since witnessing an old woman through a lighthouse keeper’s window and successively taking a tour that asserted the keeper’s wife had died years ago but was occasionally witnessed flitting through the house, I’ve erred more on the side of belief. So when all these occurrences began amassing in the Midlake condo, I decided the best and only course of action was to relax and embrace it. I took to personifying whatever was causing all the upstairs ruckus, calling it Joseph of all things and acting as if it was a devious but lovable uncle keen on spooking the family. Thus, whenever I was downstairs and all the pets eerily convened at the bottom of the stairwell, standing rigidly and staring up at the top landing, I would venture over to the staircase, look up at the hallway that was vacant to my human eyes, and say in joking patronization, “Oh Joseph, you mesmerizing the pets with that juggling act of yours again?”
If I were a ghost attempting to reek havoc in a household of women, I’m sure being ascribed a random name and being brushed off by the increasing use of, “Ohhh Joseph,” would irk me to the point of amplifying my scare tactics well beyond those of that pesky Paranormal Activity demon. But the newly christened Joseph just continued his old rambling shackles routine as if that was all he was capable of or as if the attention I was doting upon him was actually appeasing.
For some reason, my mom never experienced the pattering feet, slamming doors, and animal beguilement, but she was the only person who received outside verification that strange things were afoot. Apparently, our very grounded, businessman neighbor came to her with the question, “Have you been experiencing… things, in your house lately?” only to elaborate that alongside unexplainable noises, belongings were actually being thrown off his shelves. Apparently he wasn’t employing the “befriend your ghost” tactic. Soon it came out that the neighbor on the other side of our house was also enduring the occasional slammed door and petrified pet, and if it hadn’t been for the clarifying news that followed, I would have ventured to guess that we lived in a new physics-defying Mystery Spot. Thankfully, revelatory news traveled down the gray condo grapevine from the house on the end of the block, two doors down from ours. Apparently, a great uncle had come to visit the residents and actually died in the night during his stay. His unfortunate death in the midst of vacation occurred shortly before unexplainable phenomena began plaguing four houses on our block, and I suddenly felt lucky to have chosen “Joseph” instead of “Josefina.”
Eventually, the experiences dissipated entirely. I lost my newfound, clamorous friend, the pets went back to lazily idling about instead of standing on tenterhooks half the time, and my room was returned to a labored-respiration-free sanctuary. Years went by without incident, and all was blissfully quiet. After an nine-year relationship with old Midlake, we began making arrangements to fly our condominium coop as my mom prepared to move in with her new husband and my sister and I prepared for a monotonous summer of grocery store customer service. It was around this time that a second wave of uncanniness struck.
My mom’s room–the only room through which you could see the dark underbelly of her bed from the stairwell–seemed to emanate an increasing sense of wariness, and despite my lifelong tough guy act, I started feeling noticeably uncomfortable whenever my eyes were drawn to that bed on my way up the stairs. Around this same time, my mom started coming home to a situation that her daughters initially found hilarious: every day after work, my mom would enter her bathroom and find the toilet seat up, as if a man had used it. In a house full of women and two other bathrooms that my sister and I would choose over my mom’s in a heartbeat, this phenomenon was ridiculously strange, and unless my sister was the culprit, I honestly have no explanation.
With each plea of, “Girls, stop leaving the toilet seat open, it’s not funny anymore!” my mom became more nervous, and when she voiced her fear that maybe some stranger was holing up in our house while we were gone each day, we realized that we shouldn’t be laughing so heartily at her expense. The evening we made a breakthrough in the mystery of the upturned toilet seat, was when my sister was reading on my mom’s bed and heard the same audible breathing that first introduced me to Joseph, alluding to the hopeful idea that there was no living man squatting in our home when we were at work, but rather another attention-seeking presence that I felt certain wouldn’t harm us.
Although this one didn’t feel as innocent as Joseph.
Our final Midlake experience occurred very shortly before moving out. We were all bonding in my sister’s doorway, enjoying each other’s company amidst laughter and good conversation, when my sister’s pleasant demeanor dropped and she stared wide-eyed at my mom’s bedroom, illuminated down the hall. In her shock, she explained that she’d just witnessed a shadow move human-like across the drawn curtains, and for this shadowy, toilet-using fiend, we had no cheerful juggling banter.
Besides the occasional unpleasant vibe I got from my mom’s room, I serve only as a secondary narrator to these later incidents, and have no way of claiming their actuality. I’m only relieved that we didn’t endure whatever else this mouth-breathing, ill-mannered toilet user had in store for us, and beyond a couple questionable experiences in Savannah, Georgia–haunted capital of the US–my paranormal experiences have been reserved for occasional dreams that take actual memories and twist them until I’m left trying to scream through nonexistent water.
Los Angeles is an ugly city. Sure, Beverly Hills is prime, swank real-estate, the lush, green neighborhoods around UCLA are undeniably gorgeous, and the permanent postmodern exhibit that comprises every beachfront’s residential promenade could double as a high brow architectural installation at MoMA. Unfortunately, the LA you see splayed in every movie that doesn’t take place in New York, is a small, glistening segment of a larger picture, and driving down the 110 from Cesar Chavez Blvd to Culver–parallel to the cityscape and a slew of rundown buildings no abandoned building junky would ever photograph–is one of the ugliest routes you might ever take.
To make matters worse, LA’s legendary traffic utilizes this thoroughfare as one of multiple premiere runways, resulting in exasperatingly long exposure to the unattractive setting that defines downtown.
When stuck in this logjam and conversation begins to run short or iTunes Shuffle keeps producing songs you don’t know the lyrics to, the only alternative to gazing out at the unkempt urban landscape is to revive a childhood compulsion and start observing the passerby, all inching along beside you in the thick interstate pile up.
Yes, I’m that uncivilized girl.
What my slightly unsubtle observations have rendered is not only verification of LA’s status as one of the most teeming melting pots in the country (rife with endless people-watching opportunities), but also that despite this populace of diversity, we are becoming an increasingly sequestered culture.
Back in the 90s, an age that some in my generation deem “golden,” observing passing faces from the car always garnered a lot of attention in return, as people looked back with equal unrestraint. Back then, everyone seemed to agree that cars were akin to travelling exhibitions and all the physiognomies of the world were up for complimentary display in the Turnpike Gallery. Today, if anyone accidentally locks eyes with another human–mobile or otherwise–stomachs start tumbling like Russian gymnasts and eyes are quickly reverted back into the safety of our personal bubbles. While I’ve succumbed to this phenomenon of gaze-reversion for fear of offending and therefore can’t blame anyone for antisocialism, I can at least recognize that these walls we keep mortaring ourselves into with our incessant texting, social networking “friendships,” and self check-out lines at the grocery store are beginning to climb to ridiculous heights.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a hyper-compulsion to greet people I pass in the street, and in this day and age of physical and technological isolation, committing this act anywhere other than Savannah, Georgia, with anyone under 40 seems to startle people into horrified taciturnity. It’s so bizarre that the inhabitants of this planet are obviously hellbent on exponential reproduction but simultaneously insist on creating more tools to easily avoid all those 7.057 billion other people we currently reside with. Does this trend suggest that we as a species are inherently antisocial? Or is a history of welcoming strangers into the neighborhood with pies just waiting to repeat itself, the way fashion and music can’t resist looking backwards? I’m no anthropologist and can’t provide any data to back up these meanderings, but who knows, maybe one day soon every passenger on the I-110 will be hollering at one another just like the cast of American Graffiti.
When I first started watching True Blood, it was at the recommendation of a friend while attending school in Savannah, Georgia. If the timing hadn’t been so specific, I doubt I would have been beguiled into tuning in, but living under a garnish of Spanish moss that bedecks the lantern-lit, cobblestoned deep south in a magical humid haze made watching a show about Louisiana juju irresistible. My lifelong fascination with cryptozoology didn’t hurt either.
So I watched on while sitting in friends’ freshman dorm rooms where the closest thing to a couch was a thin mattress whose springs all but emerged from the upholstery; under the covers in bed both out of fear of the lurking, bicorned monster in season 2 and to keep from waking Michelle, the first of many nightmarish college roommates; and back home in Portland (in a real bed), where I introduced the show to my sister and giddily critiqued the episodes away, Moon sister style. Soon, my eager engagement with the show morphed into an enjoyable hobby, and then into a mere outlet for expelling stress. Today, I only watch the show as an homage to the nostalgia of new beginnings in a reputably mystical city that now resides on the opposite side of the country.
But why have I steadily deviated from the crux of the show’s target market, gradually exhibiting less interest in watching at the same rate that the expanding tour bus industry is causing Savannah’s quaint charm to diminish?
The answer’s quite straightforward actually: the show went bad like milk that sours before the sell-by date in any state south of the Mason-Dixon line. Not that True Blood was ever phenomenal television with the same notoriety attributed to programs like Breaking Bad and The Wire, but after season 2’s mythological shenanigans, the quality of each season spiraled faster and faster down your standard concrete drain. Fortunately for the show’s ratings, True Blood hosts a horde of vampires, werewolves, fairies, shape-shifters, were-panthers (…?), and HBO’s signature obsession with boobs: everything Pavlov would employ to have a contemporary pop culture groupie salivating at the mouth in seconds. And although the plot has grown increasingly convoluted, one can’t deny that the show is ever lacking in excitement–even if we caustic viewers find the excitement incredibly ridiculous.
But what gets my goat is the writing. Having dated a screenwriter for the past year and a quarter (and having met nothing but screenwriters and Michael Sheen’s next assistant since moving out to L.A.), I feel just in saying that a major responsibility involved in developing a script is manifesting characters through their dialogue. In the first couple seasons of True Blood, the dialogue served just that purpose: defining the wholesome, southern belle-with-a-strange-ability archetype of Sookie Stackhouse as an entirely different character than the traumatically inured Tara Thorton–both of whom are extremely different than the endearing, distinctively idiomatic Lafayette.
As the seasons progressed, however, the action began to take precedence over the characters (possibly because the writers had all that aforementioned convolution to try and weave into coherence), and all the individual attributes that typified one personality from the next began to dissipate until, come season 6, we seem to have been left with one overarching character. And that character likes to say “fuck” in response to absolutely everything.
Somehow, this character-melding phenomenon merely spritzed the male ensemble before emptying its whole crop-dusting load on the female line up. For instance, even though their dialogue wasn’t spared from the show’s new favorite word, gargantuan wolfman Alcide is at least decipherable from backwater sheriff Andy Bellefleur, even if Alcide has diminished to nothing more than Batman-esque rasping and growling and a completely useless subplot. The ladies on the other hand are a catastrophe of incessant cursing as a means of normal conversation, perpetual reduction to tears (both of the saline and sanguine variety), and snidely defensive retorts that ooze with melodrama.
For example, the once child-like Sookie whose outcries used to involve phrases like “tits on a turtle” and “you no-account backwoods trash!,” recently replaced Grandma Adele’s polite influence with the truncated, adult argot of seasoned vampires like the ever brazen Pam De Beaufort. Even Pam, however, who didn’t have to change a smidgeon of her dialogue to fit into the “upgraded” ensemble, lost her luster when she catalyzed the next chapter in Tara’s storyline and tears and endless expletives ensued. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t stop there, combining Jessica Hamby, Luna the shifter, Nora the surprise sister, Willa the girl who clearly doesn’t curse in reality, Sarah Newlin the zealot, Nicole the activist, those masculine, huffy werewolf chicks, and almost all the other female characters into this steadily amassing, tear-strewn, “fuck”-fixated conglomerate with the most limited vocabulary I’ve seen since Stephenie Meyer books were big.
From a writer’s perspective, one of the greatest things about the art form is the ability to imagine up individualistic characters driven by backgrounds sui generis in nature and complete with their own relevant vernaculars. Even though the author’s voice will always be preeminent, designing a narrative with multiple characters creates the opportunity to personally inhabit different psyches and explore the various memories, motives, and reactions that create a versatile cast of individuals in reality.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh and ignoring the possibility that the writers puppeteering these True Blood characters are slaves to the f-word themselves and thus take their dialogue seriously, but coming from a network that brought us the linguistic poetry of shows like Boardwalk Empire, Sex and the City, and Game of Thrones, can I be blamed for expecting dialogue that transcends fuck?