Thursday, September 17, 2009

Salad Rage

One of the admittedly guilty pleasures we missed when we moved from Los Angeles to Asheville was Gelson’s salad bar. Gelson’s is a grocery store chain in Southern California, and we had one a few blocks from our old house. Since I’ve been back in Los Angeles, I’ve hit the Gelson’s salad bar a couple of times a week. I don’t know how to explain it, exactly. It’s not a huge selection. It just has everything I want, in the size, quantity and combination that I want it. The only problem is you have to pay by weight. My beloved grilled tofu cubes are surprisingly heavy and make for an expensive salad.

But there’s a funny sort of phenomena around the salad bar, and I was aware of it before we moved. I’d just forgotten about it, until I returned and started building my favorite salad again. I call it “Salad Rage.” It’s similar to road rage in that someone gets behind you, follows you very closely, in a very aggressive manner, then does something crazy and hostile. Believe it or not, this happens at the salad bar on a regular basis. I’m not slow. I get my container. I know what I want. I get the same thing every time. But no matter how fast I move along the line, there’s ALWAYS someone behind me who simply must get through the salad line faster.

Often, if there’s a line, I’ll go pick up other things I need, then come back to the bar. But even when there’s no one in sight, someone inevitably gets in line right behind me. I’ve been non-gender specific in my descriptions so far, but in the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess: It’s always a woman (or women). And it’s a very specific kind of woman. She’s in her 40s, well-dressed, alone, and I am in her way, an obstacle or symbol of everything she despises. She will shake her head and reach across me to snatch the tongs. She will sigh and stamp her little designer shoes. More often than not, I take a step back and let her pass, which only serves to enrage her more. The other night, I did that, and one of the angry salad ragers barked, “Am I in your way!?” Completely missing the fact that I was moving for her benefit.

I don’t know who these angry salad women are, or what’s happened in their lives to make them in such a hurry at the salad bar, resentful of anyone they see as blocking their access to the baby corn. I smile, I stand back, I get out of the way, all the while dreaming of picking up the vat of honey mustard dressing and dumping it over her furious, but well-coiffed head. I never encountered any salad rage women in Asheville. I wonder if it’s just an L.A. thing? Or maybe we just didn’t go to the angry salad bars there. There were never any women at all around the Ingles salad bar, but that might be because it was mostly a meat bar.

Around 4 or 5 o’clock in the workday, I start thinking about dinner and my Gelson’s salad. Are the angry salad women there already, waiting for me? Wondering where the jerk who takes all the grilled tofu is? Do they wait in the parking lot, texting each other on their BlackBerrys and Sidekicks, announcing my arrival? And could attacking someone with a vat of salad dressing really be considered assault?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On the Arkham Express

Since I've been back in Los Angeles, I've spent a lot of time on public transportation. And public transportation in Los Angeles is something you have to commit to. You can't be half-hearted about it. When I first moved here, I relied on public transportation for years. And if you've ever done the same, you know it's an adjustment. It changes the way you do things. You have to plan errands more carefully. You can't buy more than you can carry. And there are some places that you just can't get to.

Since returning to L.A. and public transportation, I've noticed a dramatic shift in the demographic on board. I'd estimate that it's about 40% working poor and students, 20% foreign tourists and 40% mentally ill. And it's this rise in the number of mentally ill people riding the rails that has me concerned. How does it happen? How has this become the only option for people? I'm left to wonder where their families are? Do the families not know how to care for them, can't afford to, or simply don't want to? So they give them bus and rail passes and send them out every day to become the responsibility of bus drivers and fellow passengers?

I'm certainly not suggesting that mentally ill people shouldn't be allowed access to public transportation. But the people I encounter on a daily basis, on every single vehicle I'm on, need help. They rave, they shout, they threaten, they cry. Those with lesser maladies insult, provoke and mock those around them or carry on one-sided conversations with themselves. I've witnessed enough of these conversations to know they always end in shouting matches. It's best to move away before they get too heated. My fellow passengers are enormously patient. The turn away. They ignore the shouting, the insults. They seem to recognize when people are ill, and they let it go.

Or maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe the people I think are mentally ill are really highly functional people who go to jobs or outpatient services, and only lose it once they find themselves in the confined space of a subway train or a bus. I just read a great graphic novel called Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, which is all about the mental institution where Batman drops off his enemies. This particular story is about a perfectly sane (if not altogether nice) guy who cops an insanity plea instead of doing hard time. Once he's in Arkham, it doesn't take long for a white-collar criminal to turn into a raving supervillain.

Which makes me wonder. How long before I turn into one of the inmates on the Red Line? Will it happen gradually? Or will I just snap one day? Not long ago, a guy got on the subway, dressed head to toe in black, with a black trench coat, black hat and sunglasses. He strode up and down the aisle, yelling, "I wear a disguise so I can insult women without fear!" Then a couple of weeks ago, a woman got on and began describing in detail (at the top of her voice) the sexual prowess of all the different races of men she's slept with. I couldn't help thinking those two might hit it off, if they could just get on the same train.

MTA has finally started installing turnstiles in the subway stations. Boarding has always been on the honor system, believe it or not. Part of me is relieved, because it might cut down on the number of transient and mentally ill people who just wander on and off the trains. But it worries me, too. If public transportation has become a safe refuge for the frightened and disenfranchised, where will they go if their access is blocked? And why do I seem to be the only one who cares?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Right Back Where I Started From

It all happened very fast. It took less than two weeks total, and here I am. Back in Los Angeles. Back at work. It was a difficult decision, fraught with emotional pitfalls and uncharted territory. In the end, practicality won out. Let's face it. Despite my obvious brilliance, I don't get many job offers, so I couldn't really turn this one down. Three to six months. Which doesn't sound too long, really.

Plus, it will be interesting to experience the other side of the story now. I left Los Angeles, moved to Asheville. Now what? Have I changed? Writers have always written about their locations and attributed great power to sense of place and environment. Did I take a bit of Los Angeles to Asheville? And now, will I bring a bit of Asheville here?

In a stroke of universal synchronicity, it was 15 years ago this month...this week, actually...that I first moved to L.A. Miraculously, I only aged 5 years in all that time, but my circumstances have changed considerably since I showed up here, so happy to have finally made it to the promised land. So all the elements are in place for a surprisingly layered homecoming. Yet...

If home is indeed where the heart is, then I am, in all regards, homeless, because Michael's not here. We've actually never been separated for more than a few days at a time. That's the hardest part. And whenever I allow myself to think about it for very long, this whole thing just seems crazy. So I can't let myself think about it. There's work to keep me occupied and lots to do in Los Angeles. And friends to see. And comic cons to plan and attend. And blog posts to write. Time will undoubtedly fly by, as it always does.

Now, to celebrate my return, I'm going to Leonor's Vegetarian Restaurant in the ShOaks for my favorite fake pizza. It's completely vegan, and I have no idea what's in it or how they do it, but it's delicious!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Whole Year in Asheville

Today marks our one-year anniversary in Asheville. When we left Los Angeles last year, friends assured us that a year would fly by, and it has. We had a long list of trips, adventures and goals on our agenda when we started, and we've done a pretty good job of getting through them. Going in, I thought we'd do everything we wanted to do within the first couple of months, then be bored for the rest of the year. What I didn't expect was how completely the people here would accept us and integrate us into their lives.

I've learned a lot about myself over the past year, some good and some bad. I've always been an outsider and an observer. Part of that comes from being a writer and part of it is a protection device. Michael is the kind of person who jumps into any situation, eyes wide open, arms outstretched. I tend to hang back, watch for a while, figure out who the players are, what dangers are in store, then slowly ease into the situation. This fundamental difference has always been there, but didn't become so obvious and so, well, problematic, until every situation we were in was brand new.

I have made an effort over the past year to be less reserved and more open in new situations. But I know I'll never be the sort of person who just vomits myself all over new people, and I've come to forgive myself for that and own it. If it takes you a year to get to know me, that's fine with me. If you give up an hour or so into it, that's fine, too. I understand.

The people we have met here, those who have befriended us, have been incredible. While I always view new people with suspicion, the people of Asheville embraced us right away and welcomed us into their homes, their families and their lives. While our novelty as the new guys in town has worn off, their friendship has remained, and I am humbled by that and grateful. It makes me wonder how I would even begin to do the same for someone new to Los Angeles. We would get new neighbors from time to time back in L.A., and I realize now that the most I ever did was nod to them on my way to and from work.

When we were back in L.A. recently, a friend stood us up for dinner and wasn't answering his phone. We sat in the restaurant, trying to figure out what to do. A year ago, I'm sure I would have just shrugged and ordered without him. After months in Asheville, though, where neighbors check on each other and bring over cake, I decided we needed to go to his house and check on him, to make sure he wasn't hurt. It was an unexpected practical application of what I've learned here, in the land where hearts are on sleeves most of the time.

(But just a word about the cake. The first time a neighbor brought over baked goods, we couldn't bring ourselves to eat it, convinced a stranger bringing us something must have some sinister intention. "Clearly, she wants to poison us, so some nice heterosexual family will move in when we're gone." We got over that quickly, though, because, you know, it's cake.)

One thing I didn't learn here, because I knew it all along, is that I'm not the outdoorsy type. The scenery here is gorgeous, and I love looking at it...from a distance or from the car. I don't want to be in the scenery. I don't want to camp or hike or splash in waterfalls or swimmin' holes. A lot of people move to Asheville to do all that stuff. I did not. I've given all these things a try since being here, and I didn't experience any sort of epiphany, except the confirmation that, no, I'm not the outdoorsy type. I know it's like moving to L.A. and proclaiming you don't like sunshine. But that's the way it is. Plus, my misery makes everyone else miserable, and that's no fun. The big drawback to my refusal to be in the great outdoors is that there's no one to look out for Michael and to tell him not to jump off cliffs or pick up rattlesnakes. So, he's on his own. I will make sure his insurance card is tacked to his shirt before he goes out, though.

Right now, the immediate future is clear. We're staying in Asheville a while longer. The non-immediate future is less clear. A year ago, that would have bothered me more than it does now. Whenever people ask me why we moved, I always say we wanted to have an adventure. How many people get to just take off and try something so completely different and new? It sounds grand. But what do you do after the adventure? Go back home? Go somewhere else? Stay where you are? What happens next? I guess that's the next adventure.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Somewhere That's Green

We returned from our vacation in Mexico and our trip to Los Angeles to find Asheville transformed. When we left, there were but a few signs of spring. When we awoke the morning after our arrival, we found a green canopy covering the yard and mountains that can only be described as lush. (Which, coincidentally, is how I'm often described, as well.)

Somehow I don't remember it being this green last year. We had just gotten used to seeing the other houses across the lake, and now they're completely obscured by the trees again. All the rain we've been getting has helped, I'm sure. Though Henry doesn't like it. The low rumbling sounds of thunder just send him over the edge. Poor Michael was up with him most of last night, because the thunder makes Henry so anxious and nutty, which then makes us anxious and nutty.

They're both asleep in the living room now, no rainclouds in sight. Though, I'm sure that will change by this afternoon.

I'm not sure if it's spring fever or post-vacation malaise, but I'm finding it hard to get motivated and do everything I need to do. I'm not only walking by the empty suitcases every day, saying, "Eh, I'll put 'em away later," but I seem to be walking by everything else, as well. I'm sure I'll snap out of it sooner or later.

This afternoon is the first Downtown After Five of the season, which is a monthly street festival during the summer. Maybe some music, drinks and social activity will snap me out of my doldrums.

I have a zillion photos to upload, so I'll try to get to work on that this weekend. If not, you'll at least know that I'm very earnestly thinking about doing it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pearls Before Swine Flu

Greetings from Mexico! Really. As is often the case, we booked our vacation to coincide with a disaster. We're in Cancun for a week, before heading to Los Angeles for a couple of days. It is beautiful here and (fingers crossed) we're all safe and healthy.

What is particularly striking about this outbreak is that there are just no reliable numbers yet. The media would have us believe it's the end of the world, but the World Health Organization has really only attributed 20-some deaths to the swine flu virus here in Mexico. And none in the US.

So, we're going to continue to enjoy the sand and the sun, until we're told to evacuate or that we've been quarantined.

However, since it's a resort full of gay guys, I'm looking forward to the quarantine drink specials and theme parties.

Hasta luego!

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Long, Strange Week

Last weekend was sunny and 72, and I got a sunburn. Not while hiking or working in the yard, but while having brunch. We went to Sunny Point and decided to sit outside. I wasn't expecting to sit outside or I would have slathered on my usual dose of SPF 50. Despite my Native American heritage, I am a white, white person, and burn like flash paper in the sun. So that was Saturday.

On Monday, it was snowing.

Locals kept telling us to expect one more freak snowstorm to kill or stunt the Spring growth. I thought they were crazy. Well, I was wrong. It snowed for two days, then melted. By Wednesday, the rains began. In the midst of all this, I was also trying to do the aforementioned yard work. We still have leaves to rake and bag, and somehow actual limbs have fallen out of the trees over the winter and are scattered all over the yard. In between the snowing and raining, I attempted to cut up some of the limbs with a saw I pulled out of the garage. That's when our elderly female neighbor informed me I was using a drywall saw on the trees. I didn't even know we owned a drywall saw. We've never cut any drywall.

Luckily, it started raining again, so I was spared the embarrassment of further sawing. Cut to this past weekend, which was sunny and 72. Brunch rolled around again, and I slathered on the SPF 50 to protect my pink and now-peeling face.

We sat inside.