Concession / Confession

I am now the owner and wearer of a skort, for the first time since swearing off the ugly hybrid garment back in elementary school. In retrospect, that earlier prototype was really just a pair of shorts with an extra fabric panel on just the front, and thus deserving of my scorn. And in my defense, this recent acquisition is a “running skort,” designed for athletics. It’s my concession to these solid facts:

1. It’s friggin’ hot down here, and on some days it’s impossible to exercise in even the lightest pants.

2. Shorts are universally unflattering, and more so on me.

That last one is especially important, as I have memories of walking the shade-free mile home from school (in Texas!) on 98-degree days, wearing jeans. When I got home I would have to peel the sweat-soaked jeans off my body–<i>that</i> is how much I hate shorts. So yesterday while I was at Target searching for alternative exercise garb, this piece stood out to me. I tried it on and actually liked how it looked, so here I am, wearing a skort. And one step closer to becoming my mother.

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Accounting

Number of hours I waited in line for a Pinks famous hot dog: 2*

Number of minutes it took for me to eat: 7, tops

Cost of  my chili dog with sauerkraut: $3.15

Number of times I heard the word “heartburn” while waiting in line: 3

Number of times I heard the word “heartburn” while eating: 1

Actual heartburn experienced: 0 (so far)

Number of times I plan to return: 0**

* I readily acknowledge that this is ridiculous. There’s always a line at Pink’s so I was prepared to wait at least 45 minutes. At the 45-minute mark I was about 2/3 of the way to the front, and once you’re that far in it’s hard to bail. If only I’d known that my advancement up until that point was largely due to attrition of customers in front of me who’d grown tired of waiting.

** I’m glad to have finally tried the dog everyone’s talked about, but it honestly isn’t worth waiting for. Sure, it has nice “pop” (what is the obsession with hot dogs that pop anyway?) and the chili was pretty flavorful. But everything else about the dog was kind of bland. Give me the spicy chili of Carneys–where, btw, I’ve never had to wait.

Drinking downtown

So I was bummed about missing Jonathan Gold, but happy to have even more time to check out some downtown bars. There’s a bit of a resurgence of drinking establishments downtown, but I don’t make it that far east very often, so I was psyched to have an excuse to hit some bars.

When we left the library there was still some light in the sky so we went to the rooftop bar at the Standard. Even though I act the jaded urban dweller I have to confess that it was supremely cool to be hanging out so high above downtown, surrounded by even higher buildings. And the whole jet-set swanky decor was too pitch-perfect to seem annoyingly contrived. It felt like I was a guest at the coolest summer party ever. Sure, the (tiny, overpriced) Manhattan I ordered seemed a little watered down, but that was a good thing because I had to drive home.

And because we had plans to follow up with a trip to the Standard’s polar opposite, the Library Bar. Which was all warm and cozy and pitch-perfect in a different way–like a sophisticated pied-a-terre in a cosmopolitan city. (I’m thinking it’ll hit the spot even better in wintertime.) About the only thing I didn’t like was the TV hanging over the bar, which I will grant may be a necessity for downtown happy hour–but for chrissake turn the thing off after 7pm!  I’d heard that the beer sommelier from Father’s Office had moved here, so I was expecting a long list of hard-to-find brews. The Library’s list is much shorter than FO, but they do carry the hard-to-find Craftsman beers. Being in the mood for something dark and broody, though, I ordered the always-good Old Rasputin Stout, which was smooth and chocolately from the tap.

Once we got out of the line at the library, it turned into a stellar night. If it hadn’t been a weeknight and I hadn’t had to drive home (curse Los Angeles and its car culture!) I’d have hustled on over to Seven Grand, just to scratch one more Downtown Bar off my list of Places to Check Out. But I’m also happy to leave something left to explore.

On not meeting Jonathan Gold

Last Friday I saw a listing that said Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Gold, who is without a doubt the best food writer in the nation (his evocative writing and obvious love for LA are what I turn to when I need reassurances that LA has something good to offer me) was going to be interviewed on stage at the Central Library tonight. I went to the organizer’s site to make my free reservation but received an e-mail that said due to overwhelming interest, blah, blah…we’d have to show up at 6:00 to get on the standby list. This afternoon I packed up my laptop and headed downtown, figuring I’d beat rush hour, finish up my work day on the library’s wireless, then go down around 5:30 to get in the standby line.

I wound up being #2 in line, behind this hippy-looking, energetic woman, about five feet tall with long brown hair that was greying on top. She seemed normal enough when we started chatting, but then she just didn’t stop talking, and she became more and more insane the more she talked. She shared her opinion on immigrants: she herself is the child of a South American immigrant, but she can’t stand people who come to this country and never learn English. Not the Armenians and Russians who live near her in Glendale, they’re serious, studious people, and most of them speak English or at least try. She just doesn’t like the lazy Spanish speakers who come to America but don’t speak any English. Pretty soon Spanish will be the predominant language in the United States and that just isn’t right.

Oooooookay. I steer the conversation to what I think are neutral waters, talking about the library. She tells me about the libraries near her, and I offer up that I live in West Hollywood. Her eyes light up. “I used to live in West Hollywood!” she exclaims. I smile, thinking we’ve found a subject that we can sustain with light chit-chat until my friends arrive. “That’s where Vanity Fair and the other parties are. I love to go to events, like the one tonight. I met Ringo Starr by accident at an event in West Hollywood.” I expressed surprise. “There’s a little log cabin building there on Robertson near Melrose and I always wondered what it was,” she said. I knew the building, a meetinghouse of some sort. “Turns out it’s where the AA meetings are. So I went to a few, and you know, there are all these skinny women, the actresses, who work in soaps and things.” She proceeded to describe the people she’d seen at the WeHo AA meetings like it was a party she had been fortunate enough to be invited to. “One time there was this guy there who had this British accent, and as he talked I placed it as a Liverpudlian accent. And I thought no, it couldn’t be, but then he stood up and said, ‘My name is Richard and I’m an alcoholic.’ I thought, Ringo Starr’s real name is Richard Starkey. Of course he didn’t say his last name, because I guess they don’t do that, but I was pretty sure it was him.”

Honestly, Reader, what can you say? When I related this to my friends later, one suggested that I should have replied, “You know, I’m in AA and I don’t take the tenet of anonymity lightly. I can’t believe you would attend an anonymous support meeting just to gawk.” How I wish I’d been so quick-thinking. But I was like a frog in a pot of hot water that doesn’t realize it’s being boiled to death; I started listening to a seemingly sane person, and I was only partly aware that the longer I talked to her the more insane she became. By the time my friends arrived she was all wound up, and I thought we could safely ignore her. But in the end she was so manic that she yelled at us for standing too close to her, and insisted that we listen to the reason she left all that space around her. Psycho!

Aside from Crazy Lady the whole event was very poorly organized. The line was chaotic and no volunteers were assigned to crowd control. I didn’t really worry about it because my friends and I were 2, 3, and 4 in line for standby, and given that the RSVP was free I figured there’d be a lot of no-shows. But after standing in line for an hour, and even as the line of people with reservations still snaked down the hall, we were told that there would be no room for standbys. “Don’t you have to seat all the reserved people in order to know that there’s no room left?” my friend asked the organizer. “No, we’re full right now,” was the reply. They’d overbooked AND told people they could show up for standby. So in addition to us hopefuls, about 30 people who even had confirmed reservations were being turned away. Fortunately we knew it was a roll of the dice when we showed up, so we were OK with just moving on to a few bars in the neighborhood.

Tomorrow: where we drank.

Dear CBS:

Your Tour de France coverage sucks. Every year I sit down to watch the video coverage of this huge event, and every year I see less and less actual cycling. Instead I’m treated to aerial shots of the landscape, nary a cyclist in sight, while some “reporter” dishes up acres and acres of purple prose, stretching metaphors to their extreme. How about SHOWING ME THE RIDERS instead of telling me that the riders suffer for their sport? I know it’s a challenge to cover a week’s worth of racing in one hour, but the answer is not to turn in a non-narrative sequence of clips with poor commentary and hope no one notices.

Bumping LA below Chicago

Because it took us nearly an hour to make the 15-minute drive to see a movie last night. Because a job that interests me has opened up at my company but I don’t feel like I can fight for it because I no longer live in SF. Because a pianist has moved in to the apartment across our back porch and I keep hearing him practice the same tunes over and over again, all day long. Because living here feels like limbo and I can’t seem to shake myself into action.

Places I’ve lived, in descending order of awesomeness

Rome tops this list, even though I recognize that my experience there would be impossible to duplicate. When I lived there the Euro hadn’t yet taken effect, so it was possible to live very cheaply, and I was a student, so I wasn’t expected to do anything but soak up the city and the culture. Nevertheless, living there was a life-changing experience–despite lingering racism and a traditional mindset that strikes this American as somewhat rigid, the Italians get a lot of things right when it comes to living.  I didn’t move back to Rome after graduation only because my love lived in
San Francisco, the most European of American cities, which could easily occupy the top spot on this list. It’s beautiful, historical, and easy to navigate. It has mild (if a bit cold) weather, many ethnic neighborhoods, the ocean and the bay. It is not far from the resorts of Tahoe, the wineries of Napa and Sonoma, and the hiking/biking areas of the Marin Headlands. After surviving the gold rush dot-com days, when frankly living in the city sucked, and the depression of post-dot-com days, when the city was tolerable but my career was in the shitter, I feel a deep bond with that town. Despite its traffic issues, its so-democratic-nothing-can-get-done politics, and its lingering homeless problem, San Francisco tops the list of places in the U.S. I’d want to live. It broke my heart to leave for

Los Angeles, though LA  has brought its own kind of excitement. After much poo-pooing on this town and its relentless sun, its plastic-surgeried denizens, and its love affair with cars, I have to admit that the sheer vastness of the place holds potential for many years of exploration. Plus, its warm weather puts it a hair’s-breadth ahead of

Chicago, which was the first real city I lived in and a truly American city at its core. My alma mater as well as Northwestern, DePaul, IIT, U of I, and others keep the intellectual fires burning, and I believe it’s one of the best–if not THE best–cities for live theater. The citizens of Chicago are the type that make you glad to be in the Midwest–mostly helpful and friendly, mostly in love with their city.  I’m also grateful to have lived on the South Side, which was traditionally populated by blacks and blue-collar immigrants, so I was able to witness firsthand the scars of deep racism and segregation. I wish it didn’t exist, but it was certainly eye-opening, particularly coming from

Plano,  a suburb like pretty much every other suburb in America, though it had the distinction of being the teen suicide capital of the U.S. in the ’80s and the teen heroin capital of the U.S. in the ’90s. I managed to escape the trappings of the wealthy, idle teens in that town, largely because we lived in an older home on the run-down east side. That still doesn’t change the soul-sucking feeling of anonymous suburban life, where the houses look the same, the shops and restaurants are the same chains, and the anonymity is stifling.