Tuesday, June 29, 2010

That Ship Has Sunk

Usually the expression, “You can’t play for both teams” refers to sexual preference, but not here. All the respect in the world to bisexuals, bi-curious’s, ambisexuals and/or omnisexuals: if you’re having sex, trust me, you’re in the game which means you win.

No, I'm talking about being shut out when I try to keep things friendly with the ex and his clan because I truly believed that treating each other well would be the best thing for the kids.

And then we could all join hands and sing “Kumbaya“ as we rode on rainbow unicorns into the sunset. But maybe you can guess the results of both those quests.

Is there an emoticon for "You're Not Welcome Here!"? Maybe one of those yellow faces with its teeth bared in a snarl?

To be fair, I was the one who had left their Darling Boy, so a certain amount of hostility from the “Other Team” is to be expected. But do they have to be such dicks about it? Which begs the questions: what is the point of making nice-nice with them anyway? Didn't I leave because I didn't like the way I was being treated? In "Star Trek" terms, I was using all my energy to maintain a force field against their photon-beam snarkiness. Shouldn't I be (last "Shatnerian" metaphor, swear) seeking out friendlier life forms?

Much like a hamster on a wheel, or a Cubs' fan, I was burning carbs but making no progress. I had no energy left for my "fans," the ones who "get" me, the ones who can see the rainbow unicorns, too.

Really, what is the point of trying to board a ship that's already sunk?

Have fun at the bottom of the ocean, suckers!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mystery Solved

Did you ever pass a place in your neighborhood - a home or business - and wonder, “What exactly goes on in there?” Maybe it’s the crazy lady down the street whose yard is full of weeds and yipping Pomeranians; perhaps it’s the shady bar that’s a late night magnet for chopped Harleys. Whatever it is, I’ll bet it reawakens your curiosity every time you go by, and you’re tempted, even just a little bit, to get a look inside.

Chances are even stronger that you don‘t act on that impulse.

Well, I’m here to tell you that I took a peek behind the curtain of a childhood Mystery Spot, and what I saw changed my vision of The Forbidden forever.

For me, growing up in the 70s as a “Valley Girl“ (or “Val,“ that denizen of the San Fernando Valley immortalized by Frank Zappa), that place was a Japanese restaurant called The Mikado. This was before there were sushi shops in every strip mall - heck, this was before there were strip malls. Just the sound of it: Mikado . . . so exotic . . . was it a quiet retreat for discreet businessmen, or a rowdy speakeasy like the ones I’d seen in the movies? All I knew for sure was that it had a red rickshaw out front and smoked windows. This was a far cry from the incandescent family restaurants my parents took us to, with their cheerful lucite light fixtures and their Early Bird specials. No, the brazen display of the rickshaw and the opaque windows tantalized me with visions of opium dens and blushing geishas silently sliding bamboo panels closed to ensure the privacy of pleasure-seeking clientele.

We passed by the Mikado every week in my mom’s Oldsmobile on our way to my sister’s art lessons. It was located across the street from the now-defunct Quigley’s Five-and-Dime (kids, ask your grandparents) and the North Hollywood Medical Center. (Also defunct, along with many of its patients; the word was, if someone you knew was being treated at the NHMC, send flowers because they were probably already dead.) But my eyes always gravitated to the Mikado, which sat like a spider, waiting . . .

Years passed, I moved away from the Valley, and visits home never took me past the Den of Mystery, so I pretty much forgot about it. That is, until one day when some dear friends from high school suggested, without hesitation, that we meet there for dinner.

Gulp: The Mikado? Did I dare?

Wanting to slake my curiosity before my friends appeared, I approached the storied spot with trepidation. As I pulled into the driveway, my eyes widened in disbelief . . .

The Mikado was now attached to a Best Western hotel.

Thinking there must be a mistake, I entered the perfectly bland hotel lobby. OK, a framed kimono was not exactly the proof of iniquity I was searching for, but still . . . I walked into an inner courtyard, around which all of the rooms faced. Except for where a pool had been turned into a koi pond and an arching Japanese bridge, it was about as exotic as an ash tray: cleaning ladies pushed carts full of fresh sheets and a tired family found their way into their room.

But what about the restaurant itself? Surely there must be signs of clandestine gatherings from the past?

No such luck. Three sushi chefs hailed my entrance and a polite hostess showed me to our table, where my friends had gathered. They did not seem the least bit spooked by the location and were even a bit bewildered by my cautious questions. Den of vice? White slave trade? The only thing mysterious was an adjoining locked room that said “For Exclusive Use of Hotel Guests,” and that was where they served the complimentary breakfast.

Finally, I confessed my childish suspicions of the fabled place. Lo and behold, each of my friends had a story about the Mikado, though none as lurid as I expected: one had been stood up by a blind date there; it had been the scene of an after-dance dinner, where another friend had gotten sick in the bathroom; yet another had snuck in with a fake ID and tasted Midori for the first time.

We shared stories and laughs until it was late, then we had to be home to waiting spouses, sleeping kids and jobs the next day, things we didn’t have when we passed the Mikado all those years ago. Although the truth about my erstwhile Mystery Spot had not matched my wild expectations, at least my curiosity had been satisfied. My friends and I had had a good laugh about “what exactly goes on in there,” and best of all, I no longer feared The Forbidden. You can quiver before those ominous locked doors, but maybe all there is behind them is a complimentary breakfast.

And for that I say: Arigato, Mikado.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"I’m Just Sayin’. . ."

I’m not sure how it works exactly, but the magnetic strips on the backs of my credit cards consistently pull me into cute boutiques. Regardless of the physics involved, once I‘m there, I seem to have no shortage of excuses for buying adorable outfits: “It’s not like I’m going to find clothes like this at Target!” “Hey, I’m supporting a woman-owned business,” and my personal favorite, “At least my money’s not going to some godless corporate headquarters.”

Pathetic, isn’t it? Why can’t I simply look into one of the boutique’s magical, well-lit mirrors and just admit to my suddenly-slimmer self that I spend way too much money on clothes? I’ll tell you why: only the Dalai Lama is able to be that honest with himself about his appearance, but then His Holiness doesn't have that wide a range of wardrobe.

The economic implications of self-delusion are harsh; however, there is a form of self-delusion that takes an even greater emotional toll on innocent people, and that is the unsolicited observations of those I call "Obliviots". You know the kind: self-appointed "Truth Crusaders" who have deluded themselves into thinking that it is their missionto be cruelly "helpful" under the heading of "I'm just sayin'." Listen, when I fool myself into running up a credit card bill, that's one thing, but these pinheads justify running over people's feelings like it's nothing. They really think they can dodge the “How rude!” bullet by simply tacking the phrase “I’m just sayin’” onto their hideous comments. As if a disclaimer could actually soften the blow of a lobbed bomb like, “You look you haven’t slept in a week.” What kind of moron would claim ownership to such an onerous comment? The last thing I'd admit to is that"I" was the one who was "just sayin'" Yet the perpetrators of this verbal assault seem to think their honesty is admirable. Like, if you can’t handle it, well, that’s your problem, not theirs. What the hell?? It's not like your conversation comes with fast forward button where you can just skip past the unpleasantness to the end. (Don't we all wish??)

I suspect this is a by-product of our dialed-in, depersonalized techno-culture, where people forget they‘re talking to real humans with real emotions. Then again, I’ve listened to so many of these pinheads describe weepy rashes into cell phones while I was trying to enjoy my dinner out, I should be used to it by now. But they don't understand that the difference between loudly offering advice to movie characters and “telling the truth” to a friend/acquaintance/ unsuspecting person standing in line ahead of you is that whoever’s on the business end of your truth stick is actually affected. Yes, it’s true, even if you gamely but lamely qualify it with “I’m just sayin’.” Suck on that.

You know what? A taste of your own medicine to all you obliviots: The next time someone, anyone, tries to offer me an unsolicited “helpful” bit of advice, I will put my hand in their face and say, "I'll listen, but it's gonna cost you. Be as truthful as you want, but you'll owe me that cute top I've had my eye on. It's only $100. Oh, and by the way, go piss up a rope.

I mean it. I’m not just sayin’.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Surly Teens and Ostriches

I recently visited Safari West, a wildlife refuge in Santa Rosa where animals can roam free and observe human behavior. At one point, an ostrich named Lena wandered over to our truck and began pecking at the Astroturf on the side step. She was undaunted by the lack of actual grass sliding down her rather long gullet.

“Can’t she figure it out by now?” we wanted to know, but the guide merely sighed.

“She does this every day.”

“Demonstrating her superior brain power,“ said BBFE (Rich, the best boyfriend ever). Our laughter drowned out the sound of her pecking, but it got me to thinking: is this behavior really restricted to massive birds whose eyes are bigger than their brains? How often do we humans futilely peck peck peck at something that will never yield satisfying results? “If I can make the perfect holiday dinner, our family will get along,” “That group treats me like crap, but I know can get them to like me,” “If I could just explain my side of things, he would understand.”

Round and round it goes, with only the hope of resolution but no results.

Peck peck peck.

Case in point: a certain son of mine is in the hideous throes of an adolescent malaise that can best be described as, “My-mom-is-the-cause-of-everything-I-hate-about-my-life-itis,“ hereafter referred to as Surly Teen Syndrome, or STS. The irony of this disease is that doesn’t affect the teen so much as it makes the lives of those around him/her miserable. My initial reaction to STS as a mom is to try to “kiss-the-boo-boo-and-make-it-all-better“: find what’s really bothering him and work things out. Trouble is, he’s got no desire to do anything different; this “Mom-is-evil” mindset frees him from examining how his behavior affects others. And one thing Surly Teens will do anything to avoid (especially boys) is self-reflection. That, and thank-you notes.

After stifling my next impulse, which is to swing him by the hair and throw him out the window, I revert to trying to “win him back” by joking him out of it, showing him that I’m still the nice Mommy he used to love to cuddle with, and not at all the wicked Medusa he now sees me as, all to no avail. But this begs the question: aren’t I essentially the same person I’ve always been? As his mom, I will always, always love him, no matter what, even if I don’t like how he acts sometimes. So why should I have to prove it?

But until recently, that’s exactly what I was trying to do.

Peck peck peck.

No more. I am comfortable enough with myself to recognize that my “please-love-me” response to his behavior is a desperate ploy, not genuine self-expression. Now I can truly relax in the face of the shrugs and grunts, because I know who I am.

One more thing about ostriches: the guide told us that if you’re being attacked by one, curl into a ball on the ground and remain still. The ostrich will forget what it was mad at in about thirty seconds and wander off.

So: the same "superior brainpower" that makes the ostrich peck peck peck in vain also makes it forget what pissed it off. Frankly, a little bit of forgetfulness might not be a bad thing: here’s hoping my Surly Teen’s short-term memory will become more like the ostrich’s, where the reasons for his attacks will eventually slip his mind.

Till then, no more peck-peck-pecking for Mommy.