..[Los Angeles without a car, work permit or superpowers]

Monday, January 31, 2011

On the Boardwalk

- You gotta dawg you can bring him in. We gotta dawg with five heads and you can PET him,

calls the Freakshow compere on Venice Beach boardwalk. I think I might like to see this, but my husband clarifies that it's a dog with five legs, not five heads. He also reminds me that seeing The Smallest Horse In The World at an Italian streetfair in New York was a disappointment. (Save your $5: it was a young Shetland pony viewed from a raised platform.)

Nearly everyone's gotta dawg on the boardwalk today, and crossed leashes and nose-to-nose greetings are slowing our progress to the pier. Dr Strangename has no patience with hot crowds and tries to drag me off to the sidestreets, but it's better to stay near the beach in Venice. The sidestreets are full of seediness they can't get away with on the tourist-and-loon-packed boardwalk, which is saying something, since pot, botox and piggy-faced vegan militants are openly tolerated. Amongst the foot-traffic and stalls there's the odd idling police car.

- They lookin for you, man,

says an old, skinny white guy to his doppelganger on a bicycle. Both are selling feather charms, sage and good vibes. Nearby, a man in a polo shirt pretends to study a vendor's tarantula paperweight while his bulldog craps profusely all over the sidewalk.

- Clean up after your dog,

says an enraged hippy, emboldened by the support of the crowd. There are Japanese tourists, kids on pink pushbikes, shirtless surfers, girls in hotpants, rastas on rollerblades, professional stoners and junior thugs all complaining as they step around the steaming patch. The bulldog looks embarrassed.

Dr Strangename and I conduct a pointless debate about some missing parcels as best we can, pausing every few steps to make way for a skateboarder or to split around a dawdling couple. It's the end of January, and two Christmas gifts sent to us from England still haven't arrived.

- It's not our fault,

says Dr Strangename, inexplicably belligerent.

- I'm just saying that it's awkward.

- I don't see why it's awkward.

We debate whether people taking the time to send gifts you never receive is awkward. I mention Wrapit.com, the wedding list company that went bankrupt, leaving guests without their money and newlyweds without their gifts, and which presumably engendered some tricky thank you notes. Dr Strangename enquires, with apparent sincerity, whether we had a list with Wrapit.com. We didn't. Did you not notice we received wedding gifts?

- I wasn't sure whether you were using that as a comparison because it also happened for us. Or if it was just a general comparison,

says my husband, as a man with a THE KUSH DOCTOR IS IN sign tries to sell me some medical marijuana.

- There's a dude there with turtles,

says a girl beside me to her friend.

- Oh, ima get a turtle. Cute ones?

- Yeah, cute, but I don't know.

- No?

- Don't they have like diseases you can get?

- Salmonella?

- Well, I'm not gonna lick it.

We all skirt around a solitary woman doing a deranged, jerky dance to no music, everyone avoiding her eyes lest the Medusa gaze of insanity lock us in stone, or a difficult confrontation.

- ...fucking fuckers don't know me, fucking know me, fuck,

says the woman to no one, her fingers flickering to the sky, as the LAPD helicopter passes overhead.

Dr Strangename and go to Island Burger for bottomless Cokes and nachos, because we're classy like that. On the way back to the beach, fizzing on caffeine and aspartame, I rant for several minutes about the poor design of the restaurant's bathrooms.

- Well, don't let it get you down,

says my husband, sarcastically. This from a man whose passionate views on throw cushions* have ruined whole evenings (*that they have no place in civilized society, or on our sofa).

Twenty minutes to sunset. We walk down to the end of Venice Pier to watch the surfers. The water is a choppy black, and it's looking like the twenty-seven-day run of sunshine in LA is ending. But there are still scores of surfers, bobbing like seals in their wetsuits, waiting with apparently infinite patience for the right kind of wave.

- How does a seagull get that fat?

asks Dr Strangename, his attention elsewhere. He's a scientist, so, of course, this is not a rhetorical question, and we discuss the finer points of avian diet on our way back to the bus stop.

Venice Pier, January

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Return of Dr Strangename

Dr Strangename returned from San Francisco on Friday night, filled with the joys of all-expenses-paid taxi rides and Chinese dinners.

Why is your husband called Dr Strangename?

Because a) here, no one can spell it, and b) there, no one can pronounce it.

'Here' being America: there's a Z in Strangename (obviously), and I can never remember if it's a Zed or a Zee; by the time I've got it right, someone has already written it down wrong.

'There' being my rural hometown in England: the people prefer a surname that's been intermarrying in the neighbourhood for a few hundred years, and so, after a mere decade, my family still ask 'how's... how's... your feller?'. (In their defense, it took me a while to get it right, and two years ago I infamously spelt it wrong on our own doorbell.)

Although Dr Strangename claims his name is not at all strange back in his native Birmingham, it has tended towards creating various preconceptions about his nationality, religion, mother-tongue and skin colour. One of my former bosses in England once gave a confused Indonesian man an effusive greeting and tour of the facilities, under the impression that he was my exotic spouse, while my actual spouse waited politely in Reception reading the sports section. 

Should you ever be called to fetch Dr Strangename from Reception,  it may help to know that the genetic combination of Turkish, English and Irish ancestry has resulted in him looking inexplicably like a pre-Hare Krishna George Harrison. My own genetic combination of Anglo, Saxon and Farmer has resulted in me looking like a round-faced milkmaid type almost guaranteed to go sharply downhill after thirty. We are hoping my genes are the recessive type.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Miss Manners at the Mall

- Acne Thrives On Your Indecision

- Reinvent the 5 pocket pant!

- GIVE freely with a mall gift card

After two years of incomprehension in Germany, American signs bully me; apart from this, the Westside Pavilion shopping mall is as anodyne as a hotel bathroom, and an ideal antidote to LAX.  As it's only a mile away through a toytown suburb, and Los Angeles has been blue-skied for twenty-five consecutive days, I walk. This surprises several side-road-turning drivers, including one with the vanity plate AH0Y M8E and another whose car is decorated with red handprints. Maybe when the Big Bumper finally gets me, this'll be it: palm trees, roses and astroturf-perfect lawns. Except for a mock-Tudor two-storey with a Zen garden, nothing rises higher than a bungalow. By the freeway underpass I surprise a transient taking a leak in a miniature hedge. We're the only pedestrians.

It's only a shame that by the time I get to the mall I look like an extra on Miami Vice -- rolled up jacket sleeves, slicked back hair, suspiciously sweaty. The typical American mall always makes me feel shabby and apologetic, especially when it's nearly empty on a Friday afternoon and everyone wants to be your friend. Two women in Victoria's Secret enquire about my feelings on lingerie. Someone at a concession stall tries to sell me $9 soap. I buy nothing, as per instructions to lay low -- belly-on-the-floor low -- until Dr Strangename's paycheck clears on Tuesday, and scutter guiltily through the neon gelato and colour-coded Gap shirts to Barnes and Noble, where I read a book about ballerinas. Then I walk home. The transient is now sitting on the low wall outside Winchell's Donuts, eating a cruller. He calls me Hey Babydoll, and I don't reply.

- You got no manners,

he observes, correctly, as the Big Blue Bus comes through the underpass. I get onboard, reflecting that accomplishments today have been limited to a ten-minute phone conversation with our dental plan provider. When we arrive at my stop, a woman calls me sister and asks for bus fare, so I give her $2; around here that's enough to get you there and back.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Conversations With My Husband

In honour of Dr Strangename's recent departure to San Francisco:

5 Conversational Gambits to be Avoided with my Husband

- Amusing anecdotes relating to the cats.
[=  husband is bored; feels increased desire to have affairs with sorority girls]

- The Calvin Klein dress in a Macy's garment bag hidden in the vacuum cupboard.
[= ever read Little Women/Good Wives? Remember when Meg rashly spent $50 on a violet silk and told her husband John Brooke she was tired of being poor, and then he couldn't afford to buy a winter coat? Like that, but with more cussing, and it doesn't end with me returning the dress]

- Comments about the Large Hadron Collider, as gleaned from magazine articles.
[= husband laughs long enough for me to take offense]

- Questions like 'why is the Predator attacking Arnold Schwarzenegger?'
[= husband laughs long enough for me to take offense, and won't acknowledge that having missed the first 90 minutes of the film makes this a valid question]

- What I did today.
[=  husband reacts with pity or other unfavourable judgements when the answer turns out to be 'posted a letter', 'nothing', or 'rose at noon and then read Tennessee Williams plays aloud in hopes of perfecting Southern Belle accent']

Topics of Conversation my Husband Prefers

- What he ate for lunch.
- Someone knows someone whose wife's work permit application took just 6 weeks.
- The precise degree and nature of his tiredness and other maladies.
- Cake is on $1 sale at Vons.
- The BlackHat collaboration.

Conversation We Can Both Enjoy

- Any beginning "When we have a car..."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Ped Xing

No Ped Xing
No Ped Xing

say the signs along the Howard Hughes parkway, as Dr Strangename and I head to LAX this morning. We take a Culver CityBus, even though the Culver CityBus is green and therefore beyond the remit of this blog. Inching south, its passengers a Venn diagram of the aged, deranged and down-at-heel, the 6 passes through a dilapidated series of Americana. It's like being on an abandoned Disney ride, lacking only mechanical hookers waving from the windows of the pastel motels.

Over here, disheveled beauty parlors offer Fine Hair Imports and Symple Grooming. Restaurant names come in three grades: classic (Johnnie's French Dip and Pastrami; Tito's Tacos; Dinah's Diner), unappetizing (Grinders, Sizzlers, Shakers) and inexplicable (the Edelweis Chalet). After dinner you can choose between being robbed and beaten at the Tattle Tale Cocktail Lounge, or beaten and robbed at the Scarlet Lady Saloon. 

While I wonder why an EZ Lube and a Jiffy Lube would set up shop within a block of each other, and which sounds ruder, Dr Strangename vacillates over the talk he must give in San Francisco and makes ill-advisedly loud comments about the welfare of his wife being alone in the city for three days. The man in front of us wakes, coughs onto the window, and folds up again. The bus runs a giddying set of circlets at the Culver City Bus Terminal, where the driver kicks down the access ramp and helps on a patron in a wheelchair, remarking

- Ain't nothing change but the date, Kenny.  

Kenny laughs and laughs and laughs, and waves at the hard-luck Debbie Reynolds boarding behind him. Outside, a man dressed as the Statue of Liberty and holding a sandwich board advertising tax services walks by. You can tell we're near the airport when jumbo jets begin slaloming a hundred feet overhead.

- El Lay Eggs,

sings the driver, making Kenny laugh again, and drops us off in a dirty parking lot. The duller the city, the nicer the airport; hence, Düsseldorf airport is cold steel, white lines and has a Skytrain, and the LAX transit hub smells like piss and hobos. Blank-windowed Radisson, Sheraton and Marriots stand by it like well-dressed strangers ignoring a streetcrime. We take a shuttle to the terminal. LAX itself feels more edgy than a civilized Western airport should; perpetually lit by the slow amber tones of 1970s cop drama, its stained concrete and palm trees lend it the air of a South American dictatorship run to ruin.

Dr Strangename checks in. I go back to catch the bus home. This is the fifth time I've been to the airport since Christmas, without having once left LA; there was the Texan arrival and departure of my good friend Rodeo Girl, and then Dr Strangename had to go to France. The moment I realized that my husband's career had taken him to the Other Side -- the side where all the successful people are, networking and drinking freely from the minibar -- was when he said, with a straight face, that although it sounded like fun, it was work, and he wouldn't see much of Paris beyond hotel and conference rooms.

(His being right about this makes no real difference.)  

I catch exactly the same bus for the return trip. Same seat; same sleeping man; same driver, who asks

- Didn't I just see you?

and I nod.

- Ain't nothing change but the date,

he says. Quite.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Origins of the Blue Busrider


said an old man on the bus today, his eyes glittering.

The only time I've been to China was changing planes: Osaka, Beijing, Beijing, London.

- Osaka? Okay, GO BACK TO JAPAN.

Although I lived in Japan, I'm not Japanese. Please don't feel you have to sit any closer, but I'm actually Caucasian, which is why I look so confused right now.

- We're on the bus in LA. Everyone's confused. Where do you come from?

Are you demanding zat I show you my papers? I did just move here from Germany. But I'm British.

- What are you, some kind of international hobo?

When I met my husband, a decade ago, he won my heart by declaring his ambition to be a bearded drifter. Mind you, at the time he was clean-shaven, I was very drunk, and we were in the university bar.

- So the pair of you wander the world with your life in a bindle?

We've pared it down to ten boxes, two large suitcases, and wearing all our clothes to the airport. Oh, and a couple of crates marked LIVE ANIMAL.

- How the hell did you get into the USA?

We had visas. My husband, Dr Strangename, is an academic.

- But you don't have a work permit?

Not yet. My current visa authorizes me to be here for ornamental purposes only.

- Are you a rich housewife of Beverly Hills?

Yes. I just enjoy taking the bus with lunatics.

- Really?

No. We don't have enough money for a car, and we don't live in Beverly Hills. We live close enough to the 405 Freeway that the back wall of our bedroom vibrates.

- So what do you do all day?

Ride the Blue Bus, ponder what to microwave for dinner, and pretend that I'm only pretending to be a housewife.

- And who is Ped Xing? Sure sounds Chinese to me.

Ped Xing is invisible to the populace of Los Angeles, judging by the number of times she's nearly been mown down by Escalades turning right on a red light. In her mission to traverse the City of Angels safely and at a reasonable cost, she becomes... the Blue Busrider.    

- I wish I'd never started this conversation now.

I'm sorry. Please go back to clipping your toenails and shouting about the albatross.