Archive | March, 2013

End of Metaphor

28 Mar

Old School Beverly Hills

When I first saw David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive a decade ago, I turned it off  right after the demon appears in the back of Winkies Diner. Something about that scene turned my stomach. This week, I keep replaying it.  That’s because these days I’m in Mulholland Drive territory–literally and metaphorically. Not far from Beverly Hills, the Mulholland neighborhood, with its winding streets, eerily gargantuan fronds and succulents,  old Cadillacs and shadows evoking an ominous nostalgia like something out of a, say, David Lynch film–speaks to me.  And as for the metaphorical aspect, well, the film’s sensibility resonates with my current emotional “neighborhood”–a place where a demon from a nightmare has re-emerged. Plaguing someone I love, someone who should be loving life and exploring it with youthful abandon, and hope, and passion.

Instead, he’s struggling with a disease that is like the demon: abrupt and powerful. Clearly a guy in a costume, the ugly creature in the film should be laughable, but is horrifying because it’s as if the demon is of the character’s own making. . .always there, waiting for him.  Like Frankenstein’s monster, it makes a gesture that is familiar, seductive and destructive.

I should have seen this coming. Maybe that’s why I keep watching the scene of the demon. . .rehearsing the fact that sometimes nightmares are real, what your unconscious cooks up might just show up leering in the back of a diner or, in my case, leave a voice mail while I’m at the gym.  As I emerged from the gleaming marble and glass world of Equinox, I heard the message, and  collapsed on the stairs. Beverly Hills strangers picked me up and drove me home.

I remembered a place near L.A. where my loved one could get help for his disease, someplace I’d investigated several years ago. I went on line, made phone calls.  “Everything happens for a reason,” a friend said, and I agreed because I needed to, because this was happening when, thankfully, I’d had time to settle into this geography long enough to think almost straight, because it was the spring equinox, because I’d just sent him a hat with “California Republic” written on it, because I’d dreamed the night before of large white worms roiling under the sidewalk of Beverly Hills.

Everything happens for a reason? I wouldn’t say that to this guy, who regularly sleeps down the block.

Reeves Park homeless man

The good, bad, ugly–most things are, as my students would say, “random,” gruesomely or exquisitely so. But there was some kind of  design to how the week played out, and a few days after the phone call, the person I love was able to get on a plane in New York, and land at the Burbank Bob Hope airport, a cartoon-y hole in the wall of a place. But there we were. I hadn’t seen him in almost three months. He is going to get the help he needs, at a place tailor-made for him. I am here. He is here.

We stayed overnight in a hotel, something we’ve done countless times for fun, adventure, luxury. . .this was not like that.  I was sad, confused, and angry about the demon. He was sick, contrite, sad, confused, and angry about the demon. We watched half of a talk show, and then turned off the lights. We slept. Like the dead. Or the homeless.

In the morning I suggested he take a shower, an idea he resisted. “Don’t you want to do it for the metaphor–starting fresh, feeling clean?”
“I am done with metaphor.”  That shut me up.

Then he took a shower.  And then we drove to his new For The Forseeable Future Home; he did not want to go in, but he did. He’s always been good that way. I drove to a mall parking lot to fall apart inside the car. After a bit I went into Staples to buy a filing system. I was NOT done with metaphor; I needed order.

files in staples Imagine:  a place for everything, everything in its place.  He in his, and me in mine, close. Passover and Easter, and a full moon right around the corner. Everything happens for a reason. I bought some jewel-toned plastic files, and thought about the last time we’d dyed eggs together.  We’d always gone for Mulholland  shades: blood red, sunset orange, midnight blue. Those eggs lolled  in their cups forever. We’d flick them lightly with spoons, turning them so that the rich color would spread evenly. They never came out without gradations, one blurry patch curving into another.

Clearly, I cling to metaphor as a kind of order-forming graph.When something is like something else, you can get a handle it–uh, love being like a red, red rose. (Bad Example.) The story impulse is the same: This Led To That  which means that Things Might Happen For A Reason, which might mean we are on a road toward Serenity and the Occasional Moment Of Joy and  A Perfectly Dyed Egg.  Driving aimlessly away from Staples, I got on a road, a small numbered highway.

I found myself in a place called Topanga Canyon.

Topanga Canyon (2)

I felt the way Jake does in The Sun Also Rises when he leaves France behind to enter Spain, his holy land of rural simplicity. “It was hot. The air was clean.  I fished. I caught some fish.  It was hot. The air was clean.” Something like that. Hemingway’s prose uses metaphor sparingly, and I love that. I stopped at a little oasis. It was hot. The air was clean.

Topanga Canyon

This was not Mulholland Drive. Not Beverly Hills. A little Ithaca-ish, in fact, and a woman my age with gray hair and nice earrings was eating a tofu sandwich from the back of her pick-up. Wherever you go, there you are. Everything happens for a reason. My mind, stuck in the rut of aphorisms, was like a kid sucking her thumb. (I did that until I was. . .forget I said that.)  Copycatting, I  bought and ate a tofu sandwich. And kept driving. Up and down hills, I just kept turning the steering wheel. Until the ocean appeared.

beach after rehab

I’d reached the end of Topanga Canyon Road. But certainly not the end of metaphor. This was The Journey Continues writ large. Suddenly the Prius looked like a red hot Easter egg.

Prius at end of canyon road

I walked into the Pacific.

toes in water

                                                       Here for a reason.

I got back in the Prius and drove along the ocean. I put in CD Never Stop, by the jazz trio The Bad Plus. I’d not listened to it since driving across country two months ago. Track 5, “People Like You” was playing. My loved one had seemed not like himself.  Did he need to find a way to return to his former self. . .or a new self?  Impossible for me to get away from metaphors of journey, re-birth, the egg, the ocean/shore thing. I kept going until Santa Monica beach.


A mirage in the sand, this carnival squealing and singing and whirling at the edge of the ocean. Parking was eight dollars, which I paid in order to take this picture, because I’d run out of words for the time being. (But Reader, this place seems like a complete impossibility, doesn’t it? Metaphor. . .)

I made it back to my apartment, where I watched Mulholland Drive again. Identities blurring and characters exchanging narratives; it’s either brilliant or a total mess. Or both. Good, bad, ugly, forward, backward, in the end more about sound and image than story or symbol, I think?

A final image. In honor of a person who asked for help, who is saving himself from a demon, saving himself–for himself. Whoever that may be. Who said that he was “done with metaphor,” and took a shower for a reason of his own.

wistful sea birds

9 Mar

City of Dreams, Hall of Mirrors, Closet Of Wrong Clothes

9 Mar

IMG_0199Every day of every week, Dear Reader, I feel wildly new. And old, and lost, and found. Strange. Happy. Sad.  I’m a children’s book of emotion–at the age when one is supposed to be moving into a  settled wisdom, content understanding, indeed, enlightenment (Ithaca is continually voted by Utne Magazine  Most Enlightened City in the U.S., an oxymoron if I ever heard one)– I feel five. Selling Juice Detox down Charleville Street, just off Beverly, and wandering around Rodeo Drive–as A Former Something Looking For Some New Thing, (or a Chanel bag?) my  over-riding thought has been:  people look different here.  OK,  you don’t need to be a brain surgeon, plastic surgeon, or even juice girl to have observed that.  It’s a cliche and well known fact that the Body in Beverly Hills is  God-forsakenly good looking:  The Dick Tracy and Katherine Hepburn jaw lines,  the taut, tan skin, the blazing white teeth, the long, smooth hair, runaway runway legs, the tiny, gym-y butts. And those are just the dogs.IMG_0161

The M.O. of the body here is not as it is in Ithaca, where B. O. is OK because we just came from Bikram’s, and deodorant and perfume are For Republicans, and where being vegan isn’t about sex appeal, it’s Just What We Do in Our  Patagonia, Carharts, Smart Wools, and  Stiff Rubber Thigh High Boots (which are about actual snow actually encountered,  five months of the actual year).  And those are just the dogs.

These days, at the juice store I have to concentrate on thinking about the ingredients of Green Dream Vitality Smoothie  or the health benefits of goji  berries and maca in order to keep my jaw closed as the parade of bony svelties traipse in and out like a Vogue spread,  sloe-eyed and pony-tailed, carrying purses that cost what I make in many moons, wearing 7-inch heels that look like they were designed by Bosch if he’d been commissioned by Neiman Marcus. Another part of the style/ethos involves straps–leather ribbon-y things between fingers, over shoulders, and around thighs that make me think my customers just engaged in S & M  and forgot to or don’t see the point in taking off  gear before walking outside.   The naturalization of  strip tease performative sexuality should make the Ithaca Me blanch, and begin Judith Butler discoursing.  Instead, I am Blanch, coveting something that isn’t mine, wouldn’t be right…and, I’m too old to boot (the platform, pointy red suede boot.) But I love it, I want it,  I strain to smell it. A Juice Bar Named Desire.

“Good Morning! Bee Pollen with Serenity, right? Is your clutch Alexander McQueen?”

With the male customers I am more detached, since understanding them is not an option in City of Green Dreams, and I enjoy just standing next to guys I’ve seen in Hermes ads. (I already know what they look like in their underpants.)  I talk to them about de-toxifying (you and l know we’re talking intestines and colons. So, like–there I am talking colons with Mr. olive-skinned, marine-eyed Adonis in the ad with the boat and Gorgeous White Bikini but he looks like he’d rather be running with panthers, flying with Eagles. . .or, possibly talking Clean Colon with me.)

Amidst the world of physical uber-perfection,  I stand out. And firmly believe, in my quaint flat shoe-ed way that I am appreciated for not quite fitting in.  The Beautiful People of Beverly Hills often ask, “WHERE are you from?” which I take as a badge of honor, or something.   As for the dogs, their little tops are cuter than mine,  but in this hood, a well-timed spill of dehydrated Kale Chips solidifies most relationships.

Two final sartorial and physiognomical (nod to Henry James) observations, one specific, 0ne broad. To wit: 1) The Beverly Hills Crotch. They’re not like in Ithaca, or perhaps anywhere. The way these folks wear pants is just better. A treatment of some sort, right? The men? Things under the jeans seem to be holdng together neat, and arranged just so. Fearful symmetry, Blake said–about something else, but he was never in BH. The female package? Well, it’s just sort of all there in the ubiquitous black leggings/second skin lay-out. A look that is not my cup of tea (icky metaphor), but out here, that’s how it’s played from Kim Kardashian to Jodi Foster (saw them both in ten-day period) so call me crotchety crotch observer.

The show-it-all female Wicky Wangle leads, to wit:  2) What I Love About The Body in Los Angeles. It RULES. It Plays Dress Up in Over the Top Girl-ness and Boy-ness (in West Hollywood and elsewhere this does not correspond to one’s so called actual gender) and Acts Out. Full Disclosure: I’ve worn a dress at night that my mother would have labelled Cartoon Whore. Having worn mostly sensible academic clothes for the last twenty years (said mostly), I’ve earned a costume or two; it’s my mid-life crisis, and I’ll Wicky Wangle if I want to.

I feel about five. I dress about 20. Healthy Body Image? You betcha. You should see my colon these days.IMG_0208