Tag Archives: geography

Silent Night, Holy Mulholland

3 Jan

Happy 2015!

holiday door

If you have given me the honor of being a regular reader, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a long time. I kept trying to do so, coming up with cute, funny, or ironic phrases and ideas about how I was feeling, and what I was doing. But it didn’t work; I kept going to bed early, sleeping late, cancelling fun activities with friends. A yearly occurrence: worsening depression.

Bow on sidewalk

One wouldn’t be able to see it necessarily; because I’ve experienced clinical depression for so many decades I know how to cover it. (Close friends see it, damn them.)

Me with tree on head My depression isn’t so serious that anyone worries about me hurting myself, but I do take meds, and I do see a (GREAT) therapist once a week. Twice during the months of November and December.

The (GREAT) “holiday season” and I are not on good terms.

devil santa

‘Tis the anniversary of my parents’ deaths, and a time I feel particularly alone. Goody for me, I know: A LOT of people find Christmastime depressing–because it’s a consumerist GOB STOPPER, and because of intense pressure to have fun, love your family, and celebrate with grand gifts,  delicious food, festive parties.

The Christmas cards start piling up: everyone seems to be healthy and successful and wearing matching pajamas. As for me, I am feeling bad about 1) my book manuscript being rejected without so much as a word of explanation, 2) my professional identity being uncertain (no word of explanation there either),  and 3) my love life having fallen into a chasm of nothing, weirdness, and more nothing (would you believe no word of explanation?!). There’s also a 4), 5), and 6), but I’m even more tired of my woes than the dear ones who listen to me talk about them.

Manageable, of course, my troubles: I have food, a roof, and great friends. And yet the depression this year was bad.

Estes Park

A lot of days I accomplished nothing but showering, and even that task was arduous. If you have depression or love someone who does, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, please understand that depression is not being sad. It’s losing a sense of self.
shadow self

On the days when I could get out of my apartment, I saw some things that cheered me up. L.A. has a refreshing “take” on  December:

X-Mas colors:
palms with stockings

Honoring the historical Jesus:

Me with tree on head

Stockings on the mantle:

palms with stockings

Other times I saw displays that made me feel like crawling down Rodeo Drive on my hands and knees.

Christmas happpiness on Rodeo

The day I saw a homeless guy actually crawling down Rodeo I gave him a dollar and chastised myself for being a big fat whiner.

When depression hits, I feel like an alien watching the humans. (Not like Scarlett Johansson in “Under the Skin”;  she is, after all, getting her needs met. GO SJ!) When not feeling alien, I imagine myself  a snake that cannot slither out of a suffocating skin. Or a small animal trying to claw its way out of a sink hole. To no avail.

This year, my brilliant new shrink, and my brilliant old friends– dragging me out of the apartment–provided solace and some relief. So did…Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland with Fence

I can’t explain this exactly, but every time I set out on Mulholland Drive for my tutoring jobs in Studio City and Bel Air, I felt as if I were almost able to wriggle out of the tight scaly skin around my soul, as if someone had offered a hand that might pull my rodent self out of the sink hole.

Mulholland with light and road sign

A road. Curve after curve. On High.

Mulholland love 2Driving Mulholland, I feel airy, light, an eligible flyer.

The view is surreal: waves of soft hilly terrain, enormous ocean of sky, congregations of cacti.

mulholland drive cacti view

On Mulholland, being an alien seems OK; in that lofty and arid setting, what a human is “supposed to be” seems as distant as the mansions embedded in the landscape. (Does anyone really live there?)

Now that the holidays–with their happy shiny expectations–are no longer being piped through airwaves and media narratives, I’m feeling better. I hope, Dear Reader, that  you enjoyed November and December 2014 as much as possible, and have fun stuff to look forward to in 2015.

I also hope you have  a spot where you are surrounded by light, a place on earth that reminds you that we are tiny beings in a grand design, a location where you see yourself moving forward,  even when feeling  stuck, or lost.

shoes, sad

Or absent.

Mulholland love 3

A path. Ahead.

Las Vegas # 3 feet on the way home

For everything there is a season.


Gothically Beverly: Underbelly of The Hills

29 Aug


Gothic Bev THE SIGNGlorious weather, gorgeous youth (real or not), and gargantuan wealth.That’s what most Americans think of 90210, yes?

Mike's wedding fire and pool

Beverly Hills  has all that of course, but I’m continually struck by an elusive something dark  just around the corner of  Sunshiny Happyland. Something not happy or sunshiny or youthful. An element of… not evil (everybody knows that’s here!) exactly, but a strain of the Gothic. Something Mary Shelley would appreciate.

gothic car under wrapsAll the cars under wraps, for starters. A body-bagg-y thing.

And,  the preponderance of spikes:

Gothic Beverly ashy spikesThey’re everywhere.

Gothic Beverly spikesAs if this were not  just the land of the rich and beautiful, but also where the Munsters live.

Gothic Beverly  black spikes

And then the ubiquitous pruning style:

Trees Gothicly

Ed Gorey meets Ed Scissorhands! But despite a heavy-handed human approach, nature here will never be completely managed.

gothic tree roots

These roots speak to me of an underbelly in the Hills, a submerged thirst for the perverse and uncontrolled. It’s in the air too:

Gothically Beverly

And down certain streets:

gothis sidewalkAnd certain alleys:Toilets Gothicly

Ok, maybe I got carried away one day channeling Shelley, Gorey, Ken Russell, and David Lynch (and a little Faulkner). But check out this lawn and tell me you don’t feel the dark, stark, and eerie isolation of  the Hills:

gothic statue of liberty lawn

Told ya! What’s goin’ on in 90210?


Nothin’ to worry about. The Wives (and the Juice Lady) have it under control. It’s all healthy, wealthy, and wise here…IMG_0472

Most Days.

I bite Nicolle

Come vist, Dear Reader!

Happy Shiny Sunnyland awaits you!

IMG_0030(8) Everything is as it appears.



















The Hills Are Alive With The Sacred and Profane, Or: Healing and Hawking

1 Jul

Beverly Hills may be a real place but I have yet to be convinced. The kinds of things I see around me on a weekly basis seem like Greek tragedy, fairy tale, Fellini. And that’s just at my local Starbucks: A French couple, bone-thin and stylish, hiss at one another, arguing in bone-thin and stylish French, while their gorgeous fat baby, dressed in haute couture baby clothes, screams violently. The couple seems not to notice. A woman in her nineties clicks across the floor in high heels, a short sequined skirt, low-cut blouse, heavy make up. She smiles a yellow-toothed smile and is beautiful. A handsome, gay friend of mine walks in, surveys a group of young, bronzed, perfectly-cut gay men and says  “Look! The rubber version of young gay men.” Then the beautiful older woman asks me if I have a dollar.

Last week, I found myself, like Alice in Wonderland, at an estate in Bel Air, where I proceeded to hand out samples of juice. “DRINK ME,” I called out coquettishly to the assembled crowd. Well, maybe I didn’t do that. . .sometimes it’s hard to tell what I am or am not doing here. Perhaps I was standing behind my product, speaking in a chirpy but professional voice about the benefits of cold-pressed vegetable and fruit juice.
zen event me

The occasion was an event called “Zen Day In The Hills.” Actually I’ve left out part of the title because it’s the brand name of a supplement. Let’s call it “Alpha Armor.” So there I am at “Alpha Armor Zen Day In The Hills.” A gorgeous location:
zen event whole back yard

Me and my juice were wedged between a prim German woman–let’s call her Helga–selling miso paste, and a very loud and large man–let’s call him Hal–selling pendants with designs derived from “Sacred Geometry,” a subject  which Hal talked about during the afternoon. Wearing a sacred pendant, I learned, could provide “effortless three dimensional manifestation,” and “new heights of understanding and human conceptual liberation.” Hal quoted Plato: “The good, of course, is always beautiful, and the beautiful never lacks proportion.” I felt a twinge for poor Plato, at that moment rolling over in his grave. The pendants were sixty dollars, one hundred dollars with chain.

Entrance to “Alpha Armor Zen Day” cost forty-five dollars and for that one could enjoy lectures on varied and sundry topics: Astrological Predictions (I took notes on what she said about Leo’s next few weeks–love! money! spiritual peace and one-ness!), “Secret Alchemy,” “Letting Love and Prosperity Bloom” and so on. Three out of six of the speakers had the word “Celebrity” in their title, as in “Celebrity Vegan Body Builder,” or “Celebrity Life Coach and Sacred Henna Eyebrow Tint-er.” (I might have invented one of these.) There was also food and music.

zen event musicians

And mingling too, with like-minded seekers. Or at least seekers who were 98  percent alike: well-off, white, and I can say this but you can’t: lonely-looking middle-aged women. And of course services were available (for a fee): sound healing, energy massage, cell balance evaluation, Reiki, intuitive hypnotherapy.
zen event head scrub

For some reason the Thai Chi guy was the least popular of all the practitioners.
zen event tai chi guy alone
Maybe his lack of popularity had to do with his Un-Zen look. Other practitioners wore  flowy white clothing, but he looked like an insurance agent. Plus he wasn’t selling anything.

I wasn’t either, but was supplying juice samples–so I was popular. Which I enjoyed for about 4 hours. People-watching was fun; it was a hot sunny day with a hot free meal. (It surprised me that there the only vegetarian offering was a green salad. I’m very nominally a vegetarian, but it seemed to me that a Zen day shouldn’t involve eating animals.)

zen event my view of pation

About hour 5,  I admitted to Helga, I was  cranky. With the people who said “What is THIS?,” while fingering one bottle of juice after another. It said “JUICE” about a hundred places on my table. Ok, four places. And then “What is IN HERE?!” All the ingredients were listed in front of each bottle. “Anthrax!” I wanted to reply. And when, after taking four bottles earlier, one of the seekers came back and said,”Honey, Do you mind if I take just one more…?” I felt like swatting her hand and saying, “How much money do you make? Do you really NEED another free juice?” I hit my all time Zen Low when I heard a woman ask Hal about one of his sacred pendants, “What does this symbol mean?” and he replied “Uh…I don’t know about that one.” She bought it anyway.
zen event pretty pendants

Helga had heard my spiel on cold-pressed juice about 150 times, and she was willing to take over for fifteen minutes.  I left my post to wander around the property.
zen event view from

Beauty in many forms.

zen event second lady in red

zen event lady in red

(For some reason, there were a lot of Women In Red.)

On my way back I took a look in a garbage can.
zen event plastic in garbage
So much plastic. Nothing recycled. “ZEN DAY? ZEN, MY ASS,” I muttered under my breath. Helga had noticed the lack of recycling too, and she was irritated, tired, and ready to leave. Hal was selling sacred pendants hand over fist. Plato continued to roll in his grave. I got ready to go. Loading up my car with coolers and juice literature, I looked back and saw several folks dancing in the estate’s backyard, barefoot, scarves held over their head in out stretched arms. “You are too old for that shit”– again muttering (to them or to myself, I wasn’t sure.) Steering the Pruis out to Mulholland Drive, I looked around.
Mulholland drive


Like Alice I felt small and then large that afternoon, and had observed all kinds of characters. As if waking from a dream, or  watching the credits at the end of a Fellini film, I felt that my grip on reality has slipped away; the sacred and profane seemed  intertwined in a wondrous and disturbing geometry.

Mulholland houses sticking out

“What are we humans doing?” My third mutter of the day, and then my fourth: “Should I have bought a sacred pendant?” They were very pretty.

mulholland drive cacti view


The hills were singing, and the time had come for me to drive back to my little estate on Reeves.  Seeking, pendant-less, I still had a few bottles of juice in the cooler.

Secrets Of The Olympic Spa: Mugwort Pool, Salt Sauna, Sisterhood, My Tattoo

4 Apr

On the eve of my departure to L.A., Ithaca Elizabeth told me that I HAD to go to the Korean Olympic Spa in KoreaTown. “They scrub the bejeezus out of you. You come out like a new woman!” she extolled. The new woman part sounded good, but strangers in their underwear  scrubbing my entire naked body didn’t sound like one of the reasons I was going to L.A. Upon moving here, I met a second Elizabeth, and she ALSO told me that Olympic Spa was a Must Do. Two dear friends who don’t know each other with the same name telling me  to go to the Olympic Spa…it was a conspiracy, surely. Some secret Elizabeth society thing.


Olympia Spa

I do what I’m told, especially by the secret society folks. But I didn’t want to do it alone. So I had to wait for my former student Melissa to come to visit. She’s a few decades younger than I, took four of my classes, quite possibly admires and respects me. An easy mark. I pretended that I’d already been to the spa: “Oh it’s just heaven, they scrub the bejeezus out of you and you come out like a new woman.” Melissa was a bit worried about the hygiene  aspect. I reassured her, “It’s so clean. They bleach the bejeezus out of everything.” What did I know? One thing I did know: all clients are naked, all the time. No fuzzy bathrobes and slippers. Both Elizabeths had told me that. This had to be kept from Melissa; all that nudity might be just too weird for my fine young friend.

Melissa on bday

But when we walked in, she read the policy sign: Women Only, No one under 14, Swimsuits are not permitted.

“No swimsuits? But there are robes, right?”

Our names written down, and the fee was paid.

“Not really.”

Into the locker room we went. Suddenly I was nervous. Melissa and I were friends now, but once upon a time I had graded her papers, and she took notes while I talked about cultural representations of self. How would she respect me after we walked around naked together, dipping in and out spa pools? I am not ashamed of my body (well, most bits) but then again when you’re naked, you are naked. You don’t need to be a literature professor to know that means that you are naked. No one is thinking about that brilliant point you made about Emerson’s transparent eyeball when you are hoisting yourself indelicately out of the mugwort pond. Melissa and I solved the problem by just not looking at each other below the neck.

Well there we were, trying out the various versions of whirlpools and ponds in a dark steamy room with about forty other women. Women who were large, small, dark, light, hairy, shaved, old, young, in between, naked all. And believe it or not, after a few minutes I stopped judging. She’d be gorgeous if she worked on her core; she has the best breasts I’ve ever seen. . .my stupid little mind just stopped that shit. I felt a sisterhood. It wasn’t sexy the way men might imagine it. No one was being sexy. We were soaking. We were quiet.   Spa sisterhood.

I thought about  the female communing going on. Some mother daughter pairs, some friend pairs, a lot of women on their own, sitting next to other women on their own. Comfortable. Peaceful. I haven’t seen a lot of that. Much of the bonding LA women do is  about manicures, talking about men, shopping, shopping for men.

By contrast, male bonding. . .is rarely about appearance,  or women. Guys play or watch a sport together, right? Then there are  those secret male societies. . .the Masons, Skull and Bones, Bohemian Grove. There are rituals, there is networking, there is money, and  there is power. And at the super exclusive club-for-the-filthy-rich Bohemian Grove they pee on trees.

I was at Bohemian Grove once, as a guest obviously–“Ladies Day.” The men refrained from al fresco relief, but the networking and power and money were in evidence. Every conversation under those big old (peed on) Redwood trees seemed to have a message encoded in it–an  old boy “I got your back, and I got your balls heh-heh” kind of thing. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry. I was told not to write about it.

For Melissa and me, the nakedness seemed to signal the end of the Teacher/Student relationship and to welcome in the Friends, Naked configuration (we were still looking at each other neck-up, only). It came time to have the bejeezus scrubbed out of us, so we went to our separate scrub bed cubicles and lay down for the Scrub Ladies to do their thing. Dear Reader, if you’ve never been, you can’t quite imagine how great it is. You’re being treated like a baby, handled and tossed about with care, like a little naked person who doesn’t know what’s good for her. Who can only lie there and be scrubbed and turned over and scrubbed again. And then there is the head massage. It’s about as close as I’ve come to serenity.

Forty minutes later, we met in the salt sauna, dazed and blissed out.

“THAT was FANTASTIC, Melissa breathed.

“Yeeeaaaaaaah,” I breathed back.

“I like your tattoo,” she said, something I never thought I’d have heard from the mouth of that sweet Freshman I met in Intro to American Literature several years back. Especially since I don’t have a tattoo.

“What?!” I squawked.

“Wait, weren’t you lying in the next cubicle? Wasn’t that you?”

“No. I was in cubicle at the very end.”

“So you don’t have a heart tattoo on your ass?”

I  looked at her with my You-Didn’t-Do-The-Reading Professor glare.

“Oh! Is that why you weren’t answering me while I talked to you! That woman looked like you from behind. She had a tattoo.”

“OK, I know we’re friends now, but Melissa, I am NOT  your friend with a heart tattoo  on her ass.”

“Right. Got it.”

“If I had a tattoo, it would be a quote from Dorothy Parker, for God’s sake.”

We crawled out of the sauna and drank some herbal tea and shared seaweed soup. Spa Sisterhood.

Nods to the Elizabeths and their secret society. I’ll bet they have matching tattoos.

Please share an unusual bonding story!?  That came out wrong–keep it clean, folks, this is family de-tox show.



LA LA LA: Love Affair with LA LA LAND continues!

26 Feb

A year, and I’m still in love–requited? Who knows. But LA LA Land has been pretty good to me around this one-year anniversary. I got a story-telling gig, some new floral arranging customers, and now I’m blogging at the juice bar (as well as continuing to peddle the green stuff in Beverly Hills). I’m now Kirsten at Kreation@wordpress. If anyone asks, my Ph.D. was in nutrition.

This blog is a visual love poem to my newfound home. Entirely family-friendly visuals. (Never fear, Dear Reader, raunchy porn poem to follow! )  Let me start here:

IMG_0069-2This is the roof of the Thompson hotel; it’s a block away. I sneak into the hotel as if I belong there, sit by the pool or in a cabana and watch young beautiful people talk about “treatments”–both kinds, face stuff and screenplay stuff, and appreciate the fact that as a middle-aged woman I don’t feel the need to pose. Treatments, shreatments.

I love this  low-key monument in downtown LA:


The history! The schmistry! The 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s early 70’s are alive and well (sort of well). Driving around LA, I feel like I’m on a tour of  post-Fordian to early-social-revolution Urban American life.
Oasis Motel

Try looking at this and not singing a Burt Bachrach song:

car washIf that didn’t work, this’ll getcha:

playboy officerI do like glamour (and tolerate some retarded notions about femininity.) I like that  last week, a TV show was being filmed TV on my block.

No park filmingThey begged me to play the role of the Woman In Transition but I had to get to the juice store.

I love that LA has several Kosher Mexican restaurants. My fav:

mexikosherI love LA’s  plant life. And lack of irony.


IMG_1823(The first image is what I see out of my window when I write.)

I love that people wear what they want, do what they want, and look you in the eye and say “Nice handbag!” Or they look you in the handbag and say “Nice eyes!”

I’ve come out of a shell here and feel like there’s a certain there here, a kind of home where no one blinks an eye at my amalgam of identities: ex-academic, juice girl, fashionista wannabe, writer, adoring mother, floral arranger, Jon Hamm stalker (don’t tell him–I’m getting SO close.)

IMG_0892This city  holds me rapt with its kooky worldliness,with its beauty–natural and unworldly.

IMG_1795 Dear Reader? Tell me what makes your home, your home.

Over the 405 and Through Security To Ex-Stepmother’s House We Go

2 Dec

Noah at LAXIt’s been a long time since Noah and I have had a “normal” family holiday. Our family’s not normal. So suffice to say, it made sense to us to travel from Los Angeles to West Fairlee, Vermont for five days for Thanksgiving to visit my ex-stepmother, and Noah’s dad and stepmom. Family is as family does, and ours–does. Some things but not others. Like all families, normal or otherwise.

Fourteen hours after leaving LAX, we drove into Cleo’s driveway. Four decades ago, for four years, Cleo was married to my dad. She and I have been in close touch ever since–through her second marriage, her adopting her son (my brother!) Chris, my marriages and divorces, Noah’s arrival, and a lot of people dear to us dying. Noah and I climbed out of the rental car, and  crunched over the yard into her farmhouse kitchen. She had chicken and potatoes and pie in the oven. We stayed up talking until 2 am.

Cleo at T-GivingThis is Cleo remembering a kiss from Derrida. If you’re not familiar with the name, look up French Theorist Anyone Would Have Been Thrilled to Be Kissed By.

Next morning I woke up looking out the window at snow, ice, fur trees. Dorothy not in Beverly Hills anymore. Noah was downstairs, wide-eyed at the weather, and a Pendleton hat someone had at left at Cleo’s. She gave it to him.

Noah and Mom on Cleo's porch

We walked around outside.  Cleo lives right next to the West Fairlee Church. 19th- century. Stunning. A treasure of the community.

Fairlee church

Also, I got married there. Some time ago. Marriage didn’t work out but as you can see, God had nothing to do with that. The humans failed.  Noah strung up the lights for the coming Sunday service. Noah believes in God, one of the many cool things about my son. Not attached to a particular religion though. One of the many cool things. . .

Fairlee LakeDriving into town, we passed dark, delicious Fairlee lake. I’ve been swimming there since I was 12, Noah since he was 2. We played the “remember when” game: “Remember when we played tennis there, and got kicked off the courts because it was private?” (yup.) “Remember when. . .” We also talked about the future: “Do you have a plan, Mom?” (kinda.)

Then we got to Fairlee Center and went into Chapman’s–one of my favorite stores *anywhere*. Ike, the Counter Cat, was in his usual place:

Counter Cat

The counter. Next to the counter we found a singularly New England treat. (Like poi bowls at the Santa Monica Beach.)

turkey jerkyThey don’t have these cases of jerky at my Beverly Hills Whole Foods.  Newly vegetarian, I turned up my nose, while my mouth watered. Next stop the Fairlee Diner, a locale about as Vermont as you can get. Nothing without butter, ham,  syrup.

Fairlee Diner(Spot my cane?) We drove then to Hanover to shop at the Co Op. And then I looked all over town for a menorah because this year the first day of Chanukah fell on the same day as T-Giving. SO. . . I knew Hanover was WASPY, but the one and only menorah available was in a craft store and cost two hundred dollars!

It was time to return to Cleo’s and welcome our friends Mary and Jeff–who drove from New Paltz, NY, to spend the holiday with us. Mary is a kind of aunt to Noah, and he  a kind of nephew.


Noah spent the evening with his dad and stepmom who had driven from Ithaca to see him.  Jeff and Cleo talked solidly for hours because–as it turned out–they wrote about very similar theological issues. (Derrida, Death, and  Tao was all I could glean. And that Jeff had not been kissed by Derrida, but he was cool with that.) Mary, meanwhile,Mary making menorah got busy making a menorah for Chanukah. Look what the shiksa from Texas made with slate, pine–and, of course, play dough:menorahA fine addition for Mary’s resume. (AND NOW AVAILABLE IN CRAFT STORES EVERYWHERE FOR TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS.)

That night I slept the way one does in the cold,  dark, and safe, and then it was Thanksgiving.

Noah making beetsWe had many many dishes of various kinds; this is the beet man with his yellow and red stir fry. I made up a fennel and parm and olive thing that I would marry if I could and will probably never be able to duplicate. Sweet holiday moments. Not meant for replication.

T-Giving, Noah, Mary, Mom

Only once did I get into my cups and say silly self-pitying things. I found everyone lovely, and everyone seemed to tolerate me.  Even though she was under the weather, Mary cooked amazing dishes, cleaned, and made the now legendary menorah.  Cleo made everyone feel special and loved. Jeff fit into this brand new scene with people he’d never met like a real mensch. Deecie, Cleo’s sister, brought pie and belated birthday presents for me. (BIG THANK YOU, DEECIE). Noah was the best Noah ever.

And when it took us over twenty hours (two out of three flights were delayed) to get home, he just kept laughing. Especially when we got into the cab at LAX and the radio was playing “Jingle Bell Rock.” Tears were rolling down his cheeks. The absurdity of the traveling mishegas,  of the wintery song in the midst of a warm night with the windows rolled down,  palm trees bursting in air, had him pretty tickled. But perhaps it was also relief. We made it! We made a slightly crazy trip for a holiday with our not normal family. We. Made. It.

There’s been a lot of recovery this year, for which I am very thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Reader!


 Sandalled feet in BHAs my mother used to say after every trip, “Home Again, Home Again, jiggity jig.”  The next morning, back in sandals and with the sun beaming on my face, I walked around the corner to get coffee. Noah was in my apartment, registering on-line for the coming semester. The tailor and the post-woman both shouted out, “How’s the hip?!” I was without my cane. “I went to Vermont,” I answered nonsensically.

There’s no place like home: This one, that one. The other.

IMG_1459 A bedroom window

IMG_1339holds you in its frame. A view of where you’ve been, are, or will be. Home again, home again.

Home: The Last Place On Earth

8 Feb

arrived in LANic and me  arrival in LAUnlike my other overnight stops, for Flagstaff, I actually made a reservation.  The Hotel Monte Vista, built in the 1920’s with funds provided by, among others, Zane Grey. Once the main speakeasy in town, and still the tallest building in Flagstaff (not saying much), Hotel Monte Vista was dark and kitsch-raunchy inside; the lobby had an aged, sexy aura: murals of deserts on the walls and gold tassels twirling from heavy drapery.  It smelled like gin and sauerkraut and Emeraude perfume. Sixty two dollars a night. Mine was the Bob Hope Room–back in the day he’d stayed there, as had Bing Crosby, Esther Williams, Spencer Tracy, Jane Russell, and other glamorous ghosts from a bygone era. It was painted midnight blue and had spare furniture, a sitting chair that looked tired of being sat on, and a chest of drawers from the fifties. Haunted for sure.  That’s one of my favorite qualities in a room on the road–an occupying  spirit  that’s not just some homebody,  but the kind of ghost that appreciates  historic hotels.

The tiny restaurant/ bar reminded me of The Shining–no one there looked like they were from the 21st-century. Food service had just ended, so I went to Pita Pit, bought some  local cuisine, and brought it back to the lobby. Then I had a glass of wine at the bar and flirted wildly with the young,  Swedish bartender. Too young, not my type, not a cowboy, and not named Casey, but I’d been on the road for six days and five nights and a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.  Usually I  flirt with a stranger every third day, so it was high time.  When it looked like he might actually join me for a drink after he got off work, I high-tailed it back to the safety of the haunted Bob Hope room. Had dreams of driving and driving and never getting where I was going. About 3 am,  the bathroom door creaked and opened  a few inches on its own.  “L.A., L.A., L. A., L.A.,” I said to the ghost, as if the incantation might simultaneously make friends and ward it off.

In the morning, it had snowed.  “L.A., L.A, L.A., L. A.,” I said, gazing out the window.  But the snow didn’t make friends or go away. Natasha texted me, “GET OVER HERE.”  It snowed for an hour on my way out of Arizona. It was the last leg, over five hundred miles.  “Lord I’m one, lord I’m two, . . .Lord I’m five hundred miles away from home,” I sang. The first song I learned to play on the guitar.  My mom closed her bedroom door when I practiced. Now, I could feel her presence– Audrey the Intrepid Traveler, and all around Tough Cookie. She was the first divorced woman most of my friends knew.

The summer of my twelfth birthday she took four of  us camping in the Indiana dunes. After dark, we drove to the empty beach parking  lot and the four of us scrambled across the sand, threw off our clothes, and screamed into Lake Michigan. From the cold waves, I could see her cigarette ember; she was sitting on a towel close by.  Shortly it was joined by a flashlight aimed at us, and a stern man’s voice. “GET OUT OF THE WATER. THE BEACH IS CLOSED.”  His beam scanned our bobbing heads.

“Point that somewhere else. They don’t have clothes on; they’re girls.” My mother’s voice said firmly.  We got out, our teeth chattering, and quickly wrapped ourselves in towels. Though the park ranger had pointed his light away from us, I noticed that out of of all of us I seemed to be the one with the least to show for being pubescent. I was a girl; they were something else. My mother herded us to the parking lot and into the red Opel, waved goodbye to the ranger, and cackled: “Well, we made his night.”

As I traveled from snow-covered mountain forest to the black, lunar landscape of the Mojave Desert, I felt Audrey, driving that tin car of a car, cigarette in hand, seat belt-less, ready for anything. Haunted by my mother, I am. Haunted as in: Can’t let go of her, so I  keep her memory up my sleeve, pretending  she can see me, living my life, driving in the Mojave. Actually, I’m probably haunting her. She may well  prefer to be left alone to do Dead People Stuff.

There are no billboards in the Mojave.  There is, in the Mojave:  little vegetation, no gas stations,  few cars, a few horses with no names. . .mostly just ashy volcanic rock and a sky that beckons one to disappear inside. In fact, I thought I might already have, unbeknownst to me, died. And gone to the Mojave. Death Valley was near. Acutely, I felt not only Audrey’s  spirit but others’ too, though I didn’t recognize them. The dead are alive and well, roaming, living large in the Mojave.  I felt God too. There are no signs proclaiming things about God because, Duh, God rules the Mojave.

I wanted to stay with this. And then saw myself there for eternity:  Me, Mom,  God forever. I couldn’t do it.  God, no–Oh, sorry God,  just please get me out of this godforsaken–no I don’t mean that–place. Can I meet you again, somewhere else? Rodeo Drive, they need you there, surely?  I will become a better person, God, just let me do it in Beverly Hills. 

Then there were little towns,  bigger towns, and billboards and gas stations and malls and other signs of human life and mortality.  My chosen path. And then my road became a four lane highway and intersected with other highways, and then there was a sign for Santa Monica Boulevard. Tunelessly I shrieked ” All I wanna do is have some fun/I got a feeling I’m not the only one/All I wanna do is have some fun/Until the sun comes up on Santa Monica Boulevard.” Thank you, God. Clearly I was indeed not the only one wanting fun; for an hour and a half I sat in traffic. Finally, I careened into Beverly Hills.  I parked in front of my new apartment, where Natasha also lived.  In the window, she was looking at her cell phone, dark hair in her face.  I tapped the window.

When our screaming subsided, she directed me to a lot where I parked my fearless companion, my Prius, my Prince. She ushered me into her apartment, a mirror of mine, and we screamed again.  Then she poured champagne and handed me a plate of cheese made without milk and crackers made of sprouted something, never baked. Raw food made by the woman with whom I used to scarf pizzas and burgers and Cheetos. I screamed with delight (her food really did rock).

Out came the yearbooks. Our photos:  ridiculous hair and attempts at knowing smiles. I read what I’d written in ninth grade–about our “amazing, crazy year” and certain boys who were referred to with initials, and how we’d be friends “forever.” More screaming.We’d actually lost touch for a decade here and there. As Natasha put me to bed on her couch, it was all I could do to mutter, “Whodathunk it, Nat?” “Not me,” she replied, on the way to the bathroom, with that familiar hair toss.

I feel so at home. So far from home. It had been a while since I knew where or what home was, and I was haunted by the idea of it. Or maybe it was me who was haunting home, searching for it, demanding its attention. Natasha turned off the lights. She had to get up at 6:30 for culinary school.

There are nights when something creaks, and seems to move by itself in the dark. And there are nights when, sleepless,  I creak, and then rearrange something–a chair, say,  to see if that is where it belongs. I had arrived in L.A., made it through snow, almost no gas, great beauty, desolation, desert, great beauty, snow, desert, traffic, self doubt, spiritual renewal and vaguely profound and mind bogglingly stupid thoughts. I made it.

My eyes were watching. What I didn’t know, but they were open.  And my ghosts were close, right where they belonged.