“I would come to learn, slowly, is that community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none. Knowing others and being known; investing in somewhere instead of trying to be everywhere. Communities are built, like Legos, one brick at a time. There’s no hack.” — Jenny Anderson
I miss Korea sometimes. In the winter, I miss the heated floors. On elevators I miss being able to change my mind and press a button to reverse it. But mostly I miss my Korea friend squad.
Everywhere I’ve lived, the key measure of whether a place felt like home was the people, and the sense of community we created, together.
To that end, Austin feels homiest. And Los Angeles came to feel like home almost instantly. I have the ride-or-die kind of friends here, dating back as early as high school, plus newer friends from the school community and work friends that are among the most creative and hilarious talents at NPR.
Recently Friend Janet and I spent a late Friday night at a Korean spa (these places are open 24 hours), and I thought, wow, I’ve got a little Korea right here in LA, with a pal that had no qualms about sitting around naked together for several hours. Home!
Today in my exercise class I made my first porn star friend. This came after a surreal Saturday night at a premiere and Q&A to celebrate IDRIS ELBA (who is even more dreamy in person). Earlier that day, I hung out with a mom friend who is a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger-turned-cosmetics-entrepreneur. So I think this is about as cliche LA as I am going to get.
My new friend the porn actress was a research scientist in her previous life. She is now really focused on trying to be a voice for women in porn and is even starting to direct, largely so she can make some stuff that’s “less obviously made for the male gaze.”
I asked her if she prefers the term “adult film star,” as Stormy Daniels is sometimes labeled, but she goes, “Well, adult films are porn, so I don’t care.” I also asked her what question she gets most often when she’s recognized and invariably it’s, “How does your husband feel about this?” which is, incidentally, VERY MALE GAZEY so, ugh.
All I need now is for Eva to come home with a copy of Dianetics and I think we will have hit peak LA.
The O.J. Simpson spectacle is the defining news story of my childhood, a series of events so indelible in my mind that I still recall even the minor characters, like Faye Resnick (Nicole’s friend) and Dennis Fung (one of the investigators accused of mishandling the crime scene).
I remember where I was when Al Cowlings led police on the white Bronco chase. I remember where I was when Judge Lance Ito asked for the trial verdict heard ’round the world — in school, in a class called “Academic Stretch,” where a television was wheeled in on a cart so we could watch the conclusion of a trial that had been televised every single day.
The O.J. story is American history, one I experienced by virtue of being a middle school student exposed to television in the 90s. Because it happened during formative years, it’s remained a constant current in my consciousness, irrespective of the recent film/TVreboots. Friend Sarah, with whom I’ve gone on some eight vacations since we met in 2015, once pointed out there isn’t a time we get together in which I don’t somehow bring up O.J. Simpson.
Now I live in LA, so for my first birthday as an Angeleno, my husband got me…THE O.J. TOUR, where you’re driven to the victims’ homes and OJ’s stops on the night of June 12, 1994, when his ex-wife and waiter Ron Goldman were brutally knifed to death in front of his wife’s condo. The tour is run by Adam, who grew up in the area and went to grade school with O.J.’s son, Justin Simpson. Adam picked us up in a 1994 white Ford Bronco (natch) and leads the tour with precision and speed, stopping only for questions at the very end.
“This was not my aspiration,” he says, of his O.J. tour. “I was not like, this is gonna be a small business one day.” But interest in this case is enough to keep it going.
You can take the tour during the day or at night, but Adam recommends the night option, “Because that’s when all the crime happened.” It starts and ends at a McDonald’s in Santa Monica where O.J. and Kato Kaelin grabbed food just before the killings, according to the prosecutor’s timeline. (O.J. ordered a Big Mac. Kato got a takeout grilled chicken sandwich, which he planned to eat from O.J.’s guest house while watching The Larry Sanders Show on HBO.)
“Whatever you think about the verdict, O.J. is a wife beater at least,” Adam says, as we cross San Vicente Blvd., a dividing line between Santa Monica and Brentwood.
The school where O.J. and Nicole’s daughter Sydney had her dance recital, which the whole family and grandparents attended
Waiter and victim Ron Goldman’s apartment (still exists, completely bro who waved at us from his window)
Nicole’s place on Gretna Green, where she first moved when she separated from O.J.
Nicole’s place on Bundy, where she and Ron were slashed to death (doesn’t exist in the same form but there is still some of that Spanish tile that was in the crime scene photos)
The alley behind it where O.J. is believed to have parked during the double murder
O.J.’s house on Rockingham (torn down in 1997, but you can still visit the lot which is now behind tall hedges)
The site of the long-closed Mezzaluna, the restaurant where Ron worked and Nicole ate her last meal (she had rigatoni). We learned of rumors Mezzaluna was a drug front because another waiter who worked at the restaurant was also killed in years following Ron Goldman’s death, coincidentally.
The best part of the tour is when Adam wrapped everything up at the end, telling us about the time a Danish school teacher booked the tour for his thirty students. Adam chartered a bus to take them around and asked the teacher why he was so interested in the O.J. case.
“Oh I teach a whole unit on it,” the Dane said. “It’s the perfect introduction to America. It has race, police, celebrities, sports, crime, the media, the legal system, the freeway, McDonald’s. Everything about America, distilled into one story.”
Endnote: In the car on the way to the tour starting point, Matty proposed a self-amusement mess-around scheme: “Do you want to pretend we’re from Arkansas and act like we don’t know anything about this case?” Good thing I forgot about it when we got on the tour, because that was when a third eager O.J. tourist joined us and hopped into the Bronco. I introduced myself, asked him if he lived in town and he goes, “No, I’m visiting from Arkansas,” in the deepest drawl I’ve heard in years.
Moving my things from South Korea, a separate shipment from Washington, DC, and a stash of my parents stuff from their old place in St. Louis into my smallest house ever, here in LA, was too much for me to handle in September. So I left a bunch of boxes unpacked and piled up in my garage. I made a New Year’s Resolution to finally go through those things and couldn’t face it on my own, so I hired a professional organizer, Mishele, to do it with me.
She was fantastic and now that our three hours together are complete, I feel fantastic. The garage is sorted.
Most of the stuff that’s staying is memorabilia, like my twenty years of handwritten journals recorded between age six and 26 (I was a weird kid/am a weird person), all my parents art that will soon go down to Orange County where they have bought a new condo as a US home base, and my husband Matty’s old stuff, like his YEARBOOKS. (This was a particularly exciting discovery for me given how yearbooks seem to keep getting old white guys in trouble.) I found nothing incriminating in Stiles’s yearbooks but a girl named Mandy did sign his 1994 edition saying “If you don’t take me to Legends of the Fall I am going to beat the shit out of you” which, c’mon, Legends of the Fall was a snooze, let’s not assault anyone over it.
Mishele works with a lot of hoarders and said that in her business I am considered a “normie,” as in, a standard issue disorganized person and not someone with deeper attachments or psychological reasons for having a bunch of stuff. As it turns out I didn’t have that much stuff, even, I was just putting off dealing with it. Anyway it’s done.
Ridiculous items I have been suckered into purchasing like bottles of tequila with our faces on them have been Marie Kondo-ed out of my life, and I will remember to stop making impulse purchases henceforth.
The joke goes that for the New York Times to consider something a trend, all it takes is three instances. I don’t know how many times it takes to make a tradition but after Friend Matt dropped down to Costa Rica for one night for my 30th, and I went to Las Vegas for one night for his 29th, I suppose it became a fun trend/tradition/trendition(?) to skip town for a night for one of our birthdays. This time we’re all older, as Young Matt’s already 35.
Popping up to a SF party from LA was a snap compared to the time Eva was 10-weeks old and I’d leak milk if I wasn’t near enough to feed her but Friend Liz and I still spontaneously flew across the country for for the Vegas shindig. There was a moment at the club at 2am when I yelled over the music to Liz, “WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE OR ELSE I WILL HAVE TO PUMP IN THE BATHROOM OF TAO.”
Matt has collected an eclectic bunch of high-achieving friends in his 35 years. Being San Francisco, a lot of them work in fields like venture capital or tech or finance. A few of his friends are actors. So there’s a certain amount of posturing at these parties, but the posturing is more merry and less irritating than it is in DC. (If I never go to another book party where everyone I talk to is looking over my shoulder to find someone cooler to talk to, I will be just fine.)
For Friend Erin and me, the crowded soiree became an experiment in trying to learn interesting things about a string of strangers as quickly as possible because there were a lot of awesome people to squeeze in. An incomplete list of them, by the shorthand names we gave them:
The scuba-diving neuroscientist
The “lesbian” who’s actually not a lesbian
Something about robot waiters
(Not) Tom from MySpace
Lawyer who rode a horse that was on The Bachelor
97.9 percent back-in-the investment guy
Dude who runs a high tech circus: “It’s a micro-amusement park”
My high point was probably when we started talking to a guy with a British accent and I wasn’t sure if he was faking it, so I decided to fake a British accent in case he WAS trying to mess with me. This went on, an absurd conversation in a British accent, until he proved he was actually British and I had to give up. He was impressed I used the term “lorry” though.
Anyway. San Francisco is special because I got to squeeze in one-on-one time with people who have known me for 20+ years. Not one but BOTH high school besties — Erin and Wade — now work and live there with their respective husbands. So does my old Plano Senior High School golf teammate, Chris, who I later became closer with, in college. “I’m playing the best golf of my life these days,” he reports. “I could join the tour. I think it’s because I stopped giving a damn.”
Erin and I partying together again marked maybe the thousandth-or-so party we attended together since we first met in 9th grade. Being from Texas, those parties involved a lot Taco Cabana, Aaliyah music and dark fields with kegs in the backs of pickup trucks. And for some reason we saw Sister Hazel live three times in high school, even though they really only had that one hit song.
“Finally I figured out, but it took a long long tiiiiiime….”
“If nothing else, the routine of aspiration, disappointment, and rebirth gives him a sense of purpose. There is an essential reward in the circular struggle to create a better self, even if…we’re making up that better self as we go along.” —John Teti
When I reviewed how I did with last year’s intentions, I questioned whether I should even keep doing new year’s resolutions. I mean, so many hopes at the start of the year went by the wayside almost faster than I could say “Oh it’s February!”
We are nothing without some measure of hope, however, so here I am with a list of resolutions again.
Take a daily vitamin
This isn’t hard, but I still don’t do it. Having to put down any pill on the regular is a big mental block for me that must have something to do with my father being a pharmacist. You know how the rap on preacher’s kids is that they rebel? Well, pharmacist kids rebel by being anti-drug, I guess.
Get organized, aka, finish moving
There is still a garage full of boxes from the move that have yet to be dealt with, and this is what I’m tasking an organizer with once I hire one. Very excited to do this. If you’re interested, there is a whole association of professional organizers who can come and make sense of your stuff.
For a good six years, I was almost nonstop giving myself over — literally — to other humans. No joke, between January 2012 and March 2018 I was either a) pregnant or b) nursing. During that time we also moved internationally, opened a new bureau, covered three countries with dominant languages I didn’t understand and criss-crossed East and Southeast Asia to chase the news. So often I felt disconnected from myself because I was just constantly onto what’s next, what’s next, what’s next. Now that I’m integrated again and in sunny California, I don’t even KNOW what I want to do next. So I shall devote time to being still and meditating so I can hear myself better.
Learn to surf
Also file under: I live in Southern California now! Friend Nate at work has a live cam on his second monitor of all the beaches nearby so that when he sees really good surf he can escape early to hit the waves. I would really like to join him.
Learn to play the ukulele
We got Eva a ukulele for Christmas, which I am more into than she is, so I’m going to go ahead and teach myself by watching YouTube instructional videos and THEN teach Eva. I think this is doable, but then again I always think resolutions are doable at the beginning of the year.
Blog at least four times a month
I’m glad this self-hosted blog is still around since letting Facebook “connect the world” or whatever has proven so pernicious. Last year my goal was five posts a month, which I only did for four months of the year. So I’m lowering the bar in hopes of actually passing it.
If you have any resolutions of your own that might be worth adding, leave them in the comments. And look, if things don’t get to a great start in 2019 we have about a month to screw up until we can claim the Lunar New Year as a fresher fresh start.
Today I went to Paradise, California, where search and rescue teams are accompanied by cadaver dogs, sifting through what’s left of homes and businesses. Wildfires, like tornadoes, act capriciously. Two houses on one side of a street look untouched, while across the street there’s nothing left but mangled metal and ash. Overall Paradise is just one giant scene of devastation, though. Up close you can see what remains of a lot of kitchens, because the ovens are still kind of around, and occasionally items survived, like couple of ceramic mugs. I spotted a yellow bumble bee mug because it was the only shock of color among so much white and gray.
Every survivor you talk to tells a harrowing story. A lot of them seem sanguine when they say to me, “Home’s gone. All gone.” They note the tunnel of fire, or a ring of fire that they drove through to escape down. They tell me about cars exploding behind them. The traffic as they tried to get out. The lone evacuees on the side of the street with their dogs that they encouraged to jump onto the beds of their pickups. Their neighbors running — running — from the heat and flames. To imagine that night is to imagine hell. And somehow so many people actually made it out alive.
Last week, in the first days of the fire, I was in Boston hosting Here and Now, our national program that originates from WBUR. I was in the comfort of a studio, talking with people from Butte County over a phone connection. We could all hear the weariness in their voices. The reporter in me thought, what am I doing in a studio? I have to be there.
I eventually made it here 10 days after the flames first raged. It took me awhile because I had fill-in hosting duty for a podcast, too. Last night the camaraderie and connection was clear for the three of us who were here for NPR: We are all former foreign correspondents who had been in the muck and wanted to be here. For Kelly and Leila, who both lived so long in the Middle East — they’d seen so many towns felled by armies and saw the parallels. “Parts of Paradise look like Fallujah,” Leila said to me. This is the kind of story that had it happened overseas, we’d probably be there for weeks.
This is California’s most destructive and deadly fire yet, but this is also part of a much larger story about climate change and its refugees. It’s a migration story. And it’ll continue.
Two shipments of hundreds of boxes were involved: one from DC, which was from the storage unit I hadn’t seen since early 2015, and another from the shipping container that came over from Korea. Now both are finally, finally here in Los Angeles.
(Have you noticed that Los Angeles is pronounced frighteningly incorrectly? How do native Spanish speakers deal with this? As a running joke my colleague at NPR West and I keep over-pronouncing it Lohs Anhuhlays just to amuse ourselves.)
The Korea stuff was packed in matching boxes but the boxes have a real stench to them and I want them out of my house but that would require me going through the remaining boxes that the movers didn’t unpack. And I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to write this post.
Some things that happened:
I went to DC to oversee the storage unit move but got lost inside the rows and rows of storage units. Things got so desperate I even picked up one of those emergency phones to alert someone for help but NO ONE WAS ON THE OTHER END. Eventually I figured things out but then I couldn’t unlock the combo lock I put on there so I had to get the lock axed off. Finally inside the unit, I found some pure gold, like the ad from that time I advertised juniors clothes for the PX circular (the equivalent of the Target or Walmart on American military bases around the world) wearing a DISCMAN, yes a discman.
Sitting around at bars in DC I overheard conversations about:
How sound bites are rigged against the speaker because of the way their words are cut
Note: No one here in West LA seems to know what NPR is and I kind of like it.
My children are going through a lot of transition and I’m so proud of them. The oldest one and the middle one are both in school now, and both are awesome schools but they each have so many events and social activities that I feel it’s really cramping my social activity flexibility. Thank goodness I have ride-or-die pals here in the area for the following emergencies so far:
Low blood sugar, weepy and longing for a home-cooked Indian meal on my move day, which Raina brought over in the middle of her work day
Needing to drink and ponder life’s great mysteries on short notice
Last-minute tonkotsu ramen fixes
I didn’t notice these were all food/bev emergencies until I jotted them down just now.
My days are being dominated by school drop offs and pick ups that require driving, finding street parking, parking and then walking a child onto campus before being able to say goodbye (as opposed to our door-to-door bus service we had in Korea in which the girls were just carried off and dropped off from the high rise).
We can’t find anything. Half of my conversations with Matt Stiles are “Have you seen my X” and trying to maintain some semblance of civility with one another but really wanting to knife each other since there are box cutters everywhere but not really but kind of really because moving sucks.