That One Time At Lawrence Welk’s House

A cozy salon with Manohla Dargis, with blue-hued vistas of Los Angeles behind her. “It looks like the LA of a Michael Mann movie,” she said.

In the megalopolises of Asia, experiences are often marked by their scale — a health scare happening in a “small town of two million people,” or how one protest can draw 300,000 into the streets on short notice.

In Los Angeles, experiences are marked by the random intersections of cultural touchstones: That book party on Sunset to talk foreign policy, featuring the Obama national security guy and some former spies, which was at a clubby Soho House because Ron Burkle owns it. Or last night’s salon for NYT film critic Manohla Dargis at Lawrence Welk’s sprawling former home where an Indian-American musician entertained during cocktail hour by playing “Old Town Road” on the sitar. (That song lineup, which included sitar arrangements for A-ha, and Coldplay, and Marvin Gaye, was wholly delightful but Old Town Road marked the high point, IMHO.)

This was so dope.

Also all the caterers were clearly male models, which a Swiss one admitted when I confronted him over his serving platter of mini chicken and waffles about how ostentatiously good-looking the bar and waitstaff was. I mean, it was almost obscene to have all that bone structure tending bar.

I grew up only coming to know Southern California from the movies and TV, so living here in real life is a mix of recognition and surprise. Almost a year in, I really just love it. Not because of the randomness of the parties but primarily because it’s a place of many cultures, many peoples — and they meet-up and mix-up in interesting ways.

When LA campaigned for the Olympics, the organizers talked about it as “the Northern-most city in Latin America and also the capital of the Pacific Rim” — LA is how America faces outward and into the future rather than inward and back.

Friend Liz now comes to mock me when I say I feel like my soul was always here and now my body just caught up, but I mean it! I am feeling more at home here than anywhere else I’ve lived, and it’s taken such a short time, thanks to the weather (I am perpetually high on vitamin D) and the way the place embraces its cultural quirks and collisions. How nice for a place to be so many things, and to encourage that its people be so many things, too.

California … Knows How To Work You

I’ve been all over California this month — work trips to San Francisco and San Diego, shooting the video series and hosting It’s Been a Minute episodes from both places, and made it to Palm Springs for the first time for spring break with the family.

Humans helped act as reflector stands for us. That’s video producer Kara Frame there, on the right.

The new series has a name, Future You with Elise Hu, and we’ve been heads down on getting the first two episodes ready for an early May release. We also need to get ahead of ourselves in filming them, so this week a crew from DC came out to work with me on Venice Beach, and then we all went to San Francisco together for a harried schedule of more interviewing and filming.

Lots of bright sides: The DC ladies got to thaw out (because apparently it’s still cold out East), and I got to have my collaborators with me in person, instead of over the video chats we do all the time.

These ladies were producing me for video and radio. L to R, Beck Harlan, me, Kara Frame, Anjuli Sastry.

What else do I have to say about April? I potty trained Luna using the Potty Training Boot Camp method (two days, it’s amazing). She turned two years old, so I REALLY have no more babies.

I went to San Diego for a few days to speak at a member station gala and do other assorted speaking activities.

For the older girls’ spring break, we took everyone to the desert (everything went smoothly until one of Eva’s friend’s, Brandon, accidentally ate walnuts to which he is allergic and wound up in the hospital).

Luna, at werk werk werk werk werk.

Also I’m spending an inordinate amount of time training on vertical jump, so I’m ready for the NFL combine. Hehe. Actually it’s for episode three. It will all make sense later.

Film

Friend Harper gives a goody bag to his guests that stay over at his place in Chicago. In the canvas tote are cool things like Harper-branded stickers and … a black and white disposable film camera, which I managed to use until Harper came to LA last week and I could hand off the camera to him to develop.

I love the hard-won look of these. And the time capsule element – there’s something special about film because it gives you such a finite amount of photos you can take. I wasted a lot by just taking nonsense photos of things like takeout boxes, for fun, but I also found this exercise in limits (only 24 chances) and patience (had to handoff the film to be developed, and then wait) really lovely. Baby Luna looked hot, as usual.

The only image of my kid I have, on film
Dragon dance over Lunar New Year weekend
The sinuglar Dan Sinker
Takeout boxes — I packed these!
When Friend John came to town and we walked to dinner along the canals
Boats
Selfie, without the aid of a screen

Barry’s Back, Y’all

HBO’s Barry is back for season two! The premiere just aired last night.

After I moved here last September, I finally got around to binge-watching Barry, a show produced and written and sometimes directed by my friend Alec. It stars Bill Hader and features a lot of standout performances, but for my money the biggest breakout is the delightful Anthony Carrigan, who plays the Chechen mobster Noho Hank. If you watch the show, you know how loveable he is, even (and perhaps especially) during scenes of torture and death.

Clownin’ with the actor behind Noho Hank, Anthony Carrigan, after our interview last week.

It was the highlight of my week when Carrigan came in to let me just talk to him, about him, for more than an hour. I enjoyed it so much. Can’t wait to bring it to y’all in a full episode of our pod It’s Been A Minute, which I guest host for a week later this month.

Home Spa Home

“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

At the Korea goodbye, friends came dressed up as characters from Kakao (the ubiquitous messaging app). Love these people. Photo credit: Jun Michael Park

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!

La La Land

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. Tour Exists And, Like The O.J. Saga, It Is Everything

Here stood Mezzaluna, the Italian restaurant where Ron Goldman worked and Nicole Brown and her family ate dinner on June 12, 1994.

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/TV reboots. 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.

Ron Goldman’s Brentwood apartment.

Other stops:

  • 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.
Adam leading the tour from the driver’s seat of his Ford Bronco.

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.”

The side entrance to Nicole’s apartment on Bundy (the crime scene), some of that old Spanish tile still exists.

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.

Can’t make this stuff up.

Just as there were two Katos (the man and the dog), there were two Broncos. O.J.’s Bronco was a 1994 model, like this one. Al Cowlings’s Bronco was a 1993.

The Great Garage Organization, aka, Finishing Unpacking

Mishele is a professional organizer.

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.

That time we got suckered into buying our photo stuck onto a tequila bottle because we are suckers

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.

Related: Moving to California

A San Francisco Trip Down Memory Lane

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.)

With BFF Erin one day after school in 9th grade, and 22 years later, last week.

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.

Wade scoots around in his Vespa.

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….”

Resolutions for 2019

“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

Orchid buds. I won’t even try to keep alive an orchid this year. (Photo credit: Robert Mitchem)

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.

Look inward
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.

As for my 2018 list, I added the final progress report to last year’s resolution post.

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.