Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Razzies: The Worst (Best) Award Show in Hollywood

The night before the Academy Awards in Hollywood, the historic Palace Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles opened its doors to an audience of no-names and non-celebrities to award Hollywood’s worst with the not-so-coveted Razzie Award.

The audience was eclectic, some dressed in typical evening attire, others in ironic costume like frilly prom dresses and ridiculous patterned jackets. They lined up under the glittering marquis to take selfies at a step-and-repeat backdrop along a flimsy red “carpet” of crepe paper that quickly became torn and soiled. A woman in a multi-layered, bulbous pink prom dress and a blonde starlet wig posed on the red carpet with her date who wore a tux. “We thought we’d been invited to the Oscars, but we wound up at this fuckhole,” she told me. Her date said her name was Crystal Terrace, and she was nobody. “What the hell are we doing here? Look,” Crystal said, pointing at people in the entrance line, “that guy’s in a velvet coat and he has gauges. That guy’s sunburned. That girl’s hair looks like Top Ramen.” I asked her if she was an actor. “No, and I hate actors,” she said. Two blonde, overly-tanned women stepped onto the red carpet, wearing loud, skin-tight floral-print dresses a la the 1990s. Crystal Terrace grunted and moved away.

In the lobby, a small crowd swarmed around the concessions table. “Where’s the alchohol?” someone asked. Water was the only beverage on hand, and the snack offerings were meager: Karamel Pop, coffee candy, Mary Janes, and beer nuts. 

I took a seat in the balcony, with the other press. A man dressed in head-to-toe khaki, like a safari guide, set up a camera on a tri-pod. “Wow, you really dressed up. I guess I didn’t wear the right thing,” he said, observing my sequin dress, sparkle tights and gold heels. I told him I had a cocktail party to attend afterward. “Oh, good. I thought, ‘she’s clearly never been to this before — it’s not that big of a deal,” he said. I laughed. I didn’t let on that I did not, in fact, have a cocktail party to go to; I’d been excited about the event, and dressed up in full earnest. 

The show was scheduled to start at 8:00pm, but the stage remained empty and the lights did not dim until 8:30. At 8:33, audio from a backstage microphone drifted into the auditorium, delivering a private conversation from performers, unaware their sound had been turned on. They talked about the temperature, the show’s start time, their costumes. At 8:35, two presenters took to the stage, humming the tune of the Star Wars theme on kazoos while the history of the Razzie Awards scrolled behind them in yellow lettering, like the movie’s iconic opening. Then, the curtain raised and a woman came out singing a rendition of Adele’s “Hello,” rewritten with new lyrics. “I won an Oscar although nobody is quite sure why,” she belted, and then a man in a suit joined her in a duet. He stripped down to leather dominatrix-esque undies and knee-high stilletos — a reference to Shades of Grey — and “Will Smith” joined with a rap, ensuring the audience that “if you make a bad movie we can make one worse.” The opening number, staged by Sacred Fools Theatre Company, was hilarious, tightly rehearsed and performed. The audience responded with uproarious applause. Expectations for the rest of the show were high, but it’d all be downhill from here.

Matt Valle in stilettos and other Sacred Fools in the opening number.

The curtain dropped and a man’s voice inquired over the speakers, “is there an experienced award host in the house?” A medley of “me, me, me’s” chimed from the audience, and a man shouted, “I’m not experienced, but I can do it.” He walked onto the stage, and the show had officially begun.
For each nominee, the presenters read bad reviews. “Between Kevin James and a meatball parmigiana for president, I'd say the sandwich is more plausible,” Kyle Smith wrote in the NY Post about James’ performance in Pixels. “Tatum comes off better than Redmayne’s 14,000-year-old cross between Donald Trump and Sweeney Todd,” NY Post Lou Lumenick wrote, also in the NY Post, about Redmayne’s work in Jupiter Ascending. 

Between award announcements, “previews” of each worst film nominee played, in the form of sloppy, too-long, tongue-in-cheek live-action stagings, that reimagined the films as even worse than they actually were. For The Fantastic 4, announced as “an expansive pilot for a TV show that will never get picked up,” the film stood on trial in Judge Judy’s court where it was determined guilty of being terrible. Sound and production issues plagued the performances - mics dropped out, others crackled, the curtain didn’t raise on time, video queues didn’t show up. As two presenters announced the nominees for Worst Supporting Actress, pictures of the actresses appeared on screen behind them - in completely the wrong order. 

A performer took the stage with a microphone, preparing to sing, when the wrong song blasted over the speakers. “Nope. That’s not right.” she said. Two other women joined her, and they launched into a Dream Girls-style song imploring the audience to please stay for the second half. At intermission, audience members wondered if the production quality was intentional. “Are they trying to be so bad?” someone asked his friend. “Yeah, I think so. I mean, you could ask the same about the movies,” he responded.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Thank Gods, We're Getting a New Beverly Center

Photo by John Lopez

What excellent news: The Beverly Center, aka one of LA's worst design nightmares, is getting a revamp.

The most aggravating aspect of the current Beverly Center is its lack of pedestrian access. The shopping mall sits on the upper three levels of the eight-story building. A dismal, drop-ceilinged Macy's Men's Store occupies part of the first level, while levels two through five are parking lots. I know from experience that getting in to the shopping mall on foot is an exercise in anger management.

The second most aggravating aspect of The Beverly Center is its lack of sunlight. A shopping mall set in the California sky, it has no windows. The view from up there must be lovely, but how would you know. The structure is so enclosed, you have no idea you're eight stories above Beverly Hills. Hashtag missedopportunity. You may as well be in any nondescript mall in middle America.

Thankfully, Taubman Centers, the company that owns the massive disappointment announced they will unveil a renovation of the Beverly Center on March 7, according to Curbed LA. No news yet on design plans, spearheaded by ltalian firm Studio Fuksas, but fingers crossed, it'll involve some mixed-use, urban development and open space. Oh, and sunlight. Because, after all, this is L.A.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Alone in Bogotá

Why am I alone in Bogotá? I keep asking myself.

In November, I spent a week in Cartagena and Mompox, as part of a journalism fellowship. I intended to travel solo for a week thereafter, but flew home to Los Angeles in a hurry, to address some personal . . . stuff (there's no better word). A week later, I regretted abandoning my original plan. Out of curiosity, I searched roundtrip flights to Bogotá, and found one that was remarkably inexpensive. I booked it. And here I am.

I do not speak Spanish. For this reason, not only am I alone in Bogotá, I am silent in Bogotá. I could be on a spiritual retreat or a vision quest. But, no, I am just traveling. Quietly, and alone. In the last two days, I have spoken maybe a dozen words: buenas, cafe, por favor, uno arepa con queso, agua sin gas, la cuenta, gracias.

Yesterday, as I got dressed for my first full day, I realized I had forgotten to pack my contacts. The thought of having to wear my glasses all week made me want to bail on the whole trip again. After beginning my day at a cafe with a tinto (sort of an espresso) and a pan de queso, I found a busy boulevard lined with - what luck - optometry shops. I stopped in one and showed the woman at the counter an old 1-800-CONTACTS email on my iPhone. Without more than two words exchanged in the same language (which were  and gracias), I purchased two packs of contacts.

Pan de queso y tinto

The view from inside the optometry shop.
 I then walked to the Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao, a large food market I'd read about. Along the 1.5 kilometer walk, I realized I probably should've taken a cab. The route took me through a homeless encampment along a median lined with spare tires and a ramshackle neighborhood where I saw dozens of prostitutes out in broad daylight, wearing either vinyl hot pants and stiletto boots, or nothing but fishnet body stockings so tight that their flesh bubbled through the netting. 

Median of tires on Calle 19. The homeless encampment lines the brick wall.
The prostitutes wander all surrounding streets. I dared not take a picture of them.
At the market, I tried Guanabana, a large fruit that resembles a Yoshi egg, with slimy white meat that tastes like a cross between pineapple, banana and sugar cane.

Mercado de Paloquemao


Butchers With Pork

From there, I walked two miles through an industrial area of factories and warehouses, up Calle 13, a busy boulevard of electronic shops, lighting shops and cell phone stores. Piles of garbage dotted every corner, and people tossed their litter into the streets. Along Calle 13, homeless men tore open bulging black trash bags and spread the contents out into long layers in the gutter, picking through for food and clothing. Students and businessmen and women stepped around them.

Calle 13

On my way to Plaza De Bolivar, I navigated through a chaotic street market, so crowded that for several blocks my body was not out of contact with someone else's - feet, elbows, knees, hips all vying for a bit of space. Vendors sold Christmas lights, stuffed animals, plastic housewares, cheap bras and lingerie. Men shoved carts of candies and cigarettes through the oncoming crowd of shoppers and other peddlers. When I finally pushed my way onto Carrera 8, I was surprised by the relative serenity at Plaza de Bolívar. Children fed flocks of pigeons with seed purchased from individual sellers, and groups of tourists from all over the world posed awkwardly for selfies. I did the same, and then a man approached me and started shining my boots. I kicked him off until he said "sólo un mil."  For $1,000 pesos, about 35 cents, I let him shine my boots.

The Man Who Shined My Boots

A stroll through La Candelaria, the Colonial district, with its colorful, hilly streets and lively bars and restaurants, added a much-welcomed layer of charm to my day. I then wandered over to La Macarena, an equally charming neighborhood, where I settled in for a few beers at Bogotá Beer Company, and dinner at a kitschy restaurant called La Jugueteria. Juguetes are toys, and this restaurant was full of them. An awkward place to dine alone, among families and birthday parties. Strings of lights illuminating a hallway of tchotchkes through an arched doorway enticed me - of course I found myself inside, eating a steak and drinking a mojito and wondering, again, what am I doing here.

La Jugueteria

My salt shaker seemed to mock me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Automne en Juillet

July in Paris has decided to skip to autumn. 62 degrees the other day, and rain for a straight week. I packed for summer. Skirts, sundresses, flip flops. I did not pack warm jackets, or pants. Or closed-toe, non-porous shoes that can be worn in the rain. For three days, I wore my sparkly gold Toms shoes. They became so water-logged that putting them on in the morning felt like enbalming my feet in little mushy bogs, and as I shivered continuously, day after day, my spirit sunk down into them.

 Last weekend, just as the rains hit, I went walking. I headed east of Bastille, away from the areas with which I'm already familiar. I heard music and thumping, and followed it. At La Place de la Nation, I came upon a parade. Caribbean dancers in elaborately scanty costumes gyrated down the street while standers-by whooped and hollered and danced among themselves. It was Le Carnaval Tropical. A fierce wind ripped rain out of the sky, but neither the dancers nor the crowd would be interrupted. I danced too, to keep warm.

Later, I wandered back to Bastille, and from there along the Seine, making my way over to Les Berges de Seine, a 2.3 kilometer portion of the quai between Musee D'Orsay and Pont D'Alma that has been renovated into a design-focused esplanade, with art installations, bars, restaurants, children's playgrounds, and sustainable landscaping. I knew that the Paris Cinema festival was having a kick-off event of what they called "cine-karaoke" at the end of les berges. I met up with a few classmates, and we settled in, with wine and cheese, among the audience. I did not know that "karaoke" meant "sing-along." Musical movie scenes played on a giant screen, while everyone sung along. The vast majority of the audience was French (we were the only Americans I noticed), and they knew the words to all of the scenes, some from famous American movies like Moulin Rouge and West Side Story, as well as to the French films that I'd never heard of, and some bizarre, obscure American ones, like an incredibly weird musical war movie from, I'd guess, the 1970s. The cypress trees on the right bank sparkled with white lights while the Eiffel Tower loomed above us on the left. I noticed that, within the crowd, I was perfectly warm.

The rains became stronger and colder the next day and after getting completely soaked (I ducked into le Musée des Arts et Métiers when my parapluie ceased being of any protection), I knew I'd have to supplement my poorly-planned wardrobe. Luckily, the month of July in Paris is Les Soldes. Sales are state-regulated in France and only take place twice a year, once in July, and again in late December. Inventory at most stores is marked down over 50%, and up to 80%. Now armed with a pair of jeans, a sweater, a jacket, and a pair of rain boots, I am warm, and much, much less frustrated. I don't need the weather to be beautiful; I just need to be comfortable. But I don't enjoy shopping when I travel. There are millions of things I'd rather do with my time than wander around a department store. All of my finds were serendipitous, my needs presenting themselves to me as I wandered around the city. A sign in a window on Rue du Rivoli read "les jeans, -70%," so I ran in and 12 euros later had warmed my legs. A musty vintage store at Rue Ferdinand Duval had a bin of clothing for 5 euros, and another for 10 euros. From one bin I unearthed a military jacket that fit me perfectly, magically, and from the other, a gorgeous peplum fair-isles sweater. A pair of black rain boots - handsome, sleek and structured, - gleamed in a window on Rue des Francs Bourgeois, and my soggy feet cried out for them. I said no until I saw the little tag with an original price of 75 euros crossed out, and 20 euros written next to it. Oui, oui, d'accord! And with that, my shopping was done, my body warm, and my spirit risen.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Je Suis Ici

Je suis à Paris. After a thirteen hour over-night flight on which I did not sleep a wink, I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport with a fifty-pound suitcase, a fifteen-pound shoulder bag, and a head both heavy with fatigue and soaring with excitement. I took the RER train into the city, mapping out my three-transfer route to my apartment in Bastille. Easy. Seated near a window, I watched the city unfold before me, taking pride in how familiar it all was. (I've loved the idea of Paris my entire life, and when I was a child, I envisioned myself living here one day. Then I visited three years ago, and transferred my love to the actual city. Now I can state, with some truth, that I know Paris. I may not ever live here permanently, but I will always have a relationship with it.)

I am comfortable with big cities, confident with direction and navigation, and at home in large crowds. This confidence, however, often leads to a ballooned self-reliance. Taking the RER with 75 pounds of luggage on a three-transfer journey to my apartment would have been fine in a younger city, with a newer metro system incorporating certain modern standards of convenience, such as elevators and escalators. All told, I hefted my 50-pound suitcase up and down fifteen flights of stairs. Then, once arrived at my destination station of Chenin Vert, I dragged it several blocks the wrong direction before realizing my mistake. This is when it started to pluie. I arrived at my studio wet with a mixture of sweat and rain, and almost cried out of gratitude when I saw that it has an elevator.

My studio is adorable. At 215 square feet, it has a kitchen, a washing machine, an actual bathroom with a real toilet and shower (the studio my husband and I rented three years ago had barely operable toyish versions of both), and a futon bed. It's in a beautiful neighborhood full of bars and restaurants (mais bien sûr, c'est Paris), and near many metro stations.

My school, the Paris American Academy, is across the Seine, high up in the Latin Quarter, near the Luxembourg Gardens. Our first class was held in a room in which Benjamin Franklin once studied. Our second class was held in a room that, though in a newer and much less beautiful building, sits directly above the corner of the catacombs in which a monk was once found dead, eleven years after he'd descended into the ground to find a bottle of wine.

Paris American Academy
Today is my fourth full day in Paris. I have spent all of the last three days traversing between the 11th and 5th arrondissements, going to class, attending the organized school functions, and trying to find some time to eat and wander.

A marvelous wine tasting organized by the school

Thus far, I've not traversed far out of those respective neighborhoods, but last night I joined the masses at L'Hotel de Ville to watch the France-Germany World Cup game. The streets of le Marais were as festive as those of Manhattan Beach on the 4th of July - my favorite day of the Los Angeles summer. The mass revelry along these ancient cobblestone streets eased my slight homesickness caused by missing my beloved American holiday.

As I make my way through my list of must-have eats and drinks, I've thus far enjoyed some tartare de boeuf, l'escargot, soupe l'oignon, and much cheese, wine, and Ricard.
L'Escargot at Le Bistrot de Vosges - Délicieux! C'est fini.
The list isn't very impressive yet, as I've been grocery shopping and eating at home as much as possible, for economical reasons. Fortunately the markets here, even the tiny bodega-style ones, are stocked with foods of incredible quality. What we Americans consider delicacies, the French consider staples. Excellent cheeses, charcuterie, garden vegetables, freshly baked breads, delectable wines. I've turned my little studio into a pantry of culinary abundance, simply because it was the cheapest option. A Paris, il est possible de vivre comme un roi sur le salaire d'un pauvre.

My brown-bag lunch - a sandwich on a freshly baked roll with camembert, coppa, and a quince jam. Simple and so delicous.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mom's Apartment

1618 Vista Del Mar reads a hand-written note tacked to the bulletin board above my desk. I only write notes by hand. I had a roommate once who would type notes – reminders, to-do lists, quotes – and then color childlike borders on them with markers before she’d tack them above her desk. A typed, designed note is no longer a note, just as a painting, scanned, printed and rolled into a tube mailer is no longer a painting. The nature has been steamrolled out of it, and now it’s just a poster.

I learned two years ago that when my grandmother gave birth to her first child, my mother, she lived in a building at 1618 Vista Del Mar, right down the street from where I live now. The fact that my mother’s first home on earth was in Hollywood, just a few minute’s walk from the apartment where her daughter would live over a half century later is amazing to me. We’re from Utah. We know mountains and rivers and snow.

Hollywood, City of Dreams, with its constant din of noise and light, its coyote-filled hills, its imported cars and palm trees, A-list Lounges, and sordid motels, is not our territory. It’s been so printed and re-printed, it’s like a poster that you can walk around in. Yet, as it turns out, we’ve got roots here. My grandmother, going into to labor with my mom, took the bus by herself from her apartment to the hospital on Mid-Wilshire – that’s putting down roots.

1618 Vista Del Mar
Below the scrawled 1618 Vista Del Mar note is a blue leather desk organizer, from which stretches a stack of medical bills. I relegated them to the back of the organizer as I’d hoped to do in my mind, but I stood them upright so that I wouldn’t forget the thing one must remember about bills – to pay them. Every time I look at them, I tell myself that I ought to organize them, pay those remaining to be paid, and file them away for good. But there they stand. I may be residing in a city of dreams, but life doesn’t know it.

After all, I’ve got roots here: in front of the medical bills grows a cluster of journal entries that I wrote during my treatment for thyroid cancer. I’ve been tearing the entries out of the journal, because its pages are graphed, and I can’t stand writing on such regimented lines. I’ve been saving them in the organizer, where they obscure the bills. Their edges are torn and frayed, having had a difficult time releasing from the bookbinding. I’ve always had a soft spot for torn paper with its sharp edges turned cloudy. My notes, in addition to being hand-written, are usually scrawled upon torn scraps, their imperfect form reminding me of nature - of mountains, rivers, and snowflakes tacked to the bulletin board above my desk in Hollywood.

After living here for two years, I’d grown to like the neighborhood for its contradictions and justifications, but learning of the nearness of my mother's infant years caused me to love it with a fierce protectiveness. Finding the actual building in which she had lived, still tucked behind that sprawling parking lot south of the sidewalk that is tiled with celebrity names, under the unremitting lights of Hollywood and Vine, was a real full-circle moment. My adoptive city was no longer adoptive – it was a part of me, and while navigating its roads from hardship to health, I had become a part of it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I drive to Pacoima, in the San Fernando Valley. From Hollywood, it’s only 15 minutes in good traffic. I teach theatre at a charter school there twice a week. The air is hot and dusty in Pacoima, the streets are wide, and the trees are few.

On Monday and Wednesday mornings, I work out of the LA Weekly offices in Culver City, on the West Side. I have meetings at Culver Studios on these days as well – near enough to be close, but not near enough to make the travel time between them disappear. The air is soft and moist in Culver City, the streets are illustrated with colorful storefronts, and the trees are green and many.

Monday and Wednesday and Thursday evenings I spend at the University of Southern California, in Central L.A., in class or in meetings. The air is dirtier than dust, the streets are crowded, impatient, and the trees are exclusive to campus.

Tuesdays have me at Culver Studios in the morning, and from there I drive to Pacoima in the afternoon, on the 405. The freeway isn’t terrible, in the middle of the day. The drive is quick, and I enjoy the passing view of The Getty, and Laurel Canyon. Is that Laurel Canyon? I’m not sure, but I like it.  Its golden, rolling hills and hiding, curving roads makes me think of filmmakers and actresses.

Thursdays have me driving from Pacoima, after my class, to USC. I check my phone first, to see if the 101 Freeway will be faster than the 5. Silly to drive all the way around if I don’t need to, but often I do. When I don't, I inch past the Hollywood skyline – Capitol Records, Hotel Hollywood, the W, and wish it would all go faster. But just today. After today, don’t move, don’t change. Grow only in spirit, not in size.

I get off at Exposition Boulevard, and am filled with promise at the sight of heavy brick academic structures: The California Science Museum, The Natural History Museum, the lower end of the University, its grandest entrance off the metro line. I turn on Figueroa and park near the Felix the Cat auto dealership. I still don’t know what kind of dealership it is, or why Felix is its mascot. I don’t care, as long as it always remains.

Mondays and Wednesdays, I drive to USC from Culver City. I take Adams usually, sometimes Jefferson. Driving Adams is like navigating a box of crayons. Painted yellow carnicerias and blue mechanic shops, pink party supply shops, magenta-marquied dance halls and vibrant, multi-colored murals in green, overgrown empty lots greet me along the way, like celebratory bystanders of a marathon. Jefferson feels a lot like industrial North Brooklyn, but with faster traffic, and no time to see any of it. Muted red brick, cloudy white commercial glass, and rusted train tracks criss-crossed with nasturtium remind me of the distance I’ve journeyed.

Fridays. Fridays I am asleep.