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SLACK LUST. VOL. 14 & 15 LYING/PRIMAL
June 2012

HUMOR: when the goin’ gets tough (the tough get goin’) JESSIE BIRSCHBACH

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Tough in Utah. (I kept trying to put my boot on that fence and it kept slipping off.)

“You come from a family of Burchs, Jessie, and Burchs are fighters.” When my mother said this, her warm, perfectly round eyes turned into large, icy blue orbs. It was a stare my eight-year-old self dare not question.

My mom’s father, Ralph Burch, the toughest son of gun I’ve ever known, grew up during the Great Depression on a rough side of town in Chicago. Al Capone sponsored his little league team. He was a life long Marine, and walked with a slight slant because of the metal plate in his back, the result of a shrapnel injury he sustained in WWII. I mean, the man smashed cans with a giant, splintery log to recycle them because he somehow thought that was easier than using his foot. He meant business.

His daughter, my mother: a petit and girly 5’4”, is no stranger to toughness either. On the phone the other day, we reminisced:

“Mom, tell me again about the waitress you put in a headlock.”

She laughed and retorted, “Which one?”

Yes, there were others, but her classic headlock tale goes like this: My mother and her husband, aka Pop, were out to dinner. Their server for the duration of the meal would only acknowledge Pop. At one point, the waitress noticed him using a fork to dissect their artichoke. She gave him the eyes and said, “You know, I like to use my fingers to pull out the heart.” He laughed uncomfortably at her flirtatious, gross symbolism. My mom calmly asked for another Bloody Mary. When the waitress stretched across the table to remove the empty glass, my mother grabbed her by the neck, and into her ear delivered, “If you want your tip you will stop flirting with my husband and disrespecting me. It’s rude.”

I always like to watch my Pop’s face when she tells this story. He loves it. In fact, my mom’s imitation of the server trying to balance a tray full of drinks while in a headlock, is a beloved family tradition

So, probably, because these two Burchs helped raise me, growing up, I possessed a dangerous false sense of durability and endowment. Even now, I hope you’re picturing me with a cigarette sticking to my bottom lip, holding my wrist over a flame … I’m totally not sitting in my cozy bed, sans bra, drinking tea, with my French bulldog lying on my feet, keeping them warm. The hard truth is that I constantly have to remind myself that I’m not actually a ruffian. I’ve never kicked an ass. I’ve never taken any names, although I do like to give out endearing nicknames.

However, in the name of toughness, to perhaps feign toughness, or in the spirit of the honorable Burch toughness, I do, and have done, all sorts of things that a clumsy oaf, like me, should not. Here are a few of those dumb things:


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Tough in Italy. (Example of tough guy jaw clench.)

1. My lower back is shot from a few summers ago, when I took a wave too big, surfing. I did a smashing impression of a hideaway bed and folded backwards, falling down the face of the wave. Folded. Backwards. I will now suffer bouts of horrible sciatica for the rest of my life as a result … And actually, you wanna know the real truth? I was bodyboarding. Not surfing.

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Tough in Hawaii. (I painted mud on my face.)

2. I constantly threaten my loved ones that I’m going to buy a motorcycle. I really do want one, so bad, despite their pleading and horror stories. My mom says if I ever get one, she “will picket in front of the DMV with all your friends, Jessica Anne!” This sounds adorable and only makes me want one even more.

Sub-note: Probably to distract me from getting a motorcycle, when I was in college, my parents got me a go-ped for my birthday. A GO-PED, a lamer, harder to get hurt version of a mo-ped. A MO-PED being a lamer, harder to get hurt version of a motorcycle, and still, I have a blue-colored scar on the palm of my left hand from flipping over the front handlebars, not once, not twice, but three times. The same wound would bust open every time I thought I could hop up onto that damn curb after a long night at Nunu’s Cocktail Lounge. Thankfully, a friend borrowed it, and broke the wheel before I could go for a fourth.


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Tough, with a funny mustache? (I’m disgusting.)

3. In Yosemite, one teenaged summer, a group of boys stopped arguing over who would jump off the big, towering rock into the water first, to watch me whiz past them and cannonball down into the water. I had no idea how shallow it was going to be, let alone the geological make-up of the rocks that might have been hiding underneath the water. They could have been the jagged, sedimentary type! I certainly didn’t anticipate the fact that I was diving into freezing cold glacial run-off either. The shock of the temperature had almost caused me to gasp underwater. I managed to hold off though until I resurfaced, chattering out, “Pussies!”  But what if I did swallow a bunch of water and drown? What if I had impaled myself on a rock? I would have died showing off.

Another sub-note: I wondered if there was some average number of deaths per year of people who died showing off, so I looked it up. I couldn’t find any statistics on the matter, but I can tell you that coconuts kill an average of 150 people a year. Actually, I did come across the story of a show-off pilot who performed loop-the-loops over his lady’s house while shouting, “I love you.” Flying too low at the bottom of a loop, he clipped the chimney, and crashed, dying instantly.


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Tough, in a onesy.

4. One day, my little sister and I were walking home from junior high/elementary school when a group of hoodlums tried to take my prized hot pink Oakleys. They tossed them around, teasing me, and asked if I was willing to fight for them. I said I could, and that I wanted to, but, you know, why would I when— when, uhhh, oh, yeah, I was friends with one of them! We had gym class together. I looked over at Carlos when I said this. He put his head down, and mumbled, “Eees true.”  Finally, they gave them back to me, and my little sister, who mumbled to one of the mulleted cholas she had little tits.  My sister made a run for it and the chola took off after her with a stick. I stopped the enraged chola reminding her that my sister was years younger, and that also my sister’s tits were, in fact, much smaller than the chola’s … that seemed to work.


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Ripley, my dog, being tough. (She learned it from watching me.)

5. Another time, I was at a high school house party, when the hostess informed my friends and I that “some bitch” had entered her house against her wishes and purposefully tracked dog shit around.  I eagerly volunteered for my “tough chick trio” to kick her out. We followed the dog shit footsteps out into the backyard and found her there. My buddy, Heather, who actually was a scrapper, asked her to leave. She said, “No.”  Heather, without flinching, threw her red plastic cup full of beer into her face. My other buddy Val stepped forward and said something like, “Let’s not go any further,” and I, following their lead, said, “Yeeeah!.”  The girl left, and we were the hostess’ heroes for the night. Only the “tough chick trio” was allowed access to the coveted parental liquor cabinet. I felt incredibly cool, but I wonder if there had actually been any fighting, would I have stepped in? Or just given the physical version of the “Yeah,” equivalent? (Which probably amounts to tying her shoelaces together when she wasn’t looking.)

Re-reading this, I realize that, actually, it was my natural tendency towards diplomacy, and belief that most people really do want to be good to one another, that has proved a far better survival technique, than being so quick to put up my dukes and rattle my tail.

I am reminded of the ol’ Ralph Burch classic, “if you pull out a weapon, just make sure you use it.” His message was that of restraint, not validation. Personally, I like to think it’s better to throw a beer in someone’s face, or like my mom, put them in a warning headlock, instead of throwing any quick punches, even if they do track dog shit in your house. Likewise, maybe it really was my friendship with Carlos, and the leveling with the chola, that saved my sis and I from a black eye. I have to think that way because. although I come from Burchs, I’m really not a fighter. I’m not Ralph Burch. (Although, I still may end up with a metal plate in my lower back as a result of my sciatica.) I am a pacifier. I always have been. I always will be … BUT I STILL GOTS MY MOXIE.

                                          

Jessie Birschbach writes mostly funny type stuff. Currently, she is a writer/performer on the iO West house sketch team, Mr. Worm. Jessie is staff writer for tvgasm.com, recapping funny type shows shows like Glee and the Real L Word, under the pseudonym, BirschTalk. She is also a Comedy Connoisseur for CultureMob covering all the funny type stuff that happens in Los Angeles. Jessie has even been known to improvise F.T.S. on the stages of iO West and various others … By the way, if you think that last “S” in “F.T.S." stands for "stuff," or even, "shows,"  good guesses, but you’re wrong. It stands for "shit."

 

**All photography courtesy of Jessie Birschbach’s collection, 2012.


LIFESTYLE: most representative … of what? KATE PURDY

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I hate when dinner party guests tell stories of weird jobs they’ve had, because relating over their mutual suffering brings them so much collective joy. And, I hate to hear them laugh at their former selves so freely.

I’ve never had a weird job.  

Which, turns out, is weird.

And, all along, my goal was to not be weird.  Which, turns out, is even weirder.

See, at age twelve I decided I wanted to be the first lady president of the United States of America.  From that moment I began carefully crafting all my life choices so I wouldn’t be embarrassed during the live, televised, electoral debate I imagined happening in 40 to 50 years.

With this goal in mind, I not only needed a resume of purely respectable jobs, but I had to carefully consider all my life choices – like: I did not double pierce my ears because a lady president only has one hole in her ears, and she wears pearl studs… obviously.

I didn’t get a perm because I didn’t want my future self to be embarrassed at a luncheon with other female dignitaries — all of them talking about the bad hair and style choices they made as kids.  I wanted to give “future me” the gift of being able to say, “I did not make those bad choices.  I was perfect.  You can follow me as a leader.  I make good choices.”

This doesn’t mean I didn’t do some of the normal stuff teenagers do like drink, try drugs or experiment with sex.  I just did them in ways that could not be reported back to the press in half a century.

“Why is Kate puking, she doesn’t drink?”  

Kate is puking because she secretly downed a half bottle of Bacardi in the hotel bathroom at Junior prom.  Kate doesn’t know she only needs an ounce of rum to get wasted.  

“Why did Kate disappear at the rave?”  

Because Kate is secretly tripping on acid, and she’s hiding in the bathroom watching the world through a fish-eye lense her mind created.

Or when “making out” with a boy I’d never actually go to any of the well-defined bases: kissing, boob touching, etc.  Instead, I would initiate hours of erotic wrestling that would confuse, and I can only imagine, frustrate my wrestling partner.  

Maybe that sounds strange, but is Adam Baird going to tell the press in 2042 that we “rolled around” one night sophomore year — sorry but that’s pretty un-quantifiable, Adam Baird.  Good… ah-luck…


What’s worse, not only did I spend my life focused on not having any “flaws,” I kept a mental file on everyone else’s “flaws” that I’d been collecting since kindergarten.  

As I passed people in the hallway I’d pull up their file and enjoy reveling in how “not perfect” they were:

Jackie Evans: Got kicked off the cheerleading squad for coming to a football game drunk – never gonna be president.  

Landon Davis: got warts on her knee from borrowing some girl’s razor at summer camp – not a mistake I’d ever make.  Not a mistake a president makes.

Emily Henkle: Got caught by her mom giving a poor boy a blow job.  Who’s gonna vote for her?  Poor people?  Sorry Emily, they don’t vote.


Don’t get me wrong, I was aware I had a few things in my file:

In fifth grade, at my friend Alissa’s birthday party, I was trying to impress some girls from the rival elementary school and said, “I’m horny, but there aren’t any guys around.”  
The girls quickly exchanged looks and silently, but collectively, deemed it not cool, and I watched them slip the moment into their mental-filing-cabinets-of-judgment.

But, I felt like I had lived that one down by adamantly never being horny again, and only “wrestling” boys I liked.

And then, in eighth grade, in the Spirit Squad photo for the Junior High Year Book, I did the middle-splits and a tuft of my fairly new pubic hair poked out from the corner of my skirt.  

However, I felt like I had most people convinced it was a shadow – a broken-up, patchy shadow.  “It’s just a shadow!”

I’m sure the people I went to school with could list more humiliating moments that I’m choosing to block out, but those were the two I’m, apparently, willing to process.  

By Senior year I was Student Council President, had been a Varsity Cheerleader, and was voted “Most Representative” three years in a row, so I felt pretty good about myself.  And by “pretty good,” I mean I felt better about myself than I thought other people deserved to feel about themselves.  Which is a really healthy way to determine self-worth.


Then, came college.

In late August of 1992 I flew from San Antonio, Texas to Middletown, Connecticut to attend Wesleyan University.

I was really excited.  Everyone said college is where you make your real friends – where people finally “get you.”  And since I owned a pair of Doc Martins, I was basically a hippie at my Texas high school.  I figured at a New England, Liberal Arts College, I would be adored.

Excited about meeting my new best friend for life, I participated in a roommate-matching program.   We were asked to write a short essay about our interests.  I wrote an eight-page essay about my deep love for Impressionist painting.

I was given a single.

That was okay.  Having a single is cool – my room would just be the party room.  Sweet.  Now, making friends was going to be even easier.  And, as I looked around the dinning hall, at these nerds in their tacky down vests, I knew I was going to be the coolest kid in no time.

So, I set out to build my fan base the only way I knew how – the Texas way: “Hey y’all!”  

The New England–Liberal-Intellectuals recoiled so palpably I could actually feel the wall of ice hitting me in the face.

I figured they were probably just intimidated by me, seeing as how they’re nerds, so I gave them space to warm up to me – like you might do with a scared animal.  I confidently sat at the only table that was totally open to demonstrate I was a leader, not a joiner.  It happened to be the table with a naked chick covered in fake blood sprawled across it, playing dead, in protest of the consumption of meat.  But, I thought sitting there showed great confidence — others would see my inherent leadership and follow.  

No one did.

I wasn’t worried – they just didn’t understand how amazing I was, yet.  That would all change tomorrow when I planned to nail my interview for the coolest, most esteemed work-study job on campus – that’s right – working in the school president’s office, you heard me – the president… of the whole… university.

I dressed up in a blazer and slacks for my interview with President Douglas Bennett, and was a little surprised when his secretary’s secretary interviewed me instead.

She was a sweet old lady with thick glasses and one of those perpetual toothy smiles - like a donkey in an old cartoon.

“Well, aren’t you dressed up,” she commented.

“Thank you.” I said, rolling my eyes at a chubby lesbian walking past us in her down vest.

The old lady’s first question was if I had ever stuffed envelopes.

“Well, not really – but there was this one time, during Student Council Period where Mr. White – that’s the school’s vice principal – and our Stu. Co. advisor – asked me a huge favor – if we would help him stuff some envelopes for a parent/teacher mailing.  After tri-folding a few I said, ‘There has got to be a quicker way to do this.’  Mr. White said they did have an old machine that tri-folded paper, but no one had been able to get it to work consistently.  I said, ‘How ‘bout this, we’ll have a race?  I bet I can get that old machine to work faster than the rest of you can finish stuffing these envelopes.’  And, it was on.  In the end I got the machine to fold one piece of paper, just as they were finishing stuffing – but of course the paper it folded was all wonky and weird and we all had a good, big laugh.  Afterwards Mr. White took me aside and said, ‘Kid, that was some great leadership in there – you took a not fun task and made it fun.’  So, you know, that’s the kind of stuff I have to offer.”

She looked at me and smiled and said, “So, you have stuffed envelopes?”

“… Yes.”

I got the job, and my ticket to having people want to be my friend.

“Yeah, I got a job in the president’s office – yup – the school president’s office.  I get to run his mail around, and get coffee for his secretary’s secretary…. So… You know…”

Never before had I experienced that moment where the person you’re trying to impress looks at you, and then just gets up and walks away.  It’s really painful.  But, there she went – all naked and covered in fake blood.  I watched her crawl up onto another table and plop herself down in front of some black DJs from Brooklyn – all who sprang up in disgust, and headed with their trays to the dump-trough.


Then, for the very first time, something came over me – something called, “depression.” Although, because I had never experienced it before, and because I had such a strong bubble of delusion, I had no idea what was happening to me.

“Why am I wearing pajamas to class?  I don’t know, but it’s fun!  College is great!   I love college so much!  I never want to go home. That’s why I’m crossing off all the days on the calendar until I get to go home – ugh, but I don’t want to!  College!”

Back on the job in the president’s office, the sweet old lady would look at me with sad eyes — but still with that donkey smile — as I struggled to fight off depression-sleep.  Her eyes would then drift over to the stack of invitations to a dinner at the President’s house going unstuffed by my head.

She really didn’t know how to handle it, but tried to as kindly as possible.  She would ask me gentle leading questions like, “Are you sick – maybe you want to go home?”

“To Texas?!  No, I love it here!  I’m doing really well – really well – REALLY WELL!”

At the end of the first semester she tried to coax me into saying I didn’t want to come back, “You know, college is about trying different things, and you’ve tried this job, maybe you want to try another work-study job next semester.”

Lifting my head off the desk I said, “No, I would never abandon you.  I love you.”

“Yeah, but just for fun, maybe try another job, and then you can come back here next year, maybe, if you want… we’ll see,” she said.

It half dawned on me that I might be getting fired.

This is where I should have realized that something was wrong.  That I wasn’t as happy as I pretended.  That other people could see it.  That what was making me unhappy was that I felt I had lost my value because the value system had changed on me.  And, that what I needed to do was stop investing in value systems outside myself, and instead build one from the inside.  I needed to figure out who I was, love that person, and be honest with the rest of the world about who that person was, and not be hurt if they didn’t accept her – if they didn’t like her, because I loved her.

But, what I did was walk into town and bought myself a down vest.

                                                                                                                     
Kate Purdy writes for TV.  She’s written on Cold Case, Mad TV, and Cougar Town.

 

**Above photo courtesy of her high school yearbook.


MY FIRST YEAR IN LA (PART 1): reed REBECCA LEIB

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In 2007, I moved across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles. Though one could quantify my relocation in miles, it felt like much more. Three months in, I was in hell. Allen, my Craigslist roommate and fellow University of Wisconsin Alum, would be my ferryman. Reed, his brother, would be my snarling, dreadlocked Cerberus. 


I had been living comfortably with Allen, sure. Allen was a smallish man who looked 20 but was actually in his late 30’s. He would be the first of many people who presented themselves as- or who perhaps, were- wildly younger than their biological age. At first, these people frustrated me. Interactions with these people seemed to be a small betrayal of my own knowledge of the benchmarks and road signs that came with age. They were liars- if I couldn’t guess their age, I couldn’t gauge their opinions, life experiences and tastes. I realized that this sounds ageist, but it served me well in the Chicago bar scene, with befriending techniques in school and in the workplace. I mean, if I couldn’t trust my own experience and expectations with other human beings, I really WAS on my own.

Allen was a good guy and very seriously pursuing acting. His biggest role was as a dead Chubby Chaser on CSI. I never watched CSI, but others have told me that this was one of the more famous episodes of the show. Sometimes, Allen would even get recognized!

“Hey, I know you.” Someone would say- maybe it’d be a drunk guy at a bar, or a girl in yoga pants.

“Maybe.” Allen would say. “I do some commercial work.”

Pregnant pause, blank look.

“Also, I was on CSI.”

“YES!” Yoga pant’s plain face would light up, reflecting her joy. “That episode was so good. That must have been…so, like, fun.”

After calling out Allen’s acting ace, the inquisitor wouldn’t know what else to say, and would awkwardly slink off. Most of Allan’s screen time, he was dead: a painted body and the centerpiece within a tangle of lights, set pieces, production assistants and electrical cords. I always assumed it would be easier than saying lines.

“Not at all.” Allen declared, taking a gigantic pull off his daily Jamba Juice.  “It is EXTREMELY CHALLENGING to accurately portray a dead person.”

To pay for rent, weed and support the mass amounts of Jamba Juice, Trader Joe’s pasta and pasta accessories Allen consumed, he worked as a fake patient at a doctor training center by the airport. A lot of actors did this because they were still using their acting skills, albeit to a confused and nervous audience of one. Allen played a 19-year-old patient who was a borderline alcoholic. The doctor would ask him questions, give him a fake exam, and make a diagnosis on him.

I thought this sounded cool, but I was busting my ass working as an executive assistant for 400 dollars a week.

ANYTHING sounded cool.

My job was unlike anything I had ever encountered. In Hollywood, people are never told “no.” They’re told “maybe,” “I’ll look into it,” “that might be difficult” and “Let’s play it by ear.” The assistant I was filling in for trained me for 2 hours and fucking booked it, leaving me to deal with a maniac boss and ringing phones.

I had to say yes.

One day I came home to our Less Than Zero-inspired apartment on Gower to find Allen and Reed sitting on the IKEA couch in our living room. Reed had his head in his hands, clutching his light blond hair. He was dressed many layers of clothing and had on very fancy Vans. Allen looked up at me.

“Hey Rebecca,” he said. “This is my brother, Reed.”

Reed looked like a cross between a stoner and a sporting goods store. He had a heavy-duty backpack, a thick-knit Mexican parka and a fishing jacket over that. His shoes were scuffed. His small fingers left his mass of hair for a moment and he turned to me.

“Hey.” He mumbled.

He was 21 but looked and behaved like a small 12.  He was the son of an addict adopted by Allen’s dad and his dad’s second wife. He was drunk.  He was bisexual.  He had a fairly major learning disability that made him nearly illiterate.

And, he was my new roommate.

I HAD to say yes- he had nowhere to go! I had never encountered someone who had absolutely no place to stay, and I wasn’t going to let it happen on my watch.  Plus, he seemed nice. Young, but nice. Misguided. Probably misunderstood. After all, his parents kicked him out. He used their credit cards to get on a bus from Chicago to Los Angeles. He’d been through a lot. Maybe I could be an example to him, someone to be his friend when he had none. Where I was, I was up for the challenge: where my work made me feel small and impotent, helping Reed might make me feel more useful, wanted.   

I made Reed a little bed under our stairwell, where there was a room about large enough to put a twin bed. Reed’s things could go in the hall closet. Then, we all had new roommate beers.

The next morning, I noticed the 12 pack of Coors was gone. I looked all around, noticing cans littered around the apartment. We hadn’t drunk them all, had we? As my eyes searched the painted wrought-iron accents and thick beige carpeting of my apartment, I noticed some other bottles and miscellany- Robitussin, 5th of Whiskey. Cans. The trail led to Reed’s sleeping space, where I found him in his clothes, legs splayed and half out of his stairwell nook.

He was like my little Rasta hermit crab, BUT WITH A TREMENDOUS FUCKING DRINKING PROBLEM.

At first, I laughed it off. That sounds insensitive, but I really didn’t know what addiction was about until I lived with Reed. Allen warned me, in hushed tones, about addiction. I didn’t listen. This behavior became a nightly occurrence, and though I am VERY ACCEPTING of people who drink a lot (I did, mostly to combat my feelings of depression and hopelessness that came from the whorish nature of assisting), I got increasingly irritated as the liquor I bought for myself started to disappear.

“Reed.” I would say, outside of his little room. “Are you in there?”

“Yes.” He would mumble. One word, and I knew.

“Reed-“ I repeated.

Pause.

“Did you drink the Boone’s farm I was saving for Valentine’s Day?”

Pause.

“What Boone’s Farm?”

“The big purple bottles.”

Pause.

“No.”

“Reed?”

“No.”

“Reed.”

“Okay, I did.”

“Reed!”

“I’m sorry.”

“You promised you would ask me if you wanted anything. We’ve been over this.”

“I know.”

Beat.

“I promise I won’t ever take any more of your alcohol. I really do promise. Is that okay?”

“Yes.”

Of course, it kept happening. I figured he wouldn’t drink so much once he got a job. Still, Reed would go out, roam around for 12 hours, come home fucked up, make a mess of the apartment, listen to Phish on his Discman, and pass out.

I guess there’s something to be said for predictability.

So, I tried to help Reed find a job. I redid his resume. I sent him Craigslist links. I even told him we’d go eat at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles on me, once he handed something. Allen told me I was going above and beyond my call of duty, but I felt good about helping. Allen— proactive on a different front— was trying to get his Dad and stepmom to take Reed back. They weren’t budging.

I wondered what kind of parents would force their son out into the world, with little to no guidance or resources. My parents— the constant and angelic foil to Reed’s— would never do such a thing. It must be Reed’s upbringing, I thought. Maybe they traumatized him. He was a nice guy.

It wasn’t all Reed-oriented community service, though: Reed and I did have our moments. When I was tired from work I’d watch shitty television with him. He’d eat pizza with me when I felt like overloading on carbs. Hell, he’d always go for weed, a drink or a cigarette.

“You know, or more, like if you want to.”

And he told me secrets about himself. He told me how he felt conflicted about his sexuality, about how much ridicule he received with his learning disability. I felt for him. He was not so different than I … I was 24, he was 21.  We both came from the Midwest …

So we didn’t have a whole lot in common— but he trusted me! He thought I was really fucking smart, and cool. In retrospect, a lot of my friendships have hinged upon my appreciation of others’ appreciation of me.

Cue my poor, withered ego.

My work was suffering, too. Trying to get Reed on his feet cut into my sleep time, and made me far less capable of deflecting executive and client rage. One of my duties as assistant was to sneak into my boss’ office at night and arrange his desk together in a very particular way, at very particular angles. With three hours of sleep and a full day of fast-paced groveling, I couldn’t get the angles quite right, or I’d forget to put that one glass globe paperweight in the exact right spot. The next morning would be a SHITSHOW, and all I could do was apologize profusely— promising I’d be a better deskfairy. 


But then, Reed got a job at a headshop! He was overjoyed, throwing his small hands up into the air, raising his voice.

But then, he was fired.  


“That guy sucked. He didn’t trust me from the beginning. FUCK.”

“It’s okay.” I told Reed, exasperated. “It probably wasn’t a good fit for you.”

I still took him out for Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. After that, he got a job at a McDonalds. He lasted the same amount of time: three days.

“My manager said I wasn’t doing well at my training.” Reed said, angrily, drinking from a 5th of Smirnoff. “That guy was a real DICK.”

Two weeks later, Allen had been talking to a social worker friend of his, who was pushing for Reed get a job as a bellhop at a hotel in the area. I gave Reed some coaching the night before he had his bellhop interview, that maybe so he’d maybe snag and keep this job for longer than his three-day streak.

“Okay, Reed.” I’d ask. “What do you say your greatest strength is?”

“Oh my greatest strength would definitely, definitely be the fact that I make friends hella easy. It’s just easy for me. I do it really well.”

Memories: me, exhausted. Entering my 1980s apartment to a cluster of cigarette-fondling, gaudily tatted, stinking homeless people. Fucking up grins. Slow laughs.

“And…why do you want this job?”

“Because I need the money.”

Then I thought of how Reed spent his last 20 on alcohol.

I worked with Reed on these answers, trying to evolve his responses.

“Reed- instead of saying your weakness is being late, say that your weakness is caring too much about people. Then you’ve turned a weakness into a kind of a strength.”

“But that’s not really true. Most people are TOTAL FUCKING SHITHEADS, Rebecca.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

By some modern miracle, the next day Reed snagged the bellhop job. We were all extremely happy. Five days later, I came home from work to Reed screaming.

“FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!”

“What happened?” I asked. Allen was quiet in the corner, arms folded.

“I fucking HATE PEOPLE.” Reed screamed. He stormed around the apartment, like a tiny lion.

“Reed was fired.” Allen said. “He came to work drunk.”

“I WASN’T DRUNK!” Reed screeched.

“And,” Allen continued, “He stole money from a hotel patron.”

Every time Allen talked, Reed got angrier. He cursed. He paced. He denied that he had been fired under such egregious circumstances.

“Why would you do that?” I asked. I didn’t understand— we had tried so hard to help him get this job. Reed fucking it up wasn’t just a reflection of himself, but of our own trustworthiness and efforts. Allen shook his head. I knew he felt incredibly guilty, but also sad. He felt sad for his family, and embarrassed that he brought Reed into our house, embarrassed that he didn’t stop all the time I put into helping Reed.

“I want Reed to go to rehab.” Allen admitted. “I called a bunch of them.”

“I AM NOT GOING TO REHAB!” Reed screamed. “AND— I HATE YOU BOTH! I NEED A DRINK. THIS. MINUTE.” Then, he left our apartment. Tumult gave way to quiet uneasiness.

“I am so, so sorry.” Allen said. “He’s really not your problem. At all. And we’re going to find him a different place to live.”

I couldn’t help but feel like I’d failed, too. This blow-up should have been a clear delineation between ourselves and the difficulty with someone who could not be help. Instead, it left us feeling terrible, like it was us who had the problem. We both went to bed feeling unresolved.

The next day, I left for work and there was no sign of Reed. But that night, I came home to the door of my apartment wide open.

He was back.

Before I even entered my apartment, I smelled HOMELESS PEOPLE- that tart, dirty smell that only articulates itself when layers of clothing, sweat, street and nicotine collide. Terrible. One large man was drinking beer and smoking a cigarette on my couch. Reed was talking to a skinny white guy with dreadlocks and a large, patchwork backpack. A third man was urinating into a plant.

“Hey Rebecca!” Reed said. “Hey everyone! This is my roomie Rebecca! She is COOL.”

I stared at Reed. The guy peeing in the plant had finished.  

“No, I said. No. I AM NOT COOL. Reed-get these people out of here. Right FUCKING NOW. I want to watch these people LEAVE MY FUCKING APARTMENT. And I want YOU to leave with them. And you will stay outside until I GET YOUR BROTHER AND FIND SOME FUCKING PLACE TO PUT YOU.”

I watched them as they ushered themselves from my apartment. Reed looked drunk and ashamed as he left, but he didn’t protest. “See ya, yo.”

I looked around. I realized that these strangers could have been a danger to me, and I began to cry to myself, silently. What had happened? What was I DOING? When Allen got home, we changed the locks on the doors, just in case. Allen tried to call his brother, with no luck.  Eventually, Allen drove around our neighborhood and found Reed passed out outside a laundromat, and deposited him at a homeless shelter.

If I knew that that night in the apartment was the last time I’d see Reed, maybe I would have acted differently. Still— I think he knew that this situation was a temporary one. His lifestyle and mine— his lifestyle and his brothers’— didn’t match up. And, all the lies. I didn’t even realized how much lying had occurred, until I stepped back. Not even lying from Reed, but to myself.  


The next couple months were quiet. I heard that Reed was in rehab, then out on the streets, then at his parents, then in Rehab. We kept in causal contact on facebook. He’d text me when he was really drunk. These messages were frustrating, illusive, and grammatically pretty hard to read. I heard he was living with an older lover of his. Later, I heard he was in jail for shoplifting. Then, he was back out. I wish I could say I felt better about housing him, good about kicking him out. I didn’t though. I knew he was totally fucked up, but I still felt badly. I couldn’t live with feeling helpless in this person’s life.

Six months after, Allen decided to move to upstate New York. I found a new place. I got a better job. And then, I lost contact with Reed altogether. Was he in Chicago? Was he in Los Angeles? I didn’t know. I still don’t know. Sometimes, I think I’ll see him on the streets— I live somewhat close to where Allen and I did— but I don’t.  I never do.

           

                                                                                     
Rebecca Leib is writing a series of short stories chronicling and inspired by her first year in Los Angeles. 


 

**Above photo courtesy of Google Maps.


RELATIONSHIPS: telling it like it is MEG SWERTLOW

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Listen up friends and strangers — I’m blunt, I’m honest, I talk too much, I over share. I’m aware of these facts. But, I can’t help myself, nor do I really want to. If you ask me what I think, I’ll probably tell you. So don’t ask unless you want to know. “How do I look in this shirt?” “Uhh you are wearing a Hawaiian shirt and you aren’t a 55-year-old man with a receding hairline and pot belly, so not good.” If you ask me how many people I’ve slept with — I’ll tell you the truth. I won’t tell you a lie because I’m afraid you will think I’m a slut; if you think less of me, you are probably just a prude who doesn’t know how to have a good time. So that’s your problem, not mine. Yeah, I’ve slept with a bunch of dudes. It happened, some of it was awesome, some of it was terrible, some I just don’t remember (classy right?) and sometimes it takes me awhile to remember a dude I’ve slept with’s last name. Like now. For the past 3 minutes, I’ve been trying to remember Christian’s last name (a hot New Zealander I had a fling with one blisteringly hot night in Nicaragua) and I still can’t remember. Oh well.

People say I over share too much; people say I shouldn’t be so honest with partners about my past; people say a lot of shit. But fuck it, keeping that stuff intentionally to myself, just feels like lying— or a secret. It makes it more powerful. And I just can’t do it. And frankly, I don’t want to do it. I know a lot of people who disagree with me — but that’s just who I am.

The EX Factor

Another thing that I get shit for is that I’m still really good friends with a lot of people I’ve dated. I’m sorry I still have good relations with people who are important to me! Kill me, okay! Many of my past romances have become friends that I have an interesting past with and as far as I know the just-friends-now feelings are mutual — if my menfolk friends are secretly still in love with my 5’1 spazzy splendor, it’s news to me (I mean I get it, I’m really fun — but it would still be news to me). If something is in the past, it’s in the past for a reason, like we didn’t like dating each other.

I get a lot of people saying things like, “Oh I don’t know how you are friends with your exes” and “I could never …”  My mother has always said she thinks it’s wonderful I’m still so close with my exes — honestly, I just don’t know any other way to be. I figure if I loved you, then I’ll probably love you for life in some way, and I want you in my life. I probably cared about you because you are an awesome person — and just because we aren’t fucking anymore doesn’t make you a not-awesome person. Sometimes, it takes time and work to get back to friendship — but, I find that it’s worth it. Most guys I’ve dated have been fine with the fact that I’m still in close contact with my exes.  All but one. The big ex. The last one. The one I have no desire to EVER be friends with in the future. The one that turned me from a blunt, honest girl to a big, fat liar.

The Good Guy

One thanksgiving, a boy I barely knew, let’s call him Trent because he really liked NiN, asked me to hang out. I wasn’t really interested, but I was single, what the hell right? Couldn’t hurt. I mean this guy wasn’t my speed at all. First off he was blonde, he looked like Mr. Plucky All-American (If you aren’t tall, dark, kinda weird looking, waifish and brooding — keep moving) but the worst part is — he was terribly earnest. For my sarcastic self that “aww shucks” quality was an ultimate deal breaker. How do you talk to someone who isn’t ironic or sarcastic?! (I had no clue). But, I figured, why not at least hang out? So, I did.

As we sat on our mutual friend’s worn-out carpet, drinking cheap Taaka vodka out of Solo cups, the chalice of bad decisions, he told me about himself: he was just an all-American boy who wore his heart on his sleeve, he didn’t play games, when he liked someone he let her know, he was just a “good guy.” He said it several times — “I’m just a good guy.”  Huh? Sounds boring. After a few more swigs of vodka he admitted he dropped out of college, and no he didn’t read books. Who doesn’t ready books!? Are you stupid!? As we sucked down more and more of the clear burning liquid, we laughed, we giggled but still I wasn’t interested. And I told him so: You just are not my type. You are too blonde. Too normal. He just laughed and promised he would show me good guys weren’t all bad. I looked at him incredulously — and kept drinking. After hours of intoxication, the group of us were sprawled out on the stained carpet. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something that changed everything — his shirt had risen up, revealing the bottom of a tattoo on his torso. What is that!? He lifted up his shirt and I saw the sexiest thing I’d ever seen — a Da Vinci tattoo of a skull. DA VINCI?! Oh boy. He likes art, he knows about art. He has art on his body. His unbelievably sexy body. God, that thing is sexy as fuck. How did I not notice — he is sexy as fuck. I wanted him. It was all I needed to tip the drunk and wanting-to-fuck scale. An hour later we were making out; an hour and a half later we were in bed together. Within two weeks, he drunkenly told me he loved me, and 30 days later we still hadn’t gone 24 hours without seeing each other. We were done for.

Back It Up

Only weeks prior to meeting Trent, I had moved out of the apartment I had lived in with my ex-boyfriend of two years (let’s call him Thom because he really likes Radiohead). Thom and I had broken up two months prior to Thanksgiving, but I had only just moved out. Thom was (and still is) a lovely, very eccentric but passive boy, but I was Thom’s first girlfriend — and he was incapable of communicating about anything — and well — he wouldn’t sleep with me. Fun, right? I begged, I pleaded, I bought expensive lingerie, I yelled, I got romantic hotel rooms, eventually I stopped trying. A gal can only take so much rejection! And after almost two years, I cheated on him (judge away). I just wanted to kiss someone who wanted to kiss me back. So, I did. After it happened, I immediately told Thom. He wanted to stay together, I wanted to break up, but we didn’t — I thought we could make it work. But nothing changed, it happened again, I told him and I ended it.

Eventually, when I got together with Trent, I told him everything about the stunted, emotionless, sexless relationship I just gotten out of. I needed to purge my past sins, to wash away the guilt I still felt for not being the girlfriend I had wanted to be. I felt like he had to know all my past wrongs. I clung to Trent harder than I had to anyone in my life. Trent told me all about his father he would die for, a rough childhood with a mother who left him at the age of five, and a step mom who had beaten him. In turn, he clung to me. He told me all he ever wanted in this life was to love someone deeply, and to be someone’s boyfriend. He told me he had so much love he wanted to give me. He told me knew how to treat a woman right; that he would do anything for the woman he loved. And I believed him. Our claws were deep within each other. It only made things more intense when we realized our physical connection was mind-numbingly off the charts. I didn’t even know sex like that existed — and I’ve had a LOT of sex. I finally had love, passion, feelings, emotion — and nothing was ripping it away from me.

Our love was blinding and all encompassing. So much so, I ignored the red flags that kept popping up, like when Trent said his exes hated him and that none of them talked to him anymore (he told me they weren’t friends with him because he had been such an amazing boyfriend and so good to them that they couldn’t handle it when it was over. Yeah, he really said that. Who says that?!) Or when three weeks into our relationship, he told me he wouldn’t date me if I still talked to Thom. Or when he referred to girls he knew as “cunts.” Or when he went through my phone as I was driving, trying to see if I had been texting or Facebooking any guys. Or the first night, when he said he didn’t read books! All should have been cause for alarm — but, I was in too deep.

Down the Rabbit Hole

In case you totally couldn’t have already seen this coming — Trent and I turned out to be a match made in hell. For the next year, I oscillated between the highest highs I had ever felt and the most devastating despair imaginable. Trent feared I would slip into my old patterns, feared that I would cheat, feared that I would leave him, feared that I would lie to him and he became increasingly controlling. The emotional abuse started slowly, gained more power and eventually turned into an unstoppable bullet train. It got to a point where we were breaking up and making up daily. But for the life of me, I refused, I REFUSED to let go.

About a month in, I slept at the old apartment I shared with Thom because I got stuck at a party without a car. All hell broke loose: I was accused of cheating, called names. It was the first time I saw his rage directed at me. I tried to explain to him nothing happened — “Uhh, we didn’t even have sex when we were together, you know that!” But, he told me that this is what a terrible person would do — and I eventually agreed with him. I felt like a terrible person. I was a terrible person.

And the next nine months pretty much went like this:

We date for three months. Trent finds out that I emailed Thom a two word email, “You alive?” to check if he is okay. I get dumped. We break up for three months. But we still talk constantly and I do everything in my power to be with him. But he doesn’t want to be my boyfriend. I am beside myself, crying every day. One night, during the break up, I think Trent is hooking up with someone, so I get sad and make out with my friend, whom I have a past with (let’s call him Bjork because he really likes Bjork). I feel like a cheater, but I decide not to tell Trent if he asks if anything has happened with anyone — and he does — constantly. In my sadness, I decide to move to New York for the summer to work and to get away. A month before I go, Trent tells me he was just scared, he loves me desperately and we get back together. Then, before I go, Trent drunkenly accuses me of making out with his lesbian friend (I hadn’t). We break up. We get back together. I go to New York. When I arrive, Trent hacks my email, finds out I kissed Bjork when we were broken up — flips out, dumps me, calls me a cunt and a terrible person a lot. I beg for forgiveness at being such a horrible, terrible person a lot. He has begun to bring up my confessions to him about my past and to use them as examples of why I should not be trusted now, why I can never be trusted. My previous candor, for which he once praised me for, becomes my noose. It gets to a point where I am terrified to go out for fear a man will speak to me, Trent will find out and I’ll get called a slut or dumped. So I don’t go out. I don’t get drunk. I try to be perfect.

He was my addiction. Every time he pulled his love away from me, I ran faster to it. I could not stop myself. Everyone around me could see I was an unhealthy situation. All my friends saw it. My family saw it. I saw it. But I couldn’t let go. He became the reason I breathed. When he was mad at me — I couldn’t even eat. My weight dropped to 93 pounds at one point. I knew he was cruel to me, but I’d forget the verbal attacks with a simple, “I love you.” So why did I stay?! Despite the abuse, I felt more loved than I had in my entire life. When things were good he would scoop me up in his strong arms and make me feel safe. When I was is his arms — it felt like home. I’d never felt that before. He wrote me sweet words, sent me love songs and spent an entire week making a music video for me – a love poem of sorts. He talked about marriage, travelling the world, and taking adventures together. Despite the many long term relationships I’d been in, he was the first person I met that I could see spending my life with. And did I mention the sex was amazing? ‘Cause it was. Stupidly amazing.

A Night to Remember

When I finally got back to Los Angeles after my time away, everything felt different. Trent was still angry at me for leaving — and I could feel the rage in him. It all seemed like it was leading up to some boiling point, and then five days later, on a hot Thursday night, it did.

That night, I decided to pretend everything felt normal, felt good. We were finally back together! I surprised him with a date to the Malibu Winery to see Buster Keaton’s The General. It was perfect: A romantic location, twinkle lights, wine, Haribo gummi bears, gourmet sandwiches, Buster Keaton — I dreamed of a man doing this for me. But there was something wrong. The entire ride to the winery I felt like I was walking on egg shells yet again, treading lightly, fearing I would do something that would prove to him that I really was a monster. But, I stuffed those feelings away, put them back, way back where all my anger towards his treatment of me hid, so that everything could be just fine that night. At one point during the film, he leaned his massive body towards me, brushed his lips against my ears and whispered, “I love you. This is wonderful. Thank you so much.” I looked away, tears welled up in my eyes, and it took everything in me not to start sobbing. I felt loved and completely unloved all at the same time. His kind words embraced my body, but I knew real love didn’t make you feel so empty inside.

Later that night, we lay in a bed fashioned out of an old futon. I could feel tension mounting between us. My confusion and sadness was as tactile as the cheap cotton futon cover I was laying on. Fear was engulfing me, yet again. But, still, I said nothing. I smiled, I cooed, I praised. And then once again he started, “I just feel like something happened in New York. I feel like you are keeping something from me.”

Finally, I let out what I had been keeping from him. I couldn’t take hiding it anymore.  “Okay fine, I didn’t want it to upset you, but Bjork texted a friend of mine to say hi to me.” Bjork the mutual friend whom I had kissed in our three months apart. Bjork, the man whom Trent constantly asked about. Bjork, the man whom I had not spoken to or heard from in almost three months. Instantly, the guilt that had weighed me down ever since my friend offhandedly mentioned this text — lifted.

His response dumbfounded me. He bellowed, “I am done with you. You are done. Get out of my apartment; I never want to see you again.” I did not move. I did not breathe. He continued, “If you lied about this — I know there is more.” There was no more. I had avoided doing comedy shows if there were men in them, I had avoided going to get drinks with male family friends because he told me it was wrong to get drinks with a man who wasn’t him, I had completely cut off a male friend that I cared deeply about to pacify his fury that we had once slept together, I had only gotten drunk once in the two months I was gone because if I did, he refused to speak to me since it reminded him of the time I was drunk and called him a name. But none of it mattered.

And then I snapped. I screamed: “I CHEATED ON YOU!” I wanted him to be in pain. I wanted him to feel the heartbreak his words made me feel. I wanted to destroy him as he had destroyed me, and that was the only way I knew how — by lying.

Immediately I saw his face contort, he came at me and I yelled. “I’m sorry — that’s not true — I lied. That was a lie.” And it was. But, the damage was done. He didn’t believe me. I had confirmed everything he had ever thought about me. I had given him everything he wanted: to prove that I was a cheater, a whore, a cheating cunt whore. And he told me so. And he told me — he didn’t love me anymore. And all because of a fucking text message.

His hands were around my throat, I screamed in his face — “Kill me! Kill me now!” I wanted my outside to match my insides — bruised and bloodied. In one moment, I felt love, hate, contempt, turned on, lust. I felt everything for this man from head to toe. I felt alive and yet dead inside. I was off my fucking rocker.

Happily Ever After

That night was the beginning of the end. I began to see how bad things had gotten. When I told the truth it was taken as lies, and when I told lies it was taken as truth. Everything was topsy turvy. I had allowed myself to love a man who called me a cunt when he wanted to hurt me, who told me my past made me a whore. I allowed myself to be with a man who threatened to sleep with other people to hurt me, who constantly told me I was a terrible person. I allowed this man to throw my past in my face. I allowed him to turn my openness and free spirit into a weapon — and all for the idea of “love”. I wanted so much to love and be loved in return that I was willing to sacrifice myself. And I almost did. Luckily, I am not locked up in a closet somewhere, acting like a girl who laughs for no one else. It’s been painful, but I got out and I am finding myself again.

I know I lied to myself for a long time about that relationship. I pretended what I was going through was fine and wasn’t chipping away at me. It got to a point where I no longer recognized myself. But someone can only make you feel like nothing, if you let them. And I let him. Through all this, I found out that secrets and lies eat away at your soul but so can the truth if you know you aren’t following it. At the end of the day your own truth is what matters.

I’m Meg. I’m free-spirited, I’m spazzy, I’m a loud mouth, and I still tell it like it is. When my guy friend asks me about his outfit I say, “John your sweater is a woman’s sweater and your shirt is way too small.” I tell strangers that funny story about that night I got drunk and made out with seven chicks at Pride Weekend, and I still don’t remember the last name of that dude I boned in Nicaragua. All of which kind of makes me — awesome.

 

                              

Meg Swertlow was born and raised in Los Angeles. You may have seen her as Peaches in a very moving episode of Joan of Arcadia back in 2004. Maybe not. She decided to put her illustrious catering career on hold, and for the past four years has been writing about fashion, movies, TV and the stupid things celebrities do for Entertainment Tonight’s website ETonline and The Insider’s website, TheInsider.com. She interviews Top Chefs, Project Runway designers and some other folks. For the past six years, she has been performing improv, stand up and sketch around Los Angeles. You can see her doing shows at the Comedy Store, The Palms, UCB, various indie shows and with her iO West house sketch team Mr. Worm. Her two-person sketch show will be on June 20th at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in Los Angeles. Previously, she has shown people the true way to happiness in her one-woman-show, “The Irresponsible Girl’s Guide to Having It All.” The lil’ ball of energy co is also an expert at cartwheels, eating mac ‘n’ cheese and being 5’1”. Meg is new to Slack Lust, but is very excited to a part of the amazing publication!

**Above photo was taken by Jeff Ellingson

FOOD: a madman is running the north hollywood cold stone creamery ASTERIOS KOKKINOS

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I am not at all ashamed to love Cold Stone Creamery. Sure, I could mix my ice cream and candy together myself, like an animal. At Cold Stone Creamery, they mash your ice cream and candy together like they do for Hollywood celebrities. What’s not to love?

Plus, they’re the only place you can find cake batter flavored ice cream. If you asked me if I wanted to eat a spoonful of cake batter I’d think you were insane. Flavor ice cream with it and I’m handing you six dollars.

So when a Cold Stone Creamery opened in North Hollywood, I was pretty excited. Finally, an ice cream place near my gym. But imagine my surprise when I approached the front door and read:

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There are so many things wrong with this sign, I barely know where to begin. To refuse to participate in a “Shrek 5” promotion is one thing, but this is the “Make A Wish” foundation. They’re the guys that help terminally ill kids meet WWE superstar John Cena. Say what you will about the taste of these kids, but at least honor whatever coupon helps them out.

But if you’re going to not participate in an event that helps sick children, at least go down to Kinko’s and make a decent sign. This scrawled out note says, “Hey: I don’t care enough about kids to make a decent sign telling you how little I care about kids! So fuck off, kids!”

This sign, and the other things I experienced inside this Cold Stone Creamery, lead me to believe that its owner is insane. I’ve spent hours cataloging his crimes against basic human decency. I’ve taken dozens of covert photographs of his store, and even interviewed his staff countless times to document his incredible lack of sanity.

And by “interviewed his staff” I mean “ordered ice cream from his staff” but the point remains - I’ve done my homework. Whoever he is, he’s a madman. He’s a goddamned madman.

Here’s an example:

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I love this sign - it’s as rational as it is mature. It’s a great way to tell your customers, “Hey, I set weird traps for people. You should come eat my ice cream.”

This guy spent $3 on a fake $100 so he could not catch someone stealing fake money. Makes sense to me! Also: either spend more than 99 cents on a tip jar, or don’t advertise that you spent 99 cents on a tip jar. It’s a great way to tell your employees, “I spent as much on a stuffed fish as I did on your happiness.”

Here’s how the Cold Stone Creamery in Venice labels its tip jar:

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See? That’s how you deploy your tip jar, asshole.

In the North Hollywood Cold Stone Creamery, there’s a sign next to their (far crappier) tip jar that says, “New Mix-In: Hazelnut Delights!”

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I don’t know what Hazelnut Delights are, but I do enjoy delight. So on my recent visit, I ordered a “Love It!” sized ice cream with them mixed in.

The clerk reached into the tub with tongs and pulled out one.

Then, she pulled out another one.

Then, she closed the lid.

Two Hazelnut Delights is not a Hazelnut Delight. It’s a Hazelnut Outrage.

To think - I could have had a whole Twinkie. But I look at the teenage clerk and I can see straight away - two Hazelnut Delights isn’t her choice. It’s the crazy, crazy guy that owns this place - he told her to do it. He’s the problem. He clearly told her, “You give the customer two. If I see you hand out three, I will put you on the stone and mash you with the Twix.”

So I didn’t complain to the clerk, who was the the only person working at 3 pm on a Saturday, a.k.a., “Fat Guy Prime.” I handed over my $3.95 and I left. But even I’d wanted to complain, I’d be thwarted by another sign:

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Why are people trying to return this ice cream? Does it taste like employee tears? You don’t see “no refunds” signs at ice cream shops because it’s a product that’s impossible to hate. It’s delicious, and you eat it the moment it’s handed to you. How badly are they fucking up this ice cream?

Also, that “No $50s” sign is really passive aggressive. Here’s a much better “No $50s” sign, which I photographed at the (much better) Cold Stone Creamery in Santa Monica:

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This is how you get shit done, North Hollywood Cold Stone Creamery. You call people “valued customers.” You “apologize for any inconvenience.” You ask people to “enjoy their ice cream.” You don’t treat them like lepers for only having a $50.

There’s is a right way and a wrong way to warn people about your inability to accept $50’s and $100’s. The guy who chose the wrong way is basically Hitler.

I’m so disgusted by everything I’ve seen at this point that I immediately turn to leave. That, and I’ve finished my ice cream. But on my way out, I see this:

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Here’s how the thought process for this went:

"Have a nice day!" - nah, makes too much sense.

"Have an "ice" day!” - hmmm…makes less sense, so it’s better.

"Have an "ice cream" day!" - well this is total nonsense, so I think we’re done here. Wait, how about…

"Have a "nice cream" day!" - PERFECT. This makes absolutely no sense. Let’s hang it up and charge people to read it!

After writing a whole article about how much I hate this store, I still regularly continued to eat there. Of course I did. They have cake batter ice cream. Then the other day, I saw this:

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This is what happens when you don’t honor Make-A-Wish coupons. This is what happens when you’re stingy with toppings, and taunt would-be thieves, and generally run your store like a total asshole.

That, and a Pinkberry opened up next door. Still, what a dick, am I right?

                                     

Asterios has written for Spike TV’s MANswers, The National Lampoon & Cracked Magazine. He’s also been featured on NPR’s Marketplace, had a pilot screen at the New York Television Festival, and wrote/starred in a series of ads for Hungry Man dinners where he played Genghis Khan. He currently edits the comics and comedy magazine "The Quarterly Devastator." He loves Babylon 5, yelling at the TV with my dad, and naps. Tweeting nonstop at @asterios.

 

**All photography posted here is courtesy of Asterios Kokkinos 2012.

LIFESTYLE: tuesday meditations on death TOVA KAPLAN

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I’m at work alone when a wrought despair creeps up on me. It’s an unfamiliar feeling –grave- and soon I become fixated on death.

Dead bodies.

I’ve sort of seen one before - my friend Nick from Applebee’s. They didn’t find him until a week later, and at the wake his body was so heavy, and sunken, I was too terrified to really look.

I think about the potential benefits of seeing one:

1. Firstly, I’d like to get a head start on the subject before it gets personal which, obviously, it will because it’s the only guarantee in life.

2. Secondly, I imagine the viewing will shake things up, and give me a swift kick. I expect an increase in gratitude.  

I’m now convinced that I need to see one.

The Coroner’s Report

I call the L.A. County Coroner’s office and navigate their phone system until I reach someone with authority. Lieutenant Frank Grover calls me back, and his deep and soothing voice disappoints me by letting me know it’s against policy to show a civilian a dead body.

Well, shit.

Lieutenant Grover is sympathetic to my situation and reassures me we’re all curious about death.  “It’s the one thing that nobody knows what happens. So what do you want to know?” I inquire how looking at death every day affects him.

"It’s shocking,” he tells me. "Even after twenty-seven years. One of the most disturbing parts is that the face retains its emotion at the time of death. Whatever violence or trauma has occurred, you see it on them. They wear it.” He tells me he gets very emotional sometimes and can’t sleep. "Especially when it’s babies."

He describes the autopsy and exhumation processes to me, and wishes me luck. If I have any more questions I can call him back.

I still want to see a body, but have run out of gas. I don’t have the audacity to crash a wake, and my stomach is hostile towards hospitals.  Six thousand, eight hundred and fifteen people die per day according to the CIA fact book. You think every now and then you’d trip over one at the mall?

I Google image-search “dead bodies” out of stubbornness, but the best available was an Iraqi soldier’s shredded foot, and it wasn’t doing much. Death’s offerings are harder to come by than I thought.

In The Family

The next day I call Scott, my second cousin and the most enlightened man I know. We’ve been discoursing about life ever since I received his book Journey to the Impossible in the mail in college.

"Maybe your problem is you think you have a problem." Scott suggests. “Jung would say you’re ‘just in the soup.’ We’re all in the soup. Life’s a mess."

According to developmental psychologist research, compiled by philosopher and psycho-spiritual theorist Ken Wilber, most of us hit a plateau in our development between the ages of 25 to 55. We are who we are by then, and until we decide to tune into the inner world, there is little that can change that.

I ask Scott what he thinks about this, and he turns the question on me. “What do you think, Tova?  Why do you think most people never change?”

I think about how I want to lose ten pounds, and all the excuses I make and how when I wanted to lose ten pounds in eighth grade I danced rigorously to MTV’s “The Grind” and ate carrots and turkey.  

I respond: “I think most people never change because they’re comfortable being who they are. And they don’t question their thoughts and attitudes and beliefs because change is hard.  Also, maybe there’s nothing to change? Perhaps no better version is available? Not that I think people can’t improve themselves, but I can appreciate a sloppy canvas sometimes too.”

Scott: “Only a small percentage of people ever really look at themselves - to try to understand who they are. Generally, those that do begin their inward journey in the second half of life (hence the “mid life crisis”). From my observation, those that ask these questions earlier in life do so because they had unusual childhoods and perhaps more then their fair share of suffering. Suffering can propel us forward on our quest of becoming.”

Childhood Trauma

I consider my abnormal childhood, and find it funny my most intense memory was a brush with death.  

I was eight and had just got new penny loafers. As usual, my mother was in a rush – this time trying to get to the post office before it closed. I followed poorly behind, and trying to catch up, ran across a parking lot, slipping banana-peel style under the hood of a moving Ford Taurus.  

The tires screeched to a halt and all time stopped. I remember being hypnotized by the under-the-car’s metal piping and turning my head to the left, staring at the tire treads five inches from my face. Everything was quiet and peaceful and so, so, so still.

Then - a rude awakening. After being peeled off the ground, I’m greeted back to life with a slap. What the fuck? My mom was clearly upset. She also probably wanted to confirm I was alive since I hadn’t made a sound yet. At least that’s why they do it when you’re born.

Final Questions

Reflecting on this brings me to an emotional place (a sought out effect, won), and I realize death has offered me something: a distraction. This existential hunt has been fun, but I need to get back to work because life is in the doing.

The mysteries of life will probably always remain mysteries. What’s important is that I continue to pay attention, and continue to ask questions, so one day as Poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, I can “gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

 

                                        

Tova Kaplan is a producer and writer living in Los Angeles. She is currently working on ‘Kitchen Nightmares’, but right now she’s currently drinking a beer.

                   

**The full quote from Rainer Maria Rilke is: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."


     

**Stacy Elaine Dacheux’s photograph above accompanies Tova’s article.


ART: pigeon fancier’s fancy pigeons NICOLE ANTEBI

Pigeon Fancier’s Fancy Pigeons from nantebi on Vimeo.

                            

                                     

Nicole Antebi divides her time between Los Angeles and Monterey Bay.  Working mostly in video, installation, and animation, she has recently developed a series of animated documentaries which draw connections between the language, strategies, and mythologies surrounding so many of California’s historical water wizards and moguls whose excessive vision led to calamitous ends. Recent projects include the anthology/website, entitled Water, CA: Creative Visualizations for a New Millennium co-edited with Enid Baxter Blader.  The project was also the focus of a recent exhibition and festival at the Crocker Art Museum  and will be the basis of an upcoming exhibition at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, CA, slated to open October 2012.   Other recent projects include Pitch Battles, a multimedia performance at CSUMB with Colin Dickey and Chris Kallmyer, Ever Green, an exhibition embedded within Lara Bank’s “Portable Forest” at Monte Vista Projects, and “And the Whale Said…,” an impressionistic retelling of Moby Dick as a puppet show on a capsized ship at Machine Project (co-produced with Linda Wei).

JUSTINE BARRON’S SLOW-TRACKED LIFE (PART 4): the mastermind

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On Facebook, I discovered the following about the girls I grew up around: The geeky girl with the coke bottle glasses, who whittled wood during recess, is now into belly dancing. The European girl who lost her virginity at 14 and showed off her sophistication is now a religious stay-at-home mom of six living in the suburbs. And the kooky space cadet, who was my best friend, is now a…. space cadet.

Only the last one of these surprised me.

MY CHILDHOOD BEST FRIEND, THE GENIUS MASTERMIND

Laura Matthews, the space cadet, was my first best friend. That isn’t her real name. I’m not using her real name because I’m afraid of what might happen to me if this shows up in a Google search. Also, she’s the great-granddaughter of a former Republican President. But it’s not the Republicans that scare me, this time.

Laura was a very important person in my life, the first person to truly accept and appreciate me. I had friends before her; I got around. But she burst into my life in the fifth grade, moved six houses down, and fulfilled the young adult novel fantasy of best friendship. I was already ten when we met. I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen for me. I remember when we first said it to each other - “You’re my best friend too!” Soon, we were saying it all the time to each other and taking it further: “LYLAS” (love you like a sister).

Like any perfect match, Laura and I complemented each other. She was tall, blond, and athletic, a pre-debutante. I was Jewy and bookish. We created our own society together, with our own language, games, and rules. She was the inspiration and I was the brains behind the operation. I wrote our theme song; she thought we needed a theme song.

Our good times often involved shoplifting and pranking. We would go door-to-door, for instance, and pretend I was a Mexican orphan girl and ask for money.  In another classic bit, she would take a used dirty Butterfingers wrapper and try to sell it to people – “Hey, wanna buy some candy!” Nobody got it, but I would die laughing.  To me, it was like post-modern anti-comedy. I got into trouble hanging out with Laura. I was kicked out of the school play for misbehaving. But who cared about a stupid corny school play, when we were doing underground street theater?

I considered Laura to be pure raw talent, an underappreciated genius mastermind. She thought very well of me too:


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From a letter she wrote me when she spent a year in England.

THE INEVITABLE DRIFT

Laura and I had our Stand by Me moment, then drifted in high school. I went to a different school, got good grades, and went to college to study English literature and prolong my virginity. She got into pot and psychedelic drugs, went to wilderness school, lived in the woods for a while with an old guy she called a Wizard because he had a long beard, then with him or someone else, had twin boys and traveled the country living in vans following the band Pfish.

Laura became a joke to her classmates and even her family. She was voted “Most Spacey” in her senior yearbook. I continued to defend her. Laura was special, brilliant! Laura was really doing it, really living life by her own terms!  (Not that I would ever listen to Pfish.)

When I did see her, over the years, I would still get caught up in the spell of her unique charisma. She just became harder to pin down – for a date or even a conversation when we did meet. Her thoughts would wander anxiously.

Then years passed with no contact. She seemed to disappear. I couldn’t find her online. I had close friends after her; I got around. I found Laura-substitutes, but never anyone else that felt like a soul mate. There was a hole in my heart with her (real) name on  it.

REUNION, AS IF BY DESTINY

Then, three years ago, my mom sent me a link for a website for a woman named Laura Minerva, which was a variation on her given middle name. There was a picture of her. She looked the same, but calmer and with dreadlocks, like she had arrived at the “spacey” woman she foreshadowed. The website included very dense language about the womb of the mother, the birthing process, and taking on the dark forces of the false matrix towards the Golden Age in 2012. I was so happy to find Laura and to see that she finally had a thing!  (Not that I would ever personally read about the New Age.)

We exchanged a few emails and talked for hours on the phone. She was the same funny, insightful, high-strung, high-on-substances spirit-being. She was still bringing out something in me that says things like “spirit-being.” She sent me herlatest art work:


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Best of all, Laura was moving to Los Angeles, where I lived. We would be reunited, as if by destiny, in California, where destinies are made! That hole in my heart was filling up.


PARALLEL LIVES, SO TO SPEAK

Then we met in person in L.A., over raw food.  That was her choice. (I would never.)

At first, it seemed like we were on a parallel path in life. She said that was hurt by a recent break-up. “Me too!” I said. She said that her ex had been keeping lies from her. “Me too!” I said.

Then she said that her ex turned out to be an undercover CIA operative, from the future, who was planning a mission to Mars and targeted her because of her family. She was having trouble learning to trust again.

“Um… me too….”

Oh no! Was Laura completely insane? Was she always, and I didn’t see it before, because I was half-insane? She did look unwell, like she had just escaped a war camp, although that might have been the raw food diet.

I wouldn’t let myself entertain such thoughts. Laura always took things further than everyone else, and what did I know about the false matrix? Maybe she came into my life to guide me through the false matrix.

I’M GUIDED TO THE TRUTH, VIA FACEBOOK

Then, Laura added me on Facebook. She posted a lot, all day, at great length, about everything – world events, the weather, a fight with her boyfriend, peaches. She over-shared, some would say, including our other childhood friends. “Can you believe Laura? I had to block her. Isn’t she weird?” Well yes, I’d think… but no! Laura’s just unique. She’s always been braver and more honest than the rest of us!  

In a show of support, I commented on one of her posts. She wrote: “Corn on the cob. We are all corn on the proverbial cob.”  My reply: “Wise. And adorable!”

An hour later I had a notification that more than 80 people had commented on the same post. “I love you Laura… You are so wise…You are a goddess.” I started to catch on that people were responding to all of her posts that way. Who were these people?  She told me she had no friends. Then, she added a fan page, about the return of the goddess. Within a month, it had 20,000 fans.

So I woke up, investigated, and figured out that my childhood best friend Laura, who lives in Ventura and works for her boyfriend’s water company, has a long dirty braid and halitosis, is believed by many, many thousands of people to be the reincarnation of the divine ancient Sophia who will save us in the year 2012.

Some of her followers are very serious. The “About Me” on one man’s Facebook page said that he “lives only to prove that Laura Minerva is the one true Sophia.”  I had a friend request from a follower of hers in Panama. His profile picture included his wife and children.

I wrote her: “What the heck? Are you a cult leader?”  She wrote back: “Oh, I don’t know.  I guess my family has always attracted a lot of attention! But nobody as important to me as you. Xoxox.” Her flighty response annoyed me. I remembered why we drifted.

Then, a few months later, I noticed that her online activity had picked up and changed flavor. She had issued a press release, calling herself “Whistle blower Laura Minerva,” and now taking on her famous great-grandfather’s last name. She says she’s continuing his legacy of nation-building by exposing her ex-boyfriend’s Mars colony project. She’s gotten a ton of press.

I could see her trying to make sense of everything, put together a story that included her background, beliefs, and experiences. She was always, from childhood, looking for the deeper singular truths… It’s hard for me to stop defending Laura … although…

Her website was recently updated. She is taking payment for consultations and donations. There is a long page with dozens of testimonials from “various clients and celebrities,” including the following:

You are a living oracle. You see everything, the whole kaleidoscope within the kaleidoscope and hundreds of images in each chakra. – a holistic scientist
Laura, in my eyes (and in many others), is the BRAVEST and strongest soul in the world, who has traveled to the darkest depths in order to plant the seed of light and divine union for all of humanity’s benefit. She illuminates the spirit of life within matter and co-creates with nature the alchemy for humanity’s ascension. – an intuitive teacher
You have been my anchor, my hope and support through one of the hardest challenges I have gone through. You have helped me see things I would have been in denial about. – a homeless woman (who recovered miraculously)
I like the way you think… You directly speak your mind. – a famous network news anchor

Is this still post-modern anti-comedy?

(Not that I’m an idiot and can’t spot a con artist.)

(Not that I haven’t always thought it would be cool to be a con artist, ever since I hustled as a Mexican orphan.)

So I stopped calling or writing her. I don’t know if she believes she’s a goddess. Even more, I don’t know what to say to her anymore.

Plus, I’ve had a lot going on lately. I wrote a screenplay that’s gotten major attention from a few people. I’ve been performing, tweeting, really getting myself out there. And she’s busy getting her legions of followers ready for the apocalypse. Who has time?

Please, credit where it’s due.  I discovered Laura first, when nobody else was interested.  I’m just not impressed anymore. Except for the etch-a-sketch art:


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Epilogue: I wrote this story after not hearing from Laura for more than a year. The very same day I finished writing it, she posted on my Facebook wall: “I have come to haunt you, now that it’s been forever.”  So there’s that.

Read Part 1 of “Justine Barron’s Slow-Tracked Life”
Read Part 2 of “Justine Barron’s Slow-Tracked Life”
Read Part 3 of “Justine Barron’s Slow-Tracked Life”

                                                                  
_________________________   

Justine Barron writes, performs, and tells stories around Los Angeles. Her work includes award-winning film and television scripts and numerous personal essays and comedy shorts. She is a three-time Moth Storyslam winner and regularly performs her stories around town. She also performs with the improv comedy teams “Twig Storm” and “The Beatles(s).” Her comedic work is found online at www.justinebarron.com and twitter.com/justine_emma.


Image credits belong to Justine Barron.

LIFESTYLE: running away JOHN POSATKO

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Last Sunday I ran in the Santa Monica Classic 10K with some friends. It was meant to be a post-marathon celebratory run, a way to taper down physically, emotionally and mentally from my marathon a month ago in Big Sur, California. As with the marathon, I was one of a small group of runners going unshod, perhaps six out of 1500. I was used to getting strange looks, or seeing people nudge each other and point, hearing comments like, “Wow, that must hurt,” or “Why…why?” Occasionally, I would get an enthusiastic high-five or a “Barefoot! Alright, man!”

By far the best reaction I’ve ever gotten was from a pair of old men, walking along the beach, with one of them turning to the other in a heavy Eastern European accent: “My friend, that is some real man shit right there.” My least favorite reaction, until this past 10K, was from a 20-something girl doing a boot camp by the Santa Monica Pier. I had passed her once already on my way out, and she just frowned at me and shook her head. On the way back, she had the same expression on her face, and yelled, “Umm, hepatitis B?”

So it wasn’t surprising that I heard a few things along the route during my 10K from spectators. Those who don’t run or who are new to running may look at the barefoot movement and think it’s strange and dangerous. What was surprising was being yelled at by a fellow runner, who also happened to be a sports injury specialist. I know this because his jersey had the website of his practice written on the back, and I subsequently looked him up after the race.

I had passed him going up Ocean Avenue, right by the Georgian Hotel made famous by the movie “White Men Can’t Jump.” As I strode by, he quipped, “There’s always one!” Thinking he was engaging in some good-natured banter, I yelled behind me, “I’ve seen four already!” Things turned ugly when he yelled back, “We’ll see if you’re still doing this in thirty years! It’s a fad, just like every other running fad that comes along! We’ve evolved from the cave, buddy!”

Having invested a large part of the last year to this personal experiment of running barefoot, I felt the urge to stand up to this loudmouth. “I feel great!” I shouted. “This has helped my form immensely! I highly recommend it!” He then said something which a doctor should never say: “Fine! I hope you all keep doing it! It means more business for me!”

***

The barefoot or minimalist running movement started before Chris McDougal wrote “Born to Run”, but it wasn’t until that book became a NY Times Bestseller that it threw a monkey wrench into the sport of endurance running and the business of running shoes.

For me, the book has been a life-changing experience. I started running long distance in middle school, around the time I started playing soccer. One of my fondest childhood memories was running the cross country course while Mr. Rice, the gym teacher, timed me. He told me I had run one kilometer in 3:32, which was the current record for H.B. DuPont Middle. I didn’t start running marathons until I was in my mid-20s, but have been averaging one every other year since.

Reading “Born to Run” was like talking to a childhood friend and learning that the way you remembered your past was completely different to what happened in actuality. There were several tenets I had adhered to for years:

1)    Running had to be strenuous to be rewarding.
2)    You were born with a running form and could never change it.
3)    Running shoes were an essential tool, and the more sophisticated that tool, the better.

McDougal wrote about a race in the Copper Canyons of Mexico between some of the greatest ultra-marathoners in the U.S. and reclusive Tarahumara tribesmen in Mexico, a running culture famous for going hundreds of miles at a time and for perfecting the running form. The contrast between Americans and Tarahumara was striking in two key areas. First, the Americans were those “Type A” runners we’ve all met or have been at points in our lives. They talked about the race like it was a combat mission.

The Tarahumara, on the other hand, treated running like it was a game or a spiritual journey, never assuming their dominance over the sport. Second, the Americans were obsessed with having the right gear: shoes, Dri-fit clothing, expensive sunglasses. The Tarahumara had thin huarache sandals and simple cotton dresses.

The book’s title suggests an idea that has become controversial over the years: humans were made to run long distances, perhaps our most important evolutionary trait. The theory comes from the idea of persistence hunting, when humans used to track down prey over hundreds of miles and several days. We can run without stopping because of our ability to perspire, while an animal literally overheats to the point of exhaustion, and has to slow down to pant. Hence, at our core, we are driven to run long distances, and our bodies are made for exactly that.

Before this time, I had assumed I was not “made” for running, since I have stocky legs and a long torso. I thought I was cheating biology by running marathons, and that it would eventually catch up to me in the form of injuries.

I decided it was time for me to get back to why I started running in the first place, to rediscover the bliss of running a 1K in 3:32 and also to remember the simple joy of just heading out and not caring about results. My first month running with Vibrams was slow-going, taking a mile or two at a time, getting used to having sore calves and a tighter core, and eventually noticing that my entire form was changing. I had been a heel-striker my whole life, and while I escaped without any real injuries, I could feel my joints taking a toll. This new forefoot strike would send the shock of impact out and away from my legs, preserving my skeleton, but putting new pressure on my metatarsal ligaments on the top of my foot. I had to be very careful not to get a stress fracture early on.

At the second month of this new venture, I read “Barefoot Running” by Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee. It was an extension on the theories of “Born to Run”, suggesting further that to truly get back to a good form, one has to run completely barefoot, that your feet are finely-tuned machines that will tell you when you are ready for longer runs and tougher terrain. My first week barefoot was painful – blood blisters covered my pads and my toes ached. But after a couple of months, I had tougher soles than ever before, and I was clocking 10 to 15 miles a week. It was around this time that I signed up for the Big Sur International Marathon in April.

The Big Sur marathon is widely considered one of the top four marathons in the country because of its scenery and the challenging terrain. Hugging the Pacific Coast, the course follows Highway 1 up and down, through redwoods and cow pastures and rocky coastlines. Since there are no secondary roads that connect to the highway, it is sparsely populated by spectators, leaving most of the journey wide open and quiet, except for the whistling wind and crashing surf. I felt this would be a perfect race to attempt my first barefoot marathon.

I’ve trained for races before, including a triathlon, but telling people you’re running barefoot elicits peculiar responses, much like the doctor’s above. I couldn’t understand why people took such a strong stance against it; aside from general concern about my well-being, there was repulsion to everything about it: the condition of my feet, the condition of the sidewalks, the risk of injury, the fact that it seemed backwards evolution-wise. It was this last argument, the argument in favor of “evolution” that bothers me the most.

One of the controversies surrounding “Born to Run”, and perhaps the main reason people abhor barefoot running, especially doctors, is that it challenges the specifically American notion that all inventions and progress are for the betterment of mankind. Intertwined with this push to turn every human action into a computerized or machine-assisted activity is the power of monetary gain, and the feeling that unless something is expensive and state-of-the-art, it is flawed and backwards.

I was spending $130 on Mizuno Wave10 running shoes that a running store owner specifically picked out for me after looking at my gait and determining that I was a “heel striking pronator”. He assured me that these shoes would give me improved performance, and that I needed to change them out every 300 miles, or three months, whichever came first. Follow that logic and I would be spending $520 a year just on shoes alone.

Doctors make money by creating elaborate orthotics for their patients. I’ve had several pairs of orthotics throughout my life, and can’t honestly say whether or not they helped me run or play soccer. All I knew was that my feet hurt, and these insoles were supposed to fix that. So when someone runs by barefoot with seeming ease and fluidity, he must be a challenge to a sports injury doctor’s idea that spending money and research time trying to improve an already perfect machine would someday reap benefits and be a contribution to the overall quality of life.

The fact that so many people are running barefoot and feeling better as a result must be a scary proposition to western doctors. Running shoe companies are scrambling to react to this movement as well. They’ve all release “minimalist” or “free” shoes, which are basically throwbacks to the original cheap running shoes you may have bought in the 70s or 80s. When a book suggests that not only are expensive shoes bad for your form, but the more expensive they are, the worse they are for you, people are going to freak out. There are billions of dollars at stake.

To be completely transparent, barefoot running has not been without its pains and challenges. I had to put my Vibrams on at mile 13 of the Big Sur marathon because the road was simply too rough. Maybe after another year or two I’ll be able to run one completely barefoot start to finish. I do get tenderness on the tops of my feet from the ligaments being stretched and used in ways they aren’t used to. Sometimes I step on a rock or sharp stick and wince, and briefly ask myself why I’m doing this. I’m open to the idea too that this is the pursuit of a Type A personality who enjoys being different and challenging the status quo.

The biggest indicator that I’m on the right path is that I’ve stopped wearing iPods and watches and other gadgets since I started running barefoot. I run free, without expectations of pace and time and distance. I watch people and animals and the road in front of me now. I feel the changes in my body, the slight tweaks of the muscles telling me to take it easy, to rest a few days instead of pushing myself. I watch where my arms go, how my shoulders feel, and the sound of my feet on the concrete. It has made me aware of this simplest of human actions, and how far I had gone away from my inherent nature to just run.

I don’t know if I’ll be running barefoot in 10, 20, 30 years. Maybe the doctor is right, and this is just a passing fad.  Maybe we have evolved into creatures that aren’t built for running like our ancestors, but are better suited for being sedentary, or sitting on stationary bikes in gyms. Maybe we’ll need shock absorbing space boots in order to protect our fragile skeletons from the simplest impact of walking to our cars in the morning.

If that’s evolution, I don’t want any part of it.

John Posatko writes anecdotal blogs and reviews. When he was two years old, he accidentally swallowed a cup of kerosene. You can follow him at http://throwingrocksatsquirrels.blogspot.com/.

Image: The author’s feet taken shortly after barefoot running the Big Sur Marathon 2012. Copyright John Posatko.