Lots has changed this year for me, and I moved to Congo. I turned a new page, and created a new blog that reflects where I am at now, both aesthetically and in my life.
I finally wrote Wikipedia a love letter.
And then I took a picture of proof, “Say Anything”-style:
I went onto the site today, to look for something, as usual, random and obscure and there was a banner at the top of the page, an appeal from the founder for funds. It was a very simple banner, and there was a person’s face, the founder, making a plea. I realized that this one website has provided me with more entertainment and joy and information than many things I regularly pay for. I think I’ve actually gotten a lot more use out of Wikipedia over the years than occasional manicures and a new pair of earrings.
So I clicked on the banner, and -I am very embarrassed to admit I had actually never thought of doing this before-I donated. Because I love the site. Because I use it every day. Because it makes me happy.
And then…they did something they shouldn’t have done.
They asked me if I could tell my story.
So I did.
I”m officially a huge, huge, huge supernerd. I finally wrote Wikipedia a love letter I’ve been meaning to write them forever. I went to look for something and there was a donation button at the top, and I donated!
And then…they did something they shouldn’t have done.
They asked me if I could tell my story.
So I did.
This is what I wrote to them:
I have had many special moments with Wikipedia over the years. From learning about D.B. Cooper, to reading about ODESSA (the freaky purported Nazi submarine escape route to South America). I also answered simple questions, like how many people live in Congo? and What year was that Muhammad Ali fight?
This past weekend, Wikipedia literally answered the exact question I had been asking myself for 20 years: What does Aretha Franklin mean by “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Take out, TCP” ???
I got onto Wikipedia, and some freaking GENIUS had this section written out, especially for me, I am convinced of this:
[ Franklin's version of the song contains the famous lines (as printed in the lyrics included in the 1985 compilation album Atlantic Soul Classics): R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out what it means to me R-E-S-P-E-C-T Take care ... TCB The last line is often misquoted as "Take out, TCP", or something similar, and indeed most published music sheets which include the lyrics have this incorrect line in them. "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" and "T-C-B" are not present in Redding's original song but were included in some of his later performances with the Bar-Kays. There seems to be some confusion over who first used "T-C-B" in the song. "TCB" is an abbreviation that was commonly used in the 1960s and 1970s, meaning Taking Care (of) Business, and it was particularly widely used in African-American culture. However, it was somewhat less well-known outside of that culture, yielding a possible explanation as to why it was not recognized by those who transcribed Franklin's words for music sheets. Nevertheless, "TCB in a flash" later became Elvis Presley's motto and signature, from his necklace to his private jet plane. Franklin's lyrics most probably influenced hip-hop's later use of both the word "proper" and "props" in the context of proper respect. She proclaims that she's about to give him all her money, and that all she's asking is for him to give her "her propers" when he gets home. ]
Anyway. All that to say that, yes. My contribution is overdue. And anyone, I mean ANYONE who has ever had this experience with Wikipedia should donate.
Because how many of us have paid $10 for a movie that truly sucked? Wikipedia is that free gift that keeps on giving, it’s worth at least as much as someone paid to see “Puss in Boots” in the movie theaters.
With sincere love and nerdy addiction,
Violetta from Altadena.
You know your friend is cool when in the middle of eating a buttery syrupy pancake they stop, look at you and say “Look, Africa!”
Frankly, I may not have noticed. The fluffy continent might have ended up in my mouth before my brain recognized its contours.
We were having breakfast at Fox’s, Altadena’s family diner since 1955, on a bright, sunny, gorgeous weekday. Driving down Lake, it was the morning after a cold spell, and you could see clear through to downtown almost, 15 miles through the craziness of the metropolis.
As I’ve gotten into the groove of Altadena, it has become my life saver, my oasis, my comfort blanket, my soul food, my buttery-syrupy-Africa-shaped-pancake. It has become my antidote against the urbanity of Los Angeles, the impersonal traffic aggression, the insane pace, the business. Altadena is a small town. I have my favorite cashier at Ralph’s, I know the name of the people who work at the stationery store, the post office, the dry cleaner’s, the bike shop, the corner store, the hardware store…
Is it weird to say I feel like I am someone in Altadena?
I feel like I have a place. I know my neighborhood, I know the stores, I love the people. I have a real community. The other night, on a whim, I went to the hardware store .
That’s kind of saying a lot for me. Hardware stores are my happy place. They’re sort of like a walking meditation for me. Whenever I need to figure something out in my life I go to a hardware store and pace the aisles, solving small problems, a leaky faucet, a clogged drain, a broken shelf, a grain of sandpaper that I’m missing…and often, either my head gets cleared by the well-organized shelves of nails and bolts and odds and ends, or an answer will come to the other problem I’m trying to solve.
Anyway. The other night I went to find a spray head for my kitchen faucet. Then I went to the next door bike shop, because I want to buy a bike, and I ended up talking to the owner for about an hour. He has a vintage barber’s chair from the 30′s it seems, that leans back and lets your feet prop up on his counter while he fixes the bike you’re about to take for a ride.
I was talking to him, we were jumping around from random topics to randomer ones, circling back to the bike every so often, and he said he was born and raised in Altadena. And in that moment, I thought…I have lived in six countries on four continents. I’ve traveled briefly and not so briefly to over 25 countries. Of all of those places. Of all those cities. Of all those cultures. Altadena, this random, little tiny city in the sprawling monster of Los Angeles county, this place I ended up in by accident, because I could no longer afford to live in Pasadena, that is the only place that I’ve ever not felt like running away from. It kind of hit me, in the middle of that conversation, thinking about Fox’s, reclining in an antique chair. That’s when the clarity came that I had gone to the hardware store to find.
And all these thoughts came out of a piece of pancake.
This American Life is the only experience I have in my life, where I pay for something that makes me cry and breaks my heart on a regular basis. This episode deals with what was at first called the “sub-prime mortgage crisis” and then called the “credit crisis”. The voices in it, of people in the mortgage industry, of bystanders, of analysts, of regular people losing their homes make it one of the most intimate hours you can spend learning about the most recent failure of our capitalist culture.
The fact this even happened is an indictment of our society.
“It got to the point where, at one point, my son had seven thousand dollars in a CD and I had to break it…and…I mean…that really hurt. Cause I was saving that money for his college. I mean…I put two thousand back, but…it’s like you can’t have a future. They put you in a situation where after a while …you’re gonna fail…it’s so hard.”
-Richard, a marine. Back from Iraq. In foreclosure.
“It’s a No Income Verification Loan. They don’t call me up and say “how much money…” they don’t do that. I mean…it’s…it’s…almost like you pass a guy in the street and you say “Lend me 540,000 dollars?” and he says “Well, what do you do?” “Eh, I got a job.” “Ok!”
“I wouldn’t have lent me the money. And nobody that I know would have lent me the money. I mean…I know guys who are criminals who wouldn’t lend me that money, and they’d break your kneecaps!”
-Clarence made $37,000 in 2005. The guy who gave him his loan reported on the paperwork that he made $16,000 a month. That same year.
Wing Hop Fung is my favorite place in Monterey Park.
Imagine a warehouse dedicated to selling tea and beverages.
It’s kind of like heaven.
I had a lovely conversation about Aristotle with a young Chinese intellectual who was accompanying her grandmother on her weekly visit to Wing Hop Fung. They both helped me pick my phenomenal Pu-Errh tea.
I chose the $39.99/lb version based on a heroically-written description.
My other options were a boring $9.99/lb option and the magical “picked by blind monkeys in the dead of night during a lunar eclipse, once every 25 years and aged for 30 months in a secret room in the Forbidden City” version that cost-I-AM-NOT-KIDDING-YOU $1,500/lb.
Chinese people do not joke about their tea.
Here’s a sample of what their Matcha display looks like:
I love living in Los Angeles.
I also hate living in Los Angeles.
But I have an innate ability to see magical things in people and places because, frankly, I’m willing to take that risk. I’ve maintained, miraculously, a childlike excitement about the world around me. Through disappointments, illnesses, losing jobs, being broke, having to (unfortunately) be a grownup, I’ve still managed to maintain a happiness about being alive that I count among my few real qualities.
You can think I sound arrogant. That’s a risk I’m willing to take. I know in my heart that I am not bragging so much as being honest with myself, and honoring what makes me, well ME. I’m have a constant unquenchable thirst for adventure and new experiences.That’s the point of this blog, anyway. Moments that humble me into reverence. Things that excite me. Experiences that take my breath away and break three legs off a duck. If I annoy you, you’re reading the wrong blog.
In order to live in a city that is so consuming and just, honestly, plain HARD, I have developed wonderful coping mechanisms that I like to call “my happy places”. One of them is Caltech campus, but that’s for another post.
Another one is Monterey Park, and its adjoining neighborhoods, Temple City, Rosemead, San Gabriel. These are the “new” Chinatown in Los Angeles. A part of LA that far enough between freeways that you never end up there “by accident.” They are exclusively Chinese in a deep, all-encompassing way.
I go to Monterey Park alone. I go there often, as often as I can. As someone who has no native culture, I only feel at home when I am surrounded by foreign languages, unfamiliar territory. My comfort zone is uprootedness.
It is a strange thing to accept about yourself, because it implies a lot of hard work to create a nest at home, in order to be able to be out in the world in this constantly destabilizing fashion. But I’ve worked out a lovely system and that’s how I like to live. Constantly on the brink of new experiences. Mostly magical, sometimes catastrophic. Like most of my forays into West Hollywood and Santa Monica.
I’m decidedly an East-Side person.
The last time I was in Alhambra, I ended up on some section of Valley Blvd where I ate this meal (bread mushrooms and tofu with sticky rice and unlimited house blend of green and black tea) for $4.00. I had enough for two meals leftover. When I was done eating (the waitresses kept coming over and sitting down with me and talking to me), I walked to a herbalist shop, where I made him take out every.single.dried.seahorse. from the display. It freaked me out in an awesome way.
Apparently you lay them on your spine and they cure backaches and scoliosis. But that’s my understanding from a broken English translation of what a very short very wrinkled very wise-looking Chinese man was saying.
The next time, I ventured into Monterey Park and ate at this crazy hardcore seafood restaurant next to Wing Hop Fung. I walked in and this wonderful, very tall, very skinny toothless Chinese man took me by the shoulders, smiled at me with the most radiant smile in the world, and said “Ni hao!! Ni hao!!”.
That’s when I knew I was in the right place.
I sat down and they plopped me a huge bowl of complimetary pork and cabbage soup, which I kept helping myself to, in between gulps of free green tea.
All around me, families were eating the most amazing seafood dishes, piling up around them like pirate treasures.
I came very late to lunch, and took my time perusing the fantastic menu. Look at some of the items on the menu:
- Duck feet with black mushrooms
- Steamed live tilapia
- Pork with spicy aged vegetable
- Pigs blood with green leek
- Spare with bitter melon
- Oyster omelette
- Jelly fish head with celery
- Small silver fish with spicy salt
- Kung pao chicken (WHAAAAT????)
I finally settled on steamed fish and greens for the chaste sum of $5.95:
The meal was very plain but very good and the fish just disintegrated. I think it had lived a pretty happy though short life. I was glad it ended it in my stomach.
I was the last person in the entire restaurant when I finished my meal.
Or so I thought.
From a corner of the dining room, a hesitant whistle rose. I finally made out the notes to “Star Spangled Banner.”
And I fell in love with Los Angeles, all over again.
I spent a day driving the Colonial Parkway today.
I had a car, hours in front of me, and a deep-seated desire to experience the Fall colors and crisp air, and the other-worldliness of the Parkway, all 23 miles of its winding curves with no stop lights or stop signs.
In my other trips to Williamsburg I had never realized quite how breathtaking this area is. I got an eyeful today. I got to see dozens of grazing deer, marshes and swamps, the York and James rivers…trees, squirrels. Heaven.
I got to drive for hours without stopping, without waiting at a light, without being angry, without speeding, without stressing. It was Los Angeles driving therapy. It was amazing. It was calming. It was regenerating. I must sound like a driving junkie, and I am. Living in the LA area, there was something inside me that needed to connect to driving in a way that was not insane, just so that I could remember this moment when I am stuck in rush hour traffic again in the near future. Just so I can call on the perfect memories of quiet and calm when someone next tries to kill me on the 110 through downtown or on the 405 exit to Wilshire East.
Today the biggest thing that happened to me was braking ever so gently for a slender grey deer, lightly stepping across the road, looking right, left, lifting each of its legs ever so carefully and bobbing its graceful neck with each tentative step. Once it was reassured the giant piece of machinery wasn’t moving forward, it looked straight ahead and took flight, leaping forward into the trees, leaving me gasping for air, moved.
I was listening to This American Life the whole way. The haunting stories in the “Like it or not” episode floated through the scenery as an eerie and perfect background. I can still recall all the colorful stories and sounds of the stories about Alabama fish jubilee, pregnancy, passivity, car chases, clichés, bullies. It was bizarre and enjoyable, a quiet weird pleasant graceful moment. And my return into civilization: