Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Ten

Almost the end of the year and I've been sleeping through the top ten list tidal wave. Where have I been? I still have time to throw something together though, so I'm taking Time Magazine's model as my template to present 10 Rat's Nest's special awards:

Person of the Year Award
Time Magazine

Well sure, Mark Zuckerberg created facebook, that social network thingy, but more significantly, look at those green eyes—how many people can do that? Therefore, an award goes to the person with the same extraordinary gaze, a gaze with penetrating color and allure, which is Molly, one of my Saturday morning walking partners and a member of the prog rock band Phideaux. Thank you Molly!

#1 Person with the Bluest Eyes of the Year Award

Okay, one down and 9 to go...

As keeper of the Rat's Nest, I'm proud to present Malka, our hard working, hard playing and hard eating, pet rat with:

#2 Rat of the Year Award
(snapped by a paparazzie)

Maybe we should just do five, five is commendable, don't you think? 

Recalling READ Books—my favorite book store in Eagle Rock—and it's wonderful Comedy Night of yore, here is:

#3 Comedian of the Year, with her dog, Award
Maria Bamford at READ Books
(just look at that mug)

Continuing, on a more somber note...

A poem, written by my former student, Jae, gets the:
 #4 Poem of the Year Award

Do sadness, do pain,  If you want your own life,  
Do suffering, Do endurance, If you want to live in heaven, 
Suffering is happiness in true life

By the time I got around to asking Jae what this poem meant, he had disappeared. But perhaps he was trying to say that to achieve happiness, one must make friends with suffering, as it is true life, not the one imagined. That, more than anything else, is what binds immigrants in this city, well, actually, anywhere, together. Without doing in-depth research, I can safely say that immigrants, those poor and dispossessed, suffer more than native speakers, language being a Herculean task to surmount. 

Sonny (Korean), Manny (Thai) and Mina (Persian Jew)

Okay, I think I can do a few more....

 #5 Quintessential California Photo of the Year Award
(photo credit: Tom Harjo, who wasn't even trying)

# 6 Best Smile from a Piece of Bread We've Ever Eaten Award
(I swear we found this as is, a fluke of nature)

#7 The Kids are Homekkah Award, to the kids who came home, Mekko and his friend Katrina (l) and Maya (r) (who really didn't want her picture taken, sorry Maya)

And finally to all: health, happiness and...

#8 PEACE for the New Year Award

(Not ten, damn it, but close!)

Happy New Year

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas Everyone


The Rat's Nest

Monday, December 13, 2010

Passing Through: part two

After posting part two of Passing Through on the weekend, I realized the only thing I liked about it was the photographs, so I took the writing down and left the images up:

Paul Caponigro and Don Anderson in Louisville
(photo credit: Ron, sorry Ron, forgot your last name)

photo of a leaf by Paul Caponigro
hanging in my downstairs stairwell

I've been on a bit of a jag lately, looking at old black and whites from earlier days, when I studied at the Univ. of Louisville with Don Anderson, who led me to further study with the photographer Paul Caponigro, which led me among other things to art school which lead me to leave photography altogether.

I think what I found out from writing this post, is that it's not so easy to write about certain things that happened to you in the past, wrapping it all up in a neat little blog post. Some things are better left unsaid.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Passing Through: part one

I was standing by the window. I remember distinctly what I felt the moment I got the news: at that instant, I knew the sixties were over. That thought seems rather simplistic now but at the time, it was a shock;  with Lennon's murder, everything we'd fought and lived for, everything we believed in was irreparably gone.

Simultaneously, I was thinking about my friend and fellow dancer, Bettle Liota, because she happened to be in NYC at that historic moment. She'd gone I believe to see a Meredith Monk performance, and I got a call that she was headed to Central Park, where hundreds were gathering for a spontaneous vigil. I wanted to be there, but I was in Toronto. Good thing for her to have taken that greyhound bus to Port Authority. What luck, I thought with a tinge of jealousy.

 Bettle  Liota in Toronto

How to describe Bettle? For one, there was no one like her, and there'll never be another....

Bettle had everything a person could want; she was beautiful, talented and smart, with long legs that for a while had more spirit than technique. After kicking around for a few years she went back to school and received a degree from York University, a star in the dance dept. A modern dancer and choreographer, she moved on to step dancing and became an expert clogger. Took up the fiddle and called square dances, sang in the sacred heart chorale. Later a mother of two and a wife. A laugh that burst out of an overly abundant chest and kicked with long legs all the way to the Rockies. 

a laugh hard to forget

By the time I left Toronto Bettle and I weren't speaking; we'd had a falling out. A few years later I tried writing, but my letter went unanswered. I don't blame her, for whatever it was that came between us was my fault. Much later, I found out from a mutual friend and her old lover that she'd died of breast cancer in the early naughts, not quite 50. She had tried mistletoe treatments in Switzerland and every alternative therapy known to man, but later as the cancer advanced to her spine she underwent a course of chemo but lost the good fight. With two teenagers, and hundreds of people who adored her, she didn't want to die.

Here's an ancient picture of us when we danced together in Toronto in the seventies, in a piece called Artificial Desperation....

Bettle, me and Nancy Shrieber
at 15 Dance Lab

John Lennon and Bettle Liota, the two will forever be linked in my mind. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

My ol' rat

Here's my ol' pet rat these days:

Hiding under the couch

After dinner Malka likes to dig around under the couch in her newspaper nest (a good use for the newspaper lately), dragging her tumors along side her. Don't mean to gross you out but rats develop tumors in their old age—2+— which is, among other things, what gets them in the end. If I could be as dignified in my old age with massive tumors weighing me down, I'd be super woman. Malka certainly is super rat. She cries out in pain occasionally but most of the time scurries from place to place, eating whatever we hand her, building her nest under the couch, letting us pet her under the blanket, and showing affection by licking our fingers and trimming our nails. 
Here's how I wish she could carry her tumors: 

Malka with extra baggage

If only we could remove those things that weigh us down. Malka could carry her two tumors around in her Sears Roebuck luggage until she was ready to go; until then, she'd throw them onto the fly-away-bus when she came home from NYC, sleep with them in her hammock, while eating bananas, make room for visitors by storing them under the couch; anything but not have them inside. Well, that's a children's story I suppose....but not reality. Reality is I'm really going to miss this little rat when she's gone.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The "the"

I just found out from reading Wikepedia (which, by the way, is having a fund drive to support the website) that the most common word in the English language is the "the." Maybe that's why it's used so much by us, and by immigrants, not at all.

 The "the"

First by us: The one good thing about having one's daughter home for Thanksgiving is that I suddenly become aware of how much comic relief I'm able to provide solely by my use of the "the." For example, when I let slip "the google" or "the facebook," which inexplicably pops out when she's around, she laughs hysterically. Oh, isn't it funny how older people, especially parents, call facebook, The facebook, and google, The google? I can't explain my use of the "the" in these instances, i.e. in her presence; I'd never use an article in front of an indefinite noun otherwise.

I noticed when I was down in Philly attending a relative's fancy wedding, one of the Republican cousins used the "the" when talking about gays. "The gays," he said. "I wouldn't mind if my son or daughter were gay, not at all, but the gays are asking for equal everything, equal marriage and that's just not possible." Even my more liberal cousins were against "the gay marriage," for reasons I couldn't fathom but they explained it like this: Why use the word "marriage" when that's between a man and a woman. Use another word. I hadn't realized it was a problem of semantics.

R. Crumb's Adam and Eve, the first straight marriage
(doesn't look so straight if you ask me)

My Farsi, Thai, and Korean students this semester never use "the" or "a/an" in front of a noun; it's always "I go supermarket, he buys car, Lady talk a lot." I try to explain that the article, like the "the," is used to point out a particular one— which lady, what market, etc.... As Wikipedia explains it:  
Every noun must be accompanied by the article, if any, corresponding to its definiteness, and the lack of an article (considered a zero article) itself specifies a certain definiteness.
No wonder they're so confused.

I have my own "the" problem at school:

 "The troublemaker"

I know she looks sweet, well groomed and as handsome a woman as you could find in a night school that welcomes refugees, new immigrants and those that have been in this country for 30 years, but she's a rebel rouser, a stubborn mule, a determined fanatic; how else can I explain her actions?

Yafa N came to our school from Iran a little over two years ago, about the same time I arrived. She had no formal education, but she was always on time, never missed a day, kissed the mezuzahs as she passed through the classrooms, but was incapable of learning English. She repeated level one, two, three and four, three times each and still, was failing. With this track record you'd think she'd give up, but she was determined. Also, she was motivated by the fact that if she stayed in school she'd continue to receive food stamps, which is the way these things work with refugees. She needed food stamps, what with a family of six, an out-of-work husband, an economy that was dying, a hard-to-navigate-city without a car, and a newly married daughter. When it came time for her to take the final that would determine if she passed to level five, she received a D, by one percentage point. Which meant she was coming into my class— Advanced English. 

I knew she couldn't speak a word, but I didn't know how bad it was. If I asked her anything, the answer was "Yaw." How is your husband? Yaw, How was your weekend? Yaw, How was the expensive wedding? Yaw. Everything, Yaw. I could see this was going to go nowhere, so between the three teachers, we decided she should sign into my class but go to a lower level, back to level one. But when we told her, she carried on so you'd think her dear old mother had died. She cried, she slobbered over the mezuzahs, she yelled at the school administrator, complaining that she was being ignored, kicked around, that we didn't want her. She was a force to contend with, which eventually broke us down. I brought her back into my classroom where she stammered and failed, but tried as hard as any human possible. After a week, she gave up and returned to level two, signing into my class every evening to make her attendance official. 

 A colored coordinated Mezuzah at the Google

Then last week, the deciding hour: the Advanced final. The administrator whom she'd yelled out wanted her out, said if she made an F or even a D she was gone. I struggled with how much I would help her on the test: should I tell her the answers, or ignore her pleas for help? I ended up doing neither. When she asked me if an answer was right—pointing to the correct answer on her paper—I nodded yes, otherwise I said nothing. She must have figured it out because she made a 60 on the final, which was more than passing, and with a little adjustment on my part for her Oral, she came in at a C. Passing with flying colors.

Now we greet each other every evening. I tell her she must work hard, she must learn the English. She starts to shake her head in submission, "No, I can't," she says. I stand firm. "YES, you will." And the troublemaker smiles.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just like that!

 Just like that
An awesome sign in Silverlake

Just like that
 Two dogs are better than one

 Just like that
 We're back in Hollywood
(photo credit: Tom Harjo)

Just like that
 It's sunny and everything is beautiful 

Just like that
 Discovering someone's outdoor living room

Just like that
"Out of work artist" is out of work again

Just like that
Local junk truck is full of junk today

Just like that
The old pet rat is playing again

Just like that
 What seemed like the END... was only a road sign

Just like that it's November
(How'd that happen?)
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010



Excuse my indulgence. These were the shoes I didn't buy in NY. for $350.  They were beautiful but I couldn't bring myself to spend that much money, even though they were made in Germany and comfortable as hell. The saleswoman, whose sympathies about the Nov. election won me over, told me their name was Bold. "Time for a change," she kept insisting, "I can tell you're ready for it." 

Ready, but not ready enough.

When children leave home, the first year is painful but the paradigm hasn't shifted; things are relatively the same, except, that is, for what's not the same: no crazy kids running in and out, grabbing food or money or explaining in mono syllables where they've been or where they're going, while giving you a whirlwind kiss or pat on the head. But by the second year it starts to sink in: Oh my God, this is it. They're never going to live with you again. Their lives are beginning and yours is starting to resemble daylight saving time: dark by 5. You slap yourself (gently); Okay, you say, gotta get my shit together, can't keep thinking they still need me, which of course they do, but not officially—officially they're poised to move on, to be independent. You feel lucky when they call or talk to you about anything that's not the weather. If they ask, and even when they don't, you give your opinion, which doesn't always go over especially well. 

 "How are you? Where are you? What are you doing?"

No matter how you've figured it, your life will change. You can't go back to where you were before you had kids, because, well, you're different now, and anyway, it'd be pretty silly doing some of the things you used to do. 

(photo credit: Louise Steinman)

You've got to find a way to identify yourself anew, because let's face it, there's very few tasks left you can attribute to motherhood. Oh my God, for the second time, what kept you? In your defense, you trust a late start won't be so terrible— you'll write a book or join the Peace Corp or write a book about the Peace Corp... although you like your bed and don't want to sleep on the ground for two years. But maybe that's the answer; to throw yourself to the wind and see where it takes you. You'll need some luck and a little encouragement. You'll need to be bold.

I knew I should have bought those shoes.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Getting ready to leave NY tomorrow and I'm already missing it. I love this loft, I love this neighborhood, I will miss my son and daughter. Leaving NY is like those acupuncture suction cups they place on your back—it takes a lot of oomph to pull away from this much energy.

Before we left for the weekend to go to Philly, Maya and I walked around the East Village on our way to, where else, Veselka's, and stopped inside this nondescript antique store on Ninth Street. 

  Archangel Antiques on 9th St.

Inside, a curmudgeony old man wandered out from the back as if he'd just woken up from a seven-year nap. Maya asked if he had any small taxidermy animals, and without missing a beat, he replied he'd sold all his little ones. But as a matter of fact, he had bigger animals— a lion and a deer. I wasn't quite sure I'd heard him correctly, although Maya didn't flinch. What the......? A lion? Isn't that illegal? And where does he keep the deer? In the back storage room where he naps? It was all rather bizarre or maybe obscure, as we found out later: Obscure on Tenth St. is the place to go for small taxidermy animals. The other place is Evolution in Soho.

Welcoming mounted raccoon at Evolution with penis bones for only $8.

On Evolution's first floor is a hodgepodge of touristy taxidermy stuff—iridescent butterflies, humongous beetles and bizarre walking sticks, pinned between glass. Upstairs is the really interesting stuff, much of it museum quality, for those who have a thing for colorful birds (probably illegal) or smiling squirrels for viewing in their library.

Small smiling mounted animals. Oh please, stuff me!

What is it about taxidermy that intrigues? Obviously a lot of people want to buy it (enough to support a store in Soho), but what is it exactly that they like? Is it the grotesqueness and oddness of having a dead animal on your mantel, or a way to prolong life forever, perhaps the life of something you've love? Maya and her friends find taxidermy really cool, but she made it clear she'd never do it to a pet. Could I ever stuff our pet rat Malka when she dies? Many questions but not enough time for answers. Leaving tomorrow. Goodbye New York until the spring.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mayhem on Sixth

There's Maya and then there's Mayhem, both of whom I visited this weekend. Maya I'll leave for another post. I'll start with mayhem.

NYC Halloween Parade. It's crazy out here, mad, outrageous, mutinous! What planet am I on? Naked Trojans, Chilean miners, walking bananas, pimps, drill teams, dogs, foxes, werewolves, katz, cone heads, bunnies, dough boys, electrical outlets, sailors, soldiers, tea partiers, courtesans, Pink... and the man with the big ear:

Police lined Sixth Ave. in the West Village and blocked off access to the street as the parade got underway (see video); even after the parade ended, cops inexplicably blocked the streets. I almost got crushed trying to cross to the other side through a complicated maze of barriers, along with a billion other people. A young woman cried as she was being pushed and shoved, "This is not natural, not natural at all." 

I can understand where she was coming from: freaks in every direction, but don't box me in!
In the morning, NY streets appeared normal. People rushing to work, catching a smoke on the corner, planning the day, apologizing to each other, getting snarky (what happened to the happy baristas at Gran Daisy?), artists setting up easels, and down below, sewing machines beginning to buzz. Back in NYC for a week!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Floating in Space

 Happy Anniversary to us!

The Rat's Nest is celebrating its first anniversary, so... 

Happy Anniversary to us! 
Happy Anniversary to us!
Happy Anniversary deeeeaaarrrr Rat's Nest
Happy Anniversary to us!

I blogged for the first time on October 23, 2009. My friend Craig, who I asked to help, forced me to put up a picture and say a few words, despite my being intimidated by the whole process. That first post was about my kids leaving home— Mekko to live in Brooklyn, Maya to go to college in Providence— and how when they left nothing made sense anymore. When I think back over this past year, I'd say nothing's really changed: we're still in limbo over them leaving—a limbo that's left us perpetually floating in space.

But although nothing's changed, a lot changed. I began a practice of daily writing, in love with writing this blog. I started making little videos and drawing again, things I hadn't done in years. Not until the house was empty of kids did I fill it up with what was going on around me—in the neighborhood, with the people I taught, with two rat's that played.

The question I'm trying to answer now is, should The Rat's Nest continue?

Of course, I retort, it'll continue, but then I wonder, is it time to move on? For now, though, life would seem kind of empty without it. We'll see where the Rat's Nest goes from here, which is the way, it seems, these things work: blogs being their own self-perpetuating (or not) blogging machines. 

In ending this anniversary post (see below), I'd like to thank my loyal readers, all four of you! It means a lot to me to know you're out there, so, THANKS for reading. See you next post.

 Yum yum! Red velvet cupcake devoured 
by the Rat's Nest on our anniversary.