Sunday, August 31, 2008

Random Long Beach Moments
CM and I met M&L and their twins for lunch at a Hof's Hut near 2nd St. and PCH, very close to the Marina. After lunch, we walked the kids to the private docks of the apartments just behind the restaurant. The green water was surprisingly clear, so much so that I spotted what I thought at first to be a thin white plastic bag with four onion rings floating just below the surface. Then it undulated, the sides gently winging out and flowing back in as the jellyfish glided forward. I pointed it out to M and to little Riley (whom I hefted above the railing), and soon, L and CM shouted that more were crowded near the end of the dock wall. Little Jackie was showing them to CM as we walked toward them. We rested a few minutes, watching the fragile forms slowly gliding up to the surface and sink down into the green.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lunch for 6

I'm not a bad cook. In fact, if you give me a recipe, I follow it exactly and create a pretty good meal, if I do say so myself. What I can't do well is to take a group of ingredients and think of a meal or dish off the top of my head. My friends CS and RG, however, can take a few slices of bread, a can of tuna, and a tomato and somehow turn it into Pan-seared ahi tuna with wasabi cream in the blink of an eye.

This brings me to my office. They decided a few months ago to designate every other Friday as "Co-Worker Lunch Day" meaning that one person in the office would make bake cook boil burn freeze lunch for the entire crew. Which isn't so bad as we have 5 people in the office. To date, we've been treated to enchilada lasagna, homemade samosas, pulled pork sandwiches and italian cheese steak sandwiches (both slow cooked in a crock pot). And now, it's my turn.

I scoured the internet for what I hope will be an easy recipe and decided on a seven layer tortilla pie to serve six people. As a side, I'm making a creamy fruit salad that uses vanilla yogurt and vanilla pudding. This should make for an interesting meal.

Oh, and our Regional Manager will be here so I get to cook for her, too.

I just hope someone brings the antacids....

Update 8/29/08: The Seven Layer Tortilla Pie was a huge hit!! I'm going to make this one again very soon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Gerry's screaming carried across the desert. I left him with cell phone in hand to yell for a tow truck while smoke billowed from the engine, and walked toward a small, abandoned house hoping for a bit of relief from the heat. Pinkish walls, probably concrete, layered with multi-colored graffiti. Bricks from a former chimney lying heaped against a wall. No glass reflections from the window spaces, offering a sharp clear view of the Mojave stretching to the hills. Not another building for miles.

I continued toward the house, wiping the non-stop sweat from my forehead, and kept my eyes focused on the desert floor, weaving a path through the brownish green plants, the occasional mound of ants and a few empty cans of spray paint. The sound of shoes scuffling across concrete made me jerk my head up, and for a moment, I would have sworn that someone had just stood at the empty doorway, watching me approach.

The car hood slammed. I glanced over my shoulder as Gerry pounded fists, kicked tires, shouted and cursed into the phone. I felt bad for the person on the other end of the call. Other cars slowed on the highway but passed without stopping. Best to leave him be when he got into a mood like that so I turned back to the house.

More discarded spray paint cans littered the ground. The outer walls were covered with graffiti: large, rounded letters outlined in black, red, white, yellow, blue and haphazardly filled in; sometimes making sense but more often just a jumble of letters and numbers, and the occasional face or likeness; even the slab of cracked concrete in front of the door displayed big, thin letters and shapes before disappearing inside. I set my hands on the empty doorframe and peeked inside. I gasped.

The walls were spotless, at least what I could make out in the dim light. Not a line of graffiti anywhere. No litter or remnants of a fire or any of what I thought I expected to find. I stepped inside, marveling at how much cooler the air was, almost too cold for the strength of the heat outside. Walking about the room, I ran a hand along the walls, feeling the smoothness of the surface, trying to find a hint of spray paint or marker, something that would have left an indelible mark. Other than another empty door frame near the far end of the house's dividing wall, I found nothing, not even a nail hole.

I stepped through that doorway and stopped. The walls in this tiny space were covered with graffiti, worse than on the outside. Hundreds of shapes running together from floor to ceiling and across. I couldn't quite make out what the shapes were so I crept closer to a wall. Looking closer, the shapes began to resemble human figures waving their arms, legs raised to run, mouths open to shout, bright white eyes staring with --

Voices whispered throughout the room. I glanced around, trying to find where they were coming from when I spotted a man sitting cross-legged on the ground at the far end of the room, his back toward me. Why hadn't I seen him there when I entered. "I'm sorry. I...I didn't know anyone was here." The man didn't move. "Our car broke down. I was trying to get out of the heat."

I backed into the wall as the man jumped up and ran for the doorway. I felt many somethings grab the back of my shirt, and a cloud of small voices murmured close to my ears. I pulled away, spun around to see the tiny arms of the graffiti figures slipping back into place. Their eyes and mouths seemed to be moving.

The man reached the doorway and was almost through when dozens of the graffiti arms stretched from the walls and coiled around his legs. He stumbled, fell, dropped a spray paint can. The murmuring grew louder as I watched the tiny arms dragging him back into the room.

Fear forced my legs into action, and I bolted through the doorway, through the house, out into the desert heat. I didn't slow down until I reached Gerry and the car, throwing open the door and locking myself inside. Gerry pounded on the window, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I could only stare past him at the house as a can of spray paint rolled through its doorway to rest in the sand among the others.

a work of fiction, © G.A. Carter, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Toot-Toot, Hey, Beep-Beep

We arrived at the Lakewood Mall early enough to buy sandwiches from Togo's for our picnic dinner once we arrived at the Hollywood Bowl. I'm glad we showed up when we did as many, many other people had the same idea, and two of the seven buses were filled to capacity and already leaving as we pulled in. (Instead of trying to fight the freeway traffic, the Bowl provides charter buses all over LA county to take concert goers to and from the venue for a measly $5 per person. Saves on gas, and you don't need to worry about the stacked parking and insane amount of cars trying to merge their way in and around the Bowl.) We rushed to get in line, having to wait about 15 minutes before boarding.

By 6:30PM, we were on our way, the driver darting in and out of traffic on the North 5 to the North 101. Within an hour, we sat ourselves on a curb at the bottom of the hill leading to the Bowl, digging into our sandwiches and overpriced sodas (from the concessions), watching the various groups of gay men and straight women filing toward the turnstiles. We eventually joined the throng and hiked up the hill toward the Section N entrance to the Bowl. The bench seats were off to the left, not as far back as when we saw Rufus Wainwright, but far enough away to marvel at the tremendous amount of people pouring into the theater. And they kept coming, even as the lights dimmed around 8:30PM. I overheard an already-drunk concertgoer mention that the show was sold out.
A lone flutist stepped onto the stage to whistle the National Anthem. Then the stage was lit in purple as The Queen is Back roared from the band, the 4 large LED screen creating a halo of lights around the fifth panel, a smaller one which slowly rotated, giving the Diva -- Donna Summer -- a proper grand entrance. The crowd yelled screamed shouted whistled applauded danced their little asses off throughout the song. But, when the opening hypnotic bass of her next song began, the crowd really lost control, singing along to I Feel Love, not missing a beat or word or high/low note. The entire show was like that, a great mix of songs from her latest album Crayons -- including a 7-minute version of I'm a Fire -- and all her classics. I think the audience came more to hear those classics than anything else because everyone went nuts when the chords for She Works Hard for the Money or No More Tears or (and especially) MacArthur Park burst from the speakers. Though she rocked the hell out of the new songs, too. CM and I did quite a bit of movin' and groovin' in our seats, and finally got up and danced during Last Dance. Donna Summer has to be the one singer whose voice only gets stronger as she gets older. The woman can sing!!!

Once the house lights went up at the end of the show, CM and I held hands as we fought our way through the crowds to the bus back to Lakewood.

Happy 3rd Anniversary, Sweetie!!

Friday, August 22, 2008


I feel guilty for my lack of blogging this week. What with work and recuperating from that whirlwind marriage (and subsequent quickie divorce) while in Las Vegas, my fingers refused to type my posts.

Fear not, as I have a busy weekend ahead: Donna Summer in concert tomorrow night at the Hollywood Bowl and a visit to Disneyland on Sunday to check out the latest attraction -- hopefully with pictures of both. Oh, and I did begin another fiction post but am stuck with it's direction. That should be done by Monday or Tuesday, though.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and see you Monday!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Vegas Recap

We left Long Beach at 3PM on Friday last week. After 5 hours driving through the Mojave Desert, seeing nothing but vacated and graffitied shacks, miles of sand, brownish green plants and sharp-looking Joshua trees, dust devils and the occasional bolt of lighting flashing through the Nevada sky, we finally reached our friends' condo just off the Strip. Stepping from the cool air-conditioned car into the oven heat of the Las Vegas night was a definite shock, and I felt myself melting into my Vans. We hurried into the condo and almost collapsed into the welcoming coolness.

Chris, who flew to Long Beach then accompanied us on the drive, gave us a brief tour of their place which ended in what was to be our room for the next two nights. Thick gilded picture frames covered almost every space of the red wall. A mirrored curio cabinet was filled with small pictures, knick-knacks, vases, and other memories of days gone by. A computer desk and small TV behind thick red curtains at the end of the bed. A four-foot-tall Santa Claus stood in one corner, spreading mirth and joy as we set our bags on the carpet beside the electric keyboard and paper shredder. We had a few hours to rest before our 10PM dinner reservations so CM climbed onto the bed for a brief catnap while I played a few games on my Nintendo DS.

Dinner that night was at a tapas restaurant called Firefly*, supposedly Rachel Ray's and Martha Stewart's favorite place for tapas when in Las Vegas. Smallish, crowded with noisy, drunken, straight twenty-somethings, and very dark, we were shown to our table almost 30 minutes after our reservation. We spent much of the time shouting at each other and the waiter over the combination of voices, too-loud music and the even louder Olympics broadcast on a flat screen over the bar. Somehow, the waiter heard our order, and soon the myriad plates of food were splayed across the table. We noshed on stuffed dates, an egg tortilla with sliced potatoes and dripping with a spicy orange-red sauce, stuffed mushrooms, tempura shrimp, empanadas, mini kebabs of shrimp and steak, filet mignon sliders, and garlic aioli fries. I almost broke a tooth, though, on the stuffed dates; no one warned me about the whole almonds inside. For dessert, we ordered banana-nutella cakes which were incredible, and a tres leche cake which left a sour taste lingering in my mouth.


Saturday, we slept in until 10AM then drove to Henderson for breakfast at The Original Pancake House in the Stations Casino. Mmmm, pancakes..... My order of cinnamon raisin pancakes with red apple syrup was almost too good, and I could have ordered another two stacks. CM ordered a short stack of buttermilk cakes, and Chris chose a baked omelette which easily would have fed a family of three. After breakfast, we played a few slot machines to allow our food to settle then headed back to the Strip.

Our first stop: the Hilton in order to catch the Star Trek Experience before it closed for good. We hopped in line, and I snapped a few pictures though my flash wasn't strong enough to penetrate much of the dim lighting. As the line inched forward, a gentleman behind us lit a strange, pungent cigarette. The smoke hit my nose and within minutes, my eyes were burning and my head pounding. I wanted to throw up and guiltily asked CM and Chris if we could skip the Experience because I didn't think I would be able to make it through. We wandered through the Star Trek gift shops then into the main casino and found a small eatery near the lobby. After a bottle of water and some cleaner air, my headache and nausea slowly dissipated, and we decided to find something else to do.

Back in the car, we drove bit down the Strip until Chris spotted a half-price ticket stand so we parked, baked in the heat while scanning the list of shows and attractions, and agreed upon the exhibit of Madame Tussaud's at the Venetian. As you can tell from the pictures linked in the previous post, we had a blast with those wax figures. Most looked remarkably like who they represented, from the facial features to the gestures and clothing; others looked just like wax figures, very doll-like and shiny. And that is the only time I will ever put on a dress so don't even ask!!!

From the Venetian, we pushed our way along the sidewalk to Caesar's Palace. Chris wanted to show us the animatronic fountains which came to life every hour on the hour. While walking through the shops, we happened upon a gelato stand, and with us not having anything to eat since breakfast, we thought there would be little harm in a small cup of gelato. That small little cup of raspberry goodness turned out to cost $12.99!!! We spent almost $30 on two teeny, tiny plastic cups of Italian ice cream. And they gave us taster spoons instead of adult-sized ones. I told CM it was pretty good gelato. "No," he corrected me. "This is the best fucking gelato you've ever eaten!" Chris had already found a spot by the Atlantis fountain and was going to town on his $18.99 three-flavored gelato so we found places next to him, joked about the food, ogled the shirtless models in Abercrombie & Fitch, then prepared ourselves to be dazzled by the animatronic extravaganza!

I guess I've been spoiled by Disneyland because that show was pretty sad. Like watching a dancing troop which only knew the Robot. And the skin flap of one character popped up, revealing the wires and gizmos beneath. We didn't stop at the other animatronic fountain.

For dinner, Chris' partner Greg finagled discount tickets for the Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur. Think of it as Medieval Time in a much larger space. We enjoyed rooting for our king, from Ireland, and drooling over the leader of Norway. The food wasn't bad, and no one minded drinking the bowls of creamy tomato soup or picking the meat from the chicken bones. The show was fun, and the different sections cheered loud and strong for each horseman, getting into the jousting, the fighting and the acrobatics.

Later, I wanted to visit the Fruit Loop -- the ring of gay bars just off the strip -- so Greg dropped us of at The Buffalo, a very friendly, bearish-leatherish-older crowd bar. A little smoky, perhaps, but not enough to bother me. Very few people under 30, which was just fine. We stayed and talked for a good two hours before we realized that we hadn't even checked out another bar. We probably could have spent more time, but CM and I were both tired and needed to get some sleep before the long drive home the next morning.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What Happens in Vegas....

It was the champagne. I swear! Because I would never choose a dress like that. Enjoy the rest of our Las Vegas Pictures while I recover from the hangover....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Someone, Please Explain

Stepping outside, the warm muggy air clouded my lungs. The temperature according to my computer was 87˚F.

So why is it raining?!?!

I hate global warming....

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Anniversary #1

My brother and his wife celebrated their first year of wedded bliss on Monday. And I did the right thing by stopping by yesterday instead, just in case they might have some special plans for the evening. My brother treated her to an expensive dinner at The Chart House in Dana Point, with a grand view of the harbor. Afterwards, they each took a bite from a year-old slice of their wedding cake, some tradition of keeping a piece in the freezer only to be nibbled at on the first anniversary. According to my brother, they both grimaced as the first bit of old, frozen, hard cake hit their tongues. (My stomach churned just thinking about it.)

Yesterday's visit also gave me the opportunity to finally see the renovations to their house. Originally built in 1906, the last major remodeling/renovation of the house occurred when my grandparents bought the property in the 1940s. Back then, they enclosed the sun porch at the back of the house to create a second bedroom and also built a smaller guest house in the back (where I used to live) that replaced the victory garden. This time around, my brother and his wife pulled down all the original kitchen cabinets, sanded and re-painted them; re-tiled the kitchen counter and added a green-and-white tiled backsplash; painted the walls with a soft, creamy yellow; and added some color to the ceilings in the living room (a dull grey) and the back drawing room (a sky blue to match the portrait of the pier his wife is going to add to the closet doors). They also replaced the old, termite-ridden wooden window frames with newer, metal, insulated models that slid open noiselessly to create a wonderful cool breeze at the back of the house.

They still have a few more projects, like re-doing the bathroom, exchanging the carpet in the living room and the linoleum in the kitchen for wooden flooring, and replacing/re-wiring the outlets in the front room. But the house looks fantastic! It almost makes me want to take on some kind of DIY project around the apartment.


Monday, August 11, 2008

212˚ Art

Yesterday, after a whirlwind apartment cleaning session, our friend Mimi drove down from Culver City for lunch. We decided on a little restaurant within walking distance of our place -- CM originally said about 3 blocks, which in reality stretched into 8 or 9 blocks -- and we casually strolled along the sidewalks admiring the houses and talking shop. At least, CM and Mimi did; I enjoyed the company, the sunshine and being out of the apartment. Our destination was the 212˚ Bistro, a small gay-friendly eatery nestled between an apartment complex and a salon/barbershop along 4th St.

The small inside contained a bar to the right and a few tables to the left, all shaped from the same dark beige wood. The tall, tattoed, red-haired waiter/host mentioned that the patio out back had plenty of tables to we headed in that direction and seated ourselves at a heavy iron, latticed tabled beside an artsy fountain: four bowls, each srinking in size toward the top, with water spilling over the edges until it pooled around the bottom bowl. Some tiny birds flitted along the edges, drinking water and splashing it over their wings. A very peaceful, private dining space.

The menu consisted of egg dishes, a French toast brick (a thick slice of bread stuffed with cream cheese and dipped in a batter containing cinnamon and vanilla), a few sandwiches and salads. I ordered the Club Scramble of eggs, bacon, chicken and cheese with fried potatoes; CM tried the BLT on incredibly thick wheat bread; Mimi order a Shrimp Cake Salad which came with a very large shrimp cake, roughly five inches in diameter. And it was all delicious. We chatted, nibbled, laughed, drank and enjoyed the meal, taking our time and relaxing. We didn't feel rushed in that quiet little bistro, even though by the time we finished, our waiter/host was beginning to put away the sugar packets and salt/pepper shakers.

We strolled back along 4th St., sometimes looking in the windows of the shops with funky 60s or 70s furniture, rockabilly clothing, even an independent booksellter. I snapped a picture of the Art Theatre, which has been closed for remodeling during most of the Summer. The new owners wanted to recapture the oringial art deco look and feel of the movie house by giving it a facelift, complete with a new marquee and two storefronts where only movie posters in glass boxes used to be. It was scheduled to re-open August 1, but as we strolled by, construction workers were still buidling shelving and counters in the windowed areas. I just hope it will continue to run independent, art house, gay/lesbian and foreign films.

(And the gay flag in the picture flies atop the Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Center right next door to the theater.)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Clean Bill of Health

I worked from home yesterday so that I could make my two doctor appointments here in Long Beach. My first -- at 8:30 am -- was to have x-rays of my kidneys taken. At our first meeting, I handed the urologist the strainer that I'd been using since my visit to the ER. He riffled through the small bits inside with a gloved finger but announced that he could not find a stone in it anywhere. He prescribed the x-rays to determine where the stone was.

So at roughly 8:30 yesterday I lay flat on my back, clad only in my underwear and one of those flimsy patient gowns that tie in the back, while the technician focused the large crosshairs of the x-rays lens on my abdomen. He ran behind his protective all, telling me loudly to take in a deep breath and hold it.... Then, release while he excahnged the used film plate inside the table with another for a second picture. Deep breath, hold.... And I was done. He asked me to dress and wait in the lobby for copies of the x-rays.

Back at the apartment, I actually did quite a bit of work, adding clients to our database, approving portfolios, joining a conference call, even spending a few hours testing the encryption on another of our databases. My curiosity about the films never kicked in, in part because I didn't know how to read an x-ray, but also because I would make things up about this darkened area over here, that's the coon right? Is that supposed to be so black? Or what about this space in the spine. That's looks too white to me. I must have some kind of lumbar disorder in addition to the kidney stones....

Yes, I sometimes act the hypochondriac. Better to leave the x-rays to the professional.


After sitting in the waiting room for 10 minutes, a nurse called me back and had me wait in one of the examination rooms. I plopped into some kind of upholstered chair that needed support because my rear almost touched the floor. I adjusted to sit on the edge of the chair and read until the urologist beckoned me to his office. From behind his cluttered oak desk, he lit a few flourescent screens and slammed the films into tiny holders. "Well," he said after a quick glance at both films, "it seems that the stones have passed." Stones? Meaning plural? "The CT they took at the hospital showed a stone in each kidney. In these films," he casually pointed behind him,"I see nothing. Everything's clear and in great shape."

And with that he bade me farewell. Call him only if absolutely necessary. Drink fluids with citric acid; those are the best for breaking down the stones or deposits in the kidneys.

I stopped at McDonalds' on the way home for a quarter pounder and a Coke to celebrate.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Bookwhore Chronicles: The Big Gay Read

Publishing Triangle published a list some years ago of the Top 100 Lesbian/Gay Novels, and I've been diligently working my way through them. After following Lemuel's lead with The Big Read, I thought it might be interesting to add a gay twist to it. So below is the list from Publishing Triangle.

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you read part of but never finished.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Strikethrough those you hope to never read again, and sometimes wish you could un-read.
5) Any books you feel should be on the list that aren't? Leave a comment!!

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
The Immoralist by Andre Gide
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig
The Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar
Zami by Audré Lorde
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
Billy Budd by Herman Melville
A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White
Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran
Maurice by E. M. Forster
The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
City of Night by John Rechy
Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal
Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
The Bostonians by Henry James
Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Persian Boy by Mary Renault
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst
Olivia by Dorothy Bussy
The Price of Salt (Carol) by Patricia Highsmith
Aquamarine by Carol Anshaw
Another Country by James Baldwin
Chéri by Colette
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Friendly Young Ladies (The Middle Mist) by Mary Renault
Young Törless by Robert Musil
Eustace Chisholm and the Works by James Purdy
The Story of Harold by Terry Andrews
The Gallery by John Horne Burns
Sister Gin by June Arnold
Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall by Neil Bartlett
Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram
Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
The Young and Evil by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
A Visitation of Spirits by Randall Kenan
Three Lives by Gertrude Stein
Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli by Ronald Firbank
Rat Bohemia by Sarah Schulman
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
The Counterfeiters by André Gide
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
Lover by Bertha Harris
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
La Bâtarde by Violette Leduc
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Satyricon by Petronius
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
Special Friendships by Roger Peyrefitte
The Changelings by Jo Sinclair
Paradiso by José Lezama Lima
Sheeper by Irving Rosenthal
Les Guerilleres by Monique Wittig
The Child Manuela (Mädchen in Uniform) by Christa Winsloe
An Arrow's Flight by Mark Merlis
The Gaudy Image by William Talsman
The Exquisite Corpse by Alfred Chester
Was by Geoff Ryman
Théresè and Isabelle by Violette Leduc
Gemini by Michel Tournier
The Beautiful Room Is Empty by Edmund White
The Children's Crusade by Rebecca Brown
The Story of the Night by Colm Toibin
The Holy Terrors (Les Enfants Terribles) by Jean Cocteau
Hell Has No Limits by José Donoso
Riverfinger Women by Elana Nachman (Dykewomon)
The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon by Tom Spanbauer
Closer by Dennis Cooper
Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac
Miss Peabody's Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley
René's Flesh by Virgilio Piñera
Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
Wasteland by Jo Sinclair
Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton
Sea of Tranquillity by Paul Russell
Autobiography of a Family Photo by Jacqueline Woodson
In Thrall by Jane DeLynn
On Strike Against God by Joanna Russ
Sita by Kate Millett

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Great Expectations

CM and I heard tell of this little musical when it debuted many months ago at a tiny theater in West Hollywood. The critics and audiences gave it incredible reviews, the show sold out each performance, word quietly spread of the potential to go off-Broadway. Then it closed, dashing our hopes of seeing the production ourselves.

That is, until a few weeks ago. I received notice on Goldstar Events that another theater had agreed to extend the run. So this past Sunday, we finally saw the musical Great Expectations. But first, a little about the theater: The Odyssey Theater, a bright blue building located on Sepulveda Blvd. halfway between Santa Monica and Olympic Blvds. in Los Angeles. A small parking lot in front, and from what their site said, another behind the building. Inside, were three theaters, each with a production seating at the same time forcing the mass of theatergoers in the lobby crowding into the small hallways. The theater we were in proved to be fairly spacious, without a bad seat in the room. (We sat in the upper stage left corner, beneath the booth, and had a perfect view of the entire stage.) I am glad we arrived early as the seats were first come, first serve; patrons were scrambling to find seats just before the show began, and a few groups grudgingly separated to fill any vacancies.

Reading through the playbill, we both commented about Margaret Hoonerman who provided the adaptation of the Dickens novel. A 94-year old, retired literature teacher from Iowa, she taught this particular novel every year to her high school students. She wrote this adaptation at the age of 85. Then, in 1997, convinced her grandson, Brian VanDerWilt, to move the project forward. He did, and along with his writing partner Steve Lozier, composer Richard Winzeler and lyricist Steve Lane, created this musical version of Great Expectations.
>As for the show itself, it follows Pip from boy to man and the unique characters that shape his life: Magwitch, the escaped convict whom the young Pip treats with uncommon kindness; Joe, a blacksmith as well as Pip's best friend and brother-in-law; Biddy, Pip's playmate who teaches him to read and to write while trying to hide her own feelings for him; the devious Miss Havisham who decides to punish Pip for being a male, and tempting him with Estella, her own cold-hearted creation; Herbert Pocket, Pip's roommate and friend when he moves to London to become a gentleman. Pip learns about life as he grows from a young blacksmith's apprentice into a gentleman and about love and its many ticks and pitfalls from the distant Estella with whom he's fallen in love. Having not (yet) read the book, I would like to think it follows the story well. I doubt that someone as involved with the book as Ms. Hoonerman would allow that to happen. The action melds seamlessly with the songs which, for a small production, sound grand enough to match Les Misérables. And all the actors treat the material with much respect and fine acting and singing. Some of the standouts for me were Tricia Kelly as Mrs. Joe and they young Miss Havisam -- strong voice that doesn't need a microphone and wonderful presence; Garrett Patrick Marshall as Herbert; Robert Arbogast as Joe; Zarah Mahler as Biddy; and Adam Simmons as Pip -- amazing voice and really seemed to get into the character. (CS, RG and I saw Adam perform a few years ago as The Portrait in a musical version of The Portait of Dorian Gray.) CM and I also like Miss Havisham played by Ellen Crawford both because she created a slightly off-kilter woman, unhappy with the world and specifically the man who left her at the alter, and because she remained onstage during the entire first act, watching with devilish delight at the exploits of young Pip.

Talking in the car afterwards, CM and I both agreed that the show has much potential. The music suited the subject matter without being corny or overblown, and all the actors performed incredibly well for such a small production. We found very little to fault with the production, except for the relationship between young Pip and young Estella. His love for her isn't well established and could be fleshed out a bit more. But I would most emphatically recommend this show.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Bookwhore Chronicles: The Big Read

(Stolen from The Greedy Maelstrom)

The Big Read thinks the average adult has only read six of the top 100 books they’ve printed below.
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you read part of but never finished.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Strikethough those you hope to never read again, and sometimes wish you could un-read.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Bible
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare (The Tempest, Measure for Measure, The Comedy of Errors, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, All’s Well That Ends Well, Twelfth Night / What You Will, Henry IV, part 1, Henry V, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Cymbeline)
Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch - George Eliot
Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
Bleak House - Charles Dickens
War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
Emma - Jane Austen
Persuasion - Jane Austen
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
Animal Farm - George Orwell
The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Dune - Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
On The Road - Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
Bridget Jones’ Diary - Helen Fielding
Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
Dracula - Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
Ulysses - James Joyce
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
Germinal - Emile Zola
Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession - AS Byatt
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte’s Web - EB White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
Watership Down - Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet - William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Bookwhore Chronicles: A Good and Happy Child

I like to use my library card when I see a book in the bookstore, read the dustjacket three four five times, but am still not sure of the author, or if I want to buy it. Such was the case with A Good and Happy Child by Justin Evans. Many times during the past few weeks, whenever CM and I entered the Barnes and Noble on PCH and 2nd, I found myself grabbing and carrying a copy of the book, but eventually returning it to the shelf because I just was not convinced I should buy it.
Thankfully, last Saturday I decided to check out the library before we left to see The Dark Knight, and lo and behold, a single copy of the book sat squeezed tightly between two Danielle Steele-like books. I immediately grabbed it and a book by Edmund White, headed for the checkout and back to the apartment. I waited until the next day to crack open Evans' book and wound up spending the entire Sunday with my eyes buried in the pages....

For some reason, George Davies cannot bring himself to hold or touch his newborn son, almost like a voice telling him not to. Trying to appease his young wife, George seeks the help from a psychiatrist. During their first session, he tells the doctor that this isn't his first encounter with a psychiatrist. While still a child, George's mother made him sit down with another such doctor, only a few months after his father died in their house. Hoping to find some connection between his childhood visits and the present problem, the psychiatrist gives George a blank journal, instructing him to write down anything he can remember from that time in his childhood.

George writes and soon uncovers memories long ago forgotten. About a mysterious Friend whose face appeared in the shower one morning. About a woman at a tent revival who spoke in tongues. About his father's dealing with religious circles and demons. About his father's abrupt trip to Honduras. About George's own possible possession and those who fought for him and those who didn't believe him. Were his memories real? Was he possessed by a demon? How do these events form his past factor into his present inability to touch his child?

A wonderfully written psychological thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat and refused to let me stop reading for a moment. Was George simply acting out his anger at his father's death, or did a demon actually possess him? My sympathies seesawed so many times that I never really knew what to believe until the very end. And even then, the question of possession still lingered.

I wish I had the ability to write such an engrossing first novel.