Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Ballad of Thousand Oaks

thousandoaksca_typical_streetThere’s a town just about an hour north of Los Angeles called Thousand Oaks, California. It is one of those sleeper, outside-Los Angeles towns where baby boomers settled with their children in the early 1990s when they didn’t want the stink of the San Fernando Valley on their skins. It was where schools had good reputations and houses were large and cheap, where suburban sprawl reigns supreme and tract houses caress the hillsides.

It’s one of those towns where, 25 years ago, there wasn’t much out there; mainly people with horse ranches, a library, schools and grocery stores. Bigger chain stores and city comforts were out of reach. If you wanted something specific, it meant loading into a car and a half an hour drive in almost any direction.

Thousand Oaks was a place where people ride around in giant pick-up trucks or white BMWs, either cowboys or desperately pretending to be, all while painting the town a bright shade of Republican red. The leading town entertainment was the winning high school football team on a Friday night under those fluorescent spotlights, followed by church with the entire town on Sunday under a huge light-up cross on the lawn.

The children of the people who made their homes out here were tiny little reflections of themselves. If you were any way different you were judged, and your only hope was to cast off your race. religion or sexual orientation to fit the status quo. If you were white and evangelical, like most of the town, you emphasized your whiteness, right down to parental-bought flashy cars, designer clothes and screaming for fancy coffees.

There was a desperate call to win, to succeed. College was the end all and be all of this world, and your extra-cirriculars were everything. Parents slapped football helmets on boys in hopes of getting scholarships and girls fled the cheerleading squad when the dance team won a national championship. You wore show choir sequins and Vaseline on your teeth and let the Napoleonic choir teacher scream and throw his tantrums; bad behavior was excused if you brought home trophies.

This was not the town I was born in; I was actually born in Los Angeles. But from the age of 10, we lived in the house off of La Granada Drive in Thousand Oaks.

It was the town where I was raised in. And I hated it.

Many of the kids grew up together, played at each others’ houses. I was the awkward transplant with liberal, socially conscientious parents — an entertainment techie father and a Holocaust historian mother. We were Jewish and very proudly so, from a family made up of more various people than a cheerleader’s sweet sixteen. My parents worked in the city, came from city families who still lived there, had city attitudes, were city people. There wasn’t room for us in Thousand Oaks.

The teachers never understood me. From a young age I was loud and outspoken. I refused to back down from my beliefs, standing up to my teachers and wondering why their opinion meant more simply because they were older. Passion, smarts, conviction and drive: These were the things that made me.

They didn’t make friends, though. I was that very strange, very tall, loud girl who brought a giant presence to every room. I was teased and made fun of regularly, to the point of crying right in the middle of class when the teacher didn’t do anything to protect me. Don’t get me wrong — there were people who I liked and I know liked me too. But it wasn’t like we were hanging out at each others’ houses. We just were there, acknowledging each other but never really reaching over.

Thousand Oaks was the place of lonely days, where I walked home as a latchkey kid and was left unattended. It was where I felt ugly for being so different and stole makeup from the local drugstore to try to feel beautiful. It was where I cried to Alanis Morissette, watched Sailor Moon in hopes I had a greater purpose in life, and put on red lipstick and my mom’s vintage dresses hoping I would become Gwen Stefani one day.

It was the place of cold evenings where my teenage self packed backpacks and desperately tried to run away, where I hoped I would die to relieve the pain of being lonely. It was where the doctors would cram pills down my throat to control me and make sure I was quiet. I would watch as I lost control over my own body, and when I tried to object they would shrug. It was the place of rejections and no’s, the place where I felt invisible, told to fit in a box when I knew I was better than that.

As a result, all my life there was one goal: Get the hell out of Thousand Oaks.

Most of my family disagreed, particularly my mother. She loved her little castle on top of the hill, all the knick-knacks and designs she made for her house. And one of her biggest frustrations with me was always why I wanted to leave.

In that small town, she had everything she had always wanted. She had her perfect large house with all her comforts, from sewing machines to a large backyard. She had the dogs and the fruit trees in the backyard. The family was far enough away so that they weren’t banging on our doors, but close enough so they could come every other weekend. It was the place she lived. It was the place she died.

But it was quiet. Eerily quiet. And it was in that silence where my anger grew.

By 21, I was gone, headed off to Orange County with a packed Toyota Camry. I fell in love with the beaches and the laid-back college vibe of my new university, and my anger turned to happiness. There were so many friends and fun nights that graduation seemed like a nightmare. After finding a place where I was finally allowed to be myself, thrive and not be alone, I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure I would never return to that place where my loneliness consumed me — even marry an abusive man.

One of the things that kept me married was Thousand Oaks; the idea of returning was unbearable. It felt like quicksand; I hated everything about that place. My focus was on the future. My focus was forward.

But even in Orange County, something was unsettling to me, like my feet were getting stuck. There was no rush of culture or whimsy for me, no joy in the pursuit of having a perfect life and family. It was my parents’ dream, my friends’ dream, everyone else’s dream. Not mine.

So I returned to Thousand Oaks.

It had changed in all those years. All the creature comforts of city life were now there, from Costco to Target. Although there were more housing developments, my parents’ house was still on wistful La Granada Drive, where they would complain about kids drinking near the cul-de-sac and street paving with the city council. It was still scrubbed clean, pristine and shiny. And I still hated it.

A year later, I moved into Los Angeles. It was my birthplace, and after a while I wondered if it was more of my hometown than Thousand Oaks. Walking along gum-encrusted sidewalks carrying grocery bags and sipping coffee along Abbott Kinney felt organic, more than than pick-up trucks and perfect lawns. Whenever I would see the downtown skyline, I would take a deep breath and feel my heart thud proudly through my chest, This was my heart. Thousand Oaks was my hometown, but Los Angeles was actually home.

The people who became my friends were also escapees to Los Angeles — from Dallas, Orlando, New Jersey, Arizona, Chicago or anywhere in between. We found home in each other. They were my friends and family, while the people I went to high school with were a mystery.

As the years went on, people added me on social media. Many were married with kids. Some were like me, single with drive. Some I like much, much better than others, and hope we will see each other and share a coffee or cocktail, and really get to know each other as adults.

I think about all of them — the jocks, the cheerleaders, the jazz hands and the stoners — as I drive back to Thousand Oaks. I think of reading my Facebook the other day, when I had to read about the death of a friend of mine from junior high.

His name was Tony. He sat next to me in junior high science class, and we were friendly with each other. He eventually became a football player, playing under those Friday night lights for the winning team. We were barely friends, but his kindness never stopped.

A friend of mine pulled a prank on him because his friends were so awful to me. She called him and asked him about me. He never said a bad word, although his friends would. I was on the other line, muted, listening intently. It made me feel less alone.

Even though I didn’t how how he died, I thought about articles I read about former football players and chronic brain injuries; how they commit suicide, kill people, lose their minds due to the knocks they took. Wondering if his life had been cut short in part because of our existence in this town.

I arrive at the house on La Granada Drive, with the yellow roses in full bloom. This town has changed in 25 years. The children who grew up on these streets had all moved away to create their own destinies elsewhere, and the housing prices grew so high that very few of them could return.

This house was where I grew to my 5’11 height and ate avocados and lemons from our trees. Where I learned to drive and wrote my short stories. Where I put on my first makeup looks and wore my high school cap and gown. Where the pool parties commenced and my father made his famous hickory smoked Thanksgiving turkey. Where my mother walked and our German shepherd Lucy followed.

And the place where, this summer, my father will leave. Thousand Oaks, the town that I grew up in, will transform from home base to simply a memory.

All my life I always wanted to leave, run away and never return. But sitting in the years of memories, dismantling a house, I don’t know how to feel about it. I had grown and changed. I didn’t live in the past, especially this past that I choose to forget. But the past wasn’t done with me yet.

As I drove into the city, knowing that one day soon I would drive away from Thousand Oaks forever, I really thought about this place: the trees growing wild on the hillsides and the lack of streetlights that allow you to see the stars every night. The coyotes howling at the sound of sirens and the roadrunners dashing alongside them. The rabbits run through the canyons and the hawks circle in the sky, and people still ride their horses up and down the street.

There will be a new child to call this place home. A new family trying to do the best they can. And I pray that this place won’t be as hard on them as it has been on me.

And as they put together their new home, I march forward in mine, scared yet determined, fearless despite the anxieties. Focus on the future, let go of the past, no matter how hard it tries to shake you.

This is the way my time in Thousand Oaks will end.

Hey Sean Spicer: You Don’t Know Sh*t About the Holocaust

Holocaust Memorial at the California Palace of the Legion of HonHey Sean Spicer. I am here to tell you something important about the Holocaust: You don’t know shit about it.

It’s not like me to be vulgar in my writing. I’m usually one who likes to remain poetic and intelligent whenever I create these types of things. But the truth is that you don’t know anything about the Shoah. You don’t know shit.

The truth is not many people do. I don’t care how many times you have heard Holocaust stories, been to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., or even Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. You don’t know shit about it, and that’s the truth.

You might know the fact that six million Jews were sent to their deaths (although apparently your boss doesn’t). They weren’t the only ones. There were communists, gypsies, homosexuals and political rivals, people with disabilities and people of color. This is the short list. In total, the Nazis sentenced 11 million to death for being themselves.

You probably know about the concentration camps, although apparently you forgot about the gas chambers and their Zyklon B. You don’t know about the people forced to lie on the ground and have Nazi officers ride horses across them, and whoever lived were the lucky ones. You don’t know about the people who would be forced to dig their own graves and then be shot into them. How people would sometimes come to watch, as if they were going to the movies.

You don’t know shit.

You don’t know the people who would do anything to escape. They hid diamonds underneath their skin so the Nazis couldn’t confiscate them, using them to buy passage through Europe to safer places. They were the people who would do anything for freedom, who escaped on boats to places where their lives wouldn’t be taken. And sometimes, when on those vessels, were turned away from different governments and sent back to the slaughter.

You don’t know the people who risked their lives to save people. Priests who took in hundreds of children and let them grow up safe in their care. There were the men who forged documents in order to give people the safe passage to other countries. There were the women who hid families under floorboards, in attics, far away from the prying eyes of the Nazis. They risked their lives. You don’t know them.

You do know many of the neighbors of the ones who were taken. They turned their heads, hoping to save their own skins, not realizing that there were certain things in this world worth dying for. You know them because they are you, Mr. Spicer. They are your boss, his friends and those who kowtow to his whims. You are them now, in this moment.

They were you when you argued for banning people because of their faith. They were you when you dismissed the press simply because they disagreed with you and dissented. They were you when you have defended the actions of your boss, and affirmed his beliefs no matter how misguided they were.

Don’t believe me? If I asked you, at this moment, to take in a Muslim man, woman or child under pain of death at the hands, you’d probably shake your head and say absolutely not. You couldn’t risk that. Just proves my point: You don’t know shit.

You are not the one who understands the dangers of history repeating itself. Rather, you are the one trying to use it to your advantage, clean up the parts you don’t like and then play it for your puppeteering and spin doctoring.

You don’t know shit about it. You don’t know shit about the Holocaust.

I believe in the kindness of people, in the goodness of the world despite its evils. I’d like to believe we are better than another Holocaust. But with one hand you would take the evils of the past and with the other create the same exact circumstances that led to the past’s events.

And for me, and my future children and friends’ children, I will say the words that echo in my heart like a rhythmic song: Never again. And when I say those words, I say them for all mankind, no matter color, creed or anything in between; not just for those who I deem worthy at any given moment.

The question is whether or not the Holocaust happened; fortunate for those of us who need to constantly prove the history to Holocaust deniers (and possibly you too), the Nazis were stellar record keepers who kept meticulous entries of all their atrocities. The question is how do we conduct our lives based on this information. In a world where anger and finger-pointing run rampant, were hatred is easier than love and openness, how do we face the future?

Mr. Spicer, it’s time to educate yourself. You need to know more than just the basic facts of the Holocaust. You need to know more than the six million dead Jews.

You need to know the thousands scarred, the subtle history leading to the atrocities of war that we are mirroring on a day-to-day basis. You need to know about the boats turned away and the people who were sent back to the slaughter because people were too busy being scared rather than loving.

You need to know that that six million isn’t just a number; it’s human lives, people who had families and who loved and were loved. Six million souls, six million lights extinguished from the world and countless generations of humans who could change the world for the better, but perished at the hands of ignorance and fear.

Only then can you say, “Never again.”

Until then, you don’t know shit. You don’t know, you can’t know. And add your name to the list of the guilty, who sacrificed millions of lives for the easy way out.

Perfect

perfect-926268_640We all want things to be perfect.

At least I do, anyway. It’s one of the hazards of having been an editor for so long. You will find faults in everything — wonder why people can’t use their grammar correctly, how that tree sap found its way on your perfectly cleaned car window, how there can be one minute of gray to spoil the row of beautiful, sunny California days.

This nitpicking may be weird coming from someone who has a hard time cleaning. But sometimes you yearn for things to be the way you want them. Otherwise, you just can’t help but to wonder.

Over the course of my life, I have angrily stared at my split ends, sprinkled various herbs into dishes for the best flavors until I was satisfied and spent hours trying to take the perfect selfie, then yelling at myself because my eyes are never the same size. I worry when people post their pictures of me on my Facebook — do I look fat? Why do my teeth stick out like a chipmunk? My hair looks limp. Other girls are prettier than me; I’ve seen their Instagrams.

And beyond that striving for the perfection of our physical appearances, there’s also the other things that hint that something isn’t right under the surface; the things you desperately don’t want other people to notice. There is a worry in me too about all of them:

Are you single? If you are, what’s wrong with you? If you’re in a relationship, why isn’t he marrying you? Or maybe he’s not good enough for you if he’s this or that? If you’re married, why don’t you have kids? If you do have kids, why aren’t they X, Y or Z?

Where do you work? Who do you work for? How long have you been there? If you haven’t been there for that long, there must be something wrong with you. If you’ve been there for too long, you have no ambition.

People like me want to be perfect. We strive for the best. We want to win, to have people admire and look up to us.

We are given ladders to climb that have no real top, that aren’t what they seem because we determine the top of them when in truth the outer ends of the universe is the limit. Or if and when we reach the “top,” we look down from the top of the clouds and don’t see what we missed in order to climb up here. And to go back down means you could potentially fall, and hit the ground harder than when you were first there.

Yet we keep reaching for perfection. Is it because we’re told to or because we’ll never be satisfied if we don’t? I can’t tell you.

I thought I knew perfect. If you asked me before, I could tell you what perfect looked like, or at least my version of it. There was a vision in my head, and I felt the desperate need to go there in all aspects of my life — job, dating, you name it.

Several weeks ago I walked into a dive bar off of Ventura Boulevard. I sat at the bar and waited. I even told my friend on the phone, “I don’t expect anything much from this. Might as well.”

About an hour and a half later I was sitting on a couch in the bar, right in the middle of a popcorn war, laughing all the way as I tossed popcorn playfully into his graying hair. A week later I was drinking wine with him in the middle of the Angeles National Forest, looking up at the stars for hours and listening to “Something” by the Beatles play on the car radio. And another week passes and we’re whispering, which makes his voice sound like husky honey, then giggling softly like sneaky teenagers as we’re trying to fix a closet door and his dog is licking my face.

The normal exchange of stories began. Every day there was a conversation. There would always be time for a text. There were innuendo messages as much as the encouragement and advice, as well as debates about movies and music. I would be my normal sassy self and he would lap it up. We shared our beliefs of the world. He found my social consciousness sexy and loved how close I am to my dad.

I would stand up for myself, and he would hear me out, but check me in my fears and anxieties. He not only calmed me, but it made me realize, “Oh crap, this guy has my number, and we haven’t even known each other that long.” It wasn’t a bad thing; rather, it reminded me distinctly of my friendship with my best friend of 14 years. It made me feel more like myself.

That night of the broken closet door, I laid on the bed and looked at him. I could feel my face turn into a goofy smile, feeling incredibly comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t feel anything weird about the way he was touching me, unlike some of the other guys I had been with. He played with my hands as our fingers weaved them this way and that. And yet somewhere in my mind, I thought to myself, “This is it? After all this time and the countless number of strangers, this is the guy?”

He didn’t know a lot about grammar — his texts were riddled with typos, which is usually my number one dating pet peeve. He’s a big dude, which was strange for me; I’ve always been taller, bigger, whatever. He’s an outdoorsy type, loves to go fishing, camping, hiking. He gardens, which I am completely clueless about. He reads, but not as much as I do. He grew up in a completely different culture than I did. His work schedule is erratic.

Yet I looked into his half closed brownish hazel eyes as his slight smile matched mine, and realized that I would be absolutely crazy to let him go.

Perfect is often what the world tells us, not ladders of ascension but boxed prisons of the mind. It’s up to us to shake the chains that bind us and let go. Perfect is the striving for the future when you need to count the present too. And sometimes it’s desperately hard to count.

Will it last? I definitely don’t know the future. But I look forward to it: Arms wrapped around me while gardening, more laughter as the dogs lick my face, maybe even another popcorn war and plenty more music. And that, for me, is perfect.