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A Roach to Hang With

Los Angeles, for all intents and purposes, has only two seasons: a mild, temperate one of great brevity that we refer to as “winter,” and a second, which lasts for about eight months and is known, informally, as “hot.”

Autumn, as one typically understands it, doesn’t exist in these parts. While people in other places get out their chunky cardigans, plan leaf-peeping trips, and shake the dust out of their duvets, we in L.A. gag on forest fire smoke, stagger through week-long heat waves and slather our kids in sunscreen so they don’t fry at the Pumpkin Patch.

And then there are the insect infestations.

Usually these involve ants, but this year Mike and I got a new and completely unexpected kind: roaches. To say that this was unexpected is to put it mildly. One of the reasons I live in L.A., aside from lethargy and a mordant fear of the unknown, is the fact that there are no roaches here. Earthquakes, yes. Traffic? Fine. Stucco, plastic surgery, rampant and vapid fashionistas? I can take all of it. But roaches? Objection, your honor. Out of order.

I’m from Brooklyn, and grew up in an apartment building with a bug problem so profound that you’d consider yourself lucky if you saw only ten or twelve roaches in a twenty-four hour period. On a good day none of them flew. Bonus points if they stayed out of your shower, but that was rare.

I’ve said it before: I am phobic of all insects. But roaches have a special place on the entomological spectrum for me. I think of them as the Devil bug, evil incarnate, the filthiest, most terrifying, most repugnant, and least desirable of all pests on this or any planet with existing life. I would rather have lice. I would rather have fleas. I would happily take lice, fleas, and pantry moths while enduring an earthquake and roasting over charcoal briquettes before having a single roach in my house.

Yet the season of “hot” had different ideas.

Two weeks ago I saw my first. “Couldn’t have been one,” I thought. “Impossible.” It scampered away, and I relegated it immediately to the giant bin labelled “denial” in my brain.

Three days later, a second sighting. “Mike,” I said, shaking my head. “The weirdest thing. I thought I just saw a cockroach…”

“Oh, yeah,” he replied, not missing a beat. “I saw one yesterday. Strange.”

This conversation, too, went into the box. Denial is my friend. Roaches are not. I thought no more about it.

Two days later another, on the pantry door. Then, an hour later, one in the dishwasher.

“Jesus!” I shrieked. “They’re really here!”

Mike looked up from the plate he was drying and considered me, his head tilted questioningly.

“The roaches!” I snapped. “We have to do something about them!”

The next morning at 8 AM sharp I was on the phone with Corky’s. Discerning my hysteria, they promised they’d have someone out the next day. They also told me calmly, as if it were no big thing, that we’d have to prepare our house by emptying the bathrooms and kitchen of every single thing in them. Like we were moving. All cabinets would need to be wiped down. As for the food in them?

“You’d be best off just tossing it,” said the young woman on the other end of the line. “Any of it could be infested.”

I got off the phone looking, I’m sure, like Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.” Head spinning, eyes pinned, mouth in a ghastly grimace. When I spoke, it was in a stream of profanities so intense it would have made a pirate weep. Roaches and my house torn apart? This was my idea of hell.

Mike and I spent all that night packing up. It was a nightmare. Not only was it  labor intensive, but I was terrified of running into a roach. Jumpy doesn’t begin to describe it; I was like a meth-head on an eight-day run. Every time a shadow moved I screamed shrilly. Spoon dropped? “SSHHHRRRIIIEEEKKK!” Dog scratched? “AAAAGHH!”

“Do you want me to do this by myself?” Mike asked at one point, palpably annoyed.

I took a deep breath. I had to man up.

“No,” I said, with all the bravery I could summon. “I’m OK.”

But I wasn’t.

Still, Mike and I got everything packed up. Exhausted, I went to bed, visions of brown insects clicking at me furtively as I drifted to sleep. My dreams, I assure you, were not good.

Corky’s came the next morning. That was six days ago, and it’s been four since our last sighting. We’re not out of the woods yet–I’m told it can take a month to kill every roach–but things certainly seem improved. I can be in the kitchen again without cringing in fear. Tonight I cooked for the first time. It’s getting better. It will continue to do so.

But man, it’s been a rough, long, season. Tomorrow it’ll be 103. The air quality still sucks.

The roaches may be gone. As for “hot?” It’s a lot harder to kill.

Striking a Bad Cuord

“I’m a good mother,” I thought, as I pressed “place my order” on the Mini Boden website.

I was buying Myra-Jean some leggings to replace the ones she owns that are too short, too tight, or have holes in inappropriate places. Kids’ leggings are a constant challenge; they wear out in seconds, their sizing is bizarre, and, unlike other clothing types, you rarely find nice ones used. So I have to shop for them. Which I dislike.

This is mostly due to my inclination towards overwhelmedness. There are too many options; I don’t know where to go. I’m trying to avoid H&M, which used to be my go-to place for kids’ gear. They have great stuff, but their labor practices are an issue. Especially for Mike. Every time I shop there he asks me how it feels to buy clothes for a six-year-old that were made by…a six-year-old. It’s a real buzzkill.

So I’ve been shopping elsewhere, with varied success. MJ is tall and has the hips of a grasshopper (I don’t know if grasshoppers even have hips. But neither, effectively, does MJ.) She’s also extremely sensitive. If the elastic is too tight she says the pants are “choking her waist.” So much for Crew Cuts. If the seams are too thick she rejects the pants as itchy. Adios, GAP Kids. Where to try next?

One of my mom friends suggested Mini-Boden, so last week I ordered three pairs of leggings from them. One was a digression from my usual choices: a vivid orange “stretch corduroy” that I was almost certain MJ would reject. “Screw it,” I thought. “Returns are easy. Finding decent leggings isn’t.”

To my surprise, the corduroys were the biggest hit. Myra-Jean wanted to wear them immediately. Partly because of the color, and partly due to the novelty of the material. We tried them on briefly; they seemed fine. The waist wasn’t too tight; in fact, it seemed relaxed. The leg part was snug, but within acceptable bounds.

“You sure these are comfortable?” I asked?

“They’re awesome.”

We were running late. No time to waste. Off to school she went, day-glo legs blazing in the morning sun.

When I got home from work at the end of the day, MJ didn’t seem up for her usual jumping-on-the-bed routine. This was strange; she always hits the mattress at 6:30 sharp. Tonight she just sat listlessly on the edge of the bed and watched me change out of my work clothes.

“How was your day?” I asked her. “Great, bad, or indifferent?”

MJ wrinkled her face. “Indifferent.”

Surprised, I asked why.

“Those leggings,” she said, “can NOT be worn on school days.” It turned out they had fallen down all day. Especially when she bent over or squatted.

“And I squatted a LOT today, Mama. We had drama class!”

“Oh, buddy,” I said, taking her hand. “I’m so sorry.”

MJ made a pained face. “Two girls were laughing at me on the playground. They said my butt was showing. It was really awful.”

When things like this happen I want names and phone numbers. Not that I’ll do anything. Just so my rage can fester.

“Who were the girls?”

MJ named two kids I knew. One of whom she’d had play dates with. “I thought she was my friend,” she said sadly.

“Oh, honey.” I wanted to kill them. I also wanted to kill those pants. Corduroy leggings. Idiotic concept. What was I thinking?

There was nothing I could do but make sure it didn’t happen again. “I’ll return them tomorrow,” I said adamantly.

MJ raised her drooping head to look at me, horrified. “No!” she cried. “I like them. I just can’t wear them to school.”

I didn’t have the heart to contradict her. Not after the day she’d had. But man, do I have it in for those leggings. I haven’t returned them, but only because I can’t stand to touch them yet. They’re sitting on the toy chest in our hallway, where I can shoot them evil glares every time I walk past them. Call it a sartorial purgatory.

And I will return them. I may not be able to punish those little schoolyard rats, but I can sure as hell wreak havoc on the Mini Boden returns department.

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Post No Cards

When I need to mail a package, I generally go to the Glassel Park Post Office near my home. It’s filthy, has only four parking spaces, and sucks a tenth of my soul out every time I visit, but it’s in my zip code and I feel a weird fealty towards it.

Yesterday, though, with an envelope that had to be sent priority,  I decided to try a different branch. I was in Eagle Rock on another errand and thought maybe I’d have a more pleasant experience at their location. Maybe only a twentieth of my soul would be devoured–an improvement! Or maybe none would. Maybe it would be my first ever functional experience in an L.A. post office.

The parking lot had ample spaces, an immediate improvement. And the office itself, when I entered it,  was bigger and cleaner. But there was still an air of numbness; I felt, as I always do in these situations, that I could light my eyebrows on fire and no one would look up from their smartphones. Bureaucracies have that effect on people. So do smartphones.

Me, I try not to use my phone when waiting in line. It’s so cliche. Not to mention, I hear that microboredom is becoming a problem, and I don’t want to succumb. So I try to just look around, take in the scenery.

After running my eyes over the usual “suspicious contents” posters, racks of bubble envelopes, and passport seeking stragglers, I noticed a plastic fishbowl on the counter. It sported a sign that said:

Grow your business. Drop your business card into the bowl.

And that was it. A few cards sat listlessly in the bottom, waiting for an opportunity that seemed unlikely to come.

“Huh,” I said, as the person in front of me got called and I moved up to the front of the line. “I wonder how that works.”

So when it was my turn I asked the clerk–a stolid lady with a plaid shirt and a matter-of-fact demeanor: “So just how does it grow my business?”

She looked at me blankly. “I’m sorry?”

I jacked my thumb at the fishbowl. “Putting my business card in there. How does it grow my business?”

She leaned over and looked at the fishbowl. Although it had clearly been sitting there for a long time, she regarded it as if it were new. She made a frowny face, then shook her head.

“No.”

Now it was my turn to look confused. “No?”

She shrugged. “It does nothing.”

I nodded. “So, it’s just…there?”

She turned to the clerk in the next cubicle down, who, by now, had taken note of our conversation. “Lacy,” she said flatly. “What happens to the cards?”

Lacy was unhesitating.”Nothing. I don’t know why that thing is even there.”

I laughed, and so did they. And so did the person Lacy was helping. So that was good–I felt like I brought a little brightness to everyone’s day. Maybe broke up the microboredom just a micro-bit.

But I think I’ll go back to my regular branch. Clearly there is no such thing as a functional option.

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Pressing a Point

So I did get Mike to sit down and watch a “Grace and Frankie” episode with me. Two, actually.

And technically speaking he lay down.

You see, Mike has a bad back right now. Excruciating. He gets these from time to time, and it sucks. Having tried many cures with no success, he’s convinced that the only thing that actually has some palliative effect is to iron the sore part. As in, yes, like a shirt. Without the sprinkling first, of course. Don’t worry–it’s not as awful as it sounds. You do it over a doubled-up towel, so the heat is only mildly excruciating.

But of course, a man can’t iron himself. That’s where, in this instance, I came in. Mike asked me to do it for him–for an hour. That, apparently, is the amount of time required for this medieval technique to work.

“We could start after dinner…” he suggested.

“Sure,” I agreed. Then I had a thought. A rather opportunistic one. “But I was planning a ‘Grace and Frankie’ binge for exactly that time. It’s the final two episodes. You’ll have to watch them with me while I do it.”

Mike made a rictus grin. “Okey dokey.”

It was clear he wasn’t thrilled. But he really had no choice. Supper over, he lay down on the floor. It was awkward to find a way to see the TV, so he wedged his legs under the coffee table, propping his head on a couch pillow. I plugged in the iron and knelt next to his back.

“What setting should I put it on?” I had no idea if he qualified as linen,  synthetic, or wool.

“Start low and work your way higher,” he suggested, groaning as he adjusted his unnaturally crooked neck. “Slowly, please.”

So I did. It turned out the wool setting worked best. Having figured that out, I ironed him the whole time we watched the two episodes. They weren’t the best I’ve seen, but this was to be expected. There’s a cosmic law that says that whenever I get Mike to watch a show with me–especially one he’s skeptical about–it will be worse by many powers of ten than any episode I’ve watched by myself. His palpable doubt actually seems to torque the narrative arc.

“I swear,” I’ll find myself saying, “it’s usually better than this.”

To which he responds, “Of course it is.”

But he was pretty nice about “Grace and Frankie.” Maybe because I had a scalding metal plate against his scapula. Whatever the case, he even chuckled a couple of times, and only turned his head away completely in the last ten minutes or so.

“It’s just…my neck,” he explained, wincing painfully.

“I get it,” I said, working the iron into his shoulder blade. “I know it’s not personal.”

After the shows were over and the iron was unplugged he stood up stiffly, thanked me for my efforts, and folded himself up on the couch.

“Isn’t it a great show?” I asked.

“What? Oh, yes. Definitely.”

He qualified the statement a bit after that, but not terribly. Who knows–maybe his aches and pains just removed his will to fight.

Or maybe he realized he was wrong, but was too proud to admit it.

There’s a setting for that, too.

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Back to the Vulture

Holy Carrion, Batman!

Tomorrow is International Vulture Awareness Day at the L.A. Zoo, and MJ is beside herself with excitement. She’s designed a tee-shirt for it and everything. She’s also fed all of her stuffed vultures to get them pumped up for an outing, as they’ll all be coming along. Thank goodness we had some extra coils of the rubber stuff we got with our new robotic vacuum cleaner. Normally it demarcates which rooms our Botvac can and cannot enter. But today a bit of it got snipped off and used as rotting flesh.

Me, I’m sorry I’ll be working. The look on MJ’s face when she sees a California Condor eat a dead squirrel will really be worth witnessing. Take lots of pictures, Mike!

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Stations of the Clock

Usually I discount passing crazes, but it just so happens that an article about a new one arrived in my inbox today at a particularly vulnerable moment. I’d just finished a conversation with Mike about the deplorable state of my office. I was contemplating how to fix it when the link came in.

Hmm, I thought, as I stared at it. “Bliss Stations?” Sounds moronic. Still, anything’s better than having to actually do something about this room right now…

So I clicked on the link. The article talked about creating an artist’s sanctuary in your home–a place where you feel joy, peace, and inspiration. A place filled with things you love. A place to dream without encumbrance.

The piece annoyed me–self-help stuff always does–but it also fueled my desire to get this office cleaned out. If I’m supposed to feel joy when I sit down in here I’ve got a long way to go. Right now I’m verging on a mid-level panic.

My office, it seems, is on a bliss vacation. The desk is chaotic, the walls peppered with carelessly curated artworks. A wan polyester curtain covers one sliding glass “wall,” unfiled receipts litter the floor, an old jack-in-the-box lurks in the corner. Instead of thoughtfully chosen, meaningful things on the shelves–history books, photographs, bits of memorabilia–there is macaroni art, a bunch of old video cassettes, and a Freddy Krueger Mr. Potato Head. (Don’t ask. It’s a “collector’s edition.”)

Front and center, hanging above my paper-swamped desk, is the big wooden clock that my dad gave me years ago when I got my first place. I had nothing in the way of furniture at the time; he had it left over from a film shoot and donated it to me. It was the first–and for a while only–thing I hung in my new, tiny studio in Venice. It looked appropriate, even nice there; and, ever since, I’ve moved it from apartment to apartment, house to house,  with a real sentimental attachment.

But something has changed since my dad passed away last year. I loved him, of course, but this clock–that keeps no time, mind you–isn’t him. It’s just a round piece of wood with some markings on it, and it’s really not speaking to me anymore. Or maybe it is, and I just can’t make the translation now that Dad’s gone. Without his spirit animating it, it’s just a thing, a bit of ephemera robbed of meaning. Or perhaps its meaning has simply morphed from the personal to the banal. Where before it reminded me of Dad’s support at a difficult time, it now speaks to me only in cliches:

“The end is near,” it intones. “Time is not your friend.”

I know, I respond silently. Your presence is an excellent reminder.

Is a clock in and of itself a thing of beauty? Perhaps, but this one has lived out its time on my wall. If this is going to be a bliss station I’ll have to begin by eliminating anything that doesn’t, well, bring me bliss. This means you, Killer Potato Man, and you, evil jumping clown. And everything that found its way here by chance.

So Dad, I love you. I miss you. But time’s up. The clock goes in the attic.

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Butt Why?

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No. I wanna betta bus bench.

Nothing like having a daughter who is just starting to read to fire up your feminist leanings. Do we really have to look at this crap? Does she? This particular ad is ubiquitous in the East LA neighborhood I live in. I passed it three times on my way to Trader Joe’s this morning.

“No,” I muttered each time, growing more caustic-sounding with each sighting. “No, I don’t. No, my butt is fine. No, her butt is fine. All of our butts are fine, you idiots!”

This last bit I yelled. A lady waiting for the bus shot me an alarmed look.

“Sorry,” I muttered apologetically. Then I rolled up my window.

Another turn, another bench. I pondered the model’s ass, which she is dutifully raising for us to inspect. Annoyed, I moved on to her face. So vapid, so anodyne. What is she really thinking? Impossible to say beneath the exuberant airbrushing. Maybe she’s calculating how much she’ll make on this shoot. Maybe she’s thinking about sushi for lunch. Maybe she’s trying not to pass gas. Butts do that too, you know.

What’s for sure is that she’s not thinking about my kid, and neither  is the company whose jeans she touts. But I am. I’ll have to explain this ad, and every one like it, to her. No billboard, placard, or sign escapes her notice now that she can read. We’ve discussed “Little Caesar’s” at great length (perhaps she was too young for the Ides of March?) We’ve learned about STDs (as I said, this is East LA). We’ve dissected watch ads, liquor ads, car ads, ads for things even I find disturbing.

And now we’ll have to start dissecting this. The pouty-lipped, unnaturally posed, slightly hostile-looking girl on billboard concept. And allllll that it entails. Oh, MJ. How can I explain?

I want a better bus bench. I want a better world. Or I want my kid to forget how to read.