reading in Venice
Sunday, November 17 2013
location: northeast 16th floor, Hotel Palomar, Westwood, Los Angeles, California
Somehow Gretchen found a second animal rights museum to visit this morning. This one was close to Westwood and didn't seem as sketchy as the one she'd gone to yesterday. Meanwhile I researched big-box-style hardware stores and found that the nearest was the Home Depot in Marina Del Rey, which happens to be the first Home Depot I'd ever set foot in back in September of 2000. Gretchen hadn't needed the rental car to do her thing, so I drove it out to Marina Del Rey, using her old Droid X2 cellphone to help me with navigation. It turns out that a GPS-equipped phone works great for navigation to a destination even if it has no cellphone or WiFi connectivity; the maps stored in the cache work great and the turn-by-turn instructions work perfectly based only on the information from the internal GPS system. Reversing the navigation without the internet doesn't work, however; evidently it cannot programmatically reverse the instructions. Home Depot had exactly the tool I needed: a small $10 multi-driver with a good mix of screwdriver and Torx points. It was important for it to be small, since tools have to be less than seven inches long in order to be accepted in carryon luggage on an airplane.
Back at the hotel, I struggled for hours trying to get the old keyboard out of my Compaq 2510p laptop, which I hadn't ever had any reason to disassemble in the past. The instructions on the HP.com website (viewed using the Droid X2) seemed a bit off; they spoke of an additional Torx screw that wasn't present in my model. But something definitely seemed to be holding it beneath the Y key. So kept removing screws, even ones having nothing to do with securing the keyboard. Eventually I had taken the case apart enough to rotate the keyboard around what was still holding it and I saw that it was just one of the posts to a Torx screw I'd already removed. The case was hanging on a ring-shaped indentation in that post. By wiggling the keyboard back and forth and applying rather more force than one should ever have to apply when disassembling devices, I managed to pop the keyboard loose. I immediately soaked it in a sink full of scalding hot water, activating the keys as I did so. As for the laptop itself, I managed to get it working with the additional cordless keyboard, meaning I no longer had to rely on the on-screen keyboard.
Gretchen returned while I was still working on my computer. She'd barely slept at all last night, but, since she'd be doing a big poetry reading tonight, she felt she desperately needed a powernap. So she popped 10 milligrams of Ambien and climbed into bed.
While Gretchen was sleeping, I walked into "downtown" Westwood and bought some groceries at the Trader Joes. One item was the smallest, cheapest bottle of vodka they had on hand, a $6 fifth. I also got a bag of "reduced guilt" pita chips and a six pack of Hop Ottin' IPA. These apparently seemed like party supplies to the guy ringing me up, and he cheerfully asked if these were supplies for "the game." "No, they're not," I said with possibly an unjustified undercurrent of hostility. As little as I look like the sort of person who thinks about sports, I still occasionally get people trying to talk to me about the subject, and it's always terrible; I feel embarrassed for them and, for myself, overcome by a momentary wave of existential boredom. I'd rather someone thought I was an alcoholic than a football fan. As I was walking away with my bag of three groceries, I could hear the guy behind me offering to the cheerful Trader Joe cashier that indeed he was there to get supplies for the game, whatever game it was.
Gretchen stumbled to her feet about a half hour before we had to meet some friends in Venice end route to her reading (also in Venice). She put on her dress and her shoes, gathered up her papers, and we headed off for the car, which we'd parked around the corner on Manning Avenue (so as to avoid the depredations of the valet racket being run in front of the Hotel Palomar). Since Gretchen still appeared to be in something of an Ambien fog, I drove us to Venice (relying mostly on the knowledge I'd developed when I'd lived in West Los Angeles 13 years ago).
Our first destination was Café Gratitude, a decidedly non-junkfood gourmet vegan restaurant. There we met up with Michæl, my longtime remote web developer colleague, and his wife Molly, whom he married since I was last in Los Angeles. Last to arrive was Marc, another of my remote-development colleagues (his role is usually project management and quality assurance). He'd rode in on a bicycle from his home neighborhood near Westwood.
I looked over the menu and it all seemed a bit more nutritious than I'm used to. The dishes had all been given adjectives for names, and one was expected to non-ironically order by saying "I'm [name of item]." That was all too kooky-California for the likes of Gretchen and me (or, actually, anyone else at our table except perhaps for Marc). I ordered the Mucho (which is more of an adverb) and, though a bit more whole-grain than I prefer, it was really good. While Mike and Molly didn't talk much, Marc was in a chatty mood, and the conversation was mostly between Gretchen and him. My role was mostly that of eccentric east-coast weirdo, the guy who somehow survives in 2013 without an active cellphone plan. Marc talked a lot about yoga and what it means to him and how it affects his life. One of the things his yoga instructor has made him give up is hot sauce and spicy food, which (to me) would be a quick route back to my normal (that is, non-yoga) ways. He also talked about how the vegans have ruined cycling events in Los Angeles by demographically forcing the non-meat option to also be vegan, which, as a vegetarian, he finds onerous. Gretchen didn't say anything, but she had no sympathy whatsoever.
Gretchen left the meal early and then came back because she couldn't find where I'd parked the car. As I was showing her to the car, she was having a phone conversation with the people who were supposed to be providing the vegan cookies that the advertising had promised would accompany her reading. There had been some sort of mix up and now it seemed there weren't going to be any cookies. So when I got back to Marc, Molly & Mike, we all decided that we should go get some cookies at Whole Foods. But I called Gretchen just in case she'd already solved the problem, a likelihood I retroactive gave as 40%. I got her answering service.
In the Venice Whole Foods, Molly scouted out the cookie selection and found that vegan cookies came in two forms: small, hard ginger cookies for $6/bag and large chocolate chip cookies for 99 cents each. So I loaded 27 of the latter into a bag, intent on telling the Whole Foods cashier that the bag contained two dozen, but as we stood there in line, Gretchen returned my call. She'd solved the cookie crisis. So there I was, returning those 27 loose cookies to the glass-doored pastry cabinet. I left it looking nowhere near as tidy and appetizing as it had been before me.
Gretchen's reading was at Beyond Baroque, which is something of a literary institution in Los Angeles. Between Gretchen's friends, extended family (including at least one second cousin), and a smattering of local animal rights people, she managed to draw a crowd of more than thirty people, which nicely filled the black-walled room in which she read. As always, the reading was powerful and expertly performed. Gretchen was so at ease that even her impromptu asides to the crowd (including a warning about potentially-disturbing animal rights imagery directed at a relative with a screaming child) seemed perfectly fluid. If my colleague Marc thought the vegans of Los Angeles were a drag on the food options at his cycling events, Gretchen's powerfully convincing arguments against dairy revealed it to be the trivial first world problem that it is. Any concerns I had about a lingering Ambien fog affecting Gretchen's abilities to perform quickly burned off like the morning marine layer.
After the reading, I chatted awhile with Linda and Adam (Linda is Nancy's sister; they moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn several months ago) and Michelle V. (who moved to Los Angeles a couple years ago, though she recently got married in Westchester County). They're all friends living in Los Angeles whom we originally met on the East Coast. None of them are vegans, and a couple of them eat meat regularly. Having made their appearance and suffered through some tough activist poetry, they all slipped out without talking to Gretchen at all.
I sipped a small plastic cup of red wine while Gretchen carried out the signing of some 31 copies of her book (which will soon be going into its third printing). Eventually, after having a number of gushy conversations with people whose names I didn't know or could never hope to remember, I was joined by Marc. We talked briefly to the guy who runs Beyond Baroque, and he told us that he pays the city a rental of $1/year for the building and is in charge of fixing everything but its roof. There was also some back-and-forth celebrity name-dropping (a form of conversation that, though not unique to Los Angeles, is characteristic of it). The only names I recognized were John Doe and Exene Cervenka.
By the end it was just Gretchen, me, and Marc, and Marc seemed to have been shocked and moved by the poetic excellence that is Gretchen Prιmack. He went off to his bicycle, a fashionable fixie, leaving just me and Gretchen to celebrate her success. She hadn't had much of a dinner at Café Gratitude, so we drove up to a Native Foods on Ocean Park Blvd. on the south end of Santa Monica for dinner #2 (now that her Los Angeles reading was over, Gretchen was no longer concerned about her weight). I don't remember what she ordered other than a glass of wine and a bowl of soup, but I ordered the "meatball sub" (it wasn't that great) and some sort of Jamaican-themed IPA (it would have been clever to call it a "West Indian Pale Ale," but that idea eluded the brainstorming behind its label design). There weren't many customers in the restaurant: just one young heterosexual couple in addition to us and, oddly, a table of three or four men who all appeared to be crippled in ways that allowed them to walk (but just barely). This was by now our third fast food vegan experience in Los Angeles, and it seems safe to identify a trend: the people working in these places (at least in greater Los Angeles) are an unusually friendly breed.
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