Though I have no research to prove this, I’m certain the relentless grind of daily newspaper journalism indelibly warps the cerebellum. “Deadline” — or as former L.A. Times film critic Kevin Thomas (and former Mae West personal assistant) fondly called it, “The Motherfucker” –rigidly structures one’s experience. It keeps you cornered and firing on all cylinders. It gives every day a swift kick in the pants. It dispenses with formalities and hones a razor-like focus. Or (And?) it makes you an adrenaline-junkie rife with crippling neuroses to which you are completely blind. Deadline activates that tiny but powerful portion of the brain known as the amygdala, where our survival instinct lives. Without it, I’ve felt nauseatingly aimless. And so, I’ve redirected all my investigative powers, my need-to-be-a-know-it-all to other areas. Small claims court, for instance. And I’ve become a budding genealogist. Turns out all those cancer deaths on the Italian American side of my family in Appalachia were all due to a toxic landfill – one of the top 25 most toxic places in the U.S. — that sat just two miles from their neighborhood. That sad fact was unknown to me until my buy-out. See? There is an upside to the death of newspaper journalism! More self-knowledge! Yay.
It’s been ten days now and I’ve officially got a crush on Obama. Now I’m checking my Blackberry for those earnest emails, slightly wounded that he hasn’t called. (Though, good president-elect boyfriend that he is, Obama promised in his last note to “be in touch soon about what comes next.”) I realize now that all my talk of Obama burnout was just the long-suffering liberal bracing for the inevitable disappointment. But the night he won, I sat in front of my TV, watched the crowds dance in the streets and wept in spite of my cynical self. Every day closer we move toward January 20, I grow more giddy. And that’s really saying something considering Inauguration Day is also my 40th birthday. Even as the jobs evaporate, the nation’s debt balloons, the foreclosures skyrocket and my 3-year-old’s tantrums rage on, I’m feeling effervescent! Obama restored my faith on Nov. 4. And though I know he’ll make mistakes, his election marks my generation’s coming of age. Obama, born in 1961, to a mixed race, mixed nationality, divorced couple, is one of us. (Obama inhaled!) Granted, he’s a more brilliant, better-spoken one of us, but nevertheless a member of that earnest and self-effacing Lost Generation born in the 60s and 70s who grew up with a profound sense of mankind’s darker traits. Our childhoods were marked by melancholy and tumult, both personally and globally. For my part, I was conceived around the time of the My Lai massacre and the signing of the Civil Rights Act. When I was in utero, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated and Chicago police pummeled student activists outside the Democratic National Convention. And I was born the day Richard Nixon was inaugurated. Turning 40 the day Obama becomes President feels about right.
Barack Obama is sending me so many emails that I’m starting to delete his earnest diatribes without even opening them. I know. That’s heresy coming from a journalist. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan. I welled up during his race speech. I gave money to his campaign. I believe he has inspired the world in a powerful way. My 3 year old daughter shouts “There’s Barack Obama!” with glee every time she spots his face. But here we are, on the eve of what everyone expects to be his historic win, and I’m fighting Obama burnout. Here in my dark blue enclave, Obama’s image is a hipster calling card. My massage therapist (okay, she’s a Rolfer) has a photo of Obama in her studio, right next to her picture of Amma, the Hindu Hugging Saint. Perhaps Shepard Fairey is to blame. Way back in January, the L.A. artist’s reverent Obama poster –emblazoned with “HOPE” and “PROGRESS” — seemed to be the tipping point that pushed Obama into Zeitgeist territory. Now websites like obamamessiah.blogspot.com seriously argue that Obama may indeed be the Second Coming. Forget all those predictions of a landslide victory. Is there anything more indicative of cultural influence than a gargantuan gravel and sand sculpture on a Barcelona beach, visible only by air? I think not. (Photo thanks to Reuters)
Pot smoking in California has always been a popular sport. But since 2003, when the state legislature amended 1996’s Prop 215, making it easier to open pot clubs, a genuine marijuana renaissance has taken place. Even in unlikely quarters. In L.A., the “I-800-Got KUSH” billboards beckon from all over town. Middle aged parents smoke up at their kids’ private school camp-outs. Preschool drop-offs are as likely a place for a quiet pot exchange as the high school parking lot. Pot clubs cater Amsterdam-style to the discerning medical marijuana “patients” whose afflictions range from cancer to insomnia. The pot smoking stigma of years past has apparently so diminished that even the Governator himself (shown above in 1977’s doc “Pumping Iron”) admitted on camera last week to TMZ.com that, back in the day, he and Tommy Chong once shared a smoke.
Even routine raids by the DEA (the Feds don’t recognize California’s pot laws) haven’t slowed business. (Probably because every recent attempt to knock down Prop 215 has been swatted away by state and federal judges.) By some estimates, there are 800 cannabis clubs in California and at least 180 registered in Los Angeles County alone. Some say there are 100 more clubs operating under the radar. And there’s a whole sub culture of LA growers, turning downtown LA warehouses into giant greenhouses that secretly supply dispensaries around town. Earlier this year, a group of dispensary owners testified to state officials that their businesses earned as much as $1 billion a year, bringing in some $100 million in state sales tax. Nothing to sneeze at considering California’s staggering $15.2 billion budget deficit.
The sexually adventurous smart girl — from Anna Karenina to Lady Chatterley to Erica Jong to Carrie Bradshaw — is a character that has always titillated. But a new generation of women has risen the stakes on the genre. Rather than toy with sexual promiscuous personae in dating columns or transparently self-referential novels, these young women start off as sex workers. Then work their way back into the Establishment. Diablo Cody is the poster girl of this phenomenon. She blogged about her stints as a stripper and sex phone operator, got the attention of a Hollywood producer, who helped her land a book deal, a movie deal and ultimately a screenwriting Oscar. Then, there’s the London call girl who blogged about her exploits, got a two-book deal that turned into the successful ITV/Showtime TV series “The Secret Life of a Call Girl.” More recently, Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s call girl Ashley Dupre, an aspiring singer, passed on Larry Flynt’s $1 million offer for her own Hustler spread and –after downloads of her songs skyrocketed when the scandal broke last spring – she landed Mariah Carey’s former music manager Jerry Blair. Now she’s in talks with Reveille Productions (which produced “The Office”) to create a dating reality show.
Clearly the motivation differs with each woman. But they share a similar drive and stamina and, most likely, a formidable talent for compartmentalization. They make bloggers like apologetic naughty girl Emily Gould and TimeOutNY sex columnist Julia Allison look even less appealing than the neurotic, long suffering Belle du Jour made famous in 1967 by Catherine Deneuve. Is this new generation of women more complex, less cavalier and more thoughtful than the infamous “Happy Hooker” of the 1970s Xaviera Hollander (who is, incidentally, the subject of a small documentary released this year)? Or have these women just learned how to harness the machine and market themselves?
Drenched by my apocalyptic fever, I overlooked the fact that luxury is still quite relevant to many people who are completely unmoved by the collapsing infrastructures of our world. Take travel, for example. Courtesy a handful of new clubs like Clear, you can pay your way to the front of security (after a $128, a retinal scan and a background check, of course). And while Delta, American, US Airways and Continental Airlines cut their less fuel-efficient routes and charge extra for checked bags and stale turkey sandwiches, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Airways and Emirates Airlines have snapped up the fancy new double-decker Airbus A-380s (world’s largest passenger airline) and flaunted their bounty at the National Business Travel Assn. expo this week in L.A. For just $10,000 per person, Singapore Airlines offers full-sized beds with down duvets and their now world-famous Givenchy pajamas to take the edge off that 20-hour flight from San Francisco to Seoul. Qantas showed off its remote-controlled “pods” that feature a massage chair, 18-inch flat screen and mood lighting. In the United States of Stagflation, we’re just happy to get an extra package of peanuts and a cup of lukewarm water. Even in first class.
While the latest news is increasingly freaky, (what with the food crisis, fuel prices and the world teetering on the brink of economic collapse, etc.), I’ve grown strangely optimistic about a potential breakdown. The idea of starting a survivalist club, as one friend recently suggested, where we’d learn how to can vegetables, gut a wild boar and deliver babies, sounds super cool! I just finished the 1996 novel “Into the Forest” by Jean Hegland about two teenaged sisters surviving the end of civilization alone in rural northern California. It’s beautifully written, but not especially uplifting. Still, it made me want to expand my tiny vegetable garden and study the uses of medicinal plants. Oh, and buy a gun. But let’s not muck up my little fantasy with pragmatism. Maybe it’s just my midlife crisis talking here, but isn’t there something invigorating about the idea of hitting the “reset” button on civilization? Sure, it would be especially treacherous for city dwellers like me and my family. Mob rule and all that. The near future as depicted in the film “Children of Men” felt believable. But in the country, life wouldn’t change too terribly much. Horses and shotguns would probably spike in value. There would be dangerous drifters. But surely somebody would perfect that lovely daydream of a bucolic utopia. You know, where everyone shares and lives off the land? Or maybe we all should just set up tents inside the nearest Whole Foods and hope for the best.
The massacre of newspaper journalism unfolding this summer is unrelenting. Yet in all the reports I’ve read, Timothy Egan in the New York Times captures the real essence of this tragedy here. As a postscript, please see this smart little diatribe on Sam Zell, his overheated ego and stale sense of humor.
Thank you Monica Corcoran for sharing this bit of encouraging news for women over 35 who are eager to see lovely examples of their peers. As Ms. Corcoran reported in the L.A. Times, the Boomers buying power (and their willful attachment to their own youth), have prompted a sudden rush on models of a certain age. All those self-made super models from the 90s are back — Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell. Even women whose careers started in the 1970s are being recruited by New York agencies. “The aspiration in these ads has shifted to having a full, rich life. Open up any Vogue and you’ll see models over 35,” John Caplan, president of Ford Models told Corcoran. “In the Rolex ad, you have Carmen Dell’Orefice, and she’s in her 70s.” And she has a miracle worker of a surgeon, no doubt. Thanks to technology (plastic surgery and Photoshop) beauty really IS ageless. Yet, it’s tough for me to be wholly cynical about this whole “cougar” phenomenon. When a 70-something can still look this damn good, it’s uplifting for women everywhere. Ahem. Figuratively speaking, of course. (Photo bySpencer Weiner)
Edward Kennedy’s brain tumor has everyone debating the safety of cell phones again. But this time around there are some disturbing new studies that suggest all that heat and radiation so close to our brains might not be benign after all. The American Cancer Society and the F.D.A. continue to say there’s not a clear enough link. But last year, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study from Tel Aviv University showing a 58 percent higher risk of parotid gland tumors among heavy cell phone users. A Swedish analysis last year of 16 studies found the risk of acoustic neuroma and glioma doubled after 10 years of heavy cell phone use. And if that doesn’t convince you to trade in that Bluetooth this surely will: Johnnie Cochran’s neurosurgeon believes the attorney’s tumor was caused by his cell phone and told Larry King last week that he himself uses an earpiece.