Sunday, February 28, 2010

In The Right Nest

My mother, The Phone Harpy Whom I Love Very Very Much and my dad, The Great Stoic Wonder blew through L.A. for a few days on their way to a Tahitian cruise. They wanted to see the new place and so we spent all of Friday together.

Though I’m far too old for them to be worried about such things, I knew they wanted to see the place in the daytime, to assuage any fears they might have of their little girl living in a safe place.

And their fears were pretty much blown out of the water. Here’s the Phone Harpy herself, in all her Shorty Glory, checking out the front yard. Which is on a hill above L.A. So any tsunamis will not get me. Cross that one off the list.

They saw the front yard, the gate I live behind. They saw the back yard, and the fence around the pool. They met Pepe and Pembleton, the Dalmatian landlords, and their human owners.

And we all squeezed into the Shabby Shack, to which they said “it might seem cramped, but the rest of the stuff that you get with it makes it worth it.”

Which is true.

The Shabby Shack is actually coming along these days. Wella and Augustus came over last weekend to mount the flatscreen on the wall and the blinds over the back window, and with the straightening and last minute aesthetic details I threw into place to make the place seem organized to my folks (the 99 cent store is a GODSEND, people!) the place does seem bigger than before.

I love living by myself (or as much by myself with my Dalmatian landlords next door as I can be.) And though I will continue to argue with God to my dying day that yes, I do need a bathtub. Happy for the shower, but a bathtub is something I want and need. I will concede Him the point about the mini fridge being big enough, and the new toaster oven baking as well as a full sized oven.

Living by myself combined with stepping down from the various non-profit boards I was on has been jaw dropping. Look at all this free time I have to write!

And this is the metaphor I came up with. People have 100 % reserve of energy to get through each day. And various things require x amount of energy to deal with, like work, traffic, laundry, meeting writing deadlines, etc.

But living with Roomie Heckle and Roomie Jekyll, I was leaking unconscious energy and didn’t know it. Every day that I came through the door and Roomie Heckle was on the couch, where he’d been for four hours, sucking up TV time, drained energy out of me. Every day that a simple “How was your day” question to Roomie Jekyll sucked away 30 minutes of my life while she vented about how much she hated her job drained energy from me. Waking up in the morning and listening for the sound of other stirring souls, trying to calculate how much free time I had left before someone else’s girlfriend got into the bathroom drained energy out of me.

All of that is gone now. Dare I say I’m...content?

Sure, there are things missing in my life, like a man, like a full time writing career. But I have more energy, and I have the Shabby Shack, and amazing views, and Dalmatians for landlords and they can be awfully cute.

It’s not me busting out all over with puppies and rainbows. It’s just me feeling like, finally, finally, I’m on the path I’m supposed to be on. Or at the very least, I’m in the right nest. Maybe.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Snoopy Brunch! (Part 2)

We weren’t expecting the protestors outside the Snoopy Institution, which may have seemed na├»ve, but I drive past the building all the time and I couldn’t remember when I had saw them last.

But there they were, and honestly, they didn’t look that threatening. A group of maybe 10 or 12, wearing the masks, holding the signs saying Snoopyology is a fraud, brainwashing, one of them is even dressed like Woodstock, the fabled alien that Snoopyology is rumored to be based on. They’re being interviewed by a camera crew, and more people across the street have cameras, and whether those guys are tourists, more protesters, or, as the protesters will tell you, secret Snoopy police documenting the protesters so they can ruin their lives later, is unclear.

Flora, Fauna, Rosalyn and myself had agreed to drive separately, and to park far away from the Snoopy Institute and walk, just in case they were writing down our license plate info for whatever reason. We also agreed to bring cash, so they wouldn’t have our credit card information. And we had all agreed on our fake names, and knew better than to sign anything with our mailing address, our phone numbers, or our email addresses.

But with the protesters outside, we were caught in a unique crossfire – the Snoopyologists might suspect us of being undercover protesters, and the protesters might suspect us of being Snoopyologists. When really, we’re just curious Christians.

I knew the protesters would scare Fauna and Rosalyn, maybe Flora too. I ended up being the first one there, and I quickly walked past the protestors on the corner, making sure to turn my head, so they couldn’t catch me on camera. They were worried about their identities as well, the closest one to me was wearing a doctor’s mask and holding a little dog, who wasn’t wearing a mask. Burn him! Burn him at the stake!

A security guard meets me as I walk up the driveway, apologizing for the noise and the rumpus. I thank God I had made a reservation ahead of time with my fake name, I’m not sure they would’ve let us in otherwise. But I should wait for Flora, Fauna, and Rosalyn, and boom, they call me on the cell, “We’re across the street, we’re kinda scared.” I assure them that I’m already here, in the driveway, so don’t you dare flake out on me now and I go back down the driveway to wave at them and they walk to me.

Then we’re all escorted to the restaurant. The security guard didn’t seem creepy, nor does our escort to the restaurant. And once you’re inside, the grounds are very nice looking. It’s like its own quiet oasis or something. You can’t hear the chants of the protesters from here (and I think their chanting is really just mocking the music the Snoopy Institute is blasting out), for what that’s worth.

The restaurant is very nice, but not at all crowded. Once we’re seated, we count maybe three other occupied tables in a place that holds at least 40 tables. It’s eerie to be seated, you wonder why more people wouldn’t be here. The protesters scared them away?

The buffet itself is much more modest than I had anticipated. The food’s good, but it’s only two small tables lining a part of the restaurant. But still, it’s a buffet, and I’m SUCH a sucker for buffets, so we all load up on salad, brie, fruit, waffles, home fries, salmon, eggs benedict, and dessert.

There’s a small band, and some poor woman who’s dressed in a red satin outfit, dress, elbow length gloves, and stilettos are doing twenty minute sets of standards. We’re all a little puzzled when she sings I Can’t Make You Love Me, an odd choice for Valentine’s Day, ho ho ho.

But despite the empty surroundings, nobody bugs us about Snoopyology. We don’t see anything out of the ordinary. We just do a girl chat over food, talking about boys and jobs and la la la, as though we were anywhere else.

If anything, the service was kinda slow, all things considered.

After the meal, Fauna bows out of the tour, as she’s gotta go meet her dad in Santa Barbara, so Flora, Rosalyn and myself head down the hall where we’re sure it’ll only take seconds before a Snoopyologist swoops down on us.

And WHOOSH, one does so, a pleasant smiling woman with a thick accent who asks if we’re interested in a tour. Do we?! Of COURSE! She hands us off to another guy with a different but still thick accent, who proceeds to take us on a tour of the grounds, telling us the history behind the building, the history behind the area, how the pavilion on the grounds can be rented out for events, though if you’re doing a fashion show, no lingerie or swimsuits please, “because we’re a church.”

Once we’re done with the grounds, here come the Snoopy details! And he asks us more than once what we’ve heard about Snoopyology. “Have you guys heard things like aliens and stuff?” uh oh, I think he may be on to the protesters outside. Heh.

We claim we don’t know that much. But it’s interesting how they will bring it up first, as a defensive measure, we know you’ve heard this wacky stuff and here we are to explain to you how all it’s all one silly misunderstanding.

He’s unfailingly polite, though, not coming across as creepy at all. They don’t have the crazy, they seem like any cast member you’d run into at Disneyworld.

He ushers us to a section of the main floor devoted to Snoopy’s Waterbowl. You’ve seen it, it’s a machine that measures “brain activity.” And with all the hullabaloo you’ve heard about it, how it’s completely bunk, it’s a little strange to see it displayed so prominently, with a giant info board right next to it with a photo of a woman in one of those Waterbowl sessions, with a somewhat zombie smile on her face.

So we all go a round with Snoopy’s Waterbowl, grabbing the metal pylon things (which feel surprisingly flimsy and insubstantial.) He gets us to think of different things, then points out when the needle jumps that “there! You were thinking of someone specific, weren’t you.” And how where the needle is determines whether our thoughts are positive or negative feelings for. Of course the whole thing feels pretty arbitrary. Reminds me of the time we went up to Griffith Observatory and jumped up and down next to the seismograph to simulate an earthquake. It felt like if you blew on this machine, you could get the needle to move.

Then we’re asked if we want to see a short film about what Snoopyology is about. Do we!? OF COURSE!

The first film looks like it was shot fairly recently, like within the past five years, and yet, it’s kinda disturbing, showing all these situations of angry people – arguments, parents pushing their kids, food poisoning. And they’re trying to show you how stress affects you and brings you down, and Snoopyology is all about getting rid of that, so you can approach stressful situations without letting it affect you, or something like that. But the beginning is so over the top, making it seem like the world is nothing but one argument after another.

The next film they show is much longer, and was shot in the nineties, and when they take us into the various classrooms and talk to the various staffers, everything is obviously staged and unreal, that it’s really hard to believe this film was even produced, that there wasn’t some quality control committee who said, “um, let’s try again.”

They bury us in mind numbing details about how world governments have continually upheld Snoopyology’s right to be a religion, and how when the IRS audited them, found them to be compliant with the law. We never had any questions about that, again, they’re strangely going on the defensive you maybe have heard about how we’re not a religion, the courts say we are! You might have heard that we were audited, we passed!

I don’t really care about the internal organization of Snoopyology. I don’t care about their internal justice system (which strikes me as creepy anyway) I wanted to hear people talking about how Snoopyology helped them. Aren’t we gonna see anything scary?

I finally get my wish at the very end of the film. Our narrator with the brown plastic hair walks slowly towards the camera as he’s summing up everything:

(The next part is verbatim, because they actually have these films uploaded onto youtube, you can go check it out for yourself.)

You are at the threshold of your next trillion years… will live it in shivering agonized darkness, or you will live it in the light. The choice is yours, not ours.

If you this minute say I will for better or worse go on in Snoopyology, you will open the door to your own future. If you say otherwise, you slam tomorrow shut in your own face. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it really is. We are not making any claims for Snoopyology It is you, when you have experienced what can be, are the one will be the one that will make the claims. What is true, is true for you.

If you leave this room after seeing this film, and never mention Snoopyology again, you are perfectly free to do so. It would be stupid, but you could do it. You could also dive off a bridge or blow your brains out. That is your choice.

It’s here that I burst out laughing. Oh my GOD, are you serious? You’re going to scare us into signing up? Bully us? Equate not going on to learn more about Snoopyology with “blowing your brains out?”

Half of me is concerned that they have hidden cameras in the screening room, so they can see that it’s the chick in black who’s snorting derisively at their recruiting film. But I’m certainly strong enough to assert myself if they ask me anything directly.

They ask us to fill out surveys about what we thought of the film, and I answer honestly, I write down that the film was too long, too boring, and too on the nose. Nothing that I wouldn’t say to their face.

As it turns out, when we get out of the theater, we’re met by yet a third chick, who reads our surveys in front of us (kinda uncomfortable), and asks us if we have any other questions.

We’ve been asking questions all along the way, I asked inside the screening room about where do Snoopyologists believe they’re going when they die. I got a vague answer back about how this isn’t their only lifetime, and though they never say the word “reincarnation” they mention things like reliving cycles, and how Snoopyology tries to help you ‘rise above” that cycle. That the goal of this current lifetime is to reach maximum knowledge and insight, and Snoopyology wants to help you do that.

They do say that you can believe in other religions and still practice Snoopyology, that the two can co-exist with each other, though they keep mentioning the key phrase “what’s true for you is true for you.” Which is practically cousin to “you have your truth, and I have my truth” which is how most “Spiritual, but not religious” wrongly view religion anyway.

The newest staffer who’s reading our surveys says that she was raised Baptist, then Methodist, and that’s the most interesting personal thing I’ve heard any staffer say today, and if I weren’t already so tired from the brunch, and the mind numbing details about the locations of their headquarters around the world, I would’ve liked to ask her more about it.

But yes, we’re all tired of it at this point, and decline their offer for us to purchase Snoopyology books, and thank them for showing us around, but we’re going to go.

So they show us the best way to the parking lot and thank us for coming. They don’t stop us. They don’t do anything negative.

The protestors outside were scarier than anything we encountered inside. And by the time we get outside, they’re all gone too.

We all agree that we’re really glad we did this, to find out for ourselves what it was about, “Everyone who thinks this is scary is a bunch of pussies” Flora declares.

And it’s like anything. You think a new thing is scary or intimidating, until you actually experience it for yourself and realize that it’s definitely not scary or intimidating. I’m not going to be buying any books, and I do halfway wish I could go back and talk to that one woman some more, but I know if I did, she’d just put the pressure on for me to take a course or something, and I have no interest in doing it.

The whole thing strikes me as very sad. The Snoopyologists are sad, the protesters, itchin’ for a quarrel that they can record on their cameras and plaster on the internet, are sad. Anyone who falls for what Snoopyology says is sad. Snoopy’s Waterbowl is sad. The buffet was sad. The red satin singer was sad. I’m sad for not taking the chance and asking tougher questions like “Don’t you believe in one universal truth?”

But at the end of the day, we got out more than alive, but with a new experience under our belts that few people have the balls to do.

Two things to close with:

1. Should I finally die in the car wreck that I’ve long suspected will be the thing that takes me out, please know that those Snoopyology DVDs in my bookcases were freebies, and I am not a Snoopyologist.

2. The Smokehouse Sunday Brunch is about the same price, has much more food, free champagne and mimosas, and is a better Sunday Brunch overall. But no protesters outside. Heh.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Snoopy Brunch! (Part 1)

(Opening note! Snoopy, and anything else Snoopy related in the following entry is CODE!)

(Second opening note! I’ve always have a stat counter on this blog, so I see when people arrive here via googling certain phrases. Should the googlebots report back that people are getting here via very loaded phrases, I’ll take this down in a heartbeat. Let’s see what happens.)

Okay! Even though I’m an internally cranky cynical bitch, I believe the following:

1. People are, at their core, inherently decent people. Sure, they get twisted up in culture, dysfunctional upbringings, or their own neuroses, but every baby that comes out does so pre-loaded with an intrinsic sense of right and wrong. Pretty sure, anyway.

2. If you’re an organization, any absence of information from you will be filled with a storm of half truths and lies by people with their own agendas, so…

3. If you really want to learn, you gotta go to the source, and not take someone’s word for it.

This is how I found myself at the mysterious Snoopy brunch yesterday.

Most of you have heard about the Snoopy organization. Certain famous faces are members, they’ve pissed a lot of people off, there’s organized protests against them, there are many stories that once you become a member, suddenly you’re spending a lot of money, and it’s pretty impossible to leave. Is it truth? Is it propaganda? The absence of information filled with a storm of bullshit by disgruntled ex-members? Nobody knows.

I have never personally met a Snoopyologist, which has always intrigued me. I know plenty of Christians, Jews, I’ve talked to agnostics, atheists, quasi Wiccans, I even shaved the head of a student Buddhist monk at his request before he went back up the mountain. But I’ve never ever met a Snoopyologist.

I drive past their buildings all the time, you can’t live in Los Angeles and not do so, and there must be Snoopyologists in there, but I don’t work with any of them, I’ve never drank with any of them, they’re conspicuously absent from everyday life.

And I always wondered what went on in those big historic Snoopy buildings. You hear whispers and rumors and you have no idea what’s true and what’s not.

I remember hearing early on that the Snoopy institution near me had a Sunday brunch that was to die for. But I thought you had to be invited by a Snoopyologist, and since I didn’t know any of them, I thought I’d never get there.

But one day, I was bored, and despite vague warnings I had heard that they track everyone’s IP address if you click on their website, and suddenly you’ll start getting mail, and phone calls, and people will follow you everywhere, I went to their website, and discovered that all you have to do to go to the Snoopy Sunday Brunch is…make a reservation. If you print out the page from the website, you get ten bucks off!

Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!

My goal for 2010 was to go on one big adventure per month. Last month, I went to the Magic Castle, which was awesome. This month, I was determined to get to the Snoopy Brunch. Because like point number three above, I don’t wanna take someone’s vague “A friend of a friend took a class and then they wouldn’t leave them alone for years” as what the institution is really like. I wanna find out for myself.

Now, there is zero danger of me becoming a Snoopy convert. I am 100 percent Christian, and nothing anyone can offer me would shake that. I may not be able to win a theological debate with an angry atheist, I may whine and be a brat about how I haven’t heard God lately, but I know within my internal cranky bitchy Amy-core that God absolutely exists, and so did Jesus, and all the rest that goes with being a metaphorical card carrying occasional F bomb dropping Christian.

Because I’ve got rock solid faith, I’ve got no problem whatsoever about investigating other institutions and what they believe. It’s not about going there and picking a fight, screaming they’re wrong, I’m right, and why do you make your people buy thousands of dollars of books and coursework, you could go to my church for FREE. That would be rude. It’s more of a fact-finding mission. I wanna hear from the source what they believe.

In addition to realizing anyone and their mother can go to the Snoopy brunch if they make a reservation, I realized my friends would want to go with me.

In the past year, I’ve made three really awesome friends. We all met in different small groups at church, and we keep each other accountable, drink often, and jump in the hottub when I’m housesitting at Basil and Ginger Puppy’s house. Let’s call them Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather.

Merriweather said instantly that she didn’t wanna go to the Snoopy brunch, not because she believed the negative hype, but because she simply didn’t have an interest in learning more about Snoopyology, which is totally fine. I have no interest in learning about tax-reform law, so if she invited me to a lecture on that, I would totally pass too.

But Flora and Fauna were game enough, for the same reasons as me. Fauna’s friend Rosalyn was with us when I was talking about it on New Year’s Eve, and wanted to join the fun, so now we were an Inquisitive Gang O’ Four.

Once I started the scheduling email chain, and mentioned to various acquaintances that this was something I was going to do, the reactions were interesting.

Most of the time, the reaction is “why would you wanna do THAT?” To which I say, why WOULDN’T I? It’ll be fun to put us in the line of somewhat shadowy folks! If we go in there unafraid to say what we believe, to ask questions when appropriate, and take steps to make sure they don’t follow us, what’s the big deal? What do you think they’re gonna do, kidnap us? Not let us leave? Brainwash us if we drink the orange juice?

Why would I take the vague friend of a friend stories as gospel? If I want to know, why wouldn’t I find out for myself?

I did get an occasional story from someone who had taken a class once, or had worked with a P.A. who was one once. Never did anyone say, “Yeah, that Snoopyologist was cooler than I’d thought they be, and we became friends.” It was always that they were slightly off, the introductory class had some interesting self help things, but you were expected to pay a bunch of money to get to the next level of classes, and blah blah blah.

I remember there was a small group once where we got sidetracked talking about Snoopyologists, and how weird they are. I pointed out the central principle of the Christian faith is that we believe a guy performed miracles, died for our sins and came back to life three days later. Jesus is the original zombie. Tell me THAT’S not weird.

The only time in my life that anyone has ever attempted to block me from leaving a building was the Crazy Koo Koo Church from years back. The service was running late, I had to be somewhere, I head up the aisle, and they physically stand in front of the door and gesture that I should sit back down. I look them dead in the eye and say, “Your service is too long, and I’m running late. Get out of my way.” And they do. (I never went back after that.)

The only time in my life that any religious group asked me point blank for my phone number within five minutes of meeting me was a Young Life group on my college campus. I gave them a fake number and never heard from them again.

I still get emails from various Los Angeles theater and arts groups who refuse to take me off their mailing lists.

My point being is that every story I’ve ever heard accusing the Snoopy institution of weird behavior, I’ve experienced through other groups first.

But I made the reservation for this past Sunday, for a very curious party of four. We laughed and joked that since we’re expecting the absolute worst, what would most likely happen would be a big fat nothing. We’d go, stuff ourselves at a buffet, poke around, maybe take a tour, ask questions, and find out what exactly people were so afraid of.

We were expecting the worst. We were expecting nothing. We were not expecting the protesters outside.


(part two is HERE )

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Be Respectful, Polite, And Don't Piss Me Off

The following post may seem like old news to about half of you. Very sorry, many apologies, go watch the Puppy Bowl.


I learned last week, through the magic of Google Alerts, that I had a copier. A plagiarist. A college freshman had come to see Polka Dotted Platypus last year. She hated it, and decided she was going to rewrite it herself and publish it on her blog under the same title, and include a coda explaining what she was doing, and how she was going to do this brilliant (her word) idea better justice than I did. She even posted the trailer we had made for Polka Dotted Platypus on her blog, so people could compare.

My first thought was thank GOD for Google alerts! My second thought was...well...

Okay, see, I’m trying really hard not to disparage her online. This blog is public, though if you’re not a friend of mine already, my last name is not known, and my work goes under pseudonyms here. So if she sets her own Google alerts, this blog wouldn’t be popping up.

And though she had no problem saying I was an inferior writer, and if I was her age, I’d be ALL about trashing her, her writing, and the wisdom of her actions (or lack thereof.)

But I’m not her age. When I first starting reading her post, thinking hey, wait a minute and um, I wrote this idea already and wow, is she ripping me off? and she IS ripping me off. I didn’t get that STRUM.

Okay, okay let me back up.

You know that feeling when you get bad news? When your boss calls you into the office to tell you you’re being let go? When you have that awful conversation that includes the phrase, “I don’t think we should see each other any more?” When you get into a car wreck, or a ticket, or just barely avoid hitting something?

I call it the STRUM. Like there’s twenty thousand guitar strings knotting up your insides and someone just windmilled them for twenty minutes. It’s like a searing pain diagonally across your midsection. It’s like all your internal organs dropped a few feet, and are bouncing around below your belly button.

That’s the STRUM. But I didn’t get it when I read her blog. I had every right to, I’M BEING MALIGNED!

But instead I just sat at the computer and went. Huh. Wow, she’s not really (Amy struggles to find the right word that doesn’t disparage her) thinking clearly, is she?

Instead of pitching a fit, I thought about next steps. I want to address this. I need to address this. It took me about forty five seconds of googling to find an email address for her. (again with the not thinking clearly part for her.)

And then I waited. Went and did some other stuff, including the rewrite of Polka Dotted Platypus that I ironically happen to be working on anyway. Came back an hour later to see if I still had the desire to contact her.

Yes, the desire is still there. But a separate desire is coming into play and that is if I do contact her, I want to be respectful and polite. A-HA! A CHALLENGE!

Can I contact a wayward blogger, bite my tongue from all the things I really wanna say, and respectfully, politely tell her to stop ripping me off and take her post down? Would she even do it? Am I even right in asking? Where does God stand on copyright, anyway?

I thought about it some more. I prayed about it some more. I emailed friends and asked for their advice. Half of them told me to leave it alone. “She’s nobody” , “She could be crazy!” She could refuse to take the post down, and instead post about how I contacted her and make fun of me. And then what would my next steps be?

It was walking a line between what’s right and my pride. What I think is right in this situation may not be right to God. You could make a case that if you want to get all Ten Commandments about it, this falls under Thou Shall Not Steal. But there’s also an element of MINE MINE MINE, this idea in the fixed form of this play is MINE, NOT YOURS, and that feels distinctly un-Christian like too.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that God honestly didn’t give a toss about this little puddle of a problem. Seriously, Amy? THIS is what you’re bringing to me?

You’ve got friends with real problems, friends who are grieving, friends in bad job situations, friends with broken hearts, oh hey, did you hear about what happened down in Haiti? And THIS is what you want me to pay attention to? Honestly?

Look, do what you want, just don’t embarrass me, okay? ‘Cause that would piss me off.

Ultimately, it came down to could I live with myself if I didn’t do anything? And the answer was no. No, I could not. She needed to know what she did was wrong, and yes, she got caught. I’m sure the last thing she was thinking was that the original writer would find her. She needs to know that yes, that writer would. So don’t do it again.

I drafted the world’s most polite, respectful yet firm email, sent it out to my trusted friends’ circle for approval, and, with a bunch more prayers that I imagined were met with a colossal holy shrug, yawn, and I’m busy getting aid to Haiti sent the email out.

She took the post down within two hours. She also sent a highly formal-to-the-point-of-rigidity email back, with an apology and a thank you for the warning.

I’m pleased that there was a happy ending. But I think I’m more stoked that I was able to meet the challenge of Ask For What You Want But Be Respectful, Polite, and Don’t Embarrass Me. ‘Cause we all know I can be one cranky loudmouthed bitch, heh.