Sunday, July 1, 2018

50 for 50: 35 (Take Two) - OK, Jump Out of an Airplane with Jayne

So, we pretty much had the road trip to Lompoc down to a science.

I've had plenty of times where I've taken a trip and wanted to repeat it to correct mistakes.  Hadn't actually WANTED to do Lompoc over again, but there were a couple ways in which we could improve on it.  Like the "hearing accessible" hotel room which wasn't.  (You have to call ahead for that.  You have to CALL AHEAD to tell them you need the pre-booked hearing accessible room actually set up to be hearing accessible.)  Or the crappy restaurant we went to for dinner.  And, of course, the whole wind-blowing-from-the-wrong-direction-so-we-can't-skydive thing.  Admittedly, we didn't have much control over that.  But the rest of it.  Oh yeah, we're improving on the original.

I called ahead for the hearing accessible room.  We got the same room as last time, but now they have attached one (1) sensor that turns the vibration of someone knocking on the door into a flashing light on the inside.  Which was great, except when we had to call down to have someone fix the (unrelated) broken bathroom door, they managed to knock the vibration/flashy light sensor off the front door.  We tried reattaching the damn thing, but then Jayne figured it would make way more sense on the door between us at night, where knocking might actually take place.  Improved.

I had googled or yelped or whatever for good restaurants in Lompoc.  (I don't mean to unnecessarily mock Lompoc, but seriously, there is no such thing as a GOOD restaurant in Lompoc.  You're grading on a curve here.)  There were two with high(ish) recommendations near us -- Eddie's Grill and a Mexican place named Floriano's.  We'll come back to this later.

As we were driving up, it dawned on me that I really truly wanted a massage that night.  That would be a Good Thing.  I got a ton of credits at Massage Envy, but there's no Lompoc branch.  (I, for one, am shocked.)  I google for the next best thing:  a cheap Asian Massage place.  I find a few; only one is open late:  Massage Yee.  I decide to broach the topic once we're at the hotel.  I admit that deciding to wait is a communication thing.  Given enough time, I can get my point across in ASL, but the sentence "Hey, do you like cheap Asian massage places?" is going to require too much fingerspelling, and I don't want Jayne to take her eyes off the road long enough to figure me out.

So we arrive; we check in; we get our FANTASTIC hearing accessible room with AWESOME door knocky sensor; we go down to the "manager's reception" to enjoy our free wine (it's ... wine); get a table; and I now take another look at the internet to get a good handle on the location of Massage Yee.

It is across the parking lot from the hotel.  I am not making this up; it's a LITERAL 2 minute walk.  And you know what's on the way?  Floriano's Mexican Restaurant.  I pitch a plan to Jayne; she's up for it.  I make an appointment at Massage Yee and we quickly down our wine.

Look, I know you're all here to read about the skydiving, but I feel obligated to point out that Massage Yee is terrific value for money, very nice on the customer service, and is either located in a former pediatrician's office or has a super-weird design aesthetic.  I mean, sure, there's a sign on the wall saying that they've got Zero Tolerance for Soliciting Prostitution, but I don't know how anyone could even think of sex with all the teddy bear decor.

When we finished, we walked over the Floriano's, which is a Restaurant And Butcher, and it took a good bit of studying the menu to find that one Veggie Burrito hiding there amongst the dead things, so that Jayne could have something to eat.  Tasty, though.  I downed a coupla tacos.

Cut to the next day.  Free breakfast happens.  (Better than the free wine, if you're keeping score.  We watching Spain lose to Russia in the World Cup.  I'd heard many different languages spoken in the Lompoc Embassy Suites, but the breakfast crowd was pretty much unanimously rooting for Spain.)  We drive to Skydive Santa Barbara.

First thing they have you do is fill out the multi-page waiver and watch the "no really, we have no insurance" video.  I mean, it's something like four pages that boils down to, "I won't sue you.  Or really, the small pile of my smoking remains won't sue you.  Even if it was totally your fault.  Totally."  The waiver says they have an "accident log" you can review, and see the types of accidents that happen here, and I was pretty sure there was no way in hell I wanted to read that accident log.  I was going to do this anyway, dammit.  Ignorance is bliss.  Or, at least, ignorance.  I signed the waiver.  It asks for your age.  This was, actually, the first time I had to write "50" on something.  Seemed suitable; this was the most bucket-listy thing I had.  Best to do it a few days after my actual birthday.

Once they approve your waivers and take your money, they send you to wait in the hangar.  There are a LOT of people in there.  A foosball table, a life-size Jenga set, and a single bathroom for what I can only imagine is an impressive quantity of nervous urination.  We ask how long our wait will be.  We're jumping in group 7 and they're on 3 right now.  They said it would be at least two hours.  They give us directions to the nearest Starbucks.  We tell them we'll be back in an hour.  We stop for the "Before" picture.

Now, I live my life on the general principle that a Starbucks break is always a good thing.  This one was a VERY good thing.  I was nervous and nauseous and just sitting quietly with a cup of tea was a good idea.  Jayne, who had jumped before, walked me through the whole experience.  Then she encouraged me to run through all the other things I've jumped off of, or other adventurey things I'd survived and adored.  I ran through it, even including the panic attack during the SCUBA certification.  The whole thing calmed me down.  After our hour, we drove back to the skydive place, ready to wait another hour.

Only to discover they'd been looking for us, and we were actually in the next group.  (We took a minute to queue up for the Last Toilet Break.)  We met our instructors.  Mine was Sarah.  She was nauseous too.  Seriously.  She pretty much introduced herself and then explained that she was a little nauseous 'cause of a med she was taking, but she's good and fine and it's no problem.  I said I was nauseous too, so no problem if we didn't do all the spins and turns.  She matter-of-factly informed me that she's a "sympathetic vomiter," so if I go, she goes, and we float back down to the landing zone both covered.  We decide to try to avoid this scenario.  She says a coupla things which give me confidence in her -- like that she's one of their most experienced instructors, and that her boyfriend works here and packed her chute (and they're doing quite well as a couple, thank you).  And that, yes, that accent I'm hearing is Australian.  Look, I know that Generalizations Based on National Origin are Bad.  Still, safely jumping out of an aircraft is just one of those things I expect Aussies to excel at.

I have a moment to see Jayne's instructor talking to her from behind; of course, she has no clue what he's saying.  I think this is probably one of those times that I ought to jump in and say something, so I point out that she's Deaf.  I am both a little concerned that he hadn't noticed, and a little impressed by how much he just adapted and didn't seem to care.

Sarah walks me over to the plane.  We get in, and she starts attaching my harness to hers.  I notice the plane has a bunch of duct tape around the door.  I comment that our plane is literally held together with duct tape.  Sarah thinks this is a fair description.  Oh well.  It isn't like I'm not strapped to a person with a parachute.  The "emergency exit" and the regular exit are pretty much the same thing.

Everyone piles in.  We're all paired up, except for the few non-tandem jumpers.  But we're all just sitting there in two long rows, facing the door.  I'm attached to Sarah; Sarah is seat-belted in.  She removes her seatbelt at about 1000 feet, because by then, there's only one way we're leaving this plane anyway.  At one point, she tells me I'll put my goggles on at 12,500 feet, and we're only at 8,000.  I tell her I probably don't need to know our altitude.

And here I'm pretty much going to just explain the four-minute video you'll see.  (I should put "learn to edit videos" on my 50 for 50 list.  Because I really want to edit this, but I tried three different apps and got errors or problems on them all.)  ANYWAY, a solo jumper goes out the door and just DISAPPEARS out of view underneath us.  And Jayne is next and we're after Jayne, and if you watch that video, you can very clearly make out me saying "Holy shit.  Holy shit.  Holy shit."

(Sarah said, "I'm an Aussie; we've heard 'em all.")

And out the damn door.

I am not saying "Holy shit," anymore.

I am not saying anything.

If you watch the video, it looks like I'm clenching my teeth in pain.  This is not what's happening.  During the freefall, we are moving so fast it feels like I'm having difficulty getting air into my lungs.  (I don't see how that can possibly be true.  I mean, it's ALL air.  In fact, the only thing that I can safely say is in my immediate vicinity IS air.  But I felt like I wasn't getting a really good breath going, and that's what you're seeing there.)

Also, your harness is spectacularly tight.  As well it fucking should be.  But, as soon as there is no longer aircraft underneath your ass, gravity is very interested in pulling you toward the planet at 9.8 m/s^2.  You immediately drop down, as much as you can, within your harness.  Result:  that strap which HAD BEEN right under your bra, now slides upward.  Bringing bra with it.  So, now you know what I mean when I cheerfully tell Sarah I had a wardrobe malfunction.  (There's one other bit where I say something while we're parachuting down.  You can't hear it.  Don't try to read my lips.  I had no idea the camera was on.)

Once she opens the chute, and your speed drops, she also loosens the harness a tad, and you can sort of lean back all comfy-like and watch the scenery go by.  She lets me drive a bit, and we do a long graceful turn to check things out, while she's amusingly narrating the sights of Lompoc.  ("There's NASA/SpaceX.  There's the federal penitentiary."  Thus ends the sights of Lompoc.)  There was ocean, too.  It was quite pretty when I'd realized we would not, in fact, vomit on each other.

I'd been a bit worried about the landing, but here, the wind gave us one.  We landed from the east, and the wind was blowing from the west, so it nicely kept the chute inflated and we just touched down.  I mean, we stood up and that was it -- no sliding (like some others did) and no "running it out" to keep the chute behind us.  We just landed, knees bent, standing there.

(OK, I lie.  I was bending my knees pretty far and there was a human being attached to my back.  She said, "You can stand up," and I said, "No, I can't," and one of the crew grabbed my arm and pulled me to vertical.  Fuck it; I'm 50 -- them young 'uns can give me a damn hand.)

A link to the video, in all its unedited glory:

I'm Jumping Out A Damn Plane

Back on the ground, we did our "After" picture.  Much more windblown, and I think I picked up a few more grey hairs.

Also, the amusing certificate:

Now, I was no longer nauseous.  I was excited and bouncy.  Jayne, however, had had a more twisty-turny ride, and wasn't feeling so great.  So we got the heck out of there (after filling out the "comment cards" which are conveniently in the form of Tip Envelopes) and stopped at the pharmacy to pick up an antiemetic.  Jayne wanted to just sit in the car and nap, and I figured I'd walk across the parking lot to ... why, it's Eddie's Grill, the OTHER recommended restaurant in Lompoc.  (I can sum Eddie's up by the pictures of classic cars on the walls and the TVs showing the American Flag Football League.)  Had a decent chicken sandwich, and was ready for the road trip back to L.A.

Oh, and when Jayne was in the pharmacy, I picked up this little souvenir of our trip to Lompoc.  Not anything particularly Lompoc- or skydive-related, but I'll remember the trip whenever I see her, and who DOESN'T want a Beanie Baby kitten that looks like Jasmine?  I figured I should have her peeking out of my purse like Paris Hilton does with that damn dog.

That's about it, really.  We rode back to LA -- another Starbucks stop was involved -- and even on the road, the skydive seemed so far away.  Did I really just jump out of an airplane?  I have a video that says I did (n.b., glad I uploaded it -- Jasmine excitedly batted the flash drive under the sofa as soon as I ejected it) and some memories of viewing California from airplane-height without the presence of an actual airplane.  I absently pet the little kitten Beanie in my purse, and thought a little bit about what a crazy wonderful world this place actually can be.

Monday, June 18, 2018

50 for 50: 40 - Hollywood Bowl with Gina and Lorri

Going to the Hollywood Bowl is a quintessential Los Angeles Experience.

I hate it.

Not the Hollywood Bowl part, the "going to it" part. 

When I first went, I drove, and parked in the Hell that is known as the Odin Street Lot.  Stacked parking.  You're not getting out until the people parked in front of you decide to leave.  (Or, putting it a little more correctly:  you're not getting out until the idiots in front of you decide to stop drinking, figure out which one of them is sober enough to drive, find their keys, and load their asses into the car.) 

Things temporarily improved when I discovered the Pasadena Park & Ride.  Free parking and a direct bus.  But as the Park & Ride became more popular, they couldn't keep up with demand, and the last time I went to the Bowl (which I was pretty sure would be the LAST TIME I went to the Bowl), I waited for over an hour until I got on a bus.  At which point, it got us to the Bowl just in time to drop us off at an entrance so crowded with bus drop-offs, the security staff directed us to hike up to the top of the Bowl if we wanted any hope of getting through the metal detectors before the concert started.  By the time I got in, my friends had already eaten and I was minutes away from missing the start of the concert. 

(I mentally cursed whoever approved the Environmental Impact Report for this thing with inadequate facilities for getting people in and out of there.  Yes, I know, the Bowl probably predated EIRs.  The Bowl is probably why we have EIRs.)

So, to sum up:  fun experience once you get there; but I'd kind of sworn it off as not worth the effort.

Enter Gina and Lorri.

Now, I've known Gina for some time.  She came to the court a few years after I did.  Liked her from the start.  I mean, she was smart and fun and had worked in theatre.  (In New York!  At places I'd heard of!)  I had gone right from high school to college to law school to clerking to a law firm to the court.  Gina had LIFE before she came here; she had stories and I always wanted to hear them.

Gina is married to Lorri, who -- I eventually learned -- is famous in certain circles, what 'cause she's the CEO of the LA LGBT Center.  (She even has a wikipedia entry!)  Gina and Lorri came to one of my birthday parties, and one of my theatre critic friends pulled me aside and asked, with a little bit of awe in his voice, what Lorri Jean was doing at MY party.  (Um?  I'm a token straight friend?)  I'm pretty sure there are about a zillion people who know Gina as "Lorri's wife."  In my world, Lorri is Gina's wife.

And before I actually met Lorri, the one thing I REALLY new about Gina and Lorri, as a couple, is that they travel.  They travel WELL.  They stay in great places and see cool things and have great experiences and drink very good wines.  They LIVE. 

And they have a box at the Hollywood Bowl.


Calendars were checked and cross-checked and I got invited to join them in their box on Sunday.  It was something of a World Music night -- and I had, like, zero familiarity with anyone on the program.  But that's not the point of the experience -- it's the box and the dinner and the good wine and the companionship and the concert under the stars and the valet parking....

Holy crap, they have valet parking.

I met them at their house, so we could all pile in one car and take advantage of the Bestest Way To Get The Bowl.  It was a six-person box.  We were joined by their college-kid nephew and a couple who had recently moved to L.A. and had never been to the Bowl before.  (Sorry guys; it won't be this good next time.)  As Lorri drove over, we chatted about, well, about how we all just LIKE flying Business Class.  I haven't looked at anyone's tax return here, but I'm pretty sure that nobody in that car made the kind of money that lets you live a First Class lifestyle on a daily basis; but we've all been lucky enough to experience it from time to time, and we were all just happy and grateful that we were going to do it again for an evening.

So we dropped the car with the valet, got escorted through the no-damn-line at Security, and were seated in Lorri's lovely dead-center box.  Staff came by with our pre-ordered picnic boxes; Lorri and Gina started opening wine; and (I am not making this up) the clouds parted and an actual sunbeam warmed our box. 

"Warm" was actually the word I kept thinking of all night.  (Even though it got a bit brisk, and I had to dig into my bag of Many Warm Layers.)  But Gina and Lorri were such warm hosts, and brought together this diverse group of six people for such a friendly, happy evening.

I turned my chair around (so Gina was behind me) and it was time for the music.  There were four acts in the concert -- two opening acts and two headliners.  (At least, that was what I inferred from the size of the fonts their names appeared in.)  The first wasn't too impressive, but only did about three songs.  Gina leaned forward and whispered something about how the discordant screaming wasn't working for her, and I appreciated having my host's permission to not dig this.  The second act didn't have a vocalist; I decided this was a good time for a bathroom break, and when I got back I was pretty sure they were playing the same song they'd started with.  Things picked up for the third act, Little Dragon, which the program tells me is a Swedish Electro-Pop band, which played some good music and I caught myself bobbing my head to the rhythm.  Fourth act was someone called Flying Lotus, a ... fuck if I know.  I've read the program description a half dozen times and I'm no closer to figuring how the hell to describe Flying Lotus.  They passed out 3D glasses and we went on an interdimensional audio-visual journey that had something to do with death and the afterlife.  (Gina remembered that I don't have much depth perception, and I didn't here.  I missed a bunch of the effects which left people around me gasping, but I'm happy to report that the slowly-spinning spaceship looked like it was Coming Right At Me.)  Somewhere in Little Dragon's performance, I had put in my earplugs, because the bass was making my strenum vibrate.  But partway through Flying Lotus, I took my earplugs out.  It was still loud, but--

--OK, this was the first time I'd put in earplugs at a concert, so I didn't really know what to expect.  They help with the loud.  When you're wearing earplugs, you can still hear all the music, but it sounds distant.  And I was intrigued enough by what Flying Lotus was putting down that I wanted to be more present for it, so I yanked the earplugs.

It looked fantastic.  Musically, it was kind of hit-and-miss for me, but I came to the conclusion that it was art more than music, and I could appreciate that it was QUALITY, even if it wasn't necessarily my thing.  And I gotta say, the circumstances made it so much easier for me to just open myself up to this bizarre thing.  I was comfortable; surrounded by nice people; tasty food having been eaten; slightly buzzed from the wine; not in any way worried about if I was going to make the bus or have to wait hours to free my car -- it was just pleasant and peaceful and why WOULDN'T I dig the weird shit going on on stage?

And when it ended, we left the Bowl in record time, got back to Gina and Lorri's place, and said our goodbyes to each other, and our perfect little Hollywood Bowl evening.

And I was a little tired so I sang out loud to the "Hamilton" cast recording all the way home.  And that seemed right, too.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

On Ranch Flavored Pringles

I'm a picky eater.

I'm such a picky eater, a friend asked if it would faster to be list what I did eat rather than what I didn't, and I actually had to think about that question.

(With vegetables, at least, the "yes" list is definitely bigger than the "no" list.)

But even with snacks.  Salty before sweet.  Salty before everything.  But there's a salty snack hierarchy.  Pretzels over chips.  (And I will tell you BRANDS.  Snyder's over Rold Gold.  Actually, Rold Gold are the bottom of the pretzel barrel.  Snyder's first, then store brand, THEN Rold Gold.)  If we're into potato chips, Ruffles over Lays.  Tortilla chips after that.  Sun Chips are inedible, and don't even get me started on Cheetos.  (Fritos are in a special category -- I LOVE Fritos but find it hard to stop at a healthy amount.  Fritos are acceptable on special chip-eating occasions, like Super Bowl Sunday, but otherwise must be avoided so I don't eat the whole damn bag.  I probably need a sponsor for Fritos.)  And what sick bastard invented Funyuns?  You'll see me standing in the chip aisle staring at the Variety Packs of single serve chip bags for 20 minutes, trying to figure out if there is any combo pack of chips I'd actually eat every selection in.

There isn't.  I want NACHO CHEESE Doritos, you morons, not Cool Ranch.  What sort of abomination is a Cool Ranch Dorito?

I'm also picky about other things.  One might say compulsive about germs and hand-washing.  There's anti-bacterial hand gel in pretty much every room of my house (and conveniently dangling from the side of my purse -- so I don't even have to unzip the bag to clean my hands).  I'm all about the tidy.  I try to be subtle about it, but people catch me rolling my eyes when they dip their hand back into the shared food after licking their fingers.

So, hey, remember Sunday when I went white-water rafting?  (Jeez, was that just SUNDAY?)  When we stopped for lunch, I really needed the break, because I was exhausted.  And I didn't realize I was hungry until the guides started chopping apples, and then I thought, "Holy FUCK, I need food."

While the guides are still setting out the buffet (they'd flipped a raft over to make a table), they realize we might be really fucking hungry, so they open a couple tubes of Pringles and toss them to us to share.

Ah, passed hors d'oeuvres.

Someone offers me some Pringles.  Ranch.

Ranch Pringles.

I've taken off my soggy paddling gloves and dried my hands on :::looking around::: myself.  Other rafters in similar states of unclean have been digging in this can of Pringles.

I pause for the briefest of seconds; decide I really don't care THAT much; shrug the briefest of shrugs -- and eat Pringles.  Ranch Pringles.  With dirty hands.  Out of the community Pringles can.

They're delicious.  I eat more.  Pringles aren't bad.  Ranch is actually a pretty darned tasty flavor.

And I know this is situational.  I am not going to go back to "civilization," drop by the supermarket, and pick up a three-pack of Ranch Pringles.  It is only because right here, right now, I'm hungry and tired and far from a sink or hand-cleanser or any of the 20 snacks I'd buy before Ranch Pringles, and the Department of Any Port In A Storm has provided the glorious port of ranch-flavored Pringles.  They really seem quite flavorful.

I think about other times I've done this.  In the real world, I won't open a window unless there's a screen on it 'cause I don't want to let bugs in.  On vacation in Fiji, I stayed in a little one-room hut where the wooden windows were just propped open with planks.  And I mean, SURE, you could shut the windows but it would be hot as hell in there because it isn't like this place has air conditioning.  (It doesn't even have a floor.)  And as I went to sleep that night, with the windows propped open, I saw a little lizard thing hop on in and hang out on the wall.  And I shrugged and thought, "you know what? fuck it," crawled inside my mosquito-netted bed, and slept until the sun rose.

And part of me notices this and kind of LIKES the fact that Vacation Me can set aside of Home Me's bullshit and still get through the damn day and ENJOY IT.  And I have this possible epiphany, wondering if MAYBE this is part of why people like camping -- not necessarily the being outdoors part, but the seeing-who-you-are-when-you're-outdoors part.

And then the next day, I did the pottery-making thing.  And driving to that, it dawned on me that I was going to spend a couple hours with dirty hands and clay stuck underneath my nails.  And, good Lord, I HATE having dirty hands and stuff stuck underneath my nails.  And I told myself, "Self, you signed up for this, just bring Vacation Me."  And I DID bring Vacation Me.  And they gave me a little rag to use to wipe off my hands, and I used it when I was too dirty to actually get a smooth grip on the clay, but, mostly, I just let the clay gather up on me, just BEIN' messy, confident in the knowledge that when the class was over I could wash up and go back to being Mr. Monk.

This may be part of the 50 for 50 which I hadn't actually thought about when I was putting it all together.  It's not so much the Jumping Off The Stratosphere part of this that's a stretch for me -- I tend to enjoy jumping off things.  It's the little parts where I'm pushed a teensy bit outside of my comfort zone, and learn that I can thrive there.

And survive on Ranch-flavored Pringles.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

50 for 50: 39 - Pottery Class with Sharon

Sharon used to work at the court.  She reached out to me when I first started working there, which I really appreciated.  But we sort of drifted to our own corners and didn't really hang out much together.  She's left the court -- gone off on her own -- and I reconnected with her on Facebook.

I've noticed from her posts that she digs some things I dig -- like space exploration.  And Dapper Days.  I wonder why we'd never stumbled upon these common interests when we were working in the same damn place.

I posted that 50 for 50 was pretty much open to any of my FB friends who wanted to play, and she asked to get in on this.  Hell, yes!  This project isn't just about celebrating with people I'm already close to.  It's also about giving a little push to friendships that can use a kick in the pants.

Sharon was interested in pottery class, which turned out to be a good choice.  (Full disclosure -- I had exchanged a few messages with someone else about doing the pottery class item.  We couldn't really find a pottery class and the whole thing fell through the cracks.  Hey!  Other friend!  If you're still interested in a 50 for 50, I totally want to play!) 

It was not easy to find a one-evening private pottery class.  Most places run classes for multiple sessions and/or want you to join an group class. 

And then we stumbled upon POT.  A radical collective in Echo Park, run by women of color.  How radical?  Here are some of the items for sale:

So, yeah, me and Sharon decided to get our Radical Feminism on and make some progressive pottery.  (Woo!  Power to the people!)

And then I put on the kitty apron.

Yeah.  The revolution is coming and it consists of two bespectacled middle-aged Jewish women wearing cutesy aprons.  Be afraid.

We met our teacher for the night, a young woman named Desiree, who asked that she be called Dez, had a bunch of ink and a nose ring, and emitted a really positive energy.  (Also:  she's the sort of person who probably appreciates being told she has positive energy.)  She's good at ceramics and good at teaching; she's patient and funny and offers us a bottle of wine.

We each have our own wheel and lump of clay.  Dez takes us very slowly through the steps of throwing a pot.  (And let's see how well I remember.  Put bat on wheel.  Put clay on bat.  Attach clay to bat.  Spin it into a cone.  Smush cone down into a ... well, Dez's looked like a fat mushroom, but mine looked like a Ding Dong.  Find the center.  Press in at an angle.  Pull that out so your Ding Dong is vaguely candy-dish shaped.  Tidy the inside.  Pull up the sides until you've got a cup or a vase or whatever you're aiming for -- or, if you're us, something you probably aren't aiming for.  Turn off wheel.  Remove item.  Drink more wine.  Get another bat and lump of clay.)  Dez walked us through it once, and we each came up with something you could legitimately call a ... thing.  Mostly round.  Bowl- or dish-like. 

She then talked us through it a second time.  Sharon got something legit out of the second one, but I messed up on pulling it and it lost roundness.  It very much lost roundness.  Looked at from above, I proudly announced that I made a Yin.

In places, I was working it left-handed.  There was one very good reason for this and one odd one.  The good reason was that several fingernails on my left hand had previously broken, so the nails over there were much shorter than on my right.  And throwing pots is not something you want fingernails for.  You're supposed to find the center of your Ding Dong with your right index finger.  Due to the nail situation, I was using my left middle finger.  Dez rolled with it, telling Sharon to stick out her finger and point at her pot, while I was telling my pot to fuck off.  But the odd thing was that she'd tell us to hold the pot with our left hand and shape it with our right, and I'd just WANT to do it the other way around.  Shaping with my right hand felt awkward.  Who am I kidding, the whole thing felt awkward, but shaping it with my left felt a lot more right.

(I am reminded that, back in the day, I used to pirouette the wrong way.  Well, I wouldn't say "wrong," but it was the way the teacher said lefties turn.  Hey!  Maybe I'm a lefty for art!)

ANYWAY, we had a third try at the pots, and I was up to the "pulling it" part and I made another Yin.  Although, THIS time, I caught it happening, so I know exactly what I did and how to avoid it.  (Basically, the third finger of my right hand, which isn't involved in this step at all, dropped slightly.  My nail hit the pot, carving out a chunk of clay, and the shock of the moment made me jerk both hands away too fast.)

When we finished, Dez let us each pick one of our pots to be glazed and fired (and available for pick up in about a month).  For me, it was a pretty easy call -- I went with the actual pot, rather than one of the ones that looked like it would be home in "The Persistence of Memory."  Sharon had two decent ones to choose from, and we helped her pick.  Then we spent way too long choosing our glaze colors, because glazing up the little dishes that we actually MADE somehow seemed REALLY IMPORTANT.

Then we cleaned up and took pictures with Dez.

Despite the radical feminism of the mugs in the shop (and I'm not even talking about the "Stop having Sex with White Guys" I saw on the desk -- was that one a political statement or a mental note the manager left for herself?) there wasn't anything particularly radical about our class.  OK, sure, you sit with your legs around the wheel like you're giving birth to it, but that's about it for the feminism.  But you COULD feel that "safe space" POT talks about on its website.  Art or craft (or whatever hybrid pottery is) can be scary, especially when you're experimenting with it for the first time and have no actual clue what you're doing.  But it's fun to try it in a supportive environment with a friend.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

50 for 50: 38 - White Water Rafting with Sabing (and Family)

I did berry picking with Jacob (and Sabing and Peggy).  I did carnival games with Peggy (and Sabing and Jacob).  And today, I went white water rafting with Sabing -- and Peggy and Jacob tagged along.

They almost didn't.  This was one of the 50 for 50's that went through a lot of negotiation, and one of the options was that Sabing and I just go ourselves.  (We also considered various other California rivers, and even a man-made course at an Oklahoma waterpark.)  Issues had to do with us wanting to do this on just a weekend, my chronic-ish foot injury, my lack of endurance, and Jacob being 11 when most rafting places only take kids 12 and over.


We pretty much had it down to either a class III that we could take Jacob on and a class IV that we couldn't, until we found the nice people at Whitewater Voyages who would plop us on the (class IV) Lower Kern as long as Jacob was older than 9.  Score!

We drove up last night (playing Car Bingo to keep Jacob's head out of his iPad.  We decided we needed to update "Car Bingo."  Like, instead of asking you to spot an airplane, a house post, and a tow truck, it should include things like a drone, solar panels on a roof, and a car carrier trailer.)  Once we got up there, we checked in to the Kern River Lodge, which was cuter than it looked in pictures.  Jacob made a beeline to the giant chess set.  I checked in and got settled, then met Sabing over by the chess set.  Where he was already losing.

Jacob is good at chess.  Real good.  And he likes it.  A lot.  At a quiet part of the river trip, our guide asked Jacob what was his favorite thing to do when he's at home, and he got real quiet thinking about it, and then came up with "play internet chess."  I'm not sure the guide saw that one coming, but he decided it was cool.  It IS cool.  I watched the rest of the game he played against Sabing and he was way ahead of both of us.  (I started "helping" Sabing.  Made no damn difference.)  He saw things we didn't see; even suggesting Sabing make certain moves.  He jumped around the board (physically -- it was that kind of chess set) casually explaining things in ways I'd never considered.  Sabing took losing to his kid in stride.  It must be challenging dealing with a kid who is really freaking good at something -- extraordinarily so, for his age -- while you're still his parent and better than him at everything else.  It looked to be working.  I had half wondered if Jacob was going to difficult about this, lording his victory over his father.  But it was all very natural -- everyone just casually accepts that Jacob is better at chess than us, and Sabing manages to lose to him in a way that is still educational -- asking Jacob to explain things, or reinforcing lessons from his coach.

Which was all well and good, because today we were going rafting, and the adults here were DEFINITELY better than Jacob.  But he still did well -- he paddled in sync with the rest of us, followed the guide's directions, and (most importantly) did not go flying off into the water.  I'm just not sure he moved a whole lot of water.


What?  Oh, dozed off a bit there.  I am tired.  I am so tired. 

All this Sabing/Jacob stuff is really interesting but here are the bullet points you're looking for:
- Three hour drive up.
- Dinner at the Bar & Grill next door.
- Sleep.  Wake up.  Shower in a teensy stall which was Not designed by a woman who had to shave her legs in there.
- Show up at rafting center at 8:45.
- Meet the other two rafts (which were doing the second day of a two-day trip) and wait while they strike camp.
- Don't get in the water until 10:30
- Sit on the left so I can keep my left ankle immobile
- RAFT!  Get wet!  Have fun! 

- Paddle together really well, so guide starts doing extra fun things.
- Stop to portage raft around a class V rapid.
- (Watch our guides run the rapid rather than portage the other two rafts.)
- Get back in the ra--
- Slip on some rocks while trying to get back in, and get scraped up a teensy bit.
- Now get back in the damn raft.
- Raft to lunch uncomfortably and kind of awkwardly.
- Enjoy lunch.
- Enjoy more lunch.
- This is some tasty lunch.
- Get back in the raft.  Peggy, Sabing and Jacob change places because Jacob wants to switch sides.  (I stay where I am because of ankle.)
- We're a bit tired this time.  There's a lot of wind blowing against us, so we have to paddle a lot in the quiet stretches just to keep from going backwards.  We're not as sharp.  I can see where the dude in front of me is messing up his stroke, but don't want to say anything because, hello! pot! have you met kettle?
- A rapid goes less than perfectly.  Not anyone-goes-for-a-swim bad, but we ended up having to throw all our weight on one side of the raft (and quickly the other) to keep from toppling.  And the big jug in the center of the raft got loose from its straps in all the crashing water and bodies.  I may have slammed into it, but "loose item in raft on a class IV rapid" is a way better justification for a bruise than, say, "must have hit myself sleeping"
- Realize we're all getting tired paddling into the wind, and we've got a couple more rapids to do.
- Guide tells us that the last rapid on the run is the most technically difficult.  DOES NOT tell us (until after) that he wants redemption on this one after how he ran it yesterday.  We get a bit nervous and all quietly pledge to give this one our all.
- Guide rearranges Sabing and Jacob to put Jacob back on the other side of the raft -- where he'd been before lunch.  Because of the weight distribution.  Basically, he has to be on the same side as Jacob, and he works better from the other side.  And we need every advantage we can get for the last rapid.
- It works.  We run it flawlessly.  It's called "Pinball" for what turns out to be super obvious reasons, and I watch us plot a perfect course between rocks as our raft pinballs around this thing without tilting the board  We are psyched.
- And then it's over.  We pull the rafts out and have a half-hour drive back to base.
- First (actual) bathroom in over seven hours!
- And a clean place to change into dry clothes.
- And another three hour drive home.
- Stop for pizza on the way.
- OK, now home.

The exhaustion is overwhelming.  I nearly dozed off twice just while writing that bit.
CLEARLY, no two-day rafting trips are in my future.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

50 for 50: 37 - VR Game with Miriam

[Editor's Note:  Yes, #36 happened, and it was fun.  It is not being written up for reasons of confidentiality.  Wouldn't want anyone to have to explain anything at their (admittedly unlikely) Senate Confirmation Hearing.]

Miriam is, demographically-speaking, unlike any of my other friends.  She's 20.  Just about to start college.  Age-wise, she's more likely to be one of my friends' kids than my actual friend.  And yet, we have quite a bit in common.

I actually met Miriam at the theatre.  In London.  Seeing Shakespeare.  And she was visiting London, too.

I get that.  I was that.  I saw Shakespeare in London when I was 20, too.

The similarities end at Miriam being from Germany.

Look, Shakespeare is a little hard for an American to understand, and we're all working with what is (basically) the same language.  But to get Shakespeare, to dig Shakespeare, to go to another country to see a cool production of Shakespeare when English isn't even your first language, well that gets you a few points on the Impress-Sharon-O-Meter.

Miriam travels.  She stays in hostels and takes public transit and does it all on the cheap so she can see the world.  She's a vegetarian at home but not when she travels because she wants to taste everything, to experience everything -- and not miss out.

She came to L.A.  She's here for all of two days on the way to visit a couple more cities, and we planned to meet up.  She's staying by the beach and I'm working downtown and we figured the best way to actually see each other is for her to meet me downtown after work.

Many text messages were exchanged.  She's too young to rent a car, so the actual logistics of getting her to downtown involved either a ride-share (which she couldn't easily afford) or a lot of Metro trains.  (Three, actually.)  Many more text messages were exchanged in trying to figure out what to do.  And here, I have to remind myself that she's 20, and I was 20 once, and I sometimes confused "wanting to appear unselfish" with "refusing to make a damn decision."  I offer multiple choice.  She chooses the Star Wars VR thing.

I am secretly pleased.  I would have taken her anywhere she wanted (what with being the guest in my country and all) but the Star Wars VR thing is actually on my 50 for 50 list.  I make a reservation.

Miriam successfully navigates the Metro and lands a couple blocks from my office.  I meet her there and we walk to my car.  I try to be a good tour guide, but the most I can think of is that we're walking by the Metro exit that always smells of urine, and (seeing as I had intentionally sent her out a different exit), it didn't seem right to point that out.  The best I could do was shrug and say, "Downtown L.A. looks a lot different from the movies."

I drive us to the VR thing, which is located in the Glendale Galleria.  (I make Valley Girl jokes.  They do not land.  She's 20 and not from America.) 

We go to The VOID.

Two things really impressed the heck out of me at The VOID.  The first was the utter lack of instructions.  I mean, they instruct you on your rebel mission (in character) and other than strapping you into your VR suit and telling you to raise your hand if it malfunctions, that's about it for instructions.  No directions on how it works; no directions on what to touch and what not to touch; no directions on what to actually DO.  It's entirely immersive, to the point of being "suit up and play."

The second thing that impressed me was how much I was actually into it.  Don't get me wrong, there was not one second that I actually BELIEVED I was a rebel infiltrating an Empire base while dressed as a stormtrooper.  But I DID believe, when I stepped on the moving platform, that it was a moving platform.  This thing involved every sense but taste.  It looked like I was moving -- I could turn around in any direction and it looked like we were flying over the surface of a volcanic planet.  It sounded like I was moving -- I heard explosions which were getting closer or growing more distant based on the direction of movement.  It also felt like I was moving -- not JUST the vibration of the platform; some genius had added a heat source so the volcanic bits warmed us.  And it smelled like it too -- with a touch of sulfur in just the right places.  Thinking about it afterward, I'm fairly certain we weren't really moving at all, just standing there in an empty room in our VR vests/helmets on a vibrating platform, but by G-d, it didn't seem like it in the moment.

And I wish I'd done that thing with a heart rate monitor.  Because -- well, AGAIN, I didn't actually believe we were going to DIE when we were outnumbered and trapped by a bunch of bad guys shooting at us, but I felt genuine frustration.  Fear, in places.  I'd go so far as despair, in one.  At all times, I was aware that I was playing a game with Miriam, but I also believed the game ENOUGH for it to make my heart beat faster when I realized we were well and truly fucked. 

Conveniently, though, we weren't.  You know how certain I am that the platform didn't actually go anywhere?  I am equally certain that we would have (somehow) survived that thing no matter how bad our aim or how many times we got shot.

And, I mean, we got shot a lot.

Walking out, I pondered aloud whether we'd survived due to the high quality stormtrooper armor we were wearing.  "Which would make more sense," I asked, "for the empire to make its armor strong enough to withstand its weapons, or for it to make weapons powerful enough to pierce its armor?"  Miriam pointed out that the weapons HAD to be strong enough to pierce the armor, because we were shooting back at the stormtroopers, and we had some (limited) success at it.  (She's smart, that one.)  In other words, with the same armor and the same weapons, we killed them but they couldn't kill us.

Perhaps this was traditional Stormtrooper Bad Aim.

Or maybe there was a Jedi secretly backing us up with some Force.

Otherwise, I got nothing.

Plot holes aside, it was freakin' adorable.  It was more proof of concept of commercial VR game than actual commercial VR game, but it proved it.  And it proved it in an everybody-wins-everybody-has-a-good-time type of way.  I mean, who doesn't like facing down agents of an evil empire with a good blaster at your side?

We actually got in and out of there pretty early, so we strolled around the mall a bit.  (Miriam wanted to go to the candy store.  She bought Pop Rocks.  I approved.)  We grabbed a bite in the food court.  She wanted the food court.  Said she liked all the "American food" there.  I asked what she wanted.  She said either Five Guys or Chipotle.  I told her she was eating at Five Guys.  No tourist eats at Chipotle on my watch.

We sat; we talked.  I told her about my 50 for 50.  She told me about her college plans.  She wants to study Chinese and English/American Studies.  Possibly go into tourism or international relations.  She wants a house.  She wants to plant trees at her house.  She has seedlings now - just small stems and a coupla leaves.  She showed me pictures of the trees-to-be in tiny little pots.  She's got a long way to go.

But she's starting.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

50 for 50: 35 (Take One) - Do Not Jump Out of an Airplane With Jayne

Tandem skydiving wasn't actually on the list.  I had considered putting it on the list, but hadn't thought anyone would sign up for it, and I wanted a list of do-able things.  What was actually on the list was "take me someplace I can't get in without you."  I was thinking some sort of members only thing -- something like the Magic Castle.  Or maybe even just a peek into someone else's world.  When Jayne signed up for that one, I was thinking, "Deaf night at Starbucks?"

But Jayne is a nut, and she had lots of wacky things in mind.  She ultimately made it multiple choice between cage diving with sharks or tandem skydiving, and I thought, "Jumping out of an airplane it is!"

I met Jayne years ago at the Pasadena Language Center.  I wanted and/or needed an ASL tutor, and PLC matched me with her.  Some time later, Jayne quit PLC, because they were dicking her around.  They got a replacement ASL teacher (who became my teacher) and, shortly thereafter, I quit PLC because they were dicking me around.  Also, the new ASL teacher was not as good as Jayne.  I contacted Jayne on the side to see if she'd teach me outside of PLC, and she agreed.  Since then, she has been teacher, friend, and my go-to professional photographer.

And now we're going to tandem skydive.  Jayne has done this before, with an operation with "Santa Barbara" in its name, which is somewhat misleading as it is actually about an hour north of Santa Barbara in Lompoc.  (But "Lompoc Skydiving" doesn't have the same ring to it.)  We have to cancel the first weekend we book -- because I booked the skydive without first checking the hotels, and it turns out there was a NASA launch out of Vandenberg AFB, and if one thing is going to fill Lompoc, it's a rocket sending stuff off to Mars.  So we reschedule for this weekend.

Jayne volunteers to drive (THANK YOU!) so we pack up her car and (after a stop for gas and snacks, to make this a Proper Road Trip), we head on out.  We're staying in the lovely Embassy Suites in Lompoc.  It's one of those hotels that, the day before, lets you look at a map of the property and pick the room you want.  I see they have one room listed as "Hearing Accessible."  I briefly wonder whether the terminology is right (shouldn't it be "Hearing impaired accessible?") but that's clearly the one for us, so I book it.

We arrive.  The hotel has a nightly reception with free drinks and munchies, so we throw our stuff in the room and go downstairs for free wine.  We hang there for several hours, and eventually just order dinner.  It's our first chance to sit across from each other and really TALK.  I mean, we can have some level of communication while she's driving, but it's not GOOD.  She has to sign with only hand (since the other is on the wheel) and I'm not even that great at understanding two-handed signing; one-handed shorthand (so to speak) is certainly not my forte.  Meantime, she has to take her eyes off the road to get what I'm saying.  So we didn't have much deep communication on the road -- mostly discussing directions and traffic.  But in the restaurant, we can actually talk.  A friend with a young baby had recently asked me to teach her some signs so she could start using them with her kid; I mentioned this to Jayne and got a very animated lesson in what signs babies tend to learn at what age (and in what order, and how they get each sign wrong-but-close-enough).  Interesting.  The woman running the restaurant asks me if I learned sign language "from A to Z" and she seems awed at the idea.  (And I'm thinking, "A to Z was easy; it's the whole damn vocabulary that's the hard part.") 

We look at the weather for our skydive the next day.  It's pleasant but windy.  Winds of, like, 16-19 mph.  I google the windspeeds at which you can safely skydive.  I get mixed results -- some say they'll only do windspeeds under 15; others will go up to 25, but only if it's steady (no gusts).  We consider the possibility that we may get cancelled on.

We go back to the room.  I look around unsuccessfuly for ANYTHING that makes this a "hearing accessible" room.  (Dammit; it's Atlanta with Molly all over again.)  I don't even see lights on the smoke detectors.  And there sure as hell isn't a light activated by the doorbell -- there's NO DOORBELL.  You just have to knock.  Well, THAT'LL work if the person on the inside can't hear.  It's late, though, and Jayne is very "whatever" about the whole thing, so we just muddle through.  At least there's closed captioning available on all TVs now.  We circle channels and try to find something to watch.  We go with SNL.

Fun fact:  the captions on SNL lag behind the action so much, it's impossible to watch.  You need to sort of remember what was on screen four lines ago and match it with what you're reading now.  Utterly useless for visual jokes like in "Weekend Update," and not very helpful with a multi-person skit when you can't figure out who is talking.  We give up in disgust, and watch a M*A*S*H rerun, which, at least, has perfect caption timing.

Jayne informs me that she sleeps with the curtain a bit open, because total darkness doesn't really work for Deaf people.  I had never thought of this before, but I get it.  Total silence and darkness must be pretty isolating.

The next morning, we get ready.  I shower first then get dressed in the bedroom while Jayne is showering.  She forgot the shampoo.  She cannot yell, "Hey, are you decent?  Can you hand me the shampoo?"  The only way this works is if she knocks on the inside of the bathroom door, waits until I open it, and then sticks a hand outside and fingerspells "s-h-a-m-p-o-o."  I put the little bottle in the disembodied hand, and the bathroom door closes.  I kind of marvel at the ingenuity involved in her figuring out the best way to communicate in this circumstance, but also realize this is just another one of those "Deaf person getting by in a Hearing World" things I'd never even thought about.

When we are downstairs at the free breakfast (the room is kind of crap, but you can't complain about the hotel's freebies), we get the call that yes, our skydiving is cancelled because of the winds.  I tell them we weren't entirely surprised, because we'd looked this up yesterday.  The nice lady was totally impressed by our research, and filled me in on the details.  She said they LOVE 15 mph winds from the West.  Their landing zone runs East-West.  What they don't like -- and what we had -- was over 15 mph coming from the North.  Those are cross-winds that (and I'm quoting) "try to deflate your canopy."  No, thank you.  Why yes, we'd love to reschedule.  We decide that since we've got to pass through Santa Barbara on our way back to L.A., we'll stop and spend the day there instead.

Checking out, I ask the lady at the desk exactly what "hearing accessible" features were in the "hearing accessible" room I'd booked, because damn if I didn't see any.  I'm told that they have a kit and can SET UP the room as hearing accessible, but you have to ask for it.  (And I'm thinking, "Really?  The fact that I booked the room listed as 'hearing accessible' and checked in with someone with whom I was signing did not make you think maybe I wanted that shit?")  They were proud of the kit.  Said they had something that turned a knock on the door into a flashy light and everything.  Said to ask for it next time.  Well, maybe when we reschedule.

Off to Santa Barbara.  Jayne had always wanted to go to the courthouse there, and was super happy to finally make it, so Courthouse Selfie!

What's cool about the Santa Barbara Courthouse is a clock tower you can go up, with nice views of the City. 

See?  Jayne's a photographer so she composes all the shots.  She asked me to take a few pictures of her (with her phone) and she'd stand in the "photographer" position for a few minutes, holding her phone in just the right place, before handing it to me and jumping in the shot.  I'm dealing with a pro.

When we left the courthouse, she was walking ahead of me, and I managed to trip over my own feet in the crosswalk.  She didn't hear me trip and fall, so kept on walking, and I had to gather myself quickly and run a bit to catch up.  I'm explaining what happened, and a dude comes up to us and asks me, in ASL, if I'm OK.  Hey!  First time I'm mistaken for a Deaf person!

We stroll/limp on over to State Street and find a nice restaurant for lunch.  They'd just opened.  Like, that day.  Jayne had a really tasty eggplant parmesan, and I had a really tasty salmon piccata, but, when we asked, we couldn't get any bread, because they'd JUST OPENED and didn't, like, have any yet.

Guess what today was?  Why it's the State Street Nationals Premier Car Show!  Classic Cars up and down State Street.  I channel my inner brother-in-law and we check out the vehicles.  Jayne is taking all sorts of photos.  I pose with the '57 Chevy because of course I do.

We stop for ice cream.  (We may have planned to "check out the cars on the way to ice cream."  Maybe.)  There's a long line but we wait in it.  We continue to chat.  Dude in front of us turns around and asks (in signing worse than mine!) if we're Deaf.  Jayne takes this conversation.  Dude learned some ASL a few years back and wants to share the fact.  It doesn't entirely go well; Jayne asks him "where" he learned -- he keeps thinking she's asking "when."  I intentionally do not intervene; I only interpret for Jayne when she asks -- she is a self-sufficient individual who has incredible patience for bad signing.  (Believe me, I know this.  I apologize several times this weekend for using the wrong sign, or forgetting one I should totally remember.  Hell, I even got "website" right when I was sure I had it wrong.  Fuck me.)  At the ice cream place, you can get a dish with 3 small scoops of different flavors.  I ask Jayne which ones she is going to get.  She tells me; I tell her my three.  When we get up to order, Jayne orders by pointing.  The woman behind the counter misunderstands -- Jayne is pointing at the name of the flavor and the woman thinks she's pointing at the ice cream instead (and they're different, as the ice creams are a few deep).  The woman repeats it back (wrong) and THIS time, I intervene.  (I mean, some dude trying to chat in long-forgotten ASL is one thing, but this is ICE CREAM we're talking about.)  Jayne's order gets corrected and I wonder how many times she gets the wrong food because someone doesn't know what she's pointing at.

We finish up, drive back, and check how busy Lompoc is on various dates later this summer (must avoid Falcon 9 launch dates).  And I wonder if, this weekend, Jayne didn't let me in someplace I couldn't go without her after all.