Remember summer camp?

That knot of excitement forming in your stomach as you arrive with nothing but a suitcase and guilty reminder from Mom to write home every week. Plus the mildly overwhelming fear of being a stranger in a strange place. Will you make friends? Will you get homesick? Will you finally get that first kiss you’d been waiting for your whole life?

Then everything begins to settle down a bit. After a few weeks, you feel good about your situation in life. You’ve made friends. Your weekly care packages are the envy of your troop, and you’re pretty sure that cute blonde the next cabin over has been eyeing you in the mess hall.

Yet before you know it, days have turned into weeks have turned into an entire summer gone by. Time to go back to your real life: overly protective parents, another school year’s worth of homework and shiny new braces. It’s bittersweet, but you always knew this day was coming. Life goes on. So in between packing up the bathing suit and collecting phone numbers, you tearfully hug your new BFFs and promise to keep in touch always. Some of them you will. Some not. Some perhaps you’ll see again next summer. It’s a small world after all.

That pretty much sums it up, right? Summer camp… and living in Los Angeles. Last weekend, as I was saying goodbye to yet another friend that I’ve met here, I became acutely aware of how similar life in this city is to the camp experience.

Of course this comparison applies only to us non-LA natives, but that’s most of the people I know. And just like summer camp, everyone who moved here had an immediate visceral reaction to this place. Either they loved it and never wanted to leave, or they hated it and were ready to turn the car around. Not much gray area. But just like camp, you acclimate after a while. Acquaintances become friends. You get a job that distracts from thoughts of home. Things aren’t quite so bad anymore. Likewise, for those of us who initially jelled with this town, you realize that palm trees and sunshine can’t make up for certain creature comforts. Begrudgingly you admit that you do miss your family. You miss being there for birthdays and holiday BBQs. Sometimes you miss even the snow.

Though life does go on, it may not go on forever in LA. Anyone you meet here, you can almost see the question mark dangling over his head. Will they stay or will they go? At times it’s a matter only of when, not if. You learn to emotionally prepare yourself for hearing those all-to-familiar words: “I’m outta here.” The reasons for your friends leaving are just as varied as why they came here in the first place. Maybe they just don’t like Los Angeles. Too many palm trees. Too much sunshine. Maybe they got married and would rather not raise their children within a ten-mile radius of Charlie Sheen. Or maybe they just need to give their worn-out bank account a break for a bit. Whatever the reason, I’m not surprised anymore when someone tells me that her time in LA is up.

It’s bittersweet, especially since I have yet to throw up my hands and yell “finally!” upon hearing of someone’s exodus from this town. Most always I’m saddened because he or she is truly a wonderful human being, and the city that gets to have them next is a lucky city indeed. Of course we’ll always have phone tag and tweeting, but it’s just not the same. Yet when I’m feeling nostalgic for the good ole days, I can still reminisce about when we would tell ghost stories around the fire pit while roasting marshmallows… and drinking Coronas. Camp was awesome.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


So the other night I was having a very serious discussion with a friend regarding what we would do should there be an alien invasion.

She had just seen the recently released Battle: Los Angeles and was giving me a play-by-play of plot points. It got me to thinking… There are a lot of films about UFOs coming to Mother Earth. Funny ones like Men in Black. Patriotic ones like Independence Day. And super creepy ones like Signs. The details vary; they might land quietly in the middle of some sleepy farm town, or to get our attention they might decide to blow away the White House. Sometimes they want only our planetary resources for sustenance; other times they want our very bodies as incubation chambers. Either way, they most always want us dead.

Yet despite the fact that these beings figured out a way to travel millions of light years (give or take) to find us, we Earthlings always win in the end. Know why? Because we’re the human race! We got chutzpah! And when Bill Pullman tells us, “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!” then damn right we will.

But that’s just make-believe. Movies aren’t real. We all know none of that would ever happen… Because we would never, ever survive an alien attack if those little green guys didn’t want us to.

It’s true. Know why? Because whether or not we prideful humans care to admit it, those dudes are way smarter than us. Where do you think the phrase “light years ahead” came from? If they managed to navigate multiple galaxies to find our puny planet, then I for one feel confident they did the necessary background check as well. They would know if our germs were harmful to them or if our water was toxic. I mean, come on. I know humans who won’t drink the tap when vacationing in Mexico. You think UFOs would be any less careful?

I wouldn’t even try to resist an alien invasion. Really. If one afternoon I noticed a fleet of flying saucers annihilating my neighborhood, I would pretty much call it a day. I’d type off one last Facebook status update to all my loved ones and then guiltlessly eat every last carton of ice cream I could get my hands on until my time had come.

But here’s the thing. We needn’t worry. If ever we do come face to face with those guys from outer space, I’d put good money on them being more E.T. than some monstrosity with acid for blood. Know why? Evolution. Allow me to explain. Once upon a time, should you come down with a nasty cold, you would probably get sliced open and bled – on purpose – so you could get better. Should you be accused of witchcraft, you would get thrown into a river to see if you could float. If not, congratulations! You may be dead, but at least you weren’t a minion of the devil. Sometimes you didn’t even get the benefit of the doubt; you’d just be tied to a stake and lit up in front a crowd of cheering spectators. Thankfully, we don’t do these things anymore because we’re better educated and more civilized. Not to say that we still don’t have a long way to go, but that’s my point. If E.T. does visit Earth, then he’s already gone the distance, both literally and figuratively. He doesn’t want to wipe out our species; rather he wants to heal our boo-boos with his fingertip. Sure, he might smirk at our primitive need for clothing and steal all our Reese’s Pieces, but that’s about as aggressive as he’s ever gonna get.

So in case you’ve been losing sleep about how you would survive an extraterrestrial battle in Los Angeles, Chicago or anywhere else on earth, don’t. If UFOs do show up one day, they’ll probably be saving us from some human-made catastrophe, not creating one. However, I would worry about surviving a zombie attack. If that happens, then we’re really in trouble.

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


It’s been a rough couple of days, hasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but lately my mind has been preoccupied with thoughts of earthquake kits, tsunami warnings and radiation clouds floating across the Pacific. Yet of course this anxiety pales in comparison to the real suffering of those who have actually been affected by the events of last week. I still have my home. My family. My life.

It got me to thinking how much easier it all was as a child. Being a kid was great, wasn’t it? Cartoons, naps and snacks. Sounds pretty nice right about now. Not to say that I didn’t grow up during some rather stressful times. I remember hearing “Cold War” and “communism” thrown around quite a bit. I knew that the man with the funny-looking birthmark on his head was supposedly a bad guy. Like Reagan, I wanted him to tear down that wall. Really, though, I had no idea what any of that meant. As a kid, my biggest fear was my giraffe.

He wasn’t a real giraffe. Had that been the case, this would be an entirely different story. A real giraffe would have been sweet. But no… This was a stuffed giraffe. A ginormous stuffed giraffe that scared the hell out of me. This monstrosity towered over my four-year-old frame; I swear he was the size of a real flesh and blood giraffe. (Okay, not really, but for sure a baby one.) I don’t remember how this thing came into my life. I have no recollection of receiving him as a gift; one day he was just there, and I hated him from the moment I laid eyes on him.

I refused to play with the giraffe. I refused to even give him a name. He was like Voldemort, “He Who Must Not Be Named,” and in my opinion just as evil. I tried to get him as far away from me as possible, so I stuffed him into a corner of my bedroom and attempted to hide him with other toys. Didn’t help much. I could feel him watching me as I played with my Barbies.

I never told my family of this fear. On some level I knew it was a tad irrational. Why should I be afraid of him? He was a big, cuddly giraffe. Plus, I had already tried to communicate my uneasiness regarding some rather creepy toys and was politely brushed off. That time it was my Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls. They totally freaked me out, too. You know that speech Quint gives in Jaws? “He’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes.” He was talking about Raggedy Ann and Andy.

As those concerns – fairly reasonable ones I’d say – fell on deaf ears, I knew that any whimper made about a cute giraffe would be quickly dismissed by my parents. Sometimes it wasn’t so bad, though. In the middle of the day, when the sun was shining and the birds were chirping, the giraffe wasn’t so totally scary. I could almost forget that he was there. But at night… That’s when my worst fears about that beast would manifest themselves into terrible nightmares.

I was one of those kids who ran straight to her parents after a bad dream. It was second nature. No way was I going to stay in my room with the thing that just attacked me in my subconscious, and this giraffe was the star of many, many nightmares. Thing is, my house at that time was shaped like a giant “U” with my room at one end of it and my parents’ bedroom at the other end. So upon waking from my dream, I had to run like the wind through the entire house (in the dark!) to get to the safety of my parents’ bed. Didn’t matter. The protection and comfort of their bedroom was well worth the risk of possible death from whatever other creatures lurked in our home. The giraffe was just that scary.

I recall one time when, after having endured the usual bad dream, I booked it to my parents’ room. However, my father wasn’t having it that night and somehow convinced me to go back to sleep. I remember his hand gently guiding me through my bedroom’s doorway with a reassuring, “Nighty night.” I entered the quiet darkness. My bed was five, maybe six, steps away. Against my better judgment, I turned to look at the monster on the other side of the room… And that’s when he attacked. I stood there, immobilized with fear, as he galloped full-speed and tackled me to the ground… I woke up punching my pillow. I kid you not folks. It was freaking Inception. A dream within a dream. That’s how bad my neurosis was with this thing.

Then one day he was gone. I don’t know where he went; he just disappeared. I don’t know if the dark circles under my eyes finally evoked some much overdue compassion from my parents, or if the giraffe himself decided that he was bored and wanted to go creep out some other little girl. Whatever it was, just as mysteriously as he came into my life, the giraffe exited the same way.

I’m not afraid of my dreams anymore; it’s the waking nightmares that aren’t so easy to shake. Like I said, it was so much easier as a kid… Though I don’t miss that damn giraffe one bit. Or Raggedy Ann and Andy. Or clowns. Don’t even get me started on clowns.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


The evening started innocently enough. I was meeting up with friends, all Columbia College grads, for a night of vegan food and zombie gore. The perfect yin-yang combination.

As we greeted each other with hugs and hellos, a call came in that two more would be joining us. Fantastic. The more the merrier, right? Lovely people they were, one of them in fact another CCC connection. Since I was sitting closer to the couple than the rest of my friends, and because I had never met them before, I began asking questions. Found out that he was born and raised in Chicago. Still lived there. She lived there as well. Lovely.

Adding to the loveliness of that evening was the weather. It just so happened to be one of the warmest nights in LA over the past few months. So warm that we decided to sit outside for dinner. Yet about halfway through our meal, one of my friends got the chills and put on her coat. With that small gesture, the evening took a turn…

“I swore I would never become one of those people who needed to wear a jacket in seventy degree weather,” said my friend as she slid into her pea coat. I nodded in solidarity. However, the breeze had indeed turned a tad brisk over the past half-hour, and I was secretly wishing for a jacket myself. Two of my other friends then chimed in, woefully noting just how chilly it’s been in Los Angeles over the last several weeks. We soundly agreed that it was “about time” the weather began to cooperate in SoCal.

The Chicago couple was conspicuously quiet as we continued our tirade regarding the intolerable sixty degree weather as of late. Picking up on their lack of sympathy, I began to feel a wee bit bashful. Quickly, I covered with a joke: “I know you guys just had the third worst storm in Chicago history, but it’s been cold in LA!” They kindly obliged my comment with a courtesy laugh. I then realized that though it would have been well warranted, they didn’t join the conversation with their own complaints about the Midwest’s miserable winter this year. No whining about the multiple feet of snow dumped on the city over the last three months. No complaining about the freezing temps endured for days at a time. Nope. Nothing.

For some reason the lyrics to “One of These Things” from Sesame Street were suddenly bouncing through my head, and that’s when it hit me. My friends and I had changed… Mutated in fact. No longer were we the friendly, yet hearty Midwesterners of just a few years back. We had become La La lobotomized.

It got worse; we started talking about The Industry. Totally my fault. I hadn’t seen my friends in a while, so naturally I began to ask what everyone had been up to lately. (I like to ask questions, okay?) One friend mentioned the crazy hours she was currently working for The Celebrity Apprentice.  My other friends also work in television, so of course their jobs became part of the discussion as well.

On the one hand, that’s what you do when you hang out with friends; you talk about your lives. On the other hand, your job sometimes becomes your life when living in Los Angeles. If you work ten to twelve hours a day at the studio/production company/on set, then yes, that is your life whether you like it or not. Therefore, it can easily dominate the conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, though, we didn’t totally ignore our Windy City friends. We continued with our inquiries. Turns out they were road-tripping around the western US for a few weeks. Had we more time, I would have kept going with the questions. For instance: “Did you know that Rahm Emanuel is Ari Emanuel’s brother? Who’s Ari Emanuel? Hello! Don’t you watch Entourage?” However, we were already late for the zombie apocalypse and had to get a move on. The couple hopped into their car, and all of us locals hopped into another. The plan was to have our guests follow us to the theatre since they had no idea where they were going. Fair enough… Yet upon arrival, we realized there was nowhere to park. In a matter of seconds we unanimously decided that the very nice couple from Chicago was on their own. Our transformation to the dark side was complete.

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Birthday parties are so much better nowadays.

I don’t know about you, but I always thought birthday parties of the childhood variety were kind of lame. For one, I was never a fan of the games we were conscripted into playing. As a kid I could get a bit competitive and usually was indignant if everyone received a prize regardless of whether they had won or lost. What was the point of that scavenger hunt then? I wouldn’t have killed myself roaming your house and backyard for bits and pieces of junk had I known we all would receive the same cheap plastic butterfly ring for our disparate efforts. Thank you for wasting my time. Glad to know we’re all winners.

Second, I’m not above admitting that I pretty much hated the gift-opening segment of the party. Why? Because I wanted those toys. Didn’t even matter if the birthday girl received a game or doll I already had; I wanted hers because it was newer and nicer. My poor father. No matter how hard he tried to change the subject during the ride home, nothing could dissuade me from pleading my case that I needed to have the dozen other toys I saw that afternoon. If persuasive enough, I most often could secure a verbal promise for a future trip to Toys “R” Us by the time we pulled into the driveway.

Though despite my kiddie profiteering, I much prefer birthday parties today. The consumption of food and alcohol now generally substitutes for both the gift-opening and game-playing portions of the festivities; however, not much else has changed since childhood. We still have birthday BBQs. Birthday roller-skating parties. Birthday pool parties.

Yet these gatherings easily overshadow those of yesteryear because I actually care about the individuals we’re celebrating. As a kid, everybody and nobody is your friend. Alliances are created and destroyed on a daily basis. Susie, your BBF yesterday, suddenly won’t talk to you today. Likewise, Molly, who once let you borrow her Barbie, is now getting on your nerves so you start ignoring her. Then you’re all best friends again the following week. It’s exhausting.

Thankfully that’s no longer the case. The people whom I call my friends really are my friends. No longer do I worry if so-and-so likes me anymore… Or if I still like her. Most of these relationships have been built upon years of trust and love, so each time we gather to celebrate a birthday, it’s also an affirmation of our continuing friendship. (Is that not so hokey you just wanna gag? True, though.)

The details of the party don’t matter so much anymore either. Over the last several years, birthdays have been celebrated both near and far with backyard potlucks and weekend getaways out of LA. Sometimes we get dressed to the nines. Sometimes we’re decked out merely in our finest pajamas. Regardless of where we are or how we look, it’s always a good time.

In contrast, putting together a birthday bash was always stressful as a child. Nobody wanted to be that kid known for throwing a lame party. A simple gathering at your house was fine were you were five, but the bar was raised higher and higher each consecutive year. First it was the local pizza joint with animatronic dragons and skee ball. Then it became even more of an event; you had to do something super unique and fun like laser tag or WhirlyBall. Come junior high, it was on to birthday slumber parties thrown at luxury hotels. Again, my poor dad. No wonder he mandated that I could have a party only every other year.

Granted, until now I’ve ignored the elephant in the room; birthday parties necessarily acknowledge that you’re getting older. As a kid, this was great. We couldn’t wait to grow up. Turning ten or thirteen or sixteen actually was cause for celebration. Not so much anymore. Turning twenty-nine or thirty or thirty again isn’t the highlight of the evening. In fact, the whole getting older aspect of these occasions is typically ignored. Is that then the trade off? I can live with that. Time may be creeping up on us, but if I can at least celebrate with those I truly love around me, then bring it. I can’t wait to have that roller-skating party for my eightieth.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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