Angst on the Karaoke Stage



Anthony sings like Elvis Costello. I’ve known him for about 13 years, but I didn’t know this until my old friend jumped on the stage of the New Wave Restaurant & Bar (yes, that’s the name) for New Wave Karaoke (yes, that’s what it’s called) and bust into “Radio Radio.” When he’s done, I tell him that I never knew his secret talent. He’s perplexed. Certainly, I should have seen him do this before tonight. It’s one of his karaoke jams. What he doesn’t realize is that, for the past how many years, I have been using any and all excuses to get out of karaoke nights.

I have two problems with karaoke. One is that my voice is terrible. I’ve alternately described it as Claudine Longet with a cold and a waif slowly succumbing to consumption. The second issue is that I am not tone deaf, not in the slightest. I am completely aware of the fact that I can’t hit those notes.

Self-awareness is a horrible thing, like being trapped in a lucid nightmare. I used to pray that I could be a little delusional, just enough to get rid of the anxiety. That never happened. And now I’m in a bar somewhere off the 91 where a When in Rome set list and signed drumsticks beam from the wall, where the ladies room is lined with Duran Duran posters. I’m eating a Wham Burger and drinking a Depeche Mode. I can’t remember what’s in the drink aside from vodka and whatever it is that turns cocktails blue. My boyfriend, Carlos, remarks that the drink tastes like a “blue Icee.” He’s right. I don’t remember what flavor the blue Icee is. I’m not sure any of us do, but it tastes like that cocktail.
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I’m Allergic to the Valley

I woke up this morning with an allergy attack. For years, this was the case every morning. Now that I live downtown, the attacks have become less frequent. There aren’t many trees here. Usually, I can open my windows before I pop the pills.

Today was different. I stepped outside and the sneezes hit every few minutes. A sinus headache was slowly creeping up on me. So I downed two over-the-counter pills, pumped the last bit of Flonase up my nostrils and did what any masochist with allergies would do. I drove to the Valley.

I’m allergic to the Valley. I’ve been telling people this since I was a kid, but everyone just rolls their eyes like I’m some pretentious jerk who thinks she’s too good for the place whence she came. Truly, I’m just allergic to green things that grow. I think this is what the folks in commercials refer to as “seasonal” allergies, but I live in a place where seasons aren’t really a thing. The last time I was able to breath through my nose without the aid of pharmaceuticals was in New York a couple Januaries ago. We don’t have months like that– months where nothing is growing– in L.A., and in the Valley, it’s year-round full-bloomin’. There’s a lot of green stuff sprouting from the curbs of the 818, far more than what you’ll ever see downtown. It’s enough to drive your nose to the brink of an explosion.

The Valley isn’t some pastoral haven inside the Los Angeles city limits. It’s a grid of congested streets lined by the same urban-suburban clash you’ll see in the rest of the city. The difference here is that people are always planting stuff. There are trees everywhere: palm trees; cypress trees; those trees with the purple flowers whose name I can never recall. There’s green grass lining the sidewalks and huge rose bushes toppling over onto the lawns. Fruit trees are a big deal too. Sometimes you’ll see clusters of oranges, either a relic of the Valley’s past or a tribute to every old timer who ever said, “I remember when it was all orange groves here.”

Greenery in the Valley is much like the mighty swimming pool. We need it to try and forget the fact that we live in a place that it is dreadfully hot and disgusting from Memorial Day through Halloween. But, greenery has its price. For me, that’s a nose that’s constantly stuffy, right-side headaches that travel through to the cheekbone, eyes that appear on the verge of tears, hands that won’t stop itching. On the worst days, I get airplane ear that no amount of gum-chewing can relieve. Alleviating the symptoms is a game of trial and error. Some pills make me sleepy. Others make me anxious. Almost all of them will make me thirsty. Eventually, I found a good combination of pills, nasal sprays, eyedrops and dietary musts. (Jalapeños and wasabi are my friends.) The pill that works best for me is a barely over-the-counter product. I once got into a debate with a Walgreen’s pharmacist about her need to scan my ID for a small box. I said that I have a right to buy allergy pills without being treated like a potential meth-cooker. She said it was for the greater good. The conversation devolved into a mountain of nonsense, mostly because I’m paranoid that the DEA is going to come after me for having sinuses that will never clear.

I started out the day with an attack downtown, but it got worse when I headed back to the motherland. Once I crossed Cahuenga on the 101, driving with the windows down, my eyes started to itch. Then the water flowed. I swear I was totally not crying while blasting Soft Cell.  As I got closer to my mom’s house, I sang along to “Tainted Love” and my voice dropped. I didn’t sound like Doctor Girlfriend yet, but I was getting pretty close. A few hours later, the itchy hands took hold. Then came the lump of snot in my throat. Sometimes, snot-lump is so bad that I think I might vomit. Today, that wasn’t the case. Still, I ran out for more pills.  I spent the rest of the day trapped in a pseudoephedrine haze.

The symptoms weren’t going away, I was just functioning in slow motion with a dull throb around my right eye. I thought I was getting sick. Slowly, I packed up a car full of clean clothes and trudged through the traffic back home. Once the smell of trees was replaced by the scent of bus fumes, I started to feel better. Maybe the pills finally started working, but I think I’m just allergic to the Valley.


We Were Weird Teens in the ’90s and This Was Our L.A. Life

Siouxsie and Budgie ephemera dating back to the 1990s.

Siouxsie and Budgie ephemera that I need to hang, dating back to the 1990s.

There’s this post on Buzzfeed called “35 Signs You Grew Up in Los Angeles in the ’90s.” I caught wind of it from my friends Jeaux and Roo. It’s funny. It’s true. It’s also likely written by someone who was a kid in the 1990s. I wanted to add some stuff for those of us who went through middle school, high school and college during this decade.

 1. You learned how to drive during El Niño. And then you braved the storm for every concert you couldn’t miss. 

There was this wave of lousy, rainy winters called El Niño. When you’re a little kid, rain is fun. Once you hit your teens, though, you realize that Los Angeles was not built for less than awesome weather. It doesn’t take much for the streets to flood, which is a bit of a nightmare when you’re learning how to drive. Fortunately, I was able to use this as an excuse to ditch school. “But, I can’t drive in this weather! It’s totally not safe.”  However, I did get over my fear of rain driving when it came time to hit up clubs and concerts.

2. You had to explain Retail Slut and Vinyl Fetish to your parents. 

“Mom, I really need to go to Vinyl Fetish and Retail Slut this weekend.”

She stares at me like I’m out of mind.

“Ugh, Vinyl Fetish is a record store. Retail Slut sells clothes.”

I got my ride. Got some music. Retail Slut was kind of pricey. I got some band stickers for my goth box.

 3. You saw Drew Barrymore at clubs more than once. 

If there were clubs that catered to celebrities back in the 1990s, I didn’t know about them. Every once in a while, we would spot a few at our own clubs, which maybe made us respect the actors/models/etc. more. I remember Drew Barrymore showing up at more than a few places I frequented. I think just about everyone who went to the clubs in the 1990s has an “I totally saw Drew Barrymore last night” story.

 4. You saw some band that was in Sassy Magazine at Jabberjaw.

Usually, this band involved either Ben Lee or Ian Svenonius. Bonus points if you saw a cast member of My So Called Life in the crowd that night.

5. You and your club kid crew split up on Wednesday nights. Half went to Helter Skelter. Half went to Magic Wednesdays. 

Who says that goths and ravers can’t be friends? We all went to Perversion and Velvet and sometimes even Kontrol Faktory together. On Wednesday nights, though, we had to part ways. For us goths, there was Helter Skelter. The PLUR kids went to Magic Wednesdays. Maybe after last call we would meet up at the (sadly, now defunct) Del Taco on Santa Monica and Highland.

 6. You were addicted to Request Video. And probably the Hot Seat too. 

Back in the early 1990s, us L.A. kids got our fix of music videos and lulz thanks to KDOC, which was actually based in Orange County. Thanks to Gia Desantis, we caught all the new clips from Skinny Puppy and Ride. We might also get a little local music gossip from Belissa Cohen.

Right before Request Video was the Hot Seat, where conservative talk show host Wally George would get into it with, well, pretty much everyone. It was hysterical, but you kind of had to be there.

7. You met Rodney Bingenheimer and totally freaked out.

Back in the day, Rodney on the Roq was essential radio for any teen who wanted to know about all the hot bands in the U.K. I used to sit next to my radio early Sunday evenings, tape the show, go through it and hit up Tempo Records armed with my babysitting income.

When I first met Rodney, I was 15. I stood in line for his autograph when Siouxsie and the Banshees played Universal. Then I was like, “Oh my God, that James song you played last week. I think it’s called ‘Hymn from a Village.’ It’s so awesome. But, I can’t find it anywhere. But, it’s like the best song ever. Thanks for playing all the awesome music. I wouldn’t know anything if it weren’t for your show. Blahblahblahblahblah”

Something like that.

He played “Hymn from a Village” the next night and gave me a shout-out. It was, like, the best moment of my life, like, ever.

 8. You stopped listening to Loveline when The Poorman left. 

Does Loveline even exist anymore? I wouldn’t know since I stopped listening the day The Poorman left the show.

9. You stopped listening to KROQ when they started playing more Metallica than Morrissey. 

I don’t even need to elaborate on this.

 10. You were kind of stuck in the ’80s.

Not that you really remember the ’80s as anything more than a time to play Voltron, but new wave was infinitely better than grunge.