Don't want to be a Scientologist

I got reflective today while driving in Los Angeles today. (In between bouts of calling people a-holes, passing two accidents, and swerving around lots of cars doing lots of stupid things.)

A radio DJ said that he didn't know if it was holiday traffic or what but to be careful because people were driving like crackhead lunatics. I agreed. I'd been in my old hood Atwater Village and I'd stopped by its nearby Armenian enclave. I had the radio tuned to Latino 96.3 and was laughing because someone had just given a shout out to their "big cup o' Kool-Aid" and I was thinking that I need to start calling my friends my big cups o' Kool-Aid when the light changed and I stopped.

The light was at L. Ron Hubbard Way and a man crossed the street before heading into the Scientology compound. And this man, in the space of ten seconds, freaked me out.

He was a too-tan and middle-aged and he didn't take his eyes off me the whole time he was in the crosswalk. And he wasn't hitting on me because his eyes weren't friendly. Nope, I'm pretty sure he was trying to latch onto my soul to gauge just how black it is. And imagining how shimmery and translucent his people could make it.

I met his eyes and held the gaze while turning my head to follow as he walked past, but the whole time my head was retracting backwards so that when he reached the other curb, I had nine chins and no neck. My eyebrows were also up around my hairline.

"What the f was that!" I thought. "That guy was NOT my big cup o' Kool-Aid."

This is where I got reflective about how depending on what neighborhood you're in and what kind of work you do and who you end up knowing, your experience of Los Angeles could be tremendously different than someone else's. This might seem obvious - I used to think the same thing all the time about New York when I lived there - but I now realize that these are the only two places I've been where this feels really, really true.

Before New York I thought of it as the place where people walk fast, talk fast, and tell you exactly what they're thinking. All of the images in my head: subways screeching, horns honking, Brooklyn brownstones, museums, Central Park, bike couriers, bagels, all of it was there.

But each block was such a microcosm. I flipped out the day I realized that more people were on my block of 3rd street between B and C than in the entire Minnesotan town where Gail lived. Not to mention the different worlds of arty East Village, Victorian houses of Midwood, and Staten Island, the mystery borough.

Other cities that I've spent real time in - Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, Olympia, Cincinnati, Columbus - haven't held this quality. It's partly size, but it's more than that. Three million people live in Chicago and every language is spilling out of every color of face you can think of, yet Chicago IS SO CHICAGO. I wouldn't be surprised if a Laotian immigrant knew how to grill better than me after a year in Chicago and we started bumping into each other at mutual friends' barbeques.

And Los Angeles? Before I got here I thought of it as the epicenter of pollution, superficiality, and celebrity-obsessed, tanning-bed addicts who drive everywhere, dropping names and being fake like it's their job. Oh wait, IT IS.

And I have seen some of that. But I've seen much more, as well. There is a culture of LA and I talk shit about it all the time: "That guy looks like a d-bag with his LA hair", but I now know that there are offshoots of that culture that look nothing like it.

Inglewood and South Central barely qualify for the same universe as Beverly Hills and Bel-Air, but it's all greater LA. And there are even areas in between that feel kind of low key and solid. All I know is a) You just never know and b) I still don't want to be Scientologist.


Junkie Spice

I'm challenge greater than the hotel minibar: much greater, by about eight feet. The table outside the production office that is covered with snacks is as dangerous and sinister as table offering a bowl of marshmallows can be. And I'm not alone. People up and down the corridor are cursing the table. My weakness is wasabi almonds.

I don't know what it is with the Blue Diamond brand but Geoff and I had tins of Blue Diamonds on the American Idol bus and he got so protective of his favorite flavor, jalapeƱo smokehouse, that he wrote on the lid: DO NOT COVET. Like these nuts are so good, they're OLD TESTAMENT GOOD. Like Moses himself doesn't want you eating my nuts.

Yesterday I was bingeing with a Zweck, making a mix of wasabi almonds and wasabi peas when he noticed a tin of a new flavor we hadn't noticed - lime & chili almonds - and we got excited. Maybe me more so than him. I went back to work and tried to focus but couldn't concentrate. Eventually I couldn't resist and snuck to the door and around the corner to fill up another cup of nuts and peas. I planned to walk casually back to my desk but Zweck had heard the almond tin shaking in the hallway, had also left his desk, and was staring at me pointedly when I turned around. His eyes, deadpan and accusatory, were also gloating and I jumped.


Some of us in management been assigning each other Spice names a la Sporty, Baby, Ginger, Posh, and Scary. In the process we end up fighting about what names we do and don't want. Lately I've defended myself vehemently against being called Junkie Spice. Because I do not shoot heroin. Do I drown my innards in coffee everyday? Absolutely. Caffeine does not a junkie make.

The person who wants to call me Junkie Spice is English and I just about had it when she lectured me on my "patterns of dependency." I, like many people, have experimented. I tried to be a stoner my first year of college and hated it. I tried harder drugs later but it was never really me. So I asked her what we were talking about. Cocaine, sleeping pills, cigarettes? No? If all she had to go on was coffee then I wasn't taking it.

I got so worked up I actually yelled at her, "You fucking English people and your tea! What is THAT?"

Wow, that was defensive. And kind of offensive and she's kind of my boss. If anything, I'm a food junkie and need to quit pigging out on all the nuts on the table. I made a concerted effort not to loiter by the table yesterday and even when I received this photo from Zweck, reminding me of all that is good in the world, I resisted obsessing.

But when Geoff put the kettle on and all the Brits in the office started arguing about which tea is better, Yorkshire or PG Tips, and if the PG Tips brand is effeminate (?), I got even more resolute to defend my coffee habit. Or we can admit we're all junkies in one way or another.


Customer Service

I've spent a lot of time lately speaking with customer service representatives.

1. Rocio: my be-yotch, my chica loca, at the AT&T store. When I showed up the first time and said I needed a b-zillion GoPhones for our staff, you were there for me. But in a kind of I-don't-know-you-I-don't-need-to-get-to-know-you kind of way.

Don't worry, I thought the same thing. Neither of us knew how many times I'd be back to your store. Neither of us anticipated the kooky mishaps inherent in purchasing, activating, and managing so many monthly phone contracts. Now when I walk in the store, your colleagues say, "You here to see Rocio?" And that one that one time that you weren't working? It felt weird.

The day you let me sit in your chair at your work station and use your phone to talk to the corporate office was a nice touch. We talked about the rental market in Los Angeles and I honestly felt relieved that you'd finally found an apartment. You said that you'd bring lunch for me the next time I spend two hours in your store at midday and I think you might have meant it. Thanks, Rocio.

2. Touring in different countries means lots of airlines with lots of different frequent flyer programs.

I was online, signing up for every airline I could think of and a few I'd never heard of since when I start something, I often take it WAY past the point of immediate usefulness. I was thrilled to find that Virgin Atlantic, when asking for my prefix (Miss or Ms), also gave me the choice of Prof, Lord, Lady, Sir, and Rev. Naturally, I chose REV. Because I can! Legally! Fucking finally!

The only person who's sent me mail addressed to Reverend Jessica Roncker is Sara. I think it's because my sermon at her and Michael's wedding had her people bawling. My sermon caused a tissue relay in the seats and I'm proud of that. Sara is proud of the fact that I listened to the one rule she gave me about officiating her wedding: YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SAY MOTHERFUCKER AT ANY POINT IN THE CEREMONY. It wasn't easy but I did it. 

3. I was well into my call to the American Express customer service center and was certain that help was imminent when the customer service representative asked, "Do you like tandoori chicken?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Tandoori chicken. Have you ever had it?"

"Yes?" I said. "I like it. Why?"

"I thought so. You sound spicy."

Is this Amex guy flirting with me? I hadn't mentioned the Spice Girls in our call and I don't know what information his computer screen was giving him but I'm pretty sure it wasn't my measurements. If I had been tempted (I wasn't), he killed potential sparks by saying that tandoori chicken is delicious but hurts as much coming out as going in. Not a good move, for flirting or financial advisement.

Because I don't think enough people are making fun of David Hasselhoff


It's really quite funny that you were that stupid

I almost broke my nose this morning on a window. I wanted to go into an office attached to the sound studio but the door was locked so I bent to peer through the glass window to see if anyone was inside and totally forgot that the glass in the window has double-paned soundproofing. I also forgot that since YOU CAN SEE THROUGH GLASS, sometimes you don't even know it's there.

I saw the inside pane because there was paper taped to it. I did not see the pane on my side, the one several inches closer to my face than I thought it would be. The impact was shocking and I thought of the bird I once saw fly into the side of a glass atrium. WHUMP!

After grabbing my face and looking over my shoulder to see if anyone witnessed my astonishing accident, I cussed and pressed the sides of my nose with thumb and forefinger. When I was pretty sure that the only thing broken was my common sense, I called Heather and asked if she had keys to the room. I waited. When she arrived, I asked if my face looked at all bruised.

She looked, said no, and I told her what I did. And her FUCKING AWESOME reply was that "It's really quite funny that you were that stupid." Now imagine it in a British boarding school accent, it's ever so much better. 

The people I work with are doing wonders for the anti-Brit sentiments that I've harbored for years. Despite good travels to England and a number of adored friendships, Brits just pissed me off generally speaking. Exceptions to the rule were just that. But now I don't know. I really, really like my co-workers. And it's not just because I'm outnumbered.

It makes me think of the night before I moved from Seattle to New York, Bova and I were crashed on the floor of someone's living room in sleeping bags and couldn't get to sleep. I remember asking him, "Which do you hate more? Seattle or England?"

He thought about it, really thought about it, and was silent for a minute.

"Seattle. At least in England the punks are real."

Which made us laugh very hard. Now I'm appreciating a lot of little things about my friends the English people, like some of the bone driest wit I've ever heard and how someone can seem prim one second and completely batshit the next. I like it when someone says "Thank you very much indeed," instead of, "Uh, thanks," and instead of saying hello asks me if I'm alright.

Asking me if I was alright made me question myself at first. Is my hair screwed up? Does my nose look broken? I though something was wrong with me until I realized that they're just saying hi.

And yes, it really is quite funny that I was that stupid.


Three degrees of Jay Leno

I was stopped at a light in Burbank when I heard a radio DJ say that The Tonight Show with Jay Leno had gone into reruns because writers are striking and I remembered the first time I came in LA, my senior year of high school. In 1993, Joanna and I flew to Burbank for spring break with her aunts who'd moved here from England. I was impressed to see the The Wonder Years street. I was impressed that Joanna's cousin who was way older - like 21 - had a dolphin tattoo and had dated a boy from either House of Pain or Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I felt sorry for the aunts' pilot boyfriends who flew into town and took us all out to dinner at a fancy restaurant in the hills. I'm sure the pilots were thrilled that their double date suddenly included two awkward 17-year-old girls from Ohio. I dutifully ran laps around a high school track in Burbank while Joanna timed my splits in preparation for my upcoming track season back home.

One of the aunts got us audience tickets for a taping of Jay Leno. We giggled in our seats at CBS studio when the camera panned to a person seated behind us. We were on NATIONAL TELEVISION, OH MY GOD.

While in California we were also surprised to see someone freak out when she broke a nail. Incapacitated, she whisked herself off to the nail salon before she could get on with the day and we made fun of her because that was not very Ohio of her.

It was a good week overall, new and sunny and agreeable. Her aunts were lovely and welcoming. But Joanna and I both felt a strange relief when our plane made it home and banked low over the Ohio River before landing in Kentucky. The rolling green hills seemed so much more grounded and solid than we'd left them.

I'd mostly forgotten about that trip fifteen years ago until the radio DJ today mentioned Jay Leno. California was so foreign to me then. I spent hours last week talking to studios and finding a sound stage for Spice Girls dance rehearsals. Not that I necessarily knew what I was talking about but it's my job and I did it and it didn't feel that foreign. I may live in California at the moment but I don't flip out when I break a nail. That may be because my fingers have what someone recently called "nubs" on the end of them, but still. I wouldn't. I just don't care enough. So I'm somewhere in between.

Which I think I proved when, in the middle of this whole red light reverie, I saw Jay Leno himself come barreling down the street in one of his cars. It was a vintage roadster that I'd guess was a 1930s Bentley or Duesenberg. Or maybe I looked that up on Jay Leno's Garage since I don't know a thing about cars.

Jay Leno was in plain view since there were no real doors or roof on the car and he looked like an aviator or German spy headed to the border with a damning message. The car spat puffs of steam or smoke that kicked up behind the spy/Jay Leno so the overall effect was not subtle. Though it WAS somewhat cheapened by the Burbank backdrop - I saw him in front of a CVS pharmacy - and total lack of war zone urgency.

And I couldn't decide whether to think it was interesting or just be over it already.


emergency burrito

Zweck and I drove past a pie shop in Burbank on the way to work today. I'd noticed it before and chuckled because one of the selling points they have plastered across the building is their 'pleasant atmosphere'. It basically says COME EAT PIE IN A PLEASANT ATMOSPHERE.

Which, I'm sorry, is just not a strong statement. I only worked in marketing for a few years but 'pleasant' is weak. Zweck, however, was prepared to move past pleasant and wondered aloud whether pie shops in the US carry meat pies. I told him no. He was disheartened and wanted to know why.

I told him the truth: 'It's un-American.'

He got all dramatic and said he couldn't exist in world without meat pies. That his Australian blood wouldn't handle the lack of meat.

'I didn't know you're Australian,' I said.
'I'm not. I'm British. But I have some Australian blood,' he said.

I wondered to myself if Mike needed some meat in order to calm down and think clearly.

Instead he fixated on how badly he wanted a meat pie and how he couldn't have one. He told me about his favorite place in Sydney - Harry's - where they've made meat pies since 1932 and how you can buy pies floating in a pool of mushy peas or you can get pies injected/squirted with something FROM SOME SORT OF FOOD GUN. I totally didn't understand. But I didn't feel like I needed to.

'That sounds disgusting,' I said, 'but I get it. It's your chicken and waffles.'

I tried to distract him by dangling a conceptual donut in his face. 'You like donuts, don't you?' I said, 'There's lots of donut shops in LA.' That didn't really work, even though he admitted that Krispy Kremes are alright. They're just not meaty. We drove in silence. Until he brought up tacos: 'I'd like to try some of the taco stands.'

'Oh YEAH,' I said, happy to find common ground involving meat and happy to know I could pull over for an emergency breakfast burrito if Zweck's Australian blood oxygen levels dropped, 'Some of the taco stands around here are AMAZING!'

Please note that I have yet not been to one taco stand in LA. But I'm sure they're incredible.


Her little dead cousin

I almost completely forgot about Halloween this year. I went to work and ate a pumpkin spice cupcake. I laughed when Jimmy joked about wearing my face for Halloween and that was pretty much it. Come to find out that someone DID wear my face for Halloween.

I'd emailed Lisa London in Florida to tell her that I was totally into the excel spreadsheet I'd made and was therefore thinking of her. When she was my boss at The Feminist Press and I witnessed her getting excited about spreadsheets, I used to suspect that she had issues. Now that I'm that person, I'm sure I'm FINE. She answered my email and agreed that spreadsheets are hot. We didn't really go into details but I'm thinking of letting the next guy who shows me the formula for adding number columns get to second base. Or third.

Then Lisa told me that she wore the Jessica Roncker t-shirt for Halloween. And that everyone thought I was either a serial killer or the victim of one! Which isn't weird or freaky at all.

And then? Then she said that she told the people who she didn't like that I was her LITTLE DEAD COUSIN.

Presumably to make them feel morbid and uncomfortable. She said that she told the people she likes who I really am. And that they want to meet me.


might have to lose my lunch after all

After gushing recently about how the pukey aspects of Hollywood are making me laugh and how this perspective is working out so fabulously, I spent the weekend in locations unlike my norm of dive bars and Roscoe's House of Chicken.

And? Yeah.

One must be vigilant.

Over sushi, someone asked if I agreed that the table next to us was occupied by a group of painstakingly attractive people. I said, 'If you mean besides the fact that they all look like actors and wannabes, then yes, they're quite good looking.'

'You're right,' she nodded, 'they're knobs.'

And THEN she asked if I'd overheard one of the beautiful girls say something to the effect of:


I'm sorry, what? Should I be bummed or relieved that I don't know the context of that one? My guess is relieved because I might have upchucked and the beef carpaccio was too good not to keep down.

Keep your midlife crisis away from me

I was talking to Matt Sperling when I said, not to him just to the world at large, "KEEP YOUR MIDLIFE CRISIS AWAY FROM ME."


And now I'm wondering what mid-life crises are made of. I'm thinking corrosive fluid.
While on the subject, I'd like to make a public service announcement to the guys who dye their hair that flat jet shoe polish black. I'm talking to you, postal service worker where I got my PO Box, and you guy in the hotel elevator with the man jewelry and flashy boots.

You do not look YOUNG. You look INSECURE.

And listen, I'm a huge fan of hair dye. I've dyed my own hair red and white and it usually looked like shit. I've also gotten it dyed in salons and sometimes it still looked like shit but often turned out better. If you are worried about getting older and you're getting vain, then go find good hairstylist who will not make your head look like a giant 8-ball. Finally, you might want to consider that grey hair is hot. And not just in that "men get distinguished and women get old" way. It's hot on the ladies, too.

Exhibit A being my mom and her silver hair getting totally hit on when she visited me in Ecuador ten years ago. By guys who I was hanging out with, one of whom TOLD me that my mom is prettier than me. Ecuadorians: SO DIRECT. Exhibit B being my mom being flirted with shamelessly while visiting the bar I tended in Seattle. By someone who ignored me when I said I would cut him off if he didn't stop grossing me out.


biker clogs, don't hate.

I told Jane that I spent two hours in a clog store and her response was, 'OH, DEAR GOD.'

So I tried to defend myself.

I was in the store for two hours because I was busy talking to the Swedish owner about her hometown of Gothenburg, which I've been to, and whenever I get the chance to say Gothenburg in Swedish, 'Yetehbooooooreh,' I take it.

I was also shooting the shit about how my foot pronates. Which, while not exactly thrilling, was satisfying in a way that only the spawn of Bob Roncker's Running Spot would understand.

I was also mes-mer-i-z-ed by the clogs.

I realize that even with every color and style possible, clogs might still be a tough sell. Last time I checked, Swedish people used them mainly for gardening. But to Jane I said, 'Don't forget the chefs! And hospital workers! They're wearing the hell out of clogs. All across America!'

I knew I was skating on extraordinarily thin ice because if I was going there, I was potentially associating myself with those checkered tapered wrestling-type pants that chefs also wear and THAT would be an issue. That would be what I call an indefensible argument.

Unless it's Halloween and you're also wearing a long blond mullet wig with a bunch of feathers behind your ears like Dog the Bounty Hunter. And actually it's still a bad idea.

But I didn't care. Because the clogs I picked out are BIKER CLOGS.

That right. That's what I'm about: Fucking up a genre, a FOOTWEAR GENRE. And maybe other genres, too, I don't know.

What you can't see so well in this photo is that the biker strap, the one that signals how tough I am, is made of blue patent leather. OMG, as they say.

These clogs remind me of the girl who told me in tenth grade that she couldn't figure me out because I seemed a little punky, a little crunchy, a little nerdy, and a little sporty. I was dabbling in each teen stereotype and I remember thinking that if she was confused, to consider how I felt. Like I knew where I fit in.

I also wonder if the fact that no one can figure out my Spice name right now might not also apply. My colleagues and I are all getting our own Spice names and some of them have stuck. Mine keeps changing.

There are moments where my name makes sense, like when I woke up after having eaten everything in the minibar and thought, 'I feel like Shitty Spice,' but that didn't last. Plus we're not allowed to name ourselves. Our Spice names must MANIFEST.

Max, displaying much insight for someone who doesn't know me well, suggested Sarcastic Spice. I tried to go with a temporary Mystery Spice, but our director became jealous and immediately crushed it since Mystery Spice sounds kind of sexy and she's having enough trouble fighting her own Budget Spice (AKA Tight Spice) without me batting any spicy eyelashes and making her feel bad.

She's now trying to peg me with a retaliation Junkie Spice which is unfair mainly because I'm not a junkie. Junkies don't wear clogs. Please.

I hate my minibar so much

Because it's easier than figuring out what the hell my problem is.