Johnny Mañana's pt. 1

I felt at home and lazy eating a burrito at Johnny Mañana's this weekend, laughing with Matthew about the night out before and planning to see Drive at the movie theater across the street later that evening. It was sunny and warm and relaxing on the patio until an idiot kid drove by and threw a M-80 firecracker into a stroller on the sidewalk. The baby who belonged to the stroller was being held at the table next to ours when it exploded. Our waitress investigated and laughed. The father inspected and came back calmly. I felt jumpier than everyone else at lunch was acting; maybe I'm not as relaxed as I thought.

I've been ON for months so coming home and unwinding is easier said than done. I want to calm down deeply. I don't want to portray calm so as to project an image and encourage those around me to feel confident, I want to feel it in my own motherfucking marrow but it takes time.

I got a massage in Manila. A tiny woman straddled my back and chopped up my butt cheeks like she was mincing vegetables. She wound my legs around sockets I wasn't aware of, stroked my scalp, and paid so much attention to each knuckle on my fingers, I could have kissed her. Instead, I tipped her big. I slept eight hours on the 13 hour flight home, drank wine like water, and saw everyone safely on their way. This would be my cue to take a deep breath.

Matthew: "Hey! I'm not an American Idol! You don't have to fight me!"

Me: "What? Oh."

Matthew: "This is a discussion, not a battle."

Me: "I'm sorry, you lost me."

One of the Idols was cracking me up, telling me that she's going to have PTSD, Post Traumatic Signing Disorder. She's caught herself smiling for cameras as she's falling asleep in that half-in/half-out state, alone in bed in the dark, flashing her teeth and cocking her head to the side. Another found herself murmuring to herself in her sleep, "Thank you, thank you so much for coming to the show..." We are all of us firmly anchored to what was required over the summer and now it's time to lift that. (It's heavy).

Have I mentioned that I'm grateful? I am. It was a great group to work with for many reasons. Part of the reason that it's harder to settle down right away is that I'm jumping quickly onto another project. It's smaller and more sporadic but still enough work to keep me from cartwheeling down the beach in my free time. Make that "free time". I'm grateful for this new work too, it's just hard because it feels like I'm losing the balance war.

Do you remember the time I asked Geoff, my old boss, how you balance home and work?

His answer was swift.

"You don't."

I found that depressing. I've never ever thought that work was worth destroying personal life and I still don't. Yes, we make sacrifices in the short term but - for us, until now - it's been okay because overall we've come out ahead. The minute that reverses itself is when I start reevaluating everything. Until then, each walk in the park is a gift.


Short video featuring Oceanside, Asylum skate shop and Pablo, Matthew's co-worker:


Lush henna - After

Several people asked for after photos from my recent Henna session so yesterday I obliged and stood in the mirror mugging myself for a few too many minutes. It was further proof of why I'll never be a style blogger. It is so hard for me not to look crazed, goofy or cross-eyed in photos. Ignore my face and focus on the hair color, thanks! This hue brought to you by two blocks of Caca Marron and one Caca Rouge.


Manila minute

What a strange introduction to the Filipino culture this week was. My time here was so structured that what I saw most were streets from the inside of buses and vans. Families of four riding one moped or eating dinner on the sidewalk, painted jeepneys, and slums in sharp contrast to our hotel swim-up bar.

Three times I drove to the GMA TV studio and stood on the sets of shows: Manny Many Prizes with Manny Pacquiao, Unang Hirit morning news, and Chika Minute entertainment gossip. I jumped over camera cables, avoided the shouting production assistants, and scooted out of the way as dancing girls in hot pink minidresses chittered past. I cringed as I watched an Idol eat balut, a day-old chick, straight from the eggshell.

I tapped my cheeks to stay awake when the jet lag kicked in, again. I sat beneath a lobby chandelier as a pianist played Greatest Love of All on the baby grand. In one hour at the pool at noon, my skin fried. They kept it open late for us last night; swimming at 3 am is much more gentle.

I passed through a market near the Araneta Coliseum. Beautiful pyramids of fruit, kaleidoscopes of color. Animal bodies hanging by hooks. Assaulted by the smells of red flesh and blood, I hurried past slimy butcher blocks. Live catfish flapping around for the last time finally lay still. Baskets of shrimp the size of my arm - not really - and chickens squawking.

A shemale swished down the aisle and all the vendors (it seemed) stopped what they were doing to jeer. I heard the hooting and catcalls and looked around confused. I caught short sight of her as she rounded a corner quickly, holding a handbag tightly, looking at no one who yelled.

Manila streets


Not famous, not backpacking

It's a good thing I'm not famous because apparently I don't do well with bodyguards. I was trailed by security the other day and within no time at all was plotting how I might sneak away unnoticed if it ever happened again.

Our promoters here in Manila are doing an excellent job taking care of us and they have local road managers and bodyguards available all day and night at the hotel. On day one in the Philippines we had a safety meeting wherein the Idols were lectured on common sense when traveling in a different country and one of the points made was that it's safe to walk around during the day but not so at night, at least where we're staying.

I've been so jet lagged that the last thing I want to do at night is walk around: I hit the wall around 8 pm. The other day, though, I had two hours before I needed to be anywhere in the afternoon so I thought I'd do one of my favorite things and wander for awhile. In the lobby, I encountered one of the ubiquitous bodyguards as I headed towards the door.

"Miss, you want to go outside?"

"Yes, I'm just going for a walk..."

"Wait, I get someone for you."

No, no I protested. I'm fine. It's daytime. But it didn't matter and a burly young man followed me. Again I tried to dissuade him. I'm just getting coffee down the street, I said.

"There's many bad people," he told me. "I walk a distance behind you."

I grimaced and froze for a moment, frowning. My reaction to having someone along during my alone time was so negative I came this close to saying sorry I can't do this and going back inside. Thankfully I resisted and started walking but anxiety set in and increased with each step.

Knowing that someone was walking behind me and watching every move made me UNCOMFORTABLE. I got so self conscious that I felt incompetent and began second-guessing everything: how fast I was walking, how I was holding my bag, crossing the street, stepping off the curb. I actually hesitated so severely while crossing one road that he hurried to join me, held out his palm and said, "Let's go," to indicate that it was safe.

I have been crossing streets by myself for 30 years now and in several countries just as crazy if not crazier than the Philippines. Didn't matter. When we got to the other side, he dropped behind and I felt horrible. Not only do I suck at life and can't cross a street, I have someone following me because I'm too much of a jerk to walk with him. Oh, shame. Over the next block I slowed and asked him a question. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that he was doing something for me, not against me. I tried smiling. It worked! He introduced himself, "My name is Nino."

Nino and I ended up getting coffee and makeup remover wipes. We walked in step and he held his hand out to make sure cars didn't run me over. He asked me if I like history and told me about Intramuros, the walled city near our hotel leftover from WWII. I remembered Matthew and his Filipino co-worker's requests for traditional balisong knives. Nino and I walked into the walled city and I found balisongs with wooden and horse bone handles. We parted friends and he asked me if I was happy, I'm guessing because I seemed so different than the straight bitch I started out as.

So I guess I had to learn some lessons: just because I've traveled and done lots of stupid things in less developed countries over the years does not mean I know a lot, if I expect other people in my group to listen to safety lectures I probably should too, traveling with American Idol is not the same as backpacking anonymously.


Waking up in Southeast Asia

Manila, Philippines

Imperial Pub copycat

Total stranger in Toronto bar last week, totally biting my style.
Photo: Jenny Lobland

48 hours in NOLA

Ginger mint juleps, voodoo, sin, crosses and Irvin Mayfield. I say yes to all of that. I just wish I'd taken photos of Kermit Ruffins at Bullet's Sports Bar.

New Orleans, Louisiana


Lush henna

You know what's really interesting? MY HAIR.

I cut it and dye it and generally mess with it so much that I end up spending a lot of time in awkward stages of growing it out. If I could stick with a hairstyle, I would look more polished overall and less like George Washington or a medieval page. But I bore easily so, oh well.

My objective at the moment is to let my hair be itself...mostly. I'm done with the blow drying and flat ironing regularly; my hair curls and flips and acts out and I want to let it. But I'm not yet at peace with its natural color which is becoming, increasingly, gray.

I was born a humungous 10-pound slab of a baby with a little tuft of brown hair. I grew into a blonde kid and graduated to honey brown in junior high, aided in part by an affinity for buying Sun-in at Walgreens. Over winter, I was a darker brown. I spent a year of high school with long, fuchsia locks. I let a friend hack that off at some point and since then have experimented going shorter, darker, lighter, blonder, redder, whateverer.

In London in 2008, I let a hair stylist have his way and he, disdainful of blonde, dyed it a deep brunette with a heavy bang and a solid platinum streak. It was blunt and unapologetic and I thought it looked really good but it took WORK. I kept it up for awhile and flat ironed it to conform but the style slowly and eventually morphed into something else AND IT COSTS MONEY to have hair professionally maintained every few months. I'm also not willing to worry about my hair at the first sight of rain or humidity for the rest of my life; I'm not that fancy.

Since then I've gone jet black (not good with my skin tone) and several shades of brown with a few bleaching phases thrown in for good (bad) measure. I screwed with my hair so much that it was undeniably damaged last year: totally fried, limp, and stringy. I responded by cutting it all off.

Today I'm smack in the middle of another George Washington-ish grow out but I'm determined to keep it healthy this time. Once I realized I couldn't afford to dye it at the salon, I had three choices:

1. Be proud of my premature* gray and flaunt that shit
2. Buy cheap color from the drugstore
3. Find a third option

I initially chose 2 and went back to Walgreens, much as I did in junior high, but fuck, people, it hurt. The fumes from the dye stung my eyes and was obviously toxic.

Around this time I mentioned to Kevin, my assistant tour manager, that Matthew and I have a soap habit. We like soap and will throw down for a bar if it's handcrafted and smells delicious. Kevin responded by buying me a gift certificate to Lush as an end of tour gift, so nice! I did buy soap but I also read all about Lush Henna, a natural dye. No joke, I read nearly 400 reviews of Lush henna and by the time I got to #399 I was convinced.

Almost every person who wrote about Lush henna said their hair is softer, shinier, bouncier, and looks better than it did before. There are no chemicals leaching into your head and your brain when you use Lush henna. And it's relatively cheap. Why isn't everyone dumping this crap on their head? Probably because they either haven't heard how magical it is or they are scared by the fact that you can't put regular dye on top of henna so if you screw it up, you have to deal.

They may also be put off by the procedure: it sits for 4 - 8 hours before you rinse it out. It comes in blocks that look like baker's chocolate. You boil water, grate the blocks of color, mix up the four hues (Caca Rouge, Caca Marron, Caca Brun, Caca Noir) or use just one. Make a paste with the grated henna and slop/comb it into your hair. I rub vaseline around my ears and hairline, cover everything in sight with saran wrap including my head when I'm done, and then walk around with a shower cap on for the rest of the afternoon.

I know I'm not really addressing the fact that I could just HAVE GRAY HAIR. I'm not ready. I look at my mom who has the coolest most beautiful hair, who gets compliments on her naturally silver, naturally curly crazy hair all the time. She says that when she's in a room with women her age, she's often the only one who isn't dyed to kingdom come. She looks so, so good and I admire that she doesn't hide anything and isn't afraid of her age or her hair but I'm not there yet. Perhaps we shall delve into why in a later post?

Saran Wrap, headband, blocks of Caca Marron & Caca Rouge, cheese grater, rubber gloves, tea kettle, shower cap, mixing bowl, photo of llama for visual interest

The last time I used Lush henna was on one of our recent days off. It was rainy and sucky out, the perfect time to hole up in a hotel room with a shower cap on my head, hoping no one pulled the fire alarm.

*I may be too old to call my gray "premature". Humor me.


Laughing quietly to myself

About one of the Idols who was getting nostalgic for the end of tour and going around the bus telling everyone how much he loves them. When he got to me he said, "Jess, I feel like if I kiss you you're going to knee me in the crotch so I'll just give you a hug." And maybe I'm wrong but I feel like there was love implicit in his understanding me so well.


Natural Ass vs. Natural Gas

I watched the documentary Gasland this Spring and it scared the spit out of me. I didn't know anything about natural gas drilling and the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and was struck by how easily I would have assumed it was a good source of energy just because it wasn't oil. Maybe it's the word "natural". It makes it sound so peaceful. It's not. It's f'ing frightening. Go get a glass of water in the middle of the night and your tap bursts into flames, live with constant headaches and nausea, the health of your body and your land and your water and your pets in decline, slowly poisoned, FRIGHTENING. It's happening all over the U.S.

I recently met a woman named Jaime who works at the arena we played in Long Island. She came up to me to ask me if I'm Jess and then introduced herself. She's dating Ronnie, who gave me my first touring job, and she knows his friend Ariel, who was also my friend in New York. I emailed Ronnie and Ariel, giddy with excitement as it's been two years that I've been in contact with either and haven't seen Ariel in six.

Ariel and Jaime gave me the website of a project he founded this year, Pedal Power NYC, and it is hilariously creative and inspired. Pedal Power NYC put on a concert in Union Square powered by humans riding bicycles. Natural Ass, not Natural Gas. Brilliant. I cannot wait to get my ass on one of those bike generators and help put on a show.

“Pedal Power is an action that demonstrates the creative energy within our community. It demonstrates our ability to make our own energy choices, and it demonstrates the will of a city that is infinitely more powerful than the kilowatt hours it consumes. We will not solve our energy and water challenges on bikes alone, but through purposeful actions in this spirit, we will be the generators of our clean water future. Pedal On!”

The Natural Ass Sessions - NYC from Pedal Power NYC on Vimeo.


Outdoor community movie theater

Once I see something like this, I know I'm going to like a place.

Providence, RI

Never Never

Kickstarter is one the newest coolest things I've heard about. I know about it thanks to Megan and have contributed only to her project so far but how badass it to see her, in her words, CRUSH HER GOAL and get to finish her album with the support of hundreds of people? Veeeeeeery. DIY, just do it. Here's a video that she just made.


I drank an americano at Bard Coffee in Portland, Maine and read the local weekly. An article about Market Street Eats made my mouth water so I looked up the address and walked a few blocks to buy a wrap at the sandwich shop, an avocado melt. Everything the article said about the food was true, so dang good I went back for breakfast.

When I stepped in the second time, the guy who took my order the day before said, "Hey Jessica..." all casual, like we've been homies forever when our entire relationship actually consisted of him writing my name on the food ticket yesterday.

"Hey," I said and complimented his memory, "Nice one..."

While I waited for my breakfast sandwich, I wandered around and looked at the walls, at the license plates, bumper stickers (Jesus would signal, Who died and made you Elvis?), artwork, and photographs and then I saw Desiderata.

As has so much lately, the timing felt auspicious. Not everything in the poem spoke to me specifically and I don't mean to sound as if I'm in some sort of spiritual crisis but this has been a summer of challenges, conflicts, and confrontations. I've also cackled and chuckled but the laughs don't loom as large. It's been exhausting at times, exhilarating at others. I've questioned a lot what goes on around me, what goes on inside me, and how I handle the both.

Overall, I'm proud. I still have to order myself everyday to get my nose out of the paperwork and keep laughing, that it's all part of a bigger picture and all learning. I don't know what part of that learning curve I'm on but I'm riding the hell out of it.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.