Monday, May 28, 2012

Magic Castle

I got invited to go to The Magic Castle this past week!  Yes!   I called up my friend Johnnie and we went last night. Oh, fortunate am I to have crossed paths with a magician years ago.  Thank my lucky stars that I am friendly.  

That's a good story in itself, actually.  I was out at the Cat & Fiddle with my friends and I started talking to this guy who then started doing magic tricks at our table, like, really seriously good ones.  He levitated my glass of beer, for one.  We couldn't quite get over that.  

Then, he said he was going to try and levitate the actual pitcher and a small crowd was assembled.  I was his assistant, holding the pitcher, and he told me to let go when I didn't feel any weight, but, though it got lighter, I didn't think it was time to let go, and all of a sudden the pitcher exploded!  And to this day, I don't know if that was intentional or not.  But I always felt like our focus and energy was just too mighty for that pitcher and we made it explode together.  That's my story, and he always humored it, so, well, we'll never really know.

And from that night on, I have had a magician friend in the world, David Minkin.  Every so often, he'll perform at The Magic Castle for a week, and that's when I get to go.  I've been twice before, and was truly dazzled both times, so I was absolutely on board to go again.

I love the grandeur of going there.  The dress code is strict, so everyone is dressed to the nines and you walk in (by saying "open sesame" to a book shelf that turns to let you in!) and feel instantly transported back to some stately Victorian palace party.  Chandeliers and paintings and books and dark wood and rooms full of elegance and, some, even history.    

Johnnie had never been there before, so that added an element of fun for me.  We seemed to have really good timing with everything, too.  Right when we got there, we got a glass of wine and started exploring.  And there is so much to explore.  

Although from the outset the building doesn't look that big, once inside, it's just a maze of stairways and caverns and rooms.  And right away, Johnnie and I happened upon a small crowd gathered around a table in a stone room deep within the cellar of the castle.  We pulled up a couple of chairs and joined in.  

A magician with long gray hair slicked back in a ponytail performed card trick upon card trick, the likes of which I have never seen before.  Each more unbelievable than the last, because it seemed more like mind reading than card trickery.  These were truly baffling tricks, and we were right in front of him!  I don't even get it.  Simply put, we were astounded from the start.

Then, we wandered some more and decided to get in line early for David's show.  It turned out, however, that we were in line for a different show, so we just rolled with it and got to be amazed a second time by another magician.  And we just jumped back in line after that show to watch David, who was up next.  

His shows are the most beautiful to me.  Part of it is his personality itself.  His mannerisms are gentle and humble.  So his magic is performed on this delicate and graceful level that really captivates me.  It seems to make it all the more mysterious and real at the same time.  Like he's showing us the magnificent possibilities of the world, that for some reason he has harnessed and wants to share.  Which, on a certain level, is actually the truth. 

My favorite part is when he brings the whole crowd together to make rain.  We tap our feet and snap our fingers, and  it creates the most soft and soothing rain sound and he starts squeezing water out of the air.  Yes, you'd have to see it to understand, but I can tell you that it is one of the most mesmerizing experiences I've ever known.  

I was so happy to be there, at the magical Magic Castle, spell bound and entranced all night.  Possibly happier than anyone else there, or, at least, certainly the most vocal about it.  I admit that the concert whistle even came out a few times, which may or may not have been appropriate in such an intimate and fancy setting, but, honestly, I couldn't help myself.  I just have to express how impressed and entertained and happy I am sometimes, and the concert whistle is my go-to response for that level of enthusiasm and appreciation.  Curmudgeons will just have to deal with that one, I guess.

I don't know, but that place is like some sort of dream.  Where I find myself in a mystical place and time. Sometimes I think these people aren't just magicians doing magic tricks, but true magical beings.  Every time I'm there, it just feels like the place is filled with wizards and leprechauns and, for some glorious reason, they have welcomed me into their domain for the evening.  I like to think that anyway, because that's sure what it seems like, and it delights the child in my heart, who wouldn't see it any other way. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Divine Puzzle

I had a wonderfully active week!  Full of my favorite things.  Which was lovely.  Just lovely.

My friend Johnnie took me to dinner at 25 Degrees the other night.  Well, now, you know I love that place.  We got a small carafe of Malbec wine, something I've lately discovered, Malbec.  And I remembered again that I love it when wine is served in carafes.  And we split a veggie burger with portobello mushrooms and blue cheese that was so mouthwateringly delicious.  Johnnie shares my fondness for cheese, and we have braved some interesting ones together in our dining history.  A long and storied history that has been.  And I'm glad I made that friend so many years ago.

I also wandered up to the night-time farmer's market again this week.  Which, I'm realizing, is becoming a weekly thing for me so maybe I should stop writing about it, except, it's just so amazing up there and every time it's different and even when I go by myself I am pulled into such a lush and majestic experience that hinges on overwhelming me with gratitude that it just seems to merit a nod of thanks every time I go.  I mean, I kind of can't get over the fact that I have all of that right up the hill from me every week for four months a year.  And we're starting season three of this thing!  And I still can't get over it!  So that answers that question.  Jaded, I am not.  Forever starry eyed, yes.   Though I think we've already figured that one out.

Again, though.  Impressed.  This time the jazz band wasn't there and in it's stead there was a really good, instrumental country band playing.  So I was walking around gathering carrots, and avocados, and hummus, and felt transported to some sort of old-fashioned town festival.  Whatever I think old-fashioned town festivals felt like, well, I sure hope they were like that, because those people would have had some fun!  It's just so nice to go somewhere and be immersed in such a joyful and bustling crowd.  Outside.  Above the shimmering city.  Oh, here I go.  Just, I love it.

Then, I was lucky enough to have my AT&T friend join me in the park for badminton two afternoons in a row!  Happiness.   That's just one of my favorite sports of all time.  And I don't quite know why.   Because it's a funny one.  I don't know if it's because I have mad skills or if it's my association with lawn parties of old, but I could play it every day.  Maybe, though, I just love running around in the grass barefoot in the shade of the trees in the park getting exercise and laughing.  

Maybe that's why it was such a good week for me, actually.  Because I spent a lot of time outside.  I need the trees and stars and breeze and flowers.  And, this week, I got the ocean, too.

I had to go to Manhattan Beach the other day and so I sat for a while watching the water, reminiscing about the time I spent living there.  That was the first town I landed in when I moved to LA.  My god, I would never have believed that I would end up in Hollywood some day, so happy.  When I lived there, I pretty much just surfed and enjoyed the company of my friends before we quite understood that we had to figure out the real world and that there would be confusion to come, but also, before we knew that all of that confusion would lead us somewhere, and, I believe, somewhere good.

I've been thinking about that a lot this week.  The paths our lives take, and how all of the twists and turns and unanticipated and unplanned events seem to lead us to the right place anyway.  Which is why I really trust it by now.  Because I've long watched it fall into place eventually.  

I believe it enough that I created a term for it long ago.  I call it the divine puzzle.  Because that's what it all began to feel like for me at some point.  Once I really analyzed it looking back, it just struck me.  I can almost take any single event and see how it had to be there in order for my existence to be intact.  And sometimes, it just blows my mind, and I'm just like, wait, how did it know back then that I needed that for today to happen?  And that's why I call it divine.  

It's just remarkable, watching it work somehow.  It's kind of like, just wait, you'll see.  There is something beautiful there, but we need to gather some more of the pieces before we can see that part of the picture.  Which is why I am patient with my life.  And so enamored by it. 

These pieces of my life are creating this masterpiece.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Velvet Margarita

This week has been so good and I am a blessed person!  First off, I managed to make it to The Velvet Margarita last week!  Fortunately, for me, my AT&T friend is always enthusiastic to get out with me and discover the Hollywood that I know and love.  And, oh, how I love showing it to people.

Especially The Velvet Margarita.

That place, now, that's my place.  I put in my time there back in the day!  It was like family.  It was one of those places I could go to by myself and just hang out for a while, on nights of wanderlust, when I just felt like being out in the world.  I don't go there very much anymore, but I still know I can always walk in there and get a hug or two and it's sort of like, "Welcome back.  We had a good run, didn't we?"  And we all get it.  Because those really were the good old days there.

It's still wonderful, though, every time.  And I love taking people there who haven't been, because I sort of get to see it afresh, through the eyes of another.  There's a lot to take in.  It's really dark and red and velvety and there are two screens above the bar playing old black and white movies, usually ones with Elvis in them, with subtitles.  In the walls are Mexican puppets and the bathrooms are tiled with Mexican tarot cards (my favorite, as you may recall).

The food is incredible, but even if you don't want to get dinner, their chips and salsa are possibly the best I've had.  And anyone I know who's been there, when we confer about the place, gets all dreamy about the chips and salsa.  Because they serve their chips with a salsa tree, of sorts.  A metal stand with four branches holding different delectable dips.  It's pretty memorable.

Going there and feeling so at home always reminds me how very enmeshed I am in this place, Hollywood.  It's a good feeling.  And I felt it again this week when I walked up to the Hollywood Bowl to buy my tickets for the season.  Hooray! 

And I'm relieved as well, because it was still a cinch, when it sounded like this year it was going to be a hassle, as they changed the system that I knew and loved.  Distributing wristbands and such.  But, no, all went well.

I walked up there early on Tuesday with my coffee and a book thinking it would be a mess of people.  But no one was there yet, so I wandered the grounds alone for a while.  Walking into the empty amphitheater in the early, cool morning was so beautiful.  I looked up at the bleachers and walked onto the stage and just sort of welcomed it back and thanked it for giving me all of these years of happiness and love and memories.  It felt somewhat ceremonial for me in that moment.  

And it might sound dramatically romantic to be so touched by a hill full of bleachers, but I couldn't help it.  I've just had such a string of vast and favorite experiences there with so many lovely people and picnics and music.  Some of my heart will forever remain on that hillside.  It truly will.  

Well, finally, I interrupted my sentimental tribute to go wait in line at the box office.  I was first!  Unbelievable.  But somehow, believable.  

I was a bit worried, because it seemed like this year the prices were going to be a lot more than previous years, and all the good tickets may have sold out over the opening weekend.  Except, I must just have some really good luck with that place, because when I asked the price for one of the shows on my list, the clerk was like, "Oh wow!  I have two $1 seats still available!  I thought we sold all of those!"  

Well, with that news, I broke into a brief, inadvertent and unrestrained happy dance while singing unmelodically, "It's like the good old days!"  She got a good chuckle out of that.  I didn't check, but probably the people waiting in line did too.

Really, though, that was a large part of the appeal when I started going there so long ago.  The charm of buying multiple tickets for a bunch of shows in the cheap seats because those seats went for 1 to 4 dollars.  I realize, now, in writing that, that I sound like I've been going there since 1937 and should just get over inflation already, but really, this was in the aughts of this millennium!   

So, I'm happy and thankful that, so far, I've managed to maintain my small tradition every summer.  At this point everyone knows the whole routine is pretty sacred to me. 

But, I know as well as anyone that things just continue to change.  Traditions like that can't last forever.  So, I tend to stay prepared for the eventual and inevitable shifts.    

I do, however, keep feeling blessed about the things that are still intact as I've always known them, like The Velvet Margarita and my Hollywood Bowl ritual.  Because who knows what the future holds with either of them.  Or with me.  Or with anything, for that matter.  Love it while you've got it.  That, I know.   Which might just explain my enthusiasm for chips and salsa and impulsive dances of joy.

Monday, May 7, 2012


The world was kind to me this week.  It really was.  I had a couple of little adventures with my friends, which to me is just the most delectably perfect way to exist.  And it made me realize, I truly do love sharing this life with people.  I'm not pretending about that one.  

First off, I managed to gather my little posse together to join me at the Yamashiro Farmer's Market!  I got them into it last summer, so they were all eager to return.  I walked up there to meet them, and Bethany and Johnny spied me by the oranges and we all went to sample the kettle corn until Jessica and Agatha arrived.  

What a good night!  That place never ceases to impress me with the mood it invokes.  The music and people and lights of the city below.  And everyone got the sliders from Yamashiro's own food stand, while I nibbled on the homemade chips dipped in what we think was Sriracha ketchup.  Kind of amazing.  

And we shared wine and then walked into the Japanese gardens that wrap around the front of the hill below the restaurant and found an available bench and some of us sat in the grass by this small pond, the pond, that, yes, I suggested jumping into because I simply cannot be near a body of water without wanting to jump into it.  Everyone said it was probably the scuzziest water ever, but still, even with imitation nature, I am still tempted to dip my toes in.  As with everything.

Being up there at night is just so extraordinary, especially in those gardens with a glass of wine.  The city is sparkling, and the music is like LA's heartbeat in the background.  Here you are.  Love this all.  All is well.  Look around.  All is well.  Which is something that I need, moments like that, just feeling everything alive and taking it in.  It's something that pacifies me and helps me regroup when I think too much and things start to feel a little confusing again.  

And all really was well that night up there.  It's nights like that, when I am just surrounded by so many of the things that I love, that just nourish my whole being.  And I am dumbfounded with awe.  How did I get here?  What is this and how can it be so painstakingly glorious?  Just sitting on a hillside by a fake stream with my friends, so happily.  And somehow we all ended up here and ended up crossing paths and ended up living in this life together.  It's always going to be ok.  It really is.

We met up again the other night to watch the Mayweather fight at Bethany and Johnny's new apartment.  Now, there's a story, because, I mean, if you know me, you're probably wondering what I'm doing going to watch a boxing match.  But, to tell the truth, I'm rather seasoned and well-versed in boxing at this point.  

The first boxing match I ever signed up to watch was the last Mayweather fight.  It's kind of a funny story.  Some might say embarrassing, but I am me and forever will be.  And my friends, they love me for that.

We got together to watch that first fight at Jessica and Agatha's place.  Same crew, different night.  I had no idea what I was in for, to be honest.  I mean, I know what boxing is.  But I have sort of intentionally sheltered myself from the general viewing of beatings as recreation and sport, so it's not exactly old hat.  

However much I logically did prime myself to watch that match, I guess I couldn't prepare myself quite enough.  I went over it very pragmatically beforehand, too.  They are getting paid a lot to do this.  They are choosing to do this.  They are using a skill set that took time and training and devotion to acquire.  It's a sport.  They are physically and mentally anticipating being punched.  They're not mad at each other.

Well, it wasn't quite enough.  There was a fight before the Mayweather match.  My first boxing viewing ever.  It was all going all right, and my logic was working, until the red headed kid from Mexico, well, toward the end of his fight he had the upper hand and just started railing into his opponent so hard that I burst into tears, to my own surprise, because, I mean, I was ready for this, and just immediately got up and exited the room.  

And I hear that Johnny looked at Bethany and was just like, "Is she…crying?"  And sweet Bethany, knowing me so well after all of these years, was just like, "Yeah, she is, she's fine."  And I was in the other room literally laughing out loud at myself because I was crying at a boxing match, even after all of my preparation!  I mean, I knew it was ridiculous.  But something about that sudden surge of punching a human being triggered something in me that I could not help.  At some fundamental level of compassion, in that split second, I could not register that it was a consensual sport.  

So, praises be, I commend them all for even inviting me over to watch boxing again!  Because I sure don't want to miss out on a gathering.  But, I guess, we'd all rather be with each other just as we are than not at all.  Those are true friendships.  When they don't want you to see the world how they do, but love you for seeing it how you do.

Well, the other night, I immediately recognized that red head from Mexico.  He was in the match prior to Mayweather once again.  I was just like, ooh, that guy.  I remember him.  And I remembered body stats and everything.  Everyone was surprised by my boxing knowledge at that point, but I could never forget that kid.   

I handled myself much better this time.  But I knew what to expect, too, and so I primarily focused on the pizza and vegetable platter, for the most part.  I occasionally watched the calculation of the fight at slower moments, and had some opinions on technique, but still, I did turn my head when it just felt too brutal, which was most of the time.  Because I will never really be unaffected.  It does seem barbaric.  

But that's me, and the way I've always been.  I can't even squash a bug.  I just look at the little guy and think, he's just playing his natural role in the eco-system.  We're all just trying to get by and serve our purpose.  It's tough enough as it is without having to worry about someone squishing you. 

Still, though, I like having my loving and understanding group of friends who will invite me to watch the boxing match even though I'm so sensitive.  They just take me for what I am.   And would rather have me there, even if I cry at boxing, than not have me there at all.  Those are good friends.  I am forever blessed.  It's a good life. 
And all is well.