Episode #3 – Teaching Maria to Dance Salsa

In Episode #3 of “Teaching Comics to Dance Salsa” I give a lesson to dear long-time friend, genius comic Maria Bamford!  Maria and I touch on “LA Style Salsa” vs. “New York Style Salsa,” the intimate nature of partner dance, body rolls, salsa sweat, and we practice our arm “ladies styling.”

Maria’s talent is so amazing that even after twenty-years of friendship, I am in awe of her when working with her on a project.  I love this lady!

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Reading of “Cantina Confidential”

I will be reading and selling my mother’s historical fiction, “Cantina Confidential” on August 5th at the Pop-Hop in Highland Park.

This historical non-fiction depicts a vivid portrait of migrant life and bracero culture. Any student of California history and Chicano studies will find her work an invaluable and well-researched resource, as well as a story filled with intrigue and mystery.

Description: In this historical chronicle by Rafaela G. Castro, one family becomes entangled in the scandals and secrets of a small migrant town.

In the 1940s, a young couple, Jose Luis and Blanca, start their married lives in the fictional California village of Suntown in the San Joaquin Valley. However, external forces and a personal mistake lead to a tragic incident.

Decades later, Blanca’s daughter, Luz, stumbles across a photograph and a mysterious letter to her mother that hints at a closely guarded secret and signed by a person known only as “D. S.” Determined to learn the truth about her mother’s relationship to this man, Luz journeys to the San Joaquin Valley to find him. In the process she discovers the rich, untold history of the struggle of migrant laborers to survive, live, and love in 1940s Central California.

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Episode #2 – Teaching Christine to Dance Salsa

I got to teach Christine Little some salsa moves, but she didn’t need my help.

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When You Know The Movie Is Racist, But Russell Crowe Is Hot

Movie Genre: Awesome Sexual Chemistry

“Glow.” Done. “House of Cards” and “Dear White People.”  Done.  I couldn’t get into any of the other new Netflix series, which seem to be produced at a blog-rate, so I scrolled through movies and saw “Proof of Life.”  I remember believing that Russell Crowe reached his peak-hunk stage during this film and that he and Meg Ryan had great chemistry. Aside the very problematic racist depictions of the fictional Latin American country of “Tecala” (Peru? Colombia? Russell Crowe looking all buff, who cares?) and some macho violence (this is probably a bad movie…am I terrible?) it’s a beautiful triangulated love story.

So Peter Bowman and his wife Alice live in Tecala where Peter works to build a damn sponsored by an evil oil company. They have marital problems and she had a miscarriage in Africa, and she doesn’t want to have another baby in a third world country. (Boo! Third World Countries! USA has one of the highest infant mortality rate in the western world, and miscarriages happen anywhere…but Alice is an American.

Then Peter gets kidnapped! Enter Russell Crowe. He’s a hostage negotiator whose company works for the oil company. He see’s Meg Ryan, all broken up, adorable and skinny (she has puffy lips, but this was pre-extreme face work and she still looks like herself) and falls in love. But it turns out evil oil company didn’t have an insurance policy on kidnapping, so Terry bails and leaves poor Alice with the second rate degenerate Tecalan security guard who tries to run off with Alice and Peter’s 50K.  Terry of course, feels guilty and returns to help Alice with guns and asks the guys to leave.  LIKE A MAN. The women are screaming and crying, and it’s all pretty insulting, but still…Russell Crowe. Yes, he fulfills many unfair gender stereotypes; he’s tough, cool, and emotionally distant, but he also listens and has a job to do. Above all, he’s a soldier and he’s competent. Unlike the Tecalan thugs who can’t broker a deal IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY.

Over the following months, Russell Crowe lives with Meg Ryan and tries to negotiate for Peter’s release, who is living in a tent in the mountains with stoned Peruvians. This part is very problematic as Peter is a tall white engineer and the “Telacans” are short, impoverished, dark skinned and according to the filmmaker not too bright. Yet, we are meant to root for the tall white man. He has sympathy for the women, but he can outsmart these dumb thugs.  Ok, so this was 2000, not sure why I should forgive it, but this is not a fair fight. He could show a little more compassion, understanding, historical resonance for a people who had their country raped and now have to resort to kidnapping. Or the movie could…but still: Russell Crowe.

Meanwhile, Terry and Alice build a soul-mate intimacy.  It’s clear that they are in love, but this passion can never be consummated.  Alice loves her husband and is a devoted wife, and Terry isn’t an immature needy idiot. He’s not a home-wrecker, even though there are no children or home to wreck.  He could very easily write off Peter for dead and seduce the grieving wife.  But he has honor. Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe did have an affair during the making of the film and their method acting paid off.  Movie genre: HOT SEXUAL CHEMISTRY.

Peter and a co-prisoner try to escape, but Peter gets caught. The prisoner escapes but informs everyone that Peter is probably dead. A lesser man than Russell Crowe could have said, “Score!” and let it go. But his job is, in essence, to save the union that will break his heart.  He’s no mopey, whiney Joseph Gordon Levitt character from  “500 Days of Summer.” Soldiers can deal with broken hearts. UNFAIR GENDER STEREOTYPE…but still…Russell Crowe.

Russell Crowe and David Caruso go in on a special op reconnaissance mission with fatigues and face paint. But first….first…he and Meg Ryan have their moment. A night of passionate love making? No. Months of work to save the husband of the woman he loves and all he gets is one make-out session!  But it’s enough. Why? Because he’s a fucking grown up!

He and David Caruso rescue Peter, kill a bunch of Tecalan thugs (again, these are poor, dark skinned people, so their live are not important).  Peter shoots his captor and we should applaud?… Had he developed some compassion for the struggles of indigenous cultures in Latin America, this could have been a great movie…but alas, Hollywood…

Peter is brought back to Alice. He is grateful to Terry. But he knows something is up with his wife. You can’t leave your wife hanging out with a super buff soldier hostage negotiator for five months and just have her be all “See ya!”  But it’s OK, because aside from not understanding anything outside of his white Western brain, Peter is an adult. He lets Alice and Terry say their final good-byes. He will have adorable Alice for the rest of his life.  While the movie lacks any progressive ideas of gender, race, or the plight of the third world, it redeems itself with the emotional good will of what could be a messy love triangle. Great acting by Meg Ryan, whose presence on the screen I truly miss.  Despite it all, I truly enjoyed it.

In Lindy West’s awesome book “Shrill” she says, “In a certain light, feminism is just the long, slow realization that the stuff you love hates you.” Damn, she’s so right.

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When In Berkeley…

Childhood friend Alicia and me at King.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1995 amidst a flurry of condescending eye-rolls and pitiful looks followed by, “Why? I hate LA!”  Twenty years later, Kevin Bacon and Mobe declare LA “cool” enough to live in. WHOSE ROLLING THEIR EYES NOW?

I also get judge-y about people thinking that Berkeley is “cool.”  I’m sorry, Michael Chabon, but you don’t get to just buy a house here after making a lot of money on your bestseller novel without going through the very real, terror for your life and daily sexual-assault that was 1984-1986 of King Junior High School.

Yesterday, I had lunch with two close friends and we shook our heads when one told us that in her research of schools for her daughter she discovered that King Junior High is now one of the BEST schools in Berkeley.  King Junior High was where my best friend and I deemed our tag name to be “Ladies of The Night” — WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANT…but still, someone should have told us.  I am still going through my box of notes written to me (old fashioned text messages) by my band of Wet n’ Wild painted friends and sometimes dream of making movie with the rights to the “Purple Rain” album. (Because otherwise, really, what is the point?).

I drive around Berkeley now and it looks like a glorious, urban, college-town utopia of windy streets filled with craftsman homes and large trees. It’s hard to believe that Berkeley felt like a scary place to me in the early 80s.  To this day, marijuana still smells like public parks during remedial English class and absent fathers. I watched young kids lose their personality to excess drugs, I watched fights. I did not witness gun violence, despite attending “urban” schools, but I felt a distinct sense that the world had no sense or order. Growing up in Berkeley and Oakland, I always felt more aware of the “decay” part of “urban decay.”

Thanks to technology, Berkeley and Oakland have undergone the same organic, locally-grown fabulousness of New York or any once “cool” place.  The debate on the morality or benefits of gentrification have some merit. And sure I don’t necessarily mind walking down 4th street to buy a Crate n’ Barrel olive wood nibble bowl for or eye gel.  And I know that nostalgia will always make me think that life was better when bars had two beers (Miller or Budweiser) and 13-year-olds had the freedom to go to parks and abuse their bodies with mild marijuana in the middle of the day.

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Episode #1 – Teaching Kazu to Dance Salsa

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The Gilead Handmaids Are More Feminist Than American Women

I keep thinking about the last scene of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” when Aunt Lydia (or Patty form “The Leftovers”) congregates the handmaids at an open field.  One of them says, “God, I hate stonings,” like she has to listen to an election speech at a high school assembly.  Then they cart out crazy Janine/Ofwarren, the rebellious unstable handmaid who lost one eye for being loud and combative, and most recently her baby.  Everyone loves Janine and so June/Offred refuses to throw a stone.  She will endure ritualized rape, having her body treated like an incubator, but fuck if she is going to throw a stone at crazy-one-eyed-blow-job-giving Janine.  There is nothing if not female allegiance among the Handmaids. They have no choice but to ally. Because they have no choices.

The world of the Handmaid’s is not unlike what goes on in most of the non-Western world; women are brutally subjugated, in this case, not allowed to work, own property, control money, read and fed the message that unattached procreating is a high honor. Even Mexico wants American Handmaids (Side note: Mexico would never come to the US for fertile women…I love the show, but seriously, hire some Mexican writers!)  

So, back in real-life present-day America, women don’t literally stone each other, just go after each other in Internet scandal dramas.  Recently Iliza Shlesinger got hit big time for saying the following:

I could walk into The Improv, close my eyes, and I can’t tell one girl’s act apart from another. That’s not saying that 30-something white guys don’t all sound the same sometimes, but I’m banging my head against the wall because women want to be treated as equals, and we want feminism to be a thing, but it’s really difficult when every woman makes the same point about her vagina, over and over.

I don’t know Iliza, but if I sat her down, I doubt she would say that the subject matter of “vagina” is really the problem.  I know comics who talk about their vag-es in original and unique ways that cause tears to roll down my face and because I don’t want to tell someone else’s joke, please, just see Judith Shelton perform.  But more often what I hear from women about our shared bodily parts makes me uncomfortable because they seem unconscious of the possible underlying intenting on turning on horny twenty-something year old men, plugged into The Patriarchy, and unaware of their struggle to find their authentic voice.  Unless your authentic voice is “I like anal sex…” you don’t fall in this category.  I don’t blame young women new to comedy, I don’t hate them, I don’t think I am better than them, I just think, “Here is a young woman standing in front of a room full of mostly men asserting that she can make them laugh — a weird situation — she’s trying to figure out how to engage young men…” And how do you hold a man’s attention…hmmm…how?!”

For some reason the reaction from female comics who felt that Iliza’s comments were directed at them was to tear down Iliza Shlesinger.  I guess she defended herself until she finally realized she is a grown woman and doesn’t have to explain herself, which is more than you can say about her attackers.

What surprises me (and when I say surprised I mean  not surprised at all), is that female comics sit in rooms where men repeatedly call women whores, cunts, talk about beating up prostitutes behind dumpsters (I have heard this premise five or six times), joke about female rape and gang bangs. Personally, I don’t feel that this supports my heroine’s journey, but maybe that is rare.  For some female comics its OK because of “free speech” and “art” and all this allegiance with male comics who — for the most part — don’t give a fuck about them.  Who listens to female comics?  Other women.  Why? Because we are women, we are in very similar body suits and I am most interested in hearing a woman’s take on what it’s like to live with ovaries and hormones, and fear of a culture and society where women’s rights and freedoms seems so unstable that a show like “The Handmaid’s Tale” feels like a documentary of the future.

Over a year ago Gloria Steinem told Bill Mahr that young women supported Bernie Sanders because that’s “where the boys are” and women went after her as if she hadn’t led the women’s movement for forty years.  Meanwhile stripper-loving Bill Mahr got off scot free and went on to test his white male entitlement by using of the n-word on TV. What shocking impropriety has Gloria Steinem gone on to do? Continue to be bas ass.

Oh, and do you remember Hillary Clinton? Yeah, women hated her, too. Well, good thing that didn’t hurt us at all…it’s disappointing because women are like lobsters in a pot that is boiling and yet we can only see far enough to the the lobster trying to get out of the pot.  Not the society and culture that controls the heat nobs.  In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Serena Joy, is more of an abusive bitch than her husband, but she is in the pot, she is part of the system.  Iliza, Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, these are all privileged white women, and maybe that privilege allows them the awareness g to know that there is this boiling turnt up situation going on. THEY ARE NOT THE PROBLEM.

The handmaid’s are more feminist than Ameircan women because that is what happens when you hit rock bottom. There is no more denial. There is no more, maybe I can just ignore my female-ness, or my skin color. It’s a place you get beaten down into.

Just please don’t stone me.

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I Apologize

I am not worthy.

I just want to say that I’m so so sorry.  SO SORRY.  I’m sorry for any offense I caused when I expressed what looked like disapproval and criticism.  I understand that the world is inherently opposed to any negative feelings a woman expresses. However,  for a brief moment I forgot and indecently revealed my true feelings about bigotry, rampant assault against women (starting with our president), the dissolution of immigrant rights, violence against African-Americans, racism against Latino people, the thousands of poorly-constructed rape jokes spoken by upper middle class-born white males at open mics consisting of 90% males,  hostility and discrimination towards my gender in the work place and the general sense that I need permission and approval before I can open my mouth and speak what I think is “truth” but is probably just the factually-inaccurate workings of my simple female brain.  I forgot my place. And for that I apologize.  Please, accept my apology.

I want to live.

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LA Haiku

Existential drive
405 to audition
Help Target Starbucks

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The Morally Superior Alpha: Why I Can’t Stand Bernie Sanders

Is Waldorf Bernie Sanders’ spirit animal?

Anytime I post anything critical of Bernie Sanders random male acquaintances come out of the woodwork with their essay-comment posts or their “facts” about Hilary, and I have to ask myself why I bother to engage with a universe of people I hardly know in a debate that can’t be won because the issue is mine: I  despise Bernie Sanders.

I am trying to figure out why I hate Bernie Sanders so much.   Sure, he arguably assisted in the failure of the democratic party to unify after the primaries, treated Hillary with a baseless lack of respect (called her “unqualified”), lost by 3.7 million votes but still believes he could have won the general election, won’t deem Jon Ossof “progressive” but then endorses anti-abortion candidate Heath Mello (because “that’s what politics is about”).   As a Facebook commenter said, the hypocrisy is staggering. That’s all good reason to doubt his reputation as some Great Democratic Leader, but why does he inspire so much loathing?

Who is Bernie Sanders? A brand that appeals to white liberal people who see themselves as morally superior. That’s all fine, if he had not also preyed on the deep-seated ingrained misogyny in our culture to direct vitriol towards Hillary, and never made amends for it after he lost (again, by 3.7 million votes). He’s never acknowledged to women or democrats his open display of contempt for this  amazing, albeit complicated, and history-making woman.  And I hate him because as a woman I continue to live in the misogynist society whose cultural attitudes he exploited to further his own ego.   If Trump let the dogs out of open racism, Bernie jacked the already open door of hatred for highly competent and intelligent women.  SO I THINK WE LADIES DESERVE AN APOLOGY!

His endorsement of Mello literally made me want to throw up…But I know that my feelings — when they reach this level of rage — go deeper than said person. Just as extreme anti-Hilary people might project their own unprocessed rage mixed with misogyny onto her (or any other woman, public, or otherwise), I think he touches a nerve.   I don’t think I am a misandrist (hater of men), but I do despise two types of men who wreck havoc on our world and, yet, can not be destroyed: the Narcissistic Alpha Male (NAM) and the Morally Superior Alpha Male (MSAM).

The  NAM (Donald Trump) is the shamelessly entitled, sociopath, liar, who can do anything he wants. He can act generously or selfishly or whatever, it is justified.  It’s almost better if he does a horrible thing and everyone acts like it’s OK, because it reinforces the basic belief structure of the NAM: he can get away with anything. He is the top dog. King of the jungle.  While I stay away from these types, I have to respect the intrinsic matter-of-factness — not to be confused with honesty — of their attitude; in a way you know what you’re getting. If you expect anything other than rampant self-interest from a Narcissistic Alpha Male, then you are the one who was mistaken.  Like Trump supporters, you may need to be woken up from a coma.  And I realize that this is a “blame the victim” mentality, but it’s also a “survive in the world” life lesson that I hope I’ve learned.

But Bernie Sanders is a slightly different animal.  And I say only slightly because while he contains all the entitlement and ego of any alpha male, he actually see’s himself as a “good person.”  I like to think that I’ve reached a maturation process and/or seen enough documentaries about Rwanda to know that, for the most part, barring genocidal leaders, there are no “good” or “bad” people in this f-d up world.   There are “reasonable,” “committed,” and “hard working” people.  There are “insecure” people, and there are “scared” people who might follow genocidal leaders  We are all human and capable of good and evil.  I have acted in ridiculous ways in my past that mortify me now.   Maybe it’s therapy or age, but if you go through a reflective process, you realize that the word “good” works best in Disney films and Star Wars.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t get this. He has convinced his followers that if they voted for him, they could see themselves as “good” righteous people who understand the true way.  I understand why an educated liberal white person wants to believe that slavery happened so long ago that we don’t have to feel associated with it anymore.   But it wasn’t that long ago, and it did build America to what it is today.   But the Morally Superior Alpha Bernie is not interested in self-reflection, he wants to believe that we are, in fact, so good and right that we can bypass all the ways that generations of racism and misogyny still live and breathe in our systems.   The Messianic complex gives free reign to general righteousness.   A guy like Bernie Sanders can ignore women’s rights, family rights, and abortion rights because as a morally superior alpha male, his set of priorities is without question,  good.

I don’t hang around Christian Evangelists, but if I were raised in a small Texas town with more churches than stop signs, I would most likely loathe a Christian fundamentalists politician. For me, they are another world.  But Bernie Sanders and his disciples are the evangelists that I have to deal with.

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My Vision Board Mocks Me

I recently finished Oliver Burkeman’s lovely “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking” and feel newly liberated. I’ve embraced anti-positivity for a while, but it became doctrine when I realized that my 2016 Vision Board contained a picture of Hillary Clinton, Prince and me and my ex.  I guess my Vision Board did not appreciate my slapdash glue-stick handling of my visions.  Or maybe it felt mistreated, like I was just saying, “Bitch, I made you, Vision Board!…now go come true.”  So when Hillary Clinton lost in the most horrible way, Prince died, and my ex-boyfriend and I stayed broken up, I laid to rest positive affirmations.  If my Vision Board mocked me anymore it would need a stage and mic.

According to Barbara Ehrenreich blanket positivity brought about the financial crisis of 08 because finance people could not fathom failure.  To be fair, nobody digs failure — real failure — not the kind that J.T. Rowling talks about, that ultimately ends in million dollar book deals.  I mean the kind that feels like a bird flying into a window, and you’re the bird AND the window.

But failure shmailure, been there, done that.  Failure is intrinsic to the software program of life.  It’s the other stuff that can take me down.

If men had to take a test that turned their penis into a pancake, NASA would be working on it.

A few weeks before my birthday I felt something near my armpit.   I thought maybe my underwire had stabbed me, but it turned out to be a marble lump on the side of my breast. Oh that…probably just some estrogen that got lodged in a cyst. It took me a week to have the necessary meltdown, call the Kaiser advice nurse fourteen times and have an existential panic attack in the Trader Joe’s parking lot.  Why is that lady sitting there with her hand on her boob?  When I did see the doctor, a beautiful Indian woman, felt me up (aka, examined me) and then ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound.  The mammogram, a medieval torture device shaped like a panini maker that hasn’t been updated in 30 years (why update something that tortures women?) cost me $10, but the Ultrasound is $250 per boob — what is panic and fear without a bargain basement price tag of $500?

You can’t therapy talk your way out of a possible cancer diagnosis.  Detection to appointment was a few weeks away so I had plenty of time to contemplate my mortality. And contemplate I did.  What if I never danced again?  Or wrote another play?

I had yet to read “The Antidote,” yet, but I must have intuited it because I went to worse case scenario.  Berkeman writes, “The Stoics recommended “the premeditation of evils,” or deliberately visualizing the worst-case scenario. This tends to reduce anxiety about the future: when you soberly picture how badly things could go in reality, you usually conclude that you could cope.” No, I didn’t think I could cope. But at least I realized how good my failed life has been thus far.

On the day of the ultrasound I found out that I had a large cyst.  The relief was palpable and euphoric.  I felt more than OK; I felt genuinely grateful for my life.  The whole experience shifted my paradigm like a high-powered antidepressant.  I felt great for days.

If he were on my Vision Board we would never have met.

About a month later, I drove to Pasadena one traffic-drenched Wednesday night for a comedy show.   It had been a long day of driving from audition to audition. Los Angeles: one big rush to an appointment.  I  just wanted to do my set and leave.  Moments after I entered, I was given the, “you’re next” cue.  I jotted down my set in a notebook and ordered a Diet Coke at the long old fashioned oak bar, the kind you might find in Mad Men.  When I glanced to my right, I saw a guy who looked like Jon Hamm.   Later, he introduced himself and even bought me a Diet Coke.  (So, we’re basically engaged, right?).  I am not easily star-struck, but meeting (one of the) most handsome men isn’t a bad thing.  Good thing I never put him on my Vision Board.

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