The Daily

First Person

Chevrolet Caprice

April 21, 2014 | by

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A 1987 Chevrolet Caprice.

On a Tuesday in late August, on my way to the ferry landing at Thirty-Fourth Street, I saw a huge, white, rusted-out Chevy Caprice make an illegal turn off FDR Drive, nearly skidding onto just two wheels. The Caprice barreled up Thirty-Fourth Street. When it blew by me I got a quick look at its occupants: three old ladies, all elaborately coiffed: the driver, another riding shotgun, and the third leaning forward in the backseat to better converse with the other two. I imagined they had just come from a group outing to the beauty parlor. Each of them probably had a rain bonnet tucked away in their purses, in case it rained later. The driver was wearing Gloria Vanderbilt–style sunglasses and a smashing shade of coral lipstick that was probably really popular in the seventies. I was quite taken with her. When I’m an old lady I want to drive around with my girl gang in a huge rusted-out white Caprice Classic and piss off cab drivers everywhere, I thought.

The image of the three ladies stayed with me well into the next day, which was also, randomly, Tori Amos’s fiftieth birthday. In observation, a pop-culture site compiled and ranked her 100 best songs. I dumped the top fifteen or so into a playlist and listened to it for most of the day. I felt sad but not depressed, an odd combination for me. One of the reasons I don’t listen to Tori anymore is that I am old. The other is that listening to Tori Amos reminds me of Tracy, my best friend from high school. Emma Straub wrote a piece for the Daily a few years ago called “My Rayannes,” which, in reference to Rayanne Graff from the nineties TV drama My So-Called Life, posits that all teenage girls are half lesbian. Less outrageously, it outlines an adolescent phenomenon in which one seeks a darker, more daring, more risk-taking counterpart—an accomplice in DIY piercings, home dye jobs, and, in Straub’s words, “tempestuous, obsessive friendship.” Read More »

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Finding a Life on the Edge

March 27, 2014 | by

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William Rich Holland, the author’s father, at Cape Elizabeth, 1983.

Every spring my mother flies out from her home in Walla Walla, Washington, to spend ten days with me in New York. Because her visits are often the only uninterrupted stretch of time we have together every year, they go mostly unplanned. “It isn’t vacation if you have to plan!” Mom has been known to say.

But when she made her way East in May 2012, just after my twenty-ninth birthday, her trip had an explicit purpose. It was my father’s fortieth reunion at Colby College, and she and I would be attending in his stead to represent his legacy and all that he had left behind.

In April 1989, at the age of thirty-nine, my father, Bill Holland, disappeared in an ice climbing accident in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. While he was attempting an unroped descent off Slipstream—the three-thousand-foot frozen waterfall that runs along the treacherous east face of Mt. Snow Dome—he fell through a cornice of ice and, as the accident reports later concluded, likely into a crevasse. A subsequent weeklong storm system dumped an estimated thirty feet of snow in the area, delaying initial rescue attempts. By the time a search party could safely enter, the snowfall had been so significant that Parks Canada was eventually forced to abandon recovery efforts. My father was never found. Read More »

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Unhousing

March 19, 2014 | by

Foreclosed homes as haunted houses.

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Photo: Casey Serin

My wife and I began searching for a house in 2008, just as the market was crashing, just as those first waves of foreclosed homes and short sales were hitting the market. Priced out of Los Angeles real estate for so long, we were finally able to afford houses whose prices had been ridiculously inflated only six months earlier. Occasionally we went to those open houses with smiling realtors and bowls of candy set out, where owners had recently landscaped or repainted to enhance value, but we could never seriously consider any of these. The homes that mattered had lock boxes, were abandoned or in the process of being abandoned—the ones that reeked of disrepair and despair.

We spent the summer touring nearly every distressed property in the neighborhoods East of Hollywood: Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park, and Atwater Village—every abandoned or half-abandoned monstrosity and beloved ruin, looking for a home. I still have a hard time articulating the sense of dread and fascination those houses stirred in me. The feeling of moving through these spaces—particularly as we were visiting seven or eight of them in an afternoon—was indescribable. A sense of wrongness pervaded so many of these homes. I’m not superstitious—I don’t believe in spirits or forces or haunted houses—but much of our lexicon in these cases depends on notions of the supernatural; in the end, the only word that seems useful for talking about the houses is unheimlich—a German word, literally “unhomely” or “not of the home,” “unfamiliar.” It’s more idiomatically translated as “uncanny”: a word that Freud plucked and repurposed from the realm of the supernatural. Read More »

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See Me

March 17, 2014 | by

Adolescence, pen pals, and the Manson girls.

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The Manson girls. Photographer unknown.

When I was thirteen, I had a yearlong correspondence by mail and over the phone with Rodney Bingenheimer. A peculiar icon of the sixties and seventies, Bingenheimer had opened a famous club on the Sunset Strip; he was a live-in publicist to Sonny and Cher, he accompanied David Bowie to London, and through his adjacency, his fandom, and his prescient taste, he eventually achieved fame himself.

We had met briefly on the sidewalk of my small hometown when I walked past a café table where he sat with a group of friends. He was a lackluster presence, not even as tall as I was—red hair cut into a chunky bowl, wearing a blazer over a shirt printed with a Red Army star. He was fifty-five then, though to my thirteen-year-old self he looked much older. His voice had the tremulous, feminine quality I would later read about in memoirs of the golden days of Los Angeles, his eyes slightly out of focus.

“Tell her she looks like my first love,” he half whispered to the group surrounding him, a group casually dressed, but alert with the nervous air of support people. They repeated his words to me, obediently.

“Give us your information,” one of his group said, all brisk business. “He’s very famous,” someone else said. “He invented the Ramones.”

Rodney blinked at me like a tired cat. Read More »

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The Child Is Father of the Man

March 5, 2014 | by

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Once upon a time, a very nice couple whom I didn’t know very well threw some kind of party. I can’t remember what the occasion was, but I do know that they lived in a nice apartment near the Broadway-Lafayette F stop, and that I went to the party with a former boyfriend. It proved to be a memorable evening.

We made small talk with lots of nice people. At some point we found ourselves clustered together with two other couples; at least one component of each was an architect. Some public figure had just come out as gay, and one of the guests said something innocuous about the importance of being true to oneself.

“Oh, I agree,” said one of the women, blandly. “Take my father-in-law, for instance. It wasn’t until he got terminal cancer that he was able to tell the world who he really was.”

“What was that?” said my ex-boyfriend. Read More »

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Murder, She Wrote

March 3, 2014 | by

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Photo: eflon, via Flickr

Over the weekend, for reasons too silly to get into, I decided to change my phone number. It was a surprisingly emotional process. I have had this, my first phone number, for some twelve years, and there was something bittersweet about abandoning the area code of my parents’ suburban home. A great deal of the difficulty, however, arose from my own incompetence, a faulty Internet connection, and a confusing and ancient family plan. Long story short, I accidentally changed my dad’s number instead. The result was a small transcontinental panic, a volley of hysterical phone calls, and several confusing texts from my friends, each of which my dad apparently greeted with a suspicious “whoisthis?”

I was sure some enterprising suburbanite would snap up my dad’s abandoned 914 number before I could reclaim it, and my anxiety only grew as the automated voice on the customer-service line cheerily informed me that there was an unusually high call volume and the estimated wait time was eighteen minutes. I bit my nails and refreshed my browser every few minutes to find out if anything new had happened in the news, if, for example, we had sent troops into Ukraine. On speaker, the voice droned on about various mobile plans.

In the meantime, I took a call from my dad. “We’re very concerned,” he said. “Do you have a stalker? Is that why you’re changing numbers?”

“No. I don’t want to get into it. It’s complicated,” I said. “I just need a new number. And you have to stop watching the murder channel.”

“We can’t. The murder channel figures very prominently in our rotation. And every time a young woman is killed, we discuss the odds of the same thing happening to you.”

“No one’s going to murder me.”

“They all think that.” Read More »

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