Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn Does The Trick

Fall brings with it license to bake and eat candy and dress up in silly clothes, that must be why it's my favorite time of year. My household is in a full Halloween/Dia de los Muertos mood. This year as never before I'm indulging in relatively guilt-free sweet consumption and general silliness.

I had a strange, empowering experience when I was in California a week and a half ago, rehearsing for an upcoming gig in Guadalajara, Mexico. I was awake very early in my hotel room. As I was lying in bed playing with my iphone, realizing I couldn't call anyone, I noticed a full length mirror a few steps away. I had forgotten to pack pajamas so I impulsively got up and stood in front of the mirror in my panties, examining my nearly naked body. Something weird happened. Always in the past I would see nothing but flaws, a paunchy tummy and fat thighs reflected at me but this time as I looked at myself, I was filled with a sense of gratitude. I thought of how my body had seen me through so much, when others' bodies (like Brendan's) had let them down. I hugged myself right there, in front of that mirror and made peace with my body and as corny as it sounds, I whispered: "Thank you for taking care of me." At that moment I could see all the same things that I knew were there - body quirks that I'd seen a hundred times before - but it all looked different now, oddly beautiful.

You're probably wondering how making peace with my body ties in with baking, and to tell the truth I don't know that it does. All I know is that I've just baked a carrot cake which I'm planning to enjoy this afternoon and guilt is not invited to the party.

I was telling my friend Angie about my nearly naked exploits, describing the scars on my body and she told me that she thought scars were like war medals, a sign that your body had triumphed over an ailment or injury. I had never thought of my scars that way before. I think she's right.

Last week Angie came out to Arizona to visit me. She is a crafting dynamo who had me posing for calavera pictures as well as taking turns being a photographer. We sewed little gift projects and I taught her the basics of painting with oil. Thank you Angie, for getting me to pick up a paint brush again.

I was introduced to oil painting through a 6 week class at the local community college last year. Aleksandra Buha was the patient, talented teacher who got me all fired up. She made me feel like an artist and I was sure I'd continue to paint, but when the class was over, I only completed one more painting, a Christmas present for my husband that I'd hoped would hang in his apartment in Houston and remind him of us.

The painting never made it off the easel. I gave it to my husband for Christmas but I declared it unfinished and wouldn't let him take it. Perfectionism reared its ugly head and immobilized me. Everytime I saw the painting I saw things that needed improving but there were so many things I wanted to do to it and I was so unsure of my ability to do them that I just procrastinated and let the painting get comfortable on my easel, making it impossible for me to start another one.
Making a few quick, low-pressure portraits with Angie pulled me out of that funk and my enthusiasm for painting is renewed. Thanks Ange.

Alice Dia de los Muertos portrait by Alice. Angie Dia de los Muertos portrait by Angie.

Most people think of Spring as a time for renewal but for me, Autumn does the trick.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Deadly Stylish

I love seeing the change of color that happens in the fall. I'm not talking about the leaves on the trees, I’ll leave that to states with flashier foliage. I'm talking about the wickedly tacky Halloween decorations that help this oh-so tastefully homogeneous beige neighborhood loosen up a bit. The trees are festooned with ghosts and bats. An angry saguaro monster menaces an unsuspecting pet, out for an innocent nightly stroll. The great horned owl has returned to the neighbor's tree and hoots a crepuscular concert.

Halloween arrives in the desert...night time view in my neighborhood.

My friend and former bandmate Angie Skull is out here visiting me this week. She's preparing for her first art show which happens to be Day of the Dead themed. She'll be part of a group show at Self Help Graphics that will also feature my friends Rigo Maldonado and Dawn Wirth. The show is curated by badass veterana artist Diane Gamboa and will open November 1st. If you're in L.A. on Dia de Los Muertos weekend, don't miss Self Help's Day of the Dead festivities.

To get into the deadly stylish mood, we dressed up like calaveras and took pictures for her installation. Her piece is called Waiting for Mr. Right. For your amusement, I've included a sample of some of our photos.

Top: Alice as Calavera, bottom: Angie Skull and Alice get deadly stylish.

Yes, it is as fun as it looks, so get on over to your local costume store, buy ye some white make up, and get your calaca on! Remember - there's room for one more.

"There's room for one more!" Alice Bag and Angie Skull live it up as dead girls.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ointments and Balms

Grieving has gone to the web.

Living so far away from so many friends who are in different cities and different time zones, I spent much of yesterday exchanging memories of the recently departed Masque owner Brendan Mullen with some of those out of town friends. Funny, touching stories soon managed to turn tears to laughter, and laughter as we well know is the best medicine. It is an ointment for a tender heart.

I told the story in my previous post about some questionable fashion choices involving my friends and the Masque. As I related it via email to another friend, she ROFL’d at my description of what dressing up to go out meant in those early days of punk. Stashed In my closet, I actually found the old 60’s cutout bathing suit I was telling her about, it's a bit different than I remember but it's even more stylish. I've enclosed a picture so you can imagine a slightly pudgy me wearing this out in public.

In a very natural way our online conversation drifted to children. There is a chapter in the memoir I've written called “Children Are The Balm,” which comes from a line in Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex: "Children were the only balm for death." I found that line not only poetic but very true.

My friend, who works in a school, told me about a little girl she was working with yesterday who was having trouble reading the word ‘second’ and my friend said "okay, let's split it up, what are the first three sounds?" They sounded it out, s-e-c- and the little girl burst out with "Sex in the City?!"

I was reminded of my own colorful stories from my teaching days. I was working with a first grade class of English learners. The children were just starting to add and subtract and I wanted to reinforce their writing and reasoning skills, so I gave them all pennies to buy and sell plastic fruit at a make-believe store. The children were instructed to write down their transactions. The room was buzzing with activity when lunchtime snuck up on us. I quickly collected the assignments and took them with me to lunch so I could correct them.

Uncontrollable laughter seized my body in the teacher's cafeteria as I opened the folded pages. The children had used their Spanish language skills to record their transactions:

10 penis-7 penis = 3 penis. I had page after page of penis problems.

Other teachers came over and tried to see what I was laughing at, but I hid the pages, mortified that I'd be fired for teaching them such things!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Remembering The Den Daddy of LA Punk

Yesterday had such a promising start. My daughter had the day off from school because it was Columbus Day so we went to a movie then hit the thrift stores in search of Halloween costumes. The evening dog walk treated me to a six pack of wild javelinas snorting as they meandered across the road, a sight that thrilled me and scared me at the same time. Just as I was getting ready for bed I decided to check my Facebook.

A message on my wall made me shudder "... Brendan had a stroke and died." I stared at the words thinking it must be an ugly prank. Brendan Mullen was one of the few old friends I have who had never complained to me of the aches and pains of growing old. He was strong, happy, debonair in his stylish hats, he was writing and in the middle of a full, productive life. This couldn't be happening.

In disbelief, I wrote to two other friends on Facebook, careful not to repeat the rumor. "Heard something about Brendan, is he OK?" Within minutes, my fears were confirmed. My eyes went glassy as I watered my pillowcase, remembering a recent argument I'd had with Brendan. We'd made a sloppy peace, each of us feeling we were right, but wanting to move forward and remain friends, we'd agreed to disagree. Like a bandage over an already infected wound, our truce hadn't healed our differences and our friendship had been strained over the past year. It's strange. I thought time would heal us; little did I know we didn’t have very much time left.

I went to sleep thinking of Brendan. When I first met him, he was a young man in his twenties who would blush and babble whenever he spoke to me. Half the time I couldn't understand what he was saying, his accent was so thick in those early days. In 1978, I, along with many members of the L.A. punk community, had made my home at The Canterbury Apartments, just across the blvd from The Masque. At any moment of the day or night my friends and I would invade Brendan's home, wanting to play music, get drunk, or just hang out. Sometimes we'd wake him up and he'd just smile and let us in. He had a little private office, no bigger than a walk-in closet where his bed and a small desk competed for space. It was his sanctuary, the one part of the Masque that was his alone.

One particularly cold night, I along with my friends Shannon and Allison had gone to the Masque to catch a show. All of us had dressed in stupidly scanty outfits, defying the winter weather. I was wearing a 1960's bathing suit which left my midriff exposed except for a narrow strip of fabric that stretched down the middle of my belly. I paired the swimsuit with fishnet stockings, leopard print shoes and bag (that's right, no skirt.) The girls were sporting lingerie as outerwear and we were all shivering. Other clubs got hot once people and bands were inside, but the dingy, concrete walled basement that was the Masque never really warmed up in winter. Seeing us rubbing our arms, Brendan finally came over and ushered us into his office. We sat on his bed and on the single chair he had. We all huddled under jackets and blankets, passing around a flask of rum, laughing at ourselves. I looked around and I could see that Brendan had very few personal belongings, but he put his only coat on me, his single jacket on Shannon and wrapped Allison in the blanket off his bed. When we had warmed up a little he walked us back to The Canterbury, where he dropped us at the gate. We tried to give his things back.

"You can return them tomorrow…" he said, but we quickly peeled off our coverings, dumped them over his arm and started to run inside. He smiled weakly, his arms heavy.

"Thanks Brendan - We love you Brendan!" we shouted as we teetered on our stilletos, racing against the chill night air.

I will always remember Brendan as that shy, blushing young gentleman, the Den Daddy of the L.A. punk scene whose quiet demeanor concealed a passionate promoter of art and music. A man who literally gave me the coat off his back.

Goodbye my friend, you will be missed.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Freak Revolution

It's a beautiful day here in northeastern Phoenix. The pre-dawn drizzle brought out a lovely rainbow for my morning walk. I've settled into my Autumn rut, and I'm loving it. The cooler temperatures make the air crisp and clean and put me in a baking mood. The only problem with my baking obsession is that I like to eat what I bake. A few days ago, I made an awesome banana pecan bread and a few days before that, I baked a chocolate poundcake. I ended up eating most of the poundcake by myself because Snow doesn't particularly like chocolate. If I keep eating at this rate, I'm going to be in trouble!

I just wrote a dear old friend a really long letter and I forgot to save. I decided to include a picture of some of my baking but in attempting to attach the photo, I clicked on the wrong button and I lost the letter. I was so angry that I stuffed two cookies in my mouth. I'm feeling better now. Here's part of my letter that I'd like to share with my blog readers:

"Dear Miss Delicia...

I read a really interesting article which I wanted to tell you about. It's a manifesto from a website called Freak Revolution. I will try to add the link (fingers crossed)...It's If you have a chance to read it, I recommend it. They have some provocative ideas.

Freak Revolution graphic courtesy of

Basically, the authors claim that freaks are the natural enemies of the status quo, which makes sense, right? If you're a freak, misfit, or outcast, you've probably been functioning on the fringes of society for a while anyway and the status quo has essentially failed you. The freak revolutionaries boldly claim, "The world will not be changed by those who fit in" and god knows the world needs changing.

They go on to explain in detail why they believe that the world functions under a common set of assumptions (a paradigm) which is based on controlling the actions of others. Those with power exert control over those without power, creating scenarios where abuses of power, rebellion and friction freely proliferate, making a fucked up world.

They propose that we switch from a control paradigm to a connecting paradigm. The freaks want us to connect with others and connect with ourselves (with our inner feelings). They want us to put the human back in humanity. I know this sounds all touch-feely, but it also makes some sense to me.

One way in which they propose we start shifting from a control paradigm to a connection paradigm is by diversifying our "monkeyspheres." Have you even heard of the term monkeysphere? I hadn't, but I have one and so do you. The idea of the monkeysphere is that human beings can only really connect with about 150 people. This number was arrived at by studies done on monkeys whose brain sizes directly affected the size of their social groups, hence the name monkeysphere. The size of the average human monkeysphere correlates with the size of the average human brain.

Pirate Monkey image courtesy of

The reason that the monkeysphere is important is because people inside our monkeyspheres matter to us in a way that people outside don't. If hundreds of people on the other side of the planet die, it's a sad news story because people outside of your monkeysphere are conceptualized as one-dimensional characters, but if someone within your monkeysphere dies you feel real grief (or joy) because you know this person and it becomes personal for you. The Freaks trace much of what's wrong with the world to the choices we make when we're able to detach ourselves from our humanity and therefore want us to make it all personal.

By diversifying our monkeyspheres, we cease to think of the world in terms of "us" and "them." I remember when I first moved out to Arizona, I felt a little out of place surrounded by the people who had always been the "them" in my world: Republicans. Sure, these people would say "hello" and "good morning" to me when I was out walking the dog, but I was still suspicious. I was sure that they were red-necked bigots, but I was wrong. I was the bigot, I was the one making assumptions. I didn't have a whole lot of Republicans in my monkeyspere, so I assumed they were all greedy and ethnocentric.

Over time I started getting to know my neighbors and before I knew it, they mattered to me. Some of my Republican friends were smart, some were generous and tolerant of other people's beliefs. I was diversifying my monkeysphere and I didn't even know it. It became impossible for me to think of my neighbors as simplistic stereotypes because I now had to relate to them as individuals. This was progress for sure, because I still disagree with much of Republican ideology. Expanding my monkeysphere has not only changed the way I see others, but also how they see me and people like me (left-coast/green party/vegetarian/punk rocker).

Still, I'm not sure that all the ideas the Freak revolutionaries propose would actually work. They suggest we opt out of all kinds of things like religion, politics, and public schools just to name a few. I'm not sure I'd want to pull Snow out of school so that she can bask in her freakiness, only to hate me a few years down the line when she can't get into the college she wants. Choosing to live like a freak is a very personal decision; I wouldn't want to make it for anyone but myself..."

My friend wrote back:

"Dear Alice...

As far as the monkeysphere idea, it is about right. The weirdos always make the changes. That was punk, eh? Misfits every one. And all the computer geeks. Unfortunately, the homogenized world with plastic surgery and identikit music (thanks Clear Channel and Live Nation, or are they finally one now?) makes sure freaks stand out even more. The world is a strange place. Alice, I was amazed how similar all the new houses in LA looked. Even the colours seemed 'approved'. Not one oddball amongst them.

Unfortunately, freaks in nature are usually killed off. Albino animals, etc. You know my cat I have, Pubert, was an oddball as a kitten. He once tried to sit up by pushing his paw off this lamp and he managed to balance and sit up, obviously like us. D____ saw this as well. The other kittens panicked when they saw him do it. They ran off and hid. Freaky. He only did it that once but it was such aberrant behaviour they instinctively felt it was wrong..."


Read more about the monkeysphere at

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Capitalism - A Love Story

My daughter and I couldn't wait to get to the Saturday matinee showing of the new Michael Moore film, Capitalism: A Love Story. I almost couldn't believe that our Phoenix area movie theatres were brave enough to show this film in the land of Barry Goldwater and John McCain. When we arrived at our local mall multiplex (ironic, I know) my daughter ran ahead to buy the tickets at the box office while I strolled at my comfortable senior citizen's pace, but when she got to the window she was refused a ticket.

"What's the problem?" I asked, rushing up when I saw the look of disappointment on her face.

"Sorry Ma'am, this movie's rated R," said the gray haired woman behind the glass.

"Oh, that's OK, she's with me," I told the concerned ticket vendor. I couldn't help but wonder what material in this documentary could possibly have merited an R rating. Michael Moore's films are not known for steamy sex scenes or gratuitous violence. Perhaps the rating board considered it Marxist pornography and they were looking out for the welfare of our impressionable young, soon-to-be voters?

"So, are you going to let her see it?" the woman asked, a somewhat disbelieving tone in her voice.

"Yes, I'm going to see it with her, that's all that needs to happen - right? 'R' means 17 unless accompanied by a parent."

"Well... does she have ID?" Clearly, there was no way I was going to slip an innocent child past this guardian of the ratings, this enforcer of the code, without a battle. A series of circuitous misunderstandings occurred and we had to leap backwards through a row of flaming hoops before we were finally allowed to purchase tickets. After getting the third degree at the box office it came as no surprise to me that the theater was only about 1/4 full and that my daughter was the only teen in that auditorium.

We are unabashed Michael Moore fans in my family: he is our Rocky Balboa, forever taking on the big guys and fighting against the odds. This time, Moore has decided to take on modern Capitalism by explaining the origins of our love affair with an economic system that (at least here in the U.S.) often gets confused with patriotism and democracy, as if the three words were practically synonymous.

Moore begins his film with a quick review of how Capitalism was intended to work. Free market capitalism was supposed to promote healthy competition which would benefit consumers as much as suppliers. In theory, the suppliers with the best goods, services and prices would thrive and those who did not give the people what they wanted would go under. In the honeymoon phase of America's romance with Capitalism we grew to believe that if we worked hard enough and were clever enough, we could attain riches and social status that other economic systems would not afford us.

As in the case of a bad marriage, Americans started to find out that the partner they thought they had (Capitalism) and the one they really had (Unchecked Greed) are two different things. Moore peels back layer after layer of outrageous practices and Congressional collusion that will have viewers ready to march on Washington and Wall Street. He goes on to expose the morally questionable corporate practice of secretly taking out life insurance policies on employees, thereby allowing the company to profit from the employee's death, a practice colorfully referred to as "Dead Peasants" life insurance. When the employee dies for any reason, the company collects benefits without the knowledge of the employee's family.

The film provides many such examples of unchecked institutionalized greed and chronicles America's increasing disillusionment with Capitalism, or at least the form of Capitalism we've all come to know and no longer love. The "marriage" starts to fall apart when the peasants rise up to take back what rightfully belongs to the people: our government, our homes, our nation. Demonstrations, strikes and the election of President Obama mark the turning point in this marriage. But will "Change" really win the day? We as the audience are left to decide if this marriage will survive. Will Capitalism change to become the mate we Americans fell in love with? Or is this love story over and is it time for something new?

As the credits rolled I clapped and hooted loudly, hoping other people were feeling as fired up as I was but only a couple of people in the sparse audience joined me. That's OK - I can make plenty of noise on my own.