Listings

Anne’s house is now officially in multiple listings. The two realtors have already done 17 showings, with an open house the upcoming weekend.

I was amused by a couple of statements in the listing document. First of all, though, I have to say I was impressed. The photography and text elevated the house in a way I hadn’t expected. One of my favorite photos was a close-up of some nearly-ripe Gravenstein apples on the tree in the back. It’s a favorite because it’s a type of picture I’ve taken dozens of times; but it’s also a favorite because it evokes a certain impression of the house. Pastoral, orchardlike. Country.

My second favorite line was rather technical. That one was, “This legal exterior bathroom and the RR2 zoning make this house an interesting opportunity for buyers.” This is code for, “You can create a rental unit!”

But this was my favorite:  “The house is within walking distance of Fircrest Market and the town’s only freestanding Starbuck’s.”

Now there’s the seller.

The house is a pleasant walk from Starbuck’s, it’s true.

Now that the house has been emptied out and cleaned, I do see it differently. I don’t see it as Anne’s home (or Spouse’s childhood home, for that matter) anymore. It just looks like a house. Frankly, for the first time it looks like a cute little house with some character. I have spent so many months recently looking at its defects that I had forgotten; it’s a cute, redwood sided house, on nearly an acre, in a pleasant neighborhood… and an easy walk to Starbuck’s.

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A Working Theory of Love, by Scott Hutchins

I take the novel workshop every time I go to the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. Before it starts, I try to read a book by the instructor, so I can decide whether he or she has the chops to teach me anything. I know that sounds arrogant and entitled. I struggled with that for a bit, and decided… you know what? I’m old, and I can act arrogant and entitled if I want to.

So, is Scott Hutchins, this year’s instructor, worth listening to? I read his novel A Working Theory of Love, this week. Based on that I would say yes, indeed yes. If Hutchins can teach as well as he writes, I am definitely going to listen.

It’s possible that if I were born, raised and still lived in Cleveland, Ohio, I would not have enjoyed this San Francisco Bay-based novel quite as much. I think it helps if you actually know people like the ones Neill Bassett Jr, the first-person narrator, meets in this story. I suspect people in the Midwest would think Hutchins is making this stuff up – and he is, but it isn’t much of a stretch.

A Working Theory of Love is funny, tinged with sadness, insightful, and sweet. Neill is the son of a father who committed suicide. Neill Senior was a doctor, one of the last of the country doctors, a southern Catholic living in the south. Unbeknownst to both his wife and son at the time, Neill Senior kept voluminous journals of his life. The journals are not deep or overly personal; they tend instead to be a record of day-to-day life. These journals, which Neill Junior has, come to the attention of a Silicon Valley inventor, Henry Livorno, a fading genius who wants to create artificial intelligence, and thinks that language will help do that. He hires Neill to upload the journals, and engage in conversation with the program they now call Dr. Bassett.

Neill is divorced and trying to live the single life in San Francisco. Over the course of the book, three women come into his life; the much younger Rachel, who lives in Marin County and is part of a group called Pure Encounters, a perfectly modulated Marin County sex cult; Erin, Neill’s ex-wife, and Jenn, a computer engineer who works for Livorno’s competition, and whose driving goal in life is to be on the TV show Survivor. There is another important woman in the book, and my personal favorite; Neill’s mother Libby.

If you’ve never talked to anyone who had a brush with a cult or a powerful fad group, you will find Pure Encounters to be funny, baffling and even kind of interesting. If you know someone who plunged head-first into one of these movements, you might find yourself falling out of your chair laughing. Really, it doesn’t have to be a formal movement; it could be gluten or soy, or meditation. Hutchins nails it.

The serious parts of the story; Neill finally facing his father’s suicide, deciding to take a risk on a relationship, are deftly done. The fun parts of the story; preparing a computer program for the Turing test (designed to prove artificial intelligence), the pitch-perfect rivalry between Livorno and his millionaire-student and competitor Toler, play out with wit and suspense. Toler is a jerk and I wanted to hate him, but Hutchins makes him human; dislikeable and understandable.

Hutchins expertly misleads his readers (I mean that in the best possible way) to one inescapable conclusion about the motive for Dr. Bassett’s suicide, and then does a ninety-degree turn, leaving our expectations in the dust. Good job.

And then there are the SF-Northbay things that are accurate and hilarious. On Stinson Beach, north of the Golden Gate, Neill meets Rachel’s friend Raj. “ ‘Short for Rajasthan,’ he says, shaking my hand. ‘Unfortunately.’ He’s as Caucasian as a Smothers Brother, but this is Marin, birthplace of the American Taliban.” I don’t know how well a John Walker Lindh reference plays, now, outside of northern California, but I certainly got it; just like I got references to the sex shops, performance/protest art, foodie ice cream and Rachel’s conversion to “locavorism.” Yep. These are my people.

Basically, Hutchins runs the peninsula; portraying Palo Alto culture (bright purple artificial vaginas and “stealth companies,”); San Francisco with its trendy restaurants (trend of the time, offal); and Marin County with its… well, just being Marin.

“What happened to us American men? There we were, joyfully plundering the world like openhanded pirates, and how that we have it all we all sit in half-lotus on the edge of paradise, the most beautiful county in the most beautiful state in the luckiest country under the sun, to meditate on loss and resentment.”

Hutchins also understands that reader appreciate a real plot, where things happen and cause other things to happen, and he can actually craft one! I did think it was unlikely that Jenn would just happen to have a Pure Encounters brochure in her house, but other than that, the plot elements link together smoothly. There is a sense I often get in literary novels, that the writer thinks, “Okay, I got Main Character from Point A to Point B, I made up some tension, and now I can stop and write that six-page lyrical interior monologue I really wanted to do all along.” Hutchins commits to telling a story, and it’s a story with honesty, depth and optimism.

This started off as a research project and ended up being a treat. I’m already planning how many copies I’m going to buy at the workshop bookstore, to give to friends.

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Here’s One Reason I Enjoy a Lee Child Book

I know I go on about Lee Childs and his fictional almost-super-hero character, Ramblin’ Man Jack Reacher. His plots go from implausible at best to outright ridiculous, and I don’t care. They are warm popcorn, coated in fresh melted butter, with tiny fireworks explosions of salt crystals.

And, every once in a while, he lays out a paragraph that reads like this one:

“The woman wiped the neck of the bottle on the hem of her dress and held it out toward him. He shook his head. Sat down on the porch step. The old wood creaked once under his weight. The glider kept rocking, back and forth. It was almost silent. Almost, but not quite. There was a small sound from the mechanism that came once at the end of each swing, and a little creak from a porch board as it started its return. Reacher could smell mildew from the cushions, and bourbon from the bottle.”

On the other end of the continuum, and equally entertaining, we have Reacher’s breakfast experience in an un-named fast food chain restaurant.

“… He had more coffee and an English muffin filled with a round piece of ham and something that might once have been an egg, first dried and powdered and then reconstituted. His threshold of culinary acceptability was very low, but right then he felt like he might be pushing at the bottom edge of his personal envelope.”

I just love this stuff.

 

 

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The Great Glass Sea; a Russian Novel Written by an American

I am recommending this book to a lot of people; The Great Glass Sea, by Josh Weil. It came out earlier this month, and it’s published by Grove Atlantic; available on Kindle as well as in paper.

My experience with Weil was as an instructor at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference first and as a writer second. As a teacher, Weil has the vital and unusual ability to make a workshop space feel safe and encouraging, and still point out places in people’s work where there are deficiencies. He was accessible, responsible, and funny.

I also knew I liked his prose, though, because I picked up a copy of The New Valley before the workshop. At the time, I thought it was a little odd that the person teaching the novel workshop hadn’t exactly published a novel (The New Valley is three linked novellas). Still, his prose, his observation of small details, and the way he lets his characters mourn a style of life that is changing, or vanishing, around them, wowed me. At the conference, I had a conversation with Weil and he told me about the book he had coming out; The Great Glass Sea.

The book is set in present-day Russia; not quite our present-day, but close. A consortium of oligarchs has built and launched a set of reflective satellites; space mirrors, turning an agricultural section of the country into endless daylight. This is still Russia, though, and even though it is light, food crops have to be protected from the elements, so the town is also building hectares of glass greenhouses; a vast sea of glass. Two brothers — identical twins — work in the greenhouses. Yarik, the elder twin, comes to the attention of one of the oligarchs, and is soon promoted to foreman. Yarik has a wife and children, and looks ahead to the future. Dima, the younger twin, cares for their aging mother who suffers from dementia. Dima has no interest in the shining future of the greenhouses. He yearns to buy back the little farm (once part of  a collective) that their uncle owned, and go back to simpler times. Each twin, in his own way, becomes a symbol or spokesperson for various political groups who have opinions about the greenhouses.

The book is not just about changing societies, although that is a big part of it. It is about a disappearing way of life; about family; about folklore; about the unintended consequences of technology; about everyday life in Russia (which Weil knows about; he spent time as an exchange student, and went back as an adult when he was researching the book); about politics, economics and peer pressure; about mental illness, about love and regrets.

This is a long and densely written work, with a tone that ranges from folkloric, to elegiac, to humorous, to tragic. It’s filled with powerful imagery and gestures gone wrong. It’s dreamlike in spots, and hyper-realistic in others.

I reviewed the book for Fantasy Literature because of the science fiction premise, but the book is not about satellites and greenhouses. It is about how people react to the changes brought by satellites and greenhouses. It’s also, basically, a book about brothers.

I recommend The Great Glass Sea highly. It is dense and you will have to make a commitment to it. If you do, you won’t be disappointed.

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Shoreline Highway; Tomales Bay and Valley Ford

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Tomales is about six miles north of the edge of Tomales Bay. It’s another small town; smaller than Point Reyes Station; a village, but getting closer to “hamlet” designation. There are about 200 people there according to the 2010 census and the biggest employer is Tomales High School. The town has broad pastureland broken up with stands of cypress, Diekmann’s General Store, an antiques shop, a bakery that is open Thursday through Sunday, two restaurants only open on weekends and a deli. The Church of the Annunciation is on the west side of Highway One.

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If you stop when the church is open, go inside and check out its lovely stained glass windows. Maybe it’s just me, but I find “Church of the Annunciation” and a sign saying “Deliveries” in close proximity to be funny. I don’t know what happened to Baby Jesus’s arms, but the statue is still pretty nice.

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I hadn’t eaten in Point Reyes Station, and I missed the opportunity to eat at Nick’s Cove, a few miles south, which is, or used to be, famous for oyster-themed meals. I was sure there would be a place to eat in Tomales.  This was a very bad decision. Next time I will either stop sooner, or push on to the town of Valley Ford.

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What a cheerful, welcoming exterior! Don’t be deceived.

The Tomales Deli was open and serving. They have two of the storefronts on the east side of the street; the second room has a couple of tables but seems like more on a community room than a diner. A clever hand-painted sign reads “Dilly-dally at the deli,” but I would not take them at their word. It was about one-fifteen and they were pretty busy, since they were the only place open. There were three people behind the counter assembling food at top speed. I had the misfortune to get one of the worst countermen I’ve encountered in my life.

There were two people ahead of me in line, I thought, but after a minute one of them looked at me and said, “We’re waiting for our food.” They stepped to one side and I moved up to the counter. On a niche by the door into the pantry, a small TV was showing Germany trouncing Brazil in the World Cup. I didn’t pay attention to the score at the time, but maybe that was part of the counter guy’s problem. I waited. He called up some names to deliver orders, including the people I’d talked to. He did not make eye contact with me. He did not acknowledge me in any way for five and a half minutes. At one point he deliberately looked around me at the people who had come in behind me. I moved into his field of vision and he still refused to make eye contact.

Finally he deigned to take my order. I ordered a sandwich that is usually served warm. He said he would call me when it was ready. I found a seat in the other room. After a few minutes – they were very busy – I got up and stood in the doorway so I could hear my name when it was called. It wasn’t called. I could see a sandwich in a basket sitting on the counter. Didn’t call my name. Didn’t call it. Called the couple – also tourists – who had come in behind me. Then he saw me standing there, quickly turned to pick up my ticket, and called my name. The bread was stiff and clearly had been warmed or toasted, but the sandwich was room temperature.

Other than not being warm, the sandwich was good. The sprouts and avocado that were part of it were fresh, with ripe avocado, and if I had gotten it when it was ready it would have been delicious. The apple pie was very good.  I can recommend the food, but really can’t recommend the place. I understand being busy, but it doesn’t take that much time to say, “I’ll be with you in a minute.”  There are people in the world who don’t like me, certainly, but usually they get to know me before they make that decision. Maybe I just wasn’t quite Marin-county enough for this guy.

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The only problem with their sign is that it points away from the restaurant.

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Valley Ford is also a tiny settlement, with Rocker Oysterfeller’s, Dinnucci’s Italian Restaurant and a place called the Estero Café. The two restaurants were also closed on a Tuesday. According to Yelp, Rocker Oysterfellers is good but it’s hard to tell when they are open.

I spent some time here; a lovely shop with lots of local handcrafts including textiles from Abby Bard, handmade soaps, and jams and preserves. There is, or will be, a cheese and wine bar in here too.

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Both Tomales and Valley Ford were railroad stops, back in the day. I don’t know if the narrow gauge tourist line that brought people from San Francisco out to the redwoods ran through the valley, but it would certainly make sense. Now, it is dairy and tourist country.

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The Shoreline Highway, Point Reyes Station

 

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Point Reyes Station is the small township (about 800 people) on the edge of the Point Reyes National Seashore. I didn’t go all the way down to the ocean this trip. Instead I spent my time wandering the main street of the village.

Bovine Bakery gets rave reviews, and this seems to be valid, since the place has been packed every time I’ve been in town. This day was no different. The Cowgirl Creamery Annex appeared to be closed when I got into town. They make some of the best cheeses in the Bay Area, but I never seem to get there when they are open.

In Point Reyes Bookstore I bought two new books (they have new and used). I bought On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz. Horowitz wrote one of the best canine books ever, Inside of a Dog.

I also bought Assholes, A Theory by Aaron James. Yes, that is the name, and it is a scholarly work, discussing the causes and suggested treatments of asshollery. James has a PhD in Philosophy from Harvard, and is looking for some balance in his academic writing career by writing some “lighter” works and this is one of them. It is not a humor book (although it is funny in spots); it is not particularly glib. He has a real theory of what makes people behave like assholes, why they make us crazy and how we can manage them. I’m looking forward to getting farther into it.

Both of these probably qualify as “pop science” books; they are well written and have serious themes and ideas, but they are not academic and are marketed to lay people.

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When I decided to go to Point Reyes Station I knew I wanted to stop at a gallery/gift shop called Vita and look at the steampunk bird sculptures she carried. I walked to the east end of the street where her store is. It looked closed, and a card on the door listed the hours as “Wednesday through Sunday.” I walked down to the intersection, took a few pictures, and looked around. On my way back, from this angle, I saw that there were lights on. I saw another card on the door that read, “Open Tuesdays by appointment or chance.” I tried the door and it was unlocked. Appointment or chance?  I don’t know, but they were open, and I bought this guy.

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It looks like there are three restaurants in town. The two on the main street looked fancier than I wanted, so I decided to head back and eat at one of the places in Tomales or Valley Ford (a bad decision, as it turned out).  One of these days, I will get to town early enough to eat at Bovine Bakery before the rush; or pick up some fresh bread and a couple of specialty cheeses, and eat at the West Marin Commons, a pocket-park at the west end of Point Reyes Station.

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The graffiti on the derelict buildings was pretty fascinating.

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I liked the crazy-quilt effect of the door, but on the window it says, “Communism will win.” Really?

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The Shoreline Highway Part 1

I drove down Highway 1 to the town of Point Reyes on Tuesday. Instead of following Highway 12 all the way to the little town of Bodega and turning right, I took the Freestone Station Road. It has some slightly different views.

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Looking back at my turn onto Highway One

This time of year the hills are golden, but things seemed drier than usual. On the way to Tomales, I found Highland cattle! I did not know anyone here was raising them. This small herd of cows and calves seemed very content and very comfortable with photographers.  I probably wasn’t the first person who ever stopped to take a picture.

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The estrero runs through this shallow valley into Tomales Bay. If you look at this area on a map, the waterways are really interesting, reaching back fingers quite a way north.

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On the way to Tomales Bay

Unlike the cows, the blue heron was not pleased to see me. I parked in a wide arc by the side of the road, not quite a turnout, and took a couple of shots from across the street. The bird turned its head to survey me with one (disapproving) eye.  I looked both ways (because of course I was on a curve) and dashed across the street to where a dairy had an access road and a cattle guard. This is dairy country, and  later I would drive through the tiny town of Mashall, home of Strauss Family Creameries. Back to the bird, though. The access road meant I could get quite a bit closer. As I moved cautiously forward, a motorcycle came down the highway, southbound. It was a CHP bike cop. His head turned to the right as he noted my car, slightly to the left as he noted me, trespassing, with a camera, and the full-throated roar of his motor didn’t even wobble one note as he shot past. Apparently he was pretty used to seeing photographers too.

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The bird, however, was not amused.

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What Retirement’s Like (Some More)

I was trying to figure out how long I’ve been retired. In October, it will be two years. And maybe, now, I’m starting to understand what it is.

The first several months (okay, year) of retirement seemed pretty busy and scheduled. Spouse was recovering from a serious injury through most of it. Then his mom had her health issues. I spent a lot of time with her through 2013, and that became part of my routine. Now that routine has to change.

The beauty of retirement is in the small things for me. It’s being about to do housework on a Wednesday instead of Saturday. It’s the idea that I can drive down Highway One to Point Reyes (which I might do today) if I want, at almost any time. It’s walking to the store or the bank during non-peak hours.

The bookstore fills quite a bit of my time, and I love the writers workshop at VOICES. Now that it’s summer, there are a dozen farmers markets to visit, and maybe even some farms. I don’t have to try to fit that in around other obligations.

The funny thing is that weekends have become incredibly crowded. This is because any social get-togethers with people who are still working devolve to those days. It’s shocking how quickly four or five weekends in a month can fill up, while the Tuesdays are sitting there empty and dreamy, full of potential.

I sleep more but I get up earlier than I used to on non-work days. I also watch television shows that I could never stay awake to see before. And, for some weird reason, I listen to more classical music.

I started this off by saying maybe I was beginning to understand what retirement is. I just re-read what I’ve written. I see I’m wrong. I don’t understand it at all.

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How I Came to Respect Ya Ya Han

You all know I watch Syfy (don’t judge). I really like their reality competition show Face Off, and for the past two seasons I also watched their cosplay reality show, Heroes of Cosplay. I should point out that HOC was a summer series and a season was about eight episodes. It looks like the show’s team followed the cast for a year (maybe longer), developed about sixteen episodes, and broke them up into two arbitrary “seasons.”

Costume-play, or cosplay, is the evolution of all those science fiction convention costume contests from the sixties and seventies. On the evolutionary tree, it probably branched off from Renaissance Faires and Dickens Faires too. Now, with latex, silicon, moldable plastics and various facepaints available in just about every large urban area (and the internet) nerds who want to make costumes can do it easily, although it’s got to be expensive. And then they can meet at conventions and have contests. Heroes of Cosplay followed several groups of cosplayers as they competed at these various events; in Atlanta, Georgia, San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland and New Orleans.

One of the featured players was a young Chinese American woman in Atlanta named Ya Ya Han. Han was portrayed as a “senior” cosplayer who spoke frequently about her cosplay career. She mentored a couple of the Atlanta cosplayers, and was often asked to judge costume contests. In the first season I think she went to Japan and someplace like Denmark for cosplay events.

I didn’t like Ya Ya Han as she was depicted. She seemed shallow and full of herself. Her attitude toward the other cosplayers, when she was speaking directly to the camera, was a schoolmarmish, finger-wagging disapproval when they didn’t follow her suggestions. To be fair, her suggestions were good. And she did have beautiful costumes.

The show followed Riki and Monika from Atlanta; Jessica and Holly from LA; Victoria (I forget where she was from) and Jesse from Oregon. Chloe was also from LA, presented as someone who wanted to level up her cosplay skills. Chloe is the daughter of special effects wizard John Dykstra. She has her own show on the Nerdist Channel. I liked Chloe. I really liked Jesse because 1) he was an armorer; 2) he and his Portland friends did steampunk stuff; and 3) Oregon. I grew to love Jessica and Holly for their wild imaginations and their egalitarian approach to cosplay.

I was originally taken with Riki’s dedication to her craft, her intensity and her attention to detail. Later in the show,though, she said something gratuitously mean to one of her other cosplayers, and I lost interest in her.

Let me stress that these are so-called reality shows. For the most part they aren’t scripted, but editors and producers shape what you see and hear, and they definitely do create “characters” that probably only somewhat reflect the real natures of the participants. In the first season, while other cosplayers were shown sketching plans, molding breastplates, frantically scrambling to finish costumes, Ya Ya would be shown lecturing the camera or holding court with adoring fans.

I also smirked every time Han, leaning over to expose her ample (enhanced?) cleavage, talked about the important of her cosplay “career.” Selling cat-ear headbands and calendars of yourself in the dealers’ room, a career? Oh, please.

It did not occur to me right then that I might be using a sexist double-standard. Jesse, the steampunk pirate, the Oregon armorer, dreamed of quitting his day job and doing fabrication full time. You go, dude! Strike out for that horizon! Ya Ya, you want to make a career out of modeling and maybe licensing your designs? Well. How shallow of you.

To be fair, several of the players have career aspirations; Holly and Jessica work in the movie business in LA, making creatures for webseries and films; Riki hoped to become a fabricator also. I think, seriously, where my sexism kicked in was the difference between fabriation (carving, molding, building) and costuming…  sewing. Molding a plastic breastplate, now there’s work. Sewing? More of a girl’s hobby.

My bad.

I’d love to say that the scales fell from my eyes — but they didn’t. What changed my opinion was Ya Ya Han’s storyline in the last 2 episodes of the second season. In those two hours, Han accepted a contract with a costume company and conceived of her most ambitious personal costume yet. Of course, to up the drama, both costumes were due for the same event, seven days away.

Museum Replicas offered Han a role in their webseries, and let her develop the costume for her character. For the first time, I saw Ya Ya Han the designer. Her energy and enthusiam for the project bubbled up, immediately apparent. The costume she created, which had been suggested by some sketches provided by the company, was simple looking but captured the character perfectly, and a few of Han’s touches, an asymmetrical ruff of feathers, for instance, were completely hers.

Her second costume was that of Enira, the Banshee Queen from the video game Lineage II. Enira is evil and majestic. She is tall and menacing. Ya Ya Han is not tall. To get the lines for this compelling costume, she would have to walk on stilts. The queen’s gown included yards and yards of fabric (probably flowing over crinolines); a “metal” bodice/carapace thing, huge peacock wings mounted on bones, a high headress with horns that extended out to the ends of her shoulders. The costume was for the contest Han was hosting and judging, in New Orleans.

Here’s an idea of what it looked like.

I’m sure this costume had at least 100 hours of work in it, done while Han was also carrying out hosting and judging duties… and learning to walk on stilts. By the day of the performance the show gave us a woman who was in a sleep-deprived fugue state, struggling to finish her costume.

She completed it, donned it and successfully participated in a photo-shoot in the hotel lobby, but backstage at the contest she ran into a little flurry or errors. First, someone cued up her music too soon. Normally music wouldn’t be a big deal but it also contained the verbal cues she would lip-sync to, and she didn’t want it to give away her character. Stagehands stopped it in time. With that corrected, she had to navigate four steps up to the stage, on two-foot stilts, wearing more than 50 pounds of costume. Four people helped her, but even so, she caught her foot on the way up. “I was scared I would fall. I was scared I would hurt myself; I was scared I’d damage the costume; I was scared I’d make a laughingstock of myself.”

When she reached the stage safely, she came out and nailed the performance, gliding around the stage as if she really were seven feet tall, approaching the edge of the stage and leaning over (because cleavage) to menace the audience. It was a flawless performance in a flawless, over the top costume.

And I got it. It’s not about cleavage, colored contacts and lipstick; at least not only that. It’s really not about school-marming the youngbloods, or at least, not only that, either. Ya Ya Han the creative designer was on display here; Ya Ya the disciplined performer who honed her skills, who reached beyond her skill and comfort level and managed to deliver. This Ya Ya Han has a work ethic, determination and grit. I finally saw her.

I’m not saying that we would ever hang out together. While I could imagine sipping a pint with Jesse Lagers and his friends, or even hanging out with Holly, Chloe and Jessica, Ya Ya and I have nothing in common. Still, after two seasons, it was a pleasure to see the artist behind the diva. I appreciate her creativity and her craft. Maybe I learned a little something about judging people based on appearances. Probably not, but I can always hope.

Here is some information on some of the show’s cosplayers:

Jesse Lagers’s website.

Holly Conrad’s

Jessica Merizan

Chloe Dykstra

Riki LeCotey

Ya Ya Han

***

NOTE:  While I was tracking down these links I happened across an article where someone complained that the judging at the New Orleans convention was “rigged” because “the only people who were asked about their costumes were the ones who later won,” and they turned out to be mostly HOC people. Okay. Let’s review briefly. The show is a “reality” show; thousands of hours of footage are taped while crews follow around the cast. Then, it has to be distilled down into a forty-seven minute format. Of course most of the conversations that were aired were HOC cast. The judges probably talked to nearly all the contestants about their costumes because that is part of the judging process.  Get a grip.

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Lunch in Railroad Square

After I ran errands in Santa Rosa I stopped in Railroad Square to have Thai food for lunch. Khoom Lanna is at the west end of the square, close to Depot Park. I parked and swiped my credit card, listening to two men in the park talking to each other in high volume about a third party somewhere who didn’t appreciate them. “F-it, man, it’s my F’in art! It’s my f’in art, man!” was a recurring theme. A family group of tourists who had stopped to take selfies with the Snoopy and Woodstock statues folded together and hurried away.

Anyway, the manager of Khoom Lanna used to manage the Thai place near where I worked. This place is slightly more upscale. I got one of the two window seats.

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I ordered Pad See Yiew and a Thai iced tea. The lunch comes with a salad of fresh mixed greens and a house dressing. The dressing was pretty spicy, with a bit of mint aftertaste to cool it down. My entree was almost what I expected. I had forgotten the this dish has scrambled egg in it, so I added chicken. That was not necessary. The surprise, though, was the presence of the fried won ton. I associate won ton with Chinese food, not Thai food. They were crispy and had a filling (not just the quick-fried skins you get so often now) with a hot and sweet dipping sauce. A surprise, yes, a pleasant one.

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The only real disappointment in my meal was the book you see there in the upper right. I bought Rocket Girl about a year ago, in Mendocino. It was in the Biography section, and I mistakenly assumed that it was the biography of Mary Sherman Morgan, a woman rocket scientist who made a discovery that, as one colleague of hers put it, “saved the American space race.”  The book’s been on my list since then, and today I started it.

First up is lackluster introduction from Ashley Stroupe, a robotics engineer at  JPL, who extols Morgan for toiling quietly and “letting her accomplishments speak for her.” Oh, gag me. Then Chapter One opens; not about Mary Sherman Morgan, but about a son (the author) who never felt sure of her love. About how he was asked to write her obituary. About how he did. About how he got in a fight with the LA Times and wrote a play called “Rocket Girl” in revenge. About what a success it was. About… I’m sorry. Did I doze off?

I’m on page 43 now. George D. Morgan, the author, is talking about how hard it was for him to track down one of his mother’s coworkers. He is a successful playwright, apparently, but not a great prose stylist. It’s only page 43, and if I don’t get totally irritated and put it down, it might actually get to something interesting like (like, maybe… Mary Sherman Morgan?) and be good.

To be fair, I think the problem is in categorizing it, and possibly the title. “Rocket Girl” sounds like a great title for a play about his mother. Rocket Girl, the memoir of her son’s attempt to write her life, isn’t. It would have done better as The Search for Rocket Girl, or something, and a nice niche in the Memoir section.

I’m just saying.

I’ll stick with it a bit longer, and report back on my progress.

The food though? Yummy.

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