Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pieces of Egg: A Prelude

As I'm pulling together some Egg City research and gathering all my old Egg photos, I realize that I've never researched Egg City on the internet. Shocking and strange! But probably okay.

Erica and I discovered Egg City on a map around the year 2000, and visited it promptly. (More creative-non-fiction type prose on that to come.) The visit itself was research. Not only did we document the place (the buildings have now burned down) but we recovered some telling artifacts. No egg-related equipment could be removed from there (it was too big and we were already trespassing), but we took with us a notebook of records, a magnet bearing the name of an egg-quipment supplier (still on my fridge), a poster of chicken diseases, and an empty plastic sack meant to be filled with Egg City brand chicken guano. It still smells funny, even though it never touched any guano.

Erica sent me a scan of the notebook cover today, which opens this post. She can tell you more about what's actually inside it. All I remember is the notes on employee sick-days I read somewhere, which were post-Julius Goldman era (the golden age of Egg City) and very stern.

Me rifling through documents we found in an outbuilding.

And here's all it says about Egg City on Wikipedia. It doesn't even have an article, it just lives on the Moorpark, California page. A quick Google search only returns some ten year old plans to develop the site as fancy houses (there's a nice view up there on the chicken hill...) but that probably went to shit when the rest of the buildings burned down. It had been part of a ranch when we visited, with cows roaming on the pavement where the chicken houses used to be, and a farmhand in a pickup truck patroling the grounds. He waved at us.

Our field research was not the end of our efforts, however. Even though the internet does not contain much information on obscure things that went defunct long before web 2.0 arrived, the Los Angeles Public Library most certainly does. Shortly after our first trip to Moorpark we made a second trip downtown.

The central branch of the LA library is a friggin' museum. I mean, it has to be I guess. It's the main library for an enormous city and it owes an explanation for its own existence, the city's existence, and the architecture and art of the place have to contribute to everything else that's going on in the city. But I was still amazed by it. I still haven't had the pleasure of visiting any New York librarys, nor any Ivy League university's hallowed stacks (though I have had the pleasure of getting chills in the manuscripts rooms at Newberry Library in Chicago). But those places probably hold a different sort of magic, a more academic sort, from a sprawling city's house of information. And that's what LA's is. It's not "books" (I don't think I looked at any books that day) but information, and maps, and photos, and STUFF! Seven floors of it.

I think we spent the day on level -4. We looked at old maps (they've a roomful), we got sidetracked by about 80 years worth of phonebooks (you can see who lived in your house even...), stared into locked cases of ancient tomes, and I had the librarian hauling out microfilms of 1980s newspaper clippings about Julius and his hens. We did some goddamn good old fashioned research, for a couple of crazy kids.

So I will whip something up, an Egg City merengue I guess, and post it post haste. I am most excited to show off the photos, taken on two or three separate trips. These were pre-digital days, and we were both running full manual cameras with no zoom. Some of the 32mm shots came out amazingly sharp and colorful. Others (especially from the dull day) were dull but capture the delapidation perfectly. We also have some moody black and whites that make Egg City look like the perfect spot for a '90s rock video. I'm so excited!

I just wanted to preamble, and reminisce a little on the first research days we had on our obsession, and what I wouldn't give to go back and visit level -3 (philosophy!), -2 (patents!?) . . . of the LA library, and close the place a few nights.

Unfortunately for us, there is no going back to Egg City.

Erica looks out on Moorpark. I guess this is where developers were picturing luxury homes (Moorpark Egg-states...Life can be this good) in lieu of crumbled chicken barns and corrugated steel.

But wait! Here's Egg City's former location from satellite. I think it was somewhere within the brown spot between Grimes Canyon and Rifleman Drive. And it's surrounded by green developments and fields. The photo shows no sign of any buildings now.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Evening in the Life

I've got a bedside notebook with burgeoning pages of half-baked ideas and the beginnings of some blog posts.

This evening, like many evenings this month, I am attempting to round out one of those entries so I can publish it here. There is a small human next to me (the kind who shares half my genes) asking me to look through some book of developing fetus pictures (!) and find the photo that looks like "a tap-dancing alien." We just finished a rock-out session to Bob Marley and various 80s bands. We've been fighting fevers and stupid pre-school-incubated colds for a couple weeks now, and we think it's time for winter to get the hell out of here.

I just finished the last of my applications to graduate programs last week. I am probably going to go to DePaul University, which requires my presence in the city only two days a week. I think I can handle that. And I would like it better than being wind-burnt in DeKalb at NIU.

I just read some of my best bud's recent posts -- she has been having blog anxiety too. We're not posting because we get excited about an idea and by the time it gets typed up it looks stupid to us. Her posts are not stupid, but charming and funny -- and often autobiographical, which I sometimes used to shy away from in my own writing. I'm inspired not to "shy" now. Since school's done I can't help being a little more introspective than usual, and while I continue some critical sorts of activities and reading outside of the "institution," I suppose now that the apps are done I should seize upon this time to figure shit out. Or just chill out!

Here's some of the titles and/or descriptions of what's to come, and I plan to post'em up even if they are stupid. Got nothin' to lose now!

"The Tuscany Craze" or "Name that Paint Swatch"
Exploring how marketing, retail, capitalistic enterprises in general, use manipulative product names and descriptions that spin off into the most senseless trends.

a good segue to...

Something on model homes. They're creepy, unrealistic, sparsely sprinkled with useless stuff that no one puts in their house (bowl full of rustic balls, anyone? I antiqued them myself...), and they speak only to a certain "market segment" or family type. (In the early days of model homes that seemed like it was the nuclear family, but it's something even stranger now.) And now I can't stop cracking up at the balls.

"No More Monkeys"
Again I'm mad at trends. I've been keeping track of how often "monkey" or "monkeys" shows up in titles, website names, internet memes, people's avatars, commercials... it's annoying, and pretty meaningless. Like people's pretend love for pirates. Someone already took care of that one.

"Terrestrial Projections and the Imagination"
Sounds fancy. It's about maps and the experience of them. And I like an excuse to make preposterous, preponderous titles. Like this next one.

"He was a Good Egg: Julius Goldman and the fall of the Egg City Empire"
The story of Egg City, from the historical perspective and from the perspective of looking back at abandoned people-made things. A chance to do a photo essay with my own "work."

Writing and the Body
I've always done a lot of writing-on-writing and I commonly end up using sexually charged metaphors, especially for writing that is dear to me. In my post on Virginia Woolf (one of my dearest writers) I took this so far as to compare men's and women's different styles of humor to their (respective) genitals! While I usually don't get so literal about how the sexes write, and try to remain in the realm of metaphor, I know Helene Cixous and others have written on the female body's almost physical connection to the way women express themselves. I don't buy all of it, but I want to read some more of it and see if it sheds any light on my writing-on-writing tendencies toward the erotic (and sometimes bawdy). It's not as simple as women giving birth to novels or anything like that. Though Barthes has a funny take on that kind of thinking in his "Novels and Children." I guess since I've earned my stripes I can write now!

There's a few more ideas, but these are good to get up here where I can see them and they can nag at me (or any of you can nag at me if you want to read them soon -- Egg City's got a few requests in already!)

I hope (I can only hope...) to finish the map stuff tonight, after the cat is saved from premature death-by-torture and the other small creature is tucked away upstairs for the night. See you later.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"HAMBURGER"

I had quite an experience yesterday. I ate a hamburger. This may not seem novel to you, but it was for me. It was my first hamburger in about three years.

For many sound reasons (rationalizations?) I started eating meat again last month. I didn't think I would ever add beef back to the menu, especially ground-up, dripping fast-food beef. And it wasn't any sound reasoning that had me craving it. I did it for Tommy and Shari.

Tommy was the founder of Tommy's Burger, a southern California pre-McDonald's burger joint with locations strategically placed near all the neighborhoods I lived in or frequented, and chili on everything. My dear friend Erica and I used to eat there. I'm partial to the one on Topanga Canyon, which would reel us in on our way to Chatsworth Park, and the one in my sometime hometown of Van Nuys, which happens to be next to a very strange mural where a child is holding something that looks like a ray gun. Here's the mural on Google maps so you know what to look for, behind the 7-11 sign. Turn around behind you and there's burger eaters sitting outside. (Maybe that's why burgers are not so great in Chicago. They don't taste good sitting in the snow.)

It wasn't just Tommy's that gave me my nostalgia for California burgers. It was the road trip. I can't imagine how many miles I drove in that state, but Erica and I tore up the highways. One time after a camping trip near Sequoia National Forest (we didn't actually go to the forest, but to a giant rock pile in a dry lakebed near it), we stopped in Kernville (of Kern County, of course) and had burgers from a little stand attached to the back of the general store. There we sat on the bank of a little sparkling churning river while kayakers bobbed by. We ate our burgers, drank our Royal Crown colas, and became a scene out of a 1960s picture book. The kind with the expertly gouached pine trees and children in striped shirts and ballcaps.

Erica at our awesome campsite. Somewhere near Kernville.

So, eating while traveling (a favorite combination of mine) was a big motivation behind re-burgerizing my stomach. I wanted to make sure I could visit Tommy or some roadside stand in the middle of nowhere and experience America, I guess. Without vomiting afterwards. I think it's worth it. But anyhow, I think most meat eaters have some nostalgia for burgers on the road, and that's not what made me want to write about them.

I almost forgot about Shari. Her Tucsonan burgers were my first inspiration for writing about burgers at all today, and for taking yesterday's greasy plunge. I talked to Erica last week and we shot the shit about life in Tucson (we were lucky enough to live in both Tucson and LA together, at almost the same times, thanks to several twists of fate), and somehow we got on the subject of things in quotation marks that shouldn't be. I'd seen a movie that had used them around its Spanish disclaimer for the interview portion of the DVD. The other languages did not use quotation marks. I got to thinking it might be a Spanish language thing, that it actually means something ("listen"? "this is an announcement"?) to put portions of advertising or notifications and announcements inside quotation marks in that language. Then it unfortunately got horribly translated into English, and everyplace from Long Beach laundromats ("DRYERS FREE!") to midwest farmer's markets ("CASH ONLY") to Tucson burger stands (..."HAMBURGER") began using the quotation mark, as if there were no other way to tell someone something in writing and have them know you are talking to them.

Shari's is the best example, because the quotes weren't even around announcements. They were hand-painted onto the entire menu, item by item. "HAMBURGER" "CORN DOG" "FRIES" Then dot dot dot.... and the price, not in quotes. It's not really a hamburger, but we definitely want your $3 for it. I'd gotten used to unnecessary announcement quotes ("FORM ONE LINE") and had come to enjoy the humor in the many signs that offer something "FREE" (um, is it really free, or just..."free"?) but Shari's was really something to talk about. If I didn't hate air quotes so much, I would have ordered everything with them. I'll have a "milkshake." After 53 years of outdoor and drive-in burgering, Shari's closed in 2008. Maybe beacuse of the In and Out Burger that moved in down the street. Maybe because of the quotation marks. Perhaps people just couldn't be sure of what they were eating anymore, or perhaps they thought someone was shouting the menu items into their ear. Hmm, what do I want? "HAMBURGER!" Alright alright, hamburger!

We live with these quotes all around and mostly ignore them, like poor spelling. It seems like there's something more to them though. The first time I remember noticing them was that Long Beach laundromat when I was about 18, and I spent the hour laughing at the "DRYERS FREE" banner, shoving clothes in and saying "Dryers freeeeee...Who said that!? Stop talking to me!" I think the friend I was with thought the problem was with me and not the signage, but it the quote problem stuck with me and I started noticing them everywhere.

Maybe it's just another common degeneration of written language, like plurals with apostrophes. Maybe it's just a tactic to cut through advertising and signage noise by attempting to make more noise. Maybe no one's ever read a novel or a story in English, so they don't even know what quotes are for. Whatever the reason for the quotation mark proliferation, it always reminds me of "HAMBURGER." And since yesterday, hamburgers make me happy again.

Eating outside is easy in California. Almost required.
Me, somewhere on Highway 23 near Moorpark.

For more of me getting sappy and serious about food, see last year's Ode to a Greasy Muffin.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nerd Bullies and Cyborgs

I get so many book catalogs in the mail thanks to my semi-pointless student membership in the MLA. Some of them tease me with books I'd really like to read, if I could afford them -- books on everything from the love lives of obscure philosophers, to King Arthur mythology, to life in poor, rural America. Some of these things might sound silly, or maybe snobby to you. But I thoroughly enjoy these topics and I thoroughly enjoy imagining reading these books about them.

You can bet there are so many more books in the catalogs that I think sound silly and snobby and even what I'd call academy-trendy. I can't figure out if they make me cringe so much just because they are on subjects I don't personally enjoy, or at least subjects I don't wax scholarly on, or if the "ad copy" promoting the books is just so pretentious, or if it's because the titles of the books themselves drip with "isn't this relevant?" -ness. In short, I feel like I am reading a catalog of parody summaries of parody books (complete with parody reviews) put out by The Onion.

Some of them I keep by the bed to read for laughs at night. The way some of them make me laugh but then just a little angry at the same time, I think I might be becoming some kind of academic bully. Ralph from The Simpsons, if he made it to grad school. I'm a nerd, but I have to pick on the nerdier nerds. "HA ha! You said diASSpora!"

I just picked up a catalog from the bed pile. University of Minnesota's "Cultural Studies" catalog. As a former art-school-girl I'm partial to the pages on Duchamp, film studies, architecture...but there is a very painful media studies section that for my comfort takes pop culture and technology far too seriously. I mean, I understand why we study media and technology, but it looks funny when it's backed up to a page of all-Lyotard books. I get all excited about French philosophy and then "wham!" a centerfold of nerd culture. I admit this media page spread simply falls under the category of "not my taste." I don't plan on reading any scholarly works on gaming culture or superheroes anytime soon, and I won't scoff at someone who might. But I can't promise I won't try to give him a swirly. In the girls' bathroom. It might be sexist of me to say so, but I think mostly men read these books: Biomedia, Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks, etc.

Then follows several pages of film studies ending with an entire page dedicated to Derek Jarman. A review of one book on him is glowing and wordy: "...his rigorous interdisciplinary scholarship and lucid, perceptive writing are inextricable from his passionate personal engagement from one of the most influential and charismatic European artists of the latter third of the twentieth century." That's a lot of adjectives, and that's the first time I've had to consider "the latter third." He probably could have just said "He writes really great, and you can tell he really likes the really great guy he writes about." The review is so specific and at the same time generic. The reviewer probably keeps a notebook of verbose stuff that just hits him (or he steals) at dinner parties or while sitting in a bar, and when he is called upon for a blurb he can piece the praise-phrases together to make myriad reviews befitting any literary occasion.

On the Dada and avante-garde page there is a little treat about which I have mixed and giggly feelings -- I love Dada, and some nerd went and mixed it with science! They sullied it up with robots. The Dada Cyborg: Visions of the New Human in Weimar Berlin, it's called. "Finding the cyborg in early twentieth century art," is what it's about. Ok...Futurism, Hannah Hoch's men with factory-machine parts, the kitchen appliance creatures on the large glass, the semi-robotic Woman Descending a Staircase... I see why they see the cyborgs. But what of it? What do you do when you "find" them? "Coooool! Cyborgs!!!" I wonder if I wonder enough to read the book and find out. My interest is disturbingly piqued, and it gives me that sick tickly feeling in my stomach, like when someone won't stop doing something annoying yet slightly endearing. And then you have to punch them.

Here's a funny one. For a book on how French theorists changed American thought (aptly titled How Foucault, Derrida, Deluze & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States) there is a review from an expert on the subject: "A remarkable book in every respect." --Jacques Derrida. He would like a book on himself wouldn't he? Old coot.

There is one spread labeled "literary criticism." A couple of the books are actually about literature. One of those is on science fiction. The rest are about linguistics, travel writing...they tried.

I probably don't need to mention the sick feeling I get from all the titles containing slashes, commas, and colons, and endless uses of trendy gerund words like finding, recovering, reconstructing, queering, and best of all this whole title of them: Firsting and Lasting. They're kidding right? Like when that Facebook dissertation quiz tells me my topic should be "Othering the Others: A Metaphorology of South Park." These titles are no less ridiculous! Best title in here: Manhood Factories. There's nothing funny or stupid about the book itself.

Now it was probably wrong to pick on Minnesota, but I don't have any real doozies in my pile right now. There is a Dutch catalog that's somehow even worse. And I trusted the Dutch! Tons of lit crit, but every title initiates instant gag reflex. Sometimes I think the books can't even be real -- they're just doing this to get to me. I hope I get another one soon so I can post its goodies here. I probably burned the last one, or tore it to shreds in a fit.

That Dutchy catalog also has French language books, and the summaries are in French. That makes sense, and of course I feel cool as shit when I can read them...but it also feels like it might be another level of alienation for some would-be readers.

So, why do these things make me sick and happy at the same time? In a way I'm glad people think about all this stuff. No one person can think about all of it. That part is pretty cool. What's uncool is the latching onto title trends, vocabulary trends, using pompous language in a summary or a review, publishing on trendy topics just because of the market segment they might command (scholarly publishing might be part of academia, but it's still an industry!). I don't like the way it's all so professionalized. That's the stuff I actually have a problem with. That's the stuff that really needs to be parodied.

The stuff I don't have a real problem with (like the Dada Cyborgs) but that gives me the tickly yuckies is partly the nerd bully coming out. I guess the things I like, while nerdy, have been liked in academia for long enough that they are the tough guys there. Avante-garde art, French philosophers, Victorian stuffs, there's gangs to back all that shit up. The new kids on the block, the cyborg finders, the gaming culture scholars, the superhero politicizers, well, they might have to watch their milk money for awhile.

(It did occur to me that bullies bully because of insecurities. And it did also occur to me that I might not understand some things (especially cultural studies...) as well as some other students. And that maybe I'm threatened because it's quite possible these new fields of "relevant" studies are going to steamroll the old standbys. And maybe that's why I need to laugh at them.)