Monday, December 29, 2008

Self-Discography #8: Moments of 2008

Jennifer O'Connor
"Here With Me" (album)
A summer sunset, with fall fast on its heels. Driving in the morning listening to the spooky strums of "Valley Road '86" and having the CD get stuck (and remain stuck) in my car CD player. Hearing "Always in Your Mind" on a road trip in Indiana and thinking how lucky I really am--to be this age and this self-aware. It's a deceptive album, one full of so many small epiphanies. Underrated and understated. I like an underdog.

Department of Eagles
"No One Does It Like You" (track from "In Ear Park")
Like gothic Beach Boys infiltrating a too-hot Los Angeles September and October... during which I lay in bed sweating, hearing this loop through my head over and over. It conjured for me New York City summers with no air conditioning, when I'd walk through Brooklyn with headphones on, searching for a cool breeze, mystified to find myself living in this place. That same sense of wonder followed me 10 years later to this song, here, on the other side of the continent.

Bon Iver
"For Emma, Forever Ago" (album)
A critical darling whom, for once, I totally adored. "Skinny Love" made me sob in my car when I first heard it last spring. It'd been years since a song had moved me so much on first listen. The rest of the album unspooled around me, hovering somewhere between grace and nostalgia. It's music made by someone shattered and made to pick up the pieces of himself. I know that feeling.

"Robyn" (album)
How many pop "divas" released albums in 2008? Almost all of them. This is the only one that mattered. Perfectly made morsels of songs lined up on a tray for the taking. If only I'd actually been able to dance to this all summer long...

TV on the Radio
"DLZ" (track from "Dear Science")
A moody, masterful track from a moody, masterful album. The first line here: "Congratulations on the mess you made of things." The sentiment seemed to me to be about the country, the upcoming election, the sheer exhaustion and frustration permeating everything this year, as well as a resilience.

Cyndi Lauper
"Into the Nightlife," "Echo," and "Rocking Chair" (tracks from "Bring Ya to the Brink")
These may be the gayest songs of the year (sorry, B-52s comeback.) To that end, they were also moments of solace during a volatile time. It wasn't always so easy to be gay in 2008 (um, hello...equal rights?), but that's exactly why music like this exists.

"Third" (album)
In 1994 I drove through a frigid Midwestern winter with Barbie listening to Portishead's debut, "Dummy." I never thought that 14 years later this same band would still raise the hairs on my arms. I wanted, for a brief moment, to drive through North Dakota in February again when I heard this. Instead, I put "Machine Gun" and "The Rip" on loud during every single trip to the elliptical. Oh, how the times change.

Fleet Foxes
“White Winter Hymnal” (track from "Fleet Foxes")
The week before Christmas. I am watching Ryan wrap lights on the tree, suspended for just a moment, musically framed by this gorgeous song exploding from a simple a capella round. It's nice to feel my heart capable of swelling again.

School of Seven Bells
"Alpinisms" (album)
This year, I discovered there must be a bit of Pacific Northwest hippie in me. That, and I clearly still miss the Cocteau Twins and shoegazers. It's nice to be surprised, and nicer still to hear music that seems as if it's not rooted to anything else.

"Santogold" (album)
December: Driving the 101 in the gloomy drizzle, tracking the green-blue Pacific Ocean on my left as we head north, daydreaming of the spring, the hot sand and warm water at the beach, of being just a little bit drunk on a hot night, hanging out with friends, not giving a shit about what tomorrow brings. It's all rolled into one thing--a mish-mash of moments, just like the mixture of musical styles spread out here.

"Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" (track from "I Am...Sasha Fierce")
What other song could end the year with a perfectly choreographed dance number? If I had a hairbrush to sing into, you best believe I'd use it. Note to self about things to buy in 2009.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

There Is No "I" in "Bunny": M & K's Adventure at The Bunny Museum

I take some responsibility. I'll admit that from the get-go. Kathleen, however, is also to blame. Oh, sure, I came up with the idea, and, instead of surprising her with it, I made the gracious move of warning her ahead of time. But--and here's the crucial thing--she confirmed that she wanted to go. In fact, she emphatically declared her desire in all capital letters in an e-mail. And thus our fate was sealed.

Those who know about the Bunny Museum in Pasadena will look at you and laugh the minute you tell them you are going. If they have no idea what you are talking about, they just say the words "the" ... "bunny" ..."museum?" slowly, perplexed, and with a sense of wonder.

Kathleen, you see, had never been to Los Angeles. And she collects cool vintage bunny things. She's not crazy lady about it. We're talking a few figurines and salt and pepper shakers. And I refuse to simply take people who have never been to L.A. to Venice, Hollywood, Disneyland, etc., so I thought the Bunny Museum would be...well, memorable.

Pulling up to the house in a quiet residential neighborhood, there's really not much to tell you where you are, until, of course, you see the topiary (which I made K pose with):

"Cute," I thought at first, as we walked up the walkway toward the private home that is apparently, if you believe its operators, a "living museum." What that meant, we soon discovered, was that the couple who owns the museum actually lives in it, surrounded by 23,000 bunny, um...things. But first we were greeted by a woman with bleach blond hair that was possibly crimped and then pinned back and up. Her name was Candace and she could have been any number of ages. She asked me to drop my bag into a chest on the front porch decorated with pastoral bunnies in a field; this was to keep it from hitting and knocking over things inside. So far, so good. I grabbed the camera and followed Kathleen and Candace inside...

...and immediately felt claustrophobic as we had to shuffle down a narrow hallway created by shelves crammed full of every bunny knickknack, stuffed bunny, dead-eyed statuary bunnies, etc. imaginable. But before we could even really begin to take in the nature of our strange, new surroundings and assess how the living room was actually divided into three different viewing spaces, Candace insisted we have pictures taken in the TV room, which was the only room that had a defined, clear space in it. (I later discovered that my camera had the wrong flash on, so the pictures are blurry, but they do more accurately show what it felt like to be there.) After the first image, Candace backed up further and asked K and I to make bunny ears behind each others' heads. We felt we had no choice as we whispered to each other, "Is this where they watch TV every night?":

Awkward posing over, Candace ushered us into the dining room, which sat between the living room and the TV room. This was the nerve center of the Bunny Museum, as it held the gigantic table that bore the name of the museum, the requisite bunny image, and was surrounded by some of the most precious bunny figurines Candace and her husband owned--not to mention a collection of old pet bunnies that had been taxidermied and freeze dried after they died and put in a curio cabinet. I think K was close to laughing hysterically already:

Candace told us the story of how she and her husband started the museum by giving each other respective bunny love tokens--a stuffed, plush rabbit and a porcelain (?) figurine respectively. And soon that bunny love grew big, with the couple now giving each other a bunny a day. Now I began to shut down, but instead of going mute, my PR training kicked in and I began to ask questions, such as:

Me: "So, what's the oldest piece you have?"

Candace: "Oh, we have rabbits from every century, all the way back to 100 A.D. Of course, we don't keep something that valuable here in the house. We keep that in a safety deposit box."

Me: "Oh, well, that totally makes sense."

What had happened to me?! I'll tell you what happened to me. It was seeing the kitchen, which, like every other room, was overflowing with...things--including boxes of cereal and other food items with bunnies on their labels, haphazardly strewn about and stacked on top of every open surface. The kitchen also exhibited the signs of stress this living museum must be under, as the ceiling seemed to be caving in, with pinatas hiding some of it:

Granted, there were cute bunnies to be found amid the chaos of so many other arbitrarily chosen items, such as the yellow cookie jar here:

But I didn't muster the right mix of chutzpah and gumption to photograph the small pantry, in which three live rabbits scattered when you came near them and, when you looked up, you saw insulation dripping out of a hole in the ceiling.

Seeing a door that led to the backyard, I practically lunged for it and Kathleen and I stepped cautiously out into the driveway, where a curious mixture of rabbit paraphernalia awaited us. First, it was impossible to miss the odd, maybe rotting (?) bunnies that transfixed us (see image at top of this post and below):

Were they from a carnival? Were they papier mache? Candace appeared at the back door with a basket of chalk:

Her: "Do you feel like big kids? Do you want to draw some bunny pictures?" (Shakes basket of chalk at us)

Me: "Um, no thanks. Um....what are these?"

Her: "Oh! Those are from past Rose Parades! Aren't they something?"

Us: (nodding)

Her: "Out here is where we also put our broken bunnies." (Sad face.) "You know, of course, things break from time to time, so this is where they go."

So...we were in the bunny graveyard. And sure enough, as we walked a bit of the way down the driveway, we were greeted by an array of odd(er) sights, including in one place, a pile of plastic eggs that were just kind of heaped up against the house for no real reason:

Then there was the broken-eared bunny, which looked like it may be beseeching us to smash it to smithereens so as to put it out of its odd misery--not to mention the series of 3-foot tall stuffed rabbits that looked like maybe someone had tried to decapitate them:

Backing slowly down the driveway toward the back yard, we found little else to entertain us, save this nifty little sign that (at this point) did NOT seem creepy AT ALL:

But as we climbed into the yard, which was littered with stacked debris (was that a door?) in the back, we could go no further, due to the power lines that drooped down through a tree, and effectively stopped you from making a loop through the yard.

Kathleen: "Oh. Um. I guess we shouldn't go that way."

Me: "Well, it's either kill ourselves by walking this way or be killed back inside."

And you know what? We chose to go back inside. Because the piece de resistance was, indeed, the living room, which featured all kinds of bunnies from all over the world:

If you happen to notice a roll of paper towels in the first photo, well... that's because K and I were not the only ones there. Oh, no. Two house cleaners were also trapped, I mean, stationed, inside... carefully dusting and cleaning hundreds upon hundreds of figurines, trinkets, oddities, and so on. While later it would cause Kathleen and I to create whole short stories in our heads told from their points of view--including details such as they could no longer have sex with a boyfriend unless he dressed as a rabbit first--at the time we simply stepped around them, politely saying, "Oh, excuse me."

In the living room, though, we did find a few of our fave things in the entire house. Sadly, the skiing bunny is fuzzy:

But after 30 minutes, I'd really, seriously started to feel like I was in that basement in "Silence of the Lambs," know... filled with bunnies. I was almost ushering Kathleen toward the door, but not before making her pose with something else that looked somewhat psychotic:

And that's when Kathleen made her fatal mistake. She let slip as we were saying goodbye to Candace that she, too, collects bunny salt and pepper shakers. There was a small glint in Candace's eyes (As K said later, "I think I detected a hint of competition"):

Her: "Well, have you seen all the salt and pepper shakers?"

Me: "Um..."

K: "Yeah...I think so."

Candace: "Oh, you HAVE to come see them and get pictures!"

And off we went...back into the dining room, where our tale began, near the freeze-dried pets, and I took photos of the admittedly impressive cabinet of shakers:

Sated, Candace asked if we cared to purchase anything from the small gift rack in the corner, which included her new book, the subtitle of which alluded to living in a "post-apocalyptic world." Fidgeting now, I subtly moved toward the door again, and Kathleen grabbed a few postcards. But instead of simply handing over the $2, Candace instructed her to insert the folded dollar bills one at a time into the slit (what looked like a gash or stab wound) in the back of a purple, fat, plush bunny wearing a shirt that said "Bunny Money" (SORRY: NO PICTURES. MY BRAIN SHATTERED AS I WATCHED THIS.) But you couldn't simply insert a dollar. No, you had to then use a letter opener to forcibly thrust the dollar into the rabbit's back gash, so you could trigger the mechanism inside that made it laugh like a crazed hyaena and vibrate.


And Kathleen didn't have the best hand at making this happen.

And then she had to do it again.

It was the longest payment process I'd ever witnessed.

And yet, I wouldn't trade it, for as we thanked Candace and left, we felt like we had truly shared something significant that had bonded us yet again. This was, after all, a cultural landmark...honored by the Guinness Book of Records, the city of Pasadena, and countless others. And now, we, too, had been inside.

We didn't say much as we descended the steps to the sidewalk and back to the car. Even now I think I've not done the museum justice. But Kathleen still has her own story to tell--somewhere, sometime--I am sure.