Conversations In LA Go To The Dogs

Rodrigo of Hollywood

Rodrigo of Hollywood

When I first got back to LA a month ago, one of the first conversations I overheard was a young woman saying to her friend “I don’t know if I can wait 10 years to be famous.  That’s like forever.”   To which her friend replied, “Yeah, I’m so sure  it’s not as much fun being famous when you’re old.”  I said to myself, “Ugh, I’m back.”  But within a couple of days, I was happy to be back to the conversations in LA. and now am sad to be leaving them.  They’re the conversations with some of my oldest friends and colleagues and strangers, and even when they have that distinct LA flavor, it is comforting in it familiarity.

Yesterday, I met up with my friend Elizabeth, and while we were chatting, she was also texting with her boss.  About their dogs.  Elizabeth’s Rodrigo is very hip to the dog scene in LA.  He’s goes to a very trendy doggy day care, and saw his first psychic at a young age. (The psychic envisioned many things, including that Rodrigo would like chicken, and imagine that, he does).  She let me share the conversation with her boss:

E’s Boss:  Do you know or can recommend a pet psychologist or homeopathic pet therapist. My dog is having some issues with peeing in the house and my vet has ran a number of tests and it’s not anything medical.  My dog walker sugested a pet psychologist or homeopathic pet therapist and I did a yahoo search and turned up nothing.

E: A friend of mine takes her dog to pet acupuncture. If you like, I can get the name for you.  Rodrigo had a reading with a pet psychic.  It was very insightful into his thought process.  I don’t have her name, but I believe it was the pet psychic on the animal planet.  She was really amazing.  I can try and get her contact info.

E’s Boss:  Both would be great!  Thanks

E:  I will work on it tomorrow.

Conversations in LA

Conversations in LA

E’s Boss:  Thanks so much!

Overcoming Speechlessness by Alice Walker

When I was in college, I remember reading THE COLOR PURPLE in an American studies class and marveling at how someone could write of such horrible indignities done on to someone with such dignity.  I still am in awe of such a skill, and I was reminded of it yesterday during a bout of insomnia–I had to be up for a radio interview with Dr. Alvin Jones at 5 p.m., and knowing that you have to get up too early and having doubt in your ability to hear your cellphone alarm  is one of the best guarantees of insomnia– so I gave into sleeplessness and found myself reading Alice Walker’s blog regarding her trips to Rawanda, the eastern Congo, and Gaza.  And I thought it’s not just the writer that writes with dignity in the face of tragedy, it’s also the people who live with dignity amidst tragedy.

http://www.alicewalker.info/

The Night Counter Sells Out At Book Soup

Book Soup

Reading at Book Soup

With Paul And Scottwith Abbie

Book Soup and The Night Counter

Book Soup and The Night Counter

Thank you to everyone who came to yesterday’s reading at Book Soup.  You didn’t leave a copy in the store!  (More books are on their way)  When I first moved to LA many years ago, it was a terribly clunky move, with lots of test and trials that were not easy, in fact, often very painful.  One of my great escapes was of course the movies, even though it was the movie business I was often trying to escape.  The other was Book Soup, which a very long walk from where I was living at the time, and I liked that walk, even though my roommate said I was just asking to be labeled a tourist walking that walk when I could have just taken my car (small problem there being that someone had nearly totalled that car three days into my arrival in LA and it was out of commission for a while).  Book Soup is one of those bookstores where you can spend hours roaming around and looking up and down the walls at a truly eclectic mix of books.  In fact, aside from picking up The Night Counter, people at the reading also picked up an odd assortment of other titles, from quirky quick reads to oddly-themed coffee table books (David Lynch collection of people shot in shadows, anyone? Or how about the 600-something page book of Tom of Finland I stood next during most of the reading) that reminded me again of what a little oasis Book Soup is–and it is on Sunset Blvd. amongst all the famed clubs, shops and restaurants, so it also gives reading, so sidelined these days, a hipster kick.  It was extra sweet to read from the first chapter of The Night Counter, which is set in West Hollywood, just a few blocks (at least in my imagination) from Book Soup.

THE NIGHT COUNTER: NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER AT VROMAN’S

It really is true: http://hometown-pasadena.com/2009/07/vromans-bestsellers-7202009/

Of course, that probably will not be the case next week at Vroman’s, as there are no books left in the store at the moment.  But fear not, more are on the way.  The Night Counter’s sold out status at one of L.A.’s best bookstores—if not one of the country’s–is in part due to my amazing crew of friends who showed up and put the word out.  It was a great reminder to me of the many wonderful people who have been a part of my life in Los Angeles, and who have been the thing I have missed the most in Abu Dhabi.  As I saw the room fill up with all these faces—and faces I had never seen before, including new baby faces–I felt more than a little sad that I would soon be leaving LA again.   A friend on the east coast asked me if they were all writers and actors—nope.  Yes, they were there, sure, and good ones at that, I might add, but LA is also a place where you meet people who do all kinds of amazing things with their days—teachers, musicians, university program directors, engineers, TV reporters, journalists, studio executives, producers, bartenders, body guards, political activists, photographers, graphic designers, parents, accountants, linguists, stand up comedians, geophysicists –not in any particular order of importance.

(I felt a little guilty for all the traffic people had to endure to get there.  But no one seemed to complaining about the traffic.  It was all about the weather.  What weather, I thought.  Apparently they thought 90s and no humidity was hot.  Please, in Abu Dhabi, they call that winter.)

With Joan Johnson, one of my first LA writer pals (and a seasoned TV writer today)

With Joan Johnson, one of my first LA writer pals (and a seasoned TV writer today)

After the Vroman's Reading

After the Vroman's Reading

With Randa and Nizar

With Randa and Nizar

At A BOOKSTORE SOMEWHERE IN LA

A Bookstore Somewhere in LA

A Bookstore Somewhere in LA

Or How Not To Buy Your Own Book. The first day The Night Counter came out, my friend Natasha promptly bought it at Barnes and Noble in New York, and another friend did the same in Nashville.  So I thought I’m going to go buy my own book, too.   Just to see it in a bookstore, you know.  I went to the nearest bookstore and looked for it on the new books table.  It wasn’t there.  Nor was it anywhere around any hard cover books.  My heart sank.  It must have showed because suddenly there was a concerned store employee at my side.   “It should be here,” I boldly began.  “The Night Counter.  My friend got it in New York.  I heard it’s really good, and if New York has it, shouldn’t L.A.?”  I could feel my face turning red.  “Yeah, for sure…The Night Counter,” he said and started banging computer keys.  “Great title…hmm…I bet you it’s about someone counting nights as they go by.  What do you think?”  “Yeah, probably.  It’s supposed to be something clever like that,” I replied, turning even redder.

That’s when he looked at me carefully and smiled.  Oh, no.  In general, I don’t lie, as I can’t do it without getting flustered.  Nor would it be totally inconceivable for me to get flustered around a cute actor dude in L.A. standing in my personal space.  He was used to the latter, rather than suspecting that it was dealing with an author going undercover.  And there’s nothing like a flattered actor. “I’m going to find The Night Counter.  This just isn’t right.”  And he went off, with me in his wake, telling me about how he came out here from Ohio for this acting and liked meditating.   “I could just come back tomorrow,” I said.  “Really, it’s no big deal.”  “No, it’s supposed to be in the store, and we’re going to find it,” he said, with great actorly drama, almost running into a Japanese couple, clearly ESL students.  “Please, please, can you help us?’ the young woman said.  “I’m busy right now,” he announced.  “Looking for The Night Counter. What do you need help with?”  “We’d like to buy some books,” she whispered.  “Well you’re in the right place,” he nodded, and then we were off again, with him explaining I had good energy, just like him.  “Tell me you’re not sick of men with no energy,” he winked.  “Really I can come back,” I answered, my face turning redder because I kept thinking of all my hard work buried somewhere in this store.  “You know this book must still be back in the storage,” he decided.  “Just wait on me.  I’ll be back. Look at some books or something.”

And so I stared at all the other new releases that were all carefully and tenderly laid out.  Until my phone rang.  “I’m at the Barnes and Noble at the Grove.  The book has good placement, but I’ve moved a copy over to the Twilight section, so it gets more traffic,” shouted my friend Elizabeth, normally a refined, high-powered executive.  As I hung up the phone, my book knight appeared. “Ttill stuck back in storage, as I suspected.  The Night Counter by Alia. Yunis,” the actor beamed, handing my book to me with flourish. “You’re going to bring the others out, right,” I said.  “Soon, I’m sure,” he answered.   I wondered if he were on to me or just amused by increased flustering.  I prayed he wouldn’t look at the back flap and see the author photo and notice a resemblance, even without the make-up.   “You’re good people, seek out other good people,” he advised me, not opening the book.  “Me and you, we got those Midwestern roots.  We know good people.”  “Okay,” I promised, turning redder as I nearly crashed into the hard cover new releases.  “You know…um…you should put all The Night Counters out here in this new books section.” “Yes, indeed,” he agreed.  I backed all the way to the cashier, thanking him.  He seemed willing to chat more, and I suppose I could have chatted up the book, but at this point I was so horrified by my charade, I just wanted to pay and go.  At the checkout, the cashier checked my credit card signature with my signature on the receipt. But she never checked my signature with the author’s name.

I Love My Daily Candy!

Chocolate milk balls, black licorice, gummy bears…but today it was extra sweet: http://www.dailycandy.com/los_angeles/article/70636/Magic+Carpet+Ride

July 15, 2009

Magic Carpet Ride

“The Night Counter,” by Alia Yunis

998, 999, 1,000 ...

Little pigs and lost siblings make for decent bedtime story fodder.

But the life and times of Fatima Abdullah, the madcap matriarch of Alia Yunis’s charming debut, The Night Counter, is even better.

When the 82-year-old woman divorces her husband of more than 30 years, she leaves Detroit to live with her grandson, a struggling actor in L.A. Upon her arrival, fabled Arabian Nights immortal Scheherazade swoops in for the first of what turns out to be nightly visits, leading Fatima to believe she has 1,001 nights to live.

With nine days left, Fatima’s desperate to check the last things off her list: write her funeral instructions, marry off her grandson (P.S. he’s gay), and determine who from her dysfunctional (and disinterested) brood is worthy of her home in Lebanon.

As the four generations of stories and secrets magically unravel across America and the Middle East, you’ll be drawn deeper into the family’s touching, comical tale at every turn.

You can count on it.
Available online at amazon.com or at your local bookstore. Discussion and book signing, Sunday, 4 p.m., at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 East Colorado Boulevard, between North El Molino and South Oak Knoll Avenues (626-449-5320 or vromansbookstore.com). For more information, go to aliayunis.com.

THE NIGHT COUNTER A RANDOM HOUSE EDITOR’S PICK

The Night Counter is an Editor’s Pick on the Random House website.  Considering the large number of books Random House publishes and my littleness in that pool, this is a good thing and a happy thing.

The Night Counter will be in bookstores tomorrow inshallah.  I saw it as a book for the first time yesterday.  It sat in a box that I walked around for two days before I could open it.  A lot went into what was in that box, and to see the end of its journey—or rather its birth into the world of books – well, the people who inhabit the book don’t belong to me –or my agent, Jen, or my editor, Kate—anymore.  Lot of things have changed in the world and in my life and the lives of my friends and family since I started writing it, so I actually had to have the person who has known both the book and me the longest, my brother, on the other line while I opened it.  He’s also okay with me crying.  Strangely, I thought of the

The Night Counter A Random House Editor's Pick

The Night Counter A Random House Editor's Pick

grandmother who I never met and who could not read.  I don’t know what she’d make of a granddaughter that not only reads a lot, but writes a lot.  But I think she’d like the cover.  I know you can’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s a pretty book.

HOW TO TEACH AN FBI AGENT TO MAKE HUMMOS

In THE NIGHT COUNTER, Fatima is baffled by the FBI agent that visits her at home and claims to have a Middle Eastern background but doesn’t know how to make hummos.  A couple of years ago I wrote an article for Saveur about hummos and my own mother’s bafflement at its Americanization of  hummos, i.e. the need of U.S. manufacturers to give everything a “flavor,” as if it didn’t have enough flavor on its own.  There’s really no need for wasabi, pesto, olive tapenade, and pimento hummos.  It’s at its finest when its just the four ingredients man originally intended it to be:  chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt and MAYBE garlic.

Back when I wrote the article, I researched and learned a lot about hummos, but today I’m an expert on how to survive on it.  For my first year in Abu Dhabi, it’s been my main meal for probably 5 out of the 7 days of the week.  With everything being new to me, it became my comfort food and a staple that didn’t make me simutaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed,  like a lot of the multi-ethnic dishes that mirror the multi-ethnic world of Abu Dhabi.  I’m a food adventurer,  but sometimes you don’t want adventure. Hummos is just simple and uncomplicated, unlike everything else during the day.  And its even comforting to know that the same guy will be at the cashier at the Lebanese Mill and you’ll chat Middle East politics while you wait for your order.  And it’s the cashier at the Lebanese Mill that told me one day, “You’ve been looking too pale lately—go get a blood test.”  Turned out, he was right, I was very anemeic.  Hummos is pretty nutritious, but you can’t –or probably shouldn’t–live on hummos alone.

Here’s how Fatima expected the FBI agent to make hummos:

3 C. boiled chickpeas (or four cups, if planning on removing skins or using food mill).
1/2 cup tahini
3 to 4 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
1 small clove of garlic, crushed in mortar and pestle with salt
Salt to taste
Paprika
Chopped parsley

Remove skins from chickpeas (optional).  Place chickpeas in food processor and puree until the beans form a smooth paste (or process in food mill).  Puree beans for at least two minutes, pausing to scrap down bowl.

In a large bowl, mix chickpea puree with tahini and lemon juice. If mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of warm water.

Place the mixture in a soup bowl and swish the hummos up the sides, creating a wide  well in the center.  Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil, leaving a little extra in the well. Garnish with paprika.  Place a teaspoon or so of parsley in the well.

Serve with pita bread, pickles, and olives on the side.

Attending Michael Jackson’s Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Today several people stopped me on the street to ask me how Michael Jackson’s memorial service was.  It took me a while to catch on that they weren’t all psychic.  I was wearing the gold wrist band that everyone in LA knows means you had a ticket to the event.  I did indeed, thanks to my friend Scott, who beat the odds and was one of the 8,500 people out 1.6 million to get free tickets. And good ones at that– in one of the premier seating boxes.  Lucky, you might say, but then there’s something odd about saying you were lucky to go to a memorial service of anyone, including the boy you had planned to marry in seventh grade, not that he had been aware of the plan.  It was a day as sad, weird, and uplifting as the man and his music.

Keeping in mind that I still cry at reruns of Little House on the Prairie, I’m glad Scott brought a hanky for me, as I soaked it.  Today was a tear fest from the moment his one-gloved brothers regally walked in with his casket until the end when his daughter collapsed into her aunt’s embrace.  In between that, there was a celebration of a man who everyone under the age of 55 can say they grew up with, whose image and music have been a fixture of every place I have lived, from Minnesota to Beirut to the UAE, where posters of his London concerts have been hanging up at malls for months.  It was also a celebration of African Americans and the strides they have made since the Jackson 5 became a part of the American landscape.  I wouldn’t go as far as saying, as Al Sharpton implied, that Obama was able to become president because of Michael Jackson, but when MLK’s daughter spoke of how MJ had called Coretta Scott King in her final days to lift her spirit, there was no denying the power Michael Jackson has had on the entertainment and social fabric of  the country. It was also a celebration of family, and how it rallies together, and of talent—his and those he inspired and was inspired by.  Lionel Ritchie, Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey, Usher all at their most powerful today, and what a privilege to hear them sing in the same place at the same time.  And I suppose for anyone of a certain age, there was sorrow in losing the biggest icon of your lifetime, a person who made you dance and hum for most of your life with a sound and moves that were so distinctly his.  They just don’t make icons like Michael anymore, and given the advent of Andy Warhol’s predicted 15 minutes of fame for everyone, they probably won’t.

Al Sharpton also said to Michael Jackson’s kids “There wasn’t anything strange about your daddy, but it was strange what he had to deal with.”  And that statement is perhaps more about growing up in the limelight and growing up based out of Los Angeles, where yes, you get to be as weird as you want, but you also have to accept that every bit of your weirdness is up for media hyperbole and dissection.

It’s not completely without irony that the Barnum and Bailey Circus will move into the Staples Center tomorrow, as many refer to LA’s media as a circus.  But today, LA ran like a well-oiled machine, and pulled off a show for the world without any chaos.  It might have taken thousands of policemen, transit authority workers, and city staffers,  but as my friend Natasha said, it was an LA response to an L.A. story. And what happens in LA—at least when it comes to the entertainment industry—happens everywhere.

Outside Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Outside Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

RIP MJ

Review of the Night Counter From Genre Reviews

Saturday, June 27, 2009
The Night Counter-Alia Yunis
The Night Counter
Alia Yunis
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Jul 14 2009, $24.00
ISBN: 9780307453624

Lebanese immigrant Fatima Abdullah is dying, but shows no interest in a reconciliation with her estranged husband Ibraham or for that matter with her children sprawled all over the country as she prefers to ignore their issues. She has no desire to see any of her ten offspring; their children except Amir or even her pregnant great-granddaughter; they did not want to hear her prattle about her 1001 Arabian Nights countdown.

Instead she stays with her gay grandson Amir, who welcomes her insanity in Los Angeles as an actor who knows his town is filled with crazies so his attitude is why not one more with his blood. For the last 992 nights ever since Scheherazade visited her demanding she tells her stories, Fatima has complied. When her tales end, Scheherazade insists so does her life; as happens with everyone. With nine to go, the octogenarian expects to be dead next week even as Ibraham wants to be there for her; as does the FBI who believe the Abdullah family are a sleeper terrorist cell because of Amir’s name and his association with a former lover under federal surveillance due to his former lover Amir being under federal surveillance.

This is a terrific tale that keeps the audience wondering whether Fatima suffers from dementia or is a clever modern day fantasy. Fatima obviously owns the fast-paced novel as she begins her final countdown to what she expects is her death. Her family especially heartbroken Amir, whose lover dumped him during the countdown, provide solid support as all of them except her host assumes she is certifiable; whereas her host thinks she is an eccentric lovable kook. Sherazade plays a key role, but like the Memorex commercial one will ponder is she real or imagined as does the circular logical FBI finding perceived terrorists under any Arab sounding rock. Alia Yunis provides a powerful modern day family thriller with the twist of the FBI “interrogates” Sherazade.