October 24, 2006

A Bloody Good Time

I love a good decapitation in the afternoon.

'Tis the season to be bloody. Now's the time when my DVD player heats up from the countless Friday the 13ths and various 80s slasher flicks I play in order to get in the ghoulish mood for October 31. Forget those post-Scream, PG-13 remakes that dominate the current box office. I prefer my horror visceral, unabashedly budgeted at three dollars, and in the words of Jada Pinkett Smith, featuring dumbass white chicks with Aqua Net hair "gettin' their dumb white asses Cut. The. F**k. Up."

I will not bow my head in shame for owning DVDs of the following:

1988's Cheerleader Camp: See short shorts-wearing Leif Garrett run from a pom-pom-carrying killer in the woods. Money shot: Ditzy Pam gets a pair of gardening shears shoved through the back of her neck.

1987's Return to Horror High features George Clooney in a role (as an actor named...George) that sees him getting butchered within the first ten minutes of the movie. Horror High was kind of ahead of its time, laying out the blueprints for Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven's 1996 slasher satire. It was about a movie within a movie about murders that may or may not have taken place years ago. Nifty idea, but poorly executed. Bonus points for casting Maureen "Marcia Brady" McCormick as a cop who becomes infatuated with body parts.

1986's April Fool's Day sorta plays like a collegiate version of Ten Little Indians. A group of college seniors are invited to stay at a friend's island manor for the weekend. Pranks abound, and then the bodies pile up. If you're savvy enough, you'll notice Biff from Back to the Future as a jock who gets his throat sliced in a booby trap.

And then there's the Sleepaway Camp trilogy about a hermaphrodite killer who targets misbehaving kids at a summer camp. Of course it was a blatant rip-off Friday the 13th - but with that crazy gender-bender of a twist.

Speaking of Friday, the Jason Voorhees franchise saw many famous faces pass through the rotting gates of Crystal Lake as well. The throat of a post-coital Kevin Bacon gets impaled in bed. Corey Feldman saves his sister from a machete. Even Crispin Glover gets in on the action - he gets a meat cleaver to the face while his hand is corkscrewed to a chopping board.

Since All Hallows Eve falls on Tuesday, this upcoming weekend will be chock-full of parties where girls will most likely dress up as their favorite sluts and guys will most likely attempt to emulate Johnny Depp in all his swashbuckling glory.

I will be in attendance, donning an attention-grabbing outfit I created all by myself. To reveal my costume now before Halloween would destroy the element of surprise (and stir up a frenzy of copycats, I fear). What I can say is that I had the chance to preview it last weekend at an early bash where the reactions were great. I believe the words, "awesome," "clever," and "timely" were uttered by the partygoers I befriended while trying to avoid the potent mystery punch.

This year a part of me would also like to revert back to my 10-year-old self and experience trick-or-treating in L.A., specifically in the hoods of Beverly Hills and Hancock Park. God only knows what kind of goodies are given out. Godiva dark chocolates wrapped in crisp twenty-dollar bills? French truffles laced with fruity liquors? One thing's for sure: Expect none of that 99 Cent Store shit on Beverly Boulevard or 3rd Street.

Just the other day I consumed a twenty-dollar cupcake. They were made by one of our production managers who owns his own specialty cupcake business. A box of four costs just $75! If you're wondering if they're topped with Swarovski crystals, think again. If you'd like proof, go ahead: http://babycakesonline.com/

Whatever happens this weekend, I will not forget to "fall back." I'm sure one more hour of sleep will be needed after Saturday night's festivities at Matt's 666th Halloween Havoc. Mix CDs will play. The Monster Mash will be performed. Vodka will be had. And faces will redden (well, mine at least).

Enjoy the early darkness, kids. Look both ways before crossing the streets. Avoid those unwrapped treats...And go see Babel which opens in select theaters, produced by my employer (we're proud - plug complete).

If you don't, I'll probably just blog about it later after I attend the L.A. premiere and hang out with Brad Pitt.



October 23, 2006

A Love Letter

Sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a love affair.

I'd say it started somewhere in the mid-90s. In no way was this love at first sight. My interest was simply piqued. A glance here, a laugh there. As the years flew by, the more I gave myself to the relationship the harder I fell, the deeper I fell, in love.

Entertainment Weekly and I have been going on strong for a healthy ten years now. Those who label it as another "mass-market mag" should be pitied for their lack of open-mindedness. They don't know anything about the pleasure EW brings me. Every week I revel in the joy of ravaging its pages from cover to cover and absorbing new pop wonders previously unfathomable to me.

EW satiates my hunger for pop culture news like nothing else can. It has changed me, especially my writing, prompting my own readers to urge me to land a job at the publication. Oh, how I long to be an official member of the EW family!

So, why not a love letter to EW (or to those editors and writers who have shaped me into the pop culture connoisseur who blogs before you)? An ode to those keepers of the pop culture gates, the brave men and women who go out of their way to report "summer movie body counts" and just how many units the latest Rascal Flatts moved in its first week...


Dear EW,

To call this a love (fan?) letter is like calling "Veronica Mars" just another teen drama. My appreciation and respect for you and your contribution to society goes beyond adjectives.

I first met you in the early-to-mid 90s. I have memories of those early days when you featured something called a velociraptor on your cover promoting some "Jurassic" flick. I remember your transition from a lower case "e" to a large-and-in-charge upper case "E". I recall being intrigued by an upcoming Alicia Silverstone starrer entitled "Clueless" while studying your Spring Movie Guide of 1995.

We normally see eye to eye on important issues: How vital "Ain't No Other Man" is for any Summer of '06 mix CD...Why we're adamant about "Battlestar Galactica" getting some frakkin' Emmy recognition...Who should be rightfully cast in that upcoming "Dallas" movie.

And then there are few times when we tend to butt heads on other topics: The polarizing aspects of "Little Miss Sunshine" (you say crap, I say gem)...The enjoyable stupidity of JoJo's "Leave (Get Out)"...the list is short.

EW, I feel that we are on the same wavelength. We can finish each other's sentences: "'Footballers' Wives'...blows those Wisteria women off the Astroturf!" We can predict what will happen in the universe (Ms. Witherspoon, meet Oscar). And together we feel the pain inflicted by poorly made decisions and prolonged absences from the spotlight (Where for art thou "Sports Night" and Rachel McAdams?).

Allow me to get a little Annie Wilkes on your ass: I own your pop culture quiz book. I auditioned for your VH1 World Series show. I save certain issues knowing they will be worth something...someday. I am not just a "number one fan." I am an imaginary freelancer who has tons of insight to offer and share with the pop culture-peckish public. Because let's face it: we need a little Hot Topics to blanket us from the harsh realities of this schizo world we live in.

I am you. You are me. Let's be daring, team up, and take over the world one Muggle at a time. Owen? Dalton? Lisa? Ken? You game?

Yours truly madly deeply,
Hiko Mitsuzuka

*References available upon request.

October 19, 2006

Lost Angeles

"This city's killing me. I want, I want, I want everything."
- "Los Angeles" by Sugarcult

Hardly in the four-year history of these chapters have I received such passionate responses like the ones I received from "The Cooke Book." The issue of New York versus Los Angeles is a topic of debate I find fascinating: Who has it better, Manhattanites or Angelenos?

But now, I'm over it. I don't care anymore. There is no clear answer. That debate has ended. Chapter 67 wasn't even written to argue which Coast is better. The intentions behind it were not to bash NYC. My words were a letter to those who stubbornly believe New York is the only place in the world to live a real life, a reaction to the attitude I still get from those (mostly NYers), who talk shit about where I currently reside and appear to leave no room for compromise. I was talking to the natives who have unfortunately never stepped foot outside the border. (To those New Yorkers who HAVE travelled and still regard their homecity as the best place in the world, I nod and acknowledge your opinion. You went out in the world, experienced the New and Exciting, and arrived at your own backed-up conclusion. Golf claps.)

Leaving home and moving off to the other side of the country doesn't make me special. Adventurous, maybe. And I would love for others to be just as adventurous...NOT to give up their lives and move away, but to travel.

Ahem, soapbox please...I strongly believe travelling is one of the best things we Americans can do. It expands the mind and brings the whole world closer to understanding each other via experiencing new ways of life and finding common ground that's usually hidden underneath layers of bullshitty ignorance...Okay, I'll step down now.

Repsonse from New Yorker #1: "You're right about NYers getting over themselves. Every born-and-raised NYer needs to move away for a while. They need to get away and learn how to love and appreciate a new city in order to appreciate where they have come from. You're also right about returning to your self-made family on an opposite coast. As nice as nostalgia is, it's refreshing to see everything that you have built for yourself from scratch."

To be fair, this New-Yorker-turned-Angeleno also claimed NYC as the greatest city on the planet. She said "Being back in what you consider a concrete jungle leaves me with a very different feeling. Crashing with my friend in the East Village for a night, or meeting a work buddy for a cosmo in Chelsea, always leaves me with a yearning to live in Manhattan. I know in my heart that L.A. only has a hold on me for a few more years before I am drawn back."

In my email I had made sure I didn't generalize and point a finger at ALL New Yorkers. "The Cooke Book" was also a result of the conflicting feelings that hit me whenever I return to the East Coast. Do I see myself living back there? Would I be just as happy? Maybe, maybe not. Right now I know the answer is no.

Me: I love NY, always will. When I was younger, I remember answering "a yuppie" whenever asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I had visions of living and working in the city, enjoying the hustle-and-bustle of it all. I was obviously influenced by what I saw in yuppie classics like "Baby Boom," "Big Business," "Wall Street," and "Working Girl." Knowing that I lived twelve miles from that town they call the Big Apple, I thought about following in the footsteps of Gordon Gekko and Tess Harper. Then, all of a sudden, I did grow up, and my passions evolved into something else and led me somewhere else. I still have no idea if I'll ever return because I have invested and enjoyed so much in a place I have never before dreamed of living.

Response from New Yorker #2: "As another fellow NY transplant...I just feel like I don't have a home...I've learned to embrace L.A...I still hate driving, I'd much rather prefer to hop on a form of public transportation or in a taxi than to have to deal with parking with multiple cars heading to one destination."

So, to reciprocate the sentiment from Chapter 67, I have decided address some "cons" that outsiders easily pick out and pose to us L.A. folk:

1. "Don't you get tired of driving everywhere? Isn't it pain to spend money on gas, car insurance, etc?"

To which I reply, "Yes, sometimes. But if I lived in New York, I'd probably spend the same amount of money on the higher rent, taxi fares, and monthly Metrocards. It all balances out."

2. "Isn't everyone fake, and don't they just care about making a name for themselves in the business?"

To which I reply, "Those of us who have managed to keep our souls learn to see through the plastic facades. Some of my closest friends here in the City of Angels aren't even in the industry. I guess I'm lucky in this sea of starfuckers to have found these genuine folk who care about more important things. Of course, I'd be lying if I didn't say there are some of us who also revel in the trivial and superficial...but with tongues firmly planted in our cheeks."

The list could go on, but the point is: You make the best of what you're given. You adapt and learn how to live with what you have. Blah, blah, blah.

On to the lighter notes...

What I'm loving these days: The Sugarcult song (quoted above), Rosie on "The View," pumpkin pie latte ice blendeds at Coffee Bean, the Japanese nerd on "Heroes," "Anytime" by JoJo (should definitely be her next single), the oddly appealing blahness of ABC's "Brothers and Sisters," my black corduroy Calvin Klein blazer purchased for twenty bucks at the Palm Springs outlets, Kate Winslet's performance in "Little Children," and Wolfgang Puck's minestrone.

What I'm hating: the sniffles I can't seem to shake, Flavor Flav, the unbearable parking situations at the West Hollywood Pinkberry, the woman at the gym who leaves her W magazines draped over the treadmills, the fact that Ashlee Simpson is on Broadway, and HBO's release of all five seasons of "Six Feet Under" in a mega-boxed-set (after I just bought the first three separately).

There you have it, people.

Go off and be well.

Happy Halloween.


Dawn of the Disney

My first trip to the wonderful world of Disney was in the summer of 1986. I have vague recollections of a rented pale blue Chevrolet hatchback, giving my mother the silent treatment for not buying me a chocolate sundae, and an extravagant dinner in Cinderella's Castle where I got to meet the princess herself.

My second experience was in 1993. My great aunt Anna treated me and my mother to a vacation during which we pushed her around the theme parks in a rented wheelchair. She later accused us of trying to kill her by breathlessly running her around in the Florida heat and humidity. She drove us crazy to the point where we fantasized about the untimely collision of her runaway wheelchair with an oncoming Snow White tram.

1998 saw me, fresh from high school graduation, flying down to see Mickey and friends once again, this time with the parents, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins. Torrential rain in Epcot. My father falling asleep during a 3-D Muppet attraction. My mother playing a ghost as a volunteer in an audience-participation special effects show...These were just a few memories taken from that summer.

Now, twenty years after my first encounter with the Mouse, October 2006 will go down in the Disney World history books as the time I saw a friend I've known since kindergarten take a giant leap into adulthood by tying the knot in a chapel across the lake from the Magic Kingdom.

The Fairy Tale Wedding ceremony took place in the Wedding Pavilion at the Grand Floridian Resort. The reception followed at Epcot, underwater at the Living Seas. I'll get to the lavish details later.

First, some things I noticed during my fourth visit to the Happiest Place on Earth...

Much like Vegas, Disney World is that great American destination where one can witness the Great American Fat Ass. If you want further proof that America is the fattest country in the world, feast your eyes on the wonders of the Muffin Top, a term I've picked up from the refreshingly kooky Amy Sedaris, which describes the roll of fat that usually hangs over tight pants or (denim!) shorts. The number of Disneygoers who are warriors in the Battle of the Bulge is astounding. And it certainly does not help that these theme parks offer fried Everything and chocolate-covered Anything at every corner (at ten bucks per serving no less).

My accomodations were supplied by the folks over at the All-Star Movies Resort, or as I like to call it, Disney's Rooms-With-No-View for the Budget Conscious. We were the poor folk housed all the way at the end of the boulevard, beyond the thicket of trees, shoved to the side like a forgotten child, the one with the pool "under construction."

As I stepped off my Disney Magical Express shuttlebus, on which I watched a video showcasing the 893 things I could do and see during my stay, the noise in the hotel lobby hit me - muzak versions of Disney movie theme songs. You can't escape it once you pass the gates of D-World. It's all-encompassing - In the lobby. At the food courts. In the restrooms. On the tram rides. I was itching for the iPod and some new tunes from The Killers. Instead, I got "A Whole New World" as my greeting song. And as I write this, it has never left my head.

I checked in at the front desk, where a heavyset cast member with a nametag reading "Jason" ("from Sarasota") asked for my ID. After showing Jason I was "from Los Angeles," I was given a map of the grounds and the card key to my room..."Any questions?"

"Yes," I answered. "Do you have a gym?"

Jason stopped typing on his keyboard, gave me a brief Are-you-kidding-me? look, and replied with a curt, "No."

As I turned to exit the lobby I could feel Jason's stare on my back and hear his un-Disney thoughts: "L.A. freak."

On the way to the room I stopped by the resort's gift shop to see what overpriced treasures it had to offer: Pirates, pirates...and more pirates (Damn you, Jerry Bruckheimer). I'd like to meet the person who thought placing coolers of beer and wine in the rear of the shop was a brilliant idea. Now Dad can get drunk, hit on the underage princesses and piss off Mom on the way to the Animal Kingdom! Or maybe Grandma can load up and make indecent gestures at Aladdin...who knows?

The resort was pleasantly modest. We stayed in the cute Love Bug complex, complete with Herbie parked out front for photo ops. Once I dumped my luggage onto the bed I flipped on the TV to discover that half the channels were Disney-themed. Radio Disney. The Disney Channel. Adult Disney (kidding...imagine?). If I had seen any more footage from the Hannah Montana concert special while channel surfing I was going to run outside and decapitate the Donald and Daisy statues in the garden.

A visit to Downtown Disney's Pleasure Island was on the schedule for Friday night. I met up with Susan, the bride, and Scott, the groom, and their group of friends outside the ticket booths for the clubs. Drinks in hand, we bought our tickets to the nearest venue. Mannequins Dance Palace is a large warehouse-type known for its rotating dance floor and sweet cocktails. We spun 'round like a record to Jessica Simpson and Christina Aguliera remixes that would make any circuit party boy scream.

Slightly hungover on Saturday morning, we rode a Disney Transport bus to MGM Studios. There, I enjoyed the brand-spankin' new security procedures the parks have recently adopted. Not only do they scan your park pass and check your bags at the turnstiles, they take an imprint of your index finger using a device straight from the "CSI" prop room. Just as I was expecting a retinal scan to follow, I was ushered into the park. I watched moms and dads behind me go through the same terrorism-proofing (because God forbid the terrorists blow up Mr. Toad's Wild Ride). Our integrity and identities as Americans will just be shattered to pieces if Osama ever struck terror in the hearts of every rider on Honey I Shrunk the Audience.

Erica and I walked the park, looking for the rest of our party. We all met up at the Rock'n' Rollercoaster, an in-the-dark thrill ride set to the music of Aerosmith. Thankfully I managed not to throw up the Mickey Mouse ice cream bar I devoured earlier. Next, we walked over to the imported-from-Paris stunt show at the back of the park where squirrels came out of their hiding to feed on fallen french fries. I later imagined the little critters returning to their lairs, breaking out into a chorus line, and singing their praises to the fast food gods in the kind of choreographed number you'd find in an animated Pixar musical.

It could happen.

Afterwards, we spotted Minnie and Goofy signing autographs for a crowd of impatient, sugar-fueled children. This is when Erica, having worked at the resorts back in '02, shared a dirty little Disney secret: Mickey Mouse...is a woman. Since the character is five feet tall and is constantly surrounded by kids, it is difficult to find a male actor who fits that description and has that level of tolerance.

Would that make Minnie a lesbian?

Later in the day we hopped on a boat that took us to Epcot, where the Food and Wine Festival took over the World Showcase. Get drunk in Germany! Get sloshed in Mexico! Puke your brains out in Japan!

Puke, no. Toasted, yes.

I savored a glass of green tea plum wine in China, munched on a meat casserole in Africa, sipped on chianti in Italy, and sampled a soft-baked pretzel just outside Norway, where every cast member on Maelstrom is blond and named Bjorn.

Sunday was the day of the wedding. After eating a pathetic salad for lunch at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney I bussed back to the hotel room, donned my cheap suit, and made my way to the Grand Floridian Resort, where a horse-drawn Cinderella carriage was to bring Susan to the resort chapel.

This girl I've known since kindergarten, this friend I've seen through high school dances, sweet sixteens, and various kinds of adolescent drama was getting hitched. I was my normal nostalgic self and couldn't help but reminisce about days gone by.

Whatever...on to the party and free booze.

All of the guests were placed onto a motorcoach and driven to the underwater reception dinner at Epcot's The Living Seas. We rode through the back entrance, allowing us a behind-the-scenes tour of the park. It was as uneventful as any backlot tour. Walt Disney's cryogenically frozen head was nowhere to be seen.

The bus stopped at the last building. Uniformed figures with guiding glowsticks led us into a hallway, down a flight of stairs, and through a dark lobby-like space. You'd think we were protected witnesses being led through a labrynth of shadows by the F.B.I.

Pluto, I don't think we're in the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow anymore.

The dark silence was soon broken. A sound so frightening, so hair-raising, could be heard at the end of the corridor. I stopped in my tracks, the dread creeping up my spine. Do we dare go any further?

"Good God," I whispered.

Kool and the Gang's "Celebration."

It was blaring from the pair of speakers the DJ set up in the aquatic party room. Honestly, I would have preferred to have a pitbull gnaw on my testicles than be forced to dance to this tired tune from the 70s. What next? Donna Summers's "Last Dance" at the end of the night?

I felt the urge to go up to the guy and say, "Listen buddy, this is my tenth wedding. I know all the musical tricks you have up your sleeve. Why don't you spare us the disco torture and shake things up with a little Ludacris?"

We ate. We drank. We danced. We drank. We waved to the scuba divers who swam by with the schools of fish and sea turtles. Mr. DJ pulled a few surprises by spinning a little Pussycat Dolls with a dash of Justin Timberlake. "Thank you," I whispered, giving him a thumbs-up from my seat.

The magical evening continued. Erica caught the bride's bouquet. I caught the garter belt (two weddings in a row, thankyouverymuch). Toasts were made. Conga lines were formed. Cake was had. Susan and Scott were celebrities surrounded by their own private paparazzi.

We returned to the resort stuffed, drunk, and exhausted beyond words. Mission accomplished.

And then there was Monday. A farewell breakfast at the Grand Floridian ended the long party weekend. Since my flight back to Los Angeles was in the evening I had time to kill in Downtown Disney. A souvenir here, a souvenir there, and my wallet was finally emptied. My throat started to feel sore. My sinuses were acting up. It looked like the weekend was finally paying me back. By the time I landed at LAX, my head felt as if it were going to burst.

Apparently what happens in Disney follows you home from Disney.


October 06, 2006

The Cooke Book

A self-proclaimed New York Snob, Elizabeth Cooke doesn't believe in living anywhere else.

A youth of the 60s, she is a follower of Kerouac, a hater of Bush, and would marry her packs of Parliament Lights if it were legal. With a mop of red hair and a penchant for black sweaters, Liz is one of those liberal kool kats you'd spot in old photos from the original Woodstock in which she could be testing out every drug known to man. It wouldn't be hard to imagine her knocking back shots of whiskey at an underground jazz club somewhere in the West Village, swaying to the tunes of a saxophonist named Johnny K and bopping to the bass in a haze of smoke (of course, back when you could puff on cancer sticks in New York establishments).

Her signature rasp of a voice stands out among the faculty of Iona Preparatory. Liz, or Ms. Cooke to her students, teaches English and acts as a moderator of the drama club at the all-boys high school located in the northern heights of New Rochelle. She instructs an array of academics - dumb jocks, bookish loners, closeted artists - yet she silently knows who will succeed and do her proud in the future. She has her "special boys."

+ + +

The 1:15 a.m. Metro North train leaving Grand Central usually arrives at the New Rochelle station at approximately 1:47. My day in the city had ended. My stomach was filled with the tasty cuisine of Elmo, the Chelsea restaurant that introduced me to the passion fruit cosmo, and I was coming off the high of Magnolia Bakery cupcakes and seeing Jake Gyllenhaal walk down Bleeker Street.

Just as I was about to let the iPod lull me into a disco nap, I caught a glimpse of reddish brown hair and heard that unmistakable voice, that distinct smoker's cough.

"Ms. Cooke?"

Before she could walk into the next car in search of a seat, Liz Cooke, follower of Kerouac, hater of Bush, turned around and did a double take.

"Oh my God," she rasped.

"Hiko Mitsuzuka. Class of '98?" The woman has seen a lot of boys pass through that prep factory in the past eight years, give her a chance.

"Of course! Oh my God." She turned to the bald gentleman who was carrying her jacket. Her husband, Gus. Another member of the Class of Woodstock '69.

The woman who was sitting in the row across from me got up and offered the seats to them so we could talk further. The "talk" was more of a review of names we knew from way back when. She asked about who I kept in touch with (sadly, a few), who was doing what (jobs, not drugs), and most importantly, what the hell have I been doing since I kissed those graffiti-free hallways of Iona goodbye. Turns out I was only one of two guys from my circle of friends who had moved off, out of town, out of state. When Ms. Cooke ("You can call me Liz now") learned of my move to La-La land, she seemed a little surprised and asked the two questions that always hit me when I come back to New York: "You like it? Ever think about moving back?"

I told her I loved it. I can't imagine not living there.

"Wow, that's good. Normally, I don't hear that. Me? I can't stand California." Spoken like a typical New Yorker. "You roller skate to the hottubs?"

Liz went on to repeat this bizarre roller skate comment later in the conversation. Apparently she thinks all Angelenos favor a good roll on the beach and pruning of the fingers in boiling water. As she stuttered off a list of more names from our past I noticed how she rocked back and forth in her seat, the glaze in her eyes.

My high school English teacher was drunk...or something else.

"Gus and I are coming back from watching a friend play a session in the Village. You'll have to excuse me. I'm a little out of it, if you know what I mean."

Cut to my mental images: aging hipsters wearing berets and porkpie hats, smoke clouds, shots of whiskey...

I had to stifle a laugh. If the boys of Iona could see this now.

Liz beamed over my class, saying how special my group of friends were (damn right we were). I flashed back to our AP English class trip to Broadway to see Christopher Plummer perform in the one-man "Barrymore." There was the Tom Stoppard play in Hudson Park. The readings of Allen Ginsberg during an October thunderstorm. The acapella spring musical we endured ("My Favorite Year," if you're wondering, in which I played a Phillipino boxer who was married to a brassy Jewish matriarch). My first fall play, a quartet of one-acts in which I had a non-speaking role as a supermarket shopper in "Ten Items or Less." My first cast party during which the boys participated in a Spice Girls lip-synch-off with the girls of The Ursuline School. Speech and debate tournaments. New Year's Eve sleepovers. Reading "The Great Gatsby" and briefly romanticizing over the glitz of 1920s high society. Shouting out the lyrics to Meredith Brooks's "Bitch" during dress rehearsals in the school gymnasium...

It is one thing to take a stroll down memory lane, but when the memory floodgates are opened, one flies down what I like to call the Nostalgia Highway.

And after this past weekend, I could have used an EZ-Pass.

I see a pattern developing during my visits to New York. Regardless of the nature of my trip, I will always run into at least one person from my past who will ask me those same questions I faced on that late-night commuter rail.

Here's the thing. The first day back is always the same. The jarring differences between both cities hit me. At first, the idea of living in New York (city or elsewhere) loses its appeal to me. Sure, the energy is contagious, but the enclosure of the buildings can be stifling. I prefer some open flatlands now, the idea of driving out to places and seeing the scenery change, not feeling trapped on an island made of concrete and glass. I know some New Yorkers who never venture out beyond the George Washington Bridge. To them, travelling to Jersey is out of the question; Long Island is the beachy country to frequent during the summer. To them, I say go beyond the twenty or so miles. Realize there's a whole country out there. NYC is arguably the center of the world, and if your pride is as big as Ms. Cooke's, I mean Liz's, it's the center of the universe. You have good reason to feel that way. But may I suggest toning it down a notch. Open your mind and acknowledge the unexplored gems the rest of the nation has to offer.

Frankly, get over yourselves.

Wake up and notice why Manhattanites are starting to migrate out of the city. It's an ironic move. New Yorkers boast about how great they have it, piquing the interest of newbies who move in to see what all the fuss is about, thus increasing the demand for new condominiums and high-rises (I never witnessed so much construction before) and increasing the dollar signs on property leases. Then, it's out with the old, in with the new.

New York Friend #1: "I have everything I want within walking distance."

To which I reply, "Wonderful, but how many times can you stomach the same Thai take-out, the same artsy coffeeshop, the same neighborhood pub, the same face you want to avoid on the subway?"

Walking in the city will eventually bring you past the same landmarks...and then you have to walk back home. Sure, it's good for the heart, all that cardio. But there's a benefit to all the driving we do here in the City of Angels: We go further, we see more. Those aging NYC natives are getting the picture. They want to see more as well.

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. Every street I turn down in Westchester serves me a flashback. Central Avenue: checking out the then-new Barnes and Noble in Hartsdale to buy Anne Rice's "Queen of the Damned" on a frigid winter night. Wilmot Road: walking in the mud on the side of the road during a rainstorm to catch the bus down on North Avenue. Quaker Ridge Road: shelling out five bucks to walk through the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce's annual Haunted House and worrying I wouldn't make it back home in time to catch the network television premiere of "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child" (oh TiVo, where were you in 1992?).

And then I return to Los Angeles. I see the friends I have made, the unofficial family I have adopted, and I am welcomed back into the fold. I am surrounded by a rare few who share my trivial obsessions with the giggle-inducing references of "Veronica Mars," the random delight taken from a forgotten Jefferson Starship single, the totally odd sighting of Al Pacino in the West Hollywood Target, and the rejuvenation Rosie has thankfully delivered to "The View." Yes, we're industry freaks. Get over it.

To say that I'm bicoastal is to repeat myself. That chapter was finished a while ago. What I am now is something different. What I am now is open, ready to catch the fastballs of the West that will propel me into the New, into the Next. What I am now is home.

And for the record: I've never gone roller skating. And hottubs? They're called Jacuzzis. And I love 'em.


*Did I mention? Liz hates blogs too.

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