Life in Lockdown, The First Sunday

A dispatch from coronavirus social distancing, once in an indefinite series

Fortuitous that the family got me a kitten for my birthday because now I have a new lap buddy for all this time at home.

I have never before in my life eaten so much cheese. I stocked up before the store shelves went empty and now just working my way down through the stash, at rapid speed.

Matty absconded with the two older daughters earlier today and entertained them all day, so we were able to divide and conquer without cannibalizing one another.

The baby of the family, two-year-old Luna, learned how to use the Amazon Echo and has been making Alexa play her go-to jams of “Juice” by Lizzo, “Call Me Maybe” and some sort of “Say Cheese” kid song on repeat. I tried to get her into Radiohead and she indulged me for half of “High and Dry” before calling it quits.

Have been intimidated and would feel guilty about trying to go to Costco for one last run before these stores inevitably shut down, and am instead already bumming toilet paper rolls off my better prepared mom friends who can spare.

Update: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti just announced that LA is shutting down at midnight. Retail businesses, bars, clubs, gyms and fitness centers will all close until March 31, at least. Banks, grocers and pharmacies stay open. Restaurants will be available for takeout only.

Interchangeable Asian Party

For the past six or seven years, our colleagues have regularly confused me and fellow female Asian-American NPR reporter Ailsa for one another.

elise/ailsa. for whatever reason the difference is very tricky for many of our colleagues. Oh and the great sage/our pal Kumari is the best part of this photo, obvi.

We would receive the other’s emails and compliments for the other’s stories. I would come into work and people would ask me where my little dog was (Ailsa’s). She got a lot of congrats on my Seoul posting a few years ago. These nagging microaggressions happened so often that in 2013, Matty made a desk sign for me that featured side-by-side photos of me and Ailsa so that people could have a handy visual reminder of who’s who. (You don’t have to point out we don’t really look alike, we are aware.)

Now, I’m one foot out the door at NPR and Ailsa has moved here to LA to start hosting All Things Considered from the best coast. You could say we are … interchanging. So we hosted a little “revolving Asians” party to welcome her, do another bday gorgefest for me and most importantly, to poke fun of our long running plight and the friendship we forged as a result.

I love LA because it takes all comers, people are always here for random reasons and it’s full of friends from so many walks of life. To illustrate, here are people who made it out for boozeday Tuesday, an incomplete list:

— The regular drinking buddies
— My college dorm mate
— The dad I take turns doing carpool with
— My across the street neighbor
— A Defense Department friend who lived in Seoul the same time as us
— A pair of reporters I hired in 2011; one who had just landed from DC
— People who CAME ALL THE WAY FROM PASADENA to VENICE, so they may have started driving last week
— Mari, my Japanese interpreter in Tokyo who is also a working actress now doing a bunch of pilot season auditions in LA
— A civil libertarian I met a party & shared an Uber with two weeks ago
— Husband, armed with cake
— A guy named Bob who I met at a 7 year old’s pool party last summer and confessed he had a big crush on Ailsa Chang. Somehow I remembered this and made sure to track him down to invite him out. This delighted him and and Ailsa both, but especially him.

Welcome, Ailsa! It’s an honor just to be Asian, but also not bad accidentally receiving all the love that’s meant for you. 😉

Very low light on the patio but the point is our friends became friends and that brings me great joy

Trying to Exit LAX-it

Uber, Lyft and taxi pickups were banned from the curb at the infamously congested airport. Photo credit: Rennett Stowe

The new “efficiency” move at LAX to clear up curbside congestion is to make passengers arriving from longass flights wait for a shuttle to take them to a lot to then wait for a rideshare vehicle to take them home.

This has been such an unmitigated disaster in its first week that when the LA Times tried it, for a video, it took a full 52 minutes to get a ride home. And this is AFTER winding your way off the plane and out of terminal in the first place.

In these destabilizing times, the exhaustive effort it must have taken to make an already not-great situation substantially worse sums up my feelings about the global economy, internet commerce, telling my kids to stop yelling, and so much more.

Tonight someone died by stabbing when an argument broke out in a line for the much-hyped Popeye’s spicy chicken sandwich. Felt related somehow.

That One Time At Lawrence Welk’s House

A cozy salon with Manohla Dargis, with blue-hued vistas of Los Angeles behind her. “It looks like the LA of a Michael Mann movie,” she said.

In the megalopolises of Asia, experiences are often marked by their scale — a health scare happening in a “small town of two million people,” or how one protest can draw 300,000 into the streets on short notice.

In Los Angeles, experiences are marked by the random intersections of cultural touchstones: That book party on Sunset to talk foreign policy, featuring the Obama national security guy and some former spies, which was at a clubby Soho House because Ron Burkle owns it. Or last night’s salon for NYT film critic Manohla Dargis at Lawrence Welk’s sprawling former home where an Indian-American musician entertained during cocktail hour by playing “Old Town Road” on the sitar. (That song lineup, which included sitar arrangements for A-ha, and Coldplay, and Marvin Gaye, was wholly delightful but Old Town Road marked the high point, IMHO.)

This was so dope.

Also all the caterers were clearly male models, which a Swiss one admitted when I confronted him over his serving platter of mini chicken and waffles about how ostentatiously good-looking the bar and waitstaff was. I mean, it was almost obscene to have all that bone structure tending bar.

I grew up only coming to know Southern California from the movies and TV, so living here in real life is a mix of recognition and surprise. Almost a year in, I really just love it. Not because of the randomness of the parties but primarily because it’s a place of many cultures, many peoples — and they meet-up and mix-up in interesting ways.

When LA campaigned for the Olympics, the organizers talked about it as “the Northern-most city in Latin America and also the capital of the Pacific Rim” — LA is how America faces outward and into the future rather than inward and back.

Friend Liz now comes to mock me when I say I feel like my soul was always here and now my body just caught up, but I mean it! I am feeling more at home here than anywhere else I’ve lived, and it’s taken such a short time, thanks to the weather (I am perpetually high on vitamin D) and the way the place embraces its cultural quirks and collisions. How nice for a place to be so many things, and to encourage that its people be so many things, too.

California … Knows How To Work You

I’ve been all over California this month — work trips to San Francisco and San Diego, shooting the video series and hosting It’s Been a Minute episodes from both places, and made it to Palm Springs for the first time for spring break with the family.

Humans helped act as reflector stands for us. That’s video producer Kara Frame there, on the right.

The new series has a name, Future You with Elise Hu, and we’ve been heads down on getting the first two episodes ready for an early May release. We also need to get ahead of ourselves in filming them, so this week a crew from DC came out to work with me on Venice Beach, and then we all went to San Francisco together for a harried schedule of more interviewing and filming.

Lots of bright sides: The DC ladies got to thaw out (because apparently it’s still cold out East), and I got to have my collaborators with me in person, instead of over the video chats we do all the time.

These ladies were producing me for video and radio. L to R, Beck Harlan, me, Kara Frame, Anjuli Sastry.

What else do I have to say about April? I potty trained Luna using the Potty Training Boot Camp method (two days, it’s amazing). She turned two years old, so I REALLY have no more babies.

I went to San Diego for a few days to speak at a member station gala and do other assorted speaking activities.

For the older girls’ spring break, we took everyone to the desert (everything went smoothly until one of Eva’s friend’s, Brandon, accidentally ate walnuts to which he is allergic and wound up in the hospital).

Luna, at werk werk werk werk werk.

Also I’m spending an inordinate amount of time training on vertical jump, so I’m ready for the NFL combine. Hehe. Actually it’s for episode three. It will all make sense later.

Film

Friend Harper gives a goody bag to his guests that stay over at his place in Chicago. In the canvas tote are cool things like Harper-branded stickers and … a black and white disposable film camera, which I managed to use until Harper came to LA last week and I could hand off the camera to him to develop.

I love the hard-won look of these. And the time capsule element – there’s something special about film because it gives you such a finite amount of photos you can take. I wasted a lot by just taking nonsense photos of things like takeout boxes, for fun, but I also found this exercise in limits (only 24 chances) and patience (had to handoff the film to be developed, and then wait) really lovely. Baby Luna looked hot, as usual.

The only image of my kid I have, on film
Dragon dance over Lunar New Year weekend
The sinuglar Dan Sinker
Takeout boxes — I packed these!
When Friend John came to town and we walked to dinner along the canals
Boats
Selfie, without the aid of a screen

Barry’s Back, Y’all

HBO’s Barry is back for season two! The premiere just aired last night.

After I moved here last September, I finally got around to binge-watching Barry, a show produced and written and sometimes directed by my friend Alec. It stars Bill Hader and features a lot of standout performances, but for my money the biggest breakout is the delightful Anthony Carrigan, who plays the Chechen mobster Noho Hank. If you watch the show, you know how loveable he is, even (and perhaps especially) during scenes of torture and death.

Clownin’ with the actor behind Noho Hank, Anthony Carrigan, after our interview last week.

It was the highlight of my week when Carrigan came in to let me just talk to him, about him, for more than an hour. I enjoyed it so much. Can’t wait to bring it to y’all in a full episode of our pod It’s Been A Minute, which I guest host for a week later this month.

Home Spa Home

“I would come to learn, slowly, is that community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none. Knowing others and being known; investing in somewhere instead of trying to be everywhere. Communities are built, like Legos, one brick at a time. There’s no hack.” — Jenny Anderson

At the Korea goodbye, friends came dressed up as characters from Kakao (the ubiquitous messaging app). Love these people. Photo credit: Jun Michael Park

I miss Korea sometimes. In the winter, I miss the heated floors. On elevators I miss being able to change my mind and press a button to reverse it. But mostly I miss my Korea friend squad.

Everywhere I’ve lived, the key measure of whether a place felt like home was the people, and the sense of community we created, together.

To that end, Austin feels homiest. And Los Angeles came to feel like home almost instantly. I have the ride-or-die kind of friends here, dating back as early as high school, plus newer friends from the school community and work friends that are among the most creative and hilarious talents at NPR.

Recently Friend Janet and I spent a late Friday night at a Korean spa (these places are open 24 hours), and I thought, wow, I’ve got a little Korea right here in LA, with a pal that had no qualms about sitting around naked together for several hours. Home!

La La Land

Today in my exercise class I made my first porn star friend. This came after a surreal Saturday night at a premiere and Q&A to celebrate IDRIS ELBA (who is even more dreamy in person). Earlier that day, I hung out with a mom friend who is a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger-turned-cosmetics-entrepreneur. So I think this is about as cliche LA as I am going to get.

My new friend the porn actress was a research scientist in her previous life. She is now really focused on trying to be a voice for women in porn and is even starting to direct, largely so she can make some stuff that’s “less obviously made for the male gaze.”

I asked her if she prefers the term “adult film star,” as Stormy Daniels is sometimes labeled, but she goes, “Well, adult films are porn, so I don’t care.” I also asked her what question she gets most often when she’s recognized and invariably it’s, “How does your husband feel about this?” which is, incidentally, VERY MALE GAZEY so, ugh.

All I need now is for Eva to come home with a copy of Dianetics and I think we will have hit peak LA.

The O.J. Tour Exists And, Like The O.J. Saga, It Is Everything

Here stood Mezzaluna, the Italian restaurant where Ron Goldman worked and Nicole Brown and her family ate dinner on June 12, 1994.

The O.J. Simpson spectacle is the defining news story of my childhood, a series of events so indelible in my mind that I still recall even the minor characters, like Faye Resnick (Nicole’s friend) and Dennis Fung (one of the investigators accused of mishandling the crime scene).

I remember where I was when Al Cowlings led police on the white Bronco chase. I remember where I was when Judge Lance Ito asked for the trial verdict heard ’round the world — in school, in a class called “Academic Stretch,” where a television was wheeled in on a cart so we could watch the conclusion of a trial that had been televised every single day.

The O.J. story is American history, one I experienced by virtue of being a middle school student exposed to television in the 90s. Because it happened during formative years, it’s remained a constant current in my consciousness, irrespective of the recent film/TV reboots. Friend Sarah, with whom I’ve gone on some eight vacations since we met in 2015, once pointed out there isn’t a time we get together in which I don’t somehow bring up O.J. Simpson.

Now I live in LA, so for my first birthday as an Angeleno, my husband got me…THE O.J. TOUR, where you’re driven to the victims’ homes and OJ’s stops on the night of June 12, 1994, when his ex-wife and waiter Ron Goldman were brutally knifed to death in front of his wife’s condo. The tour is run by Adam, who grew up in the area and went to grade school with O.J.’s son, Justin Simpson. Adam picked us up in a 1994 white Ford Bronco (natch) and leads the tour with precision and speed, stopping only for questions at the very end.

“This was not my aspiration,” he says, of his O.J. tour. “I was not like, this is gonna be a small business one day.” But interest in this case is enough to keep it going.

You can take the tour during the day or at night, but Adam recommends the night option, “Because that’s when all the crime happened.” It starts and ends at a McDonald’s in Santa Monica where O.J. and Kato Kaelin grabbed food just before the killings, according to the prosecutor’s timeline. (O.J. ordered a Big Mac. Kato got a takeout grilled chicken sandwich, which he planned to eat from O.J.’s guest house while watching The Larry Sanders Show on HBO.)

“Whatever you think about the verdict, O.J. is a wife beater at least,” Adam says, as we cross San Vicente Blvd., a dividing line between Santa Monica and Brentwood.

Ron Goldman’s Brentwood apartment.

Other stops:

  • The school where O.J. and Nicole’s daughter Sydney had her dance recital, which the whole family and grandparents attended
  • Waiter and victim Ron Goldman’s apartment (still exists, completely bro who waved at us from his window)
  • Nicole’s place on Gretna Green, where she first moved when she separated from O.J.
  • Nicole’s place on Bundy, where she and Ron were slashed to death (doesn’t exist in the same form but there is still some of that Spanish tile that was in the crime scene photos) 
  • The alley behind it where O.J. is believed to have parked during the double murder
  • O.J.’s house on Rockingham (torn down in 1997, but you can still visit the lot which is now behind tall hedges)
  • The site of the long-closed Mezzaluna, the restaurant where Ron worked and Nicole ate her last meal (she had rigatoni). We learned of rumors Mezzaluna was a drug front because another waiter who worked at the restaurant was also killed in years following Ron Goldman’s death, coincidentally.
Adam leading the tour from the driver’s seat of his Ford Bronco.

The best part of the tour is when Adam wrapped everything up at the end, telling us about the time a Danish school teacher booked the tour for his thirty students. Adam chartered a bus to take them around and asked the teacher why he was so interested in the O.J. case.

“Oh I teach a whole unit on it,” the Dane said. “It’s the perfect introduction to America. It has race, police, celebrities, sports, crime, the media, the legal system, the freeway, McDonald’s. Everything about America, distilled into one story.”

The side entrance to Nicole’s apartment on Bundy (the crime scene), some of that old Spanish tile still exists.

Endnote: In the car on the way to the tour starting point, Matty proposed a self-amusement mess-around scheme: “Do you want to pretend we’re from Arkansas and act like we don’t know anything about this case?” Good thing I forgot about it when we got on the tour, because that was when a third eager O.J. tourist joined us and hopped into the Bronco. I introduced myself, asked him if he lived in town and he goes, “No, I’m visiting from Arkansas,” in the deepest drawl I’ve heard in years.

Can’t make this stuff up.

Just as there were two Katos (the man and the dog), there were two Broncos. O.J.’s Bronco was a 1994 model, like this one. Al Cowlings’s Bronco was a 1993.