Midnight Confession #11: The Hostess with Thermos-est


New embarrassing audio story!

Don’t pretend like you weren’t psyched when all those pretty insulated water bottles came out a few years. My brother let me borrow his on a car trip from Pennsylvania to South Carolina for a cousin’s wedding, which was something like nine hours, and my tea stayed hot the whole time! That’s amazing! We also listened to the whole of You Must Remember This’s series on Charles Manson’s Hollywood, which probably says a lot about our family.

OK, maybe you weren’t that psyched when those water bottles came out. You should definitely listen to You Must Remember This, though.

Stuff I Did This Week: You should ALSO listen to the Mortal Podkast episode I did with Ben Mekler!

Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Flicking the V’s (I just realized this one actually sounds much dirtier in American English)

The Case of the Midnight Bee

It has come to my attention that I am living in a horror movie.

I’m fine with this. Really. I had a suspicion for a while that I was living in a romantic comedy — I’m a single woman who’s worked creative jobs exclusively in big American cities, I’m constantly tripping over nothing, and have what I consider a pragmatic and realistic view of romantic love that others find pessimistic. But that’s a bit self-aggrandizing to begin with, and if it were a romantic comedy, it would be a really long, really boring one. Especially considering I’ve mostly dated STEM grad students and engineers. I’ve accepted that a horror movie is much more likely. My only concern is what kind of horror movie I’m in.

Last night I came home late from my cousin’s graduation party (everybody please say congratulations to Daryl), got my mail, and went into my building’s elevator. I was opening a $22 residuals check when I caught something out of the corner of my eye, a patch of something dark yellow on my jacket sleeve. I looked closer, and saw five tiny eyes looking back at me.

I froze, because this is pretty much how I got stung by a bee when I was a child. We were at a day camp outing at Castaic Lake — not a real lake, but we’d already had a beach day — and I was eating watermelon Fruit By The Foot in my bathing suit when a very determined bee landed on my shoulder strap and refused to leave. My friends told me they’d get it off, but I should be prepared to run after, and I ran a little too soon. It stung me right at the base of my neck, which is really not a fun place to be stung, and I screamed and cried a lot because I was nine years old and that’s what you do.

Actually, I guess that wasn’t “pretty much” like this, at all. Still, even though I haven’t been stung in more than twenty years, and I’ve experienced many way more painful things since then, I’m still a little uncomfortable around bees. They’re smarter than other insects, I know, and they don’t want to sting. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. They’re not like the dumb, giant California figeater beetles, one of which flew into my hair a few summers ago.

Still, when a bee lands on you and won’t go away, it is unsettling. Especially when it’s after midnight, and you’ve never once seen a bee at night before. Maybe I brushed up against some night-blooming jasmine, I told myself, but images of horror movies were already flashing through my mind. Very limited images, of course, because I haven’t actually seen very many horror movies: I love horror TV shows, but slasher films and mirror-image synaesthesia are not a good mix, and I don’t like jump-scares or other people screaming. But bees are all over horror movies, I know that, there were all kinds of movies about swarms and “killer bees” in the ‘70s. And there was a bee in The Ring, right? No, it was a fly. Candyman? There were bees on the poster, but I only knew what my brothers told me after they saw it on Spanish TV in Madrid and had my oldest brother translate, using his two years of high school Spanish. If I was suddenly in a horror movie, I needed to know which one it was. I’ve seen Scream, I know that knowledge of the genre is the only way to survive!

I noted, to my relief, that she didn’t look like a yellow jacket. I’m not the best with insect identification, but when I was six and filming a scene for Melrose Place in Griffith Park, a yellow jacket drowned in my cranberry juice. That’s a pretty vivid image for a six-year-old. Yellow jackets were forever burned into my brain, with their ugly, early-’90s-esque neon yellow, as opposed to the more subdued honey yellow of honeybees and bumblebees. Wasps I wasn’t so sure about: were they also brightly colored? They were longer and more tapered than the girl on my sleeve, I thought, but I still wasn’t taking any chances. You’re supposed to treat any snake as poisonous if you can’t tell what kind it is, surely the same was true of bees and wasps.

If I brought it inside, one of my cats would inevitably kill it. They’re pretty lazy, but good hunters: I once saw my biggest, laziest cat catch a fly out of midair between his front paws on his first try, and immediately bring it to his mouth. It was so surprising and disgusting that my friend and I stopped talking and just kind of stared in awe at him for a moment. But I didn’t want them to get stung for their efforts, especially if it was a wasp. If it was a honeybee, aren’t you not supposed to kill them? Aren’t they the ones at risk, without whom entire ecosystems might be destroyed? Anna always goes out of her way to help any lost or injured honeybees she finds out in the wild. But she also thanks plants before she picks them, and lets strangers’ dogs lick her face, and we can’t all be Snow White. I’d just let the bee outside, and let her figure out how to get home.

I walked slowly through the long hallway, trying not to disturb her. Every time I looked back, she had crawled about a half-centimeter higher, a half-centimeter closer to the place I was stung as a child, the place now giving me extreme headaches because I’m in my thirties and scalene tension headaches are just part of the routine. It felt like ages to find the nearest exit door, and I silently cursed the California architecture that makes L. A. apartment buildings so beautiful but so weirdly hard to navigate.

When we got outside, she wouldn’t leave. She’d found a home on my jacket. I finally took the residuals I had in my left hand and gently scooped her off. I did not run this time. A second later I saw her down on the ground, not hurt, but not flying away. She was just sitting there, looking at me.

I made my way inside and locked the door. This was an omen. I don’t even believe in omens, but this was one. I have never seen a bee at night, let alone had such a weird, tense, intimate moment with one. What was the bee trying to tell me? What kind of horror movie is this? Is this the first moment of a Guillermo Del Toro film? A bad remake of a Korean movie? “The Case of the Midnight Bee” does sounds like an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? (That would actually be cool, I’ve always wanted to be in a campfire story.) While I don’t consider myself a brave or strong person, I am a very prepared one. So I’m going to need help figuring this out, because if this is going to be my life from now on, I need to be prepared.

Although, right after I got inside, I sat down on my couch to find that one of my cats had thrown up all over it. That might lend more credence to the romantic comedy theory.

Stuff I Did This Week: My interview with Lifehacker, about what and how I eat, went up! I talked about matzoh ball soup, cooking with Anna, Jollibee fried chicken, my health issues that allow me to have as much sodium as I want, embarrassing myself in front of Jon Hamm, and much more!

Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Ey Up, Me Duck!

Midnight Confession #10: So What Difference Does it Make?


It’s time again for an embarrassing story told through audio!

This installment is a demonstration of two of my deepest-held beliefs: the appeal of something dramatic, and over-the-top is universal. Morrissey (unfortunately) filled that void for some of us for a while, with his maudlin silliness, but everybody has some kind of spectacle that they love. It’s musicals for me, but it’s pro-wrestling or heavy metal or breakdancing for someone else. It’s catharsis!

Also, everyone I know entering their thirties is now dealing with some kind of chronic illness or pain. That’s a much more depressing thing to think about, but it’s true, at least amongst my friends. I feel like 30th birthday cards should say “Happy Birthday! Remember to do your physical therapy exercises even on days your back doesn’t hurt!” We laugh because it hurts—literally. Catharsis! (Catharsis! would be a good name for a musical.)

Stuff I Did This Week: Celebrated the release of season two of Big Hero 6: The Series! It’s an awesome, adorable show, and you can watch it on the Disney Channel, DisneyNow, or on Hulu! Playing Liv Amara has been a dream come true: who doesn’t want to grow up to be a Disney Villain?

I also recorded an episode of Mortal Podkast with Ben Mekler, which should be up soon! Fun fact: I have never owned a game console in my life (parents wouldn’t allow it, so PC gaming — and, um, something that rhymes with shmemulators — were more my speed), and Mortal Kombat was completely beyond my ken. We talked about Mortal Kombat lore, which is WAY more in-depth than I thought, but also about musicals.

Speaking of which, I saw LES MISERABLES ON STAGE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE! Yes, I cried a little. If you’re in LA, it’s playing at the Pantages for the next few weeks, and you should see it! I loved it, and so did Jenny Jaffe, who came with me and has seen it something like ten times, so that says a lot!

Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Doing Poorly

A Completely Unbiased Ranking of UC Mascots

I’ve become reacquainted with the University of California system of late. You learn a lot about them when you grow up in California, especially if you have older siblings. I probably would have gone to one of them myself, if I hadn’t felt desperate to get out of California at seventeen. (You know that scene in Lady Bird, where she moans about wanting to go “where writers come from?” Like that, except instead of breaking my wrist senior year, I sprained my ankle.)

I’m something of an expert on bad mascots, having gone to NYU. Our team name is the “Violets,” and our mascot is the Bobcat, named after our library catalog. No one cared about sports — in fact, student government officers would have to bribe us into coming to games with promises of free food and t-shirts. We hadn’t had a football team since World War II, which was something of a joke on campus: the best-selling sports t-shirt in the student store said “NYU Football.” (I bought one and couldn’t wait for someone to say “I didn’t know you liked football, Mara,” so I could respond with “I don’t. I like irony.” Eighteen-year-old me was the worst.)

Anyway, I think the UC system is a great one, and sometimes I wish I had gone to one of their schools. But some of them really need to take a look at themselves and their teams. Here’s how I rank them.

  1. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos

I had no idea what UCSB’s team name was until a few weeks ago, and I’ve got to say, this just makes no sense. What is a Gaucho, you might ask, particularly if you are white and American? They are South American horsemen of the Pampas, roughly 6,000 miles away from Santa Barbara, California. What do they have to do with Santa Barbara, you might also ask? Absolutely nothing.

The original justification was that Santa Barbara’s name and architecture were “Spanish-influenced” and Gauchos are “essentially Spanish.” Huh. Some people also claim that it was named after a Douglas Fairbanks movie called The Gaucho. But this feels different than, say, Toronto naming its basketball team after Jurassic Park. I’m not claiming to speak for the people of the Pampas, but I think it is, at the very least, weird to name a team after a group of people, especially without their permission and when you have no connection to them. Santa Barbara is home to all kinds of beautiful flora and fauna, there’s inspiration all around them. There’s got to be a better name out there.

  1. UC Irvine Anteaters

I hate anteaters. I hate them. I think they one of the creepiest animals in the world. They can kill a person. They were probably the inspiration for ALF. I couldn’t even Google Image Search them without a huge shudder. The only good anteater is Arthur, and even then, they had to soften down his edges and make him look like a bear-mouse hybrid. (EDIT: apparently Arthur is an aardvark? Which is slightly cuter and less terrifying than an anteater.) UCI named its mascot after a creepy animal in a bad comic strip. This mascot sucks.

Also, there’s the city of Irvine itself. Oh, Irvine. In my mind, you are where all the blonde female Fox News anchors come from. You want so badly to be Newport Beach, but you’re just not. At least Riverside and Merced know what they are.

  1. UC Riverside Highlanders

Up until a few weeks ago, the only person I knew who went to UC Riverside was an engineer I briefly dated. I broke up with him after he told me 1) he thought Skyler White from Breaking Bad was “a bitch,” 2) he wanted to try getting his dog high, and 3) he didn’t really have an ethical problem with humans having sex with dolphins, because they’re “so smart that they can consent.”

So, yeah, my impression of UC Riverside is not the best. Which is really not fair, because it is not a bad school, even if it is in a city that smells like cows all the time. This name almost makes sense, though: UC Riverside is surrounded by hills, and sits at an elevation of around 1,500 feet above sea level. I went to high school at an elevation of ~5,500 feet, so I’m less than impressed, but considering most of the other UCs are either in valleys or at sea level, “Highlanders” seems apt in comparison.

…Maybe they should get rid of the kilt and Scottish thing, though? I can’t imagine Scotland would be happy to be associated with Riverside.

  1. UC San Diego Tritons

It just occurred to me that I can’t think of anyone I know who graduated from UCSD. My best friend from childhood went there, but transferred out. I got that feeling that it was a big, cold, impersonal place, a good place to go if you wanted to study engineering in a creepy awesome brutalist library and do nothing else. Then again, I went to NYU, which is also known for being big, cold, and impersonal.

Anyway, Triton was a god of the sea, and UC San Diego is… near the sea? Story checks out. Not super exciting, though. Who’d ever even heard of King Triton before The Little Mermaid? He’s no Poseidon.

  1. UC Davis Aggies/Mustang

Aggies is one of those cop-out state school team names. It’s not as bad as “Hoosiers” (it is a nonsense word, Indiana), but it’s nothing special, either. They, like NYU, have a different mascot than team name, though: Gunrock the Mustang, based after a real horse. That’s a link to their own history, which is more than a lot of the other schools on this list can say.

  1. UC Merced Golden Bobcats

You’re the baby of the UC system, UC Merced, and everyone makes fun of you. And it’s not unearned: I’ve been to Merced. There’s not much there.

But a golden bobcat? That’s adorable, and very Californian. I have a soft spot for bobcats, partly because of NYU, and also because they’re fierce but scruffily cute and they make a lot of noise. Like me on a good day.

  1. UC Berkeley Golden Bears

Yes, it’s annoying how much you guys love to talk about how you were the original, how you are the University of California. But I have to admit, you are a good school with a good mascot. A bear is quintessentially Californian (even if our state flag was originally supposed to have a pear on it.) It’s classic, and Berkeley is a great city.

Or at least it was, until everyone got priced out. But that’s a rant for another time.

  1. UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs

My first experience with UC Santa Cruz was reading one of their school newspapers after my brother’s friend brought one home. The top articles were a list of famous campus orgies, and interviews with people who’d claimed to have seen God on psychedelic trips. (My favorite was the guy who described God as round and fluffy and purple, and eventually admitted he might have just been thinking of Grimace.)

A few years later I went to Santa Cruz while visiting a friend, and we asked a passing guy what time it was.

“4:20,” he smirked.

“Is it really?” I said.

“Well… it’s 4:18,” he admitted.

That’s Santa Cruz for you. So while I know their mascot is a polarizing one, and that a lot of people find it ridiculous, I love it. It shows that UCSC knows exactly what kind of school it is. It’s a school that does not give one shit about sports — ultimate frisbee and hacky sack don’t count — and loves its surroundings. They love the weird-as-hell yellow slugs that populate their gorgeous forests. They even kiss them for good luck! (Anna did this when we visited, and said it was awesome and that her lips tingled after. I did not, and this might tell you everything you need to know about the two of us.) UC Santa Cruz is letting their fluorescent yellow freak flag fly, and I salute them.

  1. UCLA Bruins

OK, I’m a bad liar. This list is totally biased. I love UCLA. I’ve loved it since my brother went there years ago, and let me visit their beautiful campus and amazing dining halls. I know the fight song. I make fun of USC constantly. I probably have as much UCLA gear as NYU.

I know, objectively, that “bruin” is just another word for bear. I know they’re forever seen as UC Berkeley’s little sibling. But hell, I’m a little sibling, too, and I’m proud to be a Bruin sister. And, as of a few weeks ago, I am a Bruin sister two times over: Anna is going to UCLA! She was accepted into an extremely competitive program at the School of Arts and Architecture.

So yeah, that’s what this list is. This is really all an excuse to brag about Anna. UCLA was her dream school, and she’s worked incredibly hard to get there. I’m unbelievably proud of her.

After I took this photo Anna said, “Do you want to maybe cut the tags off?” I hadn’t even noticed they were still on. I’m not that bright, sometimes. Maybe I would be if I had gone to a UC.

Fake BBC Show of the Week: Fellwalker Manor

Midnight Confession #9: Rasp-utin


New installment in the audio segment in which I share embarrassing thoughts and anecdotes.

Ra-ra-Rasputin! I heard it in a ContraPoints video a few weeks ago and it’s been in my head ever since. How did I not know about this song until now? It’s got everything I love: Russian history! Mysticism! Cheesy ‘70s slang! Awkward sexual metaphors! Disco! “Oh, those Russians…”

My voice is raspy in this one because I, once again, got strep throat! I’m basically Beth in Little Women at this point.

Stuff I Did This Week: Night Vale Presents at the Largo was amazing. I love the Faceless Old Woman so much, and I love what Joseph and Jeffrey have written for her. This was a particularly scary one, and my voice sounding like Mercedes McCambridge as the demon in The Exorcist probably only added to that. (Turns out she was inspired by her bouts with bronchitis!) Thanks to everyone who came!

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