The Year In Woods – 2012

Happy New Year everyone! I selfishly had so much fun writing last year’s Woodsy recap that I thought I’d sit down, have a tasty beverage,  and reflect on all the events that took place, or I took place in, “wink wink” this last year. I also welcome the challenge of only being able to pick a few select nuggets out of all that excitement! And away we go….


So in January, I rediscovered Instagram. I signed up for it when it first launched a couple of years ago and just didn’t get it. Facebook, Hipstamatic, Tumblr, Flickr – it’s all too much!! But I decided to give IG another chance and was instantly hooked! I felt like an amateur photographer – I looked at everything around me differently, imagining different filters, angles, and wondered “Is this IG worthy?” I spent this year capturing moments, places, people, thoughts. I followed friends and others who’s lives I admired, dogs I adored, cars I coveted. My friends became annoyed with me constantly on my iphone like a teenager. Instagram is like a window into your world that you’re willing to share with others. I think it can be amazing. Facebook for me became a thing of the past until they bought Instagram – that was a bummer #bigtime. Continue reading

The Year In Woods – 2011

I find every year to be full of so many events, I really need start writing them all down. Some funny, some sad, many shameful but never any regrets. I started off the year strong, my 2011 resolution was to get back into shape after eating and boozing my way through the Big Apple these last few years.

So in January off I went to Park City, Utah with friends for a ski trip. My second run of the second day I skied past the Glory Hole run with my friend Tim, who said he was “gonna hit that.” He made me laugh hard and took off ahead of me. I turned to the right, still laughing, caught an edge and fell hard down the hill. Why I always fall underneath the busiest ski lift I’ll never understand, so I had quite an audience.

As I tumbled, I could feel my left ski turning one way and my left leg turning the other until I heard a loud snap, like the world’s largest rubber band. I was lovingly taken care of by hottie ski patrolmen–one was named Tinker, no really. In the end I tore my ACL completely but the experience led me to discover my new favorite drink, the pickle back.  We went to the Sundance Lodge, I had to hobble in my crutches and knee brace. Tim ordered us a round of pickle backs – a shot of Jameson followed by a shot of pickle juice. Initially disgusted, I was quickly proven wrong. Tell me what you think. Continue reading

Text In The City

Last winter I joined the ranks of countless skiers when I tore my left ACL on the slopes of Park City, Utah. Two months later I had ACL replacement surgery where I received a cadaver ligament and 3 screws in my left knee, followed by four and a half months of  extremely intensive physical (and arguably psycho-) therapy.

I waited in the physical therapy waiting room until a man looking twenty-five with a slight build, brown eyes and hair, and the chunky black leather old-man therapeutic shoes worn by all non-doctor health care workers arrived with my chart. “Hi I’m Ned, follow me please,” he said. I crutched it over to a table, where he took off my brace and examined my knee. My leg was hairy, black and blue, and covered in surgical tape to prevent the stitches from opening. A sharp pain shot through my leg. “Ouch, that’s tight.”
“I know it is. I’m stretching it,” he said. “I’m aggressive, so this may hurt.” I took a closer look at him. “Do you ever get Jimmy Fallon?”
“Yeah, I’ve gotten that a few times,” he said sheepishly.

Normally I make a great first impression and people naturally open up to me, but Ned – generic, gray-sweatered, aggressive, yet listless – wasn’t having it. I thought about switching therapists but figured it would look too suspicious.

He explained the whole physical therapy process, guided me through some BOSU ball balancing exercises, and then I was done. I would have physical therapy three times a week for the next two months. As I was leaving, another patient said goodbye to him and called him Nenad.

“Nenad, that’s your name?”
“Yes it is.”
“I’ve been calling you Ned this whole time.”
“Yes, you have.”
“How embarrassing. What type of name is Nenad?”
“I’m Bosnian.”

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How I Helped The LAPD And Sheriffs Capture a Crips Gang Member

Last week I went home to my precious motherland of Los Angeles to visit family, friends and pops in prison. I was looking forward to palm trees, beautiful weather, driving and my staple Chin Chin Chinese chicken salad. I arrived Wednesday evening and on Thursday spent a day of relaxation at my new-found gem Korean spa. I partook in an hour-long body scrub, a milk massage and dipped into the hot, medium and cold jacuzzis – refreshing. The next day I continued my spa week by getting a facial. My facial went longer than expected and I had a meeting at 3pm. I looked at the clock and decided I could either squeeze in a quickie mani-pedi or get my favorite Chinese chicken salad and Chin Chin’s on Sunset. 20 years ago, I used to work at Playboy on Sunset Boulevard. It was my first job after college. I used to eat that damn Chinese chicken salad about three times a week and I still craved it after all these years.

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Shakespeare, Strip Clubs and Sex


The first time I went to a strip club I was eight. Dad started managing it the year before and took my sister and me for a day of babysitting.  We walked into a cold dark bar, like a movie theatre during the day. It smelled like Windex and stale smoke. He let us dance on the dance floor to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack with the disco lights on, but once the club opened we were shuffled upstairs to the manager’s office. We caught a glimpse of the naked women dancing on stage, holding the pole and swinging around.  Dad called them girls.  They were adult women to me and had beautiful bodies, all different shapes. I was excited and wanted to see more.  I was ashamed yet aroused.  My sister and I watched the surveillance videos even though we were told not to.  I saw men sitting down around the stage, tucking dollar bills into the dancers’ costumes.  The dancers opened their legs wide, swinging their stilettos in the air. I tried to look away but couldn’t. They seemed so happy. Continue reading

Why I Hate Brunch

When I was a child, after Sunday church my parents would take my sister and me to IHOP, dressed in our Sunday best. I was so excited, it made church worth going to. The thought of having dessert for breakfast was fabulous and I couldn’t believe that my parents actually let us get away with it. But every time we went to IHOP I ordered the same thing, waffles with strawberries and Cool Whip on top. I mostly ate the strawberries and cool whip and left the rest on the plate. Pretty soon my parents picked up on it and said if I didn’t eat the waffle part, they wouldn’t let me order it again.

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My Recording Session for KCRW’s Radio Show UnFictional

Thanks both to Gemma Dempsey and Bob Carlson, I was featured on Bob’s radio show UnFictional yesterday, airing Tuesdays at 2:30pm pst and Fridays at 7:30pm pst on 89.9FM in Los Angeles. It was an awesome piece and the folks at KCRW are just fantastic. I got teary-eyed listening to myself talk about my story.

You can listen to it here:

KCRW Unfictional – Welcome To The Metal

Father Figure

Seeing my dad in prison is like seeing a different person. My once powerful father that I looked up to for everything, now dressed in double denim, sometimes shackled and occasionally strip searched. Our visits and phone calls center around his case, the trial, the appeal. Our last family photo of him in his own clothing was taken in early 2000. He has aged significantly since then; we all have. Where there was once a family unit, there’s now four disparate individuals related by blood. I feel like an adult orphan and I blame my father for this. He knows I’m angry with him–for my family’s tenuous situation, his selfishness, and the countless hours spent in jail and prison–but he dismisses my feelings, calling them, in his words, “bitterness.”

However, having now lived through his eleventh year of incarceration, I realize the importance of remembering and preserving the good times and memories I have with my father before his arrest. Amid the feelings of loss and a lack of control over my life, I do still have a father, and the fact that he’s serving a life sentence doesn’t alter that truth. When I see him now, it’s like seeing a shell of his former self with a new personality; as if he was body snatched and replaced with a clone. In these times of frustration, there’s an ever-present yearning to escape–through travel, through isolation, or by acting on self-destructive impulses. So as a means of self-preservation, it’s essential to occasionally honor and give life to the brighter childhood memories, and remind myself that I’m a daughter, a daughter with a father who loves me.

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I Don’t Have Ebola, I’m Just Single

Twenty years ago Natalie, a close friend growing up, got married one month after college graduation.  At the bridal shower, her mom said, “One day soon, Laurel, we’ll be throwing one of these for you!”  It feels like this happened only yesterday, and it could have.

I spent my twenties working, partying, and sowing wild oats, my thirties were about achievement, self-actualization and coming into my own.

Friends got engaged or married along the way, but I always maintained a fairly large circle of single friends. We had each other and nothing about our lives seemed out of the ordinary.

But still, even in this day and post-feminist age, lurking when I least expect, someone will come out with, “You can only wait so long, Laurel, before you’ll need to settle down, get married and have kids.”

My mom has an entire drawer full of baby clothes for my unborn baby, but I’ve never once been pregnant. Whenever a girlfriend of mine has a baby, mom pulls out a baby outfit with the tags still on, and says, “This was supposed to be for my grandchild.”

Dad calls from prison and tells me, “You really need to think about settling down.”

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The first time Dad took us to work was when I was six. He had just started working in the exotic car business after retiring from the California Highway Patrol. On the weekends, my sister and I played hide and seek in between vintage Model T Fords, Rolls Royces, and Porsches. We giggled away as the customers told Dad how adorable we were, and climbed into the cars when no one was looking. “Don’t go into the street,” Dad would yell at us. He also taught me how to drive an ATV bike and once I accidentally ran over my sister’s foot. We didn’t tell Mom.

Mom liked Dad taking us to work. It got us out of her hair and when we returned, we were sapped of energy going straight to bed after dinner. But when I turned eight, I noticed my dad stopped talking to me about work. He had gotten a new job and no longer shared his wild car stories with me. I thought I had done something wrong.

My parents would whisper in the kitchen and, while my sister and I watched Bugs Bunny in the den, we could still overhear some of their conversation.

“I don’t like you coming home every night at three in the morning smelling of booze and smoke.”

“But it’s my job.”

Mom and Dad would shoot each other looks at the dinner table, as I shifted in my seat, wondering what they were keeping from me, or if were upset with me. Mom didn’t like Dad’s new line of business and to rebel she began giving our church large sums of money each Sunday.

Mom was an only child. She never met her father and her mother died of cancer when Mom was fifteen. She lived with her grandma for a while in Wayne, New Jersey where she was from. She was then shuffled amongst relatives until the family decided she would live out in Victorville, California with her Aunt June and her family. Mom finished her last semester in high school there, and was working as a carhop at the local A & W Root Beer. Dad had just finished a stint in the army, and had moved out to Victorville to live with Aunt Deanie and Uncle Derrick, with whom he had grown up in the projects in Hoboken. Uncle Derrick was a chaplain stationed at George Air Force Base. Dad got a job at a local cement factory. Dad met Mom at the A & W Root Beer and they were married four months later. They moved to Apple Valley and both got jobs at the post office until my dad applied to be a California Highway Patrolman in West Los Angeles. After Dad retired from the police department, he went into business.

Mom wouldn’t let me wait up for Dad anymore, but he always kissed me goodnight in bed when he got home. I knew he was coming home when his car headlights flashed in my bedroom window. He loved imitating Elmer Fudd when he said good night and it made me laugh, “I’m gonna git you, you cwazy wabbit!”

One Saturday night, the babysitter canceled for the next day. Mom’s face was strained when she hung up the phone. She had a nursing school shift on Sunday in downtown Los Angeles. The inevitable was happening: she had to work all day, and the neighbors were out of town. After exchanging tense glances and whispers, Dad walked into the den, grabbed my knee, and announced he’d be taking us with him to work the next day.

There was nothing more fun than a day with Dad—hello Fruit Loops and Disney, goodbye Corn Flakes and Mr. Rogers! I couldn’t sleep a wink that night. It felt like I was going to an amusement park the next day.

John Denver music played in the kitchen as Mom made us breakfast that morning, stoically hacking bananas for our cereal. Dad walked into the kitchen wearing a maroon leather jacket with matching ankle boots over gray polyester slacks and a white dress shirt (Think Gene Hackman in The French Connection). He grabbed her in a bear hug and gave her a conciliatory Cheshire cat grin.

She squirmed away to place the cereal bowl in front of me.

“Will you let us dance?” I asked. We only knew two things about his new job: they played disco music and served burgers.

He looked down sheepishly while mom stood there, frozen. “I really don’t like the idea of this,” she said.

Distracted and running late, she needed us out of the way. She donned her white kitty-print nurse uniform and brushed her Dorothy Hamill bob instead of readying us with a backpack of sandwiches and coloring books.

She grabbed me gently by the shoulders, leaned forward, looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Stethoscope and name tag in place, she yelled to us, “Somebody clean Coco’s litter box out,” as she slammed the front door and left without a goodbye kiss.

We took off for the day in the orange van. Dad was letting me play the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack on the van’s eight-track tape player. About an hour later, we pulled into a gated parking lot. Airplanes flew overhead as a sign appeared bearing the silhouette of a woman riding atop a plane and the name “Jet Strip.” My sister and I exchanged looks of excitement: maybe he worked at the airport!

Dad parked the car and adjusted the handgun resting in its ankle-strap holster. I decided to leave my Holly Hobbie doll behind.

“Here we are.” We walked to the back of the building. He turned off the alarm, unbolted the door and let us in.
It was like walking into a matinee movie; it was pitch dark and took my eyes a while to adjust. I could smell Windex and stale smoke.

He held our hands and escorted us in until we could see. He tossed his keys on the bar and turned on the stage lights to reveal a rotating disco ball. Soon the Bee Gee’s “Night Fever” played over the stereo system.

Kristen and I ran to the stage and climbed up with Dad’s help. We danced on brightly lit colored floor panels surrounded by mirrors, and laughed as we pointed to where the disco ball reflections hit our swaying bell bottoms. We played hopscotch with the colored panels, and our hands squeaked as we swung around the shiny brass pole in the middle of the stage: little girl heaven.

Then the door opened again and bright blinding sun filled the room as pretty women filtered in one after the other, smiling, laughing and giving us puzzled looks as we carried on. I felt awkward, froze in place, and fumbled down off the stage. We ran over to the bar and met a tall, thin woman named Kelly with perfect blond hair that was straight out of Alice in Wonderland. She played with our pigtails, and asked, “What would you ladies like to drink?” I had no idea what to ask for besides milk. “How about two Shirley Temples?” she suggested, and came back with two drinks for us, with umbrellas and maraschino cherries. “What’s in it?” Kristen asked. I had already slammed half of mine down and asked for another cherry.

We met other women with names like Crystal, Amber and Destiny. I can’t be sure, but I could swear I met one named Jell-O. “Those are their stage names, not their real names,” Dad revealed. Why would anyone want two names?

We grabbed our drinks and followed Dad into the back recreation room complete with cigarette machine, pool tables and video games. Dad pushed some buttons so we could play Pong for free. I was buzzed from all the excitement and the chance to experience the adult world. But what was so adult about it? It was the perfect place for kids.

The club officially opened at 11am as customers trickled in. Dad told us the women were professional dancers and while they would each dance to three different songs, we were only allowed to watch the first, which sent my mind racing, wondering what the difference was between each dance.

Crystal, wearing a long, red rhinestone dress with slits up the side, slinked onto the stage and danced slowly. She looked like a beauty pageant contestant. She seemed to be floating around on the stage, with the fake fog in the air, I couldn’t believe how easily she maneuvered around the stage with those high heels on – she looked so natural. Men were whistling as she started taking off her dress, one shoulder at a time. Men tossed dollar bills on the stage and applauded when the music ended.

As another song started, Dad rounded us up and led us over to a secret door that led upstairs to an office with wood-paneled walls, beige shag carpeting, a gray metal desk, and a worn-out burgundy pleather couch with gold rivets. I liked the old sliding sound the couch made when you sat on it. There was a TV sitting on of a glass coffee table. Along the wall opposite from the couch were several security monitors offering small, fuzzy, black and white views of the parking lot, the bar, the door and the stage.

A door opened onto the roof, and we joined Dad out there to watch airplanes fly overhead. It was bright outside compared to the club’s interior and we could barely see. We returned inside where Dad slipped a bootlegged copy of Star Wars into a Beta player.

Dad told us we could eat anything we wanted from the kitchen, and his cook Carl entered to take our order for lunch. We couldn’t believe that we could order anything we wanted. Our meals at home were very healthy, well-thought-out and we had to finish our plates or else we’d be sent to our rooms. I went straight for the hamburger with extra ketchup and pickles.

“Don’t watch the security monitors,” Dad said sternly, “I’ll come back up to check up on you both in a bit.”  We sat on the couch, ate our burgers, and watched the movie, drinking Cokes garnished with umbrellas.

After lunch, we shoved Double Bubble gum into our mouths, read the comics on the wrappers. There was nothing else to do, so we ran over to the monitors. Our jaws dropped. There was no audio feed, but we could feel the music vibrating through the floor and walls as a dancer, now topless with high heels and dark hair swung around the pole.

Carl returned, collected our dishes, and led us back downstairs for a tour of the kitchen. We stood mesmerized by ice cream and the raw meats of the walk-in freezer, and as Carl walked away, we glanced through the order window for a peek at the live stage. Kelly came on, wearing high-heeled shoes and a sheer nightgown.

She shimmied out of her nightgown to reveal bright pink sparkling underwear and as she swung around the pole, I noticed the back was missing. How did she get her underwear to stay on? The customers whistled, and she seemed to be having fun – dancing around, flipping her hair, legs in the air. The song ended, Kelly grabbed her clothes and the dollar bills, and scurried off the stage. Our mouths were open in shock: who gets naked in public?

Dad came into the kitchen and found us staring at the stage. “I told you not to leave the office, what happened?” We were caught red-handed, and sent back upstairs to watch more Star Wars. At the end of the day, Dad drove us back home. We were tired from all the excitement but felt so satiated that we had demystified the Jet Strip and Dad’s job.

On the ride home he promised we could visit the Jet Strip again, “Just don’t tell your mother you saw the dancers fully nude.”

“Why were the dancers naked?” I asked.

“They make really good money, that’s why.”

“So are they real dancers like me? Do they take ballet?”

“Yeah, some do have a dance background.”

“Do you feel bad about the dancers being naked?”

“No, sweetheart. The girls make good money, so I make good money, which means I can provide more for our family. Do you understand that?”

“Yes Dad.”

His customers were mostly married, he said, but wanted to look at pretty girls with nice bodies.

“Not all women have bodies like that.”

“Why do the men’s wives let them come here?”

“Oh, I doubt they tell their wives, honey.”

We walked in the front door as John Denver blasted on the stereo, and Mom greeted us with dinner. Liver and onions with Del Monte canned green beans and a glass of milk on the side. Kristen and I told her all of our stories. She mostly responded with curt “mhmm’s,” but continued listening.  “Mommy, don’t you want to know who we met?” We told her about Kelly serving Shirley Temples and Carl grilling us burgers. We left out the naked dancing part because we wanted to go back.

I was afraid to tell her that I was still full from all the food I’d eaten, and tried to finish dinner. Her face was stiff, her eyes weary, but I knew she wouldn’t be mad at us if only she knew how much fun it was. And then she said, “Girls, I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell your friends at school about the Jet Strip.”

Kristen and I looked at each other and giggled, trying to conceal our smiles. And that’s when she knew.

After dinner, we ran to play in the backyard where we put two picnic benches together in a T shape. I played Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” on our tape player, and Dad introduced us with our new stage names, Holly and Coco, as we walked onto our stage, dancing around.

“Look Mommy, look!” we waved to her in the kitchen window as she washed the dishes. She gave us a half wave and said “Hi girls.” Then she bowed her head down to the sink and returned to her work.