Two Weeks in the Life: August 5, 2023

Hello, friends and enemies. I was very sad to learn of Paul Reubens’ death this week. While I am not usually much affected by celebrity deaths, this one did get to me. Watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and having Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure on near-constant repeat were formative parts of my childhood. I can confidently say that Reubens had a huge impact on how my sense of humor developed and, certainly, my appreciation of camp (if you don’t think Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is camp, please watch the Christmas special. Seriously). I watched Big Adventure this week as a memorial and that opening music really had me letting go of anxiety and existential dread within minutes. I was surprised at how quickly it took me to a certain emotional place.

me as a baby, looking up at a TV showing a close up of Paul Reuben's face
Portrait of the author watching Pee Wee on the TV

While I am sad that he’s no longer with us, I am happy that his art is still out there for us to enjoy and appreciate and share with others. Thinking about his death made me think about my mom, who is the one who introduced me to Pee Wee and who has always been his biggest fan. My mom is the one who started cultivating my sense of weirdness and my taste for the other from a young age. I realized that appreciation for Pee Wee Herman is one of the main mediums for our relationship. When my sister and I were young (and even not so young), mom liked to take us out to Cabazon, which is located in the middle of nowhere just west of Palm Springs, to see the dinosaurs. It looks like it’s been built up a bit more now but it used to be just the two dinosaurs, a small diner, and a truck stop on the side of the 10 freeway. You could go inside the brontosaurus (and I have, multiple times), but the t-rex was typically not open to the public. I’m not sure whether my mom knew about the dinosaurs before Pee Wee made them famous—although I would not be surprised because she is a true connoisseur of weird and cult shit—but I’ve always associated them with Pee Wee and the movie. Sometimes we just visited the dinos but we would occasionally get lunch at the Wheel Inn, which was also featured in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I used to think it a little cringe-worthy (in the way of young people everywhere who think their parents are being too much) when she would ask to sit at the Large Marge booth. However, I can now say I ate at the restaurant featured in the movie AND in the Large Marge memorial booth. The Wheel Inn is closed now and its delicious peanut butter pie and place in pop culture are lost to us, but I do have the rare distinction of having experienced it myself and with my mom.

In 2010, mom and I went to see Reubens’ new live show in L.A. I had moved back to southern California after college and, while I didn’t have a lot of cash on hand, I had a Ticketmaster gift card that I won in a raffle so I bought us tickets to see the show. We had a lot of fun and we ran into the actress who plays Miss Yvonne on the way out and my mom got to hug her. She still talks about it. A few years later, Netflix released Pee Wee’s Big Holiday on the same weekend that my mom happened to have plans to visit me. We got to watch that together too. Kismet.

My mom and I are both autistic (although she is not formally diagnosed, I know this is true). Autistic people often communicate through bits and pieces of pop culture cobbled together to form their own private lexicon. One example that my mom and I always come back to is “what is that your business?” from the Woody Allen (don’t start. I know.) movie Radio Days. We use this when someone is getting wound up about something that doesn’t have to do with them (as the character does here, complaining about the universe expanding. Troubling!), which happens to us often because we both have anxiety. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure gave us lots of handy phrases to use. There are thousands of uses for corn (said when something is irrelevant). I’m a loner, Dottie, a rebel (said to emphasize the ridiculousness of trying to relate to other people). I just wanna get a look at that cute little outfit (said when someone is, in fact, wearing a cute little outfit).

As ever, art is about making us connect with others and feel things in a lonely and indifferent universe. Sometimes it’s hard to find things in common to talk about with my mom but the good news is that we’ll always have Paris the Alamo.

my mom, smiling at the camera, the set of Pee Wee's Playhouse on the stage in the background
mom at the Pee Wee Live Show in 2010

Books and Other Words

I feel like I’m in the middle of a lot of books but I only have two finished books to talk about today. I will also note that I have read 50 books this year so far. Will I make it to the elusive 100-book goal this year? Time will tell (I’m not super optimistic but I remain hopeful).

First, I read Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle, an author better known for erotic stories like Space Raptor Butt Invasion, released his first traditionally published (non-erotic) novel last week. It was good! It was spooky but in a way I like, in which religion is a source of terror. The protagonist, Rose, is explicitly autistic and it’s clearly a book written by an autistic person, which I find really interesting. There are not a lot of novels where we see an unmasked autistic thought process, but I hope we get more of them. I found Rose’s thought process familiar and I was surprised both to see my style of thinking on the page and to realize how infrequently I’ve seen it represented in general.

Next, I read Un vaso de agua bajo mi cama: Inmigración, feminismo y bisexualidad by Daisy Hernández. I picked it up for the Spanish language, bisexuality, and feminism, but stayed for the immigration. This is a memoir in which the author talks about growing up the daughter of Colombian immigrants and becoming a writer. I liked that it felt fairly easy for me to understand! To be fair, memoirs are always easier to read than fiction, but I’m still feeling accomplished.

TV and Music

me, dressed up and posing in the Barbie doll box at the movie theater
Barbie Mode

Like more or less everyone, I saw Barbie last week. The movie is a lot of fun and very entertaining. That sounds like a low bar but considering how many moody, “gritty,” or cookie-cutter super hero movies we get in a year, this is actually high praise. I don’t think enough movies are fun. Barbie, however, is super fun. It’s also fun that it became an event and took on a life of its own. People are dressing up for the theater! You can take a picture in a big Barbie doll box! Girlies are greeting each other with “Hi, Barbie!” That shit is fun. Regular life doesn’t have enough little events to punctuate the monotony. As for the film itself, I don’t think it’s the feminist rhapsody that people are making it out to be. It’s a pretty basic level of feminism. If you’ve read a book or even maybe an article from Jezebel, you probably are operating at a higher level of feminist knowledge than the Barbie movie. However, considering it’s a summer movie made with a toy corporation’s intellectual property, it goes pretty hard. The fact that they use the word “patriarchy” repeatedly will, I hope, have some young people reading up online. For that, Gretta Gerwig is doing the (non-denominational) lord’s work (sometimes people stumble on this blog via search engines so I am going to say that if you liked Barbie and want to read up on patriarchy, try The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls). I do think the story lines that would have been the most interesting were not the focus of the movie. What’s going on in Weird Barbie’s house? Is she living in a polycule with Skipper, Earing Magic Ken, and Sugar Daddy Ken? Does Allan hang out with them? What do the Kens do when not subjecting themselves to the Barbies’ female gaze? How come some of the dolls know about the real world but some don’t? When I was discussing the movie with my friend (and Spanish teacher) Ana, she asked how the events of the movie would affect the real world, considering that we know Barbie Land and our world have some kind of metaphysical connection. Good question! Now that Stereotypical Barbie is gone, will another ascend to take her place? Is she dead to the world? As usual, I have a lot of questions and all of them are fairly pointless. Movies are only good if they get me thinking about their world, so I guess this was a good one.

Like almost no one, I watched the Venture Brothers finale movie, Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart. Venture Brothers is a show that began in 2004 and aired seven seasons over the course of sixteen years. No one waits longer between seasons than Venture Brothers fans. My college roommate introduced the show to me and convinced me to watch it by telling me there were David Bowie references. I have been obsessed with this show for years and was sad to see it end, but I’m glad they got a movie to wrap up some of the series’ ongoing questions. They also used this opportunity to finally pass the Bechdel test, for which we applaud them.

Kitchen Witchery

a pan of rice krispie treats that have chocolate chunks in them and chocolate sprinkles on top
chocolate chunk rice krispie treats

I haven’t been cooking that much, probably because it’s hot. However, I did make carnitas and really good beans and rice this week. I didn’t take a picture of it because it wasn’t new or special but it was delicious. The only other notable thing I made was rice krispie treats, which I had never made before. The New York Times food newsletter included a recipe for it recently and I thought, that’s a good way to eat treats and not make my kitchen hot. I threw in some chocolate to be extra about it, et voila.

Cat Therapy

Finally, here are some cat photos for your nerves. It’s a Fritz appreciation week here on the blog because I got some good pictures of him. My Huey photos are more of the same with her sitting on me. Die-hard Huey fans will have to wait until next time!