Monday, December 22, 2008

Lucent Dossier at the Edison

Look at Lucent Dossier and at the Edison first!

I’ve written elsewhere about the Los Angeles club scene. I think it’s a tyrannical dictatorship system with Style and Connections holding top office. There’s no grace for people who don’t want to spend a lot of money, for people who just love to dance or want to have honest, exuberant interactions with strangers. There’s classism, ageism, sexism, and nearly ever other discriminatory practice occurring at the front of the velvet ropes. Nearly every worthwhile time I’ve had “going out” in LA has been as a performer, an employee, not as a customer. Now that I'm part of an artist crew it's a brand new day! We go out in costume and derail all the old social tropes--and one of my favorite episodes recently was seeing Lucent Dossier.

For Louis’s birthday and our six-months demi-versary I found an event in an L.A. venue that seemed too good to be true. The place is called The Edison, it’s in downtown, and the show was a group called Lucent Dossier. The aesthetic was 1930s circus side-show/fantastical zoo.

We dressed in costume—Louis in a top hat, cropped-sleeve jacket and hand-painted shoes, me in a black corset, hip fringe, boots and a short, Louis-tailored black trench coat. People stopped us for pictures and mistook us for Lucent performers all night, which I found particularly gratifying not just because it indicated that the outfits “worked” but because it also indicated that our energetic engagement with everyone we met matched the performers. We were part of the experience, as we received it.

The Edison is a transformed warehouse with a style I found both cozy and formidable. Someone perfectly blended the stark heavy beauty of a master welder and the plush luxury of Daisy Buchannon’s lounging parlour—slouching leather armchairs under exposed plumbing, brick walls and thick Persian rugs, curio cabinets through which you could peer at the bar from your mahogany table. One enters the Edison on the top floor, then descends a metal staircase into the vast chaotic dance of light and shadow, textures both soft and unyeilding. 19th-century style light bulb sculptures illuminate the bar, silhouettes of esoteric animation keep the walls moving, television screens encased in thick gilded frames tell us that here we find a crashing together of some perfect historical visual tropes (frame your art) and totally modern beauty (backlight your art, let it move).

The music continued our ahistorical disorientation, turning “Basin Street Blues” into a trance-like dance beat, Sarah Vaugn’s “Fever” into a rave-scene.

And then there was Lucent Dossier. What I loved most about the show was the mingling—each performer stayed in character and costume all night, periodically dancing in a spotlight for more traditional performance numbers (although their aerialist did a bondage show that trumped all other girls I’ve seen in silks), but more often playing with customers and each other everywhere in the venue. They had a foot washer, a screen-painter, an air-brush body artist. They crept and crawled and behaved like birds, like children, like cats. Once they danced in unison from all corners: up in some rigging, on the bar, next to tables, and we were swept into their playful, sexy refrains.

So it came as no surprise to me that Lucent Dossier goes to Burning Man every year. The feeling inside the Edison that night was particularly friendly, participatory, collaborative, playful, and experimental. These are all feelings that most L.A. clubs can’t foster unless they have a base of regular customers who don’t clique up when new people show. I occasionally saw the Lucent Performers as the cool kids who knew they were having more fun than the insecure, collar-wearing normals, but it was easy to forgive them because of how often they engaged everyone in their games. They clearly have a great deal of performing intimacy with each other, which heightened the beautiful sexuality of the show even more.

And this was the small revolution that I witnessed: a very hip place, a very good show, and a crowd interested in art and joy. A sensual frolic as opposed to a meat-market catwalk. Loving attention to detail in costumes as opposed to frantic attempts to signal a familiar Hollywood-sexualization in the same old tight jeans and heels. Loud, real laughter instead of ingratiating snickering. With the addition of the odd beauty of the Edison itself, I felt that thrill of originality—this is an animal I haven’t seen before—from the first descent of the staircase to the knot of people outside at 2AM who didn’t want it to end.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Sweat Test

Babies hooked up to oxygen in the Pediatric Pulmonary/Cardiac waiting room. “I think I’m in the wrong place,” I say to the receptionist. “I was sent here from Genetic Counseling for a Sweat test.”
“No, this is it,” she says, typing something unrelated into her computer. “We have the Sweat Lab here.”

I’m called in. Stephanie the aspiring physician's assistant straps electrodes to my right arm, one red and one black, like I'm a car battery that needs charging.
"This doesn't hurt," she says, "but it kind of stings." It doesn't do either, and I think she is used to working with scared kids who perceive any change to their bodily sanctity as pain. At my questions, Stephanie talks me through the test, which involves a current being run through two gel discs (ends of the battery charger) placed on the inside of my forearm and middle of bicep, first right arm, then left. After five minutes the discs are removed and a collector, which looks like a Star Wars comlink, is strapped on with Velcro, then wrapped in gauze and Saran Wrap. The comlinks talk to my skin. I am sweating through two glands into tiny coils of plastic tubing. I am reading Ellroy in the waiting room.

I'm getting a sweat test because I have two very rare generic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis, discovered in a thorough genetic screening during my initial phase of becoming an egg donor for a couple who were unconvinced by my initial negative cystic fibrosis screen. The normal screening for cystic fibrosis only looks at 97 possible mutations. I had none of those, and tested negative. But the recipient couple are worried because the husband is a carrier. The chances of my having one mutation after a negative screen were about 1 in 300,000. Then, I had two. We don't know if I'm cis, meaning both mutations occur on the same gene, or trans, meaning one occurs on each strand. I don’t quite understand it except: the mystery is whether one or both of my parents is a carrier of cystic fibrosis. If I’m trans, I might actually have the disease. I’m sitting in the waiting room with the sweat collectors around my forearms, hidden under my sweater. They are comlinks, talking to my genes. Trying to find out if I’ve secretly been sicker than I ever thought possible. Cystic fibrosis usually presents immediately in children as respiratory problems, failure to thrive, and other dramatic symptoms. But in adults it can go undetected, in mild forms, for many years. Sinus problems. Diarrhea. Things you don’t think too much about.

A harried mom struggles with plastic tubing and her normal- looking son gets a quick aspiration if the throat. "When you got a kid like this, you don't got no life," she says to another mom. "For-real-for-real. You don't got no life." Another baby to my left is hooked to an oxygen tank and hovers on the edge of sleep.

In recent months I've been getting teased for how much I sweat, and I wonder if right now my little glands are responding with a normal amount, or with a vengeance. We are looking for elevated levels of salt, the diagnostic test for cystic fibrosis. In the last day I’ve been informed that it’s possible I’ve had this disease in mild form my whole life, and then would be at risk to manifest symptoms as I get older.

Finding Nemo plays on the ceiling-mounted TV and a woman to my right studies irregular Italian verbs. After a half-hour of sweat production I can’t feel, as the Italian student and I are discussing the way pictures of Tuscany motivate her to study the language better (she's about forty and in her first semester if college, which I normalize without hesitation by not commenting on how "great" it is) Stephanie appears. "Thanks for sharing that with me," the Italian student calls after me as I go, and I don't quite know if she is referring to my love if Italy or just our moment of non-anonymity together, so rare in this city in particular.

Stephanie chats. She admits that she decided not to try and be a doctor because it's too hard and takes too long. A physician’s assistant does many of the same tasks without the years of internship. Stephanie uses a syringe to peel out the tightly coiled tubing in the sweat collectors. She says I sweat plenty. “You're good,” she says. “Some people don't really sweat at all.” Tell me about it. She clips the other end of the tubing from the plastic disc on my arm and puts that end in a half-inch-tall plastic vial, then pushes air through the tube with the syringe until the sweat all deposits in the vial. It's ingenius, this little system. It's science fiction. Something in the collectors has turned the sweat bright blue, like those Gatorade commercials. Stephanie wipes my arms. I ask if I’m going to continue sweating from the stimulated glands. She smiles. “No, you should be all set.”

I’m standing at the clearance rack in the Downtown Crossing TJ Maxx when I get the call: negative result. "We consider this result very diagnostic," the friendly genetic counselor says. And that’s it—in 24 hours it’s over. All I’ve got are two silent, recessive, super-rare mutations. “I already knew I was special,” I tell my nurse later. She laughs.

Egg donation is a strange procedure. A couple spends thousands of dollars selecting an anonymous donor with features they like, many of which have an undiscovered or unknown link to genetics: creativity, sociability, leadership. They pick a donor who looks like the recipient wife. They rule out donors with genetic diseases: cystic fibrosis is one of the main concerns, because of how common the recessive mutations are, and how severe the disease. But the phobia of cystic fibrosis is extreme: many donation agencies won’t even use women who are carriers, even if there’s no risk of disease development with couples who are using male DNA that doesn’t carry the mutation. This speaks to a level of emotionality and irrationality in the field that should concern everyone.

Donation is lucrative for the donor. It’s a last-chance effort for the recipient couple. It’s eugenics. It’s altruism. It’s for couples who really believe it’s important to have their OWN baby, at least 50% genetically, and carry it in the mother’s uterus, rather than adopt or give up. It’s only for people who can afford it, and often they spend everything they’ve got. I’ve signed two contracts that allow possible offspring to contact me when they are eighteen years old. I’ve told two psychologists, totally honestly, that that possibility intrigues me and is fine with me. I like the idea of my genes getting passed on without my having to raise a child. Donating eggs has helped me pay student loan debt and have time to write, which feels very close to justice, and I’m grateful for it. I think about people who would go to these lengths to be parents and I would rather them raise a child than someone more haphazard, less invested in the role. Still, the ethical issues are myriad. Myriad and seemingly brand new, because the technology is so new—like stem cells and cloning, it’s become another part of our cultural conversation about how much or how little to intervene in “nature.” That conversation, however, is as old as science itself.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving in Las Vegas: A Very True Story

Some argue that the road to Las Vegas is dull and dusty, a stretch of nothing between Los Angeles and sin. But for Lindsey, Anthony, Louis and Vanessa, the attractions began just outside the borders of dogma, with many hours still to press on before the redemptive glow of the Strip. They found the theme and origin of their Thanksgiving weekend on the side of the road at a very famous, and yet somehow still culturally foreign idea.
Nestled deep in the C-major Ohm of the lavish casinos wearing their walking shoes, marveling at the gifts of design and aesthetic Vegas offers for free, there was no better state to enter than metamorphosis. When Willie Wonka loans his lamps to the Wynn, ancient Rome frames modern fashion, when you can see Paris from New York and Egypt from Camelot, when your way across the street is up and over a lightsaber graveyeard or under a Michaelangelo, your own truest, most fantastical shape emerges. Anthony lent his body to a wine bar hovering fourteen floors up while his mind walked a labyrinth of poetry.Lindsey dove into the city's ether, and where others had drowned in cacophony or sunk into unconcscious muck, she could float, she could breathe, she could see.Louis grew to incredible heights and embedded himself in the circuitry until he was one with the light.
Vanessa became a lion.
Four transformed members of the Rebel Alliance, arms linked and minds locked together, stormed the Imperial Palace with pens and songs and texts and dances. Electric, poetic, aquatic, and fierce, they drove the long way home in solidarity with a world whose distinctions, dichotomies, and categories (especially Real vs. Fictional) had been exploded by the temporary river running under the hotel. No elevator, no tram, no landscaped walkway, no velvet rope, no mirrored wall, no parking lot, no "public" or "private" space will ever be the same again.