Monday, November 12, 2018

A Pink Sun Over Northern California

In Northern California, when the fires tear across the land, the sun sometimes turns pink, even hours before sunset. It gives you this sorrowful feeling that colossal suffering is happening not so far away. It reminds me of when I lived in the Midwest - when the the eerie yellow-green light would fall onto the streets just before a tornado would touch down. Pink sunlight in the middle of the day is surreal - and you always view it with smoke-filled lungs. 

When I heard that the fire nearby was the worst one since 1933, I couldn't help but think of the turnings of time, the patterns of generations, and how much of what we have experienced through history as Gen X, is connected to the Lost Generation - like earlier this year when the unbelievable flu season we endured was compared to that of 1918. When you are traveling in open spaces in California and you look out at the fields under the power lines where the green vegetables quietly grow, it's like you can still feel the sorrow and exhaustion of the migrant workers who came to California during the Great Depression.

Many of us are rolling up our sleeves organizing help in small local ways, because that's what Gen X does, and we are bringing our resources together. People across the state are offering whatever resources they have - land for displaced horses to graze, free housing, they are using airport space to reunite people with lost pets, good people in food trucks are giving out free tamales. Goodwill is handing out clothes, blankets and other necessities. Sometimes what people need most is a toothbrush. Sometimes what they need most is a hug. There are countless ways to help people in both parts of CA, whatever nonprofit you trust, if you want to donate, they are most likely helping out.

In the midst of all the great suffering and tremendous loss that has gone on under this sun, there are heroes emerging every moment - paramedics, fire fighters, people who are reuniting lost loved ones with each other and lost animals to their families, and girl scouts stacking canned soup into boxes that will be driven north.

Sometimes we don't even realize the resources we have, and in a flash of genius we are able to offer something no one else can. Sometimes we pray and we don't even realize we are praying. Sometimes we give because we remember a time in our lives when our suffering was similar to the people we see suffering at this moment.

In this moment, there may be a way for you to give in a way that no one else can.

(C) 2018 Chloe Koffas 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Get Ready for the Great Pumpkin!

My daughter and I made a Great Pumpkin diorama in a wooden crate as part of decorating for Halloween....

Sally should be making an appearance here somewhere, though these are the characters of the lil' Peanuts set we have, so we'll just go with it. Frosty little pumpkins await the upcoming holiday while Woodstock leans in for a hug and Snoopy dances.

Charlie Brown is disappointed to find rocks in his trick-or-treat bag during this beloved holiday special, though this was only because of a playful argument between animators. Empathetic children from all over the country mailed candy to the studio for Charlie Brown for years each time the special was aired. Those were some thoughtful little Gen X kids!

When the world is not the kind of place we would like it to be, let's use our voices, and hold up our signs, and when we grow tired, let's find a way to quietly sit, and wait, and hope for something better under a starry night sky....

Watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown 
Thurs., Oct. 18th, 2018 
8pm ET on ABC. 

How we made the diorama: Green scrapbooking paper is the ground of the pumpkin patch, blue sparkly paper is the night sky. The moon is construction paper, the pumpkins are decorative vase filler pieces, and the white picket fence is from a miniatures store.

(c) 2018 Writing and photos by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved


Seven Facts You Never Knew About It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

The PEANUTS characters and related intellectual property are owned by Peanuts Worldwide LLC/Iconix Brand Group, Inc. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Visiting the Arcade from the Original Karate Kid Movie

My family and I spent a day this summer at Golf 'n' Stuff, an arcade and fun center in Norwalk, CA which is one of the locations the original Karate Kid was filmed. The Gen X nostalgia here floats above the tables, where arched windows look out upon the mini golf course. A walk through the arcade and around the buildings proved that while some things have changed from when they filmed the movie here in the fall of 1983, some things are amazingly the same....

Many of the 80's games that were shown in the movie have disappeared, like the analog mini hockey game Daniel and Ali played in the movie, and the water slide is now gone. High voltage poles still stand behind it, as if they are there just to power the rides and arcade games.

Main Golf 'n' Stuff sign on the far right

While I was taking some pictures, a man in flip flops and a hoodie who looked very Gen X was giving me this huge smile - he knew exactly what I was doing since nostalgic Xers often stop through here as tourists. It's the kind of place you might visit when you're in the LA area and you've already been to Universal and Paramount, and still want to experience some little piece of film history. Later in the day I saw another fellow Gen X tourist, even as younger people passed him by and had no idea why he was taking photos of the Golf 'n' Stuff sign. 

The mini golf course! On left: mini clock tower, mini Russian Orthodox style church, on right: mini pagoda
There is the feeling here that this is the symbol of any arcade or mini golf course you hung out at as a kid or teenager in Anytown, USA, just as there is this feeling we got from the movie that any of us could be the main character. Most of us know what it feels like to be the underdog. The script was based on a true story of a real Gen Xer from the San Fernando Valley.

I am always looking for the little retro things, little remnants that may go unnoticed, like this blue and white checkered ceiling....

A mix of analog and digital games still fill the arcade, even if most of them are different now.

The bumper boats look the same as they do in the movie.

The little race track looks about the same as it did in the film, though it's no surprise that all the go karts have been replaced.

Part of the mini golf course and its little buildings can be seen behind the snack bar area.

We had the place mostly to ourselves during the breezy, cool California morning, and as the afternoon came, the clouds parted and it gradually began filling up with families and people on dates.

I love retro outdoor tables and the way that they all look similar to each other across America - the bright pops of color of the seats and tables.

Where the main entrance used to be is now a party room that can be rented by the hour.

Inside the party room: it's hard to describe the energy in this space -- it was kind of strange. It was like there were a million memories from the decades, good and bad, that had unfolded in this space during parties and get-togethers. It was all kind of just hanging heavy in the air, like the smell of the pizza they were baking in the ovens nearby. It seemed as if all those memories, those intangible mementos of time, had no other place to go and just got stuck there.

The day we were here, a boy was about to have his birthday party - he was a sweet kid who looked like he was about 12. He held the door for us as we came in, while his Gen X mom was busy setting up decorations on the table they had reserved. I wondered if maybe she once had a Gen X birthday party here as a kid. She probably did.

Movie poster on the wall by some 70's-looking decor
No one expected the original Karate Kid movie to be as successful as it was. All these years later, we are still talking about it, spin offs are still happening. Maybe part the reason the original film became so well-loved was because its cultural value. There weren't many good roles for Asian Americans in films those days and Pat Morita as Mr. Miagi played this wise, lovable father-figure. His role was a breakthrough, he was nominated for an Academy award, and he won the hearts of many Gen Xers.

Along with the cultural piece, there were also spiritual and philosophical components in the film. "Wax on, wax off" has become one of the most well-known movie quotes of all time. It's a philosophy that if you do some seemingly mundane thing many times over, even without realizing it, it can make you more ascetic, or even cause something extraordinary to happen. Occasionally I hear someone talk about how the Miagi philosophy applies to our spiritual life, and I have found it to be true. For those of us Gen Xers who did not have someone like this to look up to, we quietly wished Mr. Miagi was our own mentor, and inadvertently got a profound set of spiritual lessons from the movie -  impulse control, self-discipline, to only fight as a last resort.

No doubt this film was very important during the formative years of Gen X, which was why it was so interesting to visit this place. A view from the middle of the golf course above - possibly the one in the movie where you see Daniel and Ali playing mini-golf on their date. This place seemed so magical when I was a kid. Back in the 80's, my husband who grew up nearby, used to hang out here with friends. While I didn't yet know my husband in the 80's, being here with him, in some small way, makes it feel like I did, and connects us in some magical way through space and time.

Near the end of the visit, I made a stop at the token machine so we could all play a little skee ball. It was the first time I've ever made the 100-point target and the first time my daughter ever did, too!

I had my eye on these little Pac-Man ghosts, but alas, we only had enough tickets for two pieces of candy - that's how it goes when you are out of time for more skee ball and have other places to be!

Our very last stop was the hand-crank machine to make a pressed souvenir penny for my daughter to keep. Of all the amusement parks, museums, and landmarks I went to as a kid, making a penny was always one last moment to savor the experience.

Here's to all the Gen X journeys we go on, the places that we go back to, from movie scenes we watched as kids to the places we once went with our friends that hold memories of our childhood.  At this place, for my family, it was both.

Whether we experienced an important place with one friend, or if we experienced it collectively with our entire generation, all of it is significant. These are the places that made us who we are.



LA Weekly: How a Movie Shot in the San Fernando Valley Made us all the Karate Kid

(c) 2018 writing and photos by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Welcome to Side Two

When we flip the mix tape of our life over to side two, we are done being the version of who people told us we should be. We begin to find a way to trust ourselves; we begin to find our truest selves. If we spent side one looking to someone else to answer the big questions, side two is where others look to us for the answers.

There is this inherent need in the psyche of human beings to mark their transitions, the shifts of our universe. This Southern California late June sunset was the last sunset of my side one. The sunrise of the following morning was the beginning of my side two.

After about six straight months of a string of profound disappointments, crises, and of life-altering grief, the storm seems to have mostly stopped. What truly amazed me in the past weeks is that whenever I felt I was getting too far out into the water, there was always an unexpected piece of driftwood for me to hold onto, a kind person to reach out to me, more grace to sustain me. Of all the times life has taken me to that place of feeling like I might drown, I'm not sure if I realized how much that grace was there with me.

In my experience, when the universe hands me a crisis, it is giving me an opportunity to let go of something, or to let go of someone. After not having the chance to write for six months, and after my life seems to have re-wired itself, I felt this need to walk across Highway One, and to stand at the edge of the ocean, because this seemed like a place where a person would begin again.

We can spend so much of our younger days trying to be enough for everyone's expectations, but what I really want is not having to keep up. In my Gen X school days, when the last week would come before summer break, the teacher would take down the images on the bulletin boards and nothing was left but a few staples and the remnants of colored paper like leaves from the seasons that we had just weathered. I would get this feeling of relief that I had nothing else to prove, because the year was over, that I no longer had to be cool enough or smart enough - and that I could just be myself for a while.

I have reached this place where I am gradually able to let go of what I thought should be. I've been saying the few, simple lines of the serenity prayer at night. The fuller, original version of this prayer looks as if the writer had skimmed centuries of wisdom from all the major religions of the world. It's a profound enough prayer to be part of the foundation of 12-step programs.

I am realizing that the courage to change the things that I can has been a force in me all along, it's just much bigger now. It's as fierce as any crisis that I have lived through. It helps me to say what needs to be said in the moment and somehow even helps me learn to listen more. And when I have spoken my peace and someone does not listen in return, this is my cue to just peacefully walk away. I have learned in these past months to take life one day, and even one hour, at a time. I am learning to accept the things I cannot change when I have tried for many years and decades to change them.

I am now on side two. 

(c) 2018 - writing and photos by Chloe Koffas