My wife and I went to the Margaret Cho reading at Elliot Bay Books on Wednesday. She was as obscene, vain, bitchy – and hilarious – as anyone could have hoped.
She also tried to be political, reading the “Ann Coulter’s not hot – I am! – she needs to start channeling her inner ho more to be as hot as me” bit from her book, and opining in the Q&A that gays need their own Sidney Poitier to gain broad social acceptance.
But Cho was no Al Franken. Writers and humorists of her generation are too self-centered, to blinkeredly egoistical, for that.
She claimed, for example, that the only Asians on TV are the Korean couple on Lost, who spend their time just looking around shocked, not speaking English like everyone else – which is why she decided to do a new show where she plays her mother – when in fact all Seattleites know that Sandra Oh is on Grey’s Anatomy, which is set in our city, and was just visited by her own fictional mother in the hospital after her pregnancy went tubal.
She also kept us waiting a half hour for her entrance, all because while the Elliot Bay had told her the start time was 7:30, our tickets – and their website – said 7:00. I suppose when they told her of the discrepancy, she decided she might as well have another cosmopolitan at Ibiza before coming down. After all, why should she put herself out? Her fans could wait.
As my wife said on the way home, when a Korean American coworker asked her back in 1994 how she liked Cho’s first TV show All-American Girl and she said she couldn’t really get into it, he asked “why – because it’s too Korean?” – and she replied, truthfully, “No, because it’s too twenty-something.” And in retrospect, it does seem like Cho started something among that generation of writers – you can draw a straight line between Cho’s flippant, self-aggrandizing style and that of Neal Pollack, say, or gossipy Seattle Times columnist Pamela Sitt – or just about every writer for The Stranger.
Oddly enough, as we were walking across the street away from the Elliot Bay before the reading I thought I saw the actual Sandra Oh walking toward me from the other side. The woman even looked at me like, “well, aren’t you going to recognize me?” – scrutinizing my own face as I tried, surreptitiously, to scrutinize hers. Finally when she was a few feet away, I determined to my satisfaction that I was probably wrong – but she was by too fast for me to be sure. Maybe she actually was in town for location shots, and was going to the reading too – or to join Cho at Ibiza for drinks beforehand.
These kinds of situations happen to me fairly often – I see someone scrutinizing my face, and think they must be checking me out – but until recently I just chalked them up to my own egoism, projecting an interest that probably wasn’t there. I’m not really all that hot.
When we were down in San Francisco seeing Dr. Atomic, however, I had an encounter that changed my mind, and revealed what’s probably been happening all this time. Having gotten to the Opera House early, we strolled up toward the Herbst theater to catch a glimpse of the Howl Redux event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ginsberg’s career- and Beat movement-making poem and the San Francisco literary scene in general. But it was too far to walk in the cold, and so we turned round and started walking back. A tall figure loomed up before us heading the opposite direction, and as he approached I noticed he was looking at me, scrutinizing my face in the lamplight, looking like he was trying to decide whether to greet me – just as I, scrutinizing his, realized it was the actor Peter Coyote right before he passed by.
I said fairly loudly to my wife – “Hey, that guy looks familiar – should we say hello to him?” – just in case Coyote could still hear me, and explained the situation: that I thought he was that actor with the keys from ET (I was drawing a blank temporarily on his name), and he seemed to be about to speak to me as he went by. She didn’t doubt it – Coyote lives in San Francisco and was going to be the MC or something at the Howl event, she said, so it makes sense he was going that way.
But why was he looking at me like he thought he knew me? And then it occurred to me: maybe it was because he thought I was Kyle MacLachlan.
Okay, I guess this requires some explanation. Ever since David Lynch’s Twin Peaks was on TV – or maybe even before, after he emerged in Lynch’s Dune and make good on that flop in Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet – people have been telling me I look like Kyle MacLachlan. Not people I know typically – they’re too familiar with me to see it – but total strangers who think I’m him for awhile until, scrutinizing me more closely, realize their mistake and let me know why they were looking at me, in case I noticed (which I rarely do, since I typically look away from strangers with my kinda weird, looking out of the side, Kyle MacLachlan eyes).
And this has been happening to me even more regularly after I moved to Seattle in 2001 – not only because Twin Peaks was set up here, but also I guess because Kyle was born in Yakima, went to the University of Washington – and apparently has a brother who works at a Starbucks in Seattle, according to a barrista at the Starbucks on Jackson and 23rd I sometimes go to, who worked with him at another location and told me I look more like Kyle than his own brother. I’m not sure if it’s his twin brother – I did some research before blogging this, apparently he has one – but you get the idea.
So who knows? Maybe it really was Sandra Oh, checking me out in case I was the real Kyle, and not his doppelganger – or more like his impersonator, the resemblance really isn’t all that close; I don’t suffer from Dirk Bogarde’s mania in Fassbinder’s film of Nabokov’s Despair, let me reassure you. Or maybe I was wrong, and it was Margaret Cho herself passing by, all bundled up against the cold so I mistook her for Sandra Oh, and missed my chance to meet the artist herself before the reading – and maybe go have cosmos with her and the real Kyle at Ibiza.
Well, as you can see by now – and the title says – this isn’t a review of Margaret Cho, not really. Oh, that’s a part of it – but more starting point than conclusion. These “trials” – which is my modern American equivalent for the Renaissance French essay of Montaigne – will often start in review mode – because what my wife and I typically do outside work is attend various and sundry cultural events – sometimes nearly every night of the week, and daytimes too on weekends. But from there I hope to connect in each with more wide-ranging concerns, so as to catch them in the web of a present that, between work and play, typically leaves me almost no time for reflection – or for the production of culture, as opposed to its consumption.
And if in the process I succeed in leaving traces of my own peculiar mentality that renew my acquaintance with relatives and erstwhile friends who live in other places, from some of whom I am long estranged – or begin one with friends and family yet to come who may never have the chance to meet me in the flesh, much less Kyle MacLachlan – well, so much the better. There are lots of things I expect to make trial of here while blogging here. That’s just one of them.