So this morning, I woke up with an insatiable craving for pop music. My beautiful friend Caiikie rocked my world with her show at Fontanas last night where she sang all new tracks and put on a show that sent goosebumps down my arms and could have very well blown the power out at the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this morning, when I woke up with the catchy beats playing in my head, I was unable to listen to them since she hasn’t released them on iTunes, Spotify, or even YouTube as far as I’m aware. So, I repeatedly watched my 30 second video of her show on my iPhone for about 5 minutes before deciding that this was weird and might result in brain damage or hypnotism. It was time to find some full-length pop songs to temporarily stave off my craving for cake (get it?).
Now while Beyonce is my reigning queen of, well, everything, she is also heavily featured on my workout playlist. And thus, it is hard for me to hear her without starting to feel the compulsive desire to jog. By proxy, she’s also become the soundtrack to my Maxim debut, but that’s a different story.
So, I landed on Katy Perry. And the second candy-coated track to fill my ears with its magical pop melody was “California Gurls.”
This was when my morning got weird. Well, it didn’t really get weird. It just got weird in my head.
Three unrelated incidences suddenly flashed through my mind. Three instances where this very song had served as a defining anthem for who I, Megan Youngblood, in fact was. I suppose we will go in chronological order.
The first, I was 19 (or 23, depending on who was asking) at a bar in the Marina in San Francisco. During this period of my life, I was dating the ultimate in cool and he was all about folk music and underground shows. Thus, I was all about folk music and underground shows. This isn’t to say that I didn’t also like other things, but I would mimic his scorn for pop music. Oh you like Katy Perry, I’d roll my eyes. He lived in the Mission and his profession was related to bicycles. If you live in San Francisco, this will makes sense. Of course, there’s no scorn that five cranberry-vodkas can’t wash away. So, on this particular evening, I stood in the middle of some Marina bar (Oh, you like the Marina, I’d roll my eyes) in a dress with my heels in my hand singing ‘California Gurls’ at the top of my lungs with my friend Kara (name changed to protect the innocent, but you know who you are) and some newly acquired acquaintances. Kara and I were both bra specialists at Victoria’s Secret and had developed a friendship by gossiping as we folded thongs, which, in case you are wondering, there is a correct and incorrect way to do. We bonded further over this drunk game we’d play where we’d look at girls and guess their cup size. We were quite good at it actually, unless they were wearing a push-up bra—we are only human after all. This game was well-loved among our immature male friends, and not always so appreciated by their female counterparts.
On this particular night, after we had sipped, slurped, slurred, and spilled our way through one too many vodka-crans, we decided that pizza was in order. We headed to the pizza parlor across the street (hopefully I was wearing shoes at this point, but who can be certain?) and ordered two slices. Now for whatever reason, there was a girl there who was staring at us like the drunk, loud, obnoxious messes that we were more than likely actually being. This slowly escalated into me yelling inarticulately, “Why are you looking at us?!” Kara quickly shoved me into the nearest cab, handed the driver a twenty, and told him to get me home. Before the driver drove away, I heard her slur to the girl (who had now progressed from aggressively looking at us to aggressively yelling), “I’ll kick your ass in my four inch heels and still look better than you.” Or something along those lines, I can’t really remember the details.
This was the moment I knew that Kara and I were meant to be friends, two classy California Gurls willing to brawl over pizza and staring contests.
Anyways, on to the next.
The second moment where this song served as a defining factor in what I considered my self-identity occurred during my first trip to Brooklyn. It was Halloween weekend and I was 20. I was touring potential schools and finally getting to see the city that had always infected my dreams. At the top of my list was Pratt. At the time, I was obsessed with photography and felt like if I didn’t become a professional photographer on par with Mario Testino and Nan Goldin by age 23, I would die, so Pratt seemed like the gateway to a dream come true and my escape from an early death sentence.
Anyways, I had just visited the very hip and trendy Williamsburg (which I instantly loved) and decided to head down towards Pratt. As a non-local, it seemed to make sense to just walk down Bedford and turn on Myrtle. So that’s what I did. Note: if you’re not from New York, this is actually a pretty long walk with very little that would be interesting to a tourist along the way.
At some point along my walk, everything morphed from English to a language I didn’t know nor could say for certain that I had seen. The people were dressed differently than the chic Manhattanites or hip Williamsburg residents I had started to get used to. In fact, I had never seen men with these curling hairs next to their faces and women who all seemed to have the exact same haircut. Pulling from my culturally limited archive of resources, I decided that they must have been Amish. I had just seen a documentary on Rumspringa and this seemed to be the closest reference point I could find in my catalog of memories. Now that I’ve lived here for three years and have been deservingly patronized by a few of my Jewish and New Yorker friends, I understand that I had actually just wandered through the Hasidic neighborhood in South Williamsburg.
So, as one would expect of an aspiring famous photographer, on this walk down Bedford Ave, I took photos of everything. I took photos of the colorful leaves on the ground, the basketball courts, the graffiti, and then I stopped at a lot full of school busses. I took a photo.
“Can I help you?” one of the local Hasidic men asked me, “These are my school busses. Can I help you with something?”
“No,” I said, smiling ear to ear, “I’m just visiting from California, and taking photos of, well, everything.”
“California, huh?” he added, “The only thing I know about California is what I’ve learned from Katy Perry.”
“Oh, uhm, thanks?” I responded. I was a bit confused about how this “Amish” man had figured out who Katy Perry was and why he owned busses, which were clearly technological advances that his society supposedly shunned. Three years in New York later with a tiny bit more knowledge on what Orthodox Judaism actually entails, I’m still not sure what the proper response to this comment would be. If you know, let me know.
The third and final moment was in a land far away from California. When I lived in Spain, I spent a weekend in Budapest with a friend of mine who we will call Ashley. Ashley and I were studying abroad together in Madrid, and had booked a couple of trips together. It was only a long weekend away from school, but we really wanted to see Budapest and so we booked a cheap ticket on one of Ryan Air’s high quality air travel vessels. If you haven’t flown with Ryan Air before, let me give you a quick overview. Ryan Air is an extremely cheap alternative to the traditional airline experience, however in exchange the $250 you save by buying the discount flights, you agree to spend the entirety of your travel time in a real life infomercial. They sell everything from lottery tickets to naughty calendars of their stewardesses who, mind you, have uniforms that I’m pretty sure Ronald McDonald himself designed. The stewardesses literally stroll down the aisle of your plane (which usually sits 2-4 across its entire width) and Vanna White these items as if they were gold. But I’m getting sidetracked.
It was the first weekend in November, 2012 when we went to Budapest. This happened to be the weekend before the presidential elections in the US. At this point it would be pertinent to that my friend is from Ohio. While typically if I went out with anyone who was from the US, my golden California roots would dramatically overshadow whatever measly state they were from. Not intentionally, but as anyone who is from California can tell you, people really think that the entire state of California is Beverly Hills with a beach. Say you’re from California and you will be quickly asked in quick succession, “Do you surf?” “Do you know any celebrities?” and, my personal favorite, “Why the hell are you here?”
This is true within the states, too. When I first moved to New York and I lived in the Bronx, the woman who rang up my groceries looked at my ID that had “Livermore, CA” printed on it and said, “Wow, California. Sounds fun.” My coffee guy called it “exotic.” I’m going to go on record and say this is probably the only time that “Livermore, CA” has been called exotic.
But this weekend was different. Her Ohio swing-state status was completely eclipsing my Cali girl status. People were essentially making her sign blood oaths that we would not let our great country fall to ruins by forgetting to vote for Obama. I was just amazed that people in Budapest knew what a swing state was. I couldn’t even name their president. In fact, I’m still not even sure if they have a president. When they would ask where I was from and I’d respond, they’d say, “Oh, well, you don’t really matter. Your state always goes to the Democrats.” How does everyone know this?!
At some point throughout the night, we found a bar called Szimpla, a ruin bar in the heart of Pest. Ruin bars in Budapest are exactly what they sound like: bars that are constructed of scrap parts—seats made of bathtubs, random security cameras projecting your image on the wall, bicycle wheels hanging from the ceiling. Thirteen blood oaths and an equal number of beers later, my friend Ashley and I were well on our way to drunk. This is when it happened: Katy Perry’s California Gurls came on. In Budapest. I proudly stood on an elevated surface (bar? Table? Bathtub? Who knows.) and danced and sang along, realizing this might be the first and only time where I was actually the only California Girl in the bar. Of course, there may very well have been another girl from some ‘exotic’ location like Fresno or Bakersfield seated on a dismembered television set in that abandoned warehouse. But in my mind, I was the one and only adventurer who had made it that far. I had fled the Golden Coast only to discover that there are definitely a few places that come close. I also had fled and realized that no matter how far I went, I couldn’t quite shake the California out of the Gurl.
That night, we ended up in a Hungarian Casino with a man from Japan and an expat from Virginia where we each had to have our photo taken to enter. I smiled with my eyes closed at the security camera. The next day when I went to do my tourist duties, I almost threw up in the Buda Castle. I’ll save that story for another day.