March was a cruel month for monologists: first the sad Spalding Gray news; then word came that Sandra Tsing Loh had been fired from her regular morning segment on Los Angeles’s 89.9 KCRW-FM for uttering the word “fuck” during a series about knitting.
Ms. Loh, a bemused 42, who can be heard in New York City on WNYC doing financial commentary for Marketplace , was reached by phone in Pacific Grove, Calif., in the north country near Monterey-an area one might think is a far more public-radio-ish place than supposedly slickster L.A., but au contraire .
“Los Angeles is a huge market, because everyone is in their cars,” said Ms. Loh, a regular chronicler of domestic life in the Valley. Her 2001 book A Year in Van Nuys , published by Crown, was a hilarious spoof of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence , with particularly great pie charts mapping the ideal time married couples spend together versus the actual time-i.e., ideal equals fireplace moments, outdoor adventure, spiritual stuff, keepin’ it fresh sexually; actual equals talking about food we shouldn’t have eaten, watching two different Blockbuster videos in two different rooms, lying on the phone to get each other out of things. And L.A. is apparently a slightly hysterical market, judging from the heated local response to her sacking-in a town where many people are defensive about being dismissed as uncultured by the rest of the country, public radio is a treasured tool of social stratification.
Ms. Loh traveled north almost a year ago with her toddlers Madeline, 3, and Susannah, 2, to help her brother care for his own three young children after his wife collapsed from cardiac arrest.
“It’s been really sucky-sucked the big one,” she said of the timing of the KCRW kerfuffle. “It’s just been this kind of nightmare. Nightmare, nightmare, nightmare …. If I had something, a shampoo line or clothing line to promote, that would be great, but in fact this is the year I’m taking to just stay home and be mother to my kids. I’m just trying to focus on making their sandwiches.”
Ms. Loh was born and raised in L.A., by a German mother and a Chinese father with a penchant for hitchhiking. She got a degree in physics from Caltech-“A degree I have never used,” she said-and attended graduate school in literature and writing at the University of Southern California, where one of her teachers was T. Coraghessan Boyle. (It was about that time that she met her future husband, Mike Miller, a studio guitarist who travels a lot.) Her big break was being hired to write a series of columns for the ill-fated Buzz magazine (intended as a Spy or Details for the SoCal set), which were later collected into a book, Depth Takes a Holiday . In one, she sardonically mourned having neglected to spend her 20’s in New York, “rushing about in the crisp winter air with flushed cheeks, striking in some sort of full-length black wool coat accessorized with a bright red muffler … in an exciting, exotic hub where Gordon Lish is perpetually dropping by-too often sometimes-as he finds my pesto amusing.” These were followed by a memoir, Aliens in America , and a novel, If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now .
Ms. Loh said she hadn’t checked Amazon to see the effect of the scandal on her backlist. “It’s a strange piece of publicity for me,” she said. “I’m a very midlist-y author. The kind of work that I do is so semi-autobiographical, and it’s pretty amiable, and it’s pretty friendly. It’s so uncharacteristic, to be suddenly in this little media spotlight. It’s a roller-coaster ride that I don’t have the stomach to be on-it’s just surrealistic -so I try to ignore it.”
Although KCRW eventually rescinded its dismissal, Ms. Loh refused to return to the broadcaster, accepting instead an offer from a slightly smaller station, 89.3 KPCC, located in Pasadena. She will earn $175 per week, a slight bump up from the $150 she had been drawing from KCRW (though she had been about to get a $50 raise).
“It’s just for the love of it, and that’s why you have to feel comfortable in the space,” she said. The new gig will begin in about three months, “so I can just get a hiatus and normalize and just have feeling in my fingertips again.”
Ms. Loh is also contracted by Crown for another book of humor, which was technically due back in October 2001. “So that’s something I should get to,” she said. “It was going to be the follow-up to A Year in Van Nuys . Now, who knows what it’s going to be?”