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December 29, 2006

Machine man

The L.A. Weekly has a nifty cover story on the man behind the curtain at Machine Project, the gallery-studio-artists' collective space where you can take knitting classes and eat jam, on Alvarado next door to the Downbeat Cafe.

Gendy Alimurung writes:

[Mark] Allen spends a lot of time thinking about Machine, situating it within the larger sociopolitical-economic context, picking out its shows, tracing its path, analyzing how it functions. But who is he, really?

Best to leave that one for the tabloids, though the journalist does wrap up the story with a peek into the mad creator's bedroom, where he spots a chair and rumpled sheets.

East Kensington

Charupha Wongwisetsiri, the nine-year-old girl who was shot while standing in the kitchen of her home, died on Tuesday. If you read the stories in the LA Times, you know she was an immigrant, with her mother, from Thailand and that a pair of gang members have been arrested but as of yesterday had not been charged. She lived on East Kensington, in Angeleno Heights, a curving street on a hill that is lined with Victorian and 20s era houses, many now converted to apartments. Every fifth or sixth structure bears the three-or-four color recent paint job that signals its restoration. The others tend to be tidy, on the verge of getting run-down. Today I drove down the block where the shooting ocurred -- the 800 block -- and saw no sign that anything was out of order. No police tape. No shrine visible from a slowly moving car. No sign that a group of residents were emailing each other with the news. The street looked almost exactly as it did ten years ago when I sometimes visited times a friend who lived in an apartment on the same block. The only difference is probably a higher proportion of renovated properties, which wasn't immediately apparent. It's one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city -- the houses are protected by an HPOZ. The residents aren't.

December 28, 2006

Echo Park Holidays

We may not have Frank Sinatra oozing out of public speakers, making us feel all romantic and ready to buy -- the way Rodeo Drive shopping district does. In Echo Park I would propose Los Abandoned or Bert Jansch should we be so silly as to install speakers on lightpoles. And, in any case, we already have lots of public music coming out of garages and car windows. But Echo Park does not lack for Holiday Spirit, as the photo above illustrates. What you see (a couple of weeks ago) is a vintage Citroen, which was one of two vehicles representing the Echo Park Historical Society. Behind the slight glare of the windshield is Historical Society members waving at you. This is Sunset Boulevard. Three days after the holiday, the lights are still up all around the neighborhood; the vibe is subdued. We welcomed the rain yesterday early morning.

Rodeo Drive? I can explain.

My family and I had the frightening task of trying to "show" Los Angeles to our seventeen-year-old niece, Krista Leeds, who had not visited here since she was two years old, but who is bright and thirsty for knowledge. My plan was to show her everything she expected to see, the L.A. the rest of the country can't quite believe exists -- Rodeo Drive, for example (where we wandered into Cartier and saw a $3.25 million dollar price tage on a yellow diamond ring. To be honest, the price tag was a jackpot. There was not a single other tourist landmark on that scrubby-clean street that could carve out more mental space than that tiny piece of paper.) Then on to the Sunset Strip, etc. THEN, I thought, I would show her our world. Echo Park and vicinity. Elysian Park; Alegria; Chango; the weird ducks at Echo Park Lake; a few of our neighbors; the steep steep steep Baxter hills by automobile; La Parilla restaurant on Cesar Chavez; the Biltmore. These are our tourist attractions. It would be harder to communicate the charms of the Echo to a girl who understandably wants to go home and tell her friends she saw a movie star. You can lead a horse to water....

But it was the holidays, and my plan fluttered away in the high winds, like a feather. Krista arrived at night on the last day of Hannukah. We lit candles, and we all went to bed. Next morning, we ended up going to Skid Row first thing, because it was my last chance to visit the flower wholesale market. And we went to Rodeo Drive last day of her visit. Everything else was scrambled or dropped. So much for a structured presentation of Los Angeles. We dashed out to the Grove. We raced to Pasadena to see The Queen (the movie). Krista asked about homeless people on and off for most of the week. We spent a lot of time at home, preparing for Christmas dinner. It was a great visit.

December 22, 2006

A child is shot in Angeleno Heights

Suspected gang members shot a little girl yesterday in Angeleno Heights. It's true that many gang members have been forced out of Echo Park, with their families, as real estate prices rise. But some of those who remain were involved in shooting a nine-year-old in her kitchen. Story in the L.A. Times this morning.

McCullom's asteroid

A preliminary correction. Crcucial reading for anyone who wants to make sense of the second correction, further down. In yesterday's asteroid post, I wrote the following: I believe "McCollum" is actually "McCollum." (Has she gone mad? Has she found the key to fathoming the universe? Is she wrong?) What I meant to write was: I believe "McCullum" is actually "McCollum."

Which leads us to a response by Nathan Marsak, author of the asteroid post on the 1947 Project. Nathan ignored the error in my post and went right to the heart of the matter:

Yeah, I wondered about the McCullom/McCollom spelling as well; the paper printed the address as McCullom, and while I think that was some just some sloppy note-taking on a reporter's part, I left it as it was. I even peered into my Thomas Guide from 1945 and it was McCollom then...probably was in 1907 as well. I was going to make mention of this little oddity in reportage, but since the address comes up as McCollom in the map link, I figured it would work itself out.
Of course, now some chap has added a comment that it probably wasn't an asteroid at all, but that, should we apply Occam's razor, the explosion was more likely to be terrestrial in origin. He has a point. Still, what fun is that? To me, it will be always be our little Edendale Asteroid!

If you go into the files at the Deptartment of Building and Safety downtown you'll find many Echo Park Streets whose names have changed. Single letter changes? My guess is not so many. Asteroids? For those you probably have read between the lines.

December 21, 2006

Edendale asteroid

Joe D’Augustine spotted in the 1947 Project the following account of flying space rock in Edendale. The year is 1907.

An asteroid nearly reached the open field near the home of Joseph Phillis, at the corner of McCullom and Berkeley early this morning. It exploded just before impact, leaving a burned patch twelve feet in diameter. The neighborhood was filled with heavy sulphurous smoke, in the center of which burned a dim blue flame.
Surrounding homes were rocked by the loud explosion and lit up by a Fourth of July spectacular, but the only extant remains of our spacejectile the shaken denizens could find were chunks of meteorite that resembled volcanic rock.
Otherwise neighbors, and dinosaurs, were not affected.

I believe "McCollum" is actually "McCollum." Maybe it evolved. And some think of this part of Edendale as Silver Lake now. But that could be a matter of opinion.

December 19, 2006

9A: Not alone/Reliant K/Room 8

We/You are not alone. The 9A scenario I mentioned this week and earlier -- Bigfoot comes to town on a manic mission, stomps on 200+ people, laughs when other city agencies and residents tell it to go away -- turns out not to be unique to Echo Park. A Granada Hills reader reports similar LAUSD practices, namely the disregard for legal process that led a judge to rule in favor of the Right Site Coalition of Echo Park on Monday. Richard Fisk wrote to me yesterday:

We are virtually in the same position with LAUSD except we have not "won". The demolition of a hospital building is scheduled to start in 2 weeks [to make] room for an unneeded high school. We have the info on: flawed EIR, violations of the Brown Act and CEQA process and most importantly demographics clearly showing that this $100 million school is being built in the wrong place.

Fisk also mentioned "an inadequate and untimely response from LAUSD to the California Public Records Act that we requested."

Tuesday was toddler time at the Edendale Branch public Library. The weekly story and games program for pre-readers. It was also Christian rock star time, as a crew for Reliant K (whose music I have never heard) streamed into the stacks where they would soon be recording a music video for the group, which reportedly transcends its Christian constituency -- "they're big" says RJ Smith, my husband, though he hasn't heard their music either. Come to think of it the Edendale library does remind me a bit of a modern church -- high high ceilings, frescoe-like murals, a nave-like center. The murals, depicting scenes from California history will most likely be on an LA Conservancy tour some time in the future. So twenty or so groovy-ish looking people are looking very busy. I interrupt a couple of them to ask who they are shooting. Answer: Reliant K. I try not to look blankly at a young woman crew member as I hadn't heard of Reliant K. Why are they filming in this spot? They look confused -- their turn to look blank. Do they have a connection to Echo Park? "Oh," says a young woman with crisp, black, thick eyebrows, "[We're shooting here] because it's a nice library."

So it is.

Same day, I came home to find some correspondence from a reader who remembers Room 8, the famous cat. Roger Vargo wrote:

I list myself among the fortunate to have attended Elysian Heights School during Room 8's reign. I graduated in 1963 and went on to bigger, but not necessarily better, educational opportunities at Thomas Starr King JHS.
I remember Room 8 as a big, friendly, tabby cat. He had free range of the school and would frequently walk in and out of our classrooms. Many times he would make rounds at lunch. Feeding him was discouraged, but it was obvious from his size that he didn't discourage handouts.
Each fall he would return from his summer vacation to greet new and returning students. The official expatiation was he disappeared to parts unknown after school let out for the summer. Principal Beverly Mason let me in on the secret of his summer hiatus during my last year at Elysian Heights.
Each fall, one sixth grade student (we only had one sixth grade class) was chosen as the "cat monitor" whose solemn responsibility it was to feed Room 8 in the morning. I remember in my class it was a girl named Carmen. The local newspaper, the Parkside Journal, would show up and the cat monitor would have his or her picture taken with Room 8. It was truly a position of distinction and responsibility.
The writing on the sidewalk

Like most people I prefer my sources named. Anonymous? What’s your real name? So I particularly appreciate “Marty” (“78”) of Avon Street, because Marty is not afraid to sign his prophesies. Like right in front of the house now owned by my friend John Michael, where he scratched into the cement “Jesus is coming Marty.” (When I see Jesus coming – perhaps to answer the door at John Michael’s – I can say Marty told me so.) And a couple of doors down: “We live in the end of days Marty.”

Another sidewalk signer may have been Room Eight, the famous cat who once lived at Elysian Heights Elementary (around the corner from Marty’s prophesies). This was in the 1960s. About a week ago, I was at the home of some neighbors. One of them, an eight-year-old, wanted to show me Room Eight’s signature: a crisp little paw print in the cement along the side of the house. I asked how she knew it was Room Eight’s. She said because Room Eight visited all the neighbors. And, true, we were near the school.

In fact, many of the sidewalk squares at the school are devoted to Room Eight. Dozens of testimonials to Room Eight are scratched into the cement as well as sketches of the tabby cat.

An Amazon reviewer named T. Hanson of Nashville wrote this about a book about Room Eight, which was published four decades ago:

I didn't attend Elysian Heights until a few years after Room 8 had passed, but he was still a very important part of our school. Every year or so the school would have more books printed and sell them as one of the fundraisers. My parents bought me one of the books and it was one of my favorites. As I became a teenager my interest in childish things waned and I don't know what happened to my copy. A few years back I was desperately searching for an old copy to buy so I could read the story to my daughter. A friend found one and gave it to me for Christmas. My daughter loves this story more than I think I did when I was her age. This book is just about Room 8, and Room 8 started it all, but I have to tell you about how great the school was after Room 8. It is amazing how one cat can change everything.

Room Eight, your legend lives on.

December 18, 2006

Little guys win -- 9A update

The judge ruled. The little guys win this round. The LAUSD juggernaut must conduct the environmental impact review it thought it could kick under the rug. If you're just tuning in -- 9A is the LAUSD's name for the site where it proposed to build an unnecessary school (as opposed to funding academic programs in the schools already built -- or repairing existing structures); the Right Site Coalition recently sued the LAUSD. Headed by Christine Peters, the Right Site Coaltion is a grass roots group of volunteers: activists and former residents of the houses that now stand empty on the western edge of Echo Park. The city has opposed the LAUSD's 9A project. Coucil president Eric Garcetti opposed it. The Department of Transportation opposed it. Residents of Echo Park opposed it. The LAUSD didn't care. At previous hearings, the LAUSD general counsel, Jay Golita, tried to intimidate members of the Right Site Coalition. He glared at people. He pulled them aside and said why are you bothering with this? By the time we get to court we'll have knocked down the buildings anyway. (It may have been at the same hearing that a judge ordered a moratorium on any further action -- so, fortunately, the buildings have not been razed.) The LAUSD had to hire outside counsel to defend their case. At a school board hearing, Roy Romer himself reportedly yelled at Mitch, a staffer for Eric Garcetti, who admirably stood and took it without sniping or backing down. The Right Site is betting that the LAUSD's project won't stand up to an environmental impact review. In what ways this will help the people already thrown out of their homes remains to be seen.

9A in court

There is a 9A hearing this morning at Superior Court in Norwalk in the lawsuit brought by the Right Site Coalition (supported by the Echo Park Historical Society, of which I am a board member) against the Los Angeles Unified School District. I have mentioned it several times in Chicken Corner posts before. But, very briefly: Right Site wants to force the LAUSD to conduct an environmental impact review – as it should have done before forcing more than 200 people out of their homes to make way for an elementary school that neighborhood demographics do not support – i.e., the elementary schools that exist in the neighborhood already are shrinking, teachers are being transferred out, enrollment has dropped significantly. In essence, it seems that the school the LAUSD literally is trying to bulldoze through a byproduct of Roy Romer’s “mandate” to build build build build everywhere who cares where just build. Colorado man wanted “measurable” results. Careerists fell in line in a big hurry. In Echo Park they spent eight weeks picking a site and came up with one that was virtually all immigrants (and their children). When people in the neighborhood opposed the project, urging consideration of alternative sites, the LAUSD’s response was it was too late, they’d already done so much work. We’ll see what happens in court today.

In the meantime, the last holdouts have finally been bullied out of their homes. They took to heart the LAUSD’s threats that the longer they waited the less money they would receive for their home in the end. The “site” is known as “9A” – dehumanized in advance by the language that we have all used. The LAUSD named it, and opponents adopted it, ironically at first, then by habit. The words anticipate the razing of fifty-plus houses and (even more) apartments. We’re hoping they can be turned around. Fingers crossed.

December 15, 2006

Blue Bottles and spelling

Something about blue bottles and water made me look right past that "L," as though it didn't exist. In my recent post on the Blue Bottle House -- so called for the bottle art erected by a local artist over the last several years, a remarkable work -- I left out a piece of the artist's name. The aforementioned L. Names are everything, and his happens to be Randlett King Lawrence.

December 12, 2006

Hairdo/Parade/Pit bulls

When I say Hairdo, some people now think I am talking about an Echo Park Lake cross-breed duck -- or several -- who has (have) tufts of feathers standing on the backs of their heads. In this case, I am looking back to Saturday. It was the day of the annual Echo Park Christmas Parade. And it was the day I finally got to have my hair cut. For several years I went to Venice for cuts. Then I became averse to crossing town. And Lucas opened in the space where there had been a hand-bag-manufacture studio, which doubled occasionally as an art gallery.

Lucas is a storefront salon, one of several boutiques, a coffee house and a bodega at the base of the Del Mor apartment building – which Yvette Doss included in her Los Angeles Magazine service package -- Where to shop in Echo Park -- this month.

At 9 a.m., Lucas is humming, but very quietly. It faces east and dappled light filters its way over the hillside and through abundant greenery. There are copies of W and Paris Vogue to flip through. My dog is allowed to roam the salon. Through the windows you see the brown brick apartment building across the street and a steep hillside covered in trees, palms and evergreens, maybe some eucalyptus. You could be in a small town in the south of France, I imagine, though I have never been to the south of France. But for a few moments I am there.

About three years ago I had the good fortune to spend a month working in a storefront a few doors down. My regular day job started in the afternoons, and in the mornings I went to Fototeka gallery to study LAPD Archive photos for a book project. I was writing the captions. The street was peaceful – with the same lovely light I saw yesterday in the hair salon – in contrast to the book's photos which leaned heavily toward homicide – selected by an editor at Abrams. The photos sometimes spooked me, as I studied them trying to figure out what to say about the corpses and their representations. But being in the gallery in the morning was glorious, looking out on Echo Park Avenue, with its new stop sign near Magic Gas and its sleepy morning atmosphere.

"Gentrification" of the neighborhood was beginning to accelerate, with a squeal, at that moment, and who's to say that galleries didn't give it a significant boost? This Saturday morning it would be tempting to say this was a different place, a different time -- except that a few months ago patrons at Lucas left their chairs and haircuts to run towels to a young man who had been shot at the corner of Scott Avenue and Echo Park, a block away. Lucas's owner, Taylor Lucas, told me (a couple of months ago): "I didn't know what to do, but my clients ran out there with towels," trying to stem the bleeding. The youg man died (a week after he was shot) as did a friend of his, a teenaged girl and her baby in a freak, related "accident." (The girl, who was six months pregnant witnessed the shooting. She went into premature labor, and was taken to the hospital. At the hospital, she was given a drug to which she "reacted," and she and the baby died.)

That was several months ago.

This Saturday was the Echo Park Christmas Parade. I couldn't go, though I had hoped to. (Last year there was some drama with a runaway plastic reindeer, which crashed into some cars, after it failed to make a turn.) But I did hear reports: Council President Eric Garcetti was one of the grandmasters. Councilman Ed Reyes was a no-show, and his car was assigned to someone else. The Echo Park Historical Society participants waved to the crowd dressed as "Hippies" -- a nod to our recent honoring of Echo Park's Summer of Love, 1967, when there were love-ins and rock concerts in Elysian Park. Brite Spot proprietor Julio rode in a car with Mitchell Frank of the Echo.

"It's not exactly like military precision," said my unnamed source, who was present at the event. "I think the key is to have candy and throw it at the kids."

As for pit bulls, I received the following in an email from Kelly Mayfield:

Thank you for recognizing that not all pits are killers. I, too, have a big pit who was rescued from the street nearly 10 years ago. People he loves; dogs outside his pack, not so much. And I do respect that most people I will encounter on our walks are fearful or suspect of him. Karen’s right—owning a pit, no matter how wiggly and happy they are, means more responsibility. The rewards are great, though.

December 11, 2006

Elizabeth Stromme

Today's LA Times has a nice obit of writer Elizabeth Stromme, whose passing also was noted in LA Observed last week. Stromme's novel Joe's Word is one of the best evocations I've encountered of Echo Park, weaving together the seedy storefront culture (not all seedy, of course) and down and out hipster-dom in a way that rang particularly true for me. Stromme lived in Echo Park.

Echo Park dogs in the news/Tokofsky out

Today's L.A. Times turned its gaze toward one of Echo Park's doggier traditions: In a corner of Peter Shire's ceramics and sculpture studios' -- during their annual Christmas sale -- the Echo Park Animal Alliance has a Santa Event, which raises funds for the organization. You can have your dog's photo taken with Santa, who has a real white beard, not a glue-on. Or it can be your photo. Last year, my family -- minus my husband, who declined to be in the picture -- was photographed. In the picture, Santa was smiling, I was smiling, Rosie the dog was smiling, but my daughter frowned and looked near tears. She wasn't sure about this Santa business. It's one of my favorite holiday pictures. This year was the first in six years that we have missed the Peter Shire Studio sale. We would have gone, just to see neighbors and see the ceramics, not to mention take a doggy photo with Santa, but we had previous plans on the other side of the city. It's just as well as so many of our friends and family have received Peter Shire studio works for Christmas and Hannukah that we couldn't with a straight face and heart give them more. In any case, it's always a thrill to see familiar faces in the newspaper. And today I recognized not just some of the people but a pair of Basset hounds who walk in Elysian Park. I never knew their names were Gracie and George.

Last year I was trotting down to the sale, and I ran into a neighbor, Christine, who grew up here. Her mother was the first female member of EXP, the Echo Park gang. (One of these days I will ask Peter Shire if there is a connection between the gang and the EXP signature on the bottom of his studio pieces. Echo Park, California notes that an ExP frieze was cropped out of the Times photos this morning.) I asked Christine if she was going to the sale, and she said no, she already had some Peter Shire pottery. "He did my portrait," she said. And I remembered a monograph of his platter portraits of people in the neighborhood. One of the portraits showed the face of Geno, who was known by some as Geno Palomino. Geno grew up in the house I live in now. He may have been an addict, and he died at about age 30 of AIDS. Shortly after my husband and I moved into our house his family returned here. They scattered ashes in the open lot behind the house. Another trace: Down on Echo Park Avenue, scratched into the concrete on the sidewalk is the name Geno.

The L.A. Times doggy spread includes a picture of a different Christine -- Christine Peters, who is co-founder of the Echo Park Animal Alliance. Christine also is on the board of the Echo Park Historical Society (not to mention the Neighborhood Council and other organizations), and she has been the engine behind the Right Site Coalition, which has sought to engage the LAUSD juggernaut in a battle over the District's land grab on the western edge of Echo Park. A lawsuit is pending, in which the Right Site Coalition is seeking to prevent the LAUSD from prematurely razing 50-plus houses for a school on the site the LAUSD calls "9A." The Coalition -- which wants to the LAUSD to consider alternative available sites -- seeks to force the school district to conduct legally mandated environmental reviews, which the District has tried to skip. In any case, the big guy behind the push for a school on site 9A has been district-5 board member David Tokofsky, who has treated with contempt neighborhood activists -- distressed at the evictions of some two hundred people from their homes. Last week LA Observed was the first to report that Tokofsky suddenly withdrew his name for reelection to the board. How this will affect the ongoing effort to prevent the houses on Mohawk and St. Ynez Streets from being wrecked is unclear. A hearing in the case is scheduled for December 18.

December 8, 2006

Indie map

The L.A. Weekly put on its cover yesterday a broad roundup of eastside bands. Most of the present-day scenes in Sam Slovick’s “Deep Inside the Silver Lake Scene” take place in Echo Park. Reminiscences of the golden days of the early ‘90s hark back to Silver Lake. The map is fuzzy. I suppose reverb knows no borders.

A table of contents declaration "From old-school heads to prepubescent punks, Silver Lake is where L.A.’s indie rock heart still beats," is...wrong in its neglect to name Echo Park. Sigh.

Writer Alie Ward – who contributes a number of thumbnail profiles to the package describes a “deliciously stoney blend of reverberating guitar, lazy vocals and that blanket of distortion that’s become ubiquitous these days in Silver Lake/Echo Park.”

And I thought that beautiful mist was fog....

December 6, 2006

Power breeds/sonic winds

A pit bull owner/guardian wrote me with a response to my story about being silent-charged by a young pit bull. She nailed what I could not quite put into words the other day -- that there are special responsibilities associated with "owning" and walking "power breeds" of dog.

Karen wrote:

I'm not a hipster and I have a pit bull who was rescued from a shelter 3 years ago. Amber goes everywhere with me and is NEVER allowed off-leash except at home or with her trainer who specializes in pits... She has been the victim of dozen near attacks in our Santa Monica neighborhood by owners who walk their dogs off-leash. Even though she is clearly not the aggressor, many times she has been blamed because of her breed. Owning a power-breed is a responsibility I take seriously. The group that recued her insisted that she get evaluated and trained before they allowed her to be adopted. Most of the Pit owners I know are as loyal to their dogs as they are to us.

It sounds as though Amber has a good home. I have friends who have lovely pit bulls. And I have several favorite pits in the neighborhood. The Lonely Surprise Dog, for example, on Echo Park Avenue near Vega's Market. This dog, tragically, never seems to be walked. It has a narrow dog run, dirt more hardpacked than the sidewalk, and when we approach -- my dog, my daughter and I -- it charges silently behind its fence, and once it reaches the fence,it starts barking, raving and wagging its tail. It took me a while to realize the dog was glad to see us.

It can be heartbreaking to see these powerful animals so desperately eager to please, so eager for affection and ready to be submissive to the people around them. I get the feeling their physical energy is too much even for them sometimes; they are bursting out of their skins. Mentally, they seem to be exhausted.

It's still not okay to let them free-charge non-consenting humans or dogs.

If you're already sung-out on holiday-themed events, there's Machine Project, which will be presenting Bob Bellerue and Liam Mooney on Saturday, Dec. 9, 8 pm:

Bob Bellerue is a noise artist and performer whose work utilizes musical instruments, electronics, and custom programming for live performance, sound installation, and prepared ambient field recordings. With a background in punk / acid rock, Balinese and Javanese gamelan, and Tibetan Buddhism, he creates extreme sonic experiences to affect awareness and is a specialist at playing things the wrong way and making non-musical instruments sound good. We’re not sure what he’s going to do, but he was really interested in our basement.
Liam Mooney is a composer, performer, sound designer, noise advocate, and inventor of musical instruments. His work focuses on the sonic possibilities of everyday objects and on the physical properties of sound. Modern technology provides what lungs cannot: lots and lots of air. Wind instruments meet power tools and home appliances in a music of percussionless drums, vacuum cleaners, electric fan, organ pipes, plastic bottles, corrugated tubing, air compressor, PVC pipes, balloons, and leaf blower.

December 4, 2006

Oh, she's friendly!

Talk about the flip side. Last week I wrote about aging hipsters and their elderly pit bulls and how I was amused by the shouted reassurances of “(S)he’s friendly!” as the dogs came creaking my way. This morning, I had the opposite experience. I was walking with my own aging dog companion – Rosie, who is half border collie, half golden retriever – when I saw a young woman on a cell phone: dressed in black for exercise. She was walking a small, taupe-and-white, unleashed pit bull, also young. The dog saw me and bolted silently, creepy in its silence, at top speed straight at me. I froze. The dog’s “guardian” took the trouble to lift the phone from her ear. “Oh, she’s friendly!” she called out. And what if she isn't? The dog's owner is fifty yards back. This time I was not amused.

The woman continued her phone conversation, her dog ran ahead of her -- and me -- and both disappeared from view. I know that pit owners think their dogs are the victims of discrimination, but I have never seen any other kind of dog run at me that way – with such speed and purpose.* I remember feeling badly for a young woman at the Lincoln Park dog park/social scene in Washington, DC. She had her dog on a leash. It was covered in cigarette burns, and its ears were shredded. She said she had rescued it; she kept the dog, who was quiet, on the leash, but people shunned dog and guardian alike. They shouldn't have, because her dog was not charging full speed at anyone, dog or human.

In any case, this morning's dog owner reminded me of a certain "new guard" in Echo Park: young hipsters who barrell down Echo Park's narrow, winding streets in SUVs; in their outsized cars and disregard they are more of a physical threat than almost any of the low riders ever were (or are). One exception: They keep company with a middle-class, middle-aged Latina mom who owns a brand new white Jag. She lives near me, and she tears up the road on our small street, accelerating on a blind curve as though she were on a racetrack. She used to own a white pit bull, who never seemed to have the good fortune of being walked. The dog used to escape (she was quite friendly, and approached people slwoly enough, with her head turned).

In any case, my can't-run-too-fast dog and I continued our walk. We turned a corner in the trail – a little north and west of the giant Peter Shire sculpture on the other side of the canyon, a monument to Grace Simons and Frank Glass -- and I saw a white rabbit, smallish, nibbling on some fresh grass. It was either wandering from its home on Park Drive – the closest houses were probably 150 yards away -- or someone had dumped it. I tried to catch the rabbit while a friend of mine, Kelly Witmer, whom I had just run into, held my dog on a leash. The rabbit got away, after almost letting me nab it. It will be lucky if someone takes it home before the coyotes or owls do.

Farther up the trail – my dog unleashed again – a man and woman passing us said, “Ranger’s coming.” Word went up and down the trail. “Ranger’s coming, ranger’s coming.”** Leashes came out. Free run was over.

*Most pit bull owners leash their dogs on the loop in Elysian Park.
**Tickets for walking a dog unleashed in Elysian Park can be hefty.

Time compression

The Onyx was a coffee house, a pair of coffee houses, one in Los Feliz, the other in Echo Park. Both are closed now. Togethere, they were a living landmark for a generation-plus of artists and scenesters in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. If you listened to the band Thelonius Monster, the Onyx still means something to you. It was a place where you might have found the heroine of Janet Fitch’s most recent novel, “Paint it Black,” sipping coffee and pondering.

The Onyx east was located in a dingy strip mall facing Glendale Boulevard, just before the ramp to the 2 Freeway.

When the Onyx east closed I didn’t even notice, not right away. But after a while a new restaurant opened in the space: Spain, which had a small “take out” neon sign in the window. A mural along the Alessandro Street side of the establishment showed a blond matador spearing a bull. I hated the mural’s celebration of cruelty so it was several years before I went to Spain, though I knew it to be a popular takeout source for parties – empenadas, garlic olives. By the time I went to Spain for dinner it seemed like the restaurant had been there forever.

What I found in Spain was a warm, lively room – with gourmet items for sale in one corner. The menu suggests an Argentinian connection. The first time I went it started filling up after 8 pm. About half the table conversations were in Spanish. There were some neighborhood folks whom I recognized, anglo and latino. There were tables with small children. There was Spanish and Argentine wine. A man at the table next to ours – the father of a boy a few months younger than my daughter – told my husband and I that he had been raised in Boyle Heights, but that he lived part time now in Buenos Aires, where his wife is from, and where he now does business.

This past Saturday, I went to Spain for dinner with my husband and daughter. I had just been to a reading/signing at Book Soup for Michele Matheson’s terrific novel, “Saving Angelfish.” So it was a double coincidence when I looked over to the corner of the room and saw a woman I thought was Janet Fitch, who is blurbed on the back of Michele’s book. I didn’t have my glasses with me and so I stared (I hope not too) rudely until I was sure that it was in fact Fitch. She was with a man and a woman whom I believe were at the Book Soup reading, too.

I could picture the now-famous novelist, perhaps seventeen years ago, her hair the same length, shape and color as now, sitting in the same corner, when this room was the Onyx, sipping coffee and thinking some day she might write about the people she saw here: black jeans, dreads, maybe studs, big boots, purple pants and fringe, reading poetry, calling their dealer from a payphone outside, or calling their friends -- the same ones who nowadays come here for paella dinners. Maybe she did. Or maybe it’s a fiction of my own.

December 1, 2006

Pick up scene

Most pickups in Elysian Park tend to place on the east side of the park, in the badlands. Tomorrow (Saturday) a different type of pickup party is planned for the doglands: for the second year in a row, neighbors and dogwalkers will gather to clear the western hiking loop of the tons (do I exaggerate?) of doggy doo that unscrupulous dog walkers have left behind (most of it sun-dried, by now). As Echo Park’s reputation for street violence has lifted, more and more dog people are driving to the neighborhood to walk their dogs in the trails of Elysian Park, where it is not legal to go leashless, but a majority of dog guardians let their animals off leash nonetheless in time-honored tradition. When I first started walking the park, it was common to walk a while, see no one, and then after a short while see an arthritic pitbull creaking toward me, unrestrained. "He's friendly!" the graying hipster-guardian in black jeans and spikes would invariably shout out, by habit and coutesty. I didn't know if I would hurt their feelings by saying, "That's okay, I wasn't worried," so I'd keep my mouth shut and nod. "He's really just a big kitten," the guardian would say when he/she got closer. Eleven years later there are fewer pit bulls, and undoubtedly there are more people. A lot of odd dog mixes: dachsund/beagles; a dalmatian/mastiff, for starters. Many rescues. Many of the owners/guardians are rescues, too: survivors of their own lost years.

My fondest hope is that the poop-party will not be a case of the good cleaning picking up after the bad – the twenty-five or so people who showed up last year to beautify the trail were dog walkers who already picked up after their pets. The offenders, it appeared, stayed home, though they would have been welcome -- even applauded (had anyone known who they were). Everyone loves the prodigal. But, even if it is the pickers-up who show up, the party will be all theirs. Ralph’s is donating food, Starbucks has promised to give coffee.

Karma: To those who attend the poop-up: may you be so fortunate as to come back to earth as a lucky dog whose guardian picks up for him/her in Elysian Park.

Starts 9 a.m. to noon. Participants are asked to gather at the memorial garden/watering area just east of the entrance located at the end of Park Drive, and bring tools. Park and Rec has donated bags. Echo Park Animal Alliance has more information.

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