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January 27, 2007

No simple us and them

I read LA Times columnist Meghan Daum's Saturday op-ed titled "Doggy gentrification" with particular interest as Daum, who lives in Echo Park, was writing about dogs and values in the neighborhood. She even touched on a dog I have written about in Chicken Corner -- "Hubble," who once was called "Trouble." (And it's true, he was renamed in order to make him seem more appealing to potential adoptive humans. He's still "looking" for a family.)

Daum justly praises the Echo Park Animal Alliance for its services and the passion of its members/participants. And she rightly calls the Alliance's list serve on a tone of superiority in regards to people who are not up to speed in animal-rescue-know-how. But I take exception to the implication in Daum's article that wandering dogs are usually the pets of working-class Latinos.

Daum says that when she reads the Echo Park Animal Alliance list serve,

Issues of race or class are never mentioned outright, but the postings are often filled with enraged chatter about who needs to be "educated" about proper pet care. And what everyone knows but won't say out loud is that nearly every member of the rescue group is middle class and white and nearly every negligent owner they "monitor" is poor or working class — and probably Latino.

It may be true that Alliance members are mostly white and middle class. But in my experience, wandering dogs have been the pets of this same group -- and to a disproportionate degree. Without a doubt some of the wanderers in the hood belong to working-class Latino families. But most of the loose dogs I have known over 12 years of living in the neighborhood come from a different socio-economic background. Most of the unleashed dogs are harmless, but not all.

Points in case:

My friend Paul is white, in his mid-thirties. He is from Boston originally, and he went to Wesleyan. For years, Paul's dogs have run loose (though now, with only one dog, the situation is less chaotic.) One of his dogs, Oscar, a rottweiler mix, used to sleep in the street and behaved erratically toward some of the neighbors. I happen to adore Oscar, and it was never bothered much by his being loose, but another of Paul's dogs put a severe strain on a friendship (with Paul) I care about. She was a pit-mix, who was sweet with people but attacked pets of neighbors and passersby. She was an escape artist, who turned up in my own yard on more than one occasion. (I have four cats, and, call me a negligent guardian, three of them go outside.) She killed the cat of a friend of mine.

One of my absolute favorite dogs in the neighborhood is Lucy. She is owned by Joe and Heather, who are white boho arts types. Lucy the dog is part wolf, with one ear permanently flopped down. Giant and fluffy, she roams the neighborhood freely. For a while she used to greet an elderly woman at the busstop every day (she knew what time to be there) and then escort her home. In the evenings, Joe and Heather often get into their car and go looking for Lucy. They know her regular haunts. Occasionally, Lucy spends the night at the home of one of her human friends and returns the next day. Unlike many wolf-mixes (who are known to be unpredictable in their behavior) Lucy has a calm, steady temperament. She may look big and scary, but she's not going to charge at you.

Bosco the dog also roams free. Frequently he follows my dog and me to Elysian Park, where he accompanies us for a while -- until he meets a dog-human team more interesting. Bosco is owned by a man who is said to be the general manager of a large Spanish-language TV station. His wife is white. Their house is large, well-kept and expensive looking. Sometimes they walk Bosco, but they do not appear to try to keep him from roaming.

Frequently I see a white and tan husky in the park or on the street alone. The husky has a beautiful gait. For a while I wondered if he was a stray who had found a good food source, but I met his owner, who is white and boho-looking, when the husky was actually being walked one day.

I lived on Sargent Place for over four years. It's one of the most solidly "educated" and middle class streets in the neighborhood. It's tidy, neighborly, and there were dogs running loose in the street all the time. Next door to me lived a superstar artist whose dogs routinely lazed around the street. There also used to be a wonderful mail man, Ron, who had bright orange-dyed hair and who was the only mail man I ever saw with dogs placidly following along behind him -- because they liked him.

And, of course, there is the pitbull whose white cell-phone-lady owner blithely let the unleashed dog charge at me in Elysian Park.

Meanwhile, around the corner from me I have neighbors who look like Latino gangbangers. They have a distinctive-looking pitbull who is almost all white with a black "saddle patch." Their dog is always leashed when out of the yard.

Yesterday, a Latino man named Albert, who looks to be in his late 40s and who was raised in the neighborhood, was telling my aforementioned friend Paul and me stories of wandering pets. He had tales of legendary canines with names like Barney-public, roamers of the neighborhood, unknown so far to me.

The list could go on and on -- full of counter-examples and horror stories, too. I believe that Daum's heart and values are in the right place. But in my experience, there is no simple us and them when it comes to dog values -- or race and class relations -- in Echo Park.

January 25, 2007

Updates -- lake, snake and tear-down

More ducks on the lake!

Martin Cox emailed me today:

A flock of decoy ducks appeared on the lake, two fake mallards and a fake coot! What ever next?

Maybe a fake Chinese goose.

And, in response to my query about the snake at Laguna Castle, Martin reports:

Snake has been seen again and now is estimated even bigger than 8 feet. I still have not seen it. The city is now sending someone to get it before it gets walled in or takes any of the workers for a snack.

As for the bungalow at 1600 Lucretia. Yesterday it was effectively torn down. A stop-work order was being issued today.

Wild ducks, dumped ducks/This lake is an oracle

Wild ducks wing their way to Echo Park. But some of the others arrive by car. Here's a scenario -- this one for domestic ducks. On the Echo Park Animal Alliance's list, a lake-goer posted:

I was in Echo Park, by the lake, when my fiance and I saw a woman and her family "freeing" 2 large ducks from a milk crate they had carried from their car. The ducks were obviously not sure what to do with themselves after their human family left. They kept to themselves. They had no interest in getting into the lake and they were dangerously tame with the kids and humans coming around. I began to feel that it wasnt safe for such tame animals to be left on their own in that way. When we saw them wandering toward traffic we tried to chase them back into the park - but they werent afraid of us. We even tried putting them into the lake, they looked like they had never been in the water. When the other ducks atttacked them we took them out and decided we needed to find them help. They look like male mallards, but bigger. They are easy to pick up and are very easy around humans. I have rescued and fostered many dogs and cats - but ducks are new to me. Right now they are together and quiet in our bathroom with some fresh towels, h2o, and a pan of scratch.

This is a classic occurrence, according to Dave Foster, who tends Echo Park for Parks and Rec and knows the animal and fauna life intimately. Many of the ducks at the lake arrive via crate or box. Many of the crate-ducks don't survive. Some do survive but live solo without friends or a mate. A lucky some of them thrive, of course, and have babies -- the wild, unusual mixed-breed ducks who live in Echo Park year-round: the black speckled duck, the caramel-and-white ones, the tan duck with a black beak, too many to name, all of them one-of-a-kind.

Ruddy ducks

Photo: Ruddy ducks, January 19, 2007
By Martin Cox

In the meantime, Lots of wild ducks news recently. My friend Martin Cox has been keeping an eye on the lake.

Jan. 19, morning:

The Ruddy Ducks are growing in numbers still, today the highest number yet -- nine! They rest in a raft all day, heads tucked in and only get active in the late afternoon. Then they sail away to roost somewhere at night.

Jan. 19, later in the day:

10 now!

Jan 23:

Today I saw the first pair of Northern Shovelers that I have ever seen here. This lake is an oracle, the more you look the more you see.

Martin is now writing an Echo Park Lake review/diary for in addition to his ships-site Maritime Matters.


Sigh. Geography matters to ducks, less so to the Los Angeles Times. In today's "It's no joke" article on the cover of the Calendar section, Sea Level Records is identified as located in "Silver Lake," when, in fact, it sits in the heart of Echo Park. Even a duck could have told them that. Quack.

January 24, 2007

Lucretia loses a bungalow/Machine goes west/Bird and Bee correction

A brand new big nothing. Open space where there once stood a bungalow. I checked my email yesterday at about 5 pm for the first time that day and saw that something was up. A long string of messages, from a variety of people, with the words "demo," "update" and "Lucretia" in the subject line. An unpermitted demolition had begun at 1600 Lucretia. People were running over with cameras. The police were called. Eric Garcetti's office tried to get information. The police arrived to find no permit on the grounds. Which didn't mean the destruction was halted. When I drove up to the cul de sac end of Lucretia this morning the remains of what once was a peeling, old bungalow (presumably once a candidate for restoration) were squashed into a big, white dumpster, which overflowed with the disassembly. On the site, the bungalow's foundation remained and, it appeared, a single original wall (which, according to building laws, would obviate the need to obtain a new-construction permit as the project could be classified a renovation -- in this case a renovation of open air). There was new plywood enclosing the shell -- to conceal that now there is nothing there? A workman was hosing down bare dirt. A few scattered bricks lay on the grounds, a small post marked the side walkway, which leads to a public staircase down to Delta Street. A picket fence sagged, and there were a couple of car tires. Rubble.

It's more or less what the LAUSD tried to do with its 9A project. Tear down first. Pay a little for breaking the law later.

The last of yesterday's emails on the matter said the following:

I feel like I live in the wild west! Delta street looks like the 9th ward in New Orleans. Vista Gordo is a pile of rubble and lies. Lucretia is now you see it now you don't! Add to that LAUSD's negligent upkeep of 9A and we may as well apply for FEMA funds! Echo Park is a disaster!

(If you're just tuning in, Delta Street is where a field behind a chain-link fence has been fallow for some time. A worthy bungalow and other residences are empty on the site. Vista Gordo is a street at the far north end of Elysian Heights. Apparently, they're having some trouble up there.)


Machine goes west. This just in from Machine Project:

We’re excited/terrified to tell you that we’ll be presenting over 30 of our favorite artists/projects/performers/workshops this weekend at the Art LA art fair. Highlights include a floral volcano which reads poetry, a Corey Fogel dance/sneeze performance (with a 500 pepper-shaker suit), the amazing Tron lecture redux, a fallen fruit jam jam, how to make moonshine, and so much more.

According to Machine Project, ART LA is from the 25th to the 27th. According to ART LA's site, it's from the 25th to the 28th. Not to be confused with the art fair at Santa Monica's Barker Hangar on the same days.


Correction. I just received the following information from Sandra, who identified herself as "one of the 8,104 friends of Inara [George] and Greg [Kurstin]." The Jay Leno performance date for The Bird and the Bee is January 25.

January 22, 2007

Bird and Bee buzz

There's been buzz around the band The Bird and the Bee recently. And I am sure that with the release of their first commercial CD tomorrow there will be plenty of journalists/bloggers jumping on the buzz/bee play-on-words wagon. In any case, lucky recipient of a promotional advance CD that I am, my daughter and I have been bopping around the house for many days now to Bird and Bee, which recorded a CD of joyful smooth pop, with some angry lyrics, such as are found in the song "Fucking Boyfriend." A "smart" production." (My husband likes them, too, but he doesn't really bop around the house.)

The Bird and the Bee are a duo, Inara George and Greg Kurstin. The reason I am writing about them on my Echo Park blog is that Kurstin lives and works in the neighborhood, where he and George are said to have written the music to their CD. He has a "classy" background, which includes jazz study with Jaki Byard and recording credits with the Flaming Lips. Not to mention the EP address. A Blue Note records press release says he "was a jazz piano prodigy by the time he started shaving." Inara George, meanwhile, is the daughter of Little Feat founder Lowell George. She has a reportedly succesful solo release, "All Rise."

As for buzz, Bird and Bee were scheduled to be on Jay Leno a couple of nights ago. And they have been playing -- or will play -- a couple of shows at Sundance, ancillary, I think, to the festival. Maybe someone will make a movie about them. It certainly isn't too far-fetched, as they have 8,104 friends registered on My Space. That's a lot of friends. One of them must be a music-documetary filmmaker. It turned me off at first, the slickness of 8,104 official My Space friends. Is this big-time dressed in sheep's clothing? But then I really like the CD, and so in the end I don't care how many friends they have.

Let us eat cake/Paying for parkland

The box-like cinderblock building at the corner of Lucretia and Echo Park Avenue was an evangelical church for many years. The church moved, but I still see its pastor frequently, making house calls to some elderly nieghbors of mine. After the church left the space there was an art gallery briefly. And after that it was a sparse junk shop, opened at odd hours. Then several months ago, there was work on it again. I poked my head (or nose) in to ask about it, saw cooking equipment and learned that soon it would be a southern bakery. But "soon" turned out to be relative. The building was painted in a stlyish feminine manner -- pale yellow brown and blue, with snap dragons and dahlia's planted in the parkway. "Delilah" was painted on a deep-slanting cursive. But there were permit troubles, including, I was told 3rd- or 4th-hand, parking issues: the city wanted them to build underground parking. I am sure it took some doing to get past that hurdle. (I don't believe they have any parking spaces.) The entire space is probably 400 hundred square feet. Many months passed.

Then yesterday Delilah's did open -- to quite a warm reception from the neighborhood. My husband, daughter, dog and I all walked down Echo Park Avenue to sample the new arrival, making an outing of it. On our way there and back we passed dozens of people -- hipsters, families, artists -- who were doing the same. Friends honked at us from cars on their way to get there. We ran into one group of four who told us the bakery was running out of goods there were so many people. And it was true. When we got there -- at eleven -- almost everything was cleared out and our cinnamon rolls were a bit undercooked, as if they had been rushed out of the oven. In Echo Park, the people were hungry for cake and pie! The proprietor, who is from Orange County originally but has studied and loved southern cuisine, told me she simply hadn't expected so many people to show up. I couldn't decide if the decor was an odd fit for Echo Park or right up its alley: lots of vintage, fiftie's style knick-knacks, tea roses in a milk jar, floral wall paper and an antique mantle with splotchy mirror. But I could tell the decor soon would be taken for granted. With several outdoor tables right on the sidewalk, it's likely to become a new community gathering spot.

Yes it's a boutique bakery that looks like final proof of the neighborhood's (can I say it?) gentrification. If the reeses peanut butter pie is good should we wish it were something else?


Today's LA Times has a nice pair of photos of the reservoir in Elysian Park in a story about the decades-old controversy over whether and how to cover the open water sources that serve Los Angeles. Not mentioned in the story is that over the last couple of years the public was invited to participate in drafting a master plan for Elysian Park. There were workshops and question-and-answer sessions. The desire to have the reservoir covered and turned into recreational space -- parkland -- has been clear. So it's a bit alarming to read a quote from DWP official Glenn Singley, who seemed to be arguing the fiscal utility of dropping a metal dome over the water and calling it a day. Green space is worth working for, and it's worth paying for. The paucity of it in Los Angeles is a disgrace.

January 19, 2007

Serenading Room 8

John Hernandez sent me a photograph of himself and Room 8, the famous cat whose portrait on a mural amiably watches over Echo Park Avenue between Baxter and Fargo. The photo was taken in 1962 or 1963 by a photographer for a local newspaper, possibly the Herald Examiner. (It's not as though two dozen publications didn't snap pics of the huge tabby who lived at Elysian Heights Elementary School and became so much more than a mascot and friend to the students who knew him: people still talk about Room 8; they remember the attention Room 8 received and how they glowed in it -- through the cat, who became a subject of a book as well as international human/feline interest news, they were part of something special.)

I love this picture. It reminds me of the work of Don Normark, the photographer who documented Chavez Ravine a couple of decades before the neighborhood was crushed. The picture shows John Hernandez, who lived on Ewing Street. He is sitting on the Valentine Street steps of an elderly man who often played guitar for the kids on the block. The picture makes a big deal of shoes and feet. And it shows the famous cat in a candid moment. It may have been partially staged, but it's real nonetheless -- the best kind of celebrity pic.

John Hernandez now lives in Texas.

January 18, 2007

Shepard Fairey

Echo Park is once again featured in the Times with a Calendar Thursday cover story about Shepard Fairey, one of the few "guerrilla artists" to derive a living from it. His wrestler silhouette images in the center back window of hipster SUV's have caught your eye more times than you could count, consciously, at least. Think "Obey." The subject of Cynthia Dea's Times story is public art that isn't so illegal it doesn't exist anymore by press time, with Fairey as her guide (there will be no further jokes about this perfectly good, somehow classic, South Carolina name). Fairey leads Dea to Echo Park to see Cache's chickens. Then they go to Brooklyn Projects, a skate shop on Sunset near Alvarado. Brooklyn Projects gave Fairey permission to paint a mural on its wall.

Daniel Clements, one of the owners of Brooklyn Projects told Dea:

As far as Echo Park is concerned, there's always been a conscious awareness regarding music and art. There's more of an artistic vibe and awareness out here, like what you would see in a colorful community in Mexico or South America."

Fairey's is a stunning mural -- a piece of it is shown on Calendar Weekend's cover. But the Times story made me miss Aaron Donovan's former chickens mural at Echo Park Avenue and Delta all the more.

Shooters not charged

Part of the community in Echo Park feels itself a victim in the shooting of Charupha Wongwisetsiri, who died at nine years of age. Many residents, who expect to live in a safe place -- or at least want to (and who doesn't?) -- are furious that Cesar Zamora and Steven Castanon, the suspected shooters in Charupha's killing, were released last week from police custody, not charged with a crime in her death. They grieve the little girl who was part of their community, and they want her killer(s) punished. At the very least they want them to go away. I share that feeling. The fact that Charupha died, her family now moving back to Thailand, and the man who shot her may be back home on Kensington Avenue seems intolerable. Hello, neighbor!

The fact that their release attests to the rule of law (as written) seems a defeat of justice. Castanon and Zamora seem guilty of so many things: belonging to a criminal gang, having guns, firing the guns, sitting on a porch when bad people wanted to shoot them, living among non-criminal neighbors, being a bad shot.

In the LA Times stories today and yesterday, police spokesmen have defended the release of Castanon and Zamora, saying they do not have a case because of lack of evidence and the likelihood that the suspects would succesfully claim they acted in self-defense. (When the police admit to not having a case I tend to believe them.) In any case, they argue, it's the man who supposedly tried to shoot at Zamora and Castanon who is the real culprit. Part of the problem is it's not simply individuals but an entire situation that caused Charupha to be shot while playing inside her home.

Rage leads to incoherence, and so does a response to it. People want Castanon and Zamora put away. The police don't have a case, though they have promised to harrass the pair for unrelated matters (Zamora and Castanon "can rest assured that they are high on the radar of the local gang officers," said Police Lt. Paul Vernon to the Times.) And Monday's story included a parenthetical, which reported that Castanon was arrested Monday night on suspicion of weapons possession. It seems a potentially unethical solution -- aren't we all supposed to be persecuted for actual crimes and not just for being generally guilty? Or is it justice? Either way, that's how the legal system has always worked in this country. Sideways.

January 15, 2007

Ducklings/border shootings/Artillery magazine

A cold reception for Mallard ducklings as the first batch of '07 breaks out over the weekend at Echo Park Lake. Photo by Martin Cox.

Meanwhile, Martin Cox emails me news of international aquatic border politics between Spain and Britain over Ruddy ducks, of which we have six at Echo Park Lake. Spain and Britain agreed to shoot Ruddy ducks in order to protect the bloodlines of a rare duck in Spain. Perhaps Echo Park Ruddies can count themselves lucky. (Though not luckier than the lake's solo Muscovy duck, who hangs out near the playground, nor the dozens of other domestic, or "restaurant," ducks who make EP lake their home.)


I picked up a copy of Artillery magazine's third copy the other day at Chango coffee house. Artillery is edited and published by Echo Park residents Tulsa Kinney and Charles Rappleye, both long-time -- now former -- LA Weekly workers. The third issue contains news/reviews and gossip from New York, Los Angeles and Warsaw. I liked "Outer Spaces," about an installation at the LA River. According to Frank Rodriguez, the installation was made by:

A talented individual, evidently named Shizor, [who] has created a whimsical water garden in front of his Gilligan's Island style live/work space. Using found objects [toys] ... and indigenous rock formations.... Just look at the garlands of fake dollars hanging from the trees if you don't think this is political. It's only a matter of time before lawyers from Disney and McDonalds send their "cease and desist" Nazis to save their sacred images from the hands of the homeless. So run, don't walk to see this now.

Another theme turns out to be the temporal nature of art in a semi-man-made river bed, as a coda to the article informs us: "Artillery learned at press time that Shizor's camp was closed down by the city. It's gone."


As of Sunday, January 14, no news of Laguna Castle's big snake, which most likely has retreated from the cold into a (hopefully warm) den.

January 12, 2007

Ducks redux

A correction, or three, to yesterday's post on "Redhead" ducks. Martin Cox emailed me:

There was a mix up in your story. The cute little ducks at the Bellevue end of Echo Park Lake are Ruddy Ducks, and they were six, now three, The Redhead head is a lone visitor, just one, not even a mate, never been at the lake before according to Judy Raskin. Also canvasbacks have a darker bill and a red eye with not bar at the tip of the bill, it's definitely a Redhead.

January 11, 2007

Redhead ducks/Hubble

Redhead duck

Photo: January 2007
By Martin Cox

The winds came and then were gone. I remember a few days ago, after several days of continuous, muscular blowing, the trees in Elysian Park were so still it seemed like a joke, like they were going to pop up, start dancing and drop a branch at any moment. Five days later, with the weather swings, no one even remembers the wind, unless you have walked around Echo Park Lake, where a floating raft of sticky-looking debris has been moving around the lake body ever since the wind blew trash, mulch and who knows what into the lake. It blew away various waterfowl, some of whom returned, some maybe not. Before the wind, Martin Cox counted five Redhead (or Canvasbacks?) ducks -- unusual visitors to Echo Park Lake, where the annual bird count last Sunday was higher than last year's. Yesterday morning, the debris had blown into the southeast corner of the lake. A living-room full of it, it seemed. Three of the Redheads had returned. I saw two, napping on the water. Martin and I walked around the lake, clockwise, while he caught me up on waterfowl goings-on. We passed a heron at its usual early a.m. spot and the regulars: the one-of-a-kind mixed breeds, like the all-caramel duck with a black bill and Cleo, Franken and Hairdo. This year there have been more American Wigeons than usual, and we saw a flotilla of the petite, doll-like birds. At the north end of the lake there was a solo lesser scaup, the black-and-white duck featured in the famous, disturbing Thomas Eakins painting. (Not the Eakins recently acquired by LACMA.)

Also, there were joggers and uninhibiteds: the violin player, a woman working out to her i-tunes and weird body movements. The usual. It was good to be back in the morning.

Hubble needs a real home:

Hubble used to be one of those prisoner-in-the-yard dogs. Behind a chain-link fence, the yard was clean, and Hubble probably was fed enough. But he had no life. I didn't see him very often. Occasionally my dog and I would walk down Avon Park Terrace in Elysian Heights, and we would see the big brown shepherd-and-everything-else-mix. He barked at us, with his tail wagging desperately. We'd pause and say hello, and when we'd leave Hubble would whine. I felt badly for him, more so than most of the neglected pets I see in yards -- the ones who don't get walked.

Today I heard that Hubble was abandoned in that same yard on Avon Park Terrace. The family moved away and left him there to be rescued finally -- temporarily -- by the Echo Park Animal Alliance. A Sotheby's sign stands in the front of the tiny house. And the large yard is empty. Hopefully Hubble will be adopted, and he can leave his previous life, and abandonment, behind him for the better. Echo Park Animal Alliance has more information.

Snake in the Castle -- updated

Laguna Castle -- as the Spanish-style apartment building is called -- overlooks Echo Park Lake. It has been empty of human residents for about two years, due to structural problems, which were being addressed by workers last week when the workers suddenly ran off the job...screaming (so to speak). They said they saw a snake, a huge one. They were filling gravel into a ditch that would support a new retaining wall when the creature appeared. Various people inspected the site after the four or more workers left, and there was no sign of a giant snake. The workers came back, and then a couple of days later, they ran off the job again. Animal Control investigated and found nothing. Then...a day or so later (if I have my chronology correct) the snake came out into view again -- about eight feet long, probably a python. The creature escaped. Animal Control said it probably had been hibernating when the costruction crew rousted it from its slumber. Lots and lots of phone calls and fuss ensued. My friend Martin, who manages the property for Isa-Kae Meksin, a well-known community activist, said that since they couldn't catch the snake, Animal Control proposed that the workers just continue their project and bury it. (This is against their policies of not allowing residents simply to kill problem animals.) Isa was horrified; she did not want the snake destroyed despite the delay and additional expense of finding another alternative. In fact, Isa told me a few minutes ago, that she would love to let the animal live on the property.

"Just go up a palm tree and make your nest," she joked. Eat rats to your heart's desire. (But stay away from the kitties and small dogs, please.)

Isa has received numerous proposals and suggestions concerning the animal. One concerned person said, it may be hibernating, but this isn't the tropics. Someone please throw that snake a blanket.

Another suggestion was that she sell it for a lot of money. Virtually all of the people who emailed the Echo Park Animal Alliance with suggestions were appalled at Animal Control's proposal to bury the snake.

Isa says she'd rather give it to the zoo, if they'll take it.

Christine Peters of the Echo Park Animal Alliance told me she thinks the snake may be an escaped pet, whose "guardians" may not want to come forward because they do not have an exotic-pet license.

The revelation of the snake perhaps solves an older mystery. Martin's dog was terrified of being in the Castle. Martin mentioned this to me a few months ago, saying it was as though the empty place were haunted.

Meanwhile, the snake story reminds me of a scene I witnessed at Echo Park Lake a few weeks ago. A pair of men had a giant lizard on a dog leash. It was four or five times the size of a full-grown iguana. They couldn't get it to walk. One of the men worried that the leash was too tight. They were all business. They had no interest in discussing their animal with me or my two-year-old who was curious but a little worried, as was I. The dragon/lizard refused to move, and the men fussed with the leash. Then one of the men pulled a turtle out of a bag and went over to the lake, where it tossed it into the water. The turtle was dead. At the time, I wondered if there was an animal smuggling operation nearby. That dragon did not look like a pet.

More: workers at Laguna Castle also said they saw an iguana leaving the "empty" house one day. The iguana did not bother them and they mentioned it only as an afterthought.

January 9, 2007

Stolen glass/Room 8/Asteroid

In November, I mentioned my favorite fence in Echo Park. It's on Lemoyne, south of Baxter. One of those streets where folks walk up the hill to reach the front door one one side of the hill and, on the other, you either enter at ground level or walk down some steps. The green plywood fence is painted green, on the upside of the hill, with a platform built for maintenance, I suppose. Various shapes are sawed out of the plywood, and those were filled with stained glass. There were also metal butterflies and ships, all kinds of weird, sweet decoration. I say "were" because someone has stolen the glass. After I heard from the new owner, Jonathan Williams, who told me about the theft, I drove up to the house and saw the holes where the glass used to be. Triangles, circles and other shapes. A few pieces of glass had been left intact. But mostly it was just holes, and the green plywood, which is leaning and seems somehow to have lost its dignity. I walked around to the driveway of the property and peeked behind the fence. A new house is being built there. It's a shell right now, a new shell inside of an old one.

Around the same time the green fence probably was being created by the property's former owners, Room 8 the cat was roaming Valentine, Ewing, Baxter Streets and, perhaps, beyond. A couple of days ago I received an email from John Hernandez, a former Echo Park resident who knew the famous feline. He wrote:

Ran across your blog while googling for "Room 8". I too have fond memories of that big grey Tabby. He was slow moving, probably weighed in at about 20-22 lbs, and was as friendly as they come. As a child growing up in Echo Park, I attended Elysian Heights Grammer school from 1962-63. We lived on Ewing St with our backyard fence butting up to the school grounds.
During the Summer months, Room 8 would show up at our backyard door looking for food or the fact our family had two female cars. I remember a newspaper fellow (not sure if it was Herald-Examiner, Los Angeles Times, or the Journal) coming by the house to ask about Room 8. An elderly gentleman who lived on Valentine St and always entertained the school children with his guitar playing, directed the reporter to our home. Room 8 happened to be in our house at the time and the newspaper photographer/writer wanted some pictures for a story. We ended up taking several photos of the elder gentlemen, playing his guitar and serenading Room 8 and myself. ... He was an amazing Cat.


It slipped past me three days before Christmas, but 1947 Project's Larry Harnisch (in his "Mystery Solved" entry) puts a stop to all of this nonsense over the spelling of McCollum Street as regards the asteroid.


Last Thursday there was a vigil forCharupha Wongwisetsiri, who was killed in her kitchen in Angeleno Heights. It rained that night, and it was cold, but there was a good turnout.

Kirsten Markson emailed me a description of the event. She described a:

solemn, candlelit procession through the neighborhood. We took a circuitous route and stuck out the rain and cold, passing by a number of houses where known gang members live. A police car and a Select Patrol car guided us through the neighborhood, and many people who didn't walk came to their windows to look out and wave. It all had a very "take back the night" vibe. A local church sent a lot of people and most others were a diverse group from the neighborhood, including a number of kids in strollers and a few wet dogs. We stopped in front of the girl's house for a moment of prayer, and then Ed Reyes spoke, calling for peace. A basket of cards and donations was given to the girl's stepfather and people left candles on the porch, near the still-visible bullet hole.
I found the event encouraging in general, but this is the first time in nearly 3 years that Ed Reyes has shown up at any neighborhood events, and I think that is largely because there were TV cameras and other reporters. We haven't had a neighborhood rep in his office for months, and service for Angelino Heights in general has been abysmal. Many of us try to work with them and the police, and it goes nowhere. I have been told many times by the local SLO [senior lead officer] that Angelino Heights is the "Beverly Hills" of Rampart Division, that we have relatively little crime which is why we get such lousy police coverage. The thing is, we get PLENTY of crime, and lots of shots fired, and deserve better. There are so many neighbors that want to keep up the momentum and make the neighborhood safer for all, but we don't get the support and resources from the city that we need in order to make that a reality. It is sad. Last night there were more gunshots.

On Friday, Steve Lopez wrote about the vigil in his Times column.

January 4, 2007

Maps matter -- updated

Is Los Angeles a suburb of Los Angeles? T.J. Sullivan points out a significant error in the collector's DVD edition of Pulp Fiction in Native Intelligence. A subtitle states that Echo Park is a suburb of L.A.

As I recall, there were some scenes filmed at an old motel on Riverside Drive, where Bruce Willis's character hides from the bad guys with his French girlfriend. The motel has been torn down since the film was made, and it's on the Silver Lake side of the great divide. There may be other Pulp Fiction scenes in "Echo Park" that I do not remember. One thing that stays with me about the movie, though, is the scrambled sense of place it presents. Groovy, atmospheric locales one after another, a lot of driving, street signs, a general sense of no continuity that is out of alignment with reality. Yes, and...? It works for the movie. The thing Pulp Fiction does get right is a feeling that Los Angeles is vast.

This just in from my source -- that would be T.J. Sullivan, who responds to my request for info on the Echo Park location in Pulp Fiction: "The house that Vincent goes to when he buys the baggy of heroin from the character played by Eric Stoltz is in Echo Park. The dealer has no balloons, only baggies, which is why Mia later mistakes it for coke, which sends Vincent back to Echo Park in the middle of the night with Mia in OD and needing an adrenalin shot."

January 3, 2007

The Tyde/Vigil

A couple of days ago I heard from my former next-door neighbor Ann Do Rademaker. Ann is an integral part of the cult-underground-KCRW band The Tyde. She sent a link to her own blog, Owleypatrol, which she started in June 2006. There’s talk about the bands she and her friends are seeing and social gatherings – rock bands have Christmas parties, too. It's written for her friends. In the midst of the recent postings is a surprising two-parter, which describes in photos and captions Ann's family’s escape from Vietnam in 1979.

As in all of her posts, Ann writes crisply and succinctly. She didn’t remember the boat trip. This is what she was told:

We fled in the middle of the night, dressed as peasants (with newly coiffed boy's cut) pretending to head off to the central farmlands. My parents left everything behind, material possessions didn't mean anything, just the opportunity for their two young daughters to have a future. We were on a boat for a week with no food; my mom gave me her water ration while she drank her own urine! (whoa, yeah it was heavy). Pirates raided our boat and took anything of value but luckily, no one was murdered or raped like so many before us.

Ann’s family went first to a Thai refugee camp and then the United States. Now Ann lives with her husband, Darren Rademaker, in Echo Park.


As you may know, Charupha Wongwisetsiri moved here from Thailand. Reporters quoted Charupha's mother's translators saying she brought her daughter here for better educational opportunities, about a year ago. They moved to Echo Park, and just before Christmas 2006 the nine-year-old was shot in her kitchen on East Kensington in Angeleno Heights. Stray gunfire. She died the day after Christmas.

A vigil is planned for tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 4.

Gather at the Old Fire Station From 6-7 PM (534 East Edgeware Rd & Bellevue)
7 PM Leave for walk through the neighborhood Please bring your own candles for the vigil walk
Any donations or cards will be given to the family

January 2, 2007

Your Echo Park home library, III

My friend Aleida Rodriguez lives on one of the steepest portions of Baxter Street in a house that was first owned by a cop who used convict labor to build the home. There is a broad, tall oak tree in front of the house, and a view of Kite Hill, which Aleida has written about in different ways, including for the LA Times. I first heard the name Kite Hill from Aleida, though I’d been walking the Baxter Steps – which run up and down the hill -- for years. As far as I ever knew the hill had no name. Aleida photographs the hill and the park regularly in a photo journal. (I have seen a pair of striking examples of this work, but they are too big (in terms of K-space) to use in this format.)

Aleida is a well-known poet. Her first collection, “Garden of Exile,” which I love, is largely about place – much of it recognizably (or so I imagine) Echo Park – and how the place shapes your thoughts and possibly vice versa. Much of it also is Cuba, which Aleida left when she was nine years old in a now-infamous Operation Peter Pan that took Cuban children out of the country – to the United States – without their parents. It was several years before Aleida and her sister saw their parents again. They were sent to Illinois to foster parents. And when she was an adult, Aleida came here to Los Angeles, to Echo Park, where she has lived for over twenty-five years.

(I believe she came here to be in the company of other artists and writers – as opposed to joining the Cuban exile community that long has been established here and that engaged in a bitter fight over a monument to the poet Jose Marti, which now occupies a small section of green space at Echo Park Lake. It’s surrounded with iceberg roses -- not the Mexican red ones -- and there is almost always someone sitting at the base of it.)

As an undergrad I took a class in Cuban Literature. I remember the instructor, the poet Octavio Armand (himself an émigré from Cuba) telling our class that Cubans were different from us mainlanders: their consciousness was organized around the idea that they lived on an island, that and Africa – Africa is big in the Cuban conscience, he said – whether with irony, I don’t know. (As far as island awareness goes I have heard the same thing about Manx cats -- that their fascination with water may be due to their seclusion on the Isle of Mann for so many years.) In any case, there are islands all over “Garden of Exile.” It also contains some of my favorite written descriptions of what I choose to think of as Echo Park.

Such as:

The trees fingering their dresses outside my windows now/ are live oak, mock orange, pine, eucalyptus./ Gone are the ciruelas, naranjas agrias,/ the mamoncillos with their crisp green shells/ concealing the pink tenderness of lips./
Earth’s language is a continuous current,/translating the voices of my early trees along the ground./ I can’t afford not to listen./ They find me islanded in Los Angeles,/ surrounded by a moat filled with glare,/ and deliver a lost dictionary of delight.
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