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December 30, 2009

Holiday highlights...

...this year included this lovely, letter-perfect gift from Santa:


Chicken Corner's feelings exactly!

And warmest wishes for a happy 2010 to all!

On another note: Santa.

Like so many confused parents of five-year-olds, my husband and I got roped into the big lie about the man with the flying reindeer and elf-slaves. On the day Madeleine and our dog, Chyla, had their photo taken with Santa at Peter Shire's holiday studio sale -- the photo event a fundraiser for the Echo Park Animal Alliance -- she wanted to go back and remind Santa about her request for a clipboard, since he was on-hand and all. Even after all the gifts were open, their wrapping paper balled up and tossed in the recycle bin, Madeleine has been preoccupied with the Santa and his reindeer. Could we visit him off-season in the North Pole? How do the reindeer fly? Why, precisely, would he refuse to deliver the gifts just because she was awake? Does he have a phone?

So many questions. Day after day of them. But there was a bit of anxiety. On Christmas Eve, I stopped in to Silver Lake Wine with Madeleine. We picked up a couple of bottles of white bourdeaux. On our way back to the car:



"You know Santa?"


"There's something very wrong with him. ... Because his beard is too long."

I'm still trying to calibrate exactly the right response to that one.

December 19, 2009

XMAS, weather permitting

This year the holidays are blowing in fast and lean like the weather coming in from unexpected directions. I could be wrong but it seems to me that -- peering over the city from Chicken Corner's odd little roost -- advertising for Christmas is way down. Or maybe I have become inured to it. A bit less Christmas music in the air, too. With the exception of KUSC, which I generally consider a sort of sanctuary (especially Opera Saturday Morning, as we call it hereabouts). But, no, they're hamming it up over there, with tedious/corny choral XMAS blah blah (call me the Grinch), and the day before yesterday Jim Svejda played the dog-bark version of "Jingle Bells" (a classic, I admit) and told everyone Mozart wrote it; then he went on to tell his audience that he can't stand the song "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." Next he'll declare that Sibelius is Santa Claus.

It's not all ho ho ho, though. The weather turned bad this week in Echo Park as FOUR dogs were found, apparently abandoned, in Elysian Park over the course of, I think, two days. Then the winds turned around and two were reclaimed at the pound. One of them had bolted from home near USC and was lost for a week, losing nearly 17 pounds during his ordeal. The Animal Alliance list has been jammed with opinions and news about these dogs, the consensus being that it may be difficult to take a found dog to the pound but it's the best chance an owner may have to recover their lost pet. After a few days the rescuer can always come back and claim the pet if no original guardian shows up.

Meanwhile, Washington DC is in the process of receiving an expected 20 inches of snow. I spend my entire childhood praying for a snowstorm like that. Never got it. Then I moved to SoCal, where I am yawning on sunshine this fine morning -- and enjoying it too, don't get me wrong.

There's one way the weather has turned absolutely beautiful -- and I have Christmas to thank for it. My friend Priscilla Archibald from college is coming to Echo Park to visit this afternoon. She lives in Chicago but has flown to Cali to celebrate the holiday with her family in San Diego. I haven't seen her in years, and I spent part of this morning whirling around the house, trying to pick up. Of course my lovely, spirited daughter, Madeleine, started whirling around with the opposite intention in mind. Two storm systems colliding. But that's a different story altogether.

December 13, 2009

Happy trails

Chicken Corner is pleased to hear that a happy solution was found on Stadium Way over the weekend. You may recall: Plans to create a fake traffic jam in Elysian Park (in the hope of selling cell phones/service) threatened to create real-life traffic problems for Echo Park residents.

Reportedly, Park Pictures LLC moved its 50-car traffic jam from the bottleneck area between Academy and Elysian Park Drive to the wider section of Stadium Way a bit to the north. Then they closed the road only partially, not fully as originally planned.

No word on whether anyone got paid off for complaining.

December 11, 2009

Redrawing the map

Some thoughts on this nippy rainy day.

I have lived in the same Echo Park house since 1999 and in Echo Park since 1995. But it feels as though I've moved.

Within the space of five months, 12 of my friends have left Los Angeles. My friend Cindy moved to Wyoming; Nandi and family moved to Mumbai; Paula and family moved to Switzerland; Ann and family moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I stopped shopping completely at Trader Joe's because of their awful seafood policies, which meant I changed my dry cleaners and other ancillary errands. I now shop regularly at Vons in Echo Park -- it has been renovated, and their parent company scored high on Greenpeace's seafood-policies chart.

I used to be able to stay in Echo Park almost all of the time, if I wanted to, but now I have started driving regularly to Culver City and to Pasadena. The freeway is now part of my landscapes. So is traffic. I read the newspaper less and listen to NPR more.

With my daughter in kindergarten I no longer go to Echo Park Lake. Not by design but just because there isn't time or need.

The former map of my local life has jumped off the page, done some crazy break-dancing, fallen to pieces and put itself back together as something new. My address is just a collection of sounds in relation to a new place. Because Echo Park has changed enormously in the last three years. (One of the most recent changes is the new dog parlour/shop intriguingly named "Blue Collar" -- it's housed in the same place where Lucha Libre Mexican wrestlers used to practice.)

I contacted mapquest about this, but they said there was nothing they could do: Sorry, they just draw the pretty pictures. Which means Chicken Corner will have to record its own Thomas Brothers guide to Chicken Corner.

December 10, 2009

A traffic jam and a parade* (updated)

It seems perverse for a film crew to stage a traffic jam in Los Angeles when there are so many naturally occurring -- it's kind of like painting a forest set in the middle of a real forest. But movie-makers want to control the scene, so to speak. And that's what one company, Park Pictures LLC, is planning to do: stage a 50-car traffic jam in Elysian Park. And in order to have their traffic jam, they are calling for Stadium Way between Elysian Park Drive and Academy Road -- the street many people in the neighborhood use -- to be closed for three days (including yesterday). The other two days are the 12th and 13th of this month. Strike date is "N/A."

That's all well and bad. Except that one of the closure days happens to fall on Saturday, the 12th of December, which is also the day when the annual Echo Park Community Christmas Parade will take place. Sunset Boulevard will be closed briefly for this lovely event, which really is a one-of-a-kind, part marching band and Santa Floats, part Do-Dah, part car club display. It's a lot of fun.

So we have two staged events and a collision of closures, as Stadium Way is the route by which many of the locals would avoid Sunset when it's closed. Lots of uproar on a neighborhood list about the shutting of Stadium Way, with accusations of high-handedness by the film company, indifference by Film L.A., and a possible skirting of the permit process. Oh, and there reportedly are NO promises to pay off residents with $100 cash.

Meanwhile, Chicken Corner can hardly express how tedious it is to watch traffic jams in the movies. (One notable exception is an early Chris Rock movie, CB4, which I believe used a found-in-nature freeway jam -- and the traffic is a hilarious joke. Another notable exception: The movie Traffic by Steven Soderbergh.) It's hard to imagine anyone who isn't a bit bored during all those hackneyed traffic-is-stopped and things are out of control! sequences in so many disaster films. As in a real jam, movie traffic is just something to wait through.

*Eastsider blog reports that the filming is for a German cell phone commercial, and says the $100 offer is untrue.

December 8, 2009

Changing of the guard at literacy center

Talk about snow on the mountaintops! Email has been piling up like snow drifts here on Chicken Corner Mountain. My modem went down, and a new one had to be delivered in real time; I got snowed in because reading and writing on a handheld device is such a hunt and peck kind of affair. Lots of interesting things sat on ice this week, unread and unanswered till the blessed arrival of the UPS truck. But one in particular got my interest.

I was sorry to see that Melanie Stephens is stepping down as director of Centro Latino for Literacy, which exists primarily to teach adult Latinos to read, many of them undocumented. A good proportion of El Centro's clients were not allowed to go to school as children in rural Mexico. Though, in our written world, the ways in which a person does not learn to read as a child are more particular, less easy to generalize, than the ways in which one does.

Stephens wrote:

After 6 years as Executive Director, I am stepping aside at the end of the year for family reasons. I will continue to be part of the Centro Latino staff in a grant development role. The timing is good for this transition. We have a talented staff, a committed Board of Directors and a stable financial position. We also have a compelling mission and very hard working literacy students.
Ana Maria Ruiz, our Literacy Campaign Director, will be our Interim Executive Director through the successful completion of our search.

The organization was founded in 1991. More info on Centro Latino at and

December 4, 2009

DC Diary

I returned to Echo Park from Washington, DC, on Wednesday, feeling thankful to have had a good Thanksgiving dinner with my family, thankful I didn't kill a deer, thankful that the places where I most want to be are the ones where I am invited (it has not always been the case).

It seemed fitting that the biggest news in DC (until Obama announced the 30,000 troops) was the gatecrashers at the White House. They were front page on the Washington Post for at least three days in a row. It's hardly the first time a White House function has been crashed, according to the Post. But it is the first time it has been such big news. Not coincidental to the dimensions of the Salahis story, the open city where I grew up has turned into a warren shaped by all kinds of gates -- the new architecture of the city put the architecture in place for this kind of story. All around the Capitol - and other places - there are now cement blocks, the little walls, I call them, and underground there are barriers that pop up, blocking the street in an instant. As a kid, I rode a public bus that used to pull up directly in front of the White House, where a swarm of office workers would pile in, the change they dropped into the box clinking in an oddly riveting irregular rhythm, while I looked sullenly through the bus windows at the silly looking White House guards, sometimes wondering if it were true - as we were told as children - that if a child pulled out a toy gun at this place, those same dandy-looking guards were under orders to shoot. Now that same section of Pennsylvania Avenue is closed to public traffic. No more yawning at the White House up close. Now we gape when a pair of uninviteds get close and then...get in...only to be thrown out again and again after they have gone home and told the world where they'd been.

On Sunday I had my own incident with a little wall - out on a newly expanded section of highway in Maryland.

I had gone to visit my mother's grave. As always, I was awed and horrified (as most likely everyone is) by how close her body was to mine - how thin the little wall between us - and how infinitely far away she really was. I considered the new company she kept. There was a woman who had died at 105. There was a two-year-old who was born after my mother's death. There was a 17-year-old-girl, who had died four years earlier but whose grave still had temporary tape with her name and dates; the stone had not been carved.

It was a beautiful day to be at the partly wooded cemetery. But I couldn't decide when to leave. Twice I headed for the car, and twice I surprised myself by stopping in my tracks and turning back. After a while, the right moment came around, and I left. I took a pair of two-lane roads to the big highway. On the I-270 onramp, I started the mental transition that the change in speed and the sense of urgency in a four-lane, fast moving road brings, the call of the present I call it. But before I could fully get to that new place, a deer with antlers jumped over the new cement barrier on the right shoulder, started to run straight across the road, then changed course and ran directly at my car before turning again. I hit the brakes and swerved. Another car did the same, somehow managing not to hit my car. The deer made it to the center divider. Then it jumped over that and faced the odds as it ran with its legs at full extension, like a racehorse, across four lanes of traffic on the other side, succeeding. It jumped over the little cement wall, a third wall, on the far side of the road and disappeared into the woods. A gatecrasher, whose prize was survival.

Monday: Despite all of the gloss that has shined up Washington in the past two decades, it's still provincial. On Monday night, while the Senate was debating health care, I went to a Capitol Hill restaurant called Sonoma. I went there partly because it was housed in the same location as a long-lived bistro/tavern that used to be called Jenkins Hill, which is the former name of Capitol Hill. I remember borrowing change to play the Doors' "Light My Fire" on the jukebox when I was a kid. The place is now redone in DWR/Pottery Barn modern beiges - with a California wine list and industrial style aluminum chairs that don't have a lot to say to the beige. It was only about a quarter full, with the same kind of crowd Jenkins Hill once drew - some people from the neighborhood, a couple of office groups, a couple of Capitol Hill tweedy types, maybe from the Library of Congress, which is across the street, a couple of dates. My salad was Boston bib lettuce with chocolate poured on it and a lot of rock salt, and smoked figs, (the figs were good). A side order was smoked chard. My penne had smoked onions and garbanzo beans. It seemed like a harmless parody of California cuisine - What with all the fires, I guess they like their food smoked! -- not that any of the other patrons cared. My husband shrugged (he liked his dinner) and said they were simply trying to have it both ways. Sitting on both sides of the fence, when I wanted them to pick sides.

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