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April 27, 2011

R.I.P. Lionel

Photo: L.A. Zoo.

I took my daughter to the L.A. Zoo last Wednesday, April 20, and Lionel was one of the people (who happen to be animals) whom Madeleine specifically wanted to see. It was mid-afternoon, and the zoo was crowded, perhaps because of spring break. When we got to the lions' small exhibition space, there was a large, noisy group of people clumped in front of the area where Lionel and the lady lion, Cookie, were sleeping. Lionel was laying on his back with his paws in the air. I thought that was funny, the big lion sleeping like a dog or house cat, and Madeleine agreed. But I felt badly for him sleeping like that while people hooted and tried to get his attention, get him to do something. He looked vulnerable, if indifferent. Years of experience would have taught him that people might hoot and heckle, but they wouldn't try to cross into his space.

So the great lion slept quietly, and we watched him for a couple of minutes. He was one of our touchstones.

Every time we see the lions we talk about our visit to the L.A. Zoo when Lionel roared. On that day, Madeleine was about two years old, and as we approached the enclosure, Lionel opened his mouth wide and delivered an air-splitting, huge, thunderous roar. A genuinely awesome vocal display -- the only time I have ever witnessed such a thing up close. Madeleine was terrified. For a moment, instinctively, I was frightened too. It sounded as if the lion was everywhere, and it made the distance between the big cats and us seem negligible, which it would be if it weren't for the moat and high walls of faux rock. For a brief moment, you had to ask yourself which was more real, what you saw and knew (the lion couldn't get out) or what you heard and felt (he was everywhere).

We continued to visit the zoo, but, after the day when Lionel roared, for a long time, Maddie didn't even want to see the giraffes because they were near the lions. She didn't want to get near the tigers, either, asking if they were going to roar. It presented a quandary: I told Madeleine it was natural to be afraid of lions, but that she didn't need to fear these particular ones, as long as she didn't try to cross the moat. I could promise that the animals wouldn't get out of their too-small spaces -- but I couldn't promise they'd keep their mouths shut.

Nowadays, Maddie says she remembers the time Lionel roared, and there is no question that she remembers the fear. At six years old, she laughs at it. She has her own years of experience to reassure her. And, as I mentioned, last Wednesday she asked to see the lions, even though they're usually sleeping when we visit.

So it felt personal when I learned that Lionel was euthanized over the weekend. The zoo announced Tuesday that Lionel died Saturday, April 23. They said he was elderly, at 23.

R.I.P. Lionel. We're glad you roared.

April 26, 2011

Museum of Natural History: adapt and reuse

Sometimes "art in the streets" is actually arts inside an old museum. Which was the case on Saturday evening when the Museum of Natural History threw open its doors to let herds of groovies -- any number of lost tribes among them -- indoors for free. "Art in the Streets" bands played, movies showed, DJs whirled. Werner Herzog was a major presence with Cave of Forgotten Dreams in the North American Hall and then a Q & A with the director himself. There were strange, temporary tents, and video projects in real time. All the while, the somewhat musty (by association if not in fact) dioramas that are the subject of half the museum became a fresh backdrop, as the aging taxidermy had lively company. In one hall, bongos and gazelles, ibex and elephants held their poses as a DJ spun atmospheric dance sets. Dublab from Echo Park lived and breathed and performed in another. A spillover crowd from Herzog's Q & A behaved very well in yet another hall as the director's conversation was projected from next door. They looked like an exhibit themselves.


Q: Why mention this on Tuesday when the event was Saturday?

A: the museum's new exhibition space, The Age of Mammals, which opened last summer but which I had never seen. It was spectacular. Sparkling like an Apple store (RJ Smith's comment when we first walked in), but rich with ancient, tiny camels and big ancient horses, wolves, dozens of fabulous skeletons that were so up-to-date in their presentation and modern captions. In the Mammals hall, I forgot all about the live attendees, and have been eager to go back and see the bony ones again -- so game to be on view. Here's to the update.

Photo: RJ Smith.

April 20, 2011

Dodgers: a local perspective

Since Wednesday, when news of the Dodgers takeover was announced, it's been a media tornado. But even as news stories are whirling out, a more complete picture of the recent Dodgers vis-a-vis Echo Park is starting to coalesce, as seen from Chicken Corner's perch.

A couple of broad strokes:

When the Dodgers raised parking fees and opened the Scott Avenue gates -- AKA the Billy Preston Gate -- to let stadium outbound traffic leave the parking lots more quickly, it seemed like a purely local issue, with the neighborhood around the stadium being forced to pay the price for a concession that benefitted the city. Who cared about the thousands of cars coming through narrow residential streets in the neighborhood? The benefit was baseball. Community members who complained about garbage, partyers, an increased number of people parking on side streets to avoid paying at the lots, and traffic were treated with condescension by Dodgers representatives. The picture then was one of nimby-prudes, whose interests were in opposition to a baseball-loving Los Angeles at large. Now, when Chicken Corner steps back to look beyond the foreground, what I see is a logical outcome -- where an organization that showed disregard for its closest neighbors becomes one that fails the greater city, and their own patrons/fans, as well, through cost-saving measures that have lessened the safety of the stadium and through an anemic commitment to traffic management/transportation issues.

For example, there's the issue of cops and security. In 2007, I was at community meetings where a Dodgers exec bragged that the LAPD was basically at the team's disposal. You want police to manage the huge increase in traffic? he asked the community, we'll get 'em. It didn't happen -- there never was the level of traffic staff promised. Now, moving forward four years, surprise! The organization that failed to adequately staff the newly opened traffic route (on a two-lane, two-direction street, whose offshoots are even smaller), also made deep cuts in uniformed security at the stadium, as reported in the widely read L.A. Times story by Joel Rubin.

Cluck, cluck. How to describe the present moment in Echo Park/Chicken Corner terms? It's like a bad neighbor getting evicted, before a new one is found to move in. An unsatisfying validation. Bud Selig says he's acting on behalf of baseball. Is it too much to hope that a solution that is good for baseball could be good for Echo Park residents as well? Let's hope the new management has better manners, that they close the gates, consistently provide adequate security, lower the price of parking. They don't need to build a museum and movie theaters -- just consider their role as neighbors.

April 18, 2011

Ecology of neighbors

It's nasturtium season, and April's lead-in to overabundance is abundantly on display in the patio of my next-door neighbors Iva and Matt. This picture was taken a couple of days ago. Later the same evening, my family ate chard grown in Iva and Matt's kitchen garden. We gave them eggs made by our chickens (and fed those chickens chard stalks, which they eschewed in favor of apple cores and weed clover). It's been a rich season these past few years, neighbors-wise, on our street.



April 1, 2011

The trouble with eggs

IMG_3048.jpgCutie enjoys a dirt bath Friday morning.

She's better now, but yesterday Cutie Patootie was not well. She was lethargic and clearly in discomfort, moving around slowly, holding up the feathers on her back. Not eating. I took her to the chicken vet, and the doctor and techs pulled a malformed egg out of her; it was hideous and unrecognizable as an egg. They gave her three injections to make the egg that had been backed up behind it come out -- pitocin was one of the three -- and handed me a bill and sent us on our way. They said to keep her warm and inside last night, which we did. She spent the night unhappily in a box in the dining room. I was afraid for her and did not sleep well. She laid two eggs during the night, one normal, the other lacking a shell. In the morning, she looked better, and I took her back out to the coop and her friends. She has seemed fine ever since. In the yard she is back to digging for bugs, eating grass, taking a dirt bath, rushing here and there to investigate. Such a relief. I almost hate to think of her laying eggs. The vet said that some people have their chickens spayed. Which would be ironic for me since the whole chicken project was intended to supply my family with better eggs than we could get at the market. Spaying seems extreme at the moment (and it's probably risky -- I didn't even ask the vet about cost and risk, etc. since it seemed laughable at the time). But, with the rate that people are flocking to own backyard city chickens these days, who knows?

Meanwhile, on the very same day, Rainbow, our shyest chicken, finally laid an egg. And what a racket! She is the hen who likes to be left alone, by people. But not by chickens, and not if she's going to have to lay an egg. While Cutie Patootie and Sparkle both got fussy and restless the days of their first eggs, excusing themselves a few times till they finally settled quietly in the nesting area for a while, Rainbow ran around clucking as if the sky were falling. Running in and out of the outer coop, in and out of the inner coop. Then she went into the nesting area and there were loud banging noises. Finally I locked Sparkle and Cutie in the outer coop just to try to calm Rainbow, and it worked a little. There were still banging noises and clucking, but not as extreme. After a little while she came out, having left a small, smooth green-blue egg. All that fear and distress, and then such a pretty result. Then it was forgotten, and Rainbow rejoined her pals.

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