Memorial Day weekend saw the finale of the 43rd Annual Mule Days festival in verdant Bishop, California, and wouldn't you know, Chicken Corner was in attendance, on Saturday and Sunday.
If I never appreciated mules before, in all their variety and strange beauty, let me say: I am in awe of these creatures now. Half horse, half donkey, sterile, but stronger than their ancestors and, many say, much smarter too, they are extraordinary beasts. With big ears.
The festival featured mule handling demonstrations, one by a police-horse trainer who showed the audience how to train a mule to get into a horse trailer, in such a way as to avoid getting kicked in the head by a frightened animal. Across the grounds were hundreds of mules and a scattering of horses and donkeys.
Though the event was essentially a trade show for mountain packers, who lead tours into the Sierras, there was entertainment: mule races, chariot events, packing paces, stagecoaches. On Saturday night an entertainer by the name of Uncle Kracker headlined. We went out to dinner instead.
I bought a shirt in town, and the woman who worked in the shop said Bishop has the LADWP to thank for its loveliness -- in the fact that Bishop is a town and not a big city. She said that because the DWP owns so much property in the Bishop area, development happens slowly, since the water is needed elsewhere. (Here's the DWP's version of the story.) They say you can lead a mule to water, but you can't build a condo complex.
Mule Photo: By RJ Smith
Cutie Patootie has gone broody. Here she is, my little spayed hen who no longer lays, but sits on unfertilized eggs layed by our other hens, Sparkle and Rainbow.
It happened maybe ten days ago, or maybe a week, and not for the first time. She started sitting, hoping to hatch the others' eggs, brooding in the inner coop nesting area, while Sparkle and Rainbow putter around the outer area, choosing the shade or the sun, getting water, eating food. When I open the coop to allow them a romp in the yard, the other two run out and start digging for bugs or taking dirt baths, eating loquats on the ground, having a ball. Not Cutie Patootie. She thinks she is needed elsewhere.
The Patoot is the smallest of the three, and for some time has been the lowest in the pecking order. You'd think that the lowest would be a stable position. Or at least a position with only one direction in which to move. But whenever she drops out of the scene for more than a few days, she plunges further in status and the others treat her as an outsider, pecking at her beak, heaping indignities.
Still, Cutie Patootie guards those eggs. And after yours truly lifts her body to take the blue-green eggs into the house, Cutie is so pissed off by this particular insult that two hours later she puffs up and goes after me, pecking and squawking. The hen, who previously trusted me enough to let me remove bits of feather from her eyeball with my hand, is now trying to tear flesh from that hand. And who can blame her?
After a while, for reasons of her own, she drops the issue. With no eggs left in the coop, she runs out to the yard, scratches around, finally flying onto my knee, where she catches up on her grooming.
The Do Not Enter sign, top, is on Ewing Street. I have been walking past it for years, usually in the company of my dog. Recently, there has been a man nearby making mosaic sculptures at an outdoor table a few feet from here, including the one that sits brightly near the base of this road sign. He has installed several pieces in the yard of a corner house that is not in this picture.
About a year ago, I took the Stop sign photo, above, with my phone camera on lower Landa Street. I liked the semi-accidental collage of elements that included the sign, but I thought my picture needed a context more explicit than the picture itself could provide -- despite the fact that Stop signs are always fun to look at. So I kept the photo in the archive, and there it sat, saying "Stop" to no one.
So, the months passed, and as soon as my mystery sculptor finished this blue-themed mosaic and put it in place ... my stop sign had context.
Joking aside, Chicken Corner celebrates a certain aesthetic that is not uncommon in this neighborhood, one that values broken plates and street signs (authorized in their repurpose or not), working with available materials, reshaping.
Like you, perhaps, I have seen the Caine's Arcade video by Nirvan and been inspired by the nine-year-old boy who realized a real amusement center out of cardboard, while his dad ran a used-auto-parts store on Mission Street, east of downtown. Nirvan's video of a flashmob descending on Smart Parts Auto has gone viral, and Caine's Arcade is a success. It's an Internet story, but it's also a local story. And a fun attraction. So last weekend, I drove to Mission Street with my daughter, a friend of hers, and a friend of mine, Nicole Panter, who had been invited to participate in a staged enjoyment of Caine's wonderful Arcade as Nirvan builds on the video he made earlier this year.
We arrived at about 1:30 on Saturday to find 30 to 40 people milling around the arcade. There was a line to buy passes, and a line to play the games Caine Monroy had made by hand. Unlike in the video of the flash mob, Caine had a staff of relatives -- his mom, his cousin -- and others close to the family working behind the counter, giving instructions, handing out tickets for wins, exchanging tickets for prizes.
A mariachi band had been called in for the occasion, and they played some folk norteño style songs, an Iglesia-ish pop number, and they learned the Caine's Arcade song in time to play it for the cameras. There were lots of cameras. There was also a neighborhood dog that Caine's father didn't recognize, but who I had seen a couple of blocks away when we parked. The big orange dog came by and took a nap on the sidewalk in the midst of festivities.
Caine himself looked a little bored by all of the attention. But he was game, smiling when asked, singing when asked, poking around as his staff ran the place. To date well-wishers have donated some $200,000 to his college fund, and there are matching pledges for a foundation to encourage other kids to be creative in his name.
My daughter didn't want to stop playing the games when we were all called to come out front to sing the Caine's Arcade song for the cameras. But when she was promised she could get back in line at her old spot she agreed.
Later, she was delighted with her prizes. She had won a set of Pokemon cards, some miniature parachutes, Caine's Arcade sunglasses.
On our way back to the car, we passed a different used auto parts place -- a single cinderblock room -- with about two dozen dream catchers of different styles and sizes hanging from the ceiling. There were no tickets to buy, and no games to play, and we kept going.
It was Cinco de Mayo, and it was Arcade time on Mission Street.
Previously on LA Observed:
Caine's Arcade passes 3 million views and $130,000 - this week