A friend sent an irresistible e-mail: wanna watch scenes from Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the cave where it was filmed? You betcha. So did about forty other film buffs who made the short hike up Bronson Canyon at dusk. There, in the cool stillness of the Bronson Caves, a trio of caverns drilled through mountain rock, author Harry Medved hoisted a portable DVD player and took us on a spin through some pretty great - and some truly awful - film history. (They Saved Hitler's Brain, Ride the High Country and Batman - the TV show - all used the cave locations.)
It turned out to be a blast from the personal past, as well. Bob Burns (pictured here with the helmet from the low-budget sci-fi Golden Turkey winner, Robot Monster) worked for B-movie king Roger Corman at the same time my dad did. Harry, whose new book, "Hollywood Escapes", is a comprehensive travel guide to film locations throughout Southern California, went to Pali HIgh with my brother.
LA. Just another small town.
Mom noticed the witches one morning as she drove the kids to school.
“Adrian, Alex, look at all these cool decorations. People are getting ready for Halloween.”
Looking out the car window, the boys were captivated by the sight of goblins, ghosts, pumpkins, black cats, skeletons and scarecrows. But the decoration that caught their eye most was a new one that they had never seen before: Witches on brooms that had slammed into trees.
Only a few houses in the Valley had them. They were very realistic looking. The witches rode broomsticks that had gone clear through the tree. Their black robes fluttered in the breeze, along with their stringy hair, which was vivid shades of green and orange. They wore tall pointy black hats.
“Mom, can we get one of those this year, please!” said 8-year-old Alex.
“Yeah, Mom, all we have is some lousy rubber skeletons and some spiders and cobwebs we stretched over the shrubbery,” said 10-year-old Adrian.
Mom sighed. She had so many things to do already. But she wanted to find good Halloween decorations and help her boys get into the spirit of the holiday. And it was better than eating candy.
“OK,” Mom said. “I’ll see if any of the stores carry those witches.”
For a couple of days, Mom called around but even after she described the eye-catching decorations, the stores said they didn’t carry them. She tried K-Mart, Sav-On, Party America, OSH and Target.
Each day the boys came home from school and asked if Mom had bought the witch yet. Frustrated, she finally decided to take the kids to a place called The Halloween Store in Granada Hills, which she figured must have every decoration known to mankind.
They searched and searched, and asked the clerk, but the store didn’t carry it. The boys had to settle for a pair of bloody floating eyeballs instead.
Finally, as a last resort, Mom decided to knock on the doors of people who had the witch decorations and see where they got them.
“We just walked out there one morning to get the paper and the witch was there,” said one homeowner, a young man.
Mom rolled her eyes and thought, who is this man kidding. He thinks I’m going to believe that? Maybe he thinks I believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus too!
“I hate the pranksters that come out this time of year,” said another. “But at least it’s better than toilet paper.”
Mom came back, dejected by this wild goose chase.
“Halloween is getting closer,” she told Dad that night. “I’ve already spent too much time on this wild goose chase. Could you please see if you can order a tree-slamming witch on the Internet and have them ship it to us, so that we get it in time to decorate,” Mom said.
That night, Dad said he had looked online but couldn’t find anybody selling Halloween witches slamming into trees.
Sighing, Mom told the boys that they couldn’t have the witch for Halloween.
“It’s very odd, but I can't find it anywhere in Los Angeles and I’m out of ideas,” Mom said.
The boys were very disappointed. Mom felt bad.
“I would do anything to get the boys one of those decorations,” she said the next night, as she put the kids to bed.
It was dark and Dad was working late. An orange harvest moon rose, huge and luminous, in the sky. Mom heard someone knocking on the door.
“Who is it?” she called through the door, not wanting to open it. Bangs the dog, who barked at everything, slunk away like she had seen a ghost, her fur rising on her back.
“I’ve got something for you, dearie,” a woman’s voice cackled.
Oh, thought Mom. Someone else trying to sell me something or collect money for another charity.
“No thank you,” she said.
“If you say so,” the high voice called out.
Soon Dad came home and Mom didn’t think any more about it. The next evening, after she put the kids to bed, Mom went out to sweep the fall leaves out of the driveway. Halloween was coming, and there was a lot to do in preparation for the big night. The broom seemed very heavy. Mom was tired. She wished the broom would sweep the leaves by itself.
She started as the broom shot out of her hands and in one minute’s time, raked up all the leaves. The next thing she knew, she was riding the broom around the yard. She clung on and soon she was soaring effortlessly over the San Fernando Valley rooftops, feeling exhilarated. She was zooming down the street, approaching the tree right outside her house. She willed the broom to turn away from the tree but it just kept going.
The next morning, the boys got up but there was no sign of Mom. Dad ushered them out to the car when it was time to drive to school and they saw a witch decoration on the palm tree right outside their house.
“Wow,” said Dad, smiling. “I guess Mom finally found that witch decoration.”
That morning, another Mom drove down Adrian and Alex’s street on the way to take her kids to school. The kids admired the realistic witch decoration outside one of the houses.
“That Halloween decoration is so cool, I’ve never seen one like that,” one of the boys said. “Please, Mom, will you buy us one this year?”
The mom, who was busy thinking about the work she needed to do that day, sighed and said. “All right. I suppose I can ask around.”
- By Denise Hamilton and Adrian Hamilton Garza
I'll be talking about the river a lot here, since I do think its revitalization is an extraordinarily ambitious 40-year project to remake L.A. But there's something far more important than talking about the river.
Seeing the river. Going down to it, and walking along its banks--and looking at it from the 10 doesn't count. About five years ago, my friend Alan Loomis and I began to give tours of the river for our friends, and then it was friends of friends, and soon all kinds of interesting people we'd never met were showing up. I first went down to the river myself about eight years ago (a year after I'd moved to L.A.), and I love to watch the same light bulb go on when people see the river up close. And the first thing I always say is to feel free to ignore all my talking, and to wander off instead, because most of all we just want you to see the river. It's hard to really get the great significance of renewing the river unless you stand on its banks, but it's pretty hard not to get it when you do.
Yet how many Angelenos have done this (and especially, how many of my fellow Westsiders)? I think the public's reacquaintance with the river generally has lagged behind the fast-multiplying plans to revitalize it. With all the media attention, everyone seems to know that something is going on. But where is the river? And where should you go? And what, exactly, is happening?
So a few quickie answers. The river flows 51 miles through the heart of L.A. County. It divides roughly into four sections: the narrow box channel through the southern San Fernando Valley; the verdant, more trapezoidal Glendale Narrows channel across from Griffith and Elysian parks; the heavily industrial downtown stretch; and the super-wide channel through southeast L.A. and Long Beach out to the harbor.
Where should you go? Well, the three prettiest stretches are where the riverbed is not concrete (yes, no concrete!)--the Sepulveda Basin in the Valley, the 8 miles in the Glendale Narrows (my own favorite spot), and 3 miles of tidal estuary up from the harbor. These stretches are very green and full of ducks and other birds. And the birds, it should be said, have always known where the river is.
And what's going on? There are new parks, bike paths, and outdoor art pieces up and down the river, and big future projects on paper for parks, promenades, bikeways, art, and wetlands restoration, and for semi-naturalizing the concrete channel--all of which promises to enhance air and water quality, local water supplies (can you hear the West cheering?), parks and public space, and connections among communities across the county.
Which is why my out-of-town visitors often don't see Hollywood or Disneyland or Universal CityWalk. They always see the L.A. River--and, if we have time, maybe some of the lesser sites, like the beach or the Getty Center....
[To tour the river, contact The River Project, Friends of the Los Angeles River (and I do some FoLAR tours), or me. Or just self-tour the river with Joe Linton's excellent new FoLAR guidebook Down By the Los Angeles River.]
When Kevin Roderick invited me to contribute to his "Native Intelligence" blog, he asked me to identify my neighborhood in my bio. The problem is my neighborhood isn't part of any immediately recognizable or distinguished locale. What to call this mundane, non-descript area of Los Angeles?
Okay, technically I live in "Faircrest Heights," though that doesn't do much to identify my neighborhood. "Faircrest Heights" is one of those bastardized names thought up by realtors and neighborhood associations to give their zones a sense of "place." "Faircrest Heights" speaks of landed gentry, a craggy peak overlooking a windswept moor; it connotes a whiff of gentility. But really what you're sniffing is particulate matter, ground up bits of tire from the millions of cars burning rubber through our neighborhood to get onto the 10 freeway and to places beyond.
Faircrest Heights is one of those weird, in-between, neither/nor neighborhoods you find scattered around Los Angeles. It's neither Mid-Wilshire, nor Culver City, it's not Beverlywood, nor Carthay Circle, although it is spitting distance from all those richly historied and colorful locales. We can't even lay legitimate claim to being "Beverly-Hills adjacent," that tissue of distinction that so many Westside neighborhoods cling to. We're neither mid-city nor Westside. My husband calls it "Midwest L.A.". We're one scant block away from the 310 area code dividing line.
Travel one click to the north and you're on Pico Boulevard, with its thriving Jewish community and bustling street life. Nothing would be nicer than to ankle over there and pick up a bialy at the Far East Bialy Bakery, maybe kibbutz with the locals at Nick's coffee shop. But from my house, frankly, its too much of a schlepp.
A little east of that is the sweeping, majestic mid-Wilshire district, with its many venerable institutions and all the delights of the Farmer's Market. But it is for sure too far to walk. It's not far as the crow flies, and I'm sure that many of the crows roosting on our block flap over there for donuts at Bob's, but the jammed traffic on Fairfax makes it a drag to get to by car.
I suppose I could hop on my bike and make it to Culver City for a movie once in a while, but I have kids, so I'd have to take them with me, and I can't risk them getting creamed by a silent but deadly Prius speeding down Venice Boulevard. Sometimes we get on our bikes and pick our way down La Cienega, past the Warehouse Shoe Sale, under the freeway, and through the squat, little neighborhood lining La Ballona Creek. The eastern end of the bike path starts there, and after feeding my kids' bikes through the chain link fence, we hop on, pedaling past dead rats, shopping carts dripping with shredded grocery bags, the dreary backs of people's houses, patched with tattered blue tarps. Once in a while along the path, there is a knot of bright orange poppies bursting out of the asphalt like good luck. It's about a mile to Overland where you can catch the first whiff of ocean.
Sometimes we try to walk in our neighborhood. Only last night I took my youngest daughter Georgia out for a stroll. We ambled up our street, which is pleasantly suburban. The houses were mostly built in the early '40s and have that era's amiable predictability. The lots are modest and well-kept, the neighbors friendly. Our area used to be vibrantly Jewish, then slowly became a solidly black, middle-class area that once boasted a thriving kid-community. A friend who lives nearby and now has children of her own remembers our streets when they buzzed with bikes and double-dutch teams. She even remembers playing in our back yard as a tyke. But those kids have grown up and moved away leaving their parents here in quiet retirement.
Nevertheless, Georgia and I were feeling happy to be out walking in our neighborhood. The day had been hot and dry as a fart and we were enjoying the cool of early evening. We challenged each other to skip races and admired the mighty roots of the Carob trees pushing up huge plates of sidewalk. A couple blocks from our house we came upon a tawny dog sniffing in a bunch of fountain grass. Thinking it must be someone's lost pet, we approached it to say hello and read its tags. It withdrew its head and snarled at us, dripping foam from its quivering maw. We screamed and ran home, Georgia sobbing all the way.
Because there are so few kids here, it almost doesn't matter that there's no good schools—except of course, to us. Once upon a time the local kids went to Louis Pasteur, the neighborhood school just up the street. But busing came along, and Pasteur was transformed into the super-achieving LACES, one of the city's best magnet schools. The odds are stacked against my girls ever getting in there. We walk up there to vote, exporting our kids to Beverlywood and West L.A. for their schooling.
There are a few exciting destination spots in our neighborhood. There's Fallas Paredes (or Falaffle Palaffle as we call it). Sometimes, when me and the girls are feeling bored and spendy we walk over there for a shopping spree. We can blow twenty dollars in a single binge, impulse-buying loud shirts that snag our hangnails and melt in the dryer. There's also a Toys R' Us, and a Smart & Final and mercifully, on Thursdays, a farmer's market. There's the batting cages and Bikram's Yoga College of India on La Cienega. I often see Bikram doing sixty down my street in his white Bentley.
Our little stucco abode is situated halfway between a low-rent apartment complex and a liquor store and this is what creates a certain amount of foot traffic on our street. In most areas pedestrians are desirable, but here they loiter and litter. I have witnessed many things through my kitchen window: couples engaged in Ripple-fueled break-up fights, shade tree mechanics slurping beers and swapping out mufflers, bands of boys hopped up on after-school candy bars bragging and tossing pop cans into my Wooly Blue Curls and Ceanothus. One night a stretch Hummer stopped in the middle of our street and disgorged a half-naked prom queen who flailed around on the asphalt, shrieking and puking until she was finally dragged back into the Hummer by her friends. Another time I saw two brothers on one bike, the younger perched on the handle bars, they were singing a hymn together in lilting harmony.
There's not a lot of fauna, but the air is thick here with ghetto birds, either tracking shooters or reporting on accidents on the 10. The helicopters buzz us nightly, drowning out my TV shows (though my babies have always slept right through the roar), and once one hung directly over our house, beaming its light onto our front lawn. Police cars rushed in from all directions and pulled up, officers surrounding the perp with guns drawn, handcuffing him under my daughters' swing.
In spite of all this, realtors seem to think we have a hot property here. They are constantly knocking on our door to let us know what our neighbors' houses are selling for. I don't mind telling you we paid $240,000 in 1998. It's quadrupled since then, but in unreal L.A. dollars that would only mean anything were we to move to St. Louis or Cleveland.
One such realtor, dressed in Dockers and a crisp, white, Coldwell Banker polo shirt pointed to our swing (essentially a plank on a rope hanging from our Brazilian Pepper tree) and said, "I like the swing... it's a nice touch," as if we had hung it there to enhance our curb appeal.
The swing is a nice touch, as it draws the few children in our neighborhood up onto our lawn. That's how we met Maia and her parents Steve and Gabrielle, who moved in up the street a couple of years ago. We keep copies of each other's house keys and pool our fridge resources for impromptu dinners every so often. They have increased our property value more than anything else in the last nine years.
Our neighborhood got its fifteen minutes of fame in the Northridge earthquake. It was our chunk of the 10 that collapsed, taking the luckless motorcycle cop with it. We didn't live here then. My husband and I clung to each other in a rented apartment four miles west in Culver City. Pregnant and house hunting a few years later, the massive crack down the center of the garage slab was a major selling point for me. The house had straddled the bucking fault line and ridden it like a blue ribbon cowboy. I felt we would be safe here.
I try to imagine the history beneath the sidewalks. Up at Pico and La Cienega Lester Young blew jazz at the Capri club, and Crescent Heights sported the famous Carthay Circle movie palace. But all bets were off down here, especially once the Santa Monica Freeway was completed in 1966, condemning our nook of L.A. to a drive-by existence. Faircrest Heights is technically part of the slightly more noteworthy Pickfair Village, a place whose Wikipedia page is but a mere stub. There's just not a lot to say about this little area. I'm amazed I've made it to 1600 words.
Really the best thing about our street is what's beneath it: the soil. If I can reach back far enough in my imagination, I can see the land the way it must have been once, an eon ago, when wolves and sloths roamed the land. It must have been pretty lush compared to the hardpan of other local areas. Faircrest Heights, though you wouldn't know it to look at it today, is bottom land, subject to periodic flooding (La Cienega being Spanish for "the swamp") and absorbing centuries of runoff from the Hollywood Hills. A hundred years ago this was rich farmland, the staple crops being mostly cabbage and soybeans. The dirt here is black and loamy and any plant you stick in the ground will quickly grow to five times the size designated on its nursery tag. Only a few of my neighbors take advantage of this boon, most of them prefer the safe monotony of lawn. But I am staging my own little restoration project with native plants, luring in birds and butterflies, encouraging them to stay a while and make a home here with us, while everyone else rushes off to someplace else. This little patch of dirt has also been good for growing my two girls, who stand tall and hardy, their roots planted firmly in Faircrest Heights. I know they will always remember our little plot of L.A. warmly, even after they too hop onto the freeway to drive off into their futures.
I’m writing this from Beijing, where the skyline is filled with construction cranes and the city is working around the clock to prepare for the 2008 Olympics. At 4:30 in the morning welding sparks shower down like fireworks from unfinished buildings.
It’s a lot more intensive than what Los Angeles was like in the run-up to the 1984 games — which is a sneaky way of transitioning to the real subject here — the L.A. Times.
So here goes.
I was one of the people Kurt Andersen spoke to for his column in last week's New York Magazine about the paper’s misguided attempt to be a national newspaper when it barely covers Los Angeles.
In my case, I estimated that less than 15% of the people I come in contact with actually read the paper.
The reason Kurt called (aside from an old friendship that dates back to our days at Spy magazine) was because of a column I wrote in the New York Observer just after the departure of John Carroll, pointing out that on my block in Hancock Park — populated by doctors, judges, lawyers, stock brokers and other upscale Indian chiefs — only four of the twenty homes receive the paper.
The article may be behind a pay wall. But the thrust of it was the false canonization of John Carroll, the Times' ill-considered Manhattan-centric focus, the debacle that was Michael Kinsley on the editorial pages, and the almost "point of pride" among people in the entertainment industry to say "I don’t read the LA Times."
What I didn’t have space to use, however (ah, the constraints of a dead-tree product), was a conversation I have about once every six months with a high-placed editor at the L.A. Times:
Me: "I saw X article. It was terrific."
Editor: "Really??? You read that article???"
Me: "Yeah. Why are you so surprised?"
Editor: "Because I don’t know anybody who actually reads the paper."
The other thing I didn’t have room for in the Observer column was a curious and telling development: On Sunday mornings, a private company now drops off a poly-bag containing the four-color advertising supplements for Sears and K-Mart to every home on my block.
In other words, as someone from the delivery company explained, major advertisers are losing faith in the Times’ ability to deliver an audience.
(I’m going to sidestep the big issue here, which I’ve started to think about as something of a “reverse network” effect: Ebay grows because everyone uses it. At the LA Times, the declining circulation will ultimately mean less advertising, and then, still more editorial budget cuts. It’s a self-reinforcing downward spiral, that may well result in diminishing reach and influence for the paper. And no matter who ends up with it – Geffen or the Trib – the real question is whether anyone is going to have the money not just to stop the circulation loss, but to reacquire readers. Building circulation is mightily expensive.)
One thing that was particularly eye-opening in Kurt’s piece was the revelation that only 19% of LA Times readers graduated from college — which Tim Rutten disputed over on Romenesko. Kurt recanted the numbers, but he got them from an LA Times on-line media kit, which — brilliantly — doesn’t include readers with post-graduate degrees. (Great going there, guys. Smart way to sell your paper to advertisers.) According to a 2006 study by Scarborough Research, the real number is 37%, not Rutten’s claim of 42%. And either way, Andersen’s larger observation still holds true: It’s nowhere near the education level of New York Times readers.
So what’s my point here?
From my end of the driveway — the receiving end of the paper — for all Dean Baquet’s speechifying about budget cuts, and the fretting about a national versus a local paper, there seems (to me) to be a severe disconnect down on Spring Street between the product they’re putting out, and the fact that people aren’t buying it.
My editor friend, a transplant from New York, would probably attribute this to the illiterates in hot tubs. (I’m not sure. We never get that far in the conversation.)
Others blame it on the liberal slant of the paper. I won’t entirely dismiss this. But even most of the liberals I know (some of whom live on my block) don’t read it. And let’s not kid ourselves here: The Times does slant left. The news pages aren’t not going to give George Bush a break on anything. Yeah, the administration is a mess, the war is a debacle. But even I’m tired of the drive-by hits on the Bush and Co. in articles where it doesn’t belong — like the way Carina Chocano somehow managed to blame the diminishing influence of film reviewers on George Bush.
For me, the essential reason for the paper’s predicament boils down to this: The Times has failed to make itself imperative to people who live in this city.
With some major exceptions — Steve Lopez, the terrific articles about corruption at the Getty Center and malfeasance at the King/Drew hospital — it doesn’t seem interested in local issues: Taxes, city government, the things that effect people’s everyday lives.
More to the point, there’s hardly a morning that goes by where I don’t look at some article and say: What is this doing here? Why is this important? Why are they running it? What value does this have to Los Angeles readers? Is no one asking these questions on Spring Street?
I could give you a dozen examples of this — from the series on corrupt Nevada judges (you mean to tell me we don’t have any here?) to two (yes, two!) front page articles in the Calendar section about the new museum in Denver and stories about the $20 ticket prices at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the sale of the New York Observer, (a must-read, no doubt, in Ventura), less-than-svelte women going to the Hawaiian Tropic Tone restaurant in Times Square and the terrible tragedy of oversized portions in a city with tiny apartments. (You have to read this to believe it.)
But rather than go on here, I’ll cite two recent misfires in particular:
— When the paper unveiled its make-over on Sunday October 22nd, there was not a single article on the front page about anything in Los Angeles, save for a tiny picture in the lower-right-hand-corner of the mayor in China. Okay: In fairness, the lead story was about the lax oversight of human organ transplants, which has been something of a local problem. Although someone more in touch with the city would have realized that LAX — in caps — always stands for Los Angeles International airport. But c’mon: Do you really mean to tell me that in the entire city of Los Angles, there was absolutely nothing — nothing of any local interest — that was more important than a huge, above-the-fold story about Alaskan villagers living in bird flu’s flight path?
— Now, let’s go back a week earlier, and look at the Current Section (a/k/a, pre-Kinsley, Sunday Opinion.) In the week following the Korean nuke blast, did they off up some incendiary opinion on this? Did they examine the curious anomaly that is Arnold Schwarzenegger trouncing a Democrat in the polls in this blue state, in this bluest of seasons? Did they opine about safety in our skies, in light of the small plane crash in New York? No. If you look in the upper-right-hand-corner, leading off the section, you’ll find what was essentially New York City gossip columnist Lloyd Grove’s valedictory address as he exited the New York Daily News — a piece filled with references to Jared Paul Stern, Page Six, Georgetown dinner parties, Kay Graham, and Mort Zuckerman. In other words, save for a tangential reference to local L.A. zillionaire Ron Burkle, it was piece by a gossip columnist that no one out here knows, about a paper no one out here reads, filled with names that hardly anyone out here cares about.
So I’ll go back to my original question: What is this doing in the paper, played in this position? What value does it add? What does this have to do with your reader’s lives?
In January 2005, the blogger Mickey Kaus wrote a piece for the paper’s “Outside the Tent” column suggesting that the paper needs to be more gossipy. I think he’s right, but I’d put it a different way: It’s not gossip that’s lacking, but personality. The New York Times doesn’t run a gossip column anymore, but it has always put flesh and blood on the bones of the people who mark the city: Koch, Giuliani, Bloomberg. Sharpton, Trump, Weinstein. George Steinbrenner, Cardinal O’Connor, the bad-boy sports and music stars.
We have all the same players here, in roughly the same positions: Maxine Waters (Sharpton), the Maloof Brothers (Steinbrenner), Jeff Katzenberg (Weinstein), Eli Broad (Trump/Larry Silverstein), the no-nonsense police commissioner Bill Bratton (the no-nonsense police commissioner Bill Bratton.) But you’d never know what these people are like — what their foibles and idiosyncrasies are — from reading the paper.
A great newspaper takes these people — these archetypes that exist in every city, from New York, to Houston, to Los Angeles — and makes them real. And in turn, people want to read about them, in the newspaper. And this is where the L.A. Times falls down so badly: By not covering the city as an interesting place, it isn't an interesting newspaper.
I could go on here — about the website that I can’t navigate, or my impression that the paper’s promotional efforts seem more targeted to the 10,000 people who read Variety, instead of the 10 million people who inhabit the city. (Last year, I shook my head in bewilderment every time I passed the L.A. Times billboards that said "For her 18th birthday your daughter wants an agent." Ergo, subscribe to the L.A. Times. Hey guys: This is Los Angeles. If your daughter wants an agent for her 18th birthday, you’re going to subscribe to Variety. I can’t help but wonder if Peter Bart was sending you residuals for this.)
In the end, however, I’d rather deal with Michael Kinsley.
Two weeks ago, writing in the Current section, Kinsley proffered that the L.A. Times would never be an "important" newspaper so long as it wasn’t available every morning on the newsstands in Washington DC.
Last week in New York Magazine, Kinsley told Kurt Andersen that without a national footprint, he wouldn’t have come here, and the paper won’t be able to attract — or keep — ace reporters like Ron Brownstein.
How 1980’s. Sorry, Mike, but in the Internet age, voice triumphs geography. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here, and bet you’re reading this via Romenesko. [Or LA Observed—ed.]
In that same Currents column, Kinsley wrote that in order to "get a feel" for the city, he’d hop in his car, get on a freeway, and drive until he reached the first Wal-Mart, or Target.
How terribly condescending.
It tells you something that he didn’t try to "get a feel" for LA by reading his own newspaper.
A Times reporter responds at We Get Email.
Located off Glendon Avenue, behind the high-rises that front Wilshire Boulevard, this small cemetery is the final resting place of some of the 20th Century's most talented performers and writers. It's the only place you can pay your respects to the man who got no respect, Rodney Dangerfield, whose headstone proclaims "There goes the neighborhood." Of course, this epitaph assumes the neighbors know he's there. Of this, I'm not so sure.
Though the celebrities interred within have names that continue to loom large in Hollywood, this place is easily overlooked. Tucked between a ramp for an underground parking garage and an office building, the entrance to Pierce Brothers is about as modest as the simple bronze plates that mark the graves of Truman Capote and Marilyn Monroe.
There are, of course, exceptions, like the aforementioned stone of Dangerfield. My favorite is the dark humor of Jack Lemmon's marker, pictured above (btw, his grave is within cigar-smoking distance of Walter Matthau, who played opposite Lemmon in "The Odd Couple"). Writers will likely relate to Billy Wilder's self-depricating commentary: "I'm a writer, but then, nobody's perfect."
I strolled through with my camera this weekend. The result is a small photo gallery online at www.TJSullivanLA.com. There are also more photo links after the jump.
For a more complete list of the celebrities buried at Pierce Brothers, take a look at the more than 200 cited at Find A Grave.
Andre, a well-spoken homeless resident of downtown Los Angeles, tells the story of a compliment he paid a man and woman only to be maced in the face. Andre shared the story with downtown resident Ted Trent in a video Trent posted two months ago on YouTube. Andre's advice to downtown residents who are frightened by the homeless is to calm down. "What did you think," he says, "that they were going to sanitize it by the time you got here?"
The 18-minute video was mentioned this week in a story in the Los Angeles Downtown News beneath the headline "YouTube Exposes Downtown Life." Trent's video, the story says, is one of a growing number of YouTube postings about downtown Los Angeles. Chris Heywood, communications manager at the LA Convention and Visitors' Bureau, describes the amateur videos as being "like a guerilla marketing campaign." Heywood is quoted by LA Downtown News as saying the videos provide "an authentic glimpse of what folks take away from Downtown."
From the story:
Type "Downtown Los Angeles" into YouTube and dozens of Downtown scenes arise from the Internet ether. Some are inane personal vignettes, like a 10-second car ride through the Second Street tunnel. Others are poignant, such as a music video juxtaposing Skid Row with Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
Trent's mission doesn't appear to have anything to do with marketing. In the middle of his interview with Andre, Trent says: "I'm on a journey to find solutions." Andre suggests spending more money on mental health to aid the many schizophrenic people who are homeless.
I'm not talking about MapQuest-like programs that guide people from point A to B. Rather, I am referring to maps that reveal the kind of news that doesn't fit in the newspaper, like the robbery at Point A last night, or the selling price of the Stephens' house at Point B.
Every few weeks it seems there's another map of this sort.
A favorite is the LAPD Crime Maps site. Alleged crimes from throughout LA are charted here. Want to know how many cars got stolen last week off your block? Here you go. But, be prepared to spend some time if you want to calculate your own crime rate. Only seven days worth of data is visible in one go. Far more information than that will be required to conduct a meaningful analysis. I typed up Wilshire and Westwood boulevards and found that crime on the West Side clung to Interstates 405 and 10 this week. Hmm.
Real estate maps are another marvel. I checked out www.housingmaps.com, which combines Google Maps with Craigslist ads for home sales, rentals and sublets. Search for LA homes priced at less than $100,000. Feel your heart race? Of course, the seller likely entered arbitrary numbers where the software sought a price. I won't be buying a $10,000 house in Bel Air after all.
The LA County Assessor's Property Search has a lot of great local info in map format too, but it also goes to great lengths to tell users "some information may not be accurate." I punched up 202 W. 1st St. and found a 253,565-square-foot structure built in 1934 that has no bathrooms.
It's the address of the Los Angeles Times.
Something tells me Gladys' info was more reliable than some of this stuff.
Two custom-made mannequins in Mary Jo Bruno's small, elegant namesake store in Manhattan Beach are not merely props to display clothing. They have, to put it mildly, taken on a life of their own. They have become as much a part of the store's identity as the merchandise (lingerie, vintage clothing, jewelry, and home products). When the store opened last fall, one of the mannequins was placed in the window, reclining on a glass table. She wore a bra and thong ensemble, her rear end facing outward, a look not unlike what many girls wear on the beach a few blocks away. Controversy ensued, with one Manhattan Beach resident actually complaining to City Hall.
No action was taken, but the store got loads of attention (some the unwanted kind) and media coverage. Channel 2 News, KCAL and Fox 11 all did stories. One local newspaper columnist concocted an imaginary conversation with the mannequin. Bruno held a "name the mannequin" contest and dubbed the window star Dominique; the other is Colette. The store put their images on t-shirts, camisoles, and bikini underwear.
Dominique remained in the window, in a variety of outfits, until going on hiatus in June. (A visit to the "spa," I'm told.) Colette took her place, posed demurely wearing a dress. Bruno wants to broaden the store's appeal, so the window mannequin will probably remain modestly attired. Dominique's fans will be thrilled to learn, however, that she has returned. So many customers inquired of her well-being that Bruno decided to give her top billing at an evening reception this Thursday. Customers are invited to "Get Cozy with Dominique and Colette" while sipping mandarin orange martinis and checking out Bruno's line of mesh lingerie and new fragrances. A lingerie-clad Dominique has again taken up residence on her glass table, this time inside the store.
Photo: Judy Graeme
The map was paired with a Q&A about a proposal to inject an energizing dose of Starbucks into a Boyle Heights business district. A total of 140 Starbucks stores were identified on the map as being within the city limits of Los Angeles. And although that number may seem low to some, it turned out to be 40 more than Starbucks contended.
From the Q&A:
It should be noted that Starbucks and The Times didn't agree on how many Starbucks there are within city boundaries.It can be tough telling the difference between Sherman Oaks and Thousand Oaks. But, only 100 Starbucks in all of Los Angeles? Really?
I counted 140 based on a listing on the Starbucks website's store locator. Starbucks officials said the number was about 100, but also conceded that they weren't sure which communities were part of the city.
Give the Starbucks Locator a try and see what you get. I plugged in my home address and received a list of 35 LA-proper Starbucks stores within a five-mile radius of my LA home. Using Starbucks' numbers, that means 35 percent of their LA stores are within jogging distance of my door. So perhaps I should ask what's keeping people awake in the remaining 475 square miles of the city.
I am not a reality show curmudgeon--not completely. My nephews pointed me first to Junkyard Wars, and after that to Monster Garage--where turning a Ferrari into a pasta maker, and a Porsche into a golf-ball collector that also shoots the balls back at the golfers--is frankly inspired. Door Knock Dinners, in which a chef made dinner from whatever was in the kitchen of a house the show chose at random (usually Pringles, gummi bears, and a can of tuna) was lovely--as was Two Fat Ladies and so many other shows the Food Network has whipped up. Sadly, though, these shows have all gone off the air.
Which brings me to Survivor, progenitor and king of reality shows, which is now in its seventh year, and where creator Mark Burnett's defense of his failed attempt to ignite a race war--he called it a bold social experiment--could easily sound exceptionally dumb. Except that Burnett is of course brilliant.
In the early 1990s In 2000, he beautifully tapped the zeitgeist of the Bush era in which deceit seemed an increasingly appealing and even accepted route to corporate and personal wealth. Burnett wrapped this behavior with the standard cultural markers that Americans use to connote what's "real" and "authentic" in modern life--nature and "uncivilized" societies. He sent his conniving contestants into the wilderness, divided them into "tribes," and tossed in some vaguely indigenous mumbo jumbo--all of which gave the goings-on a tone of reality and pious seriousness and validated the show's basic premise, which is that you can do whatever the hell you want as long as there's a million dollars at the end. You can cheat, lie, whine, manipulate, deceive, throw tantrums, knife your friends in the back, and embarrass and humiliate other people and yourself.
So it was hardly surprising when in 2004--the exact year W was reelected- Burnett did away with all metaphor and teamed up with Donald Trump to air The Apprentice, a show that is essentially Survivor--the Id version.
Now we all know reality shows aren't really real--that many of the people who can't build a fire on Survivor or who kiss Trump's feet on The Apprentice or stuff spiders up their noses on any number of other shows are wannabe actors. And that the contestants are coached, and their antics often scripted and always edited. And that's fine with me. It's TV, for goodness sake, and we all know that these programs don't show us reality. They play-act reality. So what interests me instead, and what I think is, OK, just evil about Survivor and its clones, is how these shows play out and define what reality is.
After all, a lot of behaviors are equally real--compassion and viciousness, generosity and greed, honesty and deceitfulness, cooperation and competition, self-interest and selflessness. But Survivor plays out the worst of all these, and says, look, this is what real human behavior really is. And then it rewards our worst instincts, and says, see, this is what human behavior should really be.
And what human realities do a minority of reality shows--Junkyard Wars and Monster Garage and Door Knock Dinners, or even Iron Chef and Amazing Race--play-act instead? Skill. Hard-won knowledge. Passion. Curiosity. Fairness. Respect. A sense of humor. Hard fought competition leavened by all of the above. I can only be grateful that these are the ones my nephews choose to watch.
As it turned out, Burnett's gambit failed because the Survivor contestants proved entirely uninterested in playing out racial hatred. I'd love to think that their motives were noble, but I'm not alone in suspecting that the race-war thing was just getting in the way of stabbing friends in the back effectively. They likely shelved the script for the same likely reason that Burnett wrote it and CBS aired it and then aborted it--the drive to make a million dollars--and for the one fierce principle that Survivor always rewards, which is that money is the only thing that should ultimately matter.
Last edited 11:05 pm 10/23/06
LA Observed contributor Victor Merina writes from Nashville, where he is on assignment
Here in Music City, much of the conversation around town and on sports talk shows this past week revolved around a baseball player from Los Angeles who pitched for a team in New York and who never made it to supper in Nashville.
When his small plane exploded into the side of a Manhattan high-rise last Wednesday, the event made Cory Lidle a worldwide name even as many of us first sighed with the guilty relief that it wasn’t another terrorist attack. Instead, we learned the doomed aircraft belonged to a New York Yankees pitcher who died in the tragedy along with his flying instructor.
The 34-year-old Lidle was raised in West Covina and lived with his wife and young son in Glendora, cities that many people who cannot be bothered with the niceties of California geography find easier to just shorthand as L.A.
But for much of the media here in Nashville, chasing this dramatic story from afar, geography was indeed important because of that much sought-after journalistic twist that can turn a global story of disaster into a close-to-home reminder of personal loss.
It’s what journalists call “the local angle.” And it was reflected in last Thursday’s front page headline in The Tennessean that simply said: “Pilot bound here” three words above a five-column color photo of a burning skyscraper on New York’s Upper East Side.
The subhead told the rest of the story in what could almost pass as the local vernacular: “Crash ends Yanks pitcher’s trip to visit poker buddy.”
In this media-drenched age, those words and that image were variations of a sad tale that the twin worlds of news and sports found themselves churning out as the storyline went from possible terrorism to tragic accident. All other matters aside, what we had at the simplest level was the story of a man planning to visit a friend before making his way home to see his family after a long season of work and never getting there.
That friend was identified as David Whitis, who met Lidle at a poker game in Las Vegas where they quickly bonded. Whitis was preparing to pick him at the Nashville airport when he got a phone call to turn on the television and watch the wall-to-wall coverage. Across country, Lidle’s father in Covina was reportedly learning about his son’s death in much the same way.
The reach and efficiency of the media brought the news and all the grim details even to those who fervently wished it weren’t so. But that is what the media do so well, especially in this broadcast age of continual news updates crawling on the bottom of our screen as
reporters do live shots from the field and news readers look at us earnestly from their anchor desk.
The media inform us swiftly and repeatedly. They take our eyes and ears and reluctant psyches to the scene of any carnage. They pounce on a story and drive it exhaustively and they often wrap the news in a quick narrative of life and sudden death.
In the case of Cory Lidle, the shorthand tale was of a journeyman pitcher playing for the most publicized team in baseball on board a tiny plane that had plunged into the heart of an already nervous Manhattan. He planned to rejoin his family in California. He hoped to see his poker pal in Nashville. He intended to stay the one night here at the city’s historic Union Station hotel. He would do none of those things. Instead, Cory Lidle’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.
The storyline would be the stuff of country songs that abound here in Music City if it weren’t so awful to contemplate and so painfully sad to hear. Even in our thirst for news, some of us media-minded folks can still tell the real heartbreak from the musical kind.
Back when movies about giant apes, dinosaurs and monsters were considered "B" fare and not $100 million extravaganzas, Ray Harryhausen was the go-to animator in special effects. Spielberg and Lucas and CGI may have glammed up the field in recent years but Harryhausen was the pioneer. A protege of Willis O'Brien, the man who invented stop action animation, Harryhausen brought refinement and innovation to the field but toiled in relative obscurity for many years.
So it's wonderful to see how history has come around. This weekend, 86-year-old Harryhausen held court at Dark Delicacies as a steady stream of animators, special effects wonks, film historians and fans made the pilgrimage to Burbank to meet him and get books, posters, still photos, DVDs and model figures signed.
I discovered Harryhausen last year while researching my new crime novel, which is set in 1949 Hollywood. It's inspired by the real life disappearance of a starlet, and I'd been looking for a way to write about the done-to death film industry from a new and oblique angle. When I realized I could tell the history of special effects through a Harryhausen-like character, I knew I'd hit the sweet spot.
I'm late to the game — the special effects crowd has worshipped at Harryhausen's armature and foam-rubber shrine for years now. I'm only happy he's still with us, and getting more renown each year.
It's eerie to hear Harryhausen talk about how he met sci-fi collector Forrest Ackerman and author Ray Bradbury in 1938 when all three belonged to a science fiction club that gathered each Thursday evening in the long defunct "brown room" upstairs at Clifton's Cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles. Can you imagine the conversations? Oh to be a fly on the wall.
"We'd talk about rocket science and traveling to the moon and space platforms," Harryhausen says. "People thought we were crazy. But we were just ahead of our time."
What's even more amazing is that all three of these legends are still alive and on the LA circuit, (Harryhausen lives in London but visits his native city occasionally) recounting their stories for people whose grandparents hadn't been born when they started their historic friendship.
As the afternoon goes by, I sit with this living legend and in between the fans, I chat with him about what it was like on the set of the 1949 movie "Mighty Joe Young," for which he did 90% of the animation.
In addition to the painstaking stop motion animation, Harryhausen helped formulate the script, edited his animation scenes and ate celery and carrots for snacks each day "so I'd get into the mood of a gorilla."
As he speaks, a young and ardent fan comes up, bearing DVDs and books. He's a special effects make-up artist who's just moved here from Kentucky 14 days ago. In that mythic LA way that sometimes actually does happen, he's already working on a Brad Pitt movie. And now he's met his idol Harryhausen. For him, L.A. is full of miracles.
The fan slides over a DVD of "One Million Years B.C.," the dinosaur movie that Harryhausen animated which is famous in non special-effects circles for launching the career of Raquel Welch.
Harryhausen stares at the cover. There's Raquel in her leather bikini.
"Would you look at that. Not a dinosaur in sight," the animator sighs, shaking his head.
"Now tell me," Harryhausen asks the young man. "Did you initially go to see this movie for my dinosaurs or for Raquel Welch? Be diplomatic now."
"For the dinosaurs," the young man answers. He sounds sincere.
"Look at Raquel. Wait a minute. Wasn't she one of the animations," Harryhausen jokes. "Didn't I animate her?"
They bat that one back and forth for awhile, and Harryhausen signs more stuff. He gets plenty of respect these days. Reverence, even. He's the last living elder in the temple and there's something historic, sacrosanct, magical, about meeting him.
Raquel's va-va-voom curves may be splashed all over the DVD cover. But for Harryhausen's many fans, it's the bad-skinned cold-blooded, squint-eyed lizards that are the true pin-ups.
Will changes at the LAT reverse a decades-long policy of not taking big LA stories seriously? Not likely. The most recent swing-and-a-miss is what's going on in Marina del Rey. The Times covered the out-of-control development situation in August, by way of a story that was mostly about traffic. (Full disclosure - I suggested a broader version of this story to the LAT awhile ago, not for me to write, but for them to cover. I don't know if that's why they ran their August story). Having lived in the Marina for a long time, I can tell you that what's happening here is not just about being tied up at an intersection for hours at a time, although certainly that's part of the story. But traffic is much more than motorists who are inconvenienced. It also contributes to global warming, a concept that newspapers cannot seem to link to the things that are causing it.
Which brings me to the rest of the story - actually THE story - the environment, which the LAT seems to see as something that's separate from traffic and everything else. (This inability to see the world as, well, a world, rather than a series of unrelated subjects to be covered only on various beats is one of the things that's killing mainstream newspapers). The environment is really our homeland and, in the parlance of the day, if it goes, we have no security, let alone a place for traffic.
Briefly, here's the story the LAT missed (and to be fair, so has the local weekly, the Argonaut, which confines its coverage to quickie condensations of planning board hearings).
If current plans for re-development are not stopped and/or mitigated, the Marina will very soon be another Waikiki Beach. Right now, the plans are on a fast-track and no one is paying attention, except locals who have organized strong opposition which is consistently not covered by anyone. The Marina is LA County's biggest asset and there is huge pressure coming from the county to redevelop in order to jack up rents (landlords lease from the county and reimburse it with fees) and bring in high-priced stores, many of which are already here. Right now, there are five or six lawsuits pending, and questions about supervisor Don Knabe's political fondness for developers and landlords remain sufficiently unexplored by the media.
A few items: as the LA Times covered, the 90 freeway is scheduled to be expanded. What it did not mention is that the expansion will have a negative impact on endangered and threatened species which live along the greenbelt. While the article mentioned that various apartment complexes in the Marina are scheduled for demolition and redevelopment ("upgrade") and a high-rise Marriott Hotel is planned for the polluted flanks of Mother's Beach, it did not explain that these projects will have a negative impact on the nearby Pacific Flyway, an important bird migration route that goes right through the Venice Canals and Ballona Wetlands. Other disturbing possibilities that loom include highrise-blocked light; the possible eruption of subterranean methane veins caused by new underground parking structures, creating water table problems as the Marina is built on landfill; evictions of long-time "boat people" (locals who live on boats, a way of life that may soon be ending, violating the original Marine charter); the loss of affordable housing; and the ongoing Caruso-ification of local malls (has already happened on Admiralty Way) as in The Grove, forcing residents to shop at upscale stores offering the usual stultifying "array" of color-me-rich clothing that has mostly been manufactured in foreign sweatshops.
As the homeland goes so goes everything else and one of the country's biggest newspapers ought to provide Los Angeles with a narrative that takes us beyond questions such as "How much more time do I have to spend in my car?"
I hate telemarketers. No matter how many you tell Do Not Call, there’s always another one to interrupt your work, jerk you out of an afternoon nap, or worse, rankle you when you’re waiting for an important call-back from the doctor about your kid who just stepped on jagged glass and is screaming so loud you can’t even hear who’s on the phone.
So if you happen to be one of the 80 Pennsylvanians I blitzed with calls Saturday around dinnertime… wait, don’t hang up—I can explain.
Okay, you know the election coming up Nov.7? Here in California it’s mainly about a bunch of propositions and judges you never heard of and some statewide offices, including the showdown between the famous, ex-bodybuilder and the Democratic guy who’s not him. But in other states, there are Congressional seats up for grabs, featuring candidates who want to set policy on things like the festering karma-suck that is our War on Terror, and how much more of our Constitution we’re willing to shred to maintain it.
So when MoveOn.Org started pestering me to join a nationwide get-out-the-vote campaign, I only ignored their first dozen or so requests before I started feeling like maybe I ought to participate. I finally gave in when an Oak Park couple volunteered their home as a calling center for a weekend afternoon. Here was a chance to do some good and learn a state-of-the-art electioneering technique, all while munching snacks with a small group of congenial neighbors. Not exactly a boiler room operation—even if it might seem that way to our targets.
We all met around 2 p.m. and, after we signed in and watched a short, spirited video from MoveOn, our hostess Corie handed out fact sheets on the Senate race in Pennsylvania—one of several Congressional campaigns that could go either way in November. This was the race we’d be focusing on that afternoon.
I knew little about Democratic candidate Bob Casey before reading the laudatory campaign material, but I was plenty familiar with his opponent. Rick Santorum is the powerful, anti-choice Republican incumbent, who huckstered his way shamelessly through the Terri Schiavo affair, traveling to Florida for an ethically questionable fundraising opportunity, which he milked by publicly praying outside the poor woman’s hospice to prolong her ordeal.
Corie handed out our first lists of phone numbers, and we spread out throughout the house and pool area with our cell phones to get started. Each call sheet had 16 numbers and no names. We were instructed to call each number only once; if the line was busy or no one answered, we were to mark our reports accordingly and try the next number on the list. According to MoveOn’s research, that’s the most efficient way to reach the highest number of voters.
The calls were designed to be short. We had a brief working script that most of us stuck pretty closely to, identifying ourselves and politely asking for a vote for Casey on Election Day. We weren’t supposed to argue or try to convince anybody. The sooner we got off the phone, the better.
In two hours, I worked my way through the 80 numbers on five call sheets. Of those, I made contact with only 30 or so people (what were all the others doing at dinnertime anyway?). Half the folks I spoke with cut me off without answering my questions. Several were on the rude side but not outside the bounds of what might be expected. A handful were willing to talk but didn’t know or care there was an election coming up. The remainder said they intended to vote for Casey, most of them enthusiastically.
I called my results in to an automated MoveOn line, where organizers will tally them with others from around the nation and create new lists with more complete information that will be used right up until zero hour. The organization claims it has been doing this for a while and it’s a very effective way to influence close elections. I guess we’ll see in November.
My journey to the telemarketing Dark Side wasn’t as bad as I had feared—except for one call to a semi-hysterical woman waiting to hear from her family doctor.
If you’re reading this, Ma’am, I hope your son’s foot is okay.
I got the phone call at home an hour ago: The Tribune Company fired the L.A. Times’ publisher. And it made me think: What were the previous ditches, low points, disaster areas, self-imposed crises at The Times?
Maybe the day in 1965 when a so-called good newspaper had to recruit a black advertising staffer to venture into Watts because it wasn't safe for the paper's all-white staff to venture into the riot zone.
Maybe the day in 1979 when the unjustified fatal police shooting of a woman over an unpaid utility bill was reduced to a one-paragraph summary.
Maybe the day in 1995 when the newspaper eliminated its Suburban sections, permanently ending much local news coverage.
Maybe the day in 1997 when a businessman named Mark Willes, whose appreciation of journalism extended no further than his ability to read, became publisher and started trying to convert a newspaper into a consumer product.
Maybe the day in 1999 when an even more clueless rookie named Kathryn Downing succeeded Willes and soon created an ethical implosion that made you pine for Willes?
Nope. The pain and humiliation and anger of all those days combined hurts less than what the journalistic posers at the Tribune Company did to the L.A. Times today by firing Jeff Johnson. Johnson had the temerity to recognize the fragility of greatness. He did what everybody now finally thinks the U.S. military should have told Donald Rumsfeld: Sir, boss, you're wrong. You've taken your philosophy and hypotheses too deeply into the real world. You've gone too far. You’re going to break the object of your affection.
Like Rumsfeld, who wanted to control each decision in the Iraq War, no matter how small, the Tribune Company insists on pushing into an arena it knows nothing about: Greatness in journalism. Just as Rumsfeld believed control, not the substance of his decisions, were what mattered, the Tribune Company believes only in raising the stock price, not the substance of the budget cuts it has made and will continue to make to get the stock price up. Just as Rumsfeld has been destroyed by his orthodoxy, so, some day, will the Tribune Company be pilloried by historians for saving Los Angeles’ journalistic village by destroying it.