I was named for the patron saint of photographers and filmmakers. My father, Gilles, a photographer and filmmaker, insisted. (My mother wanted to name me Katherine, a great name with no end of easy, breezy nicknames. Considering my entire given name: Veronique Jean Marie Solange Auzias de Turenne, easy or breezy would've been good.) But dad, who went on to work with Roger Corman, whose later career included Falcon Crest and The Dukes of Hazzard (picture Jacques Cousteau saying the words "Dehzee Diukes" and "Bass Hugg", and pitching log lines like "...zee Zgheneral Lee, eet flies - boom! - ovair zee swamp") won the name game.
It was St. Veronique, the story goes, who gave Jesus a sip of water on his way to Calvary. When she wiped away his sweat with her veil, the image of Jesus' face appeared on the fabric. "The first photograph!" my father would say, his eyes wild with religious fervor. (My mother, unable to reconcile that whole virgin birth thing, went on to convert to Judaism.)
Which is all an impossibly roundabout way of getting to the point that my sweet, little Olympus digital camera just croaked. I've jiggled and jostled, checked and changed the battery, begged, threatened and shed a tear. Nothing. (Full disclosure: I've got a gorgeous Canon digital SLR that's so freakishly complicated, whose sadistic manual was translated from Japanese into English by someone who was either very, very angry or very, very drunk, that so far I can't even figure out how to charge the damned battery let alone shoot a single frame.)
So today I'm off today to seek a point-and-shoot replacement. Because even though I'm a writer, it seems I'm a photographer as well. Without a camera, I feel blind. Something of my dad in me, like being tall or having blue eyes or needing to live near the sea.
Happy New Year, everyone.
Here’s what got me through 2006.
1. Think positively. And if you can’t, truly, then just pretend. Amounts to the same thing. Magnets may attract their opposite, but when it comes to anxiety, negativity, optimism, joy, and all the rest, we attract the same.
2. The Golden Rule. And while you’re at it, help someone. The experience, even if you’re just helping a senior citizen take the food out of her shopping cart at the checkstand because she’s too short to reach all the way in, can be transformative. Makes you feel good, too.
3. "Starring Oscar winner" ... "starring Oscar nominee" ... No, wait. If I have to hear these words in another movie trailer, not to mention five movie trailers every time I see a film -- which is every weekend -- I may not make it through 2007 ...
4. This too shall pass. And while you’re waiting, get lots of exercise and sleep. But not tonight.
Happy New Year to all ...
You're an Old Media empire fighting for footing in the New Media world. Newspaper circulation's been dropping for a decade. Department store ads are vanishing, right along with the department stores themselves. A geeky guy named Craig has made classified ads all but obsolete. So the brain trust at your newspaper decides to give this blogging thing a shot. Lets some of its fine reporters loose on this World Wide Web thingy, which looks like it might, maybe someday, catch on. And then advertises the blogs in today's newspaper like this.
The adventure began Thanksgiving Day, when we decided that playing host meant it was time to spruce up our home. That led to the conclusion that we had to part with the couches each of us had brought to the marriage. Although I had resisted this final step into adulthood, I went willingly to our Westside Macy’s furniture store and stepped into the red-tag obstacle course. A sale was on, and it promised free delivery before Christmas. With little effort we found the couches we wanted, and at a good price. It seemed all too easy, especially for the busiest of shopping weekends.
The salesman was all smiles and introduced himself as our “new friend.” He said the store had three sets of the couches we wanted in stock, then endeavored to talk us into a new credit card (APR 21.6% or 24.9%) and an extended service plan (10 percent of the purchase price). He even demonstrated the marvels of microfiber technology by marking showroom furniture fabric with a ballpoint pen. “Soap and water will wash that right out,” he said. After that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him launch into an impersonation of all three Stooges.
We rejected both the credit card and the service plan, and sought to finalize the order, only to be told that all three “in-stock” sets had disappeared from the computer in less than 10 minutes. Poof! They were gone. The only one known to exist at that point was the one on the showroom floor that the salesman had just stained with ink! But, not to worry. More were expected. Our new friend promised delivery within two weeks.
Unfortunately, two weeks passed and nothing happened.
After several futile phone calls and a visit to the store’s administrative offices, a furniture supervisor rang me up and promised delivery in another 9 days. That made it almost a full month after the order was placed. I was trapped beneath heavy thoughts of having to start shopping for furniture all over again. I just wanted the couches before Christmas. I agreed to give Macy’s another chance to make it right.
The manager even sent along a $50 gift card to ease the pain.
In the meantime, the old couches were taken to the Salvation Army store in Santa Monica. The man at the loading dock seemed puzzled when I pulled up to deliver them. “Why are you giving these away?” he said, surprised that they weren’t ripped, torn, or stained. (I got the impression some people try to disguise trash as a donation.)
Our new furniture arrived this week, but it never made it to our living room.
The delivery men got one couch into the elevator and that’s as close as it got to our home. It was too long for the hallway. There was no way to get it out of the elevator. Who knew? It’s a discovery that would have been nice to learn about two weeks earlier, when the furniture had been promised. But, as it was, a month was gone. Christmas was days away. Even if we found something else it could never be delivered in time. We were out of options. We sent the furniture back and went shopping for floor pillows.
This will be the Christmas we spend on the floor. And I can’t say I mind.
The family is still coming over. There will be presents, and, of course, we’ll feast on my wife’s Greek cooking. At the very least, this has given me material to write about. The nieces and nephew will have something to giggle about. And we’re all that much wiser about the pitfalls of shopping for furniture during the holidays.
I am lying on my stomach on a mauve, pleather table. The table has a hole in the center through which my right breast hangs. My right cheek is glued with sweat to the plastic upholstery, my neck torqued at an odd angle. I am here for a somewhat routine, yet nonetheless grim procedure: a needle biopsy. But as the nurse's cool hands touch me I'm thinking I can put a sex-positive spin on this somehow. Sure there are going to be needles involved, and I'm no masochist, but today I am going to try to welcome pain in my breast as an erotic experience. Maybe I can overcome my anxiety by pretending I am here to get a nipple piercing or something.
The doctor enters the room. He has a craggy, handsome face and reminds me of a hot ex-boyfriend and I think, oh, this is gonna be easy. I am writing the one-handed read in my head as Mc. Dreamy peers beneath the table at my exposed, and surely erect flesh. The doc explains the procedure to me in friendly, reasonable terms. He is clearly a kind man, respectful and soft spoken with deeply sympathetic eyes. I wonder if he's married, forgetting for a moment that I am.
My husband sits in a room down the hall, on a floral sofa in the waiting room of the Joyce Eisenberg Keefer Breast Center at St. John's Hospital. With its back issues of House Beautiful and its gift shop featuring head wraps and falsies, he had already begun catnapping before I was called in to my appointment. After a forty-five minute wait, I am taken in the back to change into a gown. I have arranged to have our younger daughter picked up from school and taken to a birthday party by a friend, but she doesn't know the plan and I am feeling anxious about all the logistics of the afternoon.
"You must hold perfectly still," both doctor and nurse tell me, and ever the good girl, I do. All I can see is the clock on the wall and a striped privacy curtain that borders the right half of my vista. The vertical stripes are a soft progression of mauve, puce, and mint green. Who the hell thinks these are nice colors to look at? I wonder to myself. And I think of all the sick and dying people in this hospital, whose last vision on earth may be of these pukey colors. I am outraged.
My boob is smashed down in mammogram fashion, but with extra clamps to keep me immobile. As I am a modest B-cup, it takes a heap of extra squashing to get enough meat on the plate. My "sexy time" mindset ebbs a little as they winch the clamp down harder. 'Ooh yeah baby, that's it, it hurts so good, harder lover' I try to convince myself, but it just isn't working.
I am sad that it is my right breast that has fallen under this abuse. It is my favorite one. Lefty I gave up on a few years ago. Lefty got over-used in the nursing of my two babies. Right-handed women favor their left side for breast feeding as it leaves their dominant hand free to multi-task. I have also heard that we subconsciously favor the left side as babies have a nicer time nursing over their mother's beating heart. Whatever the case, suffice it to say that Lefty has gone all National Geographic on me while Righty is perky and still relatively cute. She's my show breast. Not that many people see her these days.
"I am going to swab the skin and it will feel cool," says Nurse Flores, and I smell the snap of the antiseptic and a chill on my skin. My right nipple pops up under the cold swab, and I'm back to thinking my radical pain strategy just might work. Then the doctor ducks under the table and says, "You will feel a pinch," and he begins injecting a local anesthesia. My fantasy does a Hindenberg, bursting into flames as searing pain flares through my mammary.
"Now, you're going to feel some pressure," says the doctor. I figure now I'm numbed, let's party! —but they snake in what feels like a length of garden hose and goddamn, that hurts even more. "Now, don't move, you will hear a loud noise, don't jump back." As if I could. Bang! The probe is jammed into place via a mechanical thrust that makes a staple gun-like noise. I cry out.
Exactly at 2:30 my cell phone starts ringing. I just know its my daughter, wondering where I am. I hear the phone go to voicemail, and hope she'll try her dad next, but no, the phone just rings again.
There is some yucky maneuvering of the tube as it snips away inside my boob like some kind of freaky alien abduction device (another sexual fantasy that has utterly failed me). The doctor gets his sample, but says I have to stay rigged to the table until he can look at it to make sure he got everything he needed. He leaves me and Nurse Flores alone, she has her hand on my breast and my phone rings yet again.
"Could you possibly hand me my phone? I think my daughter is trying to reach me."
"I would," she says with a sympathetic lilt, "but you are bleeding a lot and I have to keep pressure on it." What the... I am bleeding under there?! Somehow I thought this would be bloodless, but I see now that was just magical thinking. The phone rings and the stress mounts, crests, peaks, fades then repeats with each ring. Wave after wave of anxiety is crashing over me as I stare at those mocking, insipid stripes in the curtain. Who designs this shit? Is there some study that shows that these namby-pamby hues calm and comfort the ill? In the same way the orange and turquoise color scheme of Howard Johnson's is said to stimulate appetite, are these colors supposed to have a calming effect on me, because it isn't fucking working!! The paternalistic condescension behind the design of those hideous curtains is making me totally crazy.
I lie there, helpless, as my child tries over and over again to reach me. I think about that baby, and the one before, who I birthed in this very hospital. I think of the shiny bows of their sweet mouths on my breasts, the pleasure I had in nursing them. I feel sad that the part of my life where everyone wants to suck on me is coming to a close. Now what's left? Pain, humiliation, striped curtains and mauve furniture?
Finally I am released. I call my friend to learn he has found my daughter and they are on the way to the birthday party. I get taped up, and sent to negotiate my bra with a throbbing, bruised, betrayed, breast. I swaddle myself in my cardigan and go to rouse my husband from his waiting room slumber. We get on the elevator and it stops on every floor, the doors opening to reveal level after level of mauve side chairs, mint green paint, taupe end tables. Get me out of here!!!
We are on Santa Monica Blvd. when I burst into tears, burying my face in my husband's warm sweater. "If I have breast cancer," I hiccup, "we have to find a hospital with a good color scheme. I want to look at grassy greens and bright yellows, because pastels will surely kill me."
That night I lie in bed with an ice pack while my older daughter sits beside me, in tears. She is among the first of her friends to grow breasts, and is encountering her first round of boob-related anxiety. Her as-yet undeveloped best friend is jealous. She has accused my daughter of flaunting her largesse by wearing a padded bra. God, I remember the agony of sixth grade, where you were either teased for having boobs, or teased for not having any. Mine were slow and shy, peeking out a millimeter at a time. I stayed pimple-chested for what seemed like an eternity. That was the only time in my life I wished for larger breasts. They grew a little more, then stopped, allowing me to live a life above and beyond my chest, pleased by it, but never defined by it, as so many other women have been —or have chosen to be.
Still, I'd hate to see them go. My friend T., a once full-breasted beauty, had a double-mastectomy last year, and now, at the tender age of forty, struggles to hoist her sexuality out of the wreckage of her disease, and claim a new sense of herself, her marriage, her part in this earthly dance. She burns with intent —the will to live and see her four children grow up. But some part of her has died young, and it laces her conversation with wistfulness.
”I've had so many breast cancer patients the last few weeks,” says Beazy, my OB-GYN over the phone today. “if I had to add you to the list Erika, I would have thrown in the towel." I can hear how wrung out she is. “But your pathology report is negative.” I feel like I've won some kind of cosmic door prize. I have heard so many stories in the last month of women less fortunate than I. Young women whose breasts have turned against them, taking them from their families, their dreams, the rest of their lives. I ask her if she's seeing an increase in breast cancer patients in her practice, and she says she has. I ask if she thinks its because we're living in such a toxic environment. "Yeah, partly that, and also just the age we are now."
So this is growing older in Los Angeles. A struggle to survive both biology and geography. There isn't much breast cancer in my family, but there's the nearly twenty years of particulate matter I've been breathing. Who knows what the final sum will be? So today I'll just gently rub arnica on Righty, tell her I love her, try to hang onto her and her sweet, saggy sister for as long as I possibly can.
Two years ago I stood in the gorgeous new store along with dozens of other authors and book people, raised a toast and wished Doug Dutton & Co well. In some inchoate way, I hoped the place would become a hub, a community gathering place, a venue for debate and ideas, for literary fanfare, proof to the world that a bookstore could set up in the Belly of the Beast and thrive.
I always feel like an Eastern European peasant when I venture into Beverly Hills, slightly out of synch with the $17 martinis and $2,000 handbags displayed on artfully lighted plinths, but that’s just me. I reassured myself that people there are smart and they read. In the past two years, I’m sure that many of them have appreciated the literary connoisseurship and personal recommendations that Dutton’s staff brought to their book trade. It’s just that in the end, I guess that not enough of them did.
Today is an especially bleak day in the independent book business because another store I know, Mystery Ink in New York, has also announced it will close its doors by the end of the year. It’s scary.
As a writer, I’m acutely aware of the important role independent bookstores serve in spreading the word about new authors and hand-selling quirky tomes that find it hard to compete with Danielle Steele and Dan Brown. We writers often talk among ourselves, checking in on how such and such bookstore around the country is doing, and how that one is faring. It can be like inquiring about a beloved aunt who may be in somewhat precarious health, buffeted by forces often outside their control. Even the ones that seem robust must struggle.
For me, the Dutton’s name is synonymous with all that is wise and profound and magical about books. I grew up in North Hollywood and remember going to Dutton’s Books on Laurel Canyon Boulevard near Magnolia and rummaging in the stacks for hours, coming out with piles of used books to tide me over until the next binge. The place smelled like books. It had nooks and crannies and piled-up stacks and staffers who peered from glasses on chains and frowned and never told you to have a nice day or asked how you were. They were dedicated solely to the books themselves, and knew where to find whatever you were looking for or recommend something new and intriguing. (I also remember a smaller Dutton’s on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank for awhile, dealing mainly in used paperbacks.) I have no idea if that was also owned by the family; back then I didn’t realize there were several brothers.
Then I grew up and became an author and met Doug Dutton and I think I speak for many LA authors when I say that he is the city’s equivalent of a national treasure, a kind, engaged, enthusiastic extremely literate man who has done as much for literature in this city as anyone in his own quiet, unassuming way. I don’t mean for this to sound like a requiem, but rather a long-overdue appreciation -- Dutton’s Brentwood is still open and may it continue to thrive as long as the city itself. I know I’ll be doing a signing there in April 2007 with some of my fellow contributors to the upcoming “Los Angeles Noir” anthology.
Dutton’s is also where I had my first ever signing on July 17, 2001 when my debut “The Jasmine Trade” was published. Doug read the book and we had a lovely discussion about it. I’ve seen him do the same with other authors, picking out a passage he liked and enthusing about the writing. He truly appreciates writers, and they like him and are grateful for all he does.
Dutton’s Brentwood was even immortalized in a novel this year, though the authors gave the place a thinly disguised name. “Literacy and Longing in L.A.” by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman, which won the Southern California Booksellers Association’s award for “best novel” of 2006, features a quirky independent bookstore in Brentwood where the lovesick and bookish heroine goes to stock up on novels and ends up falling in love with a clerk who’s a comp-lit major. The pair don’t live happily ever after. Unfortunately, in life as in fiction, neither does every bookstore.
RIP Dutton’s Beverly Hills.
News & Chatter: Dutton's Beverly Hills to close
We didn't--but it was only a matter of time before New York said we did. Earlier this week, New York Times columnist David Carr's otherwise superb analysis of the whys of the Judith Regan affair implied that Regan's move to L.A. was a key factor:
Ms. Regan’s strategic shift to California put her more closely in touch with an entertainment culture that was of a piece with her approach to publishing.Rewind to April 2005--when Regan announces that she's going to bring culture with her when she moves to the far coast. She envisions a literary salon where writers and TV and movie folks can meet, but also a bookstore and cafe, readings, the whole cultural nine yards from the Big Apple. At which point, L.A. writers bristle not just a bit--Recall, for example, David Ulin's op-ed in the L.A. Times, which says, we have culture, thank you very much. Bookstores included.
Of course, we're used to hearing that anything bad that happens in L.A. is L.A.'s fault--even the earthquakes. And of course we understand that everything that happens here seems to take on symbolic import. That's the city's curse, and its blessing. Say the most mundane sentences: "I ride my bike to the bank." "I ate a bagel." "I shopped for Christmas presents." Now add "in L.A.," and people say, "Ooooohhhh."
And the New York Times has often, if not always, been a ringleader. For a long time, it published semi-regular articles to say, hey, guess what, L.A. does have culture. (Are we done with those yet?) And remember one recent reporter, who shall not be named, who covered such topics as the first fall rainstorm and the rats in the palm trees as if they were biblical plagues.
But L.A., which has culture aplenty, does not have a monopoly on crassness, yellow journalism, or pursuing profit at any cost. Regan, after all, brought whatever she brought to L.A. (was it culture?) from a city where still resides the media mega corporation and the publishing house that approved the O.J. Simpson project step by step.
Is it just possible that a year in the mild decadent climate, and even in the lion's den of the entertainment industry, did not contribute significantly to Regan's downfall?
December 15, 2006. 4:15 pm. I’m in the left turn lane at Balboa Blvd and Chatsworth Street in Granada Hills, facing north, turning west. I grew up here, went to high school just down the road, but it doesn’t feel like home anymore. The Hughes at Devonshire and Balboa got eaten by Ralphs (for the worse) years ago. The Orange Julius I worked at has become a Korean BBQ. Across the street an old Ralphs has become a Walgreens, and the whole corner a McMiniMall. The local hospital is out of business, a wasted facility butted up against a once-anticipated expansion that never made it past the iron beam "jungle gym" that grows out of the weed patch and broken blacktop. It's still a nice neighborhood to be sure. Affordable. Its own "Main Street" -- Chatsworth -- retains its sense of community. A tidy quaintness remains -- no overgrowth of overbuilt homes, at least here, but for me, a melancholia as well. What could I expect? Time passes, people change.
Today the afternoon sky is pregnant with rain clouds and the street lights have come on early. In the rear view mirror I can still see the nursing home recede into the distance as the song comes on. I know I’m not supposed to like Coldplay; my son says they’re boring U2 lite. He’s right about the latter, but when the soft organ intro to “Fix You” starts, it fits perfectly with my overcast mood.
Thoughts of my mother, lying in bed, grumbling at having broken her ankle, determined to walk even it means falling on the floor when she gets out of bed in the middle of the night instead of using her call button. And when we speak, my realization that she lives in a very different world than I do – and I’m not speaking about location. Dementia set in a few years back and now the wave has crested and she is going under. It’s not Alzheimers; she’s not forgetting. She’s inventing a new reality that is alternately humorous and optimistic, and sad and scary. I hope she’s in a happier place. But today she flips from angry to innocent, from determined to vulnerable, and all I can do is sit there, nodding my head, occasionally correcting her, wondering if it helps at all, trying to calm and encourage her -- and feeling helpless. I can't fix it, and it's only going to get worse.
“Fix You” fits the sentiment. It seems to me like Chris Martin’s pledge to his child to try and fix things for her as she encounters life, to be there, “When you lose something you can’t replace, when you love someone and it goes to waste ...”
But what happens when the tables are turned and the promiser’s life is no longer filled with promise and the promise of care and intercession can’t be kept? What happens when the child is father to the man or woman, as the case may be? My parents raised me. My father’s long gone. My mother may be around for a long while, but not be here at all.
By the time “Fix You” shifts from the contemplative into musical overdrive, I’m racing along Chatsworth Street through upper Northridge, zooming along an unintended racetrack created by no traffic, no pedestrians, and the sand/pink masonry walls on both sides that defined new neighborhoods in the ‘60s, designed to create a sense of enclosure before there were gated communities, to keep out the people who don’t use the sidewalks anyway. Backyards facing the boulevards. Exclusion not inclusion. My mother slowly fading behind a wall of her own that even with the best of intentions and the best care I can't breach.
But the speed is invigorating and now I’m into the song's crescendo and suddenly I feel like a newborn bursting out of a birth sac, blood and placenta, morose thoughts, the past dripping, blowing off, self-cleansing in the rush.
By the time I get to Tampa, expecting to go straight through to Corbin, I’m in the wrong lane and have to recover my senses, make a sharp left, and head south. My life feels like it’s taken a sharp turn, too, but not as sharp as my mother’s, or the turns I know are yet to come.
Crossing Devonshire, the song fades. Instinctively, I find the CD controls, push repeat, focus on the Santa Monica mountains in the distance, and try to make it home before the rain.
It was the greatest feeling: Blogging. Vrooooom! An idea struck me and with nary a thought I had posted it on the Internet. Fifteen minutes, at best, from conceptualization to birth.
And therein lay my lesson.
Since Kevin Roderick asked me to blog on Native Intelligence last summer, I had posted only a few entries. I'd gotten caught up in other things. Four weeks had passed since my last posting when The Funny Idea struck.
It was a couple nights after Michael Richards had made himself more famous as a Klansman than a comedian by firing off the N-word at some black hecklers in a comedy club. I figured Richards would soon do what so many celebs do when they are found to be lacking good sense: They find a way to claim righteous motivation sabotaged by poor execution.
And so, figuring I'd beat reality to the punch, I typed a letter from a made-up crisis-management P.R. agency to Richards:
November 21, 2006
From: Elliot Forget, senior partner, Dodge & Retreat Consulting
To: Michael Richards
Re: Your follow-up apology
Dear Mr. Richards,
In response to your phone call today expressing a desire for "a broader, more populist response to the unfortunate incident," I have drafted the following. We suggest releasing it to the media at 10 a.m. Wednesday so that its broadcast on Thanksgiving Eve and publication on Thanksgiving Day will draw greater exposure at a time of year when media are desperate for news.
We propose releasing the following in your name:
I regret not presenting a fuller description and historical context of my actions during my performance at the Laugh Factory. What I did was intended to mimic a cutting-edge and courageous routine that Lenny Bruce performed in the early 1960s and wrote about. Lennie, always a major influence of mine in the way my "Kramer" character on "Seinfeld" interacted with minorities, decided to destroy the N-word by overinflating it--repeating it over and over again until it lost its capacity to sting.
Let me recall Lenny's routine for you fully, substituting a triple asterisk for the N-word:
"Are there any ***s here tonight? Could you turn on the house lights, please, and could the waiters and waitresses just stop serving, just for a second? And turn off this spot. Now what did he say? 'Are there any ***s here tonight?' I know there's one ***, because I see him back there working. Let's see, there's two ***s. And between those two ***s sits a kike. And there's another kike--that's two kikes and three ***s. And there's a spic. Right? Hmm? There's another spic. Ooh, there's a wop; there's a polack; and, oh, a couple of greaseballs. And there's three lace-curtain Irish micks. And there's one, hip, thick, hunky, funky, boogie. Boogie boogie. Mm-hmm. I got three kikes here, do I hear five kikes? I got five kikes, do I hear six spics, I got six spics, do I hear seven ***s? I got seven ***s. Sold American. I pass with seven ***s, six spics, five micks, four kikes, three guineas, and one wop.
Well, I was just trying to make a point, and that is that it's the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. Dig: If President Kennedy would just go on television, and say, "I would like to introduce you to all the ***s in my cabinet," and if he'd just say '*** *** *** *** ***' to every *** he saw, 'boogie boogie boogie boogie boogie,' '*** *** *** *** ***' 'til *** didn't mean anything anymore, then you could never make some six-year-old black kid cry because somebody called him a *** at school."
This was what my tirade at the Laugh Factory was supposed to conjure. I realized, as I accidentally dropped the first so-called N-bomb, that a vast opportunity was opening up to me--that what Lenny did in the early 1960s, I could do at this moment. I could defuse this horrible verbal stain. I could rob it of its power to demean and hurt.
Apparently we live in a different world now because the audience and media reaction created a backlash, forcing me to issue a transparent apology on the Letterman Show, an apology that failed--and this was my fault--to show the historical roots of what was dismissed by too many people as a tirade by a racist. And I am not a racist. I am an artist with a conscience. I'm sure Lenny would agree. I am an artist who seeks only to be judged, as Doctor King said, by the content of my character.
- - - - - -
Except I did one thing differently. I didn't have Richards' mock written statement substitute a triple asterisk for the N-word. I typed the N-word 23 times, the same number of times Lenny Bruce used it in his routine. I thought about substituting asterisks, but shook it off immediately--hell, this was the Internet! Everybody knows this is the jungle! I sent a copy of the piece to a friend who laughed at it. Then I hit the "Send" key and, with no further thought, my satire was loaded onto laobserved.com.
The next day I received an e-mail from a reporter I have known for a long time, informing me that my posting was neither insightful nor humorous, but, rather, a gratuitous use of the most hurtful word in the English language. He suggested, without saying it in so many words, that I should have known better.
The next day I talked to this reporter. He asked me: Suppose you'd written that as an op-ed piece in the L.A. Times? What would the copy editor have said? How would you have defended yourself?
But that's the great thing about the Internet, I responded: You don't have to ask anybody else's opinion. You just type and--vroooooom!!--lights out, baby. I said it sardonically, because I already knew I'd made a mistake in judgment. I'd been seduced by the ethos of blogging without thinking--of speed over substance. And here's the worst part of it, which I confessed to my reporter/friend: I didn't want to devote very much introspection to this stunt because I was desperate to find something to blog on after four weeks without a posting.
An hour later I went to the web site and spiked my piece.
I don't expect to go to Hell for any of this. But it was an eye-opening experience for an old fart like me who scoffs at the superficial and transitory and sophomoric writing that often passes for journalism in Blogland. Giving in to your impulses is a good way to start a story, but it's a lousy way to finish it. That old-fashioned collective experience--the newsroom, the place where you can ask a podmate to stand up, look at your screen and offer a quick verdict on your lead, the place where those picky copy editors insist on challenging you--has a lot to be said for it.
Dear Westside Bike Thief,
RE: The Sweet Red Ride You Stole From My Garage.
I hope you intend to use the aforementioned mountain bike as a gift for a child, or that you just had to get somewhere in a hurry, like to visit your mother in the hospital. I’d even be able to justify your actions if you were simply selfish enough to want her for yourself. God knows, I loved her.
But, rest assured, whatever your reasons, you’ve no need to worry about being caught.
I called the LAPD to find out how to file a police report, and the officer I spoke with was kind enough to invite me down to the station. However, she also imparted the chilling reality: “It won’t do any good.”
I took her at her word and didn’t waste my time.
I told the managers of my building in the hopes that they would care enough to warn other residents to protect their own bikes, maybe even endeavor to lock their car doors. But, the managers rebuffed me. “You saw the signs!” the one manager insisted. “We’re not responsible for stolen items!” My efforts to explain that I held no one responsible fell on deaf ears. The other manager shouted something from deep within the management lair. It sounded like “We don’t care about anybody!”
Call me a sucker, but I still believe we’re all in this together.
I tried putting up signs in the elevator and lobby, just to warn other residents that you were lurking in the shadows of our dirty parking garage, perhaps emboldened by your successful bike heist.
Unfortunately, someone stole the signs within the hour.
Dear thief, I don’t know how long you coveted my bike, but I would certainly understand it if you thought it cold of me to bind her to that railing in the garage for the past five years. I took her out for fewer than a half dozen rides during that time. My excuses are not original. I got married. I was working too much. I don’t like riding on pavement.
It wasn’t always like this.
Not that you noticed before taking a pair of wire cutters to the cable lock intended to keep her safe, but I didn’t let her rust. I oiled the gears and wiped away the city soot that would settle on the handlebars and seat. I kept the tires inflated and the brake cables taut. You wouldn’t know her age to look at her, still as pretty as she was when I spent what to me was a fortune 15 years ago.
You were probably drawn to her for the same reasons as me — the red paint and that modified seat post. She was the last of the shockless mountain bikes, born as my generation was reinventing ways to use bicycles, and ski areas in the summertime.
Back then I rode her more than 500 miles a month from April to December. Every weekday before dawn we stirred up clouds of Rocky Mountain trail dust, and each weekend we joined friends who measured rides not only in miles, but altitude. Climbing 3,500 feet was never more of a pleasure than it was with her. She introduced me to snowballs on the Fourth of July, endured treacherous stream crossings at high speeds, and hurried me below the tree line on those few occasions the afternoon thunderstorms snuck up behind me. Together that bike and I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. We raced together. We went places no plane, train, or automobile ever could. And we flew, sometimes in opposite directions.
She and I both broke down on occasion. One time we were 30 miles and 3,000 feet from home when her derailer tangled itself into a pretzel. But after a bit of surgery with a wrench and a coat hangar, she carried me home and then some, until I could afford a proper repair.
I suppose she will be as reliable for you as she was for me, regardless of the dishonest way in which you obtained her. I just hope you’ll remain as true in return, especially considering that in our busy and sophisticated world you can get away with stealing whatever sweet ride catches your eye.
Jessica Simpson and I spent this week in Washington. Well, not entirely the week. And not exactly together. In fact, not together at all. But this being Washington and a story about a celebrity, I am forgiven a little embellishment.
Jessica – I call her by her first name because I feel so close to her after this week – was in Washington to do a little number at a top-society soiree that paid tribute to Dolly Parton, Smokey Robinson, Steven Spielberg, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Zubin Mehta.
Jessica, wearing a backless black dress, took center stage at the Kennedy Center in the coolness of a star-studded, Politico Hollywood-style crowd. Bundled in an overcoat, I was at the epicenter of an affirmative action rally on the steps of the Supreme Court covering hundreds of demonstrators who shivered, chanted and marched as they joined the Supreme Court justices in making front-page headlines.
Jessica made headlines of her own by singing “Nine to Five” in honor of Parton, one of her self-proclaimed idols. But, hello Dolly! Jessica actually made headlines when she became so nervous and awe-struck that she didn’t sing after a few lyrical mumbles and simply walked off the stage to thunderous silence.
In this town, you would think people would be grateful for that rarity of a speechless celebrity or politician, but Jessica’s plight made headlines, some of them not so kind including tabloids who said the real problem was that she nearly fell out of that dress.
Whether she was “overcome with emotions” as her publicist said or on the verge of popping out, she attracted headlines albeit smaller ones than the front-page variety garnered by a Supreme Court dealing with the complex issue of race rather than the simple pain of a Hollywood star. But didn’t Michael Richards show us there can be a nexus between race and the much publicized pangs of a Hollywood celebrity? If only he had been the one to shut up and walk off the stage.
But, you’re right, Jessica is no Kramer. And this was a different stage, a different town, a more commercially topical star.
I must confess that I am one of those who is still trying to figure out what exactly drives Jessica’s stardom. But the interest is certainly there.
On the morning after the Supreme Court story was all over the news, I was riding a crowded Washington bus and overheard two commuters talking about the big news of the day.
“Did you hear what happened to Jessica Simpson at the Kennedy Center the other night?” asked one woman standing nearby.
“No,” her friend responded excitedly. “What happened? Did her top fall off?”
No, no, no! I wanted to scream from my scrunched-down seat on the bus. That was Janet Jackson, suspiciously, at the Super Bowl! This was Jessica at the august Kennedy Center. And while Jessica does parade herself on movies and TV commercials like a job-wanted ad for Hooters, she only lost her nerve and not her top.
But I remained silent as the bus rider corrected her friend and gave her the gossipy but sympathetic story that would have made Jessica’s publicist proud. They never did get around to talking about the news from the Supreme Court.
Then again, perhaps, I should have known better. Jessica has fans everywhere even among those of us who stride about town with the mien of serious journalists. The Washington Post reminded us of that when their reporters described how Jessica “hightailed it” after her non-performance.
“All that was left was the memory,” wrote the Post, “and the photo that Bob Schieffer had captured of himself with her in his digital camera, which he was proudly showing to Karl Rove.”
Schieffer and Rove cherishing a fan photo of Jessica Simpson? Now that’s a media-political-Hollywood nexus that shudders the imagination.
Of course, when the Kennedy Center performance is aired on CBS on the day after Christmas, you won’t see Jessica’s gaffe. She was allowed to redo the song for the television cameras, which admittedly is not uheard of in a city where presidents and other politicians recast themselves to excise past mistakes.
Meanwhile, I suppose my brief image as a disheveled-looking, wind-blown reporter standing in the background of the news conference on the Supreme Court steps remains archived on CSPAN. Then again, I should be happy. After all, those are the only snapshots of the week I spent in Washington with Jessica as one of us made headlines and the other wrote them.
Last Monday marked my sixth annual pilgrimage to Divine Design, the discount designer sale hosted by Project Angel Food, an organization that brings meals to housebound AIDS patients, among other good works. All the local designers unload their overstock and samples, and the floor of some expansive piece of local real estate (this year it was the recently-abandoned Robinson's May store at Wilshire and Santa Monica) is given over to racks of clothing at rock-bottom prices. It is one of Los Angeles' most competitive shopping venues, and I have picked up a few essential survival tips for those who are thinking of taking on the challenge next year.
1. Go on the last day. The sale starts on Friday with live-auction, gala celebrity, black tie, hoo-ha. It's all Sean "Puffy" Coombs and Sarah Michelle Gellar glad-handing and posing for the LA Magazine photogs. Blow that off. Though everything starts at 50% off the designer's price -- big whoop. A $6,000 dress marked down to $3,000 may be a real coup for some B-list actress or trophy wife, but is still too rich for us freelance keyboard jockeys.
The next day everything is reduced to 60% off, Sunday it drops down to 70% and then Monday morning dawns at 80% off and I awake twitchy with excitement. I used to go early on the last day, but this year, due to my partner-in-crime's work schedule, didn't get there until after 1pm when the sale had bottomed out to a giddy 90% off. This is the golden time, when practically everything you touch is a steal. Sarah Michelle and Puffy are off power lunching and Divine Design is given over to the fashion bottom-feeders: the freelancers and the part-timers, the waitresses, school teachers and D-girls burned out on haunting the Gap sale racks and jonesing for a smidge of affordable glamour in their low-paid lives. We paw through clothes, lost in the the mother of all shopping trances, snapping hangers down the rails of rolling racks, deciding in a split second whether a thing is worth a try-on. If it is, we toss it over our arm, or cram it into our rapidly swelling, pink shopping bags provided by Project Angel Food. Yes, the selection may be bigger on the first few days, and what remains on the racks by Monday is officially the dregs, but I figure I can't miss what I haven't seen. And all this stuff looks pretty dang good to me. I load up on silky tops, skinny pants, fanciful evening gowns - items for a lifestyle I admit I am leading in my fantasy life. One where I go to gala events (like say, the Divine Design opening night) and need a red, floor-length, sequined, fishtailed evening dress. I can have it for forty bucks!
2. Proper attire is a must. Come dressed for public undressing. Wear leggings, a skirt and a sport top of some kind. Dressing rooms are the exception, not the rule. Usually the event takes place at the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport, and in the opening days they provide curtained-off dressing areas for the high rollers. But by the last day those are dismantled and half-naked fashionistas are everywhere maneuvering in and out of stylish ensembles. This year's Robinson's May location was deluxe, with carpeted floors and mirrors. Me and my cohorts staked out a length of smoked mirror at the west end of the store and proceeded to work through a mountain of clothes. We were told the dressing rooms were available for the modest among us, but I don't think there were many takers. Why waste precious time going in and out of a dressing room when you can just rip off your clothes in front of everyone and shimmy into your frock? A volunteer mentioned there was a ten garment limit in the dressing rooms and we just snorted. Divine Design is all about quantity Get down to your skivvies or get out. But beware the creepy guys who hang around specifically for the panty show.
3. Go With Your Girlfriends. Tag-team shopping is the only way to go on this bad boy. I came with two gal pals and we hit the ground running, fanning out across the floor. A good friend worth her salt will know what you like and nab stuff for you in her travels. Also, if you like her taste you can try on her cast-offs. When you have done your first pass, then you rendezvous in front of a mirror and start trying on. But a mirror is only good for so much. You need the eyes of your friends to tip the balance and help you decide if that sequined halter top is Bedouin-chic or just hootchie-mama bad, and if it is worth the four bucks you're thinking of throwing down for it.
4. Smoke a joint on the way over. This is so important. You are going out shopping on a work day fer chrissakes. This is an official holiday and slacker rules apply here as they would for a matinee or sex in the afternoon. Get wasted and make an unseemly public display as you dissolve into helpless giggles over inside jokes with your friends and whatever acts of physical comedy may present themselves. It is crucial to maintain the proper point of view or the stress of Divine Design could very well kill you. For instance, when you are trying to make a left across Wilshire into the parking lot and a shopping-crazed woman behind you is leaning on her horn, urging you into a head-on collision with oncoming traffic so that she might not miss out on discounted cruise wear, you must be able to see the utter hilarity of it. Or when your friend rings up at $700, you can practically pee yourself laughing. Yes, it's all "you had to be there" humor, which is why you have to be there... buzzed.
5. Stay hydrated and pack a snack. This is an endurance event. After three hours of shopping we got onto the checkout line only to discover it was two hours long. Carbo-loading is a must, even if it means going up a dress size. Who cares? Divine Design is the place where you can buy stuff for that day, five pounds from now, when you will look good in those tight, peacock green shantung pedal pushers. Have another Milano!
6. Maintain the social code. One of the most awe-inspiring things about Divine Design is the good will demonstrated by all who participate. It's like you've died and gone to a heavenly LA, where women are caring, considerate and downright diffident. My theory is that the possibility for things getting really ugly is so overwhelming, that everyone goes out of their way to be friendly and considerate.
If another shopper is rifling through your rack of clothes, politely inform her that stuff is yours - there's no need to be snippy. If the gal next to you is clearly ogling the bubble skirt you're trying on and you're on the fence about it - give it to her! If a the lady next to you is looking at herself in a fringed miniskirt with a knitted brow and no girlfriend to back her up, tell her how cute she looks! We try to be a model community of consideration and positivity. Don't fuck it up for us by being a pushy bitch, okay?
7. Hang in there. Didn't get much on the first pass? Look again. All day long women are trying on and casting off. One girl's last-minute reject could be your best find of the day.
8. Keep an open mind. So you think that yellow, collared t-shirt with the rising skull/sun and psychedelic palm trees is a little far out for old soccer mom you? Try it on. You never know. And for $2.60 you can take a chance. It could well turn out to be your new favorite garment. Divine Design is an opportunity to take risks and reinvent your fashion persona. And isn't reinvention what us Angelinos are supposedly all about?
9. Enjoy the volunteers. They are almost all gay men and the women who love them. Though they are harried and exhausted, they are also helpful and jolly. A darn sight nicer than the surly old bluehairs who used to work at that Robinson's May.
With my disco days behind me, I so rarely get to bask in the delights of the gay, fashion-forward boy toy, so this is a rare treat. They will flirt with you, bringing you items to try on as you wait in line, quipping and cracking wise as you hand them back your rejects. And they won't bat an eyelash when you strip down to your buff-colored support wear, exposing a cheesy flank as you squeeze into a pair of punky zipper pants. Now how divine is that?
10. Remember, its for a good cause. Even at these low, low prices, my tally came to over $300, which is a heart-pounder for a mom on a tight budget. That is the moment when you think of all the good that money will do. A hot meal served by a kind soul is a beautiful thing for a person too sick to shop or cook for themselves. I shop to honor the memory of my beloved friend, Raymond Wood, knowing he would have wanted me to get that little black, wispy cocktail dress that will look so fabulous on me once I've lost a few pounds. Raymond himself would probably have worn it with a turban and a kitten heel. Divine.
The question each year I most dread asking and hearing is, “Honey, what do you want for Christmas?”
Forget that I was raised Jewish; that’s not the point. (In fact, it's a whole other blog post, not that it's anyone's business.)
The problem is that I have no idea what I want to find under the tree. Nor does she. It’s not a lack of imagination – though it might be a fall-off in brain cells; it’s just that I already have everything I need. I still haven’t used all the Gold-Toe hosiery my in-laws bought me ten years ago. She doesn't want an iRobot vacuum cleaner, or Dyson bagless. My golf clubs get an annual scrubbing to keep away the rust. My latest car came with a leather-covered steering wheel. (Can you believe it?) I never wear the robe I got three years ago; well, maybe on Halloween to scare the tykes who come to the door. Ties are okay, but they don't really go with t-shirts.
Our son is easy: books and music. Weird clothes. "And don’t forget the laptop when I graduate."
Our situation is two-fold. We just don’t care anymore, and we’re in the decluttering phase of our lives, not the acquisitive. A toss-out a day keeps the Closetmasters away. Flowers for the wife and a romantic dinner is all we really need. And that works any day of the year. And we still like to . . . you know.
Okay, never say never. Who knows when a combination power screwdriver/drill that works on mental energy generated by stress alone might sound appealing. My wife tells me the jewelry well is very very deep. But generally our covetness for manufactured goods has disappeared with age. If I want a new computer or to upgrade my cell phone, I do it myself. If she wants to hit an outlet store, she goes. I buy the books and music I want. We’ve already got a couple HD TVS, and those were gifts my wife and I bought together. I think we even have a love seat bought by the same arrangement. This year she wants a grout cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom, but I don't think that qualifies, especially since she's always turning down my request to add a second story to the house. Still, an in-common gift is always good for the big ticket items. Lately, crazy vacations seems to satisfy our needs – but I don’t think we’re going to get a video camera and a Mac to make home movies.
My wife and I used to exchange holiday wish lists, leaving room for inspiration and surprise, but now we mostly look at each other and shrug. Then we feel bad because we can’t come up with anything. “Okay, this year just little gifts. Surprise me.”
I got a great telescope once. She got a camera. Those epiphanies are few and far between.
But why do I have to feel bad just because I’d rather get a tin of cookies for the holidays than a gym membership to work them off? There comes a time when all you want for Christmas is not to have to think about what you want for Christmas.
Besides, there’s the shopping itself. In the San Fernando Valley, the old ritual called for going to the mall. But these days I don’t want to have to go to the old Woodland Hills Promenade, renamed the Westfield Shoppingtown Promenade, now renamed the Westfield Promenade. The name alone is off-putting, not to mention the crowds, the parking, and the woman who sneezed on me last year and gave me a week-long cold. The same naming transformation occurred with the old Topanga Plaza where I used to hang out when I was a teenager. “Hey, let’s go to the Plaza and meet some girls!” Now it would have to be, “Hey, let’s go to Westfield Topanga Shoppin... oh forget it!” Just ties your tongue. (I hear Westfield also owns the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square, now renamed as well. At least we got rid of the “Shoppingtown.” That was too Podunk, Ohio even for Valley standards.
I could shop by catalog, but from September through New Year I spend most of my time throwing out the third and fourth copies of each, in every iteration and recombination of my wife’s and my name. That's a lot when she's kept her given name. Oh, and don’t forget “Resident.”
And online shopping? It’s a good thing. I do it all the time for myself. But I still hate the Christmas rush more each year. I still haven’t checked out what’s new on Land’s End, the Red Envelope, and the Cattaneo Brothers Beef Jerky site. I know I’m going to hate myself in a couple weeks, and pay extra for shipping.
Maybe it’s a good thing to no longer be plagued by seasonal desire, like an animal in heat. If only I wasn’t wracked with guilt and despair when, as it usually happens, one night in early December, between the end of dinner and settling in for three hours of mind-numbing tv, my wife and I turn to each other and out of force of habit ask the dreaded question knowing we’d rather watch tigers chase soon to be carrion through the verdant grasslands on the Discovery Channel than waste one more minute on gift ideas.
Don’t even get me started on birthdays.
When all those million dollars worth of ads and billboards claimed the change from Comcast to Time Warner "will be that easy," I should have known it wouldn’t be.
The day they switched us from Comcast internet to the new "hassle-free" Road Runner service I found no internet at all, so I spent almost two hours holding before getting someone on the line who could work me through the multiple clicks to have it functioning again. Articles appeared vouching for the fact that I was only one of thousands who had been affected. So in my own naive way, I thought they would reassess their next set of changes.
Last week I received an expensive multi-color pamphlet in the mail proclaiming the changes in cable television services coming in mid December. On Tuesday I read through the entire packet and decided to beat the rush. I reached for the phone and looked through the pamphlet again for a number. Ten pages of smiling faces, but no phone numbers. Okay. So I went to the file for an old bill, found the number and after five minutes of innumerable recorded messages informing me how their menu had changed and what web address to use if I wanted things I didn’t want, I finally got a live person on the other end of the line.
"I am calling in response to the change in cable service, but my first question is that the new channel line up I received says it is for Hollywood Westchester and I am in West LA."
"Oh, it just says that."
"Well, is it the new line up for me?"
"If you are in West Covina…"
"No, West Los Angeles…"
"Or if you are in Pomona…"
"Never mind. Before I go to the new packages, I want to change from my regular cable boxes to the Digital recorders."
"Oh. We are out of those."
"No, we had them but we are out now."
"Do you know when you will have more?"
"No, but I could put you on a waiting list."
"So you will call me when you get them in?"
"No, you have to call us."
"Then why am I going on a waiting list?"
"So when they do come in we won’t give them to someone else."
"But what if I don’t call in again?"
"Then we might have to give them to someone else."
"So I guess I will wait til then to change the packages and just wait and see what happens when the channels change in December."
"Oh, you don’t really have to change packages until May…."
"Sure, but there isn’t really one available right now. But I can take a message and one will call you back in twenty four hours."
That was forty eight hours ago.
It will be that easy…
Before I stopped by USC last week to check in on the drama at the Daily Trojan, I did some grocery shopping at the Chinatown Farmers' Market per the suggestion of an LAO reader.
If you work downtown or are in the neighborhood around 2:00PM any given Thursday, stop by 727 N. Hill Street (between Alpine and Ord) for a unique experience. There are one or two growers from the Central Valley who are absolutely swarmed when the market opens by shoppers looking for some of the freshest Asian produce around. Some of the folks down at USC got to enjoy the grapes and peanuts I picked up at the market.
Your LAO video crew was rolling:
Going strong since 2002: Here's a fun take on the market around the time that it opened in 2002 from the Los Angeles Vegetarians in Paradise.
And don't forget: Keep the story ideas coming!
The headline on the front page: "This USC story ends without a title."
UCLA's victory isn't even mentioned until the fourth paragraph of the story.
I don't profess to know any secret formula to reengage readers in the LA Times, but the the wording and placement of that headline might just be the sort of thing that repels more than a few UCLA faithful.
Although some of my newspaper colleagues might consider such matters to be petty, deep down they must know that readers take notice of such details.
The Daily News handled it differently. Its front page trumpeted "BRUINED!" above the fold with a subhead that reads "UCLA denies Trojans title game."
It doesn't take an advisory panel to figure out which front page is going to end up in more scrapbooks and picture frames for years to come.
These are the kind of things readers remember.
Living near the UCLA campus as I have for several years now, this day has often been a noisy one, but not for the reasons one might expect.
Odd as it may seem, many of my neighbors are loyal to crosstown rival USC. I've come to this conclusion not simply because of the few USC flags I've seen in front of homes, or on the balconies of apartments, but because, in the past several years, I have heard whoops and hollers beyond compare during the annual USC-UCLA football matchup. I'm talking about a cacophony of shouts and whistles that has erupted every time USC put points on the board.
But today was different.
I had my window open all day, but not a single sound of applause traveled through it.
The reason was likely as simple as 13-9.
I expect I'll hear from the UCLA faithful tonight, but, as I write this, it's still quiet in Westwood.* There must be some bad traffic between here and Pasadena.
* CLARIFICATION: I don't live in Westwood Village, which was, as you'd expect, alive with celebration.
It was the early 1970s when Ray Bradbury and I met at Saint Patrick's Elementary School Library in North Hollywood. We were introduced through a dog-eared, much-underlined, yellowing paperback called "Dandelion Wine" and I promptly fell into puppy love. Ray was already ancient then, with graying hair and horn-rimmed glasses, or so it seemed to an 11-year-old, but I didn't care. I promptly read all his books on the shelves, sneaking in at odd hours since our little library doubled as the teachers' lounge. I recall pouring over "The Illustrated Man," "M is for Melancholy" and "The Martian Chronicles" at recess and lunch with the ardor that my school chums reserved for Tiger Beat Magazine. Ray's books transported me to shimmering far-off worlds. As you might imagine, my solitary obsession made me very popular with my David Cassidy/Bobby Sherman swooning peers.
Back then, I had no idea that Ray lived in Los Angeles, less than 20 miles from me. I realize now that he probably gave talks at bookstores and libraries and schools and generally swanned about town the way famous authors do. However, this literary largesse did not trickle down to my part of the Valley, and if it did, my family wasn't aware of it. While we were all very bookish, we were insular, bringing home booty scavenged from rummage sales and used bookstores. It would have been frivolous for my cash-strapped parents to spend good money on a new book when there were so many perfectly good used ones out there.
In college, Ray and I broke up. He'd become a bit of an embarrassment to me, proof of what a rube I'd been. I spurned his simple prose, his dated science. I was in love with more sophisticated, demanding and transgressive writers. Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Anais Nin, Andre Gide, Thomas Mann, T.S. Eliot, Jean Paul Sartre, Laurence Durrell, Thomas Pynchon, Feodor Dostoevsky. Ray was the freckled hometown boy in overalls who lacked the glittering allure of my edgier, faster crowd.
Then I must confess, I forgot about him altogether. I became a journalist, traveled the world, wrote my own novels, read many other things, had babies. Then my babies began to grow out of picture books. Browsing in my home library one day, I pulled out a dog-eared, much-underlined yellowing paperback copy of "Dandelion Wine" and all the fond spooky memories came rushing back. I began to read the book out loud to my oldest son each night, savoring the exquisite moods, the evocations of terror, of joy, the unbearable lightness of summer and the dark that lurked at the edges of things. It was a double pleasure to rediscover him as an adult, a triple pleasure that my son liked him too. Next came the "Martian Chronicles." Then "Fahrenheit 451." Bam, another generation was hooked.
Two weeks ago, Ray Bradbury came to a small independent bookstore in Glendale. He's 86 and in a wheelchair now, with a leonine mane of pure white hair, a kind of living time capsule, a character beamed out of one of his own Mobius Strip stories.
I told the kids we were going. After all these years, I would finally meet Ray. And the kids would see this literary legend in flesh and learn that even famous writers are just plain folks. It was glorious to see four generations of people crammed into the aisles of Mystery and Imagination Books ' hundreds of them, all holding cherished copies of old books and brand new ones.
My kids studied Ray. "He's old," my 8-year-old said. They were shy when we got to the front of the line, though we did get our picture taken with him. I had so much to say, it would have taken a whole book's worth of words. Ray was the first man whose writing I fell in love with, whose photo I recognized, whose words I emulated when I took my own baby steps at writing stories.
I settled for telling him that I was reading "The Illustrated Man" to the boys, one story a night. They'd found "The Veldt" especially unsettling. Ray twinkled fiendishly and said that was wonderful. He signed our books, including his newest, the sequel to "Dandelion Wine" that had been 60 years in the making. It's called "Farewell, Summer."
There was a certain melancholy to finally meeting him, in the late autumn of his life. There's the awareness that he's not going to be around forever, that it will be his words that survive the ages, not his flesh. So it goes for all of us. I hope my kids remember their afternoon with Ray long after he's gone. Maybe even after I'm gone. I hope that one day, they'll pull a dog-eared, much-underlined yellowing paperback of "Dandelion Wine" from their own shelves and read it to their children and that its themes will still resonate, regardless of what future they live in.
I struggle when I try to describe Point Dume, the craggy elbow of land that cradles the Santa Monica Bay. When friends come to visit, I start at the wild, untouched headland with its sheer cliffs, rocky coves and secret pocket beaches. I'll drive them through the residential flats where mega-mansions line the bluffs and modest ranch homes sit on wide grassy lawns. There’s a tidy school, a few cute shops, some hiking trails.
And then there's the Dume Room. Tucked between a tiny dry cleaners and a take-out pizza joint, the Dume Room is the last gasp of blue-collar Malibu. It's where the waitresses and welders, construction workers and conmen come after a hard day's work; where local celebs like Pam Anderson, Nick Nolte and Emilio Estevez come to mix with the common people. They say Steve McQueen and John Wayne drank here.
The Dume Room's a raunchy place, rowdy and crowded and borderline dangerous in the best dive tradition. During the day you'll see big, bad, flea-bitten dogs snoozing near the front door, waiting for their owners to drink their fill. At night it's everything a hole-in-the-wall should be - dark and loud and unpredictable.
There's an old wooden bar, a dozen comfy stools, a fancy, glittery fish tank built right into the wall. There's a pool table in back, stained by the years, but still level and playable. The juke box is crammed with so much great music, you feel like it's reading your mind. The drinks are strong and the bartender's friendly, there's a live band on weekends and Karaoke on Thursdays. Talk to anyone and they'll talk back, buy you a beer, shoot a game of eight-ball.
But next week, the Dume Room's off my tour. Thanks to a real estate deal that has the whole town talking, the best bar in the 'Bu is shutting down. After thirty-five years in the same spot, thirty-five years of channeling old-style, outlaw Malibu, it's over. Sold to a developer who's putting something spiffier, something more genteel in its place.
Last call - the last last call - is Sunday. Two a.m. The Dume Room won't go quietly, that's for sure. Ask the regulars if they'll be there and they look at you like you're nuts. Where else would they be? They've talked about buying the place, of moving it elsewhere, but they know it's just a dream. Instead they've settled for venting their rage and sorrow in black magic marker on the mirrors that line the walls.
So now we call it the Doomed Room. Doomed, as in, here's the last place to remind you that millionaire Malibu was once a working class town, a historical haven for outlaws and bootleggers and smugglers and thieves. Doomed, as in once the four-star restaurants put away their wine lists at 9 or 10 p.m., there's nowhere else in town to get a beer. As inevitably doomed as Point Dume itself, the cliffs and coves and beaches, crumbling, bit by bit, into the sea.
Thursday at an "open forum" called to discuss the controversial departure of Zach Fox as the editor in chief of USC's Daily Trojan, Michael Jackson, the university's Vice President for Student Affairs, agreed to give Fox a shot at regaining his job.
Last month Fox was reelected by a staff vote of 37-21, but because of a disagreement over the role of editor in chief, Jackson bucked the paper's guidelines for operation and did not forward Fox's application or the election results to the Student Media Board to be certified. Fox resigned in frustration after submitting a revised application to Jackson, which was also not forwarded to the Student Media Board. After receiving wide-ranging input at Thursday's forum from USC staff, journalism faculty and Daily Trojan writers and editors, Jackson agreed to allow Fox to run in the special election that was called to elect his successor.
In my video report: Marc Cooper's reaction, Jackson on whether he regrets blocking Fox's application from going to the Student Media Board, and Fox on whether he will serve if elected as a write-in candidate.