So many great sights and sounds at the LA Times book festival this weekend but my favorite by far:
Standing behind Royce Hall on Friday night, talking with my friend Sariah, when suddenly a large, tawny rabbit loped across the parking lot and disappeared under a parked catering truck. Sariah laughed and said, "He just came out of the biology building!" We think he may have been escaping from the neuro-science lab. Wish I had a picture for y'all, but alas, I'm no Veronique de Turenne.
There were books and authors and panels and readings enjoyed by thousands of people of all races, ages, income levels and nationalities.
And, at the gala dinner Friday night, a chocolate fountain.
Most travelers surely recall their first encounter with an airport solicitor (or grifter, depending on your point of view). I marveled at how they seemed to float like ghosts down aisle after aisle, the way they gingerly lay pencils, keychains, or whatever on seats and armrests. Sometimes the item was accompanied by a note that explained the bearer was challenged in some way. Regardless, you were expected to know, by God, this was not a gift.
Until this week, I hadn't come across a single vendor in the five years since the ticketed-passengers-only rule was enacted by the Transportation Security Administration.
Then a guy in a striped shirt placed this bauble [SEE INSET] on the table beside my laptop in a campus grill at UCLA. He stepped over backpacks and ducked under electrical cords to do the same at every other table in the place.
The yellow note attached said "For $2 Good Luck."
If nothing else, it was a lesson in adaptation, although we'll see how long it lasts as colleges and universities reevaluate campus security.
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground….
I know. But I do not approve.
---“Dirge Without Music,” Edna St. Vincent Millay
Friends have been checking in with me since the Virginia Tech shooting. Has this week been wrenching for me? Am I having a hard time?
They ask because my brother was shot to death six years ago. His future mother-in-law murdered both him and his fiancée in a spat over the apartment they shared.
And I have to answer—Well, not exactly. I’m horrified, and I’m sad. But is this shooting so different from all the others this week? It is entirely unsurprising. This was going to happen. It should be expected—though the media coverage has nourished the collective illusion that it shouldn’t be.
12,000 people are murdered in the U.S. every year with firearms—most of those with handguns. That’s 32 in a typical day. At year’s end, these 32 specific victims will not make a dent in the statistic for 2007—though these specific 32 families will reel for the rest of their lives.
40 million people in this country own guns: most of us are familiar with such statistics. The Glock 9-millimeter semiautomatic—one of Cho’s guns, America’s favorite murder weapon, and the gun used to kill my brother—is inordinately powerful and fires two bullets per second. Its sole purpose is to kill people effectively. Can we honestly be surprised when dozens of people daily pick up guns and do exactly that? The week of the Virginia Tech shooting, Los Angeles reported an especially large homicide toll: 9 of the 17 victims were 18 years old and under, and one was 2 years old. All 17 victims were shot. In Philadelphia, a man became the 100th victim of the year, after a 14-year-old boy and a 26-year mother of four—after last year’s all-time high of 400 murders. In Dallas, a man was shot to death just five months after the birth of his first child. In Marshfield, Wisconsin, a father killed his two children.
No, this will happen. Most of the guns will be purchased legally. Some of those will be stolen, but a great many of them will be wielded by the legal owners. Some of the killers will have criminal records, but a great many will not. Some will have documented mental health problems, and a greater number will not.
Yet the responses to the Virginia Tech shootings—from the gun and gun-control lobbies, and from the rest of us—have mostly failed to fully take for granted a high murder rate in a country that is heavily armed. The gun lobby predictably trots out its canard that the victims should have been carrying guns too. More guns, fewer murders: that’s one of its standard arguments. And yes, a guns-for-all policy on college campuses might have saved some of this week’s victims, but fortunately, university leaders have been countering that we would see many more victims overall.
The gun-control lobby has been equally predictable. They have focused first on whether the guns were legal, and then—surprise, they were!—on how the background check could have missed Cho’s skirmishes with the mental health profession. But why? Even if Cho could have been stopped, so many other killers have passed these background checks with flying colors, and so many more will continue to do so. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has been successfully backing laws to keep guns out of the hands of “people who shouldn’t have them” for over 25 years—with no dramatic or even significant decrease in gun deaths.
Can gun laws that do not outlaw handgun ownership possibly reduce the annual rate to 10,000? That’s highly optimistic—and why wouldn’t they have done so already? Do gun-control victories matter when they do not make a real difference? The major gun-control advocates have been passionately fighting the battles they feel they can win. Perhaps the time has come, however, to passionately fight the battles that need fighting.
And the rest of us? The outpouring of grief and shock this past week? The nation has been grieving deeply for the horrific murders of 32 people this year, but on the whole, accepts the 12,000 murders one by one. And when we grieve while not acknowledging that this will happen again—and that it will happen regularly… When we say it is unacceptable in a country with 200 million firearms…That’s an act of mass denial.
To back the right to gun ownership is a wholly legitimate belief—but only if the death toll that comes with it is acceptable to you. However, if you believe the high murder rate is an unacceptable tradeoff, then not arming the populace is the only form of gun control that will ever make a significant difference.
So do I find the tragedy at Virginia Tech wrenching? Yes, I am saddened. I am frustrated, and I do not accept it. But also, no—at least, no more than usual. I grieve every day. The essential question in the aftermath of these shootings is—Why don’t you?
But what's gone unnoticed is last year's mysterious 11-percentage-point increase in the affordability of housing, as reflected in the California Division of Housing Policy Development's 2007 report titled "California’s Deepening Housing Crisis."
The report, released last month, said:
"According to a newly developed index by the California Association of Realtors® (C.A.R.), the percentage of first-time buyers in California able to afford a median-priced home stood at 25 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006, compared with 24 percent for the same period a year ago."The problem is that the 2006 report didn't say anything about 24 percent affordability. It said this:
"As of December 2005, only 14 percent of California’s households could afford to buy the median priced single-family home, while nationwide, affordability was 49 percent."So what gives?
That 14-percent figure was quoted a great deal during the past year, and the same will likely be said of the 25 percent figure a year from now. People will draw conclusions based on the totals and probably conclude things are looking up.
Things aren't looking up. Only the math, and a few words, have changed.
"Median price" is not what it seems when CAR speaks of affordability these days. It doesn't use "median price" in so many words anymore. Instead, it uses the "first-time buyer median price," a term it introduced last year.
In August 2006, CAR, a trade association that represents more than 185,000 members, announced in a news release it had changed the 22-year-old formula used to calculate the percentage of Californians who can afford a median-priced home.
At the time of the change, the old formula was producing results that threatened to slip into the single digits. But, the new index improved the outlook.
Using the new methodology, CAR determined that 25 percent of Californians could afford to buy the median-priced home. Except, it wasn't exactly a "median-priced home" because the association also decided that the "median price" wasn't a fair reflection of reality. So, it created a median-like price and renamed it the "first-time buyer median price," which was set at 15 percent less than the "median price."
They did this because "[...] first-time buyers typically purchase a home equal to 85 percent of the prevailing median price."
As for the forumula, CAR explained that the alteration was necessary because "the range of mortgage products available to buyers as well as underwriting criteria has changed."
The old formula assumed a 20 percent downpayment and a monthly payment of no more than 30 percent of the household's income (a time-honored industry standard). But, the new formula sought to "better reflect" the reality of loan products that made it possible for buyers to stretch beyond those old limits with smaller down payments and larger monthly payments.
So, another way of describing the new result is that it shows 25 percent of Californians can afford a house that costs as little as 15 percent less than the median-price because they have the option of borrowing the downpayment and can choose to spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on the mortgage payment.
Nonetheless, that's not how it's put when quoted in the 2007 report from the state Division of Housing Policy Development. Instead, the report presents 25 percent as being able to afford the "median price" and that's just not the case.
Of course, none of this suggests any attempt to downplay the housing crisis. The 2007 report points out in detail that housing costs are still increasing while homeownership is decreasing. It highlights "Growing Income Inequality," "Rent/Wage Gap/Tight Housing Market," and "Overcrowding." The report says more than four out of 10 California households are renters, and that they face "the greatest affordability challenges."
But it would be helpful for the state to have noted the semantical issues, and to have calculated what CAR's affordability index would have been using the old formula. It would be helpful to know if affordability increased or decreased from 14 percent.
The unfortunate reality is that figures from multiple industry sources are not always interchangeable.
Readers, just like house buyers, must pay close attention to the terms.
Not sure if it's related, or just a regularly scheduled cleansing, but several ratty, old newsracks in Westwood Village have been sporting pink tags from their handles this past week. The tags are from the Street Services Investigation & Enforcement Division and warn that the boxes will be removed within 10 days if not brought into "full compliance by that date."
CityWatch runs down the terms of compliance.
Here's an excerpt from the LABJ story posted April 2:
Getting an ordinance is one thing, and getting it enforced is another. The group [Coalition for L.A.’s Enforcement Applied to Newsracks] is complaining to the Los Angeles City Council Public Works Committee about the slow pace of implementing the law. Only 12 percent of the city’s 23,500 permitted newsracks have been relocated as the law requires, and all 3,000 of the “re-seeds” are in one neighborhood – the South Valley, where newsrack blight was worst.Looks like the proposed 2007-2008 city budget allocated $556,224 for the Newsrack Enforcement Program.
“There is little visible evidence that progress has been made toward implementation,” CLEAN said in its report to the council panel.
My 17-year-old daughter Sean and I have many things in common, but perhaps the most surprising is our mutual deep affection for Dustin Hoffman. Sean has more age appropriate movie-star crushes too, leading with Scottish heartthrob James McAvoy. But like her mother, there's a special corner in her heart for the 69-year-old Hoffman. We both had encounters with him in our teen years.
When I was fourteen and my parents were divorcing, my dad took me to see The Graduate. He was a huge fan of director Mike Nichols. I had no idea who Mike Nichols was, let alone Dustin Hoffman or Anne Bancroft. All I know is that I walked out of the theater totally in love. That day I realized that sexy and charming didn't necessarily mean "pretty." A guy who wasn’t good looking in the conventional way could be desirable, might even be a hero. I must have seen the film eight more times, dragging along anyone who would come with me.
I also did something I had never done, even in my Beatlemaniac days. I wrote Hoffman a fan letter. My mom had an actress friend who knew him from New York and had his home address. My approach, best as I remember, was simple and direct:
"Dear Dustin, I think you are funny, charming, sexy, etc., etc…and I love you."
A few weeks later, I came home to find a blue envelope addressed to me. In the upper left-hand corner, hand-written in black ink, was Hoffman. I almost fainted.
His response mirrored my letter.
I think you are funny, original, unique, witty, maybe sexy, original, maybe beautiful, enticing, clever, maybe very sexy, biting, brash, flip, original, and maybe very, very cute, and maybe I love you too."
He included his parents' phone number. They lived in L.A. and he said to call and say hello. I never did, but since then I’ve spotted my crush about once a decade - in Manhattan in the 70's, in a Century City toy store in the 80's, coming out of an elevator in Beverly Hills more recently. Each time, I thought about going up and mentioning the letter, but in the end kept my distance.
Flash forward to Sean’s teen years. I’d told her my Dustin Hoffman story, more than once. She'd seen his movies and rated Tootsie as her favorite, but she had never seen The Graduate. One weekend we rented it. She totally got what I adored about Dustin. His quirky charm affected her the way it influenced me. From then on, she looked forward to seeing him on screen.
Last summer, Sean snagged a job working part-time at Dutton's Bookstore in Brentwood. During her first week, I picked her up and she got in the car with a huge smile bursting across her face. "DUSTIN HOFFMAN IS IN THERE RIGHT NOW!!!!!," she almost shouted. He's a Dutton’s regular, and through the months Sean has watched him browse the stacks and chat about books with owner Doug Dutton or the other clerks. Sean is too professional to invade his privacy, or even to reveal her excitement. But last Christmas, when she spotted Dustin in a crowd listening to her choir sing carols at the 3rd Street Promenade, she pointed him out to her friends.
I don't really know the importance of any of this, but I like to think it's a glimpse into our mother-daughter connection. Sean has begun to realize, as I did at her age, that it's what's on the inside that counts. When all of that is appealing, whatever's on the outside can be appealing too. I’m happy to let Sean take over the Dustin Hoffman sightings now. She likes to look at the letter from 1968 every now and then. She has made me promise to leave it to her when I'm gone, and says she will treasure it always.
Today at 3PM Mayor Villaraigosa will brave the rain and join other officials for opening of the Rio de Los Angeles State Park, the second state park to open along the L.A. River in as many years (click here for my tour of the Los Angeles State Historic Park).
In February, the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan was released. It's a blueprint for transforming 32 miles of the 51 mile-long river from concrete channel to "parks, trails, recreation, nature, neighborhood identity, jobs, community development, tourism, civic pride and much more," according to the city.
After hearing about the plan and reading LAO contributor Jenny Price's Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in L.A., I signed up for the river tour she gives for Friends of the Los Angeles River. The car caravan turned into an awesome look at how the effort to transform the river is redefining environmentalism. Check it out:
[At right: Not as old as the backdrop...yet]
Before writing for Native Intelligence, I never had a blog because, as I've said here before, I don't have any opinions. Additionally, I didn’t want to share my personal life. This was not to protect me, but to protect you. Believe me, I know you suffer enough.
But now I’m, uh ... suffering.
I dyed my hair.
That’s right. I confess. However . . .
Let me say up-front that I have never disliked my hair, except for a time in the 70s when it was middle-of-the-back length and too naturally curly to achieve the lank rock star look. I’ve never minded the gradual creep of white from the temples back. My hair is full, has body and, well ...bottom line: I’ve still got hair, while the skulls of the testosterone-overloaded bullies from high school are now doubling as satellite TV dishes.
I didn’t do it because I get complaints from women – okay, my wife. She thinks I look just fine, finds the gray/white charming. Not that I ask, because I fear that’s the male equivalent of her asking me if her ass looks fat in her pants (it never does, of course). And my son would treat me as an ancient even if I’d put purple and turquoise streaks in my mop, like some of his friends.
Anyway, there I was, at the wonderful Michael Joseph Furie salon in Tarzana (818-344-0271), getting my monthly haircut from my friend Julie Edwards, who has cut my hair for so long that she now owns the place. It’s a great establishment: open, arty, many extra services, and best of all, all the hairdressers are attractively busty -- even the men.
When Julie was done cutting – “Cut it as if it had already grown out two weeks from the length you’d like to cut it” – I said that I’d always wondered about dyeing my hair. “Maybe some red streaks, like flames, at the temples,” I joked. It wasn’t vanity, I assured her, just a zest for experience – and the older you get the harder you sometimes have to reach for a good jolt. I mean, I’d parachute jump, but my wife would be so mad about me risking my life for no damn good reason that she’d hide the rip cord -- before I went up in the plane.
“Oh, well we can do it right now,” said Julie.
“Take ten minutes.”
“Ten … minutes?” I said, wasting at least 30 seconds. “I thought you had to have a whole appointment, use that tinfoil stuff. I’ve got to get home.”
“No. Ten minutes. It’s easy.”
Julie explained that she didn’t recommend Grecian Formula, and, in fact, had some miracle color in the back room that would make my hair seem like all the color was blended in graduating shades of brown. “It won’t just turn everything helmet-black,” she assured me. “The brown will be darker, the grey browner, the white greyer.
“Can’t you just cut out the white hairs individually?” I asked?
“No.” Julie doesn’t fool around.
“So what happens? Do I have to have all that tinfoil in my hair and get painted?”
“No. It comes out of a bottle. Many of my men clients use it.”
The color, Julie explained, was like a stain. Then she slowly slid her hands into some rubber gloves, snapping the fingers like she was about to stick body parts into a wood chipper.
“A wood stain?” I asked.
“Yeah. It’s hair dye for blockheads.”
She's also quick. I rapped my knuckles on my head for good luck. “Okay let’s see what happens,” I said.
Again, I remind you that I like my hair. I didn’t do this to be stylish, even though I live in one of the style capitals of the world, where looking the part often passes for actually being the part. What the director and writer John Milius told me when discussing the subject of my forthcoming book, "All for a Few Perfect Waves," about Miki “da Cat” Dora, the charming, charismatic and enigmatic surfer king of Malibu in the ‘50s and ‘60s – puts it in perspective:
“The secret, at least in Los Angeles (then), was that you didn’t have to own all the trappings; you just had to appear to. If you had a few things it could look like you had it all. To be a movie producer you only need an office, a bunch of posters, and a card that says you're a movie producer. Why? Because there are no qualifications whatsoever for that job.”
I didn’t do it to look the part – young? I’m just curious, I swear. Besides, Julie promised my hair wouldn’t grow out and leave obvious roots.
[Perhaps now is a good time to note that mentioning the seductions of style and the easy temptations of appearance altering clearly qualifies this column as being LA-centric, hence perfect for LA Observed, instead of just some self-aggrandizing b.s. from my personal life that should have been posted on a blog, if I had one.]
Speaking of style, I think my last nod to the fashion police was giving away my stone-washed jeans and putting my shell necklace chokers away forever. I also gave those white drawstring pants with the fish airbrushed on the leg to the Goodwill. No, wait. No, I didn’t. That was the pink corduroy pants.
Julie had already started putting in my new color. It felt cold and wet, and when she was done I looked like Lenny and Squiggy, after their heads had been dipped in olive oil. In other words, just like Lenny and Squiggy any day of the week. (Am I working against the whole process by dating myself?)
Then I waited.
Ten minutes later, Julie washed my hair, tousled it dry, and voila: ten years younger. Strange feeling to be 33 all over again. (I never did that well at math, okay. How about you?)
[At right: What 33 really looked like!]
Afterward, looking in the mirror, all I could see were my slight double chins, which now looked out of place on someone so youthfully vibrant. I turned to Julie. “Think you could just snip off this skin?” I asked, pinching the underhang together.
“Go home,” she said, kissing my cheek.
The big test, of course, was going home. Let me cut to the chase by telling you that three days later I finally asked my wife if my ass looked fat in my pants. She hadn’t noticed. “But now that I look at you, I can see it," she said. "It looks great.
“Feels weird,” I said.
“Looks good,” she said.
True. But I just didn’t feel like me – in the mirror. There I was, youthful, all dressed up, and nowhere to go but into the den to watch my nightly ration of TV.
The next day I went to lunch with a friend. Nothing. Two nights later I went to Yamashiro for the monthly media gathering. No one noticed. Okay, it was dark.
Desperate, I went to see my mother on the weekend. She told me about attending a late night talk show host’s birthday party – she knows better than to actually leave the house; she transports through the TV set – and asked me to go to the store and buy her a few bags of Hall’s cough drops. She also said my brother needed to lose a few pounds and asked why I had dark circles under my eyes. That’s it.
Look, I get it about doing something for yourself to make yourself feel good. A lady friend says La Perla underthings do the trick; and we've heard all we need to about why women get boob jobs, and men get ... whatever it is we get. All that’s well and good for the “It’s for my self-esteem” crowd. But isn’t the point that someone’s got to notice? Maybe chat you up? Smile from across the natural foods and colon cleanser aisle? Maybe take you for looking as young as you feel -- and have always acted?
Maybe next time I’ll go for the red flames – as long as it doesn’t turn out like that feeble reddish wash that middle-aged male TV stars end up with before giving into their natural color.
Or maybe I’ll just let it grow out and try, hmm, an avocado/cucumber wrap or go to a monster truck rally.
Of course, I'll keep you posted.
In the end, I gotta be me.
History envelops me as I enter the courtyard of the Egyptian Theater in the fading light. I see glamorous ghosts, imagine the star-studded premieres of Hollywood’s Golden Age. After shows, theater-goers used to flock to the Pig ‘N’ Whistle, an elegant Art Deco restaurant next door with carved wood and plush booths where Cecil B. DeMille played the pipe organ and stars unwound while industry musicians gathered after a hard day’s work in the Dream Factory, finally able to play the music they wanted.
But now it’s April 12, 2007, opening night of the 8th Annual Los Angeles Film Noir Festival and I’m heading into the theater for a cocktail party and book signing for Los Angeles Noir, the short story anthology I edited. Eight of the authors are present to sign books, the crowd of 300 is exuberant, the books are flying off the tables, people lined up to buy, lubricated by free drinks and a common love of all things noir.
Eddie Muller, the “Czar of Noir” who curates the festival each year for American Cinematheque, says noir fans drink bourbon, not vodka, and he’s right, by the end of the night there are only two bottles of Eagle bourbon left. I drink my first hard liquor in about a year, the ice cubes tinkling merrily in a plastic cup. Inside this cavernous place, bourbon feels old-fashioned and right, an elixir to conjure up a long-ago time and place.
I chat with Theodora, a strikingly beautiful woman who graduated from Hollywood High in 1949, met Greta Garbo shopping at Jurgenson’s Market and dated movie stars. “The ones I know all died young,” she says wistfully.
James Ellroy’s off to the side, holding court, so after signing copies of LA Noir that patrons bring me, I direct them to the tall skinny guy with the gleaming bald pate and Ellroy draws demon dogs and writes outrageous things on the page that holds his epigraph, “L.A. is epidemically everywhere and discernable only in glimpses.”
After the first movie starts at 8 pm, (Dark Victory, 1949) Ellroy is hungry so with Eddie Muller and LA Noir contributors Patt Morrison and Jim Pascoe and a very nice Film Noir Foundation guy whose name I’ve forgotten, we head across Hollywood Boulevard to Musso & Franks for dinner. It’s a blustery April night and my heels clip-clop across the imbedded sidewalk stars.
At Musso’s, Ray Bradbury is esconced with a large party in the corner. We slide into a booth near the back and order from the red-jacketed, efficient-as-hell waiters. The talk is of 1950s and 60s screen vixens, early Playboy pictorials and Farley Granger’s memoirs. And how Ellroy and I just don’t get Charles Bukowski. And many other things, ribald and not so.
Martinis drained, platters emptied, we’re back on Hollywood Boulevard, and I feel like I’m moving through a City of Ghosts, where long gone voices and faces clamor for recognition, beseech us not to forget them. I’m on a bridge, dangling somewhere between the past and the future, but it’s a fictional place, built by generations who toiled in Hollywood, by authors like Ellroy and Bradbury, freshly re-imagined by the authors like Michael Connelly and Janet Fitch in the anthology I’ve just edited, where the spirits of Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard stalk the pages but reflect through a contemporary lens.
Time mingles promiscuously in my head and at this moment I love my city, the glorious, tawdry bawdy strutting strumpet pride of her, secure in her gifts, taunting and flaunting and thumbing her nose at the ersatz abomination two blocks west at Hollywood and Highland.
On this windy night, I hold the real Hollywood in my hand, in my lungs and in my heart. It smells faintly of pipe smoke, car exhaust, cold canyon air, 80-year-old picture palaces, hair oil and face powder, the fug of cracked leather booths, and it’s intoxicating, and enough to last me until the next portal opens and I fall dizzily down the rabbit hole once more.
The venerable Westside diner was born 60 years ago today — April 11, 1947.
Just returned from a trip back east where I spent most of the time wearing my vlogger hat for the nonpartisan Why Tuesday? group. Why Tuesday? seeks to encourage debate about election reform by asking a simple question: why do we vote in national elections on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November? Last fall, for the group, I spent the run-up to the midterm elections tracking down and asking American politicians if they know why we vote on Tuesday. Most didn't, but if you want to know the answer it's in the video below.
Former NBA All-Star, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bill Bradley is an honorary co-chair of Why Tuesday?, and before he tapes an appearance on Bill Maher's show this Friday he'll be discussing and signing copies of his new book at 4PM at the UCLA Faculty Center. The book is called The New American Story and it's Bradley's plan for "mak[ing] America a better, stronger, truer country." Here's the New York Times review of the book. I'll be there Friday, and I'm inviting you.
March 31st I was with Senator Bradley in Mendham, New Jersey. Watch the video and he'll tell you why we vote on Tuesday:
FYI: Bradley will also be at Borders in Westwood tomorrow at 7PM.
Robertson Barrett, general manager of LATimes.com, expressed the observation Thursday night during a panel discussion* sponsored by the Online News Association and hosted by Yahoo at Yahoo Center in Santa Monica.
Barrett didn't offer many details about the Los Angeles Times' long-overdue redesign/rethink of its Web site (scheduled to go live mid-summer), but the overall goal seemed to be for the site to become a kind of linchpin for Greater LA, a virtual town square where people not only get news, but share it. A place to entertain and be entertained, to network and conduct business, to meet people, express opinions, and generally do just about everything everybody already does elsewhere on the Internet, except for the seedy stuff.
I was reminded of the sales pitch for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which had the goal of becoming a source of unity in this self-centered center of the world.
Calling LA a self-centered center is as derogatory as it is cliché, but aside from the obvious reference to narcissism, LA is also a collection of centers, more than 100 municipalities packed into two letters. The closest LA has come to unity in the past 20 years has been in times of tragedy (the 1994 Northridge Earthquake) and triumph (the LA Lakers '00-'02 three-peat, without the victory riot part). On any given day the only landmark with which most Los Angelenos identify is just a big real-estate sign (Hollywoodland). No other landmark comes close. Griffith Observatory? City Hall? Not in the Valley. Not in the Inland Empire.
Is there even a single media personality in today's LA who comes close to the level of admiration once expressed for Dr. George Fischbeck?
LA is a helluva challenge for any publication or Web site, even a newspaper the size of the LA Times, which also covers the state, the nation and the world. The effort can't possibly be helped by the decline of print circulation, the uncertainty of the pending sale of Tribune Co., and the rumored resale of the LA Times that might follow that. The paper's body count of budget cuts even includes an editor and a publisher.
Marketers love to say that it's the sizzle that sells the steak, but what do you do when your steak is all bone?
Barrett couched it the only way an executive can. He said he's not distracted by all that has put the Times in the headlines. He teased to a few changes, some of which are already in place. He mentioned reverse publication of online content into the print edition, more interactivity between readers and reporters, more reader-generated content, a better search engine (thank God), and the inclusion of guest editors from different segments of the community.
It all sounded great, but whether it will be cool enough to lure online readers from wherever they are now won't be known at least until after readers give it a go this summer.
The only guarantee is that newspapers will continue to throw their Web sites around like Rubiks Cubes in pursuit of the solution that's eluded them for more than 10 years. Journalists know what a front page is supposed to look like, same as they do the cover of a magazine. But a newspaper homepage? What's that?
*LA Observed editor and publisher Kevin Roderick was also on the ONA panel.
The Westwood Famima!! closed Friday, much to the delight of at least one local tagger when the boards went up this week.
I thought it wasn't cool to barf when you run. Have I been doing it wrong?
Awhile back, I mused here about the perfect epigraph for “Los Angeles Noir,” the short story anthology I edited that Akashic Books, will publish this month. Some of you offered suggestions and asked that I post my final choice. Ultimately, I was unable to come up with one epigraph, so I chose two.
“L.A. is epidemically everywhere and discernible only in glimpses.”
- James Ellory, in “The Great Right Place: James Ellroy Comes Home,” an essay in West Magazine, Los Angeles Times, 2006
“It occurs to her that what she most appreciates about this City of the Angels is that which is missing, the voids, the unstitched borders, the empty corridors, the not yet deciphered. She is grateful for the absence of history.”
- Kate Braverman, “Palm Latitudes” 1988
Both of these quotes are reproduced in the book with grateful permission from the authors, so thank you James Ellroy and Kate Braverman.
It was quite difficult to find les mots justes, as the French say, and I flipped through dozens of books, memoirs and short stories trying to find the essence of what I was trying to get at. For starters it couldn’t be just a generally lyrical passage or description, it had to include the words L.A. or in Kate’s case, “City of Angels” in order to orient readers. I nixed many quotes I liked but that were either too specific or too general.
Here is one I quite like that almost made the cut:
“Perhaps there are more haunted houses in Los Angeles than in any other city in the world. They are haunted by the fears of their former owners. They smell of divorce, broken contracts, studio politics, bad debts, false friendship, adultery, extravagance, whiskey and lies. Every closet hides the poor little ghost of a stillborn reputation. “Go away,” it whispers, “go back where you came from. There is no home here. I was vain and greedy. They flattered me. I failed. You will fail. Go away.”
- Christopher Isherwood, Diaries Volume I, 1939-1960.
The epigraphs I ended up with struggle to pin down – in very eloquent ways - a city that refuses to be defined. And perhaps that was what I was trying to get at -- the challenge and endless fascination that L.A. offers to writers. There is no one short story or novel that encapsulates the city. We can only write about facets and fragments, about moments in time and place, about one small piece of it. Los Angeles is so huge and varied that it defies all efforts to contain it. That is both its curse and its intoxication, it’s what makes the city a siren, endlessly alluring despite all its problems and what keeps us chipping away at the hype and silicone surfaces to get at the essence of what it means to be an Angeleno today.
For me, the city is sometimes like a bad boyfriend that you can’t break free of because what ties you to it isn’t rational. L.A. is flawed and insouciant, arrogant and testy, but you have a history together and its charms cast a spell. It pushes you away when you open your heart, then steals it anyway and breaks it. It is poignant and breathtakingly beautiful from one angle, hideous, trollish and superficial from another. It reflects back a part of yourself.
Once I settled on the epigraphs for Los Angeles Noir, it also occurred to me that these snippets mirror the anthology itself, which contains new stories by 17 writers who picked a neighborhood or community to plunk their story down in. They aren’t all traditional neighborhoods either – one’s set along the L.A. River, another along the sinuous spine of Mullholland Drive. But it’s a mosaic, pieces that when put together, don’t exactly equal a whole, but gives you kaleidescopic glimpses inside something that is forever coalescing and spinning apart, forever in flux, but captured here, on flimsy paper, from one perspective, at one specific point in time. They are 17 “discernable glimpses,” as Ellroy said, and they flow like water through Braverman’s ‘unstitched borders,’ often ending far from where they began.
Though vagrancy and traffic are two very different issues, the solution to both problems is one in the same for some property owners. Their answer is something like: Not in my front yard, away from my stoop, and off my street. Of course, this is the outcome they desire, a detour at best, but not a solution. Nonetheless, it appears to have worked its way into the latest Los Angleles Department of Transportation effort to determine the wishes of Westsiders whose streets are adjacent to Santa Monica Blvd.
LADOT, working with homeowner associations, has posted signs at the intersections of Westside residential streets, such the one pictured on Veteran Avenue, complete with handouts (PDF LINK), to solicit participation in a SurveyMonkey.com traffic survey between now and April 15, 2007. The goal is to implement a "Neighborhood Traffic Management" plan.
The survey asks the usual better-same-worse question about traffic, and then drops this bombshell:
"Would you be in favor of traffic restrictions that may delay traffic LEAVING the neighborhood (to discourage cut-through traffic), even if it may result in some delay for you in leaving home and possible diversion of traffic to other neighborhood streets? (Examples of restrictions: turn restriction signs, delayed traffic signal timing, half-street closures, etc.)"
Another question poses the same scenario for traffic "entering" the neighborhood.
What's next? A perimeter fence and border checkpoints?
I'm not sure how it works in other parts of LA, but on the Westside it seems the city has already done more to appease homeowners than it has to untangle traffic snarls.
The LAPD appears to be doing all it can. Officers can be seen writing traffic tickets daily on Westside streets, and usually in an area of focus that has been noticed in the West Traffic Newsletter. There's even a Most Wanted List of suspected Westside traffic offenders, those involved in the most serious of incidents.
In addition to enforcement, the city has posted several dubious signs that declare "no through traffic" on Westside streets, despite the fact that those streets do connect thoroughfares as intended when designed. The city has blocked access to two-way streets from thoroughfares by restricting turns and by sinking do-not-enter signs at their terminus. As you might expect, the city has installed many traffic humps and created four-way stops, all in response to complaints about traffic. But perhaps the most significant action of all was the recent reconfiguration of Santa Monica Boulevard, which all but channelized traffic from Century City to the 405 by reducing the number of access points to residential streets.
Where are we going with this?
How long can the city continue to remove more and more residential streets (relief routes) from thoroughfares? Doesn't the absense of relief exacerbate the clogging of intersections? Nevermind that shortcuts have long been a part of Los Angeles culture, with blog posts dedicated to Favorite Traffic Shortcuts, not to mention Steve Martin's tribute to the LA commute in LA STORY.
The reality is that traffic isn't being addressed, it's just being moved "to other neighborhood streets," as stated in the LADOT's own survey question.
Will we one day see homeowners on one street sue to stop traffic diversion from another? Will drivers rise up in a class action lawsuit to maintain access to residential streets their tax dollars help to pave? Prescriptive easement rights have prevented plenty of property owners from blocking public access to well-worn paths on their land, so doesn't that also prevent the city from blocking access to taxpayer-funded streets by simply dropping a signpost in the ground?
Several Westside homeowner groups have formed on a street-by-street basis in the past few years. Overland Avenue, which is the most direct connection on the Westside between Santa Monica Boulevard and the 10, is often dotted with signs that proclaim "Save Little Overland," an expression of opposition to any effort to widen the street.
I haven't studied any idea enough to declare it good, or bad, but it doesn't take an engineering degree to realize that the city will eventually have to make some homeowners unhappy, unless, of course, that whole Segway thing catches on as expected.
It sounds Pollyanna to say that "we're all in this together," but is that because we've quietly decided that we're all in this for ourselves?
And if that's the case, and we do build a wall around the Westside, I just want to know if the people on the outside intend to take responsibility for the grafitti on their side of the wall, because I just don't think my tax dollars should have to pay for something I don't have to look at.