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May 31, 2009

The future was then



So many quaint oddities in this news clip from 1981 about the coming digital revolution. There's the green glow of the computer monitor, the mid-century screech of the dial-up modem, the newswoman's Very Brady hairstyle. It's the year Diana fell for Prince Charles, Americans fell for Indiana Jones, and the FDA tried to call ketchup a vegetable.

The news peg? If you're one of the 3,000 people with a PC in the Bay Area, you can call a local number, connect to Ohio, then download that day's newspaper onto your home computer. In just two hours. No pix, no graphics, just dot-matrix text scrolling v e r y s l o w l y across the cathode ray screen, but still, the future, right there in your living room.

"This is an experiment," says David Cole of the late, lamented San Francisco Examiner, which was still decades away from its ignominious end. "We're trying to figure out what this means to us as editors and reporters, and to the home user."

Just 28 years later and we still haven't quite figured it out.

(h/t to On The Media for finding that video.)

May 29, 2009

Lakers Advance to the NBA Finals

The Lakers dominated the Denver Nuggets tonight, taking the series 4-2, and advancing to their 30th NBA Finals. The Nuggets were a tougher opponent than I predicted earlier, but ultimately the Lakers found a way to pick apart Denver's defense and gain the upper-hand. For the most part, I was satisfied with the Lakers' effort, and I'm pretty sure they'll be the favorite in the Finals.

Now the question is who the Lakers will play. I think Orlando poses a much tougher matchup than Cleveland. The Lakers swept the Cavs 2-0 in the regular season, but were swept 2-0 by the Magic. Cleveland has shown in the Eastern Conference Finals how over-reliant they've become on LeBron James, whereas Orlando has proven to be a more balanced team. Still, having home court advantage against Orlando would be nice, and the Magic will be without Jameer Nelson who led Orlando in scoring in both Laker-Magic matchups this season.

For now, the Lakers should feel good about themselves for reaching the Finals, but not allow last year's overconfidence and early sense of accomplishment to get the better of them. Having six days off will really help, especially Lamar Odom who needs to rest his back.

I'll have a complete NBA Finals preview when we know the matchup. In the meantime, you can listen to my weekly Saturday radio show from 12 PM to 2 PM on KSCR 1560 AM and KSCR.org, where we'll discuss the Lakers in greater detail. Andrew Kamenetzky of the LA Times will be our guest at the top of the show.

Field of weeds

Photo By TJ Sullivan

Remember the Mann National in Westwood Village?

The massive, single-screen theater was declared dead early in 2007 ... then it wasn't dead ... then it was gone for good and the structure was razed.

A sign was eventually planted in the empty lot, promising a shiny, new retail center in spring 2009. [See above photo shot in January 2009]

I walked by the lot today and, with less than a month of spring remaining, all that's popped up are a few hundred weeds.

Once considered some of the choicest commercial real estate on the Westside, the recession has clearly taken a toll on Westwood Village. Home Depot closed the big Expo Design Center on Weyburn Avenue. Rite Aid moved to a new location at Weyburn and Glendon, leaving the large anchor space at Westwood Blvd and Kinross Avenue vacant. And even the Pinkberry at Lindbrook Drive and Westwood has closed up, along with many other shops throughout the Village.

Time for a lot of new signs.

-- TJ Sullivan

May 27, 2009

The arraignment of Amanda Jo Stott-Smith

This past Saturday morning, at around 1 AM, Amanda Jo Stott-Smith, 31, apparently threw or otherwise caused her two children to fall off the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon. The children, four-year-old Eldon Jay Rebhan Smith, 4, and a 7-year-old girl landed 75 feet below in the Willamette River. People living along the water heard moans, and at about 1:30, residents David H. and Cheryl R. took their boat onto the river, and found the children. H. jumped into the water and retrieved the boy, who was dead, and the girl, still alive despite having spent up to 30 minutes in the 56-degree water. She was taken to the hospital, where her condition continues to improve.

Stott-Smith was found later that morning, around ten, on the ninth floor of a downtown Portland parking garage. When the police confronted her, she threatened to jump, but was talked out of it and taken into custody.

The following Tuesday, she is to be arraigned at 2 PM. I arrive at 1:30, and walk in just behind a photographer for the Oregonian. Doug and I are the only two people in the gallery. When one of the women working on the other side of the divider ask if we're with the Oregonian, Doug says yes and I say, "Not yet." I am there simply because I am compelled.

Doug and I are joined by James, a cameraman for Channel 12. We talk about whether Stott-Smith will appear with her face down or facing forward; what her condition might be and what caused her to do this; we talk about other cases, other murders. We talk about the helplessness of schizophrenics, and the coolness and calculation of psychopaths.

"When they start letting people in, it's going to get really crowded," says Doug, which is when I realize, I'd ridden his draft; I am not supposed to be in the room yet at all; that they let in the photographers early in order that they might secure good angles.

At 2:10, the room fills, with 22 people on four rows of pew-like benches. One of the deputies in city-park-green uniform tells people, no cells phones, no cameras, or we'll be asked to leave. I see only one laptop. There are perhaps four reporters there, tops. I am not sure who the other people are. But I think perhaps the young man in the back row, the one flanked by two women and snuffling loudly, is related to Stott-Smith in some way; he looks as though he's been crying. If he is here because of her, or is some relation to her, I think, I want to speak with him. I glance back. He meets my eye.

There are a dozen people on the other side of the divide, women filing and talking and using computers. Something one of them says makes them laugh, and I think, this seems an affront, in light of what's happened; it seems almost cruel, but then I think, it's another workday for them, and how, in fact, I'd like to write about one of them, perhaps the heavy-set one drinking a diet Shasta. I'd like to know how she lives through her days.

I look back again at the young man. I give a very small, hopefully respectful smile. He gives me one back. I think, if I can get him in the hall later, I will say, do you want to talk? And then we will talk, or I can walk him over to the Oregonian; I can stand in the lobby with him and his mother and who I think is his sister, and I can ask the receptionist to call upstairs to the Sunday Opinion editor, whom I know, and I will say to him, can you walk this young man upstairs to talk with whomever is writing about Stott-Smith? I will do this not for glory, but for the story.

A DA comes in and reads off ten names of people who are not facing criminal charges right now. I don't know what this means. The young woman next to me audibly exhales.

At 2:27, Judge Julia P. enters. We all rise. The DA tells her, she will be seeing three defendants today, whom I will call AH and NJA, in addition to Stott-Smith. They call AH. The young man in the back row, my snuffling boy, gets up -- he is AH. He's accused of third degree assault. He pleads not guilty. He's ordered to come back on such and such a date and then, he leaves. His tear-creased mother meets my gaze before she joins her son, and they all walk out. I think, they have no idea who they were on the docket with.

Next, from the back of the room and led in by a guard, is NJA, in prison blues. He's charged with murder. The judge asks if he can afford an attorney; he answers in the affirmative, but it seems he has misunderstood the question. She appoints him an attorney and instructs that he will reappear on June 3rd, 9:30 AM.

The judge is informed that Stott-Smith is not yet ready to appear. Instead, it's W, also in prison blues, tall, lanky, with rocker-boy hair. He's accused of possessing heroin; the judge asks if he understands this.

" 'K," says W.

He is told, he can go to the STOP program, and then come and report back to her. W says to a woman near him, who speaks for him to the judge, "Will I be released today." She says, he will.

"Cool," he says.

Next is another young man, charged I think with second degree assault, though some priors may move it up to a felony. The judge asks whether he can afford a lawyer.

"It depends on how much it costs," he says.

"Do you have a bank account?" asks the judge.

"Yes."

"And how much is in it?"

"Well, it's overdrawn," he says. The judge assigns him a lawyer.

All four have been dispensed within maybe eight minutes.

Stott-Smith is led in by two guards. She is wearing a sleeveless forest-green top; it's hard to tell, because she's in the corner and flanked by the guards as well as a tall attorney, if this is prison issue. She is not looking down. She has a wide, coffee-with-cream-colored face, and her thick glossy hair is loose and not untidy. Her expression is unreadable from this distance, besides to see, she is not smiling, nor is she crying. What she is going through, where she finds herself now, is as yet unnameable. I imagine it's like being pinned in chaos, no release, no relief, no hope of being let go.

The judge reads the charges: aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder. She asks the lawyer to speak.

"I am James ______," he says, and adds that he is here as a courtesy for attorney somebody G; I wish I heard the first name but I am too busy looking at Stott-Smith. She looks worn. She looks as though standing is taking some effort, as though the weight of her shoulders is dragging her forward and down.

"Do you understand the nature of the charges against you?" the judge asks. Stott-Smith does not answer. The judge says again, "Do you understand the charges against you?" This time, Stott-Smith appears to move her lips, but all that comes out is a syllable that sounds like, "Muh."

The judge orders Stott-Smith to remain in custody until she reappears on June 3rd, 9:30 AM. Stott-Smith is physically turned by the guards, and moves back out the door as though she were moving through deep water.

Part II: On the Bridge

Part III: "Honeymoon's Over"

Part IV: The Mom Next to You

Part V: Amanda Stott-Smith Changes Her Plea to Guilty

May 26, 2009

Photography by photo teachers

TrammellwithFlag.jpgOn June 6, an exhibition will open on the Miracle Mile of pictures taken by Los Angeles high school and college photo teachers. When do we get to see their work? They devote themselves to helping their students create memorable images, and too often their own talents go unappreciated, says Tracey Landworth, founder of Creative Photography Workshop and Gallery.

This is her first exhibition at the new space across from LACMA at 6022 Wilshire Boulevard. She also offers classes for all levels of photographers. Landworth will donate 25% of the sales price on any photo to P.S. Arts, which is dedicated to restoring arts education in public schools.

This image, by Gail Brown of Valley College and L.A. City College, is of a tour guide named Trammell at the Watts Towers.

An interview with Amy Scattergood, food writer

The most recent round of cuts at the Los Angeles Times included my favorite food writer, Amy Scattergood. The still stellar Food Section just isn't the same without her contributions. Her work was well-written, deeply researched and often included original recipes like the one for a North African hot sauce called harissa, a fan favorite. It turns out that she's a triple-threat; she's a published poet with an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop who went on to train at the California School of Culinary Arts. She also has a masters in religion from the Yale Divinity School. No wonder her recipes taste divine.

Lucky for us, she has a blog, called "1000 Bread, 1000 Cattle". She's also writing cookbooks. She's co-authored a whole grain baking book, Good to the Grain, with pastry chef, Kim Boyce, arriving early next year from Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

What do you miss about Iowa?

What do I miss about Iowa? Snow. Tornados. Empty roads.


How did you end up in Southern California? Why stay here?

Foodwise, you can get everything here that you can get in Iowa, much more in fact. The corn and apples are better there, in my opinion, simply because you can walk outside and pick them yourself, and the Amish and Mennonites make amazing butter.

I ended up in LA because I used to be married to a screenwriter; I stay here because we have kids and this is where his work and family are. Also because I really like proximity to the Pacific and taco trucks.

How did you get the LA Times writing gig?

I started at the LAT as an unpaid culinary school intern. I was supposed to work in the [test] kitchen, but started writing stories as soon as I got there, as I had a writing degree and my editor didn't have to pay me for cover stories, which she very much appreciated.

What was the most difficult food writing assignment you had?

The most difficult writing assignment ever? It was about married chefs, and I hated writing it because I had to ask chefs about their personal relationships. Some of the chefs in question were divorced (from each other) and I had to ask them about that, which was absolutely none of my business. Everyone was very polite, but it was perfectly awful.

You are writing a cookbook, can you divulge any details?

I just finished working on a cookbook with Kim Boyce. It's a whole grain baking book, due out early next year from Stewart, Tabori & Chang. Kim used to be pastry chef at Campanile and Spago; she's an awesome baker and her book is going to be fantastic.

What are your LA favorites? Favorite farmer's market, grocery store, place for a well-cooked meal, place to get wine?

My favorite farmers market in LA is the Wednesday Santa Monica market; favorite grocery store is Trader Joe's (there you go--no Trader Joe's in Iowa, at least 5 years ago; I'd go to Chicago just to load up). My favorite restaurants in LA are Mozza and the Hungry Cat, although I miss L B Steak House, which was my favorite place to eat in Iowa. I don't know if it's still there, but it was in West Branch, Iowa, the little town where I grew up outside of Iowa City; John Madden used to detour his bus off of I-80 just for the massive grill-your-own steaks.

What's the most expensive thing you've burned?

The most expensive thing I've ever burned? I don't tend to burn things, but I did overcook a whole sturgeon once, which was tragic.

How would you create an edible cookbook?

An edible cookbook? I'd pipe out a recipe in chocolate on top of a gateau of some sort. Too high concept for my tastes, personally.

Did you go to culinary school intent on becoming a food writer?

I went to culinary school as the occupational therapy part of a mid-life crisis; I had no idea what I was going to do.

How well does a culinary education prepare you for food writing--do they offer classes in recipe writing now or food journalism?

Does cooking school prepare you for food writing? I don't know that cooking school prepares you for much these days--most of them are 21st century debtors prisons. When I was there, it was full of kids who wanted to be Bobby Flay and have their own Food Network show; they had no idea they'd be working for minimum wage with massive student loans instead. People should go apprentice in restaurants if they want to learn how to cook. And they're sure not going to learn how to write at a culinary school.

May 25, 2009

We remember

March 1945

No one knows where, exactly, Memorial Day began. The question of when is easier to answer -- it started with the Civil War, with unplanned and unprompted gestures of respect for the fallen soldiers on both sides of the Mason Dixon line.

Decoration Day, it was called then, and the families and loved ones of the fallen would do just that, decorate the soldiers' graves with flags and flowers. It all became official in May of 1868, and the first Memorial Day ceremony took place at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30. So many wars and so many lives later, the same ceremony is taking place there today.

What can you do to honor the war dead? Hang a flag, attend a ceremony, or read about the history of the day. You can visit the LA Times' remarkable online memorial (the comments are so moving) to Californians who have perished in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; visit the Washington Post's memorial, which covers all 50 states; or read about the volunteers at Riverside National Cemetery reciting aloud the names of all 148,000 military veterans and soldiers buried there. Here's the story in the local paper, the Press Enterprise, and here's the piece in the NY Times.

That's my dad in the photo, the guy on the right, a 19-year-old in the French infantry, somewhere in Germany in 1945.

May 24, 2009

Memorial Day prayer for Charlie and Buffalo Bill*

In 1887, a troupe of horses crossed the Atlantic, sailing out of New York harbor as excited crowds looked on and a cowboy band played "The Girl I Left Behind Me," a tune that some of the horses, perhaps cavalry veterans, may have recognized. But this time, they were not heading off to war. They were traveling to the Old World, to re-enact scenes from a war they had helped to win. They were part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, nearly two-hundred of them, along with 18 buffalo, various mules, elk, Texas steers, donkeys, and deer, as well as Buffalo Bill himself, Annie Oakley, King of the Cowboys Buck Taylor, and nearly 100 Lakota men, women, and children.

The great horseman Buffalo Bill had not fully figured the needs of the equine stars of his show, on this, his first sojourn overseas. Belowdecks, the ventilation was poor and they - the wind-drinkers as Native Americans called them - had trouble breathing. In a last ditch effort, the crew of the State of Nebraska cut holes through the timber hull so the horses could survive. The first life-saving streams of air filled their starving lungs, but although replenished, their instinct would have been to flee; the information they received, the scent, would have been one of no-land, no-grasses on which to feed, but of course their escape route was blocked. Several buffalo and elk did not survive the crossing and were thrown overboard. On the seventh day, wrote Buffalo Bill, a storm came up that raged so fiercely that for a time the ship had to lay to, and during which our stock suffered greatly, but we gave them such good care, and had such excellent luck as well, that none of our animals, save one horse, died on the trip.

Another one, 19-year-old Charlie, a favorite of Buffalo Bill's, was about to put on his last show. Charlie, aka Charlie Almost Human, was a half-blood Kentucky horse purchased as a five-year-old in Nebraska. Charlie was an animal of almost human intelligence, extraordinary speed, endurance and fidelity, Cody wrote. When the horse was young, he rode him on a wild horse hunt, chasing the herd down after a 15-mile chase. Once, someone bet Bill $500 that he couldn't ride Charlie across a 100-mile stretch of prairie in ten hours. Charlie went the distance in nine hours and forty-five minutes. When Grand Duke Alexis visited the frontier on his famous buffalo hunt, he asked Buffalo Bill for a good horse. Cody handed him the reins to Charlie.

As Buffalo Bill sailed into port in 1887, Spain was about to lose Mexico to the US, the West had been fenced in, and the Indian was not just vanishing but nearly purged from his homeland. The children of England had accomplished much since the Boston Tea Party and now on board the State of Nebraska, they were met by a tug flying American colors. The passengers cheered and the cowboy band struck up "Yankee Doodle."

At the Albert Dock, the astonishing traveling version of the Horse Nations debarked, including Mustang Jack and Cherokee Bill and Mr. and Mrs. Walking Buffalo, Mr. and Mrs. Eagle Horse, Moccasin Tom, Blue Rainbow, Iron Good Voice, Mr. and Mrs. Cut Meat, Double Wound, the visionary Black Elk, and the sea-weary animals, and all headed to London where they would reside for the next several months in a huge camp next to a specially built arena. The encampment was frequently visited by royals, regular citizens, and reporters, all thrilled by the noble savages of the American frontier, red and white man alike. Of the cowboy Buck Taylor, a London reporter was moved to write in rhyming couplets:

The Cowboy King, Buck Taylor
Is quite an equine Nailer
What man dare he will dare O
Pick up his wide sombrero,
From off the ground
While at full bound
His steed away does tear O!

The Indians too received much coverage in this 19th Century media circus, with gallons of ink spilled over their novel appearance, and barely a trickle exploring the story behind the show. Many had joined the show as a way to make money at $25 per month, it paid more than reservation jobs but less than what cowboys earned. Others, such as Black Elk, had joined up for the adventure and for the knowledge. "I wanted to see the great water," he would say later, "the great world and the ways of the white men; this is why I wanted to go. I made up my mind - I was going away to see the white man's ways. If the white man's ways were better, why I would like to see my people go that way. Equally popular among spectators and reporters were the horses, especially the bucking broncos, including a gray horse from Wyoming named Pat Crow, who came to be known as the "horse that bucked around the world."

But perhaps most of all, everyone came to see Charlie, who had been the star of the Wild West show since it opened in 1883. At the Wild West camp, Buffalo Bill would race Charlie across the grounds, shooting glass balls that had been tossed up as targets. The Prince of Wales was evidently so taken with Charlie that while visiting the camp, he asked for the saddle to be removed so he could make a closer inspection. Grand Duke Michael of Russia, cousin of Alexis, showed up to ride Charlie and chase buffalo. And The English Metropolitan welcomed the frontier horses with breathless prose, in an article entitled "Mustangs, Horses, Mules, Some 250 Animals, 166 Horses."
"These are not remarkable for height or the ordinary points of thoroughbreds," the paper said, "but they possess staying powers than an English racer does not. They are suitable for riding unshod over rough country for many miles together. Bronco horses, mustangs, or buck jumpers are to be seen here - animals that have never been, and never can be tamed; whose kick is death, and upon whose back no man could remain for a moment."

In the past, when Queen Victoria asked for a command performance, the theater came to her. Now, Grandmother England, as the Indians called her, came to the theatre to Buffalo Bill, although even he acknowledged that the Wild West show was too big to bring to Windsor Castle. The queen paid homage to the Native American members of the show, and in return, as Black Elk later recounted, "They sent out the women and men's tremolo and all sang her a song - it was a most happy time!" The company put on its dazzling show, which always began with Buffalo Bill galloping into the ring, dressed in buckskin and sombrero, bringing his horse to a halt, doffing his sombrero and announcing: "Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to introduce to you a congress of rough riders!" - and then the mounted cast would parade through, and proceed to present American history by way of five epochs,from the Forest Primeval, in which Indians and animals living together before the arrival of Columbus, to Custer's Last Stand, which featured some of the Indians who were in the actual battle and then Buffalo Bill galloping onto the scene with the words "Too Late!" projected onto a screen behind the giant mural of the battle.

At the conclusion of the performance, Cody presented Red Shirt to the Queen, followed by two Indian women whose papooses were strapped to their shoulders. The red babies were passed up and petted,Cody later recalled. Queen Victoria was so taken with the show that she ordered another command performance. Within days, General Sherman received word of the success of the spectacle and wrote to Buffalo Bill. "I am especially pleased," he said, "with the compliment paid you by the Prince of Wales, who rode with you in the Deadwood coach while it was attacked by Indians and rescued by cowboys. Such things did occur in our days, but they never will again."

Half-way back to America, 21-year-old Charlie became ill. Plenty of horses live well past 21 and the record indicates that no one knows what befell the equine superstar. But with the frontier tamed and the country having less use for the horse, hundreds of thousands of Charlie's own kind would soon be rounded up and sent to the front for the first wars of the 20th Century. While the Atlantic crossing did not take Buffalo Bill's ship as far south as the horse latitudes where conquistadors once threw horses overboard to lighten their load as they crossed to the New World, the half-way point would have placed the ship directly due north of that deadly region, and perhaps, as sailors have reported hearing the moans and wails of those who have been claimed by the seas, Charlie too heard a distant nicker on the wind, the last notes of a panicked whinny, calling from the lower depths, echoes of another era in which conquistadors had thrown their steeds into the part of the ocean that came to be called the horse latitudes, in order to lighten their loads.

By all accounts, Charlie went quickly. Buffalo Bill had gone belowdecks on the morning of May 14, 1888 to give him some sugar. Less than an hour later, the groom reported that Charlie was sick. Cody went down again and noticed that he had a chill. "In spite of all we could do," Cody wrote, "he grew rapidly worse and at two o'clock on the morning of May 17 he died." The crew took him to the main deck, wrapped him in a canvas shroud, and covered him with an American flag. He lay in state that day and everyone reminisced about their times with the horse. Cody stood alone near Charlie and was heard to say the following:

"Old fellow, your journeys are over. Obedient to my call, gladly you bore your burden on, little knowing, little reckoning what the day might bring, shared sorrows and pleasures alike. Willing speed, tireless courage, you have never failed me. Ah, Charlie, old fellow, I have had many friends, but few of whom I could say that I loved you as you loved me. Men tell me you have no soul; but if there is a heaven and scouts can enter there, I'll wait at the gate for you, old friend."

At eight o'clock that evening, candles were lit and with all hands and members of the Wild West show assembled, the band played "Auld Lang Syne." Charlie was lowered into the water, his bones laid bare over time and perhaps borne by current toward the grave of his ancestors - and the ship's cannon boomed farewell.

When it was all over - the traveling, the re-enactments - Buffalo Bill came to Hollywood to participate in the new myth-making machinery, and produce a movie called "The Indian Wars." Among other things, it featured General Miles and the cavalry acting out the massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee, with everyone playing themselves. The film fared poorly, criticized by Indians for excluding women and children from the massacre scene and not appreciated by whites, who were not moved by the anti-climactic ending in which Indians were assimilated and went to school, instead of going on the warpath. The strange relic is said to have disappeared, with a few remnants rumored to exist somewhere, a celluloid anti-grail that bears nothing transformative or magical.

With the failure of his film and the vanishing of the Wild West show, Buffalo Bill got sick and prepared for his final scene, calling in his friends for a last round of poker just before he died in 1917. Although he wanted to be buried in Wyoming, the Denver Post paid his wife $10,000 to have him buried in Colorado, so that's where he was laid to rest, on Lookout Mountain in the town of Golden, overlooking the plains. Months earlier, so many people had gathered for Buffalo Bill's funeral that the country had its first traffic jam - or so newspapers reported.

His body was carried by caisson past a sea of spectators, escorted by fellow members of an Elk Lodge in top hats. One of his favorite horses, McKinley, followed the caisson. When the casket was lifted and carried into the Lodge, according to a witness, McKinley tried to break free from his handler. As the Lodge doors closed, the horse whinnied, bolted, and ran to the caisson, like Sitting Bull's horse, looking for his rider. Then he sniffed and whinnied again. The handler grabbed his reins and led McKinley away. But he turned his head and stared at the doors, longing for Buffalo Bill.

*This was first posted last year on Memorial Day, excerpted from Deanne's book,
Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, a Los Angeles Times "best book 08," winner of the Caifornia Book Award silver medal for nonfiction, and ravely reviewed in the Atlantic Monthly, Economist, Orion, Seattle Times, NPR's On Point, Tucson Citizen, and many other places. It was just published in a new, softcover edition. America's wild horses, spiritual, historical, and possibly direct descendants of Buffalo Bill's horses, remain under siege, stranded in government housing and facing voracious round-ups. A new bill that seeks to protect them, HR 1018, is now heading to the House floor for debate, as the country struggles to retain its vanishing heritage.

May 19, 2009

Clippers win draft lottery

The fortunes of the Clippers changed dramatically today after they won the NBA Draft Lottery. They are almost certain to take Blake Griffin from Oklahoma.

Griffin has the capability to be an All-Star Forward, and should be a great player for a long time. I don't think he's quite as good as Karl Malone, but in my opinion he'll have a better career than Elton Brand. When you pair Griffin with Eric Gordon, the Clippers suddenly have a terrific young nucleus.

Flash forward to five years from now when Kobe Bryant will be 35 and the Lakers will either be old or rebuilding. If Griffin and Gordon live up to their potential, then the Clippers will be a regular playoff team by then.

Of course the Clippers have a spectacular history of dysfunction, and it's plausible this pick will somehow blow up in their faces. The last time the Clippers had the first overall pick, they selected Michael Olowokandi over Mike Bibby, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce.

This year, they'll have to figure out what to do about a crowded front-court with Griffin, Zach Randolph, Chris Kaman, and Marcus Camby. Expect one of the latter three to be traded.

But for now, it's an exciting time to be a Clipper fan.

LA Press Club to honor Huffington

Take me to the kool-aid and pour me a double because the only way I'm going to be able to understand this one is with chemical assistance.

Next month, the Los Angeles Press Club, of which I have been a member for many years, will hold its 51st Annual Southern California Journalism Awards gala honoring Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, among others.

Yep. Arianna Huffington.

Yep. This year. Next month. June 14.

Not that Huffington doesn't deserve to be recognized by her peers with "the prestigious 2009 President's Award." Her Web site has attracted a large audience, is consistently well done, and, personally, I think she's a fine human being, I mean, as far as I can tell. It's not like we move in the same circles but, from what I've seen and heard, she seems like someone I'd enjoy having a few imported beers with.

But of all years to honor Arianna Huffington ...

Surely the Press Club's deciders are aware of all the cutbacks in journalism, particularly in the newspaper industry. So, they have to be aware that Huffington has caught some serious flack lately for borrowing bits of media content, or, as Gawker put it, for "jacking other people's content."

Even people who've never set foot in a newsroom have heard all that stuff.

Huffington denies she's to blame for any of the newspaper industry's woes, and I'm not suggesting otherwise. Plenty of people, like Jack Shafer over at Slate, say it's a mistake to "get all huffy about the Huffington Post."

But, in a year when journalists have been laid off in record numbers, when their salaries have been cut, and their benefits have been reduced, wasn't there someone else the LA Press Club could have honored?

Ah, never mind.

Just hand me the kool-aid and let's make a toast to Arianna now because I already have a conflict the night of the gala and, even if I didn't, tickets are $125 per member and $250 for non-members and, whoa, that's not my circle either.

-- TJ Sullivan

May 17, 2009

Sports beat 5-17-09

The series from hell is finally over, as the Lakers beat the Rockets 89-70 to win Game 7. As noted in earlier posts, I felt the Rockets posed a tough matchup for the Lakers, and said this series could very well go the distance. What I didn't expect was for the Lakers to come out with a marginal effort in Games 4 and 6, and suddenly make everyone question whether they have the heart and will to win a championship.

The Lakers should learn from this Rockets series some tips on how to adjust their basketball operations department. The Rockets have MBAs serving up a heavy dose of computer and statistical analysis that allowed a team without its two best players to push the Lakers to the limit. Basketball is changing, and the Lakers should invest in the same technology and analytical methods as the Rockets if they want to continue to be one of the premier teams in the league.

Moving onto the Western Conference Finals, I like this matchup for the Lakers. Yes, the Denver Nuggets have been impressive in their first two series, but they haven't been tested. In the first round, they beat a New Orleans Hornets team that was imploding. In the second round they beat a mediocre Dallas team that only went that far because Manu Ginobili got hurt. And that series could have easily gone another game or two had there not been a blown call at the end of Game 3, which the NBA admitted was the wrong call.

Chauncey Billups does pose some matchup problems for the Lakers, but I really think they can contain the Nuggets by clamping down on Carmelo Anthony. This could be Trevor Ariza's chance to shine defensively. I don't see Kenyon Martin being able to stop Pau Gasol, and if Bynum plays like he did in Games 5 and 7, then his matchup with Nene is effectively a wash. At the end of the day though, I'd be shocked if Denver is able to contain Kobe Bryant the way that Houston did.

My prediction: Lakers in 5.


-- The more articles that come out on Manny, the more likely it seems that he was just using an illegal performance-enhancing substance. This week's LA Times, reported that no HCG was found in Ramirez's test. They also spoke to a medical expert who said that DHEA, would not have significantly raised the testosterone in Ramirez's system enough to cause the test to be flagged.

Furthermore, I spoke to another physician very familiar with the effects of DHEA, and learned that there is no actual evidence proving that DHEA improves athletic performance. DHEA is a safe and legal steroid (although the IOC bans it), and it would make little sense for a seemingly healthy adult male professional athlete to take. Regardless, the Times article reports that Ramirez's tests showed no traces of DHEA. It would seem that Ramirez's story about taking DHEA for elevated testosterone levels would not have worked.

In the meantime, Manny has not addressed his fans who continue to lovingly adore him and support him. And his speech to his teammates was reportedly awkward and lacking in information. I doubt we'll get much more out of him.

The most logical explanation right now is that Ramirez likely took a banned substance in the offseason, which for him was longer than normal due to his contract situation. The substance that he took was either undetectable by baseball's drug test, or out of his system by the time he took the test in spring training. (I know that MLB does some testing in the offseason, but I'm not sure if they test free agents) Still, during the test in spring training, his testosterone level was still elevated, as I've been told that sometimes it can remain elevated for several weeks after taking a steroid. Right now, it would seem Ramirez is most embarrassed and upset that he got caught, and he has little motivation to offer specific details.

So in all likelihood, Ramirez will play come July 3, say very little about what happened, offer some non-descriptive apologies to the fans, and Dodger fans will probably welcome him back if he hits well.

In the meantime, the Dodgers have won their last two series after beating the Marlins 12-5 today.


-- I have no idea whether Tim Floyd paid Rodney Guillory $1,000 to get OJ Mayo to come to USC, but my first reaction to the story was: "It only cost $1,000 to get OJ Mayo to come to USC?"

If that's the case, then where was Lute Olson with the $1,500 check?

Recent comments from a former USC player and manager make the allegations seem somewhat less plausible, but they're out there and will be hard to refute and hard to prove.

Either way, with all of the attention recently focused on the USC athletic department, I find it hard to believe that the NCAA won't come down with some kind of penalty. They need to prove to the public that they haven't ignored this. At the same time, they recognize the importance of USC to college football, and it's unlikely they'll come down too hard on the Trojans. The allegations against USC are damning, but hard to prove that the school knowingly engaged in any wrongdoing.

My guess is that the NCAA will cite USC for a "lack of institutional control" and take away few scholarships while putting both football and basketball programs on probation. I also thing that the penalties against the basketball program will be slightly more severe.

In the meantime, the USC basketball program has seen a dramatic turn of events in the last two months. After nearly defeating national runner-up Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament, Tim Floyd told his players of the great things they could accomplish together next year. The next day he took a plane to Tucson, only to later turn down the Arizona job (and I'm sure they're thrilled he declined).

USC then lost top recruit Solomon Hill to Arizona of all schools. And then they had to back off of their other top recruit Renardo Sydney. Now DeMar DeRozan is going to the NBA. Taj Gibson looks like he'll join him (albeit in the second round). And Daniel Hackett wishes he could join them in the pros, but I'll be he'll be a pro in Italy.

That leaves Dwight Lewis serving as the team captain for a squad that will feature Nikola Vucevic, Leonard Washington, Marcus Simmons, UNC transfer Alex Stepheson, and rapper 'Lil Romeo. They've suddenly gone from a Final Four contender to a team that will be lucky to go over .500.


-- Apparently not everything is peachy with the renovation plans for Pauley Pavilion. Aside from the squabbles over interior design, row length, and concourse size, donors and long-time season ticket holders could be fighting over seats in the renovated building. My guess is they'll solve this dilemma by moving students further away from the floor.


-- The upcoming "Moneyball" movie, starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane will also feature comedian Demetri Martin as former Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta. I like Martin, but really? Demetri Martin as Paul DePodesta? Was Paul Rudd unavailable? He looks way more like DePodesta. Anyhow, I hope Martin does a great job of playing DePodesta, who I still believe was unfairly judged during his time in LA. DePodesta did struggle with the media, but they were after him from the start.

May 13, 2009

Student's eye on the city

Observing an L.A. Photographer: eighth in a series. This time, a student inspired by Los Angeles.

gentrypotluck.jpgArt Center College of Design photography student Jessie Gentry is fascinated by Los Angeles' history and multitude of neighborhoods, especially the city's grittier sides. She is a native Angeleno who mostly explores the areas between downtown and Hollywood, sometimes by car, sometimes by bicycle in order to be closer to the street and discover the "layers of human experience." She is a photographer who prefers to hang out in MacArthur Park over Old Town Pasadena.

Gentry, 24, admires directors David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock and the dark and disturbing art of Cindy Sherman. So it's no surprise that she likes to control every aspect of her images: portraits, nudes, and tableaux with a mysterious, often spooky quality. Her current project is a series inspired by news accounts of Los Angeles women who were murdered by their husbands. The photographs show the locations where the crimes took place.

miura.jpg

"This project was specifically inspired by my fascination with the news and the way it is mediated, much like images. I'm attempting to memorialize these women through researching their murders and piecing together details to locate them in the real space of Los Angeles." Because of the time-consuming nature of producing these photographs, she only has two so far -- and a notebook full of potential future subjects.

"To find my subjects I search news stories, bypassing anything that has become a huge media spectacle, choosing to focus on the unknown," Gentry says. "The more I study images and image-making the more apparent it becomes that an image carries several meanings, apart from the face value. I explore this by using images to create narrative."

gentryrun.jpgShe chose to study at Art Center for the most practical of reasons. After an exhaustive search of Los Angeles photography schools, she was convinced that Art Center would give her the technical training she needed to thrive as a professional. And she felt that if her quirky style and subject matter presented a problem for her teachers, "we'd work it out between us."

So far, so good. One area of common ground with her instructors is her love of traditional film. "I'm in the club that thinks film will always look better than digital. Also, it's nice to be more physical, to be able to deal with a material rather than just a set of numbers. Instructors at Art Center are excited when you use film." She shoots on film and prints digitally.

Gentry is thinking of going to film school after graduation, possibly on the East Coast. This would seem a natural progression, given her highly orchestrated scenes and cinematic lighting. For now, she has unfinished business with Los Angeles. By visiting the crime scenes, her photographs and the city have become intertwined and, like a good movie director, it seems logical that she would want to bring all of this to some sort of interesting conclusion before she moves on. Hitchcock would have been intrigued.

All photos by Jessie Gentry. Click on images to view larger.

Top: The Potluck, June 2008.

Middle: Scene of Kazumi Miura's 1981 murder on North Fremont Avenue in downtown Los Angeles.

Bottom: Untitled tableaux, 2008.

The confessions of Daniel Baum

I was cruising around online last Friday when I came across Dan Baum's narrative of his firing as a staff writer for The New Yorker. He was telling the story on Twitter, an event that, for a certain strata of the journalistic world, made for provocative if not scintillating reading, to wit:

"My gig was a straight dollars-for-words arrangement: 30,000 words a year for $90,000. And the contract was year-to-

"Year."

I was riveted. This was The New Yorker, a publication with no masthead, that does not reveal its deep pool of staff writers, and here was Baum, naming names.

I sent Baum's Twitter link to my sister-in-law and fellow journalist. The moment I hit "send" (and before she could respond that she was reading "on the edge of my seat!"), an email popped through from my pal Kevin Allman, editor of the New Orleans alt-weekly the Gambit, who'd just put up a blog post about Baum's tweets.

"Telling the story of losing your job in 140-character posts on Twitter is a whole lot of things, none of which seems like a remotely good idea for a teenager fired from a fast-food gig, much less a national magazine correspondent," Allman wrote, concluding that Baum's "meticulous, microscopic story of losing a job he loved seems the work of a man under a tremendous amount of pressure, using the Internet as a therapist."

I wrote Allman back saying, I bet there's a method to Baum's madness; that his post-Katrina book, Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans, had been released in February, and maybe he was using what weapons he had in his arsenal to promote it, a position Baum verified when he commented on Allman's post:

It's a gimmick, yes, and I hope it sells books, sure. But it's also galled me a bit, as a reporter, that the New Yorker pulls a veil of secrecy over itself to rival the NSA. I mean, it's a very good magazine, but it's just a magazine.

I later emailed Baum (whom I do not know) with the idea I might write an editorial about what it takes these days to sell a book. He wrote back that traffic on his website was "pretty low" and he thought Twitter might spread the word a little faster. As for pulling back the curtain on The New Yorker:

When [New Yorker editor David] Remnick fired me, somebody from Gawker called and I was very careful not to burn bridges. I put all the blame on myself and said I hoped I could win my job back. What I got instead was a scolding from the magazine for revealing the top-secret information that New Yorker writers operate on a year-to-year contract. It's clear that Remnick will never have me back at the magazine, so really, what further harm can he cause me? Especially now, when any such attempt would be newsworthy?

I felt for Baum, though what he was doing was for me queasy-making. Maybe it's because I've been a freelancer my whole career, and when junior writers ask for advice, I invariably say: be courteous, make your editors' lives easier, get your work in on time, and remember, it's not your magazine.

Baum stopped tweeting the New Yorker narrative midway on Friday, with the promise to resume Monday. In the meantime, I kept an eye on his stats: when I checked his Twitter followers on Friday, there were 250. By Tuesday, there were 2201. More important, Nine Lives's sales rank on Amazon.com was 5171 on Saturday, and 2704 on Tuesday. If his objective had been to sell books, he'd been successful.

But I thought, as I resumed reading Monday, at what cost? Baum's tweets were by turns hopeful and remorseful; accusatory and resigned - you can read the entire narrative in order, though it's not as much of a nail-biter as reading it backwards, in spurts - and while I thought I'd be interested to learn more about what goes on inside the editorial sanctum sanctorum, I found myself wanting to look away. I did not want to see The New Yorker in any state of undress, or rather, one writer's version of that undress, and started to feel sympathy not toward Baum (who, as he tells it, really did muck up things with Remnick) but the magazine.

This no longer seemed as much a case of the lengths an author will go to promote his book, as a good way to wreck a career. What editor would want to work with a writer who, once fired, decides to tell all? Did Baum not anticipate the blowback, including a rejoinder from someone who should know?

But then I thought, perhaps sales were never the point. If, as Kevin Allman wrote, Baum felt under tremendous pressure, maybe he chose to cloak confession as marketing gimmick. And if it enough people read it, maybe he would no longer feel the chill of being locked out of a place that for him was "the ne plus ultra of journalism gigs. Like everybody, I loved it." Maybe he wanted the world to know that, in its way, the magazine had once loved him, too.

May 11, 2009

Sports beat 5-11-09

The Lakers 99-87 loss to the Houston Rockets yesterday was both embarrassing and disturbing. While I've seen Laker championship teams come out and lay an egg like this in the past, it's incredibly disappointing that this team displayed no effort for three quarters. Unfortunately, we're seeing many of the problems that have held them back in recent years.

The listless performance was absolutely shocking, considering the Lakers had to know that a solid win yesterday would have crushed the Rockets spirit and prevented them from a necessary return flight to Houston. Yao Ming is an important part of the Rockets, and he is an inside presence that's hard to defend. But Houston did win 22 games in a row without him last year, and Rick Adelman has coached his team well through injuries.

Without Yao, the Rockets are transformed into a running team, and the Lakers were caught flat-footed. I'm really surprised they weren't better prepared to play that style. For Game 5 though, Phil Jackson might want to consider inserting Jordan Farmar into the starting lineup. He has to be feeling confident after his best performance of the year in a Game 3 spot start, and he helps the Lakers to play at a quicker pace. Derek Fisher could be valuable stabilizing the second unit.

The Lakers wound up with 30 points (mostly in garbage time) from Pau Gasol, who needs to take advantage of his matchups with Chuck Hayes. But Lamar Odom's 2 point performance was exceptionally disappointing, and they need him to reappear if they're going to win this series, or any other. Unfortunately, he's only questionable for Game 5.

I still think the Lakers will win this series, but they had to feel ashamed of themselves yesterday.


--Both Bill Plaschke and Kurt Streeter have columns in the LA Times expressing surprise at the many Dodger fans who are supporting Manny Ramirez during his 50-game suspension. Plaschke claims that two-thirds of his e-mails are from fans ripping him for saying Manny should get out of town, and he says he's been physically threatened.

Plaschke hurls the ultimate insult at Dodger fans, comparing them to "Giants fans," while Streeter wonders if he's "out of touch."

First off, anyone who threatens bodily harm to Bill Plaschke is a real loser. But secondly, Streeter's intuition is right: the sports media is out of touch with today's fan. This Manny Ramirez story is just one of example of it.

I've been in the sports industry for a while, and I've studied it closely. I can't tell you how many times I've read a sports writer or listened to a sports talk host who claims to speak for the "fan," when I've seen seen information from market research, focus groups, surveys, relevant data, or even just basic conversations with fans that directly contradict how the media thinks the fan feels.

When you watch a game from the comfort of a pressbox, eat from a pre-game buffet, and talk about the game with other journalists, you're bound to see sports from a different perspective than the average fan. That doesn't mean sports journalists don't have valuable and insightful opinions. It doesn't meant that their opinions can't influence other fans. But sports journalists who think they know and understand the fan are often kidding themselves.


--Very interesting report that came through this evening on ESPN.com from Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn, two of the best investigative reporters out there. According to the report, Manny Ramirez did not test positive for any drug, but rather he tested positive for an elevated level of testosterone, which had been rumored a few days ago. A subsequent investigation revealed that Ramirez had been prescribed hCG, which is banned.

Fainaru-Wada and Quinn also report that Ramirez initially planned to defend himself by saying the elevated testosterone level was due to him taking him DHEA, a steroid similar to Androstenedione, but it's not actually banned. I have no idea why it isn't, but Andro is on the MLB banned list. After the hCG was found, then Ramirez and his camp realized they'd have to account for two substances and decided not to appeal the suspension.

This makes Ramirez's "personal health issue" seem even more preposterous. And I have yet to speak to a doctor who would prescribe hCG to a man for any legitimate reason.

This also goes to show how ineffective baseball's steroid policy is. They've been praised for not being afraid to go after a player of Ramirez's stature. But if DHEA isn't banned, and if there aren't tests for dozens of substances like HGH, then baseball's "steroid era" clearly isn't over.

In the meantime, Ramirez's silence over the issue is deafening. I'm glad he's spoken to Frank McCourt and Ned Colletti after going into hiding, but I'd argue that he does owe a truthful explanation to both his teammates and to the numerous fans who have been supporting him.


--Congratulations to the UC Irvine Anteaters on winning the National Championship in Men's Volleyball. John Speraw's club won a thriller over Bill Ferguson's USC squad. I've called a few USC men's volleyball games this season for USCTrojans.com and Ferguson has done a remarkable job of kickstarting that program.

But the story for right now is UC Irvine, which is quickly becoming an excellent athletics school. Two weeks ago, I went down to Irvine to broadcast a baseball game between USC and No. 1 ranked UC Irvine. Yes, that's right. UC Irvine has the No. 1 ranked baseball team in the country.

There were few empty seats at Anteater Ballpark that night, and plenty of kids and families were having a great time. UCI came from behind to beat USC 6-5. Under the leadership of former USC coach Mike Gillespie, the Anteaters will be favored to go to Omaha.


--UCLA unveiled plans today for its long overdue renovation of Pauley Pavilion. While we haven't seen any designs of the interior seating, let's hope they eliminate the absurdly long distance from the basket to the first row. I know UC money is tight right now, but there are few basketball venues in the country in greater need of renovation than Pauley Pavilion. It's hard for an elite program to continue using that facility.

In the meantime, congratulations to UCLA for winning the national title in women's water polo.

May 7, 2009

More on Manny

In the first game of the Manny Ramirez suspension, the Dodgers lost their first home game of the season. Although offense was clearly not the problem in an 11-9 loss.

There are a few more things we know about Ramirez, some of which is linked through Kevin Roderick's recent post on the main page of LA Observed. I've had plenty of Manny supporters come up to me today, and claim that he got caught on a technicality after trying to take a drug for sexual performance. I don't know if I believe that claim, but it does have some plausibility.

Ramirez reportedly tested positive in spring training for hCG, and it was only when a "B" Sample tested positive more recently, did baseball formally act. I've also heard reports that Ramirez didn't actually test positive for hCG, rather his tests showed elevated levels on testerone which led to an investigation discovering the prescription and usage of hCG.

Either way, if Ramirez tested positive in spring training, then it would lead one to believe that he was prescribed hCG in the offseason, when he was a free agent. Ramirez didn't actually sign a contract until March 4, so he was a free agent for longer than normal. During that time, he might not have had access to Dodgers medical personnel, so he might not have been able to ask if HCG was banned.

Still, Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times notes that all players have access to a hotline to ask about the legality of any substance. Although, knowing Manny's care-free personality, I'd be surprised if that number was saved in his cell phone. Additionally the Times' Michael Hiltzik reports that players can obtain a special waiver for taking certain necessary, but otherwise banned substances. Ramirez obviously did not seek any such exemption.

In the press conference earlier today, Ned Colletti and Joe Torre offered their support for Manny, while sulking in the disappointment. Colletti seemed to have no interest in a convoluted story and even praised Ramirez for taking responsibility for his actions.

"Whenever somebody makes a mistake and they accept responsibility . . . are contrite, it's a plus," Colletti said. "And that's what Manny did today. Had he dismissed it or acted like it was somebody else's fault, I'd really have a tough time with it. But that he takes ownership of what transpired speaks to the man . . . that's not bad . . . that's part of being human."

I agree with Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports though in expressing my extreme disappointment in Ramirez for not answering questions today. In his statement, Ramirez said: "I have been advised not to say anything more for now."

I don't think this is a legal investigation, so Ramirez should be at liberty to speak. We've seen that athletes who come out in front of a story and address the media as quickly as possible, are often forgiven more quickly, provided they tell the truth. Ramirez's decision to go into hiding, makes it seem as though he has something to hide, and could lead one to believe he's taking extra time to craft an excuse. And I bet it's only a matter of time before a shady Miami doctor comes out of the woodwork.

Stories aside though, unless we find legitimate evidence to the contrary, it's hard to believe this is anything other than athlete taking a drug to get an edge.

As for the Dodgers, there are still reasons to hope. The lineup without Manny might still be the best in the NL West, and saving $7 million (only $3 million in '09 because of deferred compensation) could allow them to add Pedro Martinez, which would be a mini PR victory.

If the Dodgers can just go .500 in their 50 games without Manny, then they would be 46-33, and likely still in first in the NL West by a decent margin. Heck, even if they went 20-30 over their next 50 games, then they'd be 40-38, and probably right in the thick of the race. The second-place Giants are currently 14-13. So the Dodgers' excellent start has helped a lot.

If Manny is extraordinarily remorseful in the public sphere, and comes back on July 3 with his same engaging personality, then it's certainly not outside the realm of possibility that numerous LA fans will welcome him back with open arms. And he'll theoretically be healthy when he returns, so he could still help the team. Fans are far more forgiving than certain members of the media. But still, no one wants to see this, and it's been the ultimate black eye for baseball and for the Dodgers organization.

Manny tests positive *

See more updates at the bottom of this post

Just yesterday things couldn't have been any better for the Dodgers. They had the best record in baseball and they had just set a Major League record for the best start at home. Now, this once promising season has suddenly taken a dramatic turn for the worst.

According to the LA Times this morning, Manny Ramirez has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and will immediately be suspended for 50 games. We don't yet know what substance he has tested positive for, nor do we know his explanation. However, I have reason to believe that a player can appeal a steroid suspension, so the fact that he reportedly hasn't leads me to think him, his agent Scott Boras, and the Dodgers organization don't believe it's an appeal he can win.

This news is absolutely devastating to the Dodgers. The team has been on cloud 9 ever since Manny came over from Boston and energized an organization and a fan base. He has helped bring the clubhouse together and his presence in the lineup has changed the way teams pitch to LA. It's one thing to lose Manny for 50 games, but it's quite another to lose him under these circumstances. With all of the scrutiny that will come from this, I'm not sure if the Dodgers can recover this season.


The news is also devastating for Manny personally. Financially, it will cost him $7.7 million alone this season. Most expected him to opt out after this season, when the economy would hopefully improve, and thought Ramirez would get the large pay day he wanted (not that his current contract wasn't already generous). Now I expect Manny to pick up his player option for next season at $25 million per, and he'll never get another large contract.

This also seriously jeopardizes Ramirez's Hall of Fame chances. With over 500 home runs, and no significant steroid rumors allegations until today, Manny was a lock for Cooperstown. But now, Ramirez will be lumped in with Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Alex Rodriguez as known steroid users with Hall of Fame numbers. It's obvious that the Hall of Fame has no idea how to evaluate the "steroid era" and if McGwire is any indication, they will just keep voting steroid users out until the tide of public opinion dramatically turns or they have a compelling reason to do otherwise. I've always said that baseball should appoint a blue ribbon panel to determine the Hall of Fame viability for steroid users in order to provide guidance for voters, but it doesn't seem like that will happen any time soon.

Ever since Manny came to LA, his performance has quite frankly been too good to be true. Yes, he was a fantastic hitter in Cleveland and Boston, but he hit .396 with 17 home runs in just 2 months last year. That's super-human, even for the best players. This year, he was off to another amazing start with a .492 OBP and a .641 slugging percentage at age 36. The local media and Dodger fans all wanted to believe that Manny's great numbers were a simply a function of him being happy in Los Angeles. I guess we know better now.

UPDATE 9:43 AM

According to a statement issued by Ramirez, the slugger claims the positive test was due to medication prescribed by a doctor. We still don't know what substance he has tested positive for, nor do we know what medication he was prescribed. But this story seems far-fetched at best.

The MLB banned drugs list is quite clear. Any player of Manny's stature would know to check any medication before taking it. And any doctor who would see a player of Manny's stature would also have to be aware of the banned drugs list and know what someone could test positive for.

If Ramirez's mistake were really that innocent, then I would expect the doctor to come out immediately with an apology, and I would have expected Ramirez to challenge the suspension considering what he has at stake.

I'm sure we'll know more details as this story progresses.


**UPDATE 2 PM**

Tim Brown and Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports (both formerly with the LA Times) report that a source close to Manny Ramirez claim he was prescribed a sexual enhancer to address his erectile dysfunction. If that is true, it would fall in line with his explanation that he saw a doctor in Miami for a "personal health issue."

Still, there are some pieces that don't quite fit. According to ESPN.com's Mark Fainaru-Wada and TJ Quinn, Ramirez used hCG, a female fertility drug that athletes can use as part of a steroid cycle to restart the body's natural testosterone production. So while hCG is not actually a steroid, nor human growth hormone, it would be used in connection with a steroid and it's on the MLB banned substances list.

So why on earth would a doctor prescribe a fertility drug to address erectile dysfunction? Brown and Henson's Yahoo story interview an expert who questions the prescription as well.

"Testosterone and similar drugs are effective for erectile dysfunction in that they jazz up your sex drive," said Charles Yesalis, a professor at Penn State who has testified before Congress on issues of performance-enhancing drugs. "But far more clinicians accept that affect with Viagra and Cialis. It's hard for me to understand if it was erectile dysfunction why they would use it."

It's hard to see this as anything other than what it is: a player using performance-enhancing drugs to get an edge. Most ballplayers are at their peak between the ages of 27 and 31, so for Ramirez to be having some of his best offensive production at age 36 is unusual, although certainly not impossible.

If Ramirez's story is true, they're going to have to find some doctor in Miami to answer to the media, and even then, I'm not sure how many people will believe Manny.

In the meantime, the "Mannywood" section of Dodgers.com has been taken down, and it probably won't be long before the Mannywood billboards come down around the city.

The Dodgers have scheduled a 4:30 PM press conference for today. I have no idea how the crowd (whoever shows up) will act tonight, nor do I know how the team will react. But remember, they have a record 13-game home winning streak on the line.

May 6, 2009

Dreaming big: an interview with author BJ Gallagher

Los Angeles-based inspirational author BJ Gallagher must be the most productive individual in the Southland. She has six books coming out in the first six months of this year:
Dancing in the Rain: The Power of Gratitude (Simple Truths;February);The World's Best Advice from the World's Wisest Women (Insight Editions; March);It's Never Too Late to be What You Might Have Been (Viva Editions/Cleis Press; April);The Best Way Out is Always Through: The Power of Perseverance (Simple Truths; May);What About Me? (Breakthrough Press; May);Why Don't I Do the Things I Know Are Good For Me? (Berkley/Penguin; June)

A prior career in diversity management and organizational development at the Los Angeles Times inspired her to write her first book, A Peacock in the Land of Penguins, an international bestseller. BJ also conducts seminars and personal development workshops. I first met her in 2004 at her weekly salon for creative women, L.A. Brain Exchange. Her latest book, It's Never Too Late to be What You Might Have Been, is a guidebook to getting the life you've always wanted and seems especially relevant to displaced media workers.

What are 3 concrete things journalists/media professionals can do to reinvent themselves after being laid off?


First, give up the notion of "job" and instead, adopt the idea of "earning" and "working." Regular 9 to 5 jobs are disappearing in newspaper journalism, but there is still work to do and people who will pay you to do it.

Second, be social. Stay connected with people. Join organizations; go to events; keep your eyes and ears open for people who can open doors for you.
Third, process your emotions in a constructive manner. It is normal to have all kinds of negative feelings during and after a layoff. Emotional baggage will trip you up in your search for new work, so deal with your emotions are quickly and effectively as possible.


Let's talk about your time at the Los Angeles Times. When was this and what were you telling managers as you trained them?

I was the Manager of Training and Organization Development from 1986 to 1991. It seems like eons ago, but actually, the issues they're dealing with today are the very same issues that were becoming apparent way back then. I taught managers about leadership, effective hiring practices, how to play to people's strengths, and about diversity - how to cultivate diversity, manage diverse people, and create a culture of pluralism at the paper.

What did you recommend that management do to see itself as in the information business? What was their response?

I saw myself as a change agent, but unfortunately, senior management didn't see my role that way. They just wanted me to help them keep the union out. Really, that's what my immediate boss told me one day. "If people happen to learn something, too, that's fine. But your role is to help keep this paper union-free." Needless to say, I was shocked and disappointed. I was capable of doing so much more. But you can't help an executive team that doesn't see the need for change. That's why I always felt like a peacock among this bureaucracy of short-sighted penguins.


What can the Los Angeles Times do now to get out of their current problems?

I'd tell them: "Give up the old paradigm before it kills you. You've been rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic for 20 years now and it's killing you. Give it up. The old newspaper paradigm is gone, long gone. You need a new paradigm, but unfortunately, you can find that paradigm unless you take a radically new path." Einstein said it best: "A problem cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it." The newspaper penguins keep trying to solve their problems but they can't - because they're the very penguins that created the mess they're in. They need a peacock, or a loon, or some other wild and crazy bird to show them a new paradigm.

Do you think the "Chinese Wall" hinders true communication and collaboration between the sales/business side and editorial sides of the LA Times?

Ah yes, separation of church and state - more of the same old penguin paradigm. If you're really going to reinvent your business, you have to be willing to let go of everything you think you know - everything you fervently believe - and start from scratch. You have to be willing to go back to zero and begin again. The game has changed and you must change, too, or die. It's economic Darwinism.

I wish I could be more optimistic about newspapers in general, and the Times in particular, but I see no evidence over the past 20+ years that they have the ability or willingness to adapt to the new landscape that has developed around them. They're like the proverbial boiled frog. They've waited so long now, they're almost cooked.

Do you think the Information Age has lowered the standard of living for information workers? I believe that journalists are feeling the slights and reduced standard of living first experienced by librarians and teachers. Lawyers are next.

You're probably right there. As information has become more and more of a commodity, available almost anywhere, those who were previously the gatherers, disseminators, and gatekeepers of information are become less important and lose their status.

What can journalists do to transform themselves into information workers?

Journalists have been information workers all along - they just didn't think of themselves that way. And that has been their biggest problem. They defined their role too narrowly and as their preferred medium has been disappearing, they failed to enlarge their paradigms. So now they have to play catch-up, and for some, it may be too late.

In your book, It's Never Too Late to be What You Might Have Been, you speak to media people becoming entrepreneurial--can you elaborate on 3 skills journalists and others can develop now?

First is flexibility - to thrive in today's wild world of information you must learn to dance on quicksand.
Second, resiliency - the ability to bounce back, recover from setbacks and disappointments, and navigate some really rocky, turbulent, psychic terrain.
Third, willingness and ability to learn - new skills, new habits, new kinds of coworkers, new technology, and much more.

I believe journalists are information managers who should leverage their Rolodexes--how can they do that to make money?

You're absolutely right. Business is all about relationships. Always has been, always will be. That hasn't changed. Even with all the technology, it's still about people. Look for opportunities to collaborate with others; learn from people who are already making money in entrepreneurial ways; go on information interviews with people who are doing what you think you might like to do. Explore; ask good questions; look for opportunities to help others; stay connected. Don't isolate.

How did you manage to have 6 books coming out at once? which were written earlier and how did you manage all your multiple projects?

I certainly didn't plan to have six books come out all at once ... it just turned out that way.
One of the books was written a year ago, the women's self-care book with Berkley/Penguin that's coming out in June. I turned in that manuscript in April of 2008. New York houses have very long lead times with books they publish.

One of the books is a remix of a book I published in 2001 - a book of sassy women's quotes. The other four books are all from small, boutique publishers - they work very quickly with short lead times. For instance, the self-help book, IT'S NEVER TOO LATE TO BE WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE BEEN, began as an idea in a phone conversation with the publisher last November. She said she wanted the manuscript by the end of December so they could publish in April - that process was amazingly fast!

My new children's book took only a week to write - I think I wrote it in November - it's coming out this month. The two glossy gift books each took me about two weeks to write. I'm good, I'm fast, and I have lots of good book ideas, so that makes it possible for me to be very prolific. I'm also a compulsive person - once I get started, I work long hours until it's done. I seem to feed on my own momentum and produce amazing results in very little time. I guess there's an up side to being compulsive, eh?

Do you have an agent or did you self-agent these and how did you get your work in the hands of editors?

My agent sold only one of those books - the one with Berkley/Penguin. The other five happened without my agent. It helps that I have relationships with editors in several publishing houses with whom I've done books in the past. Sometimes they call me up with an idea and ask me to write - three of my new books happened that way. I like that a lot 'cause then I don't have to write proposals and go through that rigmarole. It's very flattering that a couple of editors pursue me to write books for them.

With my first book, A Peacock in the Land of Penguins, I knew no book editors and had no contacts in publishing. That's why the first book is always the hardest for an author to publish. You're the new kid in town and you don't know anybody, and you don't know how the game is played either. Fortunately, today there are lots of resources available for first-time authors - seminars that teach you how to get published, books that tell you everything you need to know, book packagers who will do all the grunt work if you decide to self-publish, and desktop publishing for do-it-yourselfers.

But there is also more competition than every before and the book market is quite noisy and crowded - it's a lot harder these days to get your message heard above the din of the multitudes. But it's still fun. Competition forces an author to do great work, hustle to promote her books, and be more creative in finding ways to make her book successful.

What is your writing schedule?

I am not one of those disciplined writers who puts in X number of hours each day. I write whenever my muse calls me. It helps to have a deadline and it helps even more to receive an advance check - I work well to deadlines and I love getting checks in the mail.

However, sometimes I get an idea out of nowhere and I sit down and start making notes even if I don't have a publisher in mind. I simply obey my muse. When she beckons, I drop what I'm doing and write. Once, I pulled off the freeway into a parking lot to write something that came to me. Another time, I stopped vacuuming in the middle of my living room to sit down and write when an idea popped into my head. Ideas are gifts, so I honor them by paying attention and following up when they come to me.

May 5, 2009

Discover design history along La Cienega

I'm looking forward to the first annual ELLE DECOR Presents Legends of La Cienega Design Walk, scheduled to start on May 8 and run through May 9th.

There are several interesting panels and tributes evoking the legends of L.A. design, including a walking tour of designer vignettes on display in storefronts along La Cienega Boulevard, from Beverly to Santa Monica boulevards.

Highlights include:

  • Friday, May 8th at 1:30 P.M. - 2:30 P.M.
A Fireside Chat with Jean Mathison, Billy Haines' Assistant of 30 Years Followed by a Book Signing for Class Act: William Haines by Co-Authors Jean Mathison and Peter Schifando Rituals 756 N. La Cienega Blvd. 310.854.0848

Legendary Hollywood decorator William Haines is known as the father of Hollywood Modern for using an exuberant mix of English, Modern and Neo-Classical to style Tinsel Town's top interiors. Class Act, published by Pointed Leaf Press, is the definitive book on Haines' history and the celebrities whose homes were enlivened by his custom furniture designs.


  • Friday, May 8th at 2:30 P.M. - 3:30 P.M.
    A Presentation by Bret Parsons of Hollywood's Society Architect Gerard Colcord with Book Signing to Follow of His Book Colcord Home
    Bausman & Company
    921 N. La Cienega Blvd.
    310.659.9459

    From 1924 to 1984, Beverly Hills-based architect Gerard R. Colcord created a significant architectural legacy in Southern California that includes more than 300 residential estates and 100 remodels. He designed in a variety of architectural vernaculars: Tudor, Country French, Hollywood Regency, Spanish Hacienda, Monterey Colonial, Contemporary, and his signature genre, sprawling Country Colonial farmhouses. These homes are still coveted today, often commanding between 5 and 10 million dollars




  • Friday, May 8th 3 P.M. - 5 P.M.
    A Book Signing with Fran Drescher, Actress, Activist, Director, Philanthropist and Author of Cancer Schmancer
    Jean Marc Gallery
    906 N. La Cienega Blvd.
    310.659.2975



  • Saturday, May 9th
    11 A.M. - 12 P.M.
    A Morning Tea with Eleanor Schrader Schapa
    Dishing the Dirt: Stories, Scandals, and the History of Furniture
    George Smith Handmade Furniture & Fabrics
    804 N. La Cienega Blvd.
    310.360.0880

    Eleanor Schrader Schapa tells the story behind many of George Smith's historically inspired furniture pieces, including plenty of gossip and scandal. She also shares the why's and how's of furniture design and construction.


  • Saturday, May 9th

  • 2 P.M. - 4 P.M.
    A Book Signing by Hutton Wilkinson for His Book Tony Duquette and Stories About the Legendary Designer
    Baker Furniture
    360 N. La Cienega Blvd.
    310.289.0074

    Hutton Wilkinson recounts his experiences with Tony Duquette and the celebrity crowd who surrounded this legendary designer.


Return of Sports Beat

After a long hiatus, the Sports Beat is back and ready to update on the world of sports, LA style:

--I've been telling anyone who would listen that the Houston Rockets posed the toughest challenge the Lakers would face in the Western Conference. With all due respect to the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers and Rockets are the two best teams in the West. Last night, Houston showed how tough they can be after upsetting the Lakers 100-92.

The Rockets might not have the offensive firepower that some other elite NBA teams possess, but they do have two of the game's best man-up defenders in Shane Battier and Ron Artest. They also have one of the smartest GMs in sports in Daryl Morey, who is changing the way basketball is played. Check out Michael Lewis' New York Times Magazine article from last February to learn more about how the Rockets game plan against the Lakers.

Last night Kobe Bryant took 31 shots to score 32 points, in large measure because Battier manipulated him into taking lower percentage shots. Yao Ming is also playing as well as I've ever seen him play and Pau Gasol isn't physical enough to handle him. If the Lakers want to get back into this series, then they will need Andrew Bynum to snap out of his funk, trust his rehabilitated knee, stay out of foul trouble, and make life as difficult for Yao as possible.

The Lakers also need Lamar Odom to remove his invisibility cloak and they need to set up plays for Gasol to speed through the lane.

I still think the Lakers will win the series. This season, they went 4-0 against the Rockets because they had more offensive weapons and that proved to be the difference in the fourth quarter. I don't think Ron Artest will be able to go for 21 every game, and the Lakers should find a way to slow down Aaron Brooks. But I do expect this series to go 6, possibly 7 games, with many of the games being close.


--After beating the Diamondbacks last night, the Dodgers now have the best record in baseball. Are the Dodgers really the best team in baseball? Well, I don't think so, but they're pretty darn good.

This Dodger lineup as good as any that I've ever seen. It's certainly the best since the late-1970s teams of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Steve Yeager, Dusty Baker, Rick Monday, and Reggie Smith. The best in Dodgers history overall was probably the 1950s Brooklyn teams with Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, and Carl Furillo. But this year's lineup is special.

Manny Ramirez is the most dominant right-handed hitter in the game not named Albert Pujols. Rafael Furcal is finally healthy and hitting well. Orlando Hudson has had a tremendous impact in just one month. And the "kids" named Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and James Loney have all grown up and are hitting like pros. The only one who's struggling is Russell Martin, and he's generally reputed to be one of the 2-3 best catchers in baseball.

Only the Dodgers pitching staff can hold them back. While "kid" Chad Billingsley is pitching like an ace and getting little credit for it, the team could absolutely use another arm. Randy Wolf is doing "OK", but his health is always a concern. Clayton Kershaw has one of the best curve balls I've ever seen, but he's still going through growing pains. Eric Stults is not a long-term answer for anyone's rotation. And Jeff Weaver doesn't exactly inspire confidence. James McDonald has the talent to be in the rotation, but he needs to learn out of the bullpen for now... the same way Billingsley did a few years ago. It stands to reason that Ned Colletti will trade for a starting pitcher near that trade deadline, but that's much easier said than done. Hopefully for the Dodgers, Hiroki Kuroda will come back soon.

I'm not quite as down on the Dodger bullpen as some other people might be. I will never understand why they pursued Trevor Hoffman in the offseason when it was so clear that Jonathan Broxton was ready, able, and cheap. After throwing several 100 MPH fastballs, Broxton looks like one of the best closers in the National League. Now that Cory Wade is back from the DL, the Dodgers should be able to get by with him, Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso in middle relief, with Will Ohman serving as the situational lefty and McDonald in long relief.

That's not the highest profile bullpen in the world, and it will probably raise the anxiety of Dodger fans in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, but there isn't a team in baseball that wouldn't like to have a stronger middle relief corps. For now, it's perfectly fine.

I would like to see the Dodgers go back from 13 to 12 pitchers, because who wants to see Eric Stults pinch hit again?


--If you haven't been following the NHL Playoffs (and I know most of you haven't been), then you've missed the Anaheim Ducks upset top-seeded San Jose in the first round, and win a 3 OT game on Sunday against Detroit to even the series at 1-1. The Ducks have been riding the coattails of Swiss sensation Jonas Hiller in goal.


--Two weeks ago, the Arena Football League's LA Avengers folded operations. There have been 10 arena league teams that have shut down this decade, but only the Avengers have garnered a front page ESPN.com story. The headline led off with "LA Lost:" and the snarky tone of the article pounded home the point that this city lost two pro teams 15 years ago.

LA residents probably aren't aware of this, but sports fans from around the country make fun of this city for not having an NFL franchise. Now, I don't think most LA residents care, and they certainly don't have to, but I've long been bothered by the way the rest of the country talks about our ability to support our sports teams.

The Avengers did not fold due to a lack of fan support. The team's attendance was above the league average in each of the past two seasons, and it was one of the better-run organizations in the AFL.

Instead, the Avengers folded because the arena league is an absolute mess. The league is already on hiatus this season to "write a new business plan," and Avengers owner Casey Wasserman has said he wasn't satisfied with the results of the AFL's reorganization. Rather than own a team in a league with a business model that he didn't believe in, Wasserman chose to fold the franchise, which is perfectly understandable. In the meantime, AFL franchises in Nashville, Austin, New Orleans, Charlotte, Miami, Houston, Milwaukee, Oklahoma, Detroit, and Indiana have folded in the past decade -- some due to poor fan support -- and few in the media seemed to care or notice. Yet the Avengers wind up on the front page of ESPN.com.

There should be no doubt that LA can support a pro football team, as evidenced by the 90,000+ who cram into the Coliseum for USC and the 70,000+ who go to the Rose Bowl for UCLA, sometimes on the same day that the Dodgers are also drawing 50,000 at Dodger Stadium. LA lost two football teams in 1995 because they had two owners who did everything possible to alienate and anger their local communities. The right owner in LA with the right team, playing in Ed Roski's proposed City of Industry stadium, would absolutely be a success and help make LA one of the strongest markets in the NFL.


May 3, 2009

On permanent vacation

sfv.jpgphoto: C. Soltis

I'd heard about Los Angeles of course. My parents vacationed here in 1957 and 1958 while my brother and I were at sleep-away camp. Both times they returned aglow, with rolls of film that became slide shows of mountain and ocean vistas, palm trees, convivial backyard cocktail parties, and this place called Disneyland. I'd seen it on television. They'd actually been there.

My brother and I got to make the trip in 1959, when my father consulted on an aerospace project at JPL. We flew on a 707 to LAX, then took a taxi to the Flamingo Motel in Arcadia. The route was circuitous. The new 405 Freeway was still in segments, a huge berm of dirt rising under the Mulholland Drive bridge that spanned the Sepulveda Pass. We took a lot of surface streets, hung a big right, made it to Foothill Blvd, then east to our destination.

What I remember most about that drive, even now, fifty years later, can still take my breath away when the skies are clear. It might not seem that special to anyone these days, but I'm talking about the first time I saw the San Fernando Valley from the top of the pass, laid out like a vast carpet of lights twinkling on, and ringed by purpling hills on a scale that showed a nine-year-old just how vast this semi-desert by the sea was when compared to the street-level perspective of a northern New Jersey childhood.

Perhaps because you always remember your first time, this view is as important to me as my first look at at Glacier Point, Half Dome and the spectacular granite corridor of Yosemite Valley after emerging from the Wawona tunnel on Highway 41, or the San Francisco and Los Angeles skylines, or any stretch of coastline. I was - and remain - transfixed. And transported. I feel sentimental and melancholy - sentimelancholic - at the same time.

On that trip the family made the requisite rounds: uncle Fritz in Culver City, a now long-gone Viennese restaurant on the Sunset Strip, Descanso Gardens, Knotts Berry Farm, Marineland, Hollywood, the beach, and of course Disneyland. One night we had dinner with friends who lived in Granada Hills, north of Rinaldi Street. Maybe I'm losing my mind, but I could swear that at the back of their back yard sand dunes rose. No, I'm not mistaken. We climbed them.

Two too-fast weeks later, as our jet made a big turn over Santa Monica for the trip back to New Jersey, I cried.

Back home, I told all my neighborhood friends about my trip. The result: when it was my turn to get picked on, their taunt was not about my glasses, big ears, slight stature, or habit of keeping a piece of foil-wrapped triangle cheese in my pocket. Instead it was: "Yeah? Well why don't you just go back to California?"

Yes. Throw me in the briar patch. Please. Something about the place had burrowed to the deepest part of me. Many have tried with limited success to succinctly articulate what it is about this city that so appeals: "L.A. is not a place, but a state of mind" the old New West magazine startup brochure once opined. I, too, have trouble putting a melange of emotions into words. But maybe that's the point. All I know now is what I knew then: I could smell it in the (still) clean air, feel it in the sun on my skin, sense it in the easy body language and openess of most everyone I met. They all seemed to expect something just around the corner, any minute now. Something good. The whole place was Disneyland.

My young friends in New Jersey could tell. I looked the same, but I was different. I had been to the undiscovered country. I'd tasted the freedom of possibility and there was no looking back. They didn't want to hear about what was "out there." No wonder they wanted to get rid of me.

Five years later, in early February 1964, on the weekend the Beatles and entourage landed at JFK, we departed for Los Angeles forever. This time the 405 ran unobstructed. We checked in at the San Fernando Mission Inn, in North Hills, where my Dad had already lived for two months, one of those places with a coffee shop, colored Malibu lights that cast a watery reflection on the palms and huge hydrangeas around the pool. There was a Sizzler down the street and I learned to love Bob's Big Boy blue cheese dressing. I watched the Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan Show while lying on the worn carpet of our room.

Another notable moment: When my mother came out of my parents' adjoining hotel room and tossed me the December 1963 issue of Playboy, saying "I think this is what you want." I didn't object to a good thing and ended up getting on the masthead about 20 years later. Our cat ran away for two weeks but returned just before we moved to a rental for a year, while the house my mother still lives in was being built. He, too, knew a good thing when it tickled his whiskers.

Eventually we settled in Northridge, on a block full of kids, most all of whom surfed and were ham radio enthusiasts. For a couple years our moms drove us to catch waves. Three cute girls lived next door, another three down the block, my best friend across the street. We wore Pendelton shirts and Chinos, played football on the blacktop, and skateboarded everywhere. On weekends we partied and danced in the breeze ways to "If I Fell," "Love Me, Do" and "Things We Said Today." KHJ and KRLA, both AM - defined our days, while at night the orange blossoms and jasmine made us dizzy, our teenage hormones going crazy.

In 1966, when psychedelia invaded our surfer mentalities, FM became the rage and we hitchhiked through Laurel Canyon to walk the Sunset Strip for hours, tie-dyed, paisley-ed, wide-waled, knee-booted, and hair beyond our collars. We began to take music seriously. Thanks to the kindness of keyboard player Ray Manzarek, I hung a little bit with the Doors, whom I'd met when they - and every other band I loved - played at the Valley Music Theater (in the round), on Ventura Blvd. in Woodland Hills, before it became a Jehovah's Witness meeting hall, and now, an empty lot. Eventually, I began writing about music for the Valley State Sundial, and then Rolling Stone and other music publications in the 1970s.

By the time I was 16 and had my drivers license I discovered the real meaning of freedom, California style. My friends back east, with whom I'd lost contact almost immediately, were certainly doing the same, but not like this. I had my cars, from a Van Nuys Blvd cruising red 1965 GTO, to a road tripping green 1961 VW panel bus, and great music, and together they became the tire-humming, power-ballading soundtrack to a life that often left me feeling almost disembodied while driving, connected to some primal force, a West Coast version of whatever Springsteen discovered at the edges of his New Jersey town -- but without the undercurrent of hopelessness and urge to escape. I had already escaped to the Promised Land. Had I stayed on the East Coast I'd have been taking the bus, or a train, into the city to live an entirely different life, no doubt richly steeped in NY culture (which I love) -- and who knows who I'd be today. But I had no regrets at living where - for a time - the freeways were not busy all day, and I could still get from Granada Hills to Santa Monica Blvd and Veteran Avenue in 20 minutes, in a creaky old VW bus, to see my girlfriend.

And frankly, even though it now takes 45 minutes to get across the Valley floor from Tampa Ave. to Laurel Canyon during rush hour, at least the context hasn't really changed. This life has always seemed to me like a permanent vacation.

Oh sure: we had to attend school, go to college, go to work. I once knew the secret ingredient in Orange Julius, some of which is probably still on my waistline. We rode out the 1971 San Fernando earthquake (and a few more as well), and inhaled the smog, and watched student demonstrations at the then-San Fernando Valley State College. Today there are more and more homeless, and pot holes in the road, and McMansions, and an endlessly refreshing list of how the dream has been ruined.

But what the heck. I could be living with snow, humidity, floods, hurricanes, and an infrastructure that's been crumbling for one hundred years instead of just half that. I could be squarely in the box instead of constantly forced outside of it. And I confess that by becoming a writer instead of an office worker, that I managed to stay on vacation much like over-staying a visa. Fortunately, they haven't caught me yet.

Meanwhile, whenever I feel the urge to defy entropy, if only momentarily, all it takes is a trip to the top of the Sepulveda Pass, a song that puts me in the right mood, and the knowledge that even a grownup would still shed a few tears if this vacation had to end.

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