By Silicon Valley standards, even by Los Angeles standards, Bishoy William's plan to redevelop his lot is ridiculous. The Palo Alto resident wants to demolish his 1,878- square foot, single-story home in a low-rise neighborhood, and replace it with an 11-bedroom house on three floors with 14 bathrooms and "powder rooms."
No surprise, William's neighbors are not happy ("powder rooms"?) and have petitioned local officials to block his plans.
Until I moved here two years ago, I thought this sort of residential gluttony was largely confined to the LA celebrity class, as in the 123-room chateau that Aaron and Candy Spelling built in Holmby Hills. (That home, which sold in 2011, included an entire floor of closets, a bowling alley, Candy's dedicated gift wrap rooms, and much more.)
But as we pack up to return to our 1948 tract house on the Westside, I realize that something is shifting in the San Francisco area, Los Angeles and many other desirable cities.
Eleven bedrooms for a family of four (Bishoy William and his wife have two children, according to the town newspaper) is beyond excessive. But only by degree.
In the oak-studded hills near our Palo Alto apartment are several newish French Provincial-style mansion-ettes with vanity vineyards (the must-have amenity around here), as well as multi-story "farmhouses" which, their rustic touches notwithstanding, feature chef's kitchens and home theaters. Sometimes even chicken coops and beehives.
A 3-bedroom house on one story no longer seems enough, as it did to my parents' WWII generation, but instead minimal, cramped. Or, as some of our newer, 30-something LA neighbors have described our tract, "starter homes."
At the same time, try landing a decent, affordable apartment in Los Angeles or Silicon Valley that isn't basically a tricked-out pantry.
The averages have widened. Mirroring America's growing economic and social disparities, houses have grown larger as apartments seem to have shrunk--and all of it has become frighteningly pricey.
On the peninsula here, one-story homes with a few years on them have become as rare as teeth on the Araucana hens up the road from us in Atherton. Here and in the Westdale neighborhood to which we're returning, realtors now bill those houses as the "canvas for your dream home." Teardowns, in other words.
Drive south a few miles from Palo Alto and El Camino Blvd--the Ventura Blvd. of Silicon Valley--has become a canyon of new five- and six- story apartment complexes with Spanish or French names that whisper of luxury. These block long developments tout amenities like granite counter tops, gyms and game rooms--and rents nudging $4,000 per month for a one-bedroom. Many units look right into each other with "Juliet balconies" so tiny that a Capulet could barely squeeze in.
(The NoCal building boom also contains moment of schadenfreude for Angelinos like me: After decades of sneering at LA commuters gridlocked on the 405, folks up here seem stunned to find themselves creeping across the Dumbarton Bridge during the morning rush or north along the 101.)
None of this is new, of course, except that the pace of change has accelerated. The Spellings built "The Manor" in the 1980s but soaring property values and the growing concentration of wealth in the decades since have given rise to a boom in gargantuan homes in LA and on the Peninsula. At the same time, both areas, once largely one-story communities, have been densifying with larger apartment buildings replacing smaller ones.
Visiting LA during the time we've been away--while being a newcomer up north--the changes in both places appear as a series of time-lapse photographs. Wait, when did the Buerge Ford dealership on Santa Monica Blvd in West LA disappear and the 147-unit Westgate Santa Monica complex take its place? What did that solid wall of new apartments on La Brea just south of Wilshire sweep away?
Developers are now circling in our modest Westdale tract, offering top dollar. "Don't fix a thing," read the unsolicited letter forwarded to us; we'll buy your house "as is."
The future now sits across the street from our LA house. The blue-sided behemoth ("Cape Cod-meets-the-Hamptons" boasts the realtor ad) stuffs 5 bedrooms, 6 baths, and the usual bells and whistles into 3,750 square feet. A pool and spa take up nearly the entire backyard. The $2.9 million asking price for this spec house is double the tract average.
No one seems to have a good answer to the land rush now underway. "Affordable" housing set asides: sure. But there are clearly not enough. Meanwhile, frustration and resentment builds as homeowners watch the character of their neighborhoods change and renters feel forever trapped in ever more unaffordable apartments.
Molly Selvin was a Los Angeles Times staff writer for 18 years.
This is the first Mother's Day I won't be able to call my mom.
On Dec. 26 last year, the last day of the holiday weekend, I sat on my mother's bed in Denver, where the little park outside her window was beautifully blanketed in snow. It was my third day of sorting through almost 89 years of a life that had ended three weeks earlier.
Having started a new job in Palm Springs only the month before, I had only the Christmas break to spend, alone, with what was left of my mom. Her memorial service in Denver had been planned hastily, without consulting me, and held the week before. I wasn't able to attend. Apart from a few pieces of furniture, art, jewelry and photos that would be shipped to California, this would be the last time I would touch her clothes, her dishes, her linens and whatever that gooey unguent was living in her medicine cabinet. She was gone, and here I was on the last day, leafing through the photo albums and files whose contents I thought I had seen a million times.
Mom had been ill and declining for most of the year. I had visited every couple of months since February, when she began hospice treatment. Although my visits were usually short, they were golden. Once she was gone, I didn't want to regret things unsaid, or fail to revisit important pieces of her life. Mom's memory had been fading for years, and although she couldn't recall a conversation from 10 minutes earlier, until shortly before her death, she remembered her distant past pretty well. We talked a lot. Although I was sad at Christmas, packing up her life, I embraced my last chance at intimacy with a person I knew well.
But did I?
My mother was among the least sentimental people I've known. Apart from her Depression-sown habit of saving plastic bags and reusing wrapping paper beyond recognition, Mom was not a milestone measurer, or an artifact collector. So why was there a six-inch plait of honey-colored hair in her headboard cubbyhole? It wasn't hers -- too thick, too light in color. I was her only girl, and my hair hadn't been that color since kindergarten. Whose hair would she keep? One of her caregivers later said Mom had told her it was mine, but she had never showed it to me.
Plundering a box of files, I found Our Wedding Book, a white, padded album from 1948 whose pages were mostly empty. But there was a flat, brown be-ribboned assembly presumably organic, presumably a bouquet. A tiny yellowed paper torn from a newspaper listing, "Marriage licenses issued in Kansas City," naming the betrothed and their ages ("Arnold Alperstein, 22; Pearl Greenblot, 21"). A bridal shower invitation addressed to my great grandmother (who died when I was 6 and whom I indelibly remember). A brochure from The Elms Hotel in Excelsior Springs, Missouri ("An All Year Health and Pleasure Resort") -- is that where they spent the night as newlyweds?
I found a taped-up, folded sheet of thick, oversized paper with elaborate gold illustration commemorating her mother, who had died when Mom was 4. It listed what seemed to me to be random days and dates from 1931 to 1976, with Hebrew lettering that also fell outside my barely-Jew understanding.
I found her Paseo High School yearbook from 1943, when she was 16. A bio was written for each student: "Pearl is trustworthy, for she was treasurer of Radio club, her homeroom, and was Defense Stamp treasurer. She also belonged to Girl Reserves and the Honor Roll and will attend Missouri University."
The country was at war. The book listed former students in service, and many of Mom's classmates writing their good-byes were shortly to enlist. Some probably didn't come back. A few comments were poignant, but references to the state of the world were mostly oblique. These were kids, after all.
Today, everything is "awesome." In 1943, it was "swell." My mom was a "swell" girl who had a lot of male attention. And, apparently, an alter ego.
"Dear Pearl, It's been swell knowing you in and out of Paseo and I know our friendship will continue through the years. Good luck and be careful--if you can't then name it after me. Love, Harold (Navy)"
"Dear Pearl, Since I have known you all these years, the more I see of you the better I begin to like you; as I would say in French, voulez-vous couchez avec moi? Your fellow (junior), Mel"
PearlHope Chest, Me and you have worked together and I've enjoyed every minute of it. I hope you have too. Although you owe me a little debt I hope to collect one of these days. Here's wishing lots of stuff and junk that everybody wishes everybody. Sincerely, Hish A"
"Dear Kendall, You are a very interesting girl, very complex. You have possibilities (not so hidden) that would be fun to explore. Don't get me wrong, I think you're a nice girl, but you do provoke comments. You have given me a bit of inspiration at times. ...Jim Ralls
Sitting on the edge of my dead mother's bed, I was laughing my ass off. Was my mother a tart? Hope Chest? And who the hell was Kendall?
Pieces of yellowed paper were stuck into photo albums I had never seen. Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain" clipped from the April 14, 1945 edition of The Kansas City Times; a brochure, "Your Baby's Formula (Terminal Heating Method)" from Rose Memorial Hospital, appended with "Alperstein, girl," date of birth, weight, length and directions for how to mix Pet Evaporated Milk, water and dextri-maltose #1 (apparently, I had feeding issues).
I also found a Denver Post columnist's remembrance of my dad, who was a prominent Denver attorney and political operative, shortly after his untimely death in 1984. But I had read that before. A bigger surprise was the tattered, crinkled, four-page letter in my dad's back-slanted loopy hand. Postmarked June 28, 1947 from Columbia, Missouri, where he was in law school, it was an astonishing depiction of a relationship of two people barely into their 20s. The naiveté of young love was clear, but so was a maturity wrought by the Depression and world war. I had found some notes from my father to my mother, but to my knowledge, this is the only love letter she kept. Was it the only one he wrote?
She was in Kansas City, and the distance between them was painful. They had professed their love and desire to marry. He struggled with others' expectations and his sense of integrity. "...I'd get you a ring now if I could, but I don't have a penny of my own and that is one thing I'd never borrow money to buy."
..."I'm not interested in any other girls and I have full intentions of marrying you. But I also realize that it isn't very practicable for you to act that way due to the pressure of the social circle from where you spring. It is obvious among your 'friends' the engagement ring ... is of principal importance, and the significance which it holds only secondary."
He was responding to a letter she had written, apparently about a dinner invitation from family friends who had questioned her romantic judgment.
"The part of your letter that bothered me (bothered me, hell; it made me mad) was that part about your being practically 'forced' to go to dinner at Sis and Morrie's place so that you would meet somebody who they believe is 'good for you.' I know full well that neither your family nor 'friends' are too wild about the idea of our being in love ... As far as material things go, I can offer you nothing. But you, I know, don't love me for want of material things."
"...If it is against your wishes to [go], for Christ's sake why not tell them, as I've told anybody who cares to know, we love each other and are getting married as soon as it's possible. Then they'll mind their own God-damned business (I didn't like that pimpish Morrie when I just met him)."
On the back of the letter's torn envelope she wrote:
Rib 72 stitches
Rounds 1 to 4 P. 3 K9
followed by impenetrable knitting directions for who knows what.
It has been five months since my mother died. I think about her every day, and wonder what else I failed to know about the person who gave me life. For now, I choose to see that wonder as an enduring gift from someone who always encouraged me to be curious.
I love you, Mom. Can I have a cookie?
BritWeek 2014 Los Angeles, a festival celebrating all things British, concludes on May 4th. In honor of the occasion, Native Intelligence has been posting interviews with British Southland residents. Our final interview is with Mr. Patrick Cates who lives in Lincoln Heights. He works at USC, where his British accent makes people think he's more intelligent than he actually is. He will never be able to muster any enthusiasm for college football.
Where are you from in England and why did you immigrate to Los Angeles?
I was born in London and lived there for 33 years before moving to Los Angeles. I had met my wife online when we both ran websites that had their 15 minutes of Boing Boing fame back in 2004. We were pals for a few years and then we eventually decided to meet. I booked a three-week vacation in LA thinking that, if things didn't work out between us, I would just go on a solo road trip. Luckily things did work out. After a lot of back-and-forth in the early part of 2007, I came out here for a 2-month trip, we got married, and I didn't go back to England (I resigned from my job via email and managed to get a good friend to pack up my apartment).
You've recently become a citizen, how do you plan to use your dual citizenship?
When you travel to any country, it's a toss-up whether the natives hate England or America more. If you have both passports in your pocket, you can brandish whichever one will induce less frowning.
Meet Louise Green, a Los Angeles-based British milliner. Milliner is the twenty dollar word for a person who makes hats. But Green does more than just make hats; she manifests creative fantasies that rest atop your head. After studying fine art in Britain, Green landed in the United States in 1984, quickly gravitating toward hat design. She operates one of the most successful domestic, high-end millinery companies out of a 9,000 square foot factory in the heart of West Los Angeles.
What drew you to millinery?
I pride myself on being a lifetime Fashionista & a passionate vintage clothing shopper.
Always loving hats & sewing as a hobby made millinery an obvious choice.
Is Los Angeles a "hat" town? Where do your customers wear your hats?
Every town is a hat town. There are hat wearers everywhere.
In Los Angeles there are ladies who lunch, customers who fly to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby & to Ascot in England. There are your musicians who wear them on stage, hipsters who wear them everywhere & actors who wear hats for their roles in movies & on TV.
Then there are the Orthodox Jews, the church ladies, the carriage drivers, re-enactors, rockabillies & my favorite of all the hat wearers, the hat fanatics. The hat fanatics will not leave the house without one.
What do you like about living in Los Angeles?
The question should be "What don't you like about living in Los Angeles?"
I LOVE Los Angeles. It is my adopted home. I love the weather, the people, the fashion, the air of opportunity. I feel so blessed to live & work here.
In honor of BritWeek Los Angeles, a festival of all things UK, Native Intelligence will post a series of interviews with three different Brits who reside in the Southland.
Starting with Anthony Russell, an author, musician and aristocrat who now resides in Bel Air. Born into a titled family with their own fairy-tale castle in Kent, Mr. Russell shares tales of a privileged childhood in his memoir, Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle. The book is a vivid read about a world resembling "Downton Abbey" described with precise and spirited prose. For example, Russell writes that his mother's "dazzling, alluring forget-me-not blue eyes radiated warmth and kindness, and her personality, though given to moods, was generous and imbued with a contagious sense of fun."
Eventually, Mr. Russell struggled to reconcile his privileged upbringing with his musical aspirations in the 70s but he triumphed in the end to become a seasoned performer.
Below, the writer shares his impressions of his adopted homeland.
Did you write your book while living in Southern California? If so, how did you recall the details of your family's estate in England?
I wrote Outrageous Fortune in Los Angeles and in France where my wife, Catherine, and I spend four to five months each year. All the events and descriptions in the book are culled from memory (including the pram scene outside Harrods aged two!) and needed no recourse to libraries or family records. I used the Web for historical accuracy when it came to corroborating what my English and American ancestors had been up to all those years ago; the origins and size of my Whitney cousins' vast wealth; and the smorgasbord of Russell titles, land holdings, Crown appointments and Parliamentary achievements over a period of some five hundred years.
What do you like about living in Los Angeles?
Everything! The weather, of course. London's gray skies and drizzle used to drive me nuts. Here you work and play under sunny blue skies. I love the 'look' of LA, from Downtown to the ocean. So many totally different neighborhoods seemingly at odds with one another which somehow succeed in forming a cohesive whole. I find the contrast between life in LA and life in France and the UK very stimulating. London and Paris have history, beauty and street life on their side. LA has a unique form of easy living. Life is casual. You dress up, or down, according to taste. It's not a hassle to get around. You go to the movies, park in the same building (for free), have lunch before, or dinner after, all without raising a furrow on your brow. My wife and I are foodie fanatics. We like to eat in the plethora of Japanese restaurants across the city, from Nobu in Malibu to Kiwami on Ventura Blvd. We also like Paiche in Marina del Rey and Hinoki and the Bird in Century City. I write in the morning (and sometimes early in the evening), have lunch with my wife, then we play tennis and have a Pilates session after. Before going home we run the vital errands. Every Sunday we go to the Beverly Hills Farmer's market. We'd never have this kind of schedule anywhere outside of LA - I don't think!
High noon, Valentine's Day, Vermont and 3rd Street. Keeping traffic jam company with an amorous Ferrari.
Photos of Bruce Lisker and his home by Iris Schneider
Bruce Lisker has spent much of his life waiting. At 17, accused of murdering his mother, he waited for his trial to begin. Then, he waited for the jury to return the verdict. Once convicted of the crime he knew he did not commit, he was incarcerated and he waited for justice.
Finally, after 26 years in prison, he was released in 2009, after an article and investigation in the Los Angeles Times reconstructed his mother's murder and cast strong doubt on his guilt and conviction. Then he waited for the judge to overturn his conviction. On August 13, 2009 Judge Virginia Philips did that. He was a free man, exonerated of his crime. After having spent more than half of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit, at 44 he was given $250 and sent on his way to begin making a life on the outside. When he went to prison, there were no cell phones, laptops, iphones, ATM's. There was no Google, Linked In, Wikipedia, no internet. Imagine trying to catch up with life as we know it now.
Lisker has done an amazing job of re-entering society. Though his job applications have gone unanswered and employment continues to elude him, after four years on the outside, he's taken classes at Santa Monica College, embellished the skills he taught himself in prison in web design, gotten married and is living happily with his wife Kara Noble. For someone whose growth was seriously hampered by conditions beyond his control, he has made a remarkable recovery as he tries to look to the future. He is working on website design for a few clients, volunteering his time with at-risk youth, helping prisoner friends navigate the legal system. He and Noble just moved to a house in the valley, and are busy making it into a comfy place where they can entertain friends and family. He tries to live without bitterness, aware that living with anger would only prolong his prison sentence while a free man, living outside prison walls.
I asked him how it felt to be making his home in the valley, where all his troubles began, but he went right to his happy childhood. "I remember when the air turned cold, and Christmas was coming." He is full of ideas for the new house, planning with his wife to repair and remodel. Although he expresses frustration at not being a full economic partner in the household, he has learned a lot about home repair by reading books and magazines and his skills will save them lots of money on repairs he can do himself.
Now he has added another to his list of hopes and dreams: budding entrepreneur. Lisker has been up nights working hard and recently launched his new business: Cellblock Services, an impressively designed and well thought-out social networking site for inmates that helps connect them to pen pals. For him, it's more than just a business. While in prison, he had a wide and strong network of friends and strangers who supported him, kept in touch and helped push for his release. He strongly believes that when prisoners have ties to the outside world it can lower recidivism. "Prison imposes isolation and that isolation becomes very paralyzing in terms of the things we need as human beings. You are isolated, spurned, demonized with no viable contact with the outside world. Then when you get out, you are thrust back into society with $200 in your pocket, and if you're lucky, here's your halfway house."
He feels that outside contact is essential if prisoners are to successfully adapt to society once they are released. But business is painfully slow. Unless he draws advertisers and clients and visitors to the site, it won't be successful. But he is hopeful that eventually he can perform a public service and earn a living at the same time.
While he has tried to move forward with his life, his wait for justice continues. He filed a civil law suit against the LAPD in 2009. His day in court has been postponed numerous times. His most recent court date was set for last June 4, but shortly before the day arrived, the city filed an appeal asking for summary judgement, which would have dismissed his case had it been granted. According to his lawyer Bill Genego: "The case is on appeal and we probably won't know anything for 16-20 months." Genego says that in cases of wrongful incarceration, this waiting game is typical. "Look at the case of the Central Park jogger," he says. "That case is older than Bruce's and the city (New York) is still fighting it. It gives you perspective."
Genego was talking about the case in New York of five black teenagers, 14-16, who were accused and ultimately convicted in the rape and assault of a jogger, a white woman who was found one morning near death in Central Park. Her case galvanized the city in the 1980's and set off a manhunt until five teens were found, accused and vilified in the press for "wilding," rampaging through Central Park, and leaving a defenseless white woman for dead. Their confessions, taken after hours of intense police questioning without a lawyer present, were ultimately essential in their own convictions. The fact that physical evidence did not link them to the crime became irrelevant and was ignored by prosecutors anxious to give closure to a city in turmoil and determined to end the frightening ordeal. The fact that another rapist was loose in the city was never investigated.
The boys were ultimately exonerated, after several served 7 years in prison, one even longer. Their exoneration happened purely through serendipity when the guilty man confessed to another prisoner after a chance meeting with one of the incarcerated teens--by then a young man--that caused him a moment of remorse.
An Oscar-nominated documentary, "The Central Park Five," made by Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah last year, documented the case. Among other missteps, facts which would have destroyed the prosecutor's case were ignored as the need to win a conviction and calm a panicked city moved things rapidly forward.
When years of your life are taken from you, $200 as you walk out the door to freedom seems to be a paltry starting point. Having to fight for an acknowledgement of your loss, and restitution, only compounds the injustice.
The recent news about the death of Herman Wallace, released after being incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, makes me continue to wonder how someone in America can be so mistreated in the name of justice. Wallace was released several months ago--6 days before he died of liver cancer--from a sentence of solitary confinement that put him in a 6' x 9' cell in Louisiana for 42 years. Forty-two years! I read Wallace's sad obituary and tried to make sense of it, tried to understand how this could happen in modern times. Wallace went to prison for armed robbery in 1971. That sentence changed one year later after he and two other men were accused by a prison informant (who received a lesser sentence in return for his help, and recanted his testimony decades later), in the fatal stabbing of a prison guard, and convicted by a grand jury. Sadly, even the wife of the guard who was killed doubted Wallace's involvement. A documentary about Wallace and the two other inmates at the Angola prison, "In the Land of the Free," was released in 2010.
A just society should be based on making amends for mistakes, not only those made by perpetrators but mistakes made by prosecutors as well. Bruce Lisker joins a long list of those waiting far too long for justice.
Under different circumstances, an assembly on the second day of the school year would've made almost anyone proud. Scores of teens turned out from Hamilton High - one of Los Angeles Unified's most sought-after music and humanities magnets. Its Yankees football team represented in force, with forest green-and-white jerseys over dress shirts and ties. Adults - parents, boosters, friends and relatives - crammed Westminster Presbyterian Church to the rafters.
All this probably might have amused the young man at the center of the event, 18-year-old Bijan Michael Shoushtari, son of an African American mother and an Iranian father, had he been present in more than spirit.
The smiling young man whose prom portrait graced 500 printed programs had been shot to death barely a week before, in an apparent case of mistaken identity. At the time of his memorial service, the suspect was still at large.
While the case has generated news coverage, a kind of weariness drags at the anguished response among people who knew the victim. His assailant likely wasn't a George Zimmerman or a Johannes Mehserle, who achieved notoriety in the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant III, but someone with a firearm in a car that pulled alongside the one Shoushtari occupied with friends on a Saturday night near Crenshaw Boulevard.
Five hundred printed programs weren't enough for the standing room-only crowd at his memorial. That crowd mingled constituencies that seldom spend much time together in this vast and varied city, especially south of the 10 Freeway: African Americans and Iranians; teachers, coaches and counselors who work with students from kindergarten through high school; a rainbow of middle-class parents and kids who'd known the Shoushtari family from their earliest encounters in the feeder schools that direct the luckiest students to Hamilton. By coincidence or intention, many in attendance wore pale brown, the Persian color of mourning that represents dying leaves.
Only ushers' distribution of paper fans kept the heat of the August day and the emotion in the room from crushing the spirits in the sanctuary.
Successive eulogies about the young man, delivered with grace and gusto that would have impressed Kansas newspaperman William Allen White, emphasized the young man's commitment to service in and beyond his church home, his impish nature, his lifelong friendships, his promising future. In a nod to his desire to become a paramedic and firefighter, the Stentorians, an African American firefighters' organization, presented the Shoushtari family with a certificate designating its only son an honorary firefighter.
It's hard to imagine another "homegoing" that would have combined references to Khalil Gibran's On Children, Rabbi Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and Rev. William Sloane Coffin's sermon after the untimely death of his son Alex alongside gems from the gospel music canon including "Goin' Up Yonder" and "What A Fellowship."
Few speakers referred directly to the circumstances of Shoushtari's death. Nobody needed the context spelled out. Throngs of his Hami High friends lingered at the repast in the church basement or at the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and 3rd Avenue, where they chanted a school cheer in his memory. For many of the teen's white and Asian American schoolmates it raised for the first time the kinds of dinner table questions that disturb the sleep of parents, authority figures, anyone who regards every child as precious and yearns to keep each one safe:
Why does this violence keep happening?
Why are young men, even those as privileged and promising as Bijan Shoushtari, so vulnerable to harm?
Is there anything to say, do or wear that's an appropriate response to the shooting death of any healthy 18-year-old?
Cheryl Devall is a veteran public radio journalist who lives in Los Angeles.
Photo of Bijan Shoushtari: Electronic Village
Los Angeles has poured money, and years of thought, into the creation of Grand Park, a vertical space that stretches from the steps of City Hall west past Broadway and Hill Street, ending at Grand Avenue, across from the Music Center. A few visits to the park have made me think. The website makes it clear that the city hopes it will become the new destination downtown. They call the park an "urban oasis," but every oasis needs a watering hole. Where is the food and drink? With the hundreds of new restaurants that have opened downtown, did no one think about making refreshments available in kiosks scattered through the park?
Trying to create a "town square" where all of LA's citizens can gather for recreation (4th of July pyrotechnics) and public events (Mayor Garcetti's inaugural) is a great idea. And in September, there will be the city's nod to James Turrell with "Exxopolis," a free interactive walk-in sculpture utilizing light, sound and color. Whether Grand Park can become that place remains to be seen. At this point I'd say some changes would help, and would not be that difficult to make.
Here is my list of ideas for making the whole park more fun:
Free parking, or at least a big discount on the $10 flat fee parking rate, perhaps just until the park finds its audience. I know it's important to encourage people to use public transportation. But until that becomes second nature, a break on parking would help. Once it becomes a destination, public transportation will become part of the process. But the big parking fee and lack of street parking is too much of a deterrent right now. A free event isn't free if it costs $10 to see it.
More diverse activities. It's nice to have a concert or movie and some food trucks and they have a busy schedule at the park (www.grandparkla.org). But once these events are over, there is little reason to hang out. I recently returned from New York City, where Bryant Park, behind the main library in the heart of downtown, has become a vibrant destination. Follow their lead: Ping Pong tables available to all comers, all day and into the evening (who needs Susan Sarandon?), an outdoor "reading room" with newspapers and magazines on library stands, the ones with the sticks through the spines. Bryant Park is thriving -- it even has some outdoor restaurants -- and is a great place to spend an afternoon or evening and people-watch. No reason we can't do some of that here. Our weather is better!
Take advantage of your captive audience. While on jury duty recently, I had to dash up past Hill Street to Starbucks for some coffee or a sandwich. There are hundreds of jurors looking for a place to take a quick break. Sell sandwiches and healthy snacks at kiosks open in the park. Create some jobs while providing a welcome service for jurors and put the park on people's radar.
More shade. It will take a while for the trees to grow. Give people a place to take shelter from the summer sun if you are expecting the crowds to come. You could take advantage of SciArc students to design some cool portable shade structures.
How about a playground for kids? If you are expecting families to utilize the park, give them something to do. A few pink chairs and tables, in the blazing sun, just won't cut it. I have fond memories of my schoolyard when I was growing up. Every yard had a "parkie," the person in charge of the jump ropes, basketballs, Spaldings. Why can't we have Frisbees, balls, jump ropes, maybe even some kites on hand, available with a driver's license as deposit? Nothing like the sound of kids -- or grown-ups -- playing to know that there's joy in the world. And while you're at it:
Some chess tables. A croquet set. A badminton net. Maybe an art exhibit. The possibilities are endless, once you start to think about it. Given the dearth of trees and grass downtown, the park is a welcome addition to the urban landscape. Now, all we need are some ways to make the people happy.
A little thinking out of the box. The LA Ballet performance was held at the upper end of the park, nearest to Grand Avenue and the Music Center. It was so crowded that probably half of the people there couldn't see a thing. Meanwhile, the lower end of the park near City Hall was virtually deserted. Why not have those big events where sightlines would be much improved for the large crowds who do venture downtown?
A little security around the very open public bathrooms might not be a bad idea. I recently walked through the park in the evening and the restrooms were unlocked and very clean but I was surprised that not a soul of security was around. I love the idea of unlocked restrooms, but if something untoward ever did happen, who would answer a call for help?
The view of City Hall lit up at night is beautiful. So is the idea of a city united, gathering together to forget our differences and celebrate life's simple pleasures: the joy of a beautiful day with family and friends.
Recently, the enormous swimming pool here on Bunker Hill re-opened after a four-month hiatus. As I write, they're setting out the patio furniture and blowing away the leaves in anticipation of the party. But neither I, nor my 400 neighbors here in these rent-controlled apartments, are invited. We're caught in the middle of a dispute that is threatening to bisect this slice of downtown Los Angeles for the first time in 45 years.
Three tall, concrete buildings were erected on Bunker Hill back in the late sixties as part of a controversial redevelopment plan that wiped out over 130 acres of historic homes. Maybe you're old enough to remember it; if you are a native of southern California, someone in your family undoubtedly recalls that odd, bleak time of leveling.
You've undoubtedly driven by our buildings on your way to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or Disney Concert Hall or MOCA, which are across the street. "You live in a loft?" people ask when I tell them I live downtown. Not quite. These are just good, solid buildings that have endured. Nothing trendy about them.
Fifty years ago, the optimistic plan was to ultimately build five tall towers in all on this giant block between 1st and 3rd Streets. The hope was that people would clamor to live close to where they worked. For a moment, the architects of the revamped Bunker Hill even considered building a monorail around the renewed city.
In the center of what was called Bunker Hill Towers, and to lure people to take part in this urban living in 1968, a massive pool and recreation area was built, replete with BBQ grills and tennis courts and a Jacuzzi that holds 20 people. Flower Street borders one side of the pool; on the other is a block-long plaza of trees and public space that anyone can use to cross through the area. Two kids from the nearby charter school are necking out there right now. The average pedestrian wouldn't even know it was there, unless they peered through the fence.
I moved here from my native New York nine years ago to work at the public radio show Marketplace, which is housed in an office building across S. Figueroa Street. Since I was often going to work in the middle of the night, and since I am a daily swimmer, I chose to live as close as humanly possible to the office. The shorter my commute, the less of an excuse I had to miss my hour in the pool.
And because of that hour or so I spent at the pool each day, I fell in love, not just with Bunker Hill, but with all of Los Angeles. I had a ready-made avenue by which to meet my neighbors, and to learn the history of this place I now called home.
Turns out: The tallest of the three buildings here had split off in the early eighties and gone condo. The remaining two rental buildings agreed to continue to pay 2/3 of the expenses to maintain and share the pool.
A diverse mix of owners and renters gathered around that pool, all ages and races and economic backgrounds. Some of my neighbors were retired judges, wealthy businessmen, musicians at the Phil who'd bought condos as pieds-a-terre. Others from the rent-controlled units included a translator for the courts, a nurse, a saleswoman at the old Bullock's Wilshire who lived in the same rented studio apartment for 40 years.
I initially thought I'd last a year down here myself. But the rich fabric of this community is what's kept me far longer, long after I quit working across the street to write a book about a Shangri-la half a world away from this one here. In what other major metropolitan center could a person who wasn't affluent enjoy a 250-foot pool, surrounded by an oasis, in the shadow of a major museum and concert hall, shared with such interesting neighbors?
So, now, what has happened that's locked us renters out? Basically, a pissing match over....money, and a definition of repairs versus upgrades.
The pool shut down four months ago for what the condo said were essential repairs to the pipes and deck. The owner of the rental buildings, a publicly traded company called Essex, took issue with the $400,000 price tag. They argue that tucked into the repair bill are upgrades, which they shouldn't have to subsidize. Court documents show they've refused to pay the buildings' slice of the cost.
And so, the condo tacked up a sign on the entrance to the pool, announcing that renters were no longer welcome. In return, Essex has filed suit against the condo.
This week, the condo erected a 12-foot tall steel fence just inside the gate where, for 45 years, tenants have entered the recreation area. Word is Essex, while awaiting a court date, is going to put up its own fence, on the plaza here on Bunker Hill, to mark their slice of the territory.
The only good part about lawyers being involved is that I've been able to learn what's going on in my neighborhood by requisitioning documents from Los Angeles Superior Court.
And while this Hatfield-McCoy shenanigans escalates to new and more litigious heights, I and my fellow renters here on Bunker Hill will gather on "our" side of the pool fence, and gaze longingly at what for so long was the center of a lovely community in downtown Los Angeles.
Lisa Napoli is the author of "Radio Shangri-La" and an on-air host at KCRW-FM. This is her first post for LA Observed.
The rainy scene at Wilshire and Doheny Thursday night was a before-and-after/parallel universe kind of thing. Adolescents with short dresses, high-heeled boots and wet thighs mingled with white-haired patrons maneuvering walkers around the puddles. The Millenials were attending the Kidz 4 Kidz Make a Film Foundation fundraiser at the Writers Guild Theater. The Previous Millenials were attending a sneak screening at the Laemmle's Music Hall of "Hava Nagila (The Movie)."
As we took our seats, my companion surveyed the audience and asked, "Are we in Miami?"
In the row in front of us, a Chihuahua nestled into her owner's lap blanket, her collar announcing her name in rhinestones: "Pita." The lights dimmed. No one was caught in mid-text.
"Hava Nagila (The Movie)" opens on Friday, and even if you don't know a matzo ball from a basketball, this charming film would make even the kidz snicker into their spandex.
Director/producer Roberta Grossman grew up in the San Fernando Valley, part of the great Jewish Suburban Diaspora whose every ceremonial event was marked by a band, a reveler, a cheesy taped recording of a tune that is to Jews as "We Will Rock You" is to the sports arena culture, only more well-traveled.
As Henry Sapoznik, a klezmer music revivalist, says in the film, "Hava Nagila is the kudzu of Jewish music."
And like that invasive species, the song cannot be eradicated, it can only be franchised. Like Starbucks, everybody wants some. The filmmakers set out to make a documentary about a signature Jewish "nigun" (a wordless prayer or melody), and their journey, from Canter's deli in L.A. (pictured) to Ukraine to Tel Aviv, portrays how deeply everyone drinks from the melodic mug.
In the beginning, the narrator wonders why Jews everywhere are "pulled by this ancient Jewy force to the dance floor." Scenes unfold of brides in chairs hoisted high above the lubricated receptionistas (it's a Jew thing), of Torah scrolls rendered in chopped liver and bearing the bar mitzvah boy's name. We learn that "Hava Nagila" isn't ancient--its origins are 19th-century Ukraine--and it isn't just Jewy, hasn't been since the 1950s. These days, everyone boogies to "Hava Nagila." Harry Belafonte, I'm talking to you! Bollywood, come on down!
"Hava Nagila" is fundamentally a happy song with an underlying melancholy. In other words, it's fundamentally Jewish, says Chazzan Danny Maseng, cantor and musical director of Temple Israel of Hollywood. "Life is wonderful. Life is beautiful. I'm gonna die tomorrow."
Lyrics written in the early 20th century command us to rejoice and have a joyful heart, sentiments that contradict the culture's brand. After all, notes Josh Kun, associate professor at the USC Annenberg School and director of the Popular Music Project at the Norman Lear Center, "Jews invented therapy."
Now everyone's in therapy, and everyone covers "Hava Nagila." Along with Belafonte in the 50s, that nice Southern boy Elvis Presley, gave it a shot. After wondering "Where the Boys Are," in the '60s Connie Francis recorded a popular album of Jewish music with, of course, "Hava Nagila." The filmmakers asked her if she was Jewish. "I'm 10 percent Jewish on my manager's side," replied the shiksa with a sly smile.
In that turbulent decade, while Bob Dylan, nee Zimmerman, chewed it up and spat it out for 30 seconds of incomprehensibility, Chubby Checker twisted to "Hava Nagila." While Lena Horne applied new lyrics to the melody in a civil rights anthem, Alan Sherman's rewrite also included the title--"Harvey and Sheila," a parody of suburban upward mobility. Glen Campbell recorded "Hava Nagila" as the B side of his Oscar-nominated song for "True Grit," and told the filmmakers that "everybody and his dog knows it." When he first got to L.A., Campbell sang it a lot at bar mitzvahs because it was a first-class ticket to wedding gigs.
Although he never worked "Hava Nagila" into a script, Leonard Nimoy also is featured in the film, talking about Jewish music and recalling how he subversively Jewified "Star Trek" by stealing the split-fingered gesture rabbis use to bless the congregation as his Vulcan salute.
Despite Grossman's claim that "documentary filmmakers are not happy people," she has made a joyous little film larded with history and an e pluribus unum sensibility that makes the world a little smaller, a little better.
After the screening, a herd of white hairs crossed the street to dine and drink at Kate Mantilini. The kidz shivered in the parking structure, searching for their cars. They should have followed their elders across Wilshire to rejoice with joyful hearts.
Photo: Katahdin Productions
"Hello, my name is Lonnee Hamilton and I am here to solicit seed funding for My CookShelf.com, a recipe-sharing site; it's Pinterest meets Spotify for food."
It is 8 PM on a cold night in early February. I am sitting in a swank law firm's conference room in a high rise atop 7th and Figueroa, watching aspiring entrepreneurs compete for hypothetical seed funding from a panel of angel investors. Founder Institute, an international business management academy for nascent start ups, organized the event.
Knowing that I encourage writers to launch their own media enterprises, my pal, Lonnee Hamilton, SoCal food writer and Saveur magazine contributor, has invited me to join her family and cheer her on. She won the pitch that night and is ready now for Round 2.
She's looking for seed funding for real this time and has just launched a campaign to garner enough votes to qualify for participation in an upcoming pitch competition for start up cash. Or check out the My Cookshelf Tumblr for info about an upcoming Sriracha recipe contest.
Last Sunday, the Santa Monica Conservancy celebrated the birthday of Marion Davies at the Annenberg Community Beach House, which is appropriate since the center occupies the spot where William Randolph Hearst and Ms. Davies once shared an opulent Old Hollywood mansion and now shares the site with the remaining pool and a guest house designed by Julia Morgan in 1928.
Given my passion for other properties in the famous couple's real estate portfolio, I really appreciated the guided tours of the Guest House. Conservancy docents, dressed in vintage, assumed the role of a Davies' contemporary in order to share tidbits about the residence and its owners.
We had a swell time in the dining room listening to Joan Crawford discuss Marion's parties.
And Hedda Hopper dished about that infamous cruise with the couple while we stood in the foyer.
Later, there was vintage dancing, toasts and cake. Notables in attendance included Old Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker and author Ernest Marquez. I even learned that Charles Hood is the 2013 artist in residence at the Davies Guest House. You can read his beach house blog here.
It was a beautiful day to be by the sea. More pics below and on Flickr.
I only have a few minutes left before 2012 turns into 2013. I'm observing the folk tradition that you should envision the best moment of the last year in hopes that it will manifest again in the new one.
My best moment of 2012 was visiting with Hutton Wilkinson at his home in Beverly Hills in April. Interior designer, jewelry guru, businessman, socialite, native Angeleno, author, raconteur, and Old Hollywood maven, Hutton Wilkinson is the perfect embodiment of Los Angeles past, present and future.
I'd been aware of him through his role as protégé and business partner of the late artist and interior designer, Tony Duquette, but had never had the opportunity to meet him until a journalist friend invited me along on a visit to Mr. Wilkinson's compound in Beverly Hills, which includes, Dawnridge, Duquette's magnificent house, for an interview about his latest jewelry collection and its accompanying book, Tony Duquette Hutton Wilkinson Jewelry.
Charming, funny, erudite, gracious and kind, Mr. Wilkinson is one of those people who make you feel smart and witty just being in his presence. Wearing a fantastic silk robe from Duquette's personal collection of Asian textiles, he welcomed us as we stepped into Dawnridge's mirrored foyer.
"Ask me more questions, " he commanded as we sipped ice tea in the beyond-baroque living room.
"What kind of jewelry looks best on the jolie laide?" I said.
"Pearls! No, you have to have attitude to wear my jewelry. You need lots of self-confidence. Like Elsie De Wolf, you have to make people see beyond [the plainness of your face]."
Winter is showing signs of appearing, turning thoughts to skiing and snow-boarding. And the heck with that party-pooper sign in Big Bear, shot by Barry Nackos.
Speaking of warnings...
Political snapshots (1992)
The Republicans had been in the White House for 12 years when Hollywood Park launched a humorous billboard campaign — humorous for Republicans. The Demos got their revenge later that year, though. As you no doubt recall, the 1992 presidential horse race finished this way: Bill Clinton (win), George H. W. Bush (place) and Ross Perot (show).
For the holiday shopping list
Worst gift of all time
Thirty years ago, the city of L.A. spent $10,000 on ties bearing the logo "Los Angeles City Council" and sent them to legislators in Washington D.C. and Sacramento to improve "intergovernmental relations." None were ever reported seen in public.
"In the back of my mind, I remember getting something stupid like that and throwing it away," Democratic Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson said at the time.
When USC's football team was caught letting the air out of footballs so that they'd be easier to catch and throw, it wasn't the first time that deflation was an issue on campus.
In the 1940s and 1950s, a mangy mutt named George Tirebiter became famous for biting radials on passing cars near the school. Tirebiter, who prowled the sideline of games as USC's unofficial mascot before Traveler came along, is honored with an unusual statue on campus.
Talk about a sensitive building...
Flipping the bird
My nephew Nick and his wife Ariana run a pet-taxi service for animals that need to be flown somewhere. They'll transport King or Fifi to the airport and fill out the paperwork (no small matter in the era of Homeland Security.)
Recently, the Steins saw three pugs off to New Zealand to their owner's new residence. "Seventy eight pages of paperwork," said Nick Stein.
The other day a caller asked them to find a "nice family" for her pet vulture, which has become something of a problem. The creature had killed one of her cats and attacked her husband in the shower, the caller said. "She's such a sweet little bird," the caller added, "just not with anyone else."
The Steins weren't sure if it was a joke. When Ariana failed to stifle a giggle, the caller said, "Why are you laughing?"
The Steins declined to take custody of the homicidal bird.
A thought for the day from someone with a possible case of the holiday blues, captured in Topanga by Steve Durgin.
The note was written in a rickety hand on stationery depicting the Whooping Crane: America's tallest bird. "Dear El," it read, "I sold my car. After 70 years of driving, it's going to be strange. Love, Mom." Or maybe "Mother." I can't tell.
I greeted the news with relief. My mother is 85 and has macular degeneration. She struggles to read most websites and email that isn't delivered in 14-point, bold-faced type. Always an avid book reader, she now reads only volumes in large print that arrive by snail mail from the local library, courtesy of a program that has managed to escape the budgetary ax. A movie lover, mom can't read the newspaper listings without peering closely through a magnifying glass, and no longer goes to films with subtitles.
This woman should be driving a car like Karl Rove should be saving whales.
My mother is nothing if not a realist. She hasn't driven at night for several years, and has said in nearly every phone conversation since the summer that she was pretty sure she wasn't going to renew her license when it expires in January. She knew what she needed to do. But when you've never had to worry about how to get from here to there, when you live where mass transportation is the stepchild of the private automobile, when your physical decline irrefutably signals the demise of your independence, realism is not a refuge.
We spoke the day after the guy who bought her '89 Camry with 109,452 miles finally picked it up and drove away with her self-sufficiency. She recounted how she spent her last day of spontaneous mobility: She drove to a dentist appointment, then to Good Times for an uncharacteristic (but delicious!) fast-food burger, then to a sale at Argonaut Wine & Liquor. She did not see the irony.
She was suffering. Knowing that she did the right thing was cold comfort to knowing that she had a new roommate, Reliance on Others, and that after so long living alone, the adjustment was going to be difficult.
"I was so down yesterday," she said, "I spent the whole day lying on the couch. I've never done that."
No one described the aging process better than Bette Davis, whose oft-quoted "Old age ain't no place for sissies" pretty much sums it up.
My mom is not a sissy. She has learned to deal with infirmity and now must learn how to deal with loss of freedom. For many years now, the people in her life have learned (or not) to deal with an altered personality, or what I describe as "who are you and what have you done with my mother."
Despite the lack of a maternal role model -- her own mother committed suicide before she could read -- my mother was a wonderful parent to her young children, supportive, patient and enabling. But it was always clear that although my brother and I were the most important, we were not the only things in her life. She was a happy mother and wife, but nurtured an identity independent of both. And she was the temperamental antidote to my sometimes difficult father.
We were lucky.
But my mother is not the same woman I grew up with. A study published a few years ago in a journal for the Association of Psychological Science concluded that "personality traits continue to change in adulthood and often into old age, and ... these changes may be quite substantial and consequential."
My mother, the ultimate glass-half-full person, has grown crabby. Her younger enthusiasm has matured into bossiness. She's intolerant. She's unfiltered. The woman who preached respect for others can be astonishingly insensitive.
"That cat's gonna die soon," was her response to the news that my elderly pet was ailing.
Sometimes, age-appropriate memory loss fuels mean mom. When her niece couldn't recall where her grandmother's wedding ring was, my mother accused her of losing it. My cousin was crushed. In fact, 20 years earlier, mom had not given the ring to her, but to me.
My mom got old but not too old to manage all of her finances, not too old to play bridge and work crossword puzzles. Not too old to teach me, again, forever--if only I would learn--the value of compassion and tolerance. To teach me that when she says something alien, maybe she can't help it in the same way she can't help loving me.
She would have been a wonderful grandmother. But neither of her children gave her grandchildren, and although I know it is one of her biggest disappointments, she has never made us feel bad for depriving her.
Even in the face of physical deterioration, a shrinking social circle and a debilitating frustration with technology, my mother's glass remains half full. And if it's now more tonic than gin, well, as I told her on the phone the other day, next time I visit I'll take her to Argonaut for a refill.
"How?" she crabbed. "I don't have a car anymore."
"I'll rent one. Then we'll get a root beer float at A&W, and after that we'll go cruising for boys."
She laughed. A gift. Thanks, mom.
Photos: Pearl Alperstein in the 1940s
"It's like you're leaning on a building, and all of a sudden the wall turns around and you're in another world you can't get out of." Bruce Lisker was telling Jeff Stein about his experience with the criminal justice system when, at 17, he was arrested for his mother's murder.
I went with Lisker recently to the home of Jonathan Taplin, whose daughter Blythe works for the Capital Appeals Project, a non-profit law office in New Orleans which helps those on death row making their appeals in Louisiana. Lisker spoke to a group of Taplin's neighbors in support of Proposition 34, which would abolish the death penalty in California. After serving 26 years, 5 months and 4 days in prison, Lisker takes the rights he has earned as a now-free U.S. citizen very seriously and Prop. 34 is one battle that he has a stake in. The proposition's proponents have said that its passage would save money for California. They estimate that California will save $130 million each year if the death penalty is abolished, in part because the cost of incarcerating prisoners on death row is much higher than the costs of any other type of imprisonment.
Lisker's interest is far more personal. As someone who missed getting the death penalty because his conviction came 3 months before his 18th birthday and who was ultimately exonerated of the crime, he spoke about others wrongfully incarcerated. He said that the thought that there might be one innocent person wrongly convicted and sent to their death by the state was a mistake that we as a society could not afford to make. When I talked with Lisker about the death penalty, he expressed frustration that as a society we would put people to death to teach them that killing is wrong.
"It is far better to be given a life sentence with the ability to work and contribute to a victims' restitution fund. That way you are doing some good with your time in prison...Isn't it called the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation? We're not talking about releasing people but there should be an opportunity for correction. Otherwise we should change the name to the Department of Warehousing Humans."
He talked about how his situation, as a white prisoner with a small inheritance that allowed him to pursue exoneration, was far different from most prisoners who are usually poor people of color with very little funds at their disposal. James Clark, with Yes on 34, also addressed the group and asked for donations to help fund their campaign.
"Innocence is the number one argument against the death penalty," he said. "We are always at risk of executing an innocent person. Maybe this is something we just don't know how to do well enough."
Photo: Iris Schneider
Coyote-spotting is a serious sport up here on Angeleno Heights. Neighborhood pets have suffered a rash of coyote-related injuries and deaths this year. The coyotes have it just as bad; they're abandoning their homes in Elysian Park in desperate search for water and/or food. One specimen--an adolescent--bounded by me, heading north, two minutes after I spotted this sign last Saturday. I wonder how he became such a stellar speller.
At 2:30 in the morning, the cops were sitting in their squad cars at the intersection of Emerson and Westchester Parkway, eating sunflower seeds and pretending it was no big deal.
They were wrong. The emergence of the shuttle Endeavour this morning from its LAX hangar onto public thoroughfares for its two-day commute to the California Science Center south of downtown was an eerie spectacle with almost religious overtones.
With a soundtrack of jet engine noise emanating from the airport, we shuttle gawkers lined Westchester Parkway, our fingers fiddling with camera settings, our necks craned west into the inky night. The shuttle had crossed into a narrow field from Lincoln Boulevard and stopped at the parkway for a 40-minute route adjustment. Endeavour's transporter had to zig then zag her around some trees and light standards before setting her due east along the street.
"Just another aircraft delay," hollered a voice from the crowd.
A geeky guy was showing pictures on his phone that he had taken earlier in the week at Randy's donuts, which Endeavour was scheduled to pass later on Friday and where a yellow-and-black "Shuttle Xing" sign had been posted in the window. Unfortunately for the cop contingent, Randy's will be closed during Endeavour's drive-by, but geeky guy said when he was there crews were constructing bleachers in the parking lot for Toyota executives to witness the Manchester Boulevard bridge crossover. It would be powered by a Toyota Tundra truck because CalTrans considered the transporter's weight excessive. Toyota, of course, is filming its role in Earth-bound space flight.
More cops on motorcycles meandered hither and yon, pretending to have a role; a champagne-colored Dodge with blue, red and white lights flashing from the rear window cruised around with its headlights off. A cop standing near the yellow tape that defined our limits drank from a quart bottle of soda.
Then trucks from Valley Crest Tree Care Services passed in front of the crowd, and Endeavour began to crawl toward us. The crowd began to murmur as the shuttle's black nose came fully into view. For a vehicle whose orbital velocity was 17,500 mph, 2 miles an hour was ... spooky.
Some people applauded, but it was quick and deferential, like clapping for the cantor. You wanted, somehow, to acknowledge the enormity of the occasion, the unique experience of being in the company of something that had flown in outer space and was now within reach, its wings nearly brushing your head as it edged along a suburban street wholly at the mercy of its minders and a humble internal combustion engine powered by $5 a gallon fuel. Aloft, Endeavour carried a million-and-a-half pounds of fuel, and you do not want to know how much they cost.
Endeavour barely cleared the stoplight at Emerson, but this is a proud bird who will never look anything other than regal. She is banged up, her black belly tiles scarred, her white complexion pocked with mileage. She is magnificent. She makes patriots out of anarchists. She is America and she lives in L.A.
Photos by Ellen Alperstein from Westchester this morning.
Anxious to get away from a day of bad news, I retreated to that shrine of wealth and Hollywood make-believe, the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was their big day. The hotel was holding a reception to honor being named an official Beverly Hills landmark, and also to open the time capsule buried at the hotel 20 years ago when a major renovation project was begun.
The hotel and I go way back.
I got to stay there in the late 70's when I was sent across the country by Rolling Stone to interview Dustin Hoffman for a story when "Kramer vs. Kramer" was about to open. I was smitten, mainly by the idea that I really didn't belong there but no one seemed to notice. I was eternally grateful that my true identity was never discovered. Then, in 1980 I arrived in Los Angeles from New York to work at the Los Angeles Times. The move was an experiment and I only expected to last a year at best, sure I would miss my beloved Manhattan. I remember being intrigued by some Los Angeles oddities: palm trees, blatant ostentation and the fact that in Beverly Hills you could put a penny into a parking meter and actually get some time for your money.
One of my favorite activities to aid in adjusting to my new city was to frequent the Beverly Hills Hotel. To me, that place epitomized Hollywood and, as Joni sang, its "star-making machinery". It represented a world so far from my own. I would never aspire to that lifestyle — the jewels, the outfits, the valet parkers, the assumption that you deserved to be catered to. It was the height of pretension, but I realized that, despite my very modest working woman's salary, I could pretend, and they would welcome me as one of their own. I could afford breakfast in the Polo Lounge, and people — and celebrity — watch for free. Like a true New Yorker, I could find street parking on the east side of the hotel and walk through the lush California gardens to breakfast. I could invite some other working-class stiffs for a drink in the Polo Lounge after work and pig out on lovely silver bowls of free guacamole that were placed on your little cocktail table as if you belonged there, no questions asked. I could have myself paged by the bellhops that still walked the aisles of the Polo Lounge simply by calling from the pay phone down the hall, and return to my table to impress my friends before my name was called. I could be a poser and who knew how many of the people sitting by my side were doing exactly the same thing?
As I descended the stairs to the Crystal Ballroom where the reception was held, all those feelings came flooding back. I was greeted by a phalanx of cocktail-bearing waiters in the hotel's signature crisp white jackets. They smiled warmly and offered drinks. Another set of hosts and hostesses proffered the elegant printed progam of the event's activities. Everyone nodded in welcome. The thick carpets and upholstered chairs absorbed the noise of the crowd's chatter. You were enveloped in the blanket of quiet and elegance under hugely ornate chandeliers, and I could feel the weight of the day's sad events disappear into thin air. In that ballroom, the outside world mattered not one whit.
With a little bit of pomp, a video from 20 years ago when the time capsule was put together, was shown. The aging stars of the day were captured there: Milton Berle, Tony Curtis, Charlton Heston. Each had a contribution to put in the capsule and today, each of those contributions was accounted for: Milton Berle's Cuban cigar, Heston's video of "America the Beautiful," a cocktail napkin signed by Curtis.
While the hotel is still the place of choice for many of Hollywood's big machers, things have changed a bit. The event I attended included few real celebrities. Dionne Warwick was the top biller, donating her newest CD for the new time capsule. All the other donors were business people, travel agents and such whose work lives and personal lives became intertwined with the hotel over the years.
The three employees who have worked at the hotel the longest were honored. All of them began their work lives there in their teens and have made a lifetime of serving the famous and not so famous who have walked through the hotel's doors.
Before everyone moved to the patio for drinks and hors d'oeuvres, the time capsule was closed. One item, for me, seemed sadly out of place. A digital photo album montage would be unearthed 20 years hence with images of today's very real world: Syria, Libya, gas prices and other reminders of modern society. I felt betrayed. In this beautifully constructed world of make believe, it just didn't seem right to have the real world intruding where it clearly didn't belong.
Photo: Iris Schneider
From the east, Highway 160 drops gently from the Spring Mountains into Nevada's Pahrump Valley, halfway between Las Vegas and Death Valley. The high-desert, low-humidity enclave is home to 25,000 people, if you believe the 2010 federal census figures, and 38,000 if you believe the Pahrump Chamber of Commerce website. Either way, as the rural route levels out into sprawling Joshua Tree suburbia, the local demographic is defined.
"Guns 4 Sale," reads one handmade road sign. "Ron Kent--Justice of the Peace," reads another. "Retain Judge Kim Wanker."
On a visit last week, most of the signs promoted local candidates for the fall election, but in a couple of hours driving along roads named "Tough Boy," "Easy Street" and "Lola Lane," I did see three signs for presidential candidates--one for Mitt Romney and two for Ron Paul.
"Where's downtown?" I asked Janet at the Shell minimart on Highway 160 and Winery Road.
"There is no downtown." A California refugee who moved here because, she said, "I like the dark nights," Janet had the desiccated demeanor of desert dweller and a welcome-neighbor attitude. She showed me a map depicting two motor racing facilities, two wineries, the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, the Valley Electric Association, the senior center, the Cooperative Extension and the Town Office, which is where you can secure BLM firewood permits and reserve use of the Community Center. It does not appear on the map. Pahrump has a town manager and a town board that meets twice a month. The county seat, Tonopah, is 166 miles north on Highway 95.
The Lisker Chronicles have followed Bruce Lisker since his release from prison in 2009. Story and photos by Iris Schneider.
As September approached, Bruce Lisker was getting anxious. His civil suit--filed against the LAPD and postponed many times over the three years since he was released from prison and exonerated of the crime of murdering his mother--was set to begin on September 25. Since his release he has tried to create a life that would make up for the 26 years lost to a wrongful prison sentence.
Most people wait to celebrate their 5th, or 10th or 25th anniversary with a big blowout celebration. But Lisker isn't like most people. He doesn't postpone his celebrations. So, on August 18, the first anniversary of his wedding to Kara Noble, he gathered his friends and what he refers to as "chosen family," since his mother and father are gone now, and celebrated his wedding, renewing his wedding vows to his devoted wife Kara. They had invited everyone to return to the rambling rancho in the dusty wine country northeast of San Diego that they had rented for their weekend wedding one year ago. About 30 guests attended, bringing food, drinks, music and chipping in to help pay the rental fee.
The bride wore Hawaiian, a thrift store find at $8.50. There were piles of other Hawaiian thrift store finery for guests to throw on to get in the spirit. The vows were sealed with handmade leis, festooned with plastic trinkets and fake hibiscus flowers. Two other couples joined Bruce and Kara in renewing their vows, since the day was about love and commitment. The party was joyous and fun, something that Kara seems to relish creating.
But there was a palpable sense of foreboding and worry just under the surface. In many ways, Lisker is a lucky man. Exonerated, he's found the love of his life, a partner who's told him "together we can overcome any challenge." He is surrounded by supportive friends and family who say they will stand with him as he faces the LAPD in his upcoming civil trial, seeking justice and compensation for the miscarriage of justice that he maintains changed his life forever.
Several friends talked, however, about how the specter of going back to 1983 must be difficult for Bruce. Indeed, he talks more about his anxiety as the trial nears than he has in the past. He spoke to the crowd after the ceremony, some of whom were waving handmade signs of support, and with tears in his eyes, thanked everyone for being there. Some of the people met him online while he was still in prison, drawn in by his story.
Lisker is well aware of his many blessings and the party weekend was a time to count them. He has said in the past that he will not let anger and bitterness consume him or define his future. His stepmother Joy, who has passed away, taught him how to see the good in life and find his strength. Her many friends remind him of her positive spirit, and are there for him now.
But the next Monday, as Bruce slid into a seat next to his attorneys, forgoing his Hawaiian shirt for a sharp suit and tie, those celebrations seemed very far away. Everything in the Federal courtroom of Judge Howard Matz that morning was about 1983, as his attorneys and those defending the LAPD argued back and forth about what should and could be admitted during the trial. Testimony, court transcripts, depositions from witnesses and jailhouse informants was picked over and debated. Evidence was discussed and dissected. I could not help but wonder what was running through Bruce's mind as he held on for what must feel like a wild roller coaster ride.
After the hearing, Lisker reflected. "It's almost like I feel Monsue's handcuffs on my soul again," he said, referring to the detective who he claims decided he was guilty, blatantly ignoring evidence that would have proven otherwise. "But I believe in the resilience of the human spirit. I know what's right. I know the truth. I never harmed my mother and that carries the day. Wherever my mom and dad are, they know."
Lisker went to court on August 20 and before the hearing adjourned, received a September 4 date for one more preliminary hearing. Then, on September 25, Lisker would get to sit at the plaintiff's table. The LAPD would be the defendants. And the jury would once again decide his future. It's the day he's been waiting for since he was 17. A few days later, Judge Howard Matz alerted Lisker's attorneys that he was vacating, without explanation, the trial date of September 25. "We just wait to hear from him," said attorney Bill Genego. "The date will be set sometime in the future."
Reached at home this week, Lisker was philosophical: "This is something that the judge did, not asked for by either side. It's really quite disheartening. The case probably won't be heard now until next year. But it is what it is. I've had a lot of disappointments over the years, and I know how to deal with them. I'm unfortunately used to it by now."
On Thursday night, I had the chance to watch my alma mater UCLA open the 2012 college football season in a game at Rice. The game was shown on the CBS Sports Network, which not many people (including the press box at Rice according to T.J. Simers of the Times.) have access to. However, my provider, DirecTV, does have it.
The same day, the Pac-12 Network (or as they prefer Pac-12 Networks since there are multiple channels) got into action showing Utah's home opener against Northern Colorado as well as Stanford's opening game against San Jose State. I couldn't see these because DirecTV and the Pac-12 are nowhere near a deal to put on DirecTV's service.
Now, if I had wanted to watch the Pac-12 Network games, I could have easily gotten in my car, driven five minutes to my in-laws' house and watched the game on their TV. They are Time-Warner customers and they get the Pac-12 Network. However, they don't get CBS Sports. They seemed to get by without it.
My Olympics almost ended Friday night. Cold turkey.
The cable went out at 7:50, 10 minutes before my nightly prime-time Olympics fix. "One moment please," read the message on the otherwise black screen. "This channel should be available shortly." Like the addict I am, my heart started racing, my breathing turned shallow, my skin went clammy.
There was no relief from Olympics withdrawal. Not even a digital stream--Time Warner Cable provides (or doesn't) my Internet as well as TV service.
Joel Bellman, formerly an award-winning radio reporter and editorial writer for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, is a longtime journalism instructor for UCLA Extension and the communications deputy for county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. He submitted this piece as an individual.
"The past is never dead," William Faulkner wrote, "It's not even past."
I beg to differ. A significant part of my past is dead, buried, never to be exhumed and resuscitated. Missed, mourned, lost, lamented, certainly not forgotten. But gone, baby, gone.
I read recently that a young filmmaker has gone public to plead for funding to complete his documentary "Rhino Resurrected," an earnest and reverential attempt to evoke and recapture the spirit that animated the celebrated Westwood record store. I saw the rough cut he screened at a local art house last summer, and it wasn't bad. His fundraising window has only a couple of days left to run, and I wish him luck. I hope he finds his audience. But really telling that tale will be harder than capturing lightning in a bottle.
Let me offer a personal chapter you won't be seeing in that film: my three-year stint working at the Rhino Records sister store out in Claremont, about 60 miles east of the uber-hip Westwood location. Not exactly a canny career move for an aspiring journalist marking time between college and grad school, I grant you. But in some ways it wasn't that different than what I trained to do, and what I've done in every job I've had for the last 30-plus years. Spreading knowledge. Hipping people to what's happening. Trading information. Learning new things. Championing the underdog. Arguing endlessly with genuine passion.
And I wouldn't trade it for anything.
"Happy to be a part of the industry of human happiness," Andrew Oldham's Immediate Records label used to boast. Well, I certainly was. Back in the day - especially in a college town like Claremont, where I grew up - the record store in The Village downtown seemed like the coolest place around. With seven private universities within walking distance, we rarely lacked for customers. They were smart, eclectic, and as besotted with music as we were.
What a gig! Sit around in a rock t-shirt and jeans all day playing whatever records we wanted, hanging out, spewing opinions, and getting paid for it! I still can't believe it.
But like I said: Dead. Past. Gone.
I don't remember when I first discovered the place; it opened in 1974 or 1975, a year or two after its more famous Westwood counterpart. The original location on Second Street (directly next door to the police station!) was barely larger than my living room today. Tiny two-person counter, manned by a taciturn young guy and his wife. Cash box. Little carbon note pads to write up the orders. Credit cards? Forget it. Checks? Each one had to be called in to a credit service individually, the bank routing number read aloud, and cleared. Modern retailing, it wasn't.
Inventory, maybe a couple thousand LPs. But what albums they were! British and European imports. Out-of-print and overstock cut-outs. Deep catalogue stuff, not just the latest releases. Obscure jazz and blues reissues of uncertain provenance. Used and promo copies (price tags plastered, hilariously, on top of the "Promotional Copy - Not for Sale" sticker). This wasn't your parents' Wallich's Music City.
Did I mention the bootlegs? Live concert recordings, outtakes, unreleased studio sessions, out-of-print B-sides - many featuring superb covers by William Stout, today a recognized master of commercial and fine art - they were a record geek's delight. For pop music acolytes, the place was a holy shrine. And about as anti-corporate as it was possible to be while still turning a decent profit.
So when Rhino finally outgrew its space and decided to relocate to larger quarters a block away on Yale Ave., I was astounded when the taciturn manager offhandedly offered me a part-time job. Summer of '77, I'd just graduated college with a degree in communications, desperate to become a radio journalist, and no job in sight.
I took it.
The pay was modest - the first day, my wages included a second-hand copy of Neil Young's "American Stars 'n' Bars" - but I would gladly have paid them for the privilege. If there was ever a dream job, that was it.
If you remember the film "High Fidelity," that was us. Yes, we, too used to run people out if we didn't like their music, like the poor fellow who came in one day looking for a Village People album. "We don't carry that kind of stuff," I sneered. "Why don't you try The Wherehouse." And if they ever argued with us about our trade-in appraisal - they were dead. We almost bodily threw one grumbler out of the store - to the lusty cheers of the other patrons.
Now if, on the other hand, you came in looking for Kevin Coyne, or Kraftwerk, or Holly Near, or virtually any pub-rock, punk, New Wave, progressive rock, minimalist jazz or '50s and '60s reissue compilations - you were our kind of customer. It really was like a family. And Amazon algorithms that today cheerily inform us, "People who bought this also bought these" really can't compete with the human factor when it comes to sussing out the needs and wants of the discriminating record buyer.
There was the dapper little guy who dropped by every few months and collected only soundtrack albums - we'd always stash the rare trade-ins for him, which he'd delightedly snap up. One day he showed up, and handed me a mint copy of an impossibly rare import pressing of Pino Donaggio's score for "Don't Look Now," which he remembered I'd been looking for. "That's just to say thanks," he said. Another regular customer - a bluegrass and folk fan - appeared one Saturday and handed me a paper bag. Inside were mint copies of two out-of-print John Fahey albums I'd once mentioned to him. "For you," he said simply. And I still fondly remember the older guy with the duck's ass haircut whose face lit up when I handed him a copy I'd found for him of a rare Coasters anthology with "Idol With the Golden Head" that he'd been searching for since his high school days back in the '50s.
One Saturday morning, I'd just opened and the store was still empty when a kid wandered in with an old Beatle album he wanted to trade in: "Yesterday and Today" - the first pressing, with the notorious pasted over "butcher cover" I'd only heard about but never before seen. Another Saturday morning, the singer Iggy Pop unexpectedly walked through the door, joined by one of his former bandmates in the Stooges who'd become a friend of one of my co-workers. Among our other customers, a young Ben Harper, whose grandfather founded the legendary Folk Music Center across the street that today Ben owns.
I worked at Rhino part-time and then full-time for two years, and when the manager who'd hired me left to take a job with a record company, I took over. But by then, I already knew that my record store days were numbered. I'd enrolled in graduate school, had ramped up my writing, and soon landed the radio internship I'd long been seeking. When it turned into a paying gig in another radio news department in Los Angeles, I quit the store for good and moved west to be closer to school and the job.
Rhino grew from a couple of stores into an independent record label, and eventually into a major-label division that set a global standard for high-quality archival reissues. But the big wheel keeps on turning, and eventually the label's founders were bought out, the division downsized, and the business increasingly migrated into little more than digital downloads. The old business model has almost entirely collapsed, and the retail music store is today virtually obsolete.
I never again worked in any aspect of the music industry, or ever wanted to. But my passion for music - and my vinyl addiction - have never abated. My voluminous record collection has survived intact one divorce and half a dozen moves. Those long, lazy days I shared with my fellow employees - Mark and Linda, Jeff, Karen, Eva - are among my most cherished.
There was a time when it took me more than 30 years to hunt down another copy of the obscure British 45 I once briefly encountered in a dusty little record shop on a back street off Caledonian Road in North London on my first trip to the UK. Another time, it took several miles of walking through some pretty dicey New Orleans residential neighborhoods far from the tourist-friendly French Quarter for me to finally locate a rare original local-label version of a minor R&B favorite of mine by Big Sambo and the Housewreckers. I may be nuts, but I've got at least a dozen stories like that.
In today's world, when virtually any song anyone's ever heard of can be streamed and downloaded within seconds, legally or otherwise, most music fans would surely find such behavior unfathomable, if not psychotic. How can a little scrap of plastic with a hole in the middle in a paper sleeve or cardboard jacket possibly mean that much to anyone?
But once upon a time, there was magic in those grooves. And for those of a certain age, they cast a spell that still enchants - and always will.
Searching the vinyl bins for bargains at Amoeba Music Hollywood on Record Store Day.
Music fans began lining up before dawn on Saturday. The line stretched down Ivar Avenue in Hollywood.
Early arrivals had plenty of room to spread out and look for today's new releases.
LA Observed photos by Sean Roderick
You never have to look too far to find lots of things to do in Los Angeles, but April is the one month of the year I make sure I stay in town because so much comes to us. The third annual Turner Classic Film Festival opens on Thursday, April 12, immediately followed on April 16 by the City of Lights, City of Angels Film Festival and then their final weekend is overlapped by the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, held at USC on April 21st and 22nd. So many choices, so little time.
This will be the 3rd annual TCM festival and I have to admit, when I first heard of their plans to bring classic films to the big screen at Grauman's and other theaters in the heart of Hollywood, I was dubious at best. How many people would show up to see "Sunset Boulevard" at 9 in the morning when they could stay in bed watching it on their television? Well, I was humbled to learn several thousand people from 49 states and throughout the world would and the festival has been selling out ever since. This year, stars such as Liza Minnelli, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley Jones, Kim Novak and directors John Landis, John Carpenter and Stanley Donen are among the dozens who will be introducing films such as "Cabaret," "Two for the Road," "Auntie Mame," "Vertigo," "The Women" -- over 100 films in all. It is a veritable convention of film lovers and part of the joy of it for those of us who live here is that it is a reminder of how lucky we are - between UCLA, the Cinematheque at the Aero and the Egyptian, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences we have access to classic films year round.
Still, the TCM festival is something special. For those who didn't buy passes last summer when they went on sale, individual tickets are sold before the screenings on an "as available basis," so your chances are best at those shown in the largest venues, Grauman's Chinese and The Egyptian. Check out tcm.com for the schedule and check again in a month or so to see when next year's passes go on sale.
The City of Lights, City of Angels Film Festival is in its sixteenth year -- and with fewer theaters showing foreign films year-round, it is a rare chance to see over thirty French films that may never be released in this country. Because of ColCoa, past attendees were already familiar with Jean Dujardin, this year's Oscar winner for best actor for "The Artist," because several of his previous films, including his hilarious OSS James Bond-spoofs, have been shown in past years. This year, new releases include the much anticipated "Another Woman's Life" starring Juliette Binoche and "Americano," starring Salma Hayek from the writer director Mathieu Demy, son of Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy. Classic films are celebrated at ColCoa and this year those include "Call Me Savage" starring Yves Montand and Marcel Carne's "Hotel du Nord." The festival is held at the Director's Guild and is open to the public. Full schedule
The Los Angeles Times continues with its budget struggles, but miraculously their Festival of Books flourishes. Each year hundreds of authors -- who spend so much of their time alone with their computer -- gather for a weekend to engage with -- and be amazed by -- thousands of active, engaged readers. There are a variety of "stages" -- the cooking stage, the poetry stage, the children's stage -- you get the idea -- and dozens of panels and one on one "conversations" such as Rodney King with Patt Morrison.
This year's "celebrity authors" include Betty White, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julie Andrews; Scott Berg will be moderating one of several biography panels (I am moderating another) and discussions with the likes of Katrina vanden Heuvel, Tom Hayden and Robert Scheer are sure to be lively and informative. Something for everyone. The Festival of Books was the brain child of Narda Zacchino and Steve Wasserman -- now both long gone from the Times -- and has evolved into one of the finest book festivals in the country. For years, the Festival was held at UCLA, but last year moved to USC. It opens on Friday night with what will be the 32nd annual LA Times Book Awards, coordinated by the Times' film critic Kenneth Turran, and that too has public tickets available. Admittance to the Festival of Books is free, but this year they are selling passes for $30 to eight panels for those who want to be sure to get in to see their favorites. (Stages and outdoor performances are all free as well.) It is still one the best deals in town and for tickets and more information. Website for info
Annie Hall screens at the Turner Classic Film Festival on April 15 at Grauman's Chinese Theatre
Yes, a few. No, really — I have proof.
You can play two songs for 25 cents on the 60-year-old counter jukeboxes in Johnnie's Pastrami shop in Culver City. Elvis lives!
Hey, wait a minute
OK, some folks might not agree that the restroom charge is a great bargain. While Only in LA was snapping photos of the restroom door — a risky undertaking, by the way — a woman asked what was going on.
Told the nature of the investigation, she responded, "Oh. Well, we're from Texas. We don't have to pay to use the bathrooms down there."
Come to think of it, the Grand Central Market should at least offer validations to diners.
At least one merchant evidently hopes the big rock at the L.A. County Museum of Art has started a shopping trend, judging from the sign I spotted in Buellton, south of San Luis Obispo. (Click photo to enlarge.)
Was somebody stoned?
Speaking of profetionals
Apprentice panhandler at work
A lad of about 4 or 5 boarded the Blue Line in Compton in the company of a young woman. When she began asking passengers for donations, he drowned her out, screaming, "Give me money! Give me money!" to the captive audience. He was rewarded with cries of "Shhh!"
Another strategy for netting handouts was used by a street person in Long Beach on St. Patrick's Day eve. He wore a green lei and held up a sign that said, "Something green please." At least he said please.
Gas pains (cont.):
But John Hall, the former LA Times columnist, has found a way to beat the high prices. "I fill up when I've still got half a tank left," he said. "So it's only $50 to fill the tank."
I didn't attend the LA Marathon. The rights to the race are owned by Frank McCourt, the soon-to-be ex-Dodger owner, and I feared that McCourt would charge $15 for parking spots near the route.
I guess this column has reached the end of the road for this time.
Steve Harvey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lisker Chronicles have followed Bruce Lisker since his release from prison in 2009. Story and photos by Iris Schneider.
On February 28, the date that Bruce Lisker's civil trial was set to start, he was not in the federal courtroom. Instead, it was just a regular day of work at Eque Archival Film Restoration in Larchmont, running to Kodak's Hollywood lab and Universal Studios delivering and picking up films. For the second or third time his trial date has been continued from its October 2011 start date — to February 2012, April 2012 and now possibly September 2012. "At this point," says his attorney Bill Genego, "we have not yet come to an agreement on a new date."
Bruce was extremely disappointed with the latest postponement.
"I'm going on with my life," he says. "They can delay justice, but justice delayed is justice denied. I'm confident that a jury will see it for what it is, but there are no guarantees."
However, he still maintains a positive outlook, a frame of mind that is sometimes hard to fathom. Given the ups and downs of most people's lives — small frustrations or setbacks like being stuck in traffic, bouncing a check, even getting fired from a job — Bruce seems to have justification to complain, having lost his freedom for decades of his life.
In prison for 26 years for the murder of his mother, he maintained his innocence and fought for his release until finally, in 2009, it happened. His conviction was overturned in August by a Federal judge who agreed that he had been prosecuted with false evidence. He is hoping to see justice served when his civil case comes to trial and he can take the authorities to task for what he maintains was a conviction based on untruths and a poor defense, and finally be compensated for the losses he suffered while in prison from the age of 18 to 44. "It actually proves what a great nation this is when you can seek redress for having been wronged," he says. "Somebody will have to answer."
He and his new wife Kara are coming up on their first anniversary and have decided to invite everyone back — to the house they rented for the ceremony last year — for a celebration. He's back working at Eque, Inc., the archival lab owned by Paul Rutan Jr., the son of his godparents, after being laid off for a while, and he's enjoying his responsibilities. He says he's created a digital database for the company and helped organize their inventory. He gets to drive around the city, delivering and picking up films for restoration, and while he does, he can reminisce about his Hollywood roots.
On a recent run, he pointed out a red building where his dad had his first law office, near Cahuenga and Hollywood. "I remember going there with him when I was a kid. The Fire Station was next door, and he took me there to see the fire engines. We got all these pamphlets on fire prevention and talked to the firefighters. I must have been about 7." His Dad had a booth at Musso and Frank's and Bruce sometimes heads there for lunch or a cocktail. Bruce's dad passed away while he was in prison. He was denied a pass to attend the funeral, but memories of his dad come up often in conversation.
I asked him how he manages to stay so positive. "Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% what you do about it," he said. "It's all about how we're programmed to deal with things that determines whether we can be at peace. Even some people who've had terrible things happen to them have been able to stay positive. For me, I had my dad standing by me. That did a lot for resurrecting my confidence. He had faith in me and he never stopped believing in me. Also, my chosen family, my tribe of supporters who kept my spirits up. They didn't stop believing in me. It gives you the spirit to go on. Music helped me a lot in prison. And I have an amazing wife. She is absolutely incredible. She understands me and I understand her, and we support each other. Together, nothing's going to conquer us."
Someday, Bruce wants to speak out about staying positive and his life experiences, to try to help others. He keeps in touch with some of the friends he made in prison. But for now, he's taking it day by day. A recent email ended with a few sentences that said it all:
"We are doing wonderfully. Just loving life, and all it has to offer. Beautiful, this life thing!"
You can't help but think about how much we take for granted every day while living "this life thing."
I've been back home for 3 weeks now--since I drove out of L.A. at the end of August for an east-coast teaching gig--and I have to say, it's good to be back.
OK, I admit I miss a few things about my life on that other coast--my nephews, for example, and watching my car not move in the driveway. Also, the weather. As in, there's weather. I'm one of the few Angelenos who prefers weather, and while almost all my friends expressed real worries about how I'd survive the winter, I found a strategy--wearing warm clothes--that worked really quite well.
Here are a few great things, though, that L.A. has and that little village in New Jersey does not--and that I've had the chance to enjoy in these first few weeks back:
** The L.A. RIVER - Yoga Park, Marsh Park with all its stormwater-catching capabilities, Taylor Yard (aka Rio de Los Angeles State Park), and the gorgeous 37-acre Dominguez Gap Wetland, which, like the River, is a gigantic secret in plain sight.
Also the concrete confluence with the mighty Arroyo Seco, the 6th St. bridge underpass where all the crime shows dump the bodies, and the high concrete walls just below Del Amo Blvd. in Long Beach--all sites on L.A.'s biggest mistake, and all spots that are equal parts monstrosity and magic.
** A ROCK, rolling by night on a 260-foot-long truck, towards an art museum, at 5 mph (max) on the streets of SoCal--
--a region so defined by mobility and speed and the latest gadget, and by the production and transportation of the world's industrial goods, that the sight of A ROCK, A REALLY BIG ROCK, moving almost as fast as a pedestrian can go, for no real commercial or practical reason, makes so many people smile and feel joy and stop living life as usual that people take vacation days to pay homage to it, and street parties erupt spontaneously with thousands of people, as the refrains of "we will, we will rock you" rock the route.
(Sorry, Christopher Knight, but this is *not* mostly about "money" and "masculinity.")
** Awards-shows SWAG LOUNGES -- oops, I mean the Academy Awards gifting suite--with the standard orange wristbands for the Talent and blue for the media (aka the Talented) so that the vendors know who not to give that much free stuff to.
My haul this time nevertheless included age-corrective bamboo firming liquid, a key-lime vanilla age-defying masque, ultra-age-defying day cream w/crystal drops, Nu Youth serum, "age reverse safely" night recovery cream, and a firm-skin age-defying pill with a multi-phase release system in a vegan-friendly capsule.
I plan to put all of it together into a blender, purée it, drink it, and wake up as a 7-year-old. Then I'll want to eat my entire jar of Nordic Naturals ("essentials for an extraordinary life") strawberry Omega-3 gummy worms.
I loved the the eraserboard, at the Nordic Naturals booth, where, in response to the question, "What's essential to you?" people had written "family," "love," "happiness," and "my Mom and education"--though not, surprisingly, "a special device with a patented ingredient that slows down the aging process when you run it all over a special gel that you rub up and down your whole body."
Or "tweezers that are handcrafted in Italy and have a patented enamel finish, and which remove the smallest hair and come with a warranty." Or "the first and only coconut-based vodka." Or...well, actually, that nice little Blinks necklace that converts into reading glasses did make me awfully happy.
** TACOS!! Good ones!! - which is just about all I ate for the first three days.
I've hit my great Venice truck Isla Bonita, Venice's better-than-westside Benny's Tacos, La Taquiza near USC (mulitas!), Señor Fish, Taqueria El Sol in Boyle Heights, and El Taco Loco #2, in north Long Beach, which vies with Isla Bonita for most deeply missed chicharrones tacos.
Add in the best-in-show just-plain-chicharrones and the pandebonos at Cafe Colombia in Burbank, the white-bean mochi at Fugetsu-Do in Little Tokyo, the coconut glaze and coconut strudel at Porto's Bakery in Glendale, and the soft yeasty milk pudding and one of everything else at 85c in Irvine, and...
...then add all that to the glorious concrete River, THE ROCK that travels by night at 5mph (max), the dubious free stuff for rich people as well as a few of the Talented who really need to think about the ethics of taking free stuff while they're cramming it all into bags on the roof of a Beverly Hills Hotel...
I got up from my disco nap at 12:30 A.M. and made my way to Michelle's house in Hancock Park. Women were passed out on couches, sleeping off a few of bottles of Merlot consumed back when the night was young. They groggily roused themselves, slipped into pointy, high-heeled shoes, swiped on lipstick and we all rolled out into the night together.
We joined droves of people heading east on Wilshire, all going to meet the big boulder bound for LACMA where it would be elevated into art.
It was a convivial crowd, full of hipsters on bikes, kids in pajamas, couples on dates -- stoners all. The mood was reckless and celebratory. My pal Elizabeth said, "Hello rock lovers!" to everyone she saw, to which almost everyone responded, "Rock on!" Some fool shouted, "Rock out with your rock out!" Come to think of it, maybe that fool was me. Well, it was exciting.
We came to a stop on a tiny traffic island at Wilshire and Wilcox, a block away from where the rock had also come to a stop as illegally parked cars were towed out of its way. I wondered at the deep, almost Paleolithic excitement I felt in my breast. The sight of man moving mountains calls us to moment. Whether its Egyptian or Druid, Easter Island or Inland Empire, groups of men moving epic hunks of stone is simply awe-inspiring. We all felt it, and I think I speak for the group of women I was with when I say any one of those hard-hatted, yellow-vested engineers could have gotten lucky that night.
One of those men approached us and Michelle threw herself into his embrace. It turned out to be her old pal Terry Emmert, president of Emmert Transportation, the company in charge of hauling the 340-ton boulder from the Riverside quarry to Fairfax and Wilshire. Terry usually hauls boring things, like nuclear reactors, nothing nearly as exciting as this art boulder.
Terry explained the rock was entirely wrapped in Egyptian cotton to protect it from scratches. Welcome to LA, Rock, where we have a civic thread count mandate in effect. Just then the rock came into view wrapped in gauze and practically glowing under bright lights. It looked like a trophy wife on an extreme makeover reality show. Hopefully when the bandages come off the rock will just look well-rested.
Another official vehicle pulled up in the intersection, and three people jumped out of the truck to consult importantly with one another. One of them turned out to be Deb Vankin, Girl Reporter, who had been writing and Tweeting about the journey for the LA Times. I hailed her and she gave me a weary greeting. She had been Tweeting every ten minutes for eleven straight nights, then writing it up for the print edition in the morning. "It seemed like a good idea a few months ago..." she told me, her exhausted sigh filling in the rest of the sentence. Oh, the glamour of journalism!
The rock rolled by and we all assiduously recorded it for posterity on our iphones -- videos that we will probably never watch, because let's face it, a big rock moving past on a truck is not an inherently gripping visual, unless you're a six year-old boy. It is slow and looks a lot like construction. The rock continued west on Wilshire.
The Wilton party broke up, so Elizabeth and I, seeking closure, drove over to LACMA to join the final landing festivities. We found a few hundred tired, chilly people gathered on either curb, kept awake by sheer anticipation and the sugar rush supplied by a nearby gourmet waffle truck.
Finally, at 4:30 the convoy arrived in front of the Chris Burden light sculpture, and the four trucks harnessed to the rock blew a few short simultaneous blasts of their horns to signify the moment and everyone cheered. And that was pretty much it. People went up to touch the rock, but even the Egyptian cotton turned out to be covered in shrink-wrap. It was anti-climax for the ages.
A billboard on the premises of a Mobil station in West L.A. says: "FEEL THE WRATH." Motorists filling up for $60 or $70 likely don't need any reminding. The ad is for a fantasy action movie, "Wrath of the Titans," which is not about the oil companies but about some previous villains. But let's not get carried away. Things could be worse for 21st century drivers. So far, I've found only one place---a 76 station, naturally--- that charges more than 450 bucks per gallon (of course, you have to buy a car wash to get such a low price).
But you'll never get my commuter mug!
One more reason why L.A.'s the Entertainment Capital of the World: Leaving a Clippers game the other night, I passed a street person who was chanting to passersby: "50 pushups for a dollar, 50 pushups for a dollar."
Unclear on the Concept
A friend of ours lives in the Long Beach house inhabited by Matthew Broderick in the movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." The home, being in Southern California (not in Chicago, as the movie portrayed it), is featured on various websites. Some folks apparently think "Ferris Bueller" was a documentary, not a work of fiction. Twice my buddy's family has received junk-mail solicitations addressed to Ferris, including one from a Trenton, N.J., health care provider.
Rescuing the Oscars
One idea I have for improving the slumping ratings of the Academy Awards is to add a new category: Best Theater Marquee. I've gotten more laughs out of such signs than I have from some entire movies. Here are three of my favorites. (Maybe some day I'll get the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for this suggestion.)
How about an award for Best Supporting Biker...
Don't know if you caught it, but Octavia Spencer ("The Help") told Jay Leno that, before she received her Best Supporting Actress nomination, her car stalled on Sunset Boulevard. Passers-by whizzed by without taking notice---all except one motorcyclist. When he took off his helmet, with its darkened visor, she recognized him as actor Keanu Reeves. All of a sudden, Spencer said she was besieged by motorists and passersby wishing to help out.
This sounds like a horror movie title
My favorite sports marquee
Tales of the Metro Rail
A man boarded the Blue Line the other day carrying a 6-foot-cross, and attempted to convert the riders. He didn't have much luck. Nor did the fellow who commandeered one Blue Line car on another day and, in a verbal group message, appealed for handouts---first in English, then in Spanish. As usual no security was present.
There was drama aplenty on the morning a rider demanded (unsuccessfully) a seat occupied by another's bewigged mannequin head. Much cursing ensued though the mannequin remained quiet.
On another run, the Blue Line slammed to a halt between stops, prompting talk that a pedestrian had been hit. Suddenly it started up again and a voice over the intercom proclaimed, "I didn't run over nobody!"
Metro Rail ought to consider a slogan along the lines of: "Always an Adventure!"
Here's animal trick I bet you haven't seen on the Internet
Food for thought
Winners at the recent Southern California Sports Broadcasters luncheon were quick to single out their idols, especially Vin Scully, for inspiration. The 84-year-old Scully, of course, was not to be outdone. When he received an award, he told the crowd: "My inspiration is Betty White."
Los Angelenos are an overpopulated, car-embedded society more inclined to hunt and gather golden currants in the aisles of Whole Foods than collect them in Griffith Park. But here's the thing: In Southern California, where the growing season is 12 months, where the climate ranges from snow to surf in the time it takes to watch a movie, where many animals enjoy not having to hibernate the way we enjoy not having to buy snow tires, you can't help having the occasional encounter with Earth's rougher drafts.
The City of Los Angeles float turns onto Fair Oaks Avenue moving into position for Monday's Rose Parade. Latest in the Night Vision series by Iris Schneider.
During the doldrums, say twice a year, I take a little Beverly Hills excursion into that luxe emporium, Neiman Marcus, or, as some have called it, Needless Markup.
Not to buy, but to be awed. Because, after all, everyone needs some enlightenment, some sense of what else is out there besides the saddening news that one in every six Americans lives in poverty, while CEO's take home 100's of millions, telling us that the wealth gap has never been greater...
Especially now, that stroll among pricey items can be an Alice-in-Wonderland experience. $1500 for a pair of designer shoes? At last year's visit I tried on a $700 Christian Louboutin number -- you know him, the guy whose trademark is the red shiny leather sole (seen as Sandra Bullock climbed a small ladder from boat to dock in a scene in "The Proposal").
So what would I find now on this island of insanity?
More bedazzlement. As much by the inventory as the tags. Even with advance notice -- gained by eyeing the designer ads in glossy fashion pages -- these marvels of sculptural shape and engineering acuity (available in lots of high-end stores) were wondrous to behold. As preparation, I oggled Lady Gaga in her be-sequinned, hoof-like platforms by Alexander McQueen.
The display seemed endless - easily 70 different styles. Every famous and emerging designer seems to have indulged in this new sport of erecting skyscraper shoes: stiletto heels of 1/8 inch diameter rising 6" with 3" platforms. And, yes, I dared to try one on. That I couldn't even stand in place, let alone take a step, should not come as a surprise.
And then, from a short distance, another specimen drew me close. It was a multi-colored patent leather - the front panels were chartreuse, shocking pink and black; the heel cup was outfitted with actual spikes (the better to defend against a mugger? a rude date? or just to identify the wearer's dominatrix status? or just to pretend same? or just an expensive joke?).
I stopped a department sales person on his way to the stock room and asked about this particular Ruthie Davis shoe. "Oh, that one," he volunteered, in a surprisingly unappreciative tone. "Can you believe it? We're actually sold out." Phew, I sighed, relieved that there would be no further dissemination of frightening shoe-wear. Even at the bargain price of $1300.
Surely something is amiss. And not just an economy blown to smithereens, with a hole in the middle class and a top 1% owning multiple jets while unloading their lucre on every exorbitant item in sight. But a whole culture that is reflecting extreme taste. Why not? We're having extreme weather, extreme market volatility, extreme sacrifices, austerity for all (but the rich.)
Five years ago it was streetwalkers who wore these high-off-the-ground clodhoppers, and sausaged themselves into spandex skirts that rose to short-shorts level. Now we've got gorgeous young concert pianists wearing the same. So-called high society has lowered itself to pulp fictions.
Surely there's a message here. Sexual power for women, maybe? It used to be the man-tailored suit, that "dress for success" meme, the big padded-shoulders look. Now it's rise high on stilettos, tower over your men, knock them out with nudity, you know, legs, legs and more legs, breast implants and deep decolletage. We can concede, I suppose, this is the new feminine power statement.
But back to the wealthy elite and its exclusive price tags. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said "Let me tell you about the very rich - they're different from you and me."
Yes, I think we can see that. Nothing is new. If you sit down in the NM shoe department to watch and listen, you'll see women walking to and fro, not talking of Michelangelo, but adrift in their insular worlds of couture fashion, enclosed in their bubble of gadabout galas, living far above the fray and in an outré universe.
Still, I don't think foot-fetish fancying was ever this much fun before.
Once there was a somewhat skeptical UCLA fan. He had gone to school when the team was pretty good. He had seen his shares of highs and lows.
The skeptical UCLA fan went to his local market back in September and saw that they sold novelty tortilla chips in his school's colors. So he bought a bag.
There might be 8 million stories in the naked city, but there are more than 312 million in the United States. StoryCorps wants to hear all of them.
Radio documentarian David Isay (is there a better name for a guy whose job is producing oral histories?) and a host of individual and foundation supporters have built StoryCorps into a Library of Congress archive and a grass-roots movement to get Americans talking to each other. StoryCorps spreads the word--its mission and your recorded stories--with the help of NPR, which airs excerpts of conversations participants have given permission to share.
Through a handful of permanent recording booths throughout the country and a mobile studio housed in an Airstream trailer, people memorialize pieces of a life with the help of trained facilitators. Angelenos are telling tales at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until Dec. 18, the latest of several such L.A. visits since going mobile in 2003. Local NPR affiliate KCRW is airing bits of these oral histories Monday and Wednesday afternoons.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Friday, November 4, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
Crew films an episode of "The Closer" on Fuller Avenue near Beverly Boulevard, at about 1 a.m. Third installment in the Night vision series. Click on the image to see it larger.
When Los Angeles Magazine's Amy Wallace called and asked me to write an article for what would be the "L.A. Woman" issue, I blurted out, "Please tell me it isn't going to be all silicon and collagen." She laughed and responded, "Well, there has to be a little of that - it is L.A. - but we are really going to try to do something different." And I have to admit, several months later, they have done just that.
Their October issue focuses on women who "make a difference" and there are a lot of them. Cover girl Maria Shriver holds a regal pose and smartly turned down multiple offers for other covers where the accompanying article would have raised questions about her personal life. Instead, she is the interviewer in the anchor piece on philanthropist Wallis Annenberg.
On Tuesday, over 100 women (and a few men) gathered on the top floor of the Andaz Hotel on Sunset to celebrate the L.A. Woman issue and the fifty women named as the city's "game changers." As editor Mary Melton mused that she wished they could have lunches like this for every issue, I was struck how different this list was from the "Power" issues we are used to from magazines such as Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and the like. For one thing, you would be hard pressed to find deep pocket advertisers taking out the full page "congratulations" ads — which seem to be the major reason d'être for such issues — with honorees such as Laura Avery, veteran manager of the Santa Monica Farmers Market, or Charisse Bremond-Weaver, director of South Central's Brotherhood Crusade.
Another surprise is there was only one "movie star" on the list and that was Diane Keaton — and she was chosen because of her impact on architectural preservation. Granted, there was a handful of behind-the-camera women such as former Paramount head Sherry Lansing, lawyer Patrica Glazer, Endeavor's Nancy Josephson and screenwriter Aline Broth McKenna, but they were being credited for their civic contributions as much as their professional achievements. Most of the women were not household names nor wealthy powerhouses -- the one thing they had in common was that they each worked passionately to bring positive change to the city and people's lives.
And so since Melton, Wallace and the women of Los Angeles Magazine made the decision to dig a little deeper and examine the complexities of L.A. women instead of the stereotypes without benefit of those "Congratulations" ads, I thought the least I could do was congratulate them in LA Observed.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
In our singularly loud American way of celebrating and reflecting, we're all revving up for this weekend's anniversary of the events of 9/11. As usual, there's a glut of TV programming and pundit navel-gazing. The only thing missing is a mattress sale at Sit 'n Sleep.
We can't help it; humans are hard-wired to organize and wrangle our history. We believe we can make sense of a senseless world if only we can quantify it. Usually, we can't, but we still like to measure time by the interval between wars. Sometimes, we can, by measuring ourselves with a census, which, in the developed world, is usually in 10-year increments.
So here we are, at the 10-year milestone, recalling where we were, how we heard about the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. We all process things in our own way. Mine is remembering tiny, telling moments in the days immediately after 9/11 when we were raw and struggling with how we felt and how we were supposed to feel.
The day after the attacks, I was driving near my house when another driver abruptly pulled out of his driveway directly in front of me. I did not respond as I normally do, with cursing and exasperated hand gesturing. I simply braked, sighed and let him take the lead. At the next intersection, we pulled up to the stop sign abreast of each other. He was turning right, and I was continuing straight ahead.
We turned toward each other. ''I'm sorry,'' he mouthed, offering a penitent look. I nodded, mouthed ''OK,'' and drove off, wondering about the origins of the alien that suddenly inhabited my body.
Most of that week I found myself engaging in odd behavior: not judging witless TV news readers; sending sentimental e-mail to a cousin in New York I hadn't seen in decades; being patient when the cashier at the grocery store seemed to be moving in slow motion.
And when said store had not received its daily allotment of sushi, I was disappointed but uncharacteristically not annoyed at the delivery person's tardiness. I drove a couple blocks to see if the 7-Eleven nearby had received its supply. Normally, one doesn't associate sushi with 7-Eleven, but I happened to know that the same outfit that supplied premier fish to the pricey Wild Oats also supplied it to that modest 7-Eleven.
I asked the cashier, ''Have you received your sushi today?'' The response was a blank expression on his brown, Middle Eastern/South Asian face. I tried again. ''No sushi yet today?'' and got a mumbled, incomprehensible reply. ''Do you speak English?'' I asked, and although neither my question nor its tone was offensive, suddenly I wondered if I had blundered. If I had in no uncertain terms challenged the cashier's right to work at 7-Eleven; to be resident in this country; to be beyond suspicion for any social faux pas; to be anything other than a terrorist sympathizer.
The cashier's colleague, also a dark-skinned foreigner, rushed over. ''Can I help you?'' he asked, worried.
''Hi, have you gotten your sushi delivery yet today?'' I asked, with much more cheer than either the query or the circumstances demanded. Please, please, I hoped he also heard me say in those nine words, I have no problem with you or your colleague working at 7-Eleven. I don't think your religion is godless. I don't blame you for looking sort of like what we think terrorists look like. I just want to buy my lunch.
''No, not yet. Sorry.''
I smiled and said, ''Ok, thanks.''
After the terrorist attacks 10 years ago, we were all hypersensitive for a while. We were all careful for a while. That's what I remember.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
At 2nd Street and Beaudry, just west of the Harbor Freeway from Downtown. Second in the Night Vision series.
This time things were different. The juror was a witness. The private investigator, now and always best man, had it easy proving his case. And Bruce Lisker happily volunteered for a different kind of life sentence.
This time, instead of a dreary courtroom, they and many others were gathered on a sun-drenched hillside. Joy was in the air as Lisker walked down the aisle and willingly gave up his freedom. It was two years to the day after his murder conviction was overturned and he was released from prison on August 13, 2009 for a crime he did not commit--the murder of his mother, Dorka Lisker.
This time there was not a dry eye in the house. Family, friends and supporters were happy to shed their tears as Bruce Lisker and Kara Noble were married at a secluded mansion in San Diego County.
"You are the woman for whom my years of solitude yearned," Lisker told Noble as he read his vows in a moving, funny and life-affirming ceremony that marked the attainment of another of Lisker's dreams. I recalled a conversation we had the first time we met, in a courthouse in downtown Los Angeles shortly after he walked out of Mule Creek prison, $200 in his pocket and a new life ahead of him. He was anxious for a relationship but concerned that he didn't know the first thing about how to make that happen or what he would do if he did.
Among the many holes in his life, experience with women was a big one. On trial at 17, incarcerated at 18 and finally freed 26 years later at 44, Lisker had missed out on all the innocent mistakes we get to make as we learn how to live our lives.
But shortly after his release he met Noble and the worries disappeared. Suddenly he realized that it was easy to love someone and he knew how to do it after all. Noble had been touched by his story when she read about him in an LA Times article in 2005 and began corresponding with him while he was in prison. Once they met, sparks flew and they soon began a relationship that they both describe as what they had always been searching for.
The summer I stayed at the Malibu beach home of a novelist friend was a season of discovery. By day I looked for work with my newly minted bachelor's degree, and by night had a series of experiences you don't find in a classroom.
There was the night the house next door--a contemporary, tubular structure--burned down in a matter of minutes. The inferno consumed everything, leaving its two residents in shock, standing in our living room, reeking of smoke.
There was the night the Hollywood movie producer came for dinner and chatter about the novelist's latest screenplay, the waves crashing theatrically beneath the deck. Later that evening there would be skinny dipping, prompting my naïve notion that this is how people in California spend their summer vacation.
There was the very late night on the deck when we turned on the floodlights illuminating the waves, and captured the whole beach undulating like a shiny silvery sheet wafting in the breeze. I'd never seen anything like it, a remarkable show Nature stages at regular intervals every spring and summer. The running of the grunion.
The passage of time is something that people perceive in different ways. We all know about how long it seems to take for the workday to end right before you go on vacation. Sometimes workdays just fly right past us in a blur of activity that preoccupy us. A three hour long baseball game may seem to be torturous, but a three hour long football game may give you the feeling that something was left out.
Something that happened eighteen years ago today should not seem that it happened just recently. Children born on that date are now legal adults. The population of the United States has grown by over 50 million people. There have been four different Presidents in that time. The technological changes in the world have been dizzying.
August 10, 1993 was the day that my mother died. And sometimes I don't even believe it actually happened. But I know it did. I saw the effects that colon cancer took on her body. I helped out as best I could with home hospice care for her. I saw two men from a funeral home come and take her body away. I went to a viewing and a funeral. I ate food at a reception where people tried to make me feel better.
A mere three years ago, George Wolfe led a flotilla of kayaks down the LA River to prove the Army Corps of Engineers wrong, that LA's phantom waterway is, indeed, navigable. (And yes, that's George in the video above.)
This morning, thanks to George and FoLAR and a great number of people I'm unable to name, anyone with an internet connection (and fifty bucks for a ticket) got a chance to take part in the historic Paddle the LA River pilot program.
May I say the process also took a bit of patience and persistence?
The first-come first-served registration web page went live at 7:00 a.m. At precisely 7:00:01 it crashed. And stayed crashed for many long, heart-breaking minutes. I hit the reload button and kept reloading until voila! There it was, the registration page. With all the trips I was interested in now full.
But I kept re-loading and suddenly, there were openings. I quickly grabbed two spots on the Sept. 17 trip, which features a speaker from the California Native Plant Society. I hit 'enter' and the payment form appeared, and so did a countdown clock. Nine minutes to fill out the form. How hard could it be?
You'd be surprised. I filled and re-filled and re-re-re-filled the form, but each time I thought I was finished, I was told I'd left a crucial space blank. It took multiple tries (and some rude words uttered in multiple languages) to get finished. It was frustrating and infuriating and, when I reloaded the main registration page, I learned I wasn't alone.
Where once nearly every 10:30 a.m. trip had been sold out, there were now trips with 2 and 4 and 7 open slots. I suspect the buggy registration process separated the enthusiasts from the obsessed.
But now, with a pair of river kayak tickets for Sept. 17 burning a hole in my browser, I can say it was worth it. And of course (seriously, do you read Here in Malibu?) once the trip is over, you'll hear all about it.
See you on the river!
The bystander had to take his word. He was describing a mymarid wasp, the smallest insect in the world, smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.
That was 12 years ago, and at the opposite end of the animal-size spectrum from what's happening today at the work-in-progress Natural History Museum. In the middle of its seven-year institutional upgrade, this weekend the museum opens the new Dinosaur Hall. This preview participant pronounces it "elegant."
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Headlines on my travels last week--from L.A. to St. Louis to Chicago and back to L.A.--to visit Mom and go to my cousin's wedding.
How can anyone who reads a newspaper not become furious about our gun laws?--and about the 12,000 deaths each year? Twelve Thousand. Neighborhood by neighborhood and family by family.
And anyone who thinks it can't happen in their neighborhood or to their family, well... I hope you get lucky.
I agree it's hard to get passionate about any of the proposed measures to control who can acquire a gun--none of which promises to make a significant difference. So let's get passionate about the only measure that will--which is to not have 263 million guns flying around.
Toddler slain, uncle wounded in South L.A. attack
Son charged in father's gun death
Shooting suspect nabbed through parking ticket
Suspect may have been shot
Man, woman shot in drive-by
Loughner rulled unfit for trial
Campus lockdown [at San Pedro HS after shots fired]
Two found dead in Huntington Beach
Four dead in Affton after domestic argument
Plea deal breaks down in Indiana school shooting
Man who murdered two in NJ church get life terms
Honolulu freeway shooting leaves 1 dead, 2 injured
Man pleads guilty to battery in shooting death
Teen accused in NJ cop's death charged with murder
Cab driver shot, killed in Mount Vernon
One gunshot victim dead, two hospitalized
Boy, 16, charged with murder in police shooting
Gunshots ring out after Des Moines street brawl
NW Indiana coroner: deaths look to be murder-suicide
Chicago man sentenced in nephew's shooting death
Jailed man charged in 2010 slayings of 3 men on Southwest Side
Kalamazoo officer's killer was drinking
Back to Los Angeles:
53 guns found in home where 2-year-old fatally shot 6-year-old
Four dead in possible murder-suicide in Chula Vista
73-year-old Arizona gunman kills 5, then self
(Homicide Report blog reports 10 deaths this past week that didn't make headlines)
NY Times (since I was reading it daily)
Bronx woman fatally shot, still clutching 2-year-old son
14-year-old boy fatally shot in Brooklyn [by 18-year-old]
Shooting in a Sheepshead Bay courtyard [2 dead]
Friday, June 3, 2011
I was at the Convention Center this past Thursday when my Guatemalan friend Reyna Gonzalez, who works to keep my house--and a lot of others--presentable, became a citizen after 22 years in the US. Two other women from the group I call "Reyna's ladies," Roma Maffia and Lauren Malkasian, came to support her. It was a big enough day for her children, Maverick, 18, and Ashley, 12, and her husband Manuel, to miss school and work so they could be there with her. She had studied hard for the test, with her kids as her tutors. She and Manuel both passed the test but today belonged to Reyna.
There were 3,000 new citizens from over 100 countries who raised their right hands and were sworn with her. (A second ceremony a few hours later would double that number). They exuberantly said the Pledge of Allegiance and watched a video speech by President Obama. Practice makes perfect: the INS has the ceremony down--thousands of documents were handed out seamlessly.
The new citizens were permitted to register to vote and apply for their passports, then they moved to long tables where about 50 people were seated, handing out the certificates of naturalization. Then the new citizens exited into the sun-drenched entry hall of the Convention Center, filled with a sea of friends and family waiting to congratulate and hug them. The music video by Lee Greenwood was shown, with the singing of "God Bless the USA" that seems hokey to a jaded American like me, but probably looks a lot different to someone who's made an emotional and often harrowing journey to a foreign land and worked hard for the right to call herself an American.
According to Reyna, taking the test was scary. After answering 100 questions about the U.S. and its government, there is an interview with an immigration officer, one on one. You must be able to read and write English, and understand and speak it as well. As Reyna's husband Manuel described it: "For sure, we are shaking, but face to face you have to be strong. Afterwards, you can cry."
Watching proudly as Reyna took her oath, and knowing that his turn would come soon, that is exactly what he did.
Photos by Iris Schneider
LA Conservancy has updated its members that the Los Angeles City Council will decide whether to designate the Golden State Mutual building as a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) tomorrow, June 1st.
Here are the details in case you can attend and lend support:
Los Angeles City Council Meeting
Wednesday, June 1, 10 a.m.*
John Ferraro Council Chamber
Room 340, City Hall
200 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, 90012
*The meeting begins at 10 a.m., but the building's designation is agenda item #16 so will not be heard right at 10.
I saw it out of the corner of my eye while driving home on Sunset. While I knew what it meant, I chose to ignore it at first, hoping it was just a clever way to get people's attention.
"End of an Era Sale. 50% off" screamed the sign painted across the store windows.
Could it be that Uncle Jer's was closing?
I finally dragged myself over there, feeling as if I were attending a wake. I've been visiting that store ever since I moved to LA in 1980. I'd always found unique treasures to admire, take home, or give as gifts. I talked to Rob Graney, the owner since 2001, whose face and smile I had come to know so well over the years. He confirmed it: Uncle Jer's, an icon of Silver Lake since it first opened in 1978, was going out of business. "It's really been a grind over the last few years," he said. "You have to pay the rent, make a living and have a life. We were barely maintaining two of those. It will feel good to spend time with my kids." Graney and his wife Cassandra, both former employees, bought the store from the original Uncle Jer, Jerry Morley [name fixed], who with his wife Berda opened it in 1978.
A popular video on YouTube is making the rounds of the Internet again this week. The Daily Mail.com in the UK just posted old footage from January 2011 of a young man proposing to his girlfriend in the food court of the Westfield Fashion Square Shopping Center in Sherman Oaks. After serenading her with his own rendition of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," the suitor proposes to his shocked intended. Unfortunately, she runs off.
Maybe he would have had better luck had he tried The Grove.
Edited to correct mall location, thanks to K. Mattoo