Posts Tagged ‘los angeles’

Ghettoside

July 28, 2015

City of LA

After I moved to Los Angeles in 1996, I made it my business to scour the city’s newspapers for reported crimes. An instinct for self-preservation drove me to it. As a native New Yorker I knew about violent crime. Muggings, wildings, rapes, murders — in the 70s, 80’s and 90’s in New York City — were commonplace.

The fact that New York streets run on a grid and are numbered makes it easier to find your way from point A to point B. N, S, E and W make sense and are relevant to the grid. Or, you can always hail a cab. This is not so in Los Angeles.

Shortly after I moved there in ’96., a horrifying crime occurred. Because the victims were a family of white tourists, the crime made the newspapers. Driving at night, the family was navigating L.A.’s meandering, confusing streets when they lost their way. They turned down the “wrong” block — i.e., into “gang territory” — a fatal mistake. Their punishment was death by gunfire.

Reading about that crime not only freaked me out — that gangs were a reality in L.A. — it caused me to wonder, was this an isolated incident?

In L.A., you need a car. You hardly ever walk, except on the beach or from the parking lot to your final destination. The limited metro system extends only so far and L.A. is a sprawling city. So my first order of business after settling in was to: 1) buy a car; and 2) buy a Thomas Guide book of maps (it was the pre-GPS era).

Terrified of getting lost, whenever I needed to visit a new place, I would pore over the Guide and plot out the most direct route. The more freeways involved, the better.

Street maps in the Thomas Guide soon proved insufficient. I wanted statistics about individual neighborhoods and needed an overview rather than pages and pages of small sections of the city viewed one at a time. My eureka moment came while searching online. I stumbled on the site called the Los Angeles Homicide Report (click on this link to read a sample).

Reading a review of the book in The NY Times and recalling my years spent in L.A. (I moved back to NYC in 2009) are what drew me to Jill Leovy’s gripping, prodigiously researched page-turner: Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America.

Ghettoside

Leovy, as it happens, had been a writer for the online Homicide Report mentioned above (back when I first discovered the site it was called the Homicide Blog for The Los Angeles Times).

What exactly is Ghettoside? The word is part of the police lexicon that refers to black-on-black murder in Los Angeles.

Here is how Leovy describes the motivating factors for “ghettoside”in her book:

“The smallest ghettoside spat seemed to escalate to violence, as if absent of law, people were left with no other means of bringing a dispute to a close. Debts and competition over goods and women—especially women—drove many killings. But insults, snitching, drunken antics, and the classic—unwanted party guests—also were common homicide motives.”

The festering underbelly of ghetto life in L.A., as in most cities, is characterized by poverty and hopelessness. People living in poor sections of L.A. have a hard time believing the police care about the murders of black people. Alternatively, homicide detective working the cases are continually frustrated in securing convictions due to the lack of witnesses coming forward to testify — at the same time understanding why people choose not to testify (they don’t want to be shot; don’t want their family members shot; basically, they want to remain alive).

The main thread of the book centers around the killing of the young son of a black homicide detective, a detective who not only works but lives with his family in the Watts and Compton area of south L.A., a dangerous place. The hunt for and capture of the boy’s murderers is undertaken by members of the same squad as the father of the victim. This is what drives the narrative.

Leovy’s writing is absorbing, detailed and eloquent. She vividly fleshes out each homicide detective and gang member involved in the cases. You see and feel them. Equally compelling are descriptions of the residents of Watts and Compton as they struggle to get by, go to work and raise families — and, sometimes, dodge bullets. Their sorrow mixed with resignation mixed with anger is palpable. Any stereotypical viewpoints you may have harbored previously fall away.

Gang bangers, as I learned, have a lexicon all their own. An excerpt:

“One almost never heard the word “murder” on the streets. Euphemisms served instead: “puttin’ in work,” to “serve” someone, to “smoke” him, to “lay him out,” to “light him up,” to “take care of business”—the list went on. Bloods, Crips, and Hoovers had their own trademark verbs for attacking and hurting other human beings—“swoopin’,” “movin’,” “groovin’.”

“…Caught slippin’ ” meant letting your guard down—a momentary slip could kill you. “Catch a fade” meant a fight. The gang term “DP” was an acronym for “discipline.” It meant roughing someone up to punish him for something.”

The book is a tour de force. The descriptions of gang members and what they are capable of, at times, will make your skin crawl. However, when the dedicated homicide detectives in this squad get gang bangers into the interrogation room, their skilled interview techniques not only root out information, they humanize the criminal. The reader comes to realize that most of these gang bangers were “raised” by violent criminals, themselves; abused; never had a chance.

L.A. homicide detectives refer to “ghettoside” as The Monster. The Monster is chillingly nailed by Snoop Dogg, a former member of the Crips, in his song (Drop It Like It Hot):

For those who love criminal investigation, reading Ghettoside is a must.

Not My Hollywood

June 10, 2012

I was killing time in Forest Hills waiting for my new glasses to be fixed and spotted a Barnes & Noble bookstore. Once inside, I headed upstairs to the fiction section. Browsing the shelves I came across Mona Simpson’s 2010 novel, My Hollywood. 

I’d heard of Simpson when her novel Anywhere But Here was released, but had not read it. I had been reminded once again of this author after Steve Jobs had died. In a newspaper article, I discovered they were siblings. My curiosity piqued,  I looked for Anywhere But Here in B&N.

It wasn’t on the shelf. My Hollywood was. The book is described as a “domestic novel,” which is to say, centered around the home, the marriage, the kids, as well as the shameless exploitation of the nannies (Hollywood, remember, is the backdrop). Handled well (i.e., written by, say, a Wollitzer), this subject can both readable and enjoyable.

The first few pages drew me in through the lure of “shared experience.” Claire, the main character, and I are both artists who had relocated to LA. for a time, yet longed for New York (she’s a composer and musician; I’m a painter). Both of us feel like a “fish out of water” with respect to the Hollywood scene (both having had attended much dreaded parties connected to the entertainment industry (mine, mostly in the Hollywood Hills and L.A.; Claire’s, in L.A., Brentwood and Santa Monica). All of it convinced me to buy the book.

Too soon, however, I was forcing myself to plod on. The chapters alternated between two voices: the main character Claire’s voice and Lola’s voice, her Filipino nanny. Claire’s ambivalence resulted in a rather wimpy character, one devoid of the passion you’d expect from a cellist and composer. And Lola’s voice was written in an unconvincing Filipino dialect, which was both inconsistently rendered and difficult to understand. As the book progressed, I found myself speed-reading through Lola’s chapters.

Then…on page 182, a glimmer of hope. A hint, perhaps, of more stimulating events to come, especially when I read this line:

A happy day in Los Angeles, 1994.”

Theretofore, the author had not clued the reader in as to when the story was actually set. 1994-1995 was quite a dramatic time period for Los Angeles.

1994: Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered in June. 1994-1995: O.J. was indicted for murder and on the news every day.

How is it possible to write a “domestic” novel set in 1994-1995 L.A., without any reference whatsoever to this:

Yet, any mention of this crime is absent from the book. Glaringly so, considering several of Claire’s acquaintances live in Brentwood, where the murder took place.

A happy day in Los Angeles, 1994.

Throw-away sentences should never appear in a novel. Responsibility for every sentence in a novel lies on the shoulders of the author. Invariably, the reader will always hold the author accountable.

That said, the book proceeds toward the end quickly, the last few chapters leaping forward in time. The reader becomes aware of this passage of time when she encounters a chapter titled, The Comet of 1999. A one-sentence mention of this comet and nothing more ends the chapter.

Soon after, the author makes a cursory mention of the fallen Twin Towers near the end of the book and the reader is alerted that it is now 2001.

So what?

Still, reading this novel was a learning experience… if only to discover what not to do when writing your own book. Considering the stack of books I have waiting to be read, this was a disappointing way to spend what little spare time I have. As a result, I’m shying away from reading Anywhere But Here — but I’m open to favorable opinions about this novel that would sway me in the other direction, if you’d like to share!

I Really Should Be Packing…

May 24, 2012

Taken with my iPhone

On board for the wedding, my new dress.

Yes, I’m the Great Procrastinator.

Took a day off before our trip to spend it getting ready to go. If only Delta would beam us to Los Angeles! We could avoid that nasty airport altogether.

It used to be your mother would say: make sure to wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. Now, it’s: make sure to wear clean underwear in case you get frisked by an overzealous TSA employee.

Image Credit

If only we were embarking on a road trip, like the one we made in 2009, but in reverse. Or re-routing our our very first coast-to-coast drive in 1996 from N.Y. to L.A. to take in the sights we missed. For instance:

Bitch and moan, bitch and moan.

Truth be told, I always get a bit anxious the day before a long flight. Crammed inside that tight space with all those people for so many hours. Horrible snacks. Bad movies. The passengers who refuse to close their windows so we can see the bad movies.

I know, I know. When we finally we arrive, get in our rental car and patch out of the LAX environs…it will be fun.

If there’s one site I hope to revisit during our limited free time this weekend, it’s Santa Monica Beach. If only for the chance to pay homage to our soldiers overseas:

Each year, Santa Monica Beach erects this very moving tribute on Memorial Day, lest we not forget our men and women engaged in battle so far away.

Attention, Powers-That-Be who declare wars but do not (nor any of their kin) fight in them: Bring our soldiers home!

In the Meme Time…

March 8, 2010

This morning, without anything to read at breakfast — the Cheerios box was a few O’s short of a serving and, so, no need to bring out the milk container and its engaging side panel — I spread peanut butter on toast and brewed a cup of tea.

As much as I like good eating, preparing meals — even something as simple as running the toaster in the a.m. — can be a chore when you’re not in the mood.

At such times, I find myself wishing I could just squeeze my meals out of a tube, like an astronaut.

At any rate, this morning I resigned myself to sitting down and flipping through the Sunday N.Y. Times magazine as I munched on my toast.

The Times has been featuring a celebrity “meme” in the weekly magazine. The meme acts as a sort of framing device for the profile of the creative person or titan of industry that’s being featured. It’s entertaining, light reading and there’s no danger that its content will interfere with your digestion.

This week’s “profile” of the very talented clothes designer Phillip Lim filled the time delightfully. A sweet, refreshingly guileless man of impeccable taste, it was a joy getting to know more about the talented, Thai-born Lim.

As I was reading his answers, I couldn’t help but formulate my own answers, simultaneously. Doesn’t everyone do this? How can you not?

So then I thought: why not create an abridged version of this week’s NYT’s meme for my next post.  Here’s what  I came up with (please feel free to take this meme and adopt it as your own — and why not? I filched most of it from The Times:

ACCIDENTAL CAREER: Back when I was living in L.A., I started out working for two designers who created packaging for videos and, later, DVDs. Lots of 150-word film synopses would routinely cross my desk during the day. Some of them were pretty dull. One day, I said to myself, “I could do better than this,” and offered my services. And that’s how I started out getting paid to write.

FAVORITE CLOTHING ERAS: I’ve always loved jackets with tapered waistlines and peplums, like this 1940s vintage style:

ITEM OF CLOTHING I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT: My super comfortable and still stylish Calvin Klein camouflage-print cargo pants.

FIRST PIECE OF ART ACQUIRED FOR THE HOUSE: Our first purchase of real art was an African healing/power figure, which I’ve nicknamed “Nail Boy.”

ALWAYS ON ME: My wedding band.

MISCONCEPTION ABOUT ARTISTS: That we don’t work hard. That making art is easy and that natural talent precludes struggle.

MORNING ROUTINE: I hate alarms. I’ve never been one to leap out of bed. I need to ease myself into consciousness. When my sister and I shared a room as kids, we’d kept a cheap record player on the floor in between our beds. On school days, the first thing in the morning, my mom would bang on our door, raise the shades and shout, “Rise and shine!” It was hellish. But not until my hand had reached for that turntable, flipped on the switch and placed the chunky needle in the groove of the 78 rpm recording of the “William Tell Overture” spinning on top, was I able to even consider getting up. Even then, my head never left the pillow until the sounding of the trumpets. I’m still the same way.

FAVORITE ACCESSORY: Lipstick.

FATHER ARTIFACT: His picture I.D. from the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn, a souvenir of his very first job.

WORKDAY LUNCH: Again, if I could, I’d go the way of the astronaut. Typically, though, it’s a sandwich — using whatever’s in the fridge or cupboard to put between the bread — cheese, tuna, PB&J — because I’m usually too lazy to wash all the components in order to make a salad.

CHILDHOOD OBSESSIONS: Cartwheels on the lawn, The Book of Knowledge encyclopedia, playing my 45 rpm collection, drawing and painting, stickball, bike riding, The Beatles.

FAMILY MEMORABILIA: I have what Catholics called a “relic.” It was a gift from my maternal grandfather, given to me when I was very small. Sorry for the blurry photo — but look what’s inside the circle on the right panel. A tiny remnant of cloth supposedly touched by St. Francis of Assisi. I’ve treasured this since I was little, partly because of how cool it is, and partly because of how much I loved my grandfather, who died when I was 14. Interestingly, I didn’t receive it from my (Catholic-turned atheist) Italian grandfather. I received it from my German grandfather.

FAVORITE PLACE TO VACATION: Grand Canyon; Rockport, Maine; Florence, Italy; the coast of Oregon. If I ever get to England and Paris, I’m sure they’ll make the list.

FAVORITE NEW GADGET: Not brand new, but the newest gadget: my Kuhn Rikon garlic press. Its the bomb.

FANTASY CAREER: That’s easy: a musician. Playing my fiddle in some kind of band. Alternatively, learning to play the viola de gamba as well as the glorious virtuoso, Vittorio Ghielmi (this is a fantasy, remember.)

He’s on the left.

BEST FASHION ADVICE: It’s all in the footware, as I once told my sister. If you’ve got on a pair of great looking shoes, the rest of your outfit seems to pull together.

FAVORITE TV SHOW: It used to be Nurse Jackie (but we no longer have Showtime.) Before that, it was In Treatment (but we no longer have HBO.) I do like The Office (we broke down and bought an indoor rabbit ears antenna — it’s so great and retro-looking.) Truth be told, I bought it so I could watch The Hurt Locker win all the Oscars last night (and Jeff Bridges win his) and watch the Steve and Alec hosting.

BEST RECENT ACQUISITION: A silver sequined throw pillow, a birthday gift from my friend, R.

FAVORITE ITEM IN THE HOUSE: The iPod player in the kitchen. Makes the time spent in there fly by.

WHAT I’D BUY WITH $20:A buffet lunch for two at the Jackson House, my favorite indian restaurant in the neighborhood.

EVENING ROUTINE: Cook some dinner, wash dishes, make tea, ingest something sweet, read or watch a movie.

ALWAYS IN FRIDGE: garlic, pine nuts, avocado, lemon, tortillas, wedge of locatelli romano, organic eggs.

ALWAYS IN CUPBOARD: angel hair pasta, good olive oil, black beans, taco chips, San Marzano peeled whole tomatoes.

OBJECT THAT SPEAKS TO ME: The vintage Gumby sitting on my desk.

HOBBY: Playing Irish tunes and old time music on my fiddle.

TYPECAST: I’m good at taking charge and solving problems for others, but when it comes to myself, I tend to procrastinate.

MOTTO: Don’t give up.

The Countdown Begins

September 22, 2009

The POD is coming to our driveway this Saturday, 9/26!

After we’ve loaded it with our stuff, the Podzilla will return the following Monday and haul it away. That’s when we’ll embark, unencumbered, on our cross-country drive to N.Y.

The waiting is finally coming to an end.

Time dragged for all of July, August and  into September, even more than it usually does in summertime’s hazy malaise. Back in July, when we’d committed ourselves (mentally, at least) to making the BIG CHANGE — the move to New York — we thought it best to defer that change to the fall — another sixty to seventy days.

Maybe that’s not exactly correct. I have been using the pronoun “we.” Actually, it was mostly “me.”

I thought that pushing back the date would give us more than ample time to stage a yard sale, pore through our stuff, sell some of it on Craig’s List and then pack in an unhurried, stress-free manner.

Also, I believed that pacing ourselves in tandem with the slowly recovering economy seemed wise. And, it was, as it turns out. But, what I hadn’t anticipated was being seized by the grip of stop-time.

That is, time that goes forward, and, yet, doesn’t go forward — for two and a half months.

Eventually, September rolled around, and with nothing but the computers wiring us to the outside world (T.V. disconnected), I’d taken to watching B/W episodes of The Twilight Zone on my iMac — which I’d found for free on the CBS-TV website.

The shows were just the right length (twenty-five minutes, apiece) and provided a welcome diversion at the end of an exhausting day of packing and sweating and packing and sweating in the L.A. heat.

What has happened now, though, with only one week left until until our departure, is that time has sped up. There are just not enough hours in the day and not enough sleep to be had at night.

But Rod Serling already knew that, didn’t he, with all his talk about time and dimensions — which is rather interesting, given that he’s become, of late, a significant presence in my home, after hours.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all of this? Yes, I think so.

It’s far better to fret, pack and perspire under the pressure of a time constraint than it is to extend the deadline too far ahead. The latter provides too much opportunity for losing sleep as you toss and turn and mull over all the what-ifs.

On the other hand, when it came to deciding on the place we wanted to settle into, we did that in a single day. It was a snap.

We chose Sunnyside, in Queens. We picked it because JC liked the name. It was that simple.

Before moving to L.A., it had always been just plain, ole Sunnyside to me — I’d never once stopped to consider the inherent optimism in its name. Until now.

L.A. encourages you to look on the bright side of life. Maybe because L.A. is so — bright.

Still, I must have mended some of my ways while living here, because I haven’t jaywalked since 1996 — the year I left N.Y. (Of course, the fine for jaywalking is more than $250, so that might have something to do with it).

Anyway, Sunnyside appealed to me because it’s a melting pot and leafy and a mere 15-minute subway ride to midtown Manhattan.

The relatively short commute does have its good and bad points, though. The subway had always been a favorite place for me to get some reading done. In anticipation of my new commute, I’ve gone so far as to plan the first novel I’d like to read: Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin.

But I wonder, how many pages could I possibly cover in fifteen minutes? Not that many. Unless, of course, I just happened to become so engrossed in the book that I miss my stop…

Reasons To Be Cheerful in L.A.

August 25, 2009

venicebeach

I think they’re saving the middle chair for me…

Out of all the friends I’ve made in California, I have known M. the longest. Ten or so years ago, we met at a writers’ conference at PCC and we’ve  been simpatico ever since.

Anyway, M. has taken issue with my recent bout of disdain for L.A. Rightfully so, I suppose, because, as she put it: Some of us choose to live here!

So, to honor our friendship, I have drafted the following list.

The Top Ten Reasons Why I Like Los Angeles

No. 10:    The House of Fourteen-or-so Davids and One Venus

thedavids

It wasn’t until I was about to take this photo that I noticed, for the very first time, the solitary Venus standing next to the front door. What can it mean?

No.  9:   The Chabad Telethon

During Labor Day Weekend on the east coast, it was all about Jerry’s Kids. But, here in L.A., it’s the Chabad. The convivial rabbis do good work, are joyful, raise lots of money and, each time another ka-ching drives up their total, they break into dance.

No.  8:    The Collection of Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum

erez-1

Oh, that Cambodian art…

No.  7:    An Evening at the Hollywood Bowl

DianaKrall1

Arrive early, spread a blanket on the grass (or snag a picnic table, if you’re a worm-catching early bird), bask in the balmy night air, share pot luck munchies and a nice wine with good friends — and, as we did this past Saturday night — walk to your seats around 8:00 p.m. to enjoy, under the stars, the tremendously talented Diana Krall.

No.  6: Box City

boxcity

I’ve been spending quality time here lately (guess why). Some people get their jollies at the “Container Store.” But, not me. I’m into cardboard. I love the feel of it, the smell, and the fact that it’s sold flat and you get to origami it at home. Any size you need, they’ve got it. As the little cartoon to the right of their front door says: Boxes are fun!

No.  5: The Sixth Street Viaduct

sixth_concrete_break_lg

Photo: http://laconservancy.org/index.php4

A wrong turn while driving through a sketchier part of downtown, when still a newcomer to Los Angeles, had landed my Saturn and me on the expanse of the Sixth Street Viaduct, the gateway to Boyle Heights. Its bleached concrete, elegant architecture, and fluid monumentality delivered an unexpected thrill — momentarily displacing the morbid fear I’d harbored in those early days of falling victim to a “drive-by” shooting. But I’m sorry to report that the future of the bridge is in peril. The concrete is crumbling and there’s a 70% risk of it collapsing during the next earthquake. Unless there’s a quake in September (cross yourself three times), I won’t be around to see it.

No.  4: The Arclight Movie Theater

So many wonderful hours I’ve spent inside this theater watching first-run films and AFI revivals. This past year, I’ve seen The Godfather and Godfather II, on a back-to-back Saturday and Sunday. What utter bliss for a movie lover like myself. Recently, All About Eve, with the inimitable Bette Davis, lit up my  night. Not long after that, it was Easy Rider. This Monday night, a new print of Rosemary’s Baby is on the docket. I can hardly wait.

No.  3: Paru’s Indian Vegetarian Restaurant

inside_1

One thing about Los Angeles, it’s vegetarian-friendly. My favorite restaurant for eating those veggies is Paru’s. Situated on an ugly stretch of Sunset Blvd. (far, far away, at least, in the imagination, from the fabled “Sunset Strip”), once you open their front door — they will buzz you in — you’ll enter into a welcoming sanctuary of savory aromas; rainbow of indigenous decor; elegant, attentive service; extraordinary food; and the lulling music of India. It’s also fun to eavesdrop on the bizarrely entertaining conversations going on at nearby tables.

No.  2: Twelve-Vegetable Soup at The Good Earth Restaurant

GEsoup

The other day, not that I wanted to prove them wrong, I counted the vegetables in my bowl of soup. Yes, there were twelve: cauliflower, broccoli, corn, okra, potatoes, green peppers, celery, cabbage, zucchini, Swiss chard, peas and carrots.

In less than a month’s time, I will never have this soup again (sigh) — that is, unless during our cross-country drive to New York, we were to pass through Minnesota (that’s not likely). Two Good Earth Restaurant cousins, I have discovered, are located in “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” (although they do offer the vegetarian “planet burger,” the 12-veggie soup is not on their menu, nor is their signature cinnamon iced tea). I ask you, Minnesota, what is the point? The most I can do is chant good thoughts for a Good Earth Restaurant to set up shop in New York — or move back to L.A.. But, that’s not going to happen…

No.  1: The Friends I Have Made (and their respective pets, which include several darling Golden Retrievers, many cats, a ferret, and whippet — sorry if I’ve left some critter out…)

I Will Miss You!

I’d like to send out an honorable mention to the L.A. Arboretum and the Descanso Gardens. Tiptoeing through the tulips has saved my sanity on oh so many occasions.

Grey in L.A.

August 21, 2009

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been awakening to uncharacteristically grey skies. This is supposed to happen in June (on the nightly news, “June Gloom” is what they call it), not August.

Los Angeles has been in a drought condition for three years straight. Short of wringing the name of the local T.V. weatherman, Dallas Raines, the prospect producing a little precipitation for L.A. is looking pretty grim — in spite of the grey skies.

We just go from sunny to sunnier — yet, people insist on using the weather as a conversation opener. Hot today, isn’t it?, they’ll say, as if that’s something new. On the rare occasion when it’s overcast past noontime? This weather is so depressing!

But I’ve lived here long enough to know that cloudy skies are just a tease. A spurious disguise for what lurks behind — the merciless, pulsating sun. Although the day may start out as cloudy, before the clock strikes noon, not one wisp of cloud will be remaining in the hazy, blinding glare above.

I love an overcast sky.

One of the main things I miss about New York is the change of seasons. Would Vivaldi would have written such a masterpiece without having experienced winter, spring, summer, and fall, in the extreme? I don’t think so.

Inclement weather unites the heavens with the earth. Rain, snow, hail, lightening, thunder…when it pours or flurries or strikes, it’s like being touched by the sky.

Only this morning, I read an article in The New York Times, about a violent summer rainstorm in Central Park on Tuesday night. And I read it with such envy.

So, it’s with feeling of consolation that I thank my friend Todd in CT for bringing to my attention this Loudon Wainwright song that, somehow, I didn’t know about, and which perfectly describes my L.A. state of mind:

Also, thank you to JC for furnishing me with the lyrics so that all of us can enjoy a little singalong:

When it’s grey in L.A. I sure like it that way
Cause there’s way too much sunshine round here
I don’t know about you I get so sick of blue skies
Whenever they always appear

And I sure love the sound of the rain pouring down
On my carport roof made out of tin
If there’s a flood then there’s gonna be mudslides
We all have to pay for our sin

And I suppose that they’ll close canyon roads
And the freeways will all start to clog
And the waters will rise and you won’t be surprised
When your whole house smells like your wet dog

When it’s grey in L.A. it’s much better that way
It reminds you that this town’s so cruel
Yeah it might feel like fun when you’re sportin’ sunglasses
But really you’re one more fool

And I’m just a chump
And this whole town’s a dump
We came out here to dump all our dreams
Of making it big but we’re stuck in a sig alert nightmare
That’s just how it seems

And I suppose Laurie David sure knows
All those cars we drive heat up our earth
And sea temperatures rise and those constant blue skies
And brush fires can sure curb your mirth

Brad Grey’s in L.A. yeah OK I should stay here
There’s no place that’s better I know
For a wannabe star stuck in a car
On a freeway with nowhere to go.

Most of all, I’d like to thank Loudon Wainwright for writing the song. It’s sure nice to know there’s one kindred soul in the midst.

Encounters at the Yard Sale

July 27, 2009

YardSaleSZcrop

Me, standing amid some of our superfluous stuff (check out the crock pot I purchased in a crackpot moment). Notice the big pockets in my cargo pants — for stashing all the loot we were about to rake in.

The Nuts and Bolts — Humanoids vs. Human Beings

At 9:00 a.m., we stared out into the empty street wondering when Koreatown was ever going to wake up. Finally, a little after 9:30, our first visitor, a man in a cowboy hat, pulled up to the curb in his pick-up truck. He climbed out, didn’t even look around and asked if we had a lunch box for sale.

Nope.

At 9:45, another guy in a cowboy hat materialized and made a beeline for two pairs of Converse sneakers. A minute later, we were in the black — by four whole dollars.

Yard Sales. The weekend activity I love to hate.

Two years ago, in preparation for our move to the city, we’d also staged a yard sale. I used the word “staged,” because, as artists, we tend to arrange our stuff in a non-cluttered and visually pleasing way — which may possibly work against us on some level. I’m not sure.

Anyway, in my yard sale experience, two distinct types of browsers tend to show up:

  1. The Humanoids — unfriendly critters who browse with a 99-cent store mindset and refuse to make eye-contact. They’re on a mission to buy the Taj Mahal for the price of a dog house. Or a find a diamond in a lump of coal. If you’re asking two dollars for something, they’ll bargain you down to one. One dollar? Fifty-cents. Anything over two dollars? They’ll wave their arm in disgust.
  2. Human Beings — they say, “hi” or “good morning.” Some might comment on your stuff, remarking that they like it or that it’s nice. Others strike up conversations.

The Humanoids are fully aware that you’re selling stuff from which you’ve grown detached, and that, by late afternoon, anything unsold will be thrown away or donated to Goodwill.

And they’re right! But the fact that they choose to use this awareness against you is what makes you hate them.

The Humanoids can be quite ballsy (sometimes, they’ll go so far as to ask if they can browse through the inside of your house).

So, to protect yourself and your dignity, you’ve got to set a few boundaries:

  1. This is a yard sale and not the mall. It’s not necessary to “bag” sold items (sometimes, I’ll do it as a courtesy, if the buyer is elderly and sort of adorable or just plain nice).
  2. If The Humanoid says, “Please hold this for me,” ask them to pay for it on the spot. Otherwise, A Human Being will inevitably come along, eye the same item, pay for it immediately and assume possession — which will then enrage The Humanoid — who had been planning to resell that item on eBay for twenty-times the price. At our last yard sale, a fight broke out over a cheesy, two-dollar lamp from the 1970s for that very reason.
  3. The Humanoid must carry their purchased item with them when they leave the premises. Your driveway is not their personal storage cube.
  4. As an addendum to #3, if The Humanoid buys a larger item, he or she had better have arrived at your house in a truck. If not, sell it to someone else — because The Humanoid will take his or her sweet time, sometimes as long as a week, to pick up their purchase — allowing their four-dollar item to depreciate by a boner-inducing half — which was probably their intention all along.
  5. Mentally calculate the least amount of money you’d take for a specific item — and then pad that amount. The Humanoids get off on bargaining you down to almost zero. Take it from me, feeling like a chump is so depressing!
  6. Swallow your pride and “let go” of any emotional attachment you still might harbor toward your belongings. The love affair with your stuff must be over — only a masochist would sell coveted personal property to The Humanoids for a couple of dollars. Don’t cling! The Humanoids always want something-for-nothing, which only increases your pain. Don’t give them the satisfaction!

Human Beings — The Upside

Of course, Human Beings do show up and they are what constitute the perks. Our first Human Being was a transplant from New York, a friendly guy with whom we immediately bonded. He bought a lot of cds and dvds. We chatted about music, life in L.A. vs. life in N.Y.

He said that when he moved to L.A. twenty-eight years earlier, it was as if he had slowed down and “pressed the pause button.” He still feels like he’s “on pause,” he said, but that the day will come when he’ll hit the “forward button.” That’s when he will move back east, because, “at heart, he will always feel like a New Yorker.”

I related to just about everything he said — but the “twenty-eight years” part really frightened me.

I can’t imagine another fifteen years of L.A. By then, they’d have to sweep up my desiccated remains and dump them in the Mojave.

But I recovered when a gracious young woman who had stopped by during her morning walk returned, as promised. She then bought three pieces of furniture and threw me some extra dollars — just because she thought we’d set the prices too low.

Around 2:00 p.m., we were ready to pack it in. The sun had already moved to the front of the house and we were starting to bake. But, just then, the jingling bells of the ice cream man caught our attention. Our first personal encounter with a Paletero, a Mexican ice cream vendor, was about to occur. If you’ve never seen one, check out this sweet video:

This particular paleteria was manned by two Mexican guys, one older than the other. The older guy browsed the yard sale for a moment, taking a fancy to a pair of size-ten men’s boots we were selling. As they bantered back in forth in Spanish, the older one, who wasn’t very tall, sat down in the driveway to try them on. They didn’t fit. They were much too big.

His younger compañero, in a fit of hysterical laughter, kept urging him to take them, anyway, only because of how much he liked them. “Sólo dos dollares!” he said. Only two dollars! But the older guy kept saying, “Son my grandes! Son muy grandes!”

By this time, I had joined in on their conversation and we were all joking and laughing. In Los Angeles, the only time I ever get to use my ability to speak Spanish, surprisingly, is at yard sales. When the younger guy asked me how I’d learned to speak Spanish so well, I told him “many years of school.”

Then he asked if we wanted to buy some ice cream.

Summer Musings

July 20, 2009

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Summer, with its extra-long days (and unfortunate adherence to DST, so that it doesn’t get dark until close to 9:00 p.m., like Alaska) used to be a lot more fun.

Back when I was still in school, summer vacation meant an opportunity to escape from something — as in, oh, thank goodness I no longer have to get up for that stupid 8:00 a.m. class with Mr. Schlap.

The best I can say about the season — since I don’t surf or tan or climb rocks or swim — is that summer is a very good time to lay concrete.

It’s too hot in this city of L.A. for outdoor activities, that is, if enjoying them matters to you. Lolling in the one of the many parks (N.B.: that’s where the trees are) is out of the question. The parks, long ago, were taken over by homeless people. Angry homeless people (can you blame them? it’s so hot).

In Koreatown, where we live — with its dearth of shade trees and abundance of sidewalks, asphalt, bus exhaust and barred windows — the streets are empty of human beings who travel on foot. That rare species tends to emerge right before dusk, and only to light up cigarettes.

Asian women in the neighborhood favor surgical masks or tinted face shields — the former has nothing to do with observing Michael Jackson’s demise, in case you were wondering; the latter, basically, is a plastic welder’s mask. Both serve as brilliant conversation deterrents.

So, what else is there left to engage in, besides work? A little so-called “summer reading”?

I’ve never exactly understood the concept of “summer reading.” Why are some books a better read in summer than during other seasons?

Are they meant to be pored over at the beach while lying flat on your stomach getting burnt and spitting sand as pounding rays of hot sun cast a blinding glare onto the page causing the print jump up and down?

Or are they just crummy, unreadable books that are meant to fill in a boring, sweaty day at the shore?

Whatever the case, I know it’s not for me. I prefer my reading a bit darker, just like my weather. I know we’re less than half-way there, but the most disturbing thing about summer in L.A. is how very much I wish it would end.

What I’m Reading:  Man Gone Down (Michael Thomas), The Situation and the Story (Vivian Gornick).

Divorcing My City

July 14, 2009
Take away L.A.'s water and you're left with this...

Once, this was an ocean…

FINDINGS & JUDGMENT:    Index No. 0714/09

PRESENT:

HON. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, Justice

Native New Yorker:                       Plaintiff

— against —

Los Angeles, CA:                           Defendant

_________________________________

The plaintiff having brought this action for judgment of Absolute Divorce by reason of inflictive climate abuse to the plaintiff by the defendant, and the summons bearing the notation “Action for a Thunderstorm to Clear the Air” having been duly served upon the defendant personally east of Crenshaw Blvd., west of Wilton Pl., south of Wilshire Blvd., north of Pico Blvd., and

the defendant having appeared and the Court having accepted photographic proof of non-compliant aridity — and the resultant odorous house ants invasions of summer — and

the plaintiff having applied on due notice to this Court at a Special Sidewalk Egg-Frying Summit  thereof, for judgment for the relief of soaring temperatures and blinding sunlight demanded in the complaint, and

this action being submitted to me for consideration on July 14, 2009, and the plaintiff having presented written proof of an I.O.U. in lieu of a state tax refund, and in support of the essential burned-out allegations of the complaint, and such proof having been considered by me,

FOLLOWS:

FIRST:      That defendant did not have allergies or chronic dry eye when this action was commenced.

SECOND:   That at the time of the commencement of this action and for a continuous period of at least one year immediately preceding  such commencement, plaintiff resided under a blue-beige sky and bombardment of sunlight while engaging in a desperate dance for rain.

THIRD:      That plaintiff and defendant were joined together, specifically, in the withering, barred-window, chopper flight-path community of Koreatown, on January 1, 2008.

FOURTH:  That there are many weather issues of the marriage.

FIFTH: That defendant, without cause or justification and without consent, beginning on or about January 1, 2008, withheld from the plaintiff all manner of precipitation — refusing rain, hail, snow, and Jack Frost — and left the marital abode high and dry.

The defendant has been continuously sere and dusty and windy and smog-ridden and has not offered any relief to the plaintiff, and

further, in 1996,  upon the plaintiff’s move to Southern California, the defendant unleashed a spate of duplicitous driving rains known as El Niño, thereby tricking the plaintiff into believing that plentiful rain was to be an annual occurrence.

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

FIRST:          That jurisdiction as required by Section 230 of the Domestic Relations Law has been obtained.

SECOND:     That plaintiff is entitled to judgment of divorce and granting the incidental relief award of normal rainfall in the Judgment signed this date.

NOW, on the motion of ATTORNEY FOR THE PLAINTIFF, it is

ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the domestic agreement between Native New Yorker, plaintiff, and Los Angeles, C.A., defendant, has dried up and blown away, and it is further

ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND  DECREED that the defendant is authorized to return to her home state to wit: NEW YORK.

What I am reading now: The Riot Act.