Wednesday, December 31, 2008
2008 will be one second longer than usual, thanks to the fellows at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, UK - the place that Greenwich Mean Time is named after. Due to the minute slowing of the earth's rotation over time, a "leap second" will be added just at midnight tonight.
Isn't it wonderful? What will you do with your extra second? I'm going to linger just a little longer as I kiss my sweetie when the New Year is rung in.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Write a story about this guy. Or a poem. Or a rumination. Give him some background, some context.
Here's my story:
His sister called him Uncle Willie, the way her boys did. He liked being an Uncle and living in the downstairs bedroom at her house now that their Mother had died. The little boy James was quick to hug and quick to run away. The older one Charles was quieter, but Willie remembered the day long ago when he was born and his sister showed him the little face in the bundle of flannel. He had been surprised, amazed that such a warm, alive creature had come from her swelled tummy.Charles was bigger now and sometimes let him play basketball when his friends came over, as they threw the ball at the hoop over the garage door. He was taller than they and could make foul shots from the line, but when the boys ran so quickly around him, he couldn't hold onto the ball.
Charles and his friends sometimes played tricks on him - keep-away with the ball or taking his hat. He once got mad and told Charles he wouldn't play with him anymore. He didn't mean to break the screen door but their laughter hurt his ears.
His sister told him to come inside and watch "The Jetsons" with James. She gave them chips and a coke, then went out to the driveway and he heard her voice talking sternly to Charles.
"It isn't fair to tease Uncle Willie," she said. "Charles, you should know better than that. I'm disappointed in you."
The boys' voices rose and fell and laughed and Willie's sister's voice clamored higher, scolding them, and then the screen door slammed and she came back into the kitchen. She inspected the split screen, lifting the drooping rubber string that his fist had forced from the track, and she sighed.
"Ah come on guys, let's get outa here. This is lame, playing with a retard," a voice rose beyond from the driveway. Willie ate a dorito while George Jetson ran on the treadmill. Petey was his name, the one who'd pulled his Dodgers cap off and thrown it under the car.
"Don't call him that," said Charles. "Anyway, you're not so smart, you can't even do that math homework unless I help."
"I don't need your help, smartass. Jeez, you got them eyebrows, like Frankenstein, just like your Uncle."
"Fuck you, Petey, get outa here!" Charles' voice shrilled now. "Go on home, get your sister to help you with your math. Get your dad, if you think he's so smart."
"I'm going, I'm going. Frankenstein." Laughter.
The door slapped again. Charles' footsteps thumped as he ran fast up the carpeted stairs, and the bedroom door slammed.
Willie's sister said, "Charles, have you done your geometry yet? Charles?" She started to climb the stairs.
Willie wondered if Charles were crying. He had heard Charles cry sometimes before, when the door to his room was closed. He waited for his sister to come back.
"Look, Uncle Willie," said James, nudging him. "I can bite my Dorito into a star! See?" He held it up. "Can you?"
Willie reached into the bag and pulled out a handful of chips and crunched them loudly. The taste of salt filled his mouth.
Monday, December 29, 2008
I was walking down Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice and here was this door. Between two storefront bungalows, a vermillion-colored door, flanked by neatly trimmed shrubs, overhung by blossoming vines and a lemon tree in full fruit.
The New Year beckons. What's beyond? We could find anything behind that door. All we have to do is open it. Do we dare? Of course we do.
Open the door.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
We decided to take a trip to Artesia, a little community in the south western part of Los Angeles County known as "Little India."
I had a rose-flavored falooda. Here's what it looked like - the little bits are the takmaria. What it tasted like was amazing! Sweet and intense and the flavor of rosewater. Like another Asian drink, Boba, it was fun to suck the ingredients up through a straw, although the little noodles were sometimes disconcerting, dripping on my chin so I had to slurp them up like errant spaghetti.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
This holiday season, I bought a dozen florists' cyclamen to decorate my table for a buffet. Cyclamen, with their curiously-shaped noding flowers that rise up over prettily patterned leaves are strikingly decorative and elegant.
I've written before about my family's tendancy to plunge enthusiastically into hobbies and interests. Hooked on this charming genus, I joined the Cyclamen Society and soon was signing up for the seed exchange.
It's particularly rewarding when you finally see the blooms of a plant that is more challenging to grow from seed. Bulbs and tuberous plants take a while to germinate, and a while to come to flowering size - but when one you've grown finally blooms, it's very rewarding.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Orson Welles' 1958 film "A Touch of Evil" begins with a close-up of a man setting the timer on a bomb. The camera pulls back to show a long columned arcade, and then the man plants the bomb in the trunk of a sleek convertible. A man and woman, laughing and embracing, get into the convertible and cruise down a crowded night-time street in a Mexican border town.
This shot, about four minutes long, was filmed as one long tracking shot, and is praised by film critics as one of the most amazing pieces of cinematography in film. The car drives through the crowded streets, passing the shabby arcades with their old-fashioned columns. As it stops for traffic cops, pushcart vendors, and herds of goats, we wonder - when will it explode? who will it kill? The introduction of the film's hero and his new bride, walking along the slowly cruising car and standing beside it as they clear the border crossing, heightens the suspense.
Orson Welles used Windward Avenue in Venice, California as the location for this shoot. The car passes the columned hotels and liquor stores on the north side of Windward, then turns onto Ocean Front Walk, passing what is now the Sidewalk Cafe, and the remains of the Mecca Cafe - by then a bingo parlour.
It was not a stretch to transform it into a sleazy border town. By 1958, Venice had fallen on hard times.
The decline had begun years ago. Abbot Kinney's control over the design and cultural life of the town was broken with his death in 1920, and in 1925 when the citizens voted to become part of the City of Los Angeles.
As many writers have observed, it was akin to annexing Disneyland. Venetians didn't realize that control from downtown wouldn't always have their best interests at heart. In 1929, Los Angeles decided that the canals were hard to maintain and obsolete in the age of the automobile. A huge public works project was begun to fill them in and pave them over. The lagoon and the canals to the north were filled in, but the Depression halted the project before it could reach the canals south of Venice Boulevard - the poorer neighborhood, once tent cities and then simple bungalows and shacks.
Another unintended effect of annexation was the City's conservative ordinances that shut down dancing on Sundays, hurting business on the Pier and along the boardwalk. Venice citizens had to petition for an exception for them, as an Amusement District. Venice became the home of many varieties of amusement - some not so family friendly. Prohibition, in effect since 1920 but enforced more rigorously by Los Angeles, hurt business. Gambling flourished, both on shore in back rooms and on gambling ships moored just beyond the 3-mile limit. It was said that the tunnels beneath Windward Avenue, intended for utility and water lines, were used to smuggle bootleg liquor.
In 1930 oil was discovered in the salt marshes in the southern part of Venice. Soon oil wells were going up in the midst of residential neighborhoods. With the oil came jobs, but also pollution and environmental hazards. These neighborhoods had been the poorer neighborhoods anyway, so few civic leaders cared about what happened there.
In 1933, when alcohol became legal again, the bars and cocktail lounges flourished. The off-shore gambling resorts became even more popular, with a high-class clientele. In the late 1930's a mobster named Tony Cornero brought customers with a fleet of water-taxis. He served good food, unwatered booze, hired top-class dance bands to play. He ran all the popular games, including roulette, craps, blackjack, poker, and chinese lottery.
In "Farewell My Lovely," written in 1940, Raymond Chandler's sleuth Philip Marlowe bunks in a seaside hotel, and waits until dark to take a water taxi out to a gambling ship.
The reflection of a red neon light glared on the ceiling. When it made the whole room red it would be dark enough to go out. Outside cars honked along the alley they called the Speedway. Feet slithered on the sidewalks below my window. There was a murmur and mutter of coming and going in the air. The air that seeped in through the rusted screens smelled of stale frying fat. Far off a voice of the kind that could be heard far off was shouting: "Get hungry, folks. Get hungry. Nice hot doggies here. Get hungry."Marlowe's hotel may have been the once-fine St. Mark's Hotel:
There was no elevator. The hallways smelled and the stairs had grimed rails. I went down them, threw the key on the desk and said I was through. A clerk with a wart on his left eyelid nodded and a Mexican bellhop in a frayed uniform coat came from behind the dustiest rubber plant in California to take my bag. I didn't have a bag...Marlowe goes out to find the water taxi, and describes the scene on Ocean Front Walk:
Outside the narrow streets fumed, the sidewalks squirmed with fat stomachs. Across the street a bingo parlor was going full blast and beside it a couple of sailors with girls were coming out of a photographer's shop where they had probably been having their photos taken riding camels. The voice of the hot dog merchant split the dusk like an axe. A big blue bus blared down the street to the little circle where the streetcar used to run on a turntable. I walked that way.With the coming of the war, the aircraft industry drew workers from all over the US to Southern California. Curfews prohibited any activity on piers and beaches after dark, but servicemen on leave and factory workers came to sample Venice's increasingly seedy attractions.
After the war, the City of Los Angeles chose not to renew the lease on Abbott Kinney's pier. A master plan was implmented with the intent of removing all beach piers and widening the beaches. In 1946, the Venice Pier was torn down. No trace of it remains today.
The fine hotels had become flophouses. Amusement arcades turned into peep shows and bingo parlors. Resident poet Lawrence Lipton described Venice as "a jerry-built slum by the sea."
The City's building inspectors harassed Venice property owners on code violations. Costly Upgrades were mandated. Many owners chose to demolish instead.
Some Windward Avenue buildings lost their upper stories, leaving only the arcaded first floors. All the buildings on the seaqard side were demolished. In 1964, St. Mark's Hotel, anchoring the northwest corner of Windward and Ocean Front Walk, was torn down.
In 1959 the Bingo parlor became a coffee shop called the Gas House. Hell's Angels parked their motercycles under the arched colonnades of Abbot Kinney's Venetian replicas. Homeless people, drug addicts and, later, hippies hung out on Ocean Front Walk.
The theatres, the dance halls, the rides were gone. The remaining buildings housed sleazy concessions - fast food stands, T-shirt dealers, head shops.
But things would change again. Things always do.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Red Rock is a wonderful place to take a hike on a bright clear winter's day.
Have a wonderful holiday, everyone.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
It's a song set in the '80s, during the period when young Irish men and women immigrated to New York City to find their fortunes. I mean the 1980s - the Irish recession of 1980 - 1985 spurred a new wave of immigrants. These migrants were educated professionals - accountants, medical technicians, doctors and engineers, unable to find work in the bad economy at home.
The song is a duet between two lovers who've been defeated by life's hardships, yet remember the exhilaration of being young and in love in New York at Christmas time.
Shane: "I could have been someone"It has one of the best opening lines of any Christmas song. If you haven't already played it, go listen.
Kirsty: "Well, so could anyone. You took my dreams from me when I first found you."
Shane: "I kept them with me babe, I packed them with my own. Can't make it out alone, I built my dreams around you."
There's another line, though, that for me holds a lot of meaning. It reminds me of another Christmas Eve in New York City, around that same time. The line goes:
"We kissed on the corner and danced through the night."It's one of the reasons I love this song. I wrote a short story about two lovers in New York, at Christmas Eve, during the 1970s.
The office was closing early, because it was Christmas Eve. She'd called Arthur at work, and he said come over. He got off at 6:00, so she'd have to hang out, but that would be OK.
Everyone in the office wished one another a Merry Christmas. The two company patriarchs, Mr. Hodges and Mr. Sweeters, had passed out Christmas treats; tins of butter cookies for the ladies, and tall cardboard boxes holding bottles of whiskey for the men. Ruthie the bookkeeper had given Jen and Doris handmade brooches she'd made of glittery yarn, crocheted in the shapes of wreathes. Jen had waited, a little breathlessly, to say "Merry Christmas" to young Mr. Hodges. "So, congratulations on your first Christmas in the big city," he'd said, and had given her a hug, briefly pressing his cheek to hers before releasing her.
Jen ducked a kiss on the cheek from Eddie, whose shiny mouth smelled of the whiskey from the boxes. She rode the elevator down to Fifth Avenue, where a light grainy snow was beginning to fall, making the sidewalk slick.
The bar where Arthur worked was over near Pennsylvania Station. She got there at 4:30, which meant that by the time he clocked out at 6:00, she had already had two drinks, sitting at the bar. She loved watching him talk to the customers, Midtown regulars, the way he looked at their faces as if he cared about them. The corner of his eyes crinkled. Did he look the same way to others when he talked to her?
When Ralph, the manager, came out of the kitchen, Jen made a point of placing a ten dollar bill on the bar in front of her cocktail napkin - Ralph had warned Arthur about buying her drinks before. She gave him an insincere smile in return for his glare.
As they stepped onto 33rd Street, Arthur slipped the ten back into her coat pocket, and they both laughed. "Where to now?" she asked.
He wore a navy peacoat over his jeans and sweater, and a battered pair of boots. The snow looked like little bright beads in his hair - full and wavy, though it was going grey. He was 37, he'd told her. They had met while working on a play in the East Village, he in the cast and she as the stage manager.
"You hungry?" he said. "Over at Flanagans, they have a happy hour buffet. Not like that cheap bastard Ralph."
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders. He was taller than she, and rangy with wide shoulders and a kind of loping gait. "You walk like a farmer," she'd once said to him. "There's a reason, I guess," he had answered. That was the only clue he'd ever dropped about his past.
They took the short cut through the ground floor of Macy's. She showed Arthur a pair of gloves lined with tartan wool, and a matching scarf. "Winter's just started and you don't have gloves," she said. Then he held a pair of dangly earrings near her cheek, saying, "I'd rather buy you these," as she peered into a mirror. "But now I've spoiled the surprise." As they passed the perfume counter she sprayed Chanel No.5 on one wrist, and Arpege on the other, and held them to his nose. He kissed her in front of the revolving door onto Herald Square, and she tasted Bushmills and tobacco.
Flanagans was warm and dark and not so crowded they couldn't find a table. They ordered a round and filled their plates at the buffet - cheese cubes, crackers, Swedish meatballs in sauce and fried zucchini with marinara sauce for dipping.
"Not too many places have a free buffet anymore, " said Arthur, watching the crowd of office-workers having a drink before they plunged down to the train platforms.
"So did you go to that audition?" asked Jen. "Wasn't that this morning?"
"I went, yeah, I went up there. There were a lot of people, and I got to thinking about it and decided I don't want to do TV," he said. "It's too commercial. I didn't like the way those people looked."
"But you don't know until you - "
"Anyway, Jonathan says the director's a shit. Why would I want to work for someone like that? I already have enough trouble with Ralph."
Jen had come to New York right after college, hoping to work in theatre. She read the trades and sent her resume out for anything she thought she could do - stage managing, lighting, props. She never turned down a job without even checking it out. She looked at Arthur and thought, a real acting job paying real wages is way different than tending bar, then she looked down and decided not to say anything.
Arthur prodded the food on his plate, but didn't eat it. "So when did you tell your folks you'd be home for Christmas?" he asked.
"I said I had a show to work tonight," said Jen. "It's such a drag to take the bus to Jersey now, with all the commuters. I told them I'd come tomorrow morning. It's OK, Mom and Dad haven't done a Christmas tree in years, dinner is the important thing, and that's not till later."
His eyes smiled into hers. "Well, we'll see you off in the morning," he said. He put his hand on her thigh beneath the table.
They took the PATH train down to the Village - the fare was 30 cents, cheaper than the subway, and it stopped at Christopher Street and Hudson, not too far from her apartment on Bleecker. They climbed the stairs and opened the door to the darkened apartment - all theirs, her roommate gone to Connecticut for the holidays.
She took off her coat, and he dropped his coat on the wood floor. He put his hands on her waist and looked her up and down. Her work skirt and sweater, dark tights and heeled shoes. "You look just like someone in a respectable business."
"But I'm not," she said, "you know I'm not." Because she was small and he was large, it was easy for him to pick her up in his arms and carry her into the bedroom.
After, he lay in the bed while she packed her overnight bag. "So are your folks cool about you living in the city?" he asked.
"I haven't asked them about it," she said, "not really. They know what I want to do. My dad left home when he went to college and never came back - so he knows. I suppose they think its OK, it's just good that they live so close to New York I can see them on Christmas."
"You got anything cooking?" he asked.
"Um, yeah, a couple of things. I'm lighting a play by Eugene O'Neil, down in SoHo next month. This off-off Broadway rep company," she said. "What about you? You don't want to do TV - is there anything else casting?"
"I don't know, I'm actually thinking about looking for another job. Ralph said he would give me more hours but he went back on his word."
"I don't like working in the office," she said, "but it pays the rent, and I can still do shows at night and on weekends."
"You got more energy than me." He rolled to sit up and reached for his jeans. "Hey, Jonathan's gone skiing in Vermont with some girl he met. Let's go to my place, we can light the fireplace. You got your bag?"
On the way to the subway, they went past Village Liquors on 7th Avenue to buy something to drink. It was just before 11:00, closing time. Inside the store, a green parrot on a perch in a cage said "Ho ho ho!" every time the door opened and the bell rang.
When they came up the stairs at Borough Hall in Brooklyn, the snow was falling heavier and it was fluffy now, not gritty sleet as before. It came whirling down past the street lights, and lay soft on the wrought iron fences and railings in front of the brownstone houses. "Look!" said Jen. "It's like magic." The snow dusted the sidewalk, and their footprints showed where they walked.
There was a Christmas tree lot on the corner, and - amazingly - the lights were on and the seller was there. "You're still selling trees?" said Arthur. "Who buys Christmas trees now?"
The guy shrugged. "Maybe there's someone who doesn't have one yet," he said.
In the A & P they bought some bread, some cheese and some green apples. "You want anything else? How about some twinkle lights?" Jen laughed as Arthur held them up. "Candy canes? Half price."
When they came out, the lights were still on in the tree lot. "Look," said Arthur. "It's almost midnight. What do you want for that tree there?" He pointed.
"Five dollars," said the guy.
"What, at midnight? Two seconds and it's not worth anything. C'mon, what about it?"
"Go on, take it," said the guy.
"Arthur," said Jen, "You're not serious, are you? What are we going to do with it?"
"Don't you worry. Here, I got it if you take your bag. Can you get the groceries too? It's not far." He hoisted the tree somehow on his shoulder. As he walked ahead of her, she followed the cross of rough new boards, nailed to the tree's base, shining in the street light.
His place was just a half block down on Henry Street. He stumbled up the flight of stairs ahead of her, the snow from his boots melting on the linoleum steps, the scent of pine close in the narrow hallway. The living room was darkened, but the blinds were open, and beyond the wide windows the lights of the bridge and the city beyond gleamed in the dark, as the snow fell past them.
Jen looked out at the lights. The faint glimmering buildings of Manhattan looked so near and so far at the same time.
Arthur set the tree in front of the window. "How's that? We don't need decorations. It's pretty nice just like this."
He built a fire in the small fireplace, and then brought the cushions from the couch to the hearth, the pillows from his bed, and a quilt. He got two glasses from the kitchen, and cracked the seal on the whiskey bottle. He slipped a pen-knife from his pocket and wiped the blade on his jeans. He held out a slice of apple with a paring of cheese to her.
"C'mon now. It's good."
It was 1:00 a.m. They drank whiskey by the light of the fire. In the morning she would be on the bus to New Jersey, but for now, the scent of pine filled the room and the snow fell outside the window.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
You slide into the embrace of a red vinyl booth, and relax. The waitress brings your drinks.
The cocktail napkins are politically incorrect.
Here's how they serve the martini olives.
The food is good old American classic. The steaks are pretty good, and so's the seafood. Garlic mashed potatoes and spinach round out a fine meal. It's always good to eat seafood in a restaurant that features portholes for windows.
It was something to see. The pier included a vast auditorium and a fine restaurant built to look like a sailing ship. The business district's buildings were modeled after those in the Plaza San Marco, with arched colonnades linking each building. The columns' elaborate capitals were ornamented with carved acanthus leaves and the face of a classic beauty - the model, in reality, was a local girl named Nettie Bouck.
As the 1920s progressed, Venice thrived as an entertainment destination, even despite Prohibition, which outlawed alcohol. Venice was a popular destination for both tourists and local residents. Special events were held on the pier and along the beach, including bathing beauty contests, parades, road races, animal acts, and dance marathons.
Monday, December 22, 2008
This is Rae's coffee shop on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, seen through a rainy window.
Stay warm and dry, everybody.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
pink things everywhere you look. On a narrow street in the Oakwood neighborhood of Venice, I brought my car to a halt in front of this incredible mural on a plain concrete wall.
His work is exhibited at galleries, but he also creates items that you can collect, including vinyl toys, T-shirts, posters, and prints. Get them while they're available, though, because they are limited editions. I adore these ice cream toys (go to link and scroll down to the fifth item), but they are sold out.
Hats and T-shirts are still available. The hats are the perfect pink-lover's gift!