On to Quito

Getting Ready to Pack

Getting Ready to Pack

The next couple of days, I will be busy cleaning up after tax season at work, and packing for my Ecuador vacation at home. Consequently, this is my last posting until my return in November. I do not anticipate making any postings while I am there.

Quito is two hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time—essentially the same as Central Daylight Time (UTC -5 hours). That means there will be no jet lag. There will, however, be some danger of altitude sickness, as Quito is approximately 9,000 feet (around 3,000 meters) above sea level.

So, vaya con dios, amigos!

You Gotta Have Sole!

The Grier Musser Museum Near Downtown LA

The Grier Musser Museum Near Downtown LA

Today, Martine and I visited the Grier Musser Museum on South Bonnie Brae, about a mile west of downtown L.A. Even before we pulled into the museum’s parking lot, however, disaster struck. The right sole of my New Balance shoes came unglued and flapped like a tongue as I walked.

Fortunately, Ray and Susan Tejada, curators of the museum, allowed me to do the tour in my stocking feet. Else, I would have pitched down the stairs and landed on my head. When we left, Ray and Susan gave me some masking tape to wind around the shoe. The fix held until I walked into my apartment, whereupon the sole flapped—but I immediately tossed the shoes into the nearest trash bin.

This time of year, the Grier Musser Museum is chock full of Halloween displays ranging from antiques to recent Hallmark creations. The net result is to give us a sweeping view of what is fast becoming one of our major holidays. (I wonder how long it will be before it becomes a national holiday.)

Messing with Mother Nature

Chinese Mass Wedding

Chinese Mass Wedding

China is worried. The all-powerful Communist Party has messed with Mother Nature once too often. For many years, they banned having more than one child per family. That led, not surprisingly, to an excess of male newborns over female newborns. (Accidents sometimes happened to infant girls, when it was boys who were desired.)

Although the Party has eased up on its child restrictions, there are two serious consequences:

  1. The number of marriages is dropping, possibly because many young men cannot find a sufficient number of marriage-age women to wed. I also remember reading stories about suicides of male factory workers because they had no hope of being able to raise a family.
  2. A disconcerting 500,000 elderly have wandered off—most of them suffering from dementia—partly because there are not enough children to bear the burden of their support.

China has been in this type of situation before. One of the decrees during the Great Leap Forward period (1958-1962) was that the “Four Pests” were to be eradicated. The pests in question were rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows. One effect of killing massive numbers of sparrows was that the ecological balance was upset as crops were eaten by insects that were kept under control by the birds.

Maybe having too much power over men and animals is dangerous in the long run.


Voting Against the Creepy Clown

It Was Worth It!

It Was Worth It!

Despite all my strong feelings about the upcoming election, there appeared a real possibility that I wouldn’t be able to vote. I could wait for the sample ballot with its attached absentee ballot application, but there was a better than 50% chance that I wouldn’t get the absentee ballot in my hands before I boarded my plane to South America.

So I called the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters and asked what I could do. They said I could vote in person by going to the County Clerk’s office in Norwalk. Foolishly, I took the 105 Freeway to Norwalk and got stuck in a behemoth traffic jam. It took me all of two hours to drive the 30 miles to the County Clerk’s office and only 15 minutes to vote. Fortunately, I took a better route home (the Golden State Freeway over to the Santa Monica Freeway).

This election matters a great deal to me. I know that California will not go for Trump—even Republican ex-Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to vote for him—but I have to be able to face myself when I look in the mirror. I have to act on my beliefs, or what am I?

You can bet that the Creepy Clown did not get an X in his box on my ballot. I can go to Ecuador now with a good conscience.

An Unnecessary Holiday

It Was Leif Eriksson Who Discovered America

It Was Leif Eriksson Who Discovered America

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue …

Okay, I’m willing to grant him that. He didn’t “discover” America, though. The original discoverers walked across what is now the Bering Strait (or sailed in from various Pacific islands) and scattered through North and South America thousands of years ago. If you’re looking for a European discoverer, your man is the Icelander Leif Eriksson, aided and abetted by information from one Bjarni Herjulfsson. He started a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows at the northernmost tip of Newfoundland.

The Viking settlers did not stick around. They faced constant warfare with the Skraelings (i.e. aborigines) and gave it up as a lost cause. But they left behind an archeological record and wrote the experience up in the Vinland Saga, which you can read for yourself. Penguin Books has a good edition, which includes several related sagas bound in the same volume.

In the meantime, we are stuck with this holiday in October commemorating an Italian explorer who is reviled by generations of the people he called Indians. If you want to see what they really thought, read Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire. The Spanish and Portuguese colonial experiences left behind some very pretty churches and millions of tormented Indian slaves, if they were so unlucky as to survive.

Columbus himself was not himself an arrant villain, but he made it possible for real arrant villains like Pedro de Alvarado and Nuño de Guzman to control the lives of thousands of innocents. Okay, so maybe they had human sacrifice—but nowhere on the scale of death practiced by the Iberian newcomers.

Defiance Is Everything

Wearing It Like a Badge of Honor

They Wear It Like a Badge of Honor

I know I said I would shy away from politics in this grim election season, but I could not avoid writing about what troubles me to the base of my soul. And that is the fact that people persist in backing Donald Trump despite the horrible behaviors that he is admittedly guilty of. At one point, he even said he could shoot some innocent down in the streets of New York without impacting his political base. Now I think that perhaps that is true.

The United States does not matter to these people. All that matters is expressing their defiance of all things relating to Obama, Hillary, liberalism, and political correctness. I keep thinking of Sly in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew:

Y’are a baggage, the Slys are no rogues. Look in the Chronicles—we came in with Richard [sic] Conqueror. Therefore, paucas pallabris: Let the world slide! Sessa!

Yes, but once one wakes up from a drunken stupor, one has to face a world that is irretrievably broken. What then? Another impeachment trial?

This is the first election in the history of this young nation in which a large number of voters just want to scuttle the ship and sink it, even if they themselves drown in the process.

I am so exercised by this state of affairs that I’m going to drive out to the L.A. County Clerk’s office in distant Norwalk to pick up my absentee ballot for fear that, in the normal course of events, I won’t have it until after I leave for Ecuador. I know that Californians will reject Trump, but now, more than ever, I feel that my vote is personally important.

Consider it my own act of defiance.

Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign

Scene of Many Hollywood Legends

Scene of Many Hollywood Legends

It stands near the top of Mount Lee in the Hollywood Hills. Originally, the sign read “Hollywoodland”—erected using telephone poles and tin to advertise the housing development below. Eventually, the sign was shortened to “Hollywood” and came to signify something altogether different.

I first heard about the story from Dory Previn, who wrote a song called “Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign” way back in the 1970s. You can hear her singing it in this YouTube video.  It is about a movie starlet who grew disenchanted with the dream factory ending her life by jumping off the letter “H” of the Hollywood sign and dying on the slope below of multiple fractures of the pelvis. She died on September 18, 1932.

It really happened, but not to Mary C. Brown. I guess Millicent Lilian “Peg” Entwistle doesn’t scan as well in a song lyric. Peg was a cute blonde Welsh actress with blue eyes. While acting on the stage in New York, she married Robert Keith in 1927. For a short time, she was the stepmother of the man who grew up to be actor Brian Keith.

By coincidence, Brian Keith also committed suicide.

Starlet Peg Entwistle

Starlet Peg Entwistle

During her time in Hollywood, Peg acted in only one film that was ever released: Thirteen Women (1932). I would like to be able to say that it was a success, but it wasn’t, even though it starred Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne.



L.A. Writers: James Ellroy’s Dark Places

James Ellroy, Age 10, with His Murdered Mother

James Ellroy, Age 10, and His Murdered Mother

Given his childhood, it is no wonder that the vision of crime novelist James Ellroy is full of dark places. At the age of 10, he experienced being orphaned when his divorced mother, Jean, was raped and murdered. To this date, the crime has not been solved. But it has resonated through the work of its littlest victim.

To date, I have read seven of his novels, most of which are set in Los Angeles. You can believe me when I say that the author’s L.A., the sun doesn’t shine much. He is perhaps most famous for his L.A. Quartet, which consists of:

  • The Black Dahlia (1987)
  • The Big Nowhere (1988)
  • L.A. Confidential (1990)
  • White Jazz (1992)

As a reviewer for National Public Radio wrote, “His L.A. might not be a city of angels, but the devils he conjures up tell one hell of a tale.”

At times, Ellroy twists the English language into a strange rhythm, as if he were the American Louis Ferdinand Céline. Some of his books, such as White Jazz and American Tabloid, are sometimes difficult to read because of their driving, staccato style. But the energy keeps you moving along. When you are finished with one of his books, you need to relax a bit.

I just finished reading Blood on the Moon (1984), which is set on an axis from West Hollywood (“Boys’ Town”) to Silverlake, with occasional visits to the LAPD’s Parker Center downtown. The novel has a fine local feel that is the hallmark of a real L.A. writer. He may have set some stories elsewhere, but L.A. is somehow the real center of his oeuvre.

Below is a picture of the writer as he is today:

James Ellroy Today

James Ellroy Today

I met the author several years ago when he spoke at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival back when it was still being held at UCLA. I remember his strange description of how he spent his hours alone in the dark, carrying on imaginary conversations with women who were not in the room with him.

Dark. Strange. Indeed—but also brilliant.


On the Mean Streets of DTLA

The Dash B Bus to Chinatown

The Dash B Bus to Chinatown

Today, as usual, I took the Expo Line train to downtown L.A. (or DTLA), as it is being called colloquially. It was a strange ride: During the last half hour of the trip, a black passenger was loudly swearing at and berating the woman he was with, and cursing at everything and everyone else along the way. The other passengers just became ever more absorbed in their reading or their smart phones. They did not want to draw any irate loony-bird attention to themselves.

When we pulled into the 7th Street Metro terminal, I made a beeline for the Central Library. I returned all the books I had checked out and took the elevator to the third floor Literature and Fiction section, where I spent a couple hours reading James Ellroy’s Blood on the Moon, the first volume of an early trilogy featuring Detective Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins of LAPD Homicide.

Just before 12:30, I made my way to Conference Room A for my weekly Mindful Meditation class, taught by Giselle Jones of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. I have become dependent on these weekly sessions to help keep my feet on the ground. Also, they give me a feeling of tranquillity which lasts for hours.

After the session, I grabbed the Dash B bus to 1st Street, where I was planning to transfer to the Dash A bus to Little Tokyo. Opposite me on the sideways bench seating was a slim young barefoot black woman who was stunningly beautiful. She seemed to be looking straight at me and talking, but I never could understand what she was trying to say; and she got off after a couple of stops.

In Little Tokyo, I made my way to Weller Court, where there were a number of Japanese restaurants. I had a bowl of spicy chashu ramen at the Hot Pot Galaxy and walked over to the Kinokuniya Bookstore, where I bought a book by the Dalai Lama.

From Little Tokyo, I made my way to the Santa Monica Rapid 10 bus stop opposite Union Station and waited the usual maximum time for the next bus to appear. I was dropped off at Bundy and Idaho, from where I walked back to my apartment.