The L.A. Times Book Festival

Hitting the Books on Earth Day

I used to go every year to the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, back when it was held on the nearby UCLA Campus. Then I went to the first festival at USC and decided that they didn’t know how to handle it right. For one thing, they haven’t yet realized that the temperature that far inland is generally ten degrees warmer; and the need for shade correspondingly greater. This year, things were better—but I still wish it moved back to UCLA.

I picked up five books at the festival:

  • Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Reputations, by an up and coming Colombian novelist
  • Joan Didion, South and West: From a Notebook
  • Yukio Mishima, Five Modern Nō Plays
  • Irène Némirovsky, Suite Française
  • Dashiell Hammett, The Big Knockover

Some of the prices were great, others were at the publisher’s suggested price. No matter: I plan to read them all, and will probably enjoy them all.

Fortunately the temperature wasn’t too hot today, and we didn’t make the mistake of driving. It cost us only 35¢ each to take the Expo Line train, which let us off right at the back gate of the festival. Else, I would have had to pay $15.00 and walk several blocks each way.

 

Mental or Dental, I Say It’s Spinach!

Right After Tax Season, My Mouth Fell Apart!

There I was, just outside the Grand Central Market on Broadway, munching on a chewy Mexican cocada, when I suddenly felt there were a couple of dental crowns moving around with the coconuts. Fortunately, I was able to pick out the crowns, wash them, and slip them in a plastic bag. This morning, I had an appointment with my dentist, who, with her assistant, worked the better part of two hours trying to fix my upper left molars. The job was made more difficult by my swallowing one of the gold crowns that had come loose: She had placed it in my mouth to determine whether it would still fit well in my mouth. Well, that’s a moot point now.

In addition, she discovered the beginnings of an abscess in my far left upper molar. That means a root canal. Oh yummy!

 

Tax Day—Whew!

It’s Finally Over

I’ve worked twenty-five consecutive tax seasons, and each one seems more grueling than the one before it. This year, because the deadline was April 18, we had three extra days to suffer. Last year, we also had February 29 because it was leap year. And Martine Luther King’s birthday? And President’s Day? Nope, we worked those days, as well as most Saturdays and some Sundays.

Although I had been working part time since May 2016, I worked full time from the beginning of March to today, primarily because our tax manager, Don Yamagishi, died on February 28. I do not have one-tenth of Don’s tax smarts, but I know a lot about the tax software and how to use it effectively. So I slaved with the rest of them because I did not want all the burden going on their shoulders.

Tomorrow, I’m going downtown to visit the Central Library and the Last Bookstore at 5th & Spring. It’ll be nice to relax a bit.

 

The Calm Before the Storm

 

Tulips at Descanso Gardens

Tulips at Descanso Gardens

Since the beginning of May, I have been semi-retired. Now, with the passing of our tax manager on Tuesday, I am being asked to come back full time—at least until the end of tax season. I had hoped to avoid another high-pressure tax season, but I pretty much had to agree to help out; else, I might have been forced to look for another job at my advanced age. So I can expect the next six weeks to be highly stressful. Life is like that sometimes.

But before I started in on the heavy-duty work, I decided to go to Descanso Gardens with Martine. The tulips were planted, and this was the first weekend of a two-=weekend Cherry Blossom Festival. Only some of the cherry trees were in flower, but the gardens were crowded, mostly with Japanese-Americans looking for an American equivalent of their own cherry blossom festivals. Fortunately, Descanso is large enough that one can easily escape the crowds and still find beauty.

The beauty of the tulips, and even of the lone lilac that came into bloom early, will help me in the weeks to come. Unfortunately, the tax deadline this year is Tuesday, April 18. That happens whenever April 15 falls on a Saturday or Sunday. This year it is on Saturday, and Monday is a holiday (Emancipation Day) in the District of Columbia; so, Tuesday is the tax deadline.

I’ve already filed my taxes, so at least I don’t have to worry about that.

 

A Nattering Nabob of Negativity

Sometimes There Is a Point To Being Negative

Sometimes There Is a Point To Being Negative

American culture frowns on negativity. People who are seen as being mostly negative are shunned and are constantly ducking brickbats thrown by amateur psychologists. But sometimes, it is good to be negative. For instance, I have nothing positive to say about the Trumpf administration, except that he has not pitched us into a global war—yet! (Even that f at the end of his name is negative, no?) Many of my friends say that they are taking a “wait and see” attitude. That I cannot understand.

We are so anti-negative that we sometimes confuse ourselves. The Patriot Act during the last Bush administration was essentially an attack on our liberties, pretending to protect us from terrorism. Hast it? No.

There is a long standing battle between the conservatives and women on the subject of abortion. Both sides are “pro” something: one is pro-life, and the other is pro-choice. How can anyone be against life or a woman’s choice on bearing a child? Here is a list of such euphemisms:

  • Passed away instead of died
  • Correctional facility instead of jail
  • Departed instead of died
  • Differently-abled instead of handicapped or disabled
  • Ethnic cleansing instead of genocide
  • Negative patient outcome instead of dead
  • Relocation center instead of prison camp
  • Collateral damage instead of accidental deaths
  • Downsizing instead of firing someone
  • Put to sleep instead of euthanize
  • Pregnancy termination instead of abortion
  • On the streets instead of homeless

For more examples, check out this website.

Now it seems that every piece of legislation, regardless how nefarious, must bear a positive moniker.

Maybe I react the way I do because I am a Hungarian. My people were on one of the two main invasion paths into Europe—the other was through Poland. When one is the product of a history of almost constant warfare, one is likely to not always look on the bright side of life.

That does not mean that I am, in Spiro T. Agnew’s memorable phrase, a “nattering nabob of negativity”; but I do not lay myself open to accepting arguments solely because they are framed using positive language. No more than I would call a bill urging Republicans to commit suicide the Glorious Sunset Act.

Itchy Eyelids of Death

It’s A Horrible Feeling!

It’s A Horrible Feeling!

Every once in a while, I get this allergic condition where my eyelids get inflamed and itch like the devil. The temptation is to rub them. That’s works for a few nanoseconds, but the itching and tearing come back with redoubled force. The only thing that seems to work is a prescription drug called Pred-Forte, which is a steroid that my ophthalmologist is reluctant to prescribe to me because … because … well I practically live on steroids.

I have no pituitary gland (I’ll tell you more about that some day), and therefore I must take all my hormones—which are normally controlled by the pituitary—externally. And, well, taking too many steroids long term has numerous baleful effects, some of which I’ve already experienced: osteoarthritis leading to a hip replacement, cataracts, and thinning of the skin—to name just a few.

Today, I went to the free weekly Mindful Meditation session at the Los Angeles Central Library. What I concentrated on was my eyelids. That worked for a while, then on the way back from downtown, in a moment of forgetfulness, I rubbed my eyes. Damn!

During these sieges, I wake up with my eyelids stuck together; and I have to pry them open with the help of my fingers.

This condition has a lot to do with the frequent atmospheric changes caused by the series of rainstorms we have had over the past few months. It won’t last forever, but while it lasts it will be a major annoyance.

 

“A Hundred Windows Opened on All Sides of the Head”

Old Building on Buckeye Road

Old Building on Buckeye Road

This morning, I started reading G. K. Chesterton’s Autobiography, and it set me to thinking. I thought it would be fun to put all my earliest memories in one place, lest I forget. Chesterton had it right:

What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world. What gives me this shock is almost anything I really recall; not the things I should think most worth recalling. This is where it differs from the other great thrill of the past, all that is connected with first love and the romantic passion; for that, though equally poignant, comes always to a point; and it is narrow like a rapier piercing the heart, whereas the other was more like a hundred windows opened on all sides of the head.

I was born in a house on East 177th Street, a few houses north of Glendale. Because we moved shortly after I was born, all my earliest memories are tied up with 2814 East 120th Street, just off Buckeye Road. We lived on the second floor of a duplex. I remember lying in my crib. One of my first memories was of an argument between my mother and father about money. Both were working, my father at Lees Bradner & Company, my mother at the Cleveland Woolen Mill.

Like most toddlers, I was fairly rambunctious. Mrs. Nebehaj kept shouting from her first floor rooms, “Missus, the ceiling is coming down!”

From a very early age, I was cared for by my great grandmother Lidia and great grandfather Daniel. As Daniel died when I was one, I do not remember him. I was always told he wanted to live long enough for me to buy pipe tobacco for him at the grocery store on Buckeye Road. It was not to be.

My oldest friend was Joyce. Now for the sex: I was fixated on the crook of her knees, which to me was smooth and lovely. There wasn’t too much I could do about it, but I remembered it nonetheless. Once, when I was playing with her, I lost control of my bladder, and the pee ran down my leg. My landlord saw me and asked why I was dripping. I said I stepped in a bucket of water, and it was running down my leg. Was that my first lie?

On Buckeye Road, near East 120th, there was a ramshackle old building that sold furnace pipes and such like. I remember playing in the small yard that fronted the building. There were a number of tree stumps on which I could play with my toy soldiers.

Of course, everybody spoke Hungarian. So did I. It was almost a 100% Hungarian neighborhood, and we didn’t have a television set until 1949. Broadcasting would begin around 4:00 PM with the Kate Smith Hour, followed by the Howdy Doody Show, which I watched religiously.

Once, I remember going with my father to pick up Mom at the Woolen Mill, and there was a big fire in a nearby building.

My life changed when I attended kindergarten beginning in January 1950. Trouble emerged at once when my teacher, Mrs. Idell, refused to understand my Hungarian. My friend András, who was similarly afflicted, and I began kicking her shins. Also, my brother was born in April 1951. It was time to move, and that signaled a new epoch in my life.