Would You Spend Your Afterlife With This Guy?

Marshall Applewhite, Alias “Do”

We are coming up on one of those sad anniversaries with which our history as a nation is crowded. Twenty years ago, the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide in a Rancho Santa Fe, California mansion. The members of the cult believed that, in the wake of the comet Hale-Bopp was a spaceship that was going to taken them to heaven. They dressed in black track suits with patches that said “Heaven’s Gate Away Team.” They also wore identical Nike Decade sneakers and took enough amphetamines with vodka to send them into another world, though probably not heaven.

Their leader was one Marshall Applewhite, who went by the name “Do”—and, yes, he did himself in as well. Looking at his picture (above), would you give your life for this obvious flake? Apparently thirty-nine people did, most of them in their forties, at an age when presumably they should have known better.

Logo From the Heaven’s Gate Website

The website of the group is still in existence, maintained by a couple who used to be members, but transgressed by getting married. It has a very 90s look to it, but then the group didn’t survive the decade. According to an article in today’s Los Angeles Times:

Several hundred people joined the group over the years, although the vast majority left for a variety of reasons. Some who left came back. Those who remained to the end were largely longtime devotees. Twenty-one were women, 18 men. They ranged in age from 26 to 72, with more than half in their 40s.

Almost all of them were veteran seekers of spiritual truths, people who had tried other religions, tried tarot cards, tried hallucinogenic drugs.

So when comet Hale-Bopp began to arrive, it was time to check out.

 

Deep in Cinnabon America

Universal City’s City Walk

Universal City’s City Walk

There are parts of Los Angeles that are no really for Angelenos. They are for the Flyover People who come to see a fake-o version of my city. I paid my 35¢ and took the Metro Rail downtown, transferring to the Red Line subway to get me to Universal City. I used to enjoy going there more when Gladstones 4 Fish was located there, but now there are other glitzy (mostly chain) restaurants that promise more than they deliver.

The whole place was crawling with tourists, including many Chinese and Japanese who were taking cellphone photographs of everything. I had a decent Smokehouse Burger at Johnny Rocket’s, and wandered around seeing the sights. In my hands was a book, Hunter S. Thompson’s Generation of Swine about the craziness of the 1980s. Well, Thompson is gone now, but things are crazier than ever. For one thing, I was probably the only person in the place who was carrying a book. Everybody else was playing with their smart phones, taking pictures of the sights, and of each other, proving conclusively that they were in striking distance of the sights.

I am of an age which confers a certain degree of invisibility. I have no tattoos, no beard, no wrinkled camouflage shorts with dozens of pockets, no smart phone. I felt like some ancient saurian dripping with mud that had just crawled out of a primitive past. But then, did I have anything in common with the scads of tourists? Not really, nor did I have anything against them. We were just inhabiting different planes of existence.

In the end, I felt good about myself. I felt I had nothing to prove. I left my camera at home, and didn’t take any pictures with my flip phone. I did read a few chapters of Hunter Thompson, and I felt that was good.

 

 

Camellias Are My Life

Red Camellia Blossom at Descanso Gardens

Red Camellia Blossom at Descanso Gardens

Yesterday, Martine and I visited Descanso Gardens in La Cañada-Flintridge. At this time of year, the garden is still pretty dead—except for the camellias. The blossom above, fo example, caught my eye.

The title of this post refers not only to the flowers, which are stunning, but also to the fact that I am addicted to the Camellia sinensis, which is the scientific name for tea. I do not drink coffee, and I don’t particularly like carbonated beverages. In this cold month of January, I make a pot of Indian black tea every morning. I drink the tea hot for breakfast and iced for dinner and as a snack. Other than water, that’s about all I drink, ever. I might have a beer when it gets really hot, but no more than a dozen or so times a year.

The camellias at Descanso this time of year are Camellia japonicas, though there are a couple of other species, such as reticulata and sasanqua are also to be found. What makes Descanso’s collection unique is that they are protected by a large forest of California Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia)—protected in the sense that camellias usually do not like direct sunlight.

Some of the Oak Forest at Descanso

Some of the Oak Forest at Descanso

There is talk that many of the oaks at Descanso are centuries old and need to be replaced little by little with some other shade tree that coexists well with camellias. I don’t know how the garden staff will accomplish this, but I am sure that their professionals will be ultra-conservative, in the best meaning of the term.

 

The Original Pantry

Open 24 Hours a Day ... for 92 Years

Open 24 Hours a Day … for 92 Years … with the Usual Line

Yesterday was my birthday, so Martine took me out to lunch today. My choice was a restaurant which I last visited over thirty years ago with my father, who loved the place. The place in question was the Original Pantry at the corner of Figueroa and 9th Street.

Opened in 1928, the Original Pantry serves American comfort food only, with very few concessions to the ethnic diversity of Southern California. My cheeseburger was on toasted sourdough bread, and accompanied by French fries and fresh cole slaw. We had to wait three quarters of an hour for seats, but the crowd was good-natured and gratified by the Pantry’s no-nonsense menu.

One interesting fact: There is no front door lock. The restaurant has literally been open all day and all night since its opening. Even when the building had to move because of a new freeway ramp on the 110, it was open for breakfast at the old location and open for dinner at its present location. And once, a few years back, they were closed for a few hours for a health violation.

If you plan a visit to L.A., I recommend you try the Original Pantry. Good food at a reasonable price—but you can leave your credit cards at the hotel: The Pantry takes cash only.

L. A. Writers: Ry Cooder (?!)

Master of the Slide Guitar and ... Writer?

Master of the Slide Guitar and … Noir Writer?

So you think I’m kidding, do you? You think I don’t know that Ry Cooder is a musician? Aha, but in 2011 that same Ry Cooder wrote a book of short stories published by City Lights, entitled Los Angeles Stories. These stories, set between 1940 and the 1950s, are not only great L. A. Noir, but they sing with their own unique brand of chicken skin music. John Lee Hooker puts in an appearance, as does Charlie Parker. And the stories are rife with musical references:

Four Chinese girls were sitting at the corner table laughing and drinking. They were all excited about the dance hall where they’d been and the swing band they saw and the musicians they liked. I knew the place, the Zenda Ballroom, on Seventh and Figueroa. Tetsu Bessho and his Nisei Serenaders played there every Monday night. Jimmy Araki, the sax player, he was sharp. Joe Sakai was cute. The girls spoke English with a lot of hip slang, like musicians use, and as far as I could tell they were no different from any other American girls, except they were Chinese.

In fact, Cooder has a real ear for the race and ethnicity of his characters, from black musicians to Mexican Pachucos to white trailer trash to Chinese cooks.

Born in Santa Monica, he also has a great sense of place. We see Chavez Ravine before Dodger Stadium was built, the old Bunker Hill neighborhood, Playa Del Rey, Venice, and even Santa Monica.

Los Angeles Stories consists of eight tales, one better than the other. Insofar as I know, this is the only fiction he ever wrote; but I hope it is not the last. He has a great turn of phrase, as in “I am happy to have a little luck once and [sic] a while…. Too much, and fate pays a call. La Visita, my grandmother called it.”

There’s even nifty song lyrics:

Too many Johnnys, ’bout to drive me out of my mind
Yes, too many Johnnys, ’bout to drive me out of my mind
It have wrecked my life an’ ruint my happy home

When I first got in town, I was walkin’ down Central Avenue
I heard people talkin’ about the Club Rendezvous
I decided to drop in there that night, and when I got there
I said yes, people, man they was really havin’ a ball, yes I know!
Boogie!

I might cut you, I might shoot you, I jus’ don’ know
Yes, Johnny, I might cut you, I might shoot you, but I jus’ don’ know
Gonna break up this signifyin’,
’Cause somebody got to bottle up and go

I know that they gave the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan. In my humble opinion, Ry Cooder is even a better writer. Believe it!

 

Freezing for the Roses

Camping Out Overnight for the Rose Parade

Camping Out Overnight for the Rose Parade

The temperature overnight in Pasadena is expected to dip down to 46° Fahrenheit (that’s 8° Celsius). When Martine and I were there about an hour ago, it was already near that level. Additionally, there is now a 50% chance of rain before morning.

And what is tomorrow morning? Why, it’s the Tournament of Roses parade, which is how Southern California proselytizes Easterners that we don’t have to shovel ice and snow off our sidewalks, and that it (almost) never rains in L.A.

Colorado Boulevard was so crowded with people camping in the streets in order to get a front seat for the parade that Bill, Kathy, Martine and I had to find a different restaurant: The local Persian restaurant, Heidar Baba, was a total mob scene—both from the point of view of parking and prone bodies to step over. Fortunately we found a place a scant two blocks from the parade route that was almost empty.

I never understood why so many people were interested in the Tournament of Roses Parade. And as for camping in the streets along with all the gang members and drug deals, that was never an option for me and never will be. If I wanted to see the parade (which I don’t), TV is good enough, even with the corny announcers oohing and aahing over the 30 million Himalayan Stinkflowers lining the North Korean Friendship Float.

My guess is that many of the campers are Penn State fans in town for the Rose Bowl confrontation with USC. Many will return to their frozen hells convinced that Southern California is the place to be—not to mention the millions viewing it on television from the Keystone State and adjacent polar regions. We don’t really need or want another influx of people escaping the snows of winter only to find that neither housing nor jobs are easy to find here. Oh, well, so it goes.

Tunneling Through the Tar Pits

Still from Volcano (1997) with Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche

Still from Volcano (1997) with Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche

Although according to Mick Jackson’s Volcano (1997), the La Brea Tar Pits is home to a new volcano spewing lava all over the West Side, I see no evidence of that today. I don’t know how far fetched that movie is, but there is definitely something going on in the vicinity. Today’s Los Angeles Times contained an op-ed piece by David L. Ulin entitled “What Lies Beneath L.A.”:

For close to 20 years, my favorite landmark in Los Angeles was a pair of plastic sawhorses, each emblazoned with “City of Los Angeles Dept. of Public Works Street Services.” The sawhorses straddled a patch of pavement at the southwest corner of Wilshire and Curson, across from the La Brea Tar Pits, in front of the Craft & Folk Art Museum. They were there to warn pedestrians away from the small puddle of tar that continually seeped out of a seam in the sidewalk, a constant reminder of the instability of the ground on which this city is built.

Then the sawhorses disappeared. The seam had been repaved — a victory of human will over nature. But now, a year-and-a-half or so later, the sawhorses are back.

I don’t believe in victories of human will, especially in a landscape as elemental as Los Angeles’, which is, as we all know, riven by active faults, disfigured by tar seeps, reeking of gas leaks. In 1985, 23 people were injured when methane ignited and destroyed a Ross Dress for Less across from the Farmer’s Market, and just last year, another underground explosion blew open a manhole at this very intersection.

Today, Martine was in the area, visiting the Petersen Automotive Museum at Wilshire and Fairfax, a scant block or two from the Tar Pits. She was appalled by all the construction going on to extend the Purple Line from Wilshire and Western to (eventually) the Veterans Administration Hospital past Westwood.

Tar Bubbles at the La Brea Tar Pits

Tar Bubbles at the La Brea Tar Pits

One of the scariest scenes in Volcano was an MTA subway that meets up with a wall of lava. We are assured by the MTA that the tunneling they are doing in the area is completely safe:

Subway tunnels will be built through the use of closed-face, pressurized tunnel boring machines (TBMs). During construction, these pressure-face TBMs reduce gas exposure for workers and the public, while gassy soil and tar sands are treated and disposed of appropriately. Enhanced ventilation systems will be used where necessary to ensure tunnel and station safety and, if necessary, double gaskets for the tunnel lining or other measures may also be installed.

Where needed, tunnels and stations will be built to provide a redundant protection system against gas intrusion. This might include: physical barriers to keep gas out of the tunnels, high volume ventilation systems, gas detection systems with alarms, and emergency ventilation triggered by the gas detection systems.

During construction and operations, safety codes require rigorous and continuous gas monitoring, alarms, automatic equipment shut-off and additional personnel training.

The funny thing about assurances is that they rarely inspire much confidence. Along that line, Ulin concludes his article with a wry observation: “Standing at the corner of Wilshire and Curson, waiting for the light to change, I take solace in knowing I am in the middle of a city where the tar simply won’t stop bubbling, no matter what we do.”