Plague Diary 5: Social Distancing

The Intersection of the 101 and 110 Freeways in Downtown L.A.

The above picture from the Los Angeles Times says it all: Even at 4 am, it is not otherwise so uncrowded. Of course, I haven’t been using the freeways lately, as there is quite literally nowhere to go. No restaurants, no parks, no museums—and no sun either. Ever since the “Stay in Place” order went out, Southern California has been assailed by an untypical chain of rainy weather for this time of year, what we call the Pineapple Express.

My main forays from my apartment have been unsatisfying trips to food markets to pick over the bare bones of what the hoarders have left in their wake. And just to make things worse, I popped another crown on Saturday and have to make an appointment with my dentist to see whether it could be glued back in. Now I have partly or wholly missing teeth on both sets of my uppers. The wholly missing one will, with luck, be replaced by an implant … sometime in July.

Right now, the rain is falling steadily; and Martine is coming down with a sore throat. For now, I am watching old movies (Robert Aldrich’s 4 for Texas and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, neither of which I particularly liked) and reading books by authors with home I am unfamiliar (currently R. A. Lafferty). Also I am doing all the cooking. I have managed to scrounge up the ingredients to make a potato and cauliflower curry that should last us for a while.

It was nice talking to my brother this morning. I should call up more of my old friends. The problem is that I get too busy with cooking, reading, and TV film viewing to take the time out.

 

The Alabama Hills Trifecta

Seemingly Endless Piles of Rounded Rocks

Just west of the town of Lone Pine are a strange set of foothills comprised of picturesque rounded rocks piled up for hundreds of feet or more, behind which are the tallest peaks of the Sierra Nevada, including Mount Whitney. Among these rounded rocks were shot hundreds of Westerns, not to mention horror films, sci-fi, and you-name-it. Following is a ridiculously partial list:

  • 3 Godfathers (1948), with John Wayne and directed by John Ford
  • Around the World in 80 Days (1956), with David Niven
  • Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), with Spencer Tracy
  • Chaplin (1992), with Robert Downey, Jr.
  • Django Unchained (2012), directed by Quentin Tarantino
  • Gladiator (2000), with Russell Crowe
  • Gunga Din (1939), with Cary Grant
  • High Sierra (1941), with Humphrey Bogart
  • Lost Horizon (1937), with Ronald Colman
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (1942), with Henry Fonda
  • Ride Lonesome (1959), with Randolph Scott
  • Riders of the Purple Sage (1925), with Tom Mix
  • Zabriskie Point (1970), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

And the list goes on and on, including whole series of Westerns with the Lone Ranger, Jack Hoxie, Hopalog Cassidy, Randolph Scott, Tim Holt, Ken Maynard and others too numerous to mention. Not for nothing is there a Lone Pine Western Film History in town. In fact, the perfect visit to Lone Pine should include a visit to the museum (allow two to three hours) and a morning visit to the Alabama Hills, where so many films were shot.

The Alabama Hills Cafe on Post Street in Lone Pine

Actually, why not make a Trifecta out of your visit? Eat breakfast or lunch at the Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery for absolutely delicious food lovingly prepared. On our trip last week, Martine and I ate there for three meals: one breakfast and two lunches. The restaurant is closed for dinner, and you may have to wait for a table. (If necessary, do so: It’ll be worth your while.)

 

It’s a Crime!

LA’s Men in Blue

LA’s Men in Blue

Let’s face it: Los Angeles is known around the world for two things. One is Hollywood, though we’re by no means a major film production center any more. And the other is crime. Not, mind you, because we are a particularly dangerous place; but the books and movies have painted Southern California as a place where bad things can happen.

I guess it all started with Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, and Dashiell Hammett, whose novels painted this sunbright place as a pit of darkness. That was quickly echoed in the films, especially with the film noir classics such as The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, The Blue Gardenia, and The Big Heat.

Even now, excellent crime novels are being written by the likes of James Ellroy, Joseph Wambaugh, and Michael Connelly. I am currently reading Connelly’s Trunk Music, a police procedural featuring his homicide detective hero Harry (short for Hieronymus) Bosch. A small-time Hollywood producer is found dead in the trunk of his Rolls Royce, and Bosch ranges from the Hollywood Hills to Park Center (“The Glass House,” LAPD headquarters) to the Las Vegas Strip to find the killer while fighting off his own enemies.

 

 

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: UCLA

Royce Hall on the Campus of the University of California at Los Angeles

Royce Hall on the Campus of the University of California at Los Angeles

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland and Dartmouth College), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the weeks to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. The fact that I made it as far as the letter  “U” is a major surprise to me.

I came out to California at the tail end of December 1966 to attend graduate school at UCLA. My original intention was to become a Professor of Film History and Criticism. Well, I didn’t. Instead I ran into dirty politics as personified by one Professor Howard Suber who waged a kind of dirty war on those of his students who loved film. Out of an inborn cussedness, he made it difficult to sign up for classes; and he appointed himself chairman of my thesis committee over my personal choice of the late Bob Epstein. I knew at once that my chances of a Masters degree based on a study of the Westerns of John Ford was a goner.

It was around this time that Governor Ronald Reagan began making deep cuts in the budget of California’s universities. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, I made a sidestep into computer programming at System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, which led, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, into my present profession in accounting.

My quandary was that I loved film, but was not willing to immolate myself for he sake of principle. I kept my hand in film, writing articles and chapters of books even after I was out of the program. I even wrote a humorous article for the UCLA Daily Bruin entitled “Confessions of an Ex-Filmfreak: Or, Slow Death 24 Times a Second.”

My apartment is a scant three miles from the UCLA campus, which I still visit from time to time for various cultural events. It’s always interesting to look back at the decisions that led me to where I am today.

Do I have any regrets? Not really.