Eve Babitz’s L.A.

The Sunset Strip, Where L.A. Came to a Head

Whenever I read Eve Babitz, I think of L.A. the way it was when I first came here from Cleveland by train at the tail end of 1966. Being a stuck-up Easterner and a graduate of an Ivy League college, I naturally thought there was something fundamentally wrong about the West Coast. In time (lots of time) I grew even to love it.

I just finished reading Eve Babitz’s novel L.A. Woman, which brought memories rushing into my brain:

And I was an L.A. woman. In fact, looking back on those one-night stands, I must have been crazy. Yet there were thousands of girls living between Sunset and Santa Monica in between La Brea and La Cienega who painted the town red like me—and who got away with it too.

When I arrived, Eve was hanging out with Jim Morrison of the Doors, whom she just refers to as Jim in the novel. Every weekend when the weather permitted, thousands of Teeny-Boppers rioted on the Sunset Strip. The war in Viet Nam was entering a new and uglier phase, and I thought that nowhere else were there women quite so beautiful as the ones I saw on the street every day.

Eve Babitz When She Was Younger

Eve Babitz was, to put it mildly, a righteous babe. What set her apart from all the others was that she had a brain and was able to describe her wild life without prejudice.

If you want to see Los Angeles from a different perspective, I recommend these books of hers as an excellent place to start:

  • Eve’s Hollywood (1974)
  • Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A. (1977)
  • Sex and Rage: Advice to Young Ladies Eager for a Good Time (1979)
  • L.A. Woman (1982)
  • Black Swans: Stories (1993)

I have read all five of the above and look forward to reading her recently published collection of essays entitled I Used to Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz (2019).

Allergy

What It Looks Like When You Don’t Cover Up a Sneeze

When I was a child, I was an allergic mess. I would both look forward to and dread visits to my uncle and aunt, because they not only had a dog, but cats as well. My eyes would start to itch and swell up, I would sneeze, and I would constantly blow my nose into one of the two handkerchiefs I always had on my person. I even saw an allergist named Myron Weitz once a week for the better part of a year. He performed numerous scratch tests on me, indicating that I was allergic to tomatoes, oatmeal, tobacco, and a few other things. Then I would get a shot each week which was supposed to make me immune to allergens. It never did.

In the end, I think I was allergic to Cleveland. Once I moved to Southern California after graduating from college, my allergies lessened—especially after I learned to stay far away from cats. There was a time in the 1970s when I developed asthma and had to take a horrible medication called Tedral which kept me awake all hours.

Now I come down with allergic reactions for only a few days each year. Unfortunately, this is one of those times. Something is in bloom that disagrees with me. My nose is stuffed up, I’m sneezing, and my eyes feel as if I had sandpapered them. It could be that the winds are blowing something in from the desert. I just don’t know.

I checked the pollen reports, and supposedly there currently is no major threat. Yeah, but tell my nose and eyes that!

Library-To-Go

The Flower Street Entrance to the Los Angeles Central Library

The Central Library still looks like this, though most of the buildings around it have changed. What is more, after a devastating 1986 fire, the building was expanded on the Grand Avenue side and remodeled. Fortunately, the murals on the second floor rotunda were saved, leaving some of the old library highlights still intact.

Because of the coronavirus lockdown, patrons of the library may not enter the building. If I want access to the library’s holdings, however, I can access the Library-To-Go service. It involves four steps:

  • Select the books I want to read using the library’s website
  • Place a hold on those books and check the status every few days
  • When the books are marked as being available, use the library website to make an appointment for pickup
  • Show up at the approximate appointment time at the 5th street entrance, phone the librarians inside, and wait until they deliver the books to you in a brown paper bag

I am currently set to go downtown on Thursday morning to pick up four books: Jamyang Khyentse’s What Makes You NOT a Buddhist; Ma Jian’s Red Dust: A Path Through China; Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers: A Novel; and Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov. As I am still working on my Januarius Project. this month I am reading only books by authors I have not previously read.

Thanks to the library’s vast holdings, I can easily reserve books that are out of print and difficult to find.

Masque of the Red Death

Death Is Stalking the Land in Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death

I cannot help but feel that Covid-19 is inching ever closer. The son of one of my friends probably has it; and all the holiday socializing that has been going on is leading to a crisis in Los Angeles. Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times had a headline in which paramedics can refuse to pick up a patient if he or she appears to be near death in their judgment. Emergency rooms and intensive care units are packed to overflowing such that local hospitals are casting about for hallways, chapels, and other rooms in which to deposit patients. And hospital morgues are overflowing with the dead.

Tomorrow, I was planning to ride the train downtown to return some library books. With the coronavirus news becoming worse day by day, I will wait two or three weeks until the maskless fools who have been socializing during the Christmas and New Years holidays come down with the virus and isolate themselves.

Because of their behavior during this outbreak, I am becoming reluctant to associate with young people in any capacity. I have numerous preexisting conditions that make me a prime target for the Red Death. Thankfully, all the young people in my family live out of town.

Instead of going downtown, I’ll take a walk to Bay City Imports in Santa Monica to get ingredients for a Calabrian Chile Pasta dish that looks interesting. As long as this outbreak lasts, I will be intent on working on my cooking skills. I know I’ll never catch up to my brother in this regard, so I’ll just have to reconcile myself with accepting second place in a family of two.

In Tents City

Things Have Changed in L.A.—And Not for the Better

When I first arrived in Los Angeles at the tail end of 1966, I saw a bright, clean city that looked bran spanking new compared to the dirty brick of Cleveland. That image has now changed: The streets of L.A. are crowded with tents, scruffy looking men (and women), and their garbage which spreads far and wide around the tents in which they sleep.

I guess it is inevitable when rents go sky high in an area which has a mild climate with only a few days of rain and real cold during the year. Some of the homeless are people like me who have been squeezed out of their homes and would like nothing so much as to return to them. But, alas, most of L.A.’s homeless are the mentally ill and druggies of various stripes, including the alcoholic.

Typical Downtown Street Scene

The homeless have taken over sidewalks and what we used to call tree lawns back east. On her walks in our relatively expensive neighborhood, Martine has come across used syringes from heroin addicts. Across the street from my apartment is a tent city consisting of between eight and twelve tents. During the hot weather, when our windows are open, we can hear profanity-laced arguments and occasionally even fisticuffs as the homeless settle scores.

Note that I have been calling all these people “the homeless.” Actually, most of them are more accurately termed bums, similar to the “sturdy beggars” of Elizabethan England. Politicians typically have not a clue as to how to return Los Angeles to its glory days. Building housing units and forcing bums to obey rules like not fighting or drinking or taking drugs won’t work. The bums regard it as an infringement of their liberties.

Lurking in the Shadows of a Great City…


Frankly, I don’t think that the bum problem will last forever. At some point, the residents of L.A. will rise up and demand real action. Only, God knows what that action eventually will be.

Garcetti-Ville

Los Angeles Mayor Gil Garcetti

Although Los Angeles Mayor Gil Garcetti is a Democrat, I see him as something of a failure. I take issue with him on two counts:

  • He is one of those weepy progressives who are unable to deal with the burgeoning population of the homeless because he doesn’t know how to talk about it. “Let’s build housing for the poor homeless” is no answer when most of the homeless are unable or unwilling to follow rules because it violates their independence.
  • He is a tool of the real estate interests as he embarks on a spree of building high-rise housing along the light rail lines. You can be sure that very few of those units will be reserved for the homeless.

Artist’s Rendering of High Rise Housing Project

In the end, the streets of L.A. will continue to be littered with homeless encampments and the streets will be clogged with increased automobile traffic that no one seems to be planning for. And no, most of the people who will live in these high-rise Garcetti-Villes will probably not be interested in taking public transportation to work or entertainment.

Politicians like to make common cause with real estate developers because of the myth that tax revenue will thereby increase. Far from it: The city will be stuck with older apartment structures that will be vacated to move into these new high-rent districts, turning them into largely vacant slums, while the streets will be choked with cars.

Of course, I like the new light rail lines and the subways. But then, I am not a typical Angeleno.

Devil Winds for Halloween

Wind-Driven Fires for Halloween

At one point this afternoon, there were ten active wind-driven brush fires in Southern California. Although Martine and i do not live in any of the affected canyon areas, we felt the devil winds of the Santa Anas juddering against the walls, windows, and doors of our apartment.

The winds are so powerful, in fact, that they blew away the second “e” in EXTREME. Do you suppose they could have meant EXTRUME or EXTRIME?

 

At the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Fish Tank at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Yesterday, Martine and I visited the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. Situated as it is within hailing distance of the Port of Los Angeles, the Aquarium is as much a scientific oceanographic institution as it is an aquarium purely for show. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is only a few miles east and is primarily an aquarium for show.

We spent several hours looking at the various tanks and asking questions of the highly educated staff. What impressed me the most was feeding largish sea snails with algae. They seemed to suck in the algae as if they were smoking a joint.

One of the highlights was watching a video produced by the institution about how they went about collecting specimens for research and display.

One of the Features of the Southern California Coastline Are the Vast Kelp Forests

We had visited the Cabrillo some twenty years earlier and were surprised to see how much the institution has grown over the years. I was impressed by the fact that admission was by voluntary donation, and that the beach parking was reasonably priced ($1.00 per hour). Expect a visit to take somewhere between two and three hours.

 

On the Surface of Things

Brad Pitt and Leonardo diCaprio in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once of Oscar Wilde’s most memorable observations in The Picture of Dorian Gray is: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible….”

That thought flitted in and out of my consciousness as I watched Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Was it a great film? No, but it caught the feeling of the late 1960s in Los Angeles. I had arrived from Cleveland at the tail end of 1966, and I recalled the strange vibe of the times. There was, first of all, the music. Then there were the hippies. I remember buying The Free Press for a quarter every Friday and reading it religiously. It all seemed to come to a head with Charles Manson’s Helter Skelter murders, also known as the Tate-La Bianca killings.

Margaret Qualley as Pussycat, a Manson Girl

One of the things I remember most vividly is my attraction/repulsion response to hippie chicks. Right around 1969, when the film was set, I remember riding the Santa Monica Bus to my job at System Development Corporation. A very cute young blonde boarded on 14th Street with a very short dress on which was written the word “Bamboo” in red over every inch of its white cloth. Her dress was so short that it was of considerable gynecological interest—such that the bus driver almost involuntarily handed her an obscene compliment. She promptly crimsoned and got off the bus at the next stop. But I still remember her vividly some half century later.

Apparently Tarantino felt the same way about the sudden glimpses of female flesh that appeared in the late Sixties. Even the look of L.A. was lovingly captured, from the smog to the relatively light traffic. I loved that about the film.

There were other things that didn’t work quite so well. More about that later.

 

An Outpost of Progress

The Leonis Adobe in Calabasas

Over the last several weeks, Martine and I have been visiting many of the old Spanish and Mexican adobes that were built before the American occupation in the late 1840s. Built in 1844 along the El Camino Réal that connected the Spanish missions of Alta California, the adobe became occupied in the 1850s or 1860s by Miguel Leonis, a 6’ 4” Basque from France who has been called the King of Calabasas. He lived with Espiritu Chujilla, who lived with him as wife. It turns out, however, he was never legally married.

That became obvious when Leonis died in an accident which involved him falling off and being run over by his wagon in 1889.  Although he left Espiritu $10,000 in his will—no trivial amount in those times—he left his millions to various of his European relatives. The will referred to her as his “faithful housekeeper,” though she had been introduced to guests as his wifeEspiritu fought the will in the courts for many years and won, but only after a fashion. She was plagued ever after by over a hundred other lawsuits.

Espiritu Chujilla

For some reason, it was common for Yankee and European pioneers to do their level best to cheat the native Spanish and Mexican population of their land and livelihood. It is said that the Leonis Adobe is haunted. The ghost appears to be Miguel’s. If so, he has a lot to answer for….

The Leonis Adobe Museum is perhaps the best organized and funded of the adobes we have visited to date. On the premises is not only the adobe itself, but a number of the original or rebuilt farm structures and outbuildings. The premises includes chickens, turkeys, longhorn cattle, goats, sheep, and horses, which visitors may feed with packets on sale at the museum. One enters by the oldest dwelling in the Hollywood area, the Plummer House, originally built around 1870, and inhabited by the family of Eugene Plummer, close friends of Miguel and Espiritu. The house was moved from Plummer Park is West Hollywood in 1983 after vandals attempted to burn it down.

Longhorn Cattle at the Leonis Adobe

In 1962, the Leonis Adobe was named Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #1 by the newsly formed Cultural Heritage Board. (The Plummer House was State Historical Monument #160.)