Baby Steps

Los Angeles Central Library at 5th and Flower Streets

Today I took the train in to Downtown Los Angeles (or DTLA, as it is also known) to return some library books and pick up the next batch. For the first time in almost a year and a quarter, I was able to enter the library, hand my returns to a human being, and pick up the next batch. The last time, I had to call on my cell phone and have a librarian come out with the bagged books I had put on hold.

Now the ground floor of the library is open. This includes the book check-in and check-out and the international languages department—oh, and the restrooms. For any other books, I still have to put them on hold using the library’s website.

With my books in hand, I took the Dash Bus B to Chinatown and looked for a promising Chinese restaurant that was open to indoor dining. My old standby, the Hong Kong Barbecue, was still take-out only; but I found a good option in the Hop Woo Chinese Seafood Restaurant, just a few doors down, where I had rock cod in black bean sauce.

On the way back to Union Station, I bought my usual small bag of limes from an elderly woman (only $1 for about eight limes). As the weather grows warmer, I am addicted to fresh-squeezed lime juice with a slight splash of tequila.

I still had to wear a face mask on the train and the bus, resulting in fogged-up glasses, but I am encouraged that sometime soon we will be able to dispense with them. My second Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination was two months ago, so I am hopeful that the worst is past.

Southeast

This Is the Part of Los Angeles County That Most People Know

Although I have lived in the Los Angeles area for over half a century, there are parts that are almost totally unfamiliar to me. Today, I had a chance to visit one of them as I drove Martine to a ophthalmologist appointment in Lakewood, which is a place I have whizzed past on the freeway, but never stopped to visit.

The part of LA that is most unfamiliar to me are the so-called “Gateway Cities” in the southeastern part of the county. I am somewhat familiar with Long Beach, which I regard as part of the tierra cognita of my experience.

The City of Los Angeles occupies much of the center of the county. Then there is a narrow corridor of the city that stretches down to San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. To the right of that corridor are a number of independent cities that include such names as Bell, Bell Gardens, Bellflower, Cudahy, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, Lynwood, Maywood, and presumably other -woods.

Here is a map of the Gateway Cities:

Los Angeles’s “Gateway Cities”

When you remove the dark blue of Long Beach, you are left with a bunch of small, tightly squeezed together communities that for all intents and purposes have little of interest for people visiting Southern California. There are a couple of colleges, no major museums, only one ethnic community (the Indian and Pakistani enclave along Pioneer Avenue in Artesia), and a couple of historical places, mostly in Whittier. Other than Long Beach, the only community people outside of California are likely to have heard of is Compton, mostly as a high-crime place to avoid.

Martine is due for another appointment in Lakewood in a couple of weeks, so I should probably learn a little more about this apparent black hole in the city where I dwell.

And where do I live? If you look at the top map for Santa Monica slightly to the left of center, look for the number oval 2, which indicates Santa Monica Boulevard. I live right under that oval 2.

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.