Fanatical About Libraries

The LA Central Library Flower Street Entrance

I have always depended on public libraries for much of my reading material. When I lived on the East Side of Cleveland, I went to the Cleveland Public Library branch on Lee Road, where a fellow Hungarian, Mr. Matyi, was the librarian. He also played the oboe for the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra.

They had a summer reading program in which I participated for so many years that they had to invent a participation certificate at my advanced level. (I wish I still had them.)

Even then, I also visited the main library on Superior Avenue in downtown Cleveland:

It was really quite beautiful, being funded by Andrew Carnegie’s vast fortune. (Can you imagine a modern billionaire doing something like that?)

When I came out West, I started by going to the main library in Santa Monica at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and 6th Street:

Although it was fairly large with two stories full of books, I actually outgrew it. I found that they got rid of too many of their classical titles, replacing them with more recent … well … dreck.

I was elated with the Expo Line connecting Santa Monica to Downtown LA opened in May 2016. At once, I signed up for a senior pass which enabled me to go from the Bundy Station (about a mile south of I lived) to the 7th Street Metro Center, which was three blocks south of the Los Angeles Central Library—for a mere 50¢.

Even with the library building being closed due to the coronavirus, the LA Library has started a “Library to Go” program which enabled me to put a hold on the books I want to read. Within a few days, I get an e-mail saying they are holding them for me, and I just take the train downtown to pick them up.

Over the last week I have been busy reading these three books:

  • Kōbō Abe’s Inter Ice Age 4, a 1958 sci-fi novel about global warming
  • Ivan Klíma’s Waiting for the Darkness, Waiting for the Light, about Czechoslovakia’s rocky path from Communism to Capitalism
  • Tim Butcher’s Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart, about an English writer who re-traces Henry M. Stanley’s journey along the length of the Congo River in the 1870s.

Plotting a Holiday Picnic

Tongva Park Santa Monica from the Air

Now that Governor Newsom of California has come down hard on people doing any kind of celebratory activities, I am plotting a picnic for Saturday (July 4) or Sunday. At some point in the late morning, I will pick up two Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches with French fries, get a couple of cold beverages, and head with Martine to Tongva Park in Santa Monica, where I understand there are some benches and picnic tables. I hope to have a short picnic while we eat our lunch and enjoy the sea air (we will be across the street from the Santa Monica Pier).

If the local constabulary forbids us to use the park for fear of spreading virus to the plants, tables, and benches, we will look for another grassy place—I know several—and head to the alternates. There will just be the two of us. If anyone wants to join us, we will just have to throw rocks at them until they go away. We hardy survivors in the era of coronavirus don’t cotton to strangers.

 

 

 

Unexpected Angels

Young Volunteers Removing Graffiti

In general, I am not one to praise the younger generation—probably because they have adopted too many aspects of our culture which I find spurious, including smart phones, e-scooters, and in fact the whole gig economy.

Imagine my surprise when I found many young men and women cleaning up the mess in Santa Monica after the looters and other thugs had their way last Sunday. Okay, I guess I was a little tough on them, but after all they shouldn’t ought to have have stepped on my lawn.

More Graffiti Cleanup

I have always loved the look of Santa Monica. In 1966, when I moved into an apartment on Sunset Boulevard near Barrington Avenue, the first trip I took on my own was by bus to Santa Monica and its beach. After having been raised in grungy Cleveland with its dirty red brick, I saw Santa Monica as a pretty town at the edge of the sea. In Cleveland, we had no beach to speak of along the shores of poor, polluted Lake Erie. For many years, I lived in Santa Monica, until I was squeezed out around 1979 when Proposition 13 was adopted by the voters of California. Still, I live within two and a half miles of the ocean and I like to walk there from time to time.

 

 

The Ruins of Santa Monica

National Guard Protecting Santa Monica Place Shopping Mall

The above picture shows two aspects of yesterday’s widespread looting of Santa Monica businesses. On the one hand, the National Guard was moving into place to protect businesses; and HUMVs with guardsmen were seen in the streets. On the other, if you look to the left of the photo, you will see a mother and daughter with brooms, two of the many people I saw today helping to clean up the mess.

I spent an hour visiting places where Martine and I shop. The amount of damage was appalling. While the demonstrations were going on, looters moved in with hammers to break into businesses by shattering glass doors and windows. Below is a photo I took of a smoke shop on Broadway near 2nd Street that had been entered that way and ransacked. You will notice that the windows and doors had been smashed::

Cleaning Up the Damage at a Looted Tobacco and Vaping Shop

It seems that half the businesses in town were putting up plywood to protect their doors and display windows:

Putting Up Plywood to Protect Businesses

Finally, as I was searching for a bus stop where the re-routed #1 bus could pick me up, I noticed an ATM whose glass had been broken with a hammer:

Damaged ATM Window at Pacific Western Bank

I do not blame the protestors for the looting. It’s just that highly mobile thieves were using them as a screen. While most of the police were with the protestors, the looters quickly moved in, parked their cars, smashed their way into businesses, and made off with whatever merchandise they could find. Among the businesses looted were a Target three blocks away from us, the Italian deli I usually walk to, the Vons Supermarket across the street from it, several local pharmacies, a smoke shop, and a branch of Recreational Equipment Inc (REI).

 

Plague Diary 7: Who Was That Masked Man?

Public Transit at a Time of Plague

I wish I had my camera with me. Why? Because I am witnessing things during this time of plague that may not be seen for another hundred years.

This morning, I took a two-mile walk down Broadway to Bay Cities Italian Deli on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica. It was a cool, crisp, sunny day, free from the lowering clouds that have beset us during the last couple of weeks. Since the long spell of rain, together with an ingrown toenail, kept me indoors, I thought it would be best to take the bus back.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, there had been some changes. Passengers on foot had to board from the rear door and did not have to pay any fare. There was a yellow cord stretched just past the two sideways-facing seats in front separating the front from the rear of the bus. The front seats were reserved for wheelchair passengers and passengers with strollers who needed the ramp to be lowered for them. The whole idea is to minimize interaction between driver and passengers. Even so, the driver probably still has to help secure wheelchairs to the side of the bus.

Even so, during the ride from Lincoln to my stop at Bundy Drive, there were never more than four passengers aboard, all sitting several feet from one another for social distancing purposes.

The Big Blue Bus (as the Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines is known) is a well-run public transportation service. I can see that, given the restrictions enforced by Coronavirus, they are losing beaucoup bucks during this strange period, but I am reassured that, even now, public transportation is still available, and that it is free of charge.

 

 

My Rudeness Backfires

The Santa Monica Pier at Sunset

I was waiting for the Number 1 Santa Monica bus on 4th Street, near the Expo Line Terminus, when two young women suddenly hove into view as my bus was approaching. When I don’t want to talk to strangers—and I almost never do—I answer them … in Hungarian. Well, these two girls went away thinking I was some kind of a genius instead of a rude bastard manqué.

In English, they asked me which way was the ocean.

In Hungarian, I answered, “You mean the beach?” Their eyes widened. How did I know they were Hungarian? I gestured toward the beach and said, “That way!” in my best Magyar. They thanked me profusely as I boarded my bus.

Actually, they were rather cute.

 

 

Santa Monica and Saint Monica

Statue of St. Monica in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

Statue of St. Monica in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

I’ve walked past this statue hundreds of times in the last half century. I always wound up shaking my head because St. Monica is made to look so Nordic. It’s like all those blonde blue-eyed Jesuses favored by Evangelicals. Protestant America doesn’t like to admit that, in certain countries surrounding the Mediterranean, people come with dark hair, brown eyes, and various skin shades of a darker hue.

Saint Augustine was born in present day Algeria, where, presumably, his mother Saint Monica, lived. Here is a painting of Saint Monica by artist John Nava which more closely corresponds to how she may have looked:

Painting of St. Monica by John Nava

Painting of St. Monica by John Nava

This painting is from a Saint Monica’s Church in Trenton, New Jersey. Too bad the people in Santa Monica are afraid of ’fessing up that their eponymous saint could be … shudder! … colored. And also likely to be banned from the local country club.

 

Pilgrims

Homeless in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

Homeless in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

The title of this post comes from Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness:

I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence.

Except, the pilgrims of whom I speak are not European ivory traders in the Congo, but either the homeless or people who do not wish to be labelled “homeless,” so they merely appear to be “in transit” with multiple bags.

Now that I work only two days a week, I like to spend more time in libraries, specifically downtown L.A.’s Central Library or Santa Monica’s Main Library. Curiously I see more pilgrims in Santa Monica, which comic Harry Shearer has dubbed “the Home of the Homeless.” Most are young, approximately half are black, and they travel with a lot of “stuff.” Usually, they just drop into a chair and doze off. Some use the Internet to try to find a way out of their present circumstances.

The library discourages homeless that smell very bad or have too many bags with them, as they inhibit families and students from using the books and computers. That tends to discriminate against elderly bums who have lived on the streets for years and and who have accumulated a vast store of “stuff.” (I have seen some with regular choo-choo trains of multiple supermarket carts.)

At night, Palisades Park along the bluffs overlooking the Coast Highway turns into a large encampment full of tents, shopping carts, plastic bags full of rags and food scraps, and whatnot.

There are Salvation Army and other accommodations in Santa Monica for the homeless, but I suspect not enough. And many of the homeless, as I hinted, are “in transit” and do not consider themselves to be homeless. A goodly number are stark raving mad, and a couple are probably homicides or arsons waiting to happen.

 

Santa Monica 1966-2014

The Santa Monica Promenade Today

The Santa Monica Promenade Today

When I first arrived in Los Angeles between Christmas and New Year in 1966, the whole place looked brand spanking new. I had just arrived on the Santa Fe Railroad’s El Capitan at Union Station and saw a city very different from the grimy red brick and industrial pollution that was Cleveland. Within the first two days after my arrival, I took the Santa Monica #3 bus from San Vicente and Barrington down to the Santa Monica Mall, or, as it’s called today, the Promenade.

I was impressed by the neatness and cleanliness of the place. There were movie theaters, restaurants, bookstores (yes, several), anchored by a J. C. Penney at the north end by Wilshire. It used to be fun to visit Santa Monica. The place made such an impression on my friends that most of them still think I live in Santa Monica, rather than West L. A.

But now, I try to avoid Santa Monica, even though it begins a scant two blocks west of me. All the restaurants I loved are gone, replaced by places that are more pretentious and less tasty. The bookstores? Now there is only one, a Barnes & Noble at the Wilshire end. The movie theaters are sort of hanging on, but it looks as if the Criterion were history. The J. C. Penney store is long gone.

What changed? There are two ways of looking at it. On one hand, the city has become a ghetto for the 1%, with only a few downmarket neighborhoods along Pico Boulevard that escaped gentrification. Also, I have changed. My taste in food is probably far different from that of the 21-year-old that ate at Castillo’s (the daughter of the owner was muy guapa), Las Casuelas, Marco Polo, Chowder Call, the Broken Drum (“You Can’t Beat It!”), the Little Inn Swedish Smorgasbord, El Tepa, the Great American Food & Beverage Company, and the El Sombrero on Fifth Street. Somewhere between Santa Monica becoming too hoity-toity for me, and my own self developing into another person, I found the place chilled me.

Oh, I still use their excellent library—though I have to pay for the privilege now. But Martine and I almost never eat in Santa Monica any more. Today, for a change, we ate at the El Cholo on Eleventh and Wilshire. And we regretted it.

Hot Dog Stick

The Original on the Boardwalk in Santa Monica

The Original on the Boardwalk in Santa Monica

We got together with our friends Bill and Kathy Korn today and did something a little bit different. Bill had been visiting restaurants featured on the late Huell Howser’s television programs and decided he wanted to try the Original Hot Dog on a Stick restaurant on the Santa Monica Boardwalk, just a few steps from the Santa Monica Pier. The above picture shows the restaurant, which somehow never had the connective words “on a” painted on its sign that is now part of the company name. So it was to the original stand dating back to 1946 to which we repaired to dine on a delicious hot dog stick.

Martine was not particularly enthralled with having to sit on a wall that was liberally decorated with dried bird droppings, and even less having to maneuver through the massive crowds on the pier; but she put up with it. Bill and Kathy are from a part of Los Angeles where going outdoors in July is, to say the very least, uncomfortable. Just to get an idea of the crowds, see the picture below:

Crowds on the Beach North of the Santa Monica Pier

Crowds on the Beach North of the Santa Monica Pier

Curiously, we had some rain this afternoon. Not only did we have rain, but also a rare lightning strike that killed one twenty-year-old male and injured several other people. By the time we went, about an hour and a half later, the storm, such as it was, had moved eastward.

Speaking of Hot Dog on a Stick, I remember visiting the Pier one Sunday morning in 2009 and wandering into the middle of several hundred young men and (mostly) women dressed in the standard uniform for a corporate meeting:

Hot Dog on a Stick Meeting 2006

Hot Dog on a Stick Meeting 2006