Mr. Sandman's Sandbox

The musings of a Deaf Californian on life, politics, religion, sex, and other unmentionables. This blog is not guaranteed to lead to bon mots appropriate for dinner-table conversation; make of it what you will.

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Smirk Strummed While New Orleans Drowned

"We learn from history that we never learn anything from history."
- Hegel

If Smirk would try reading something other than "My Pet Goat," he might learn about a little outpost on the Tiber River called Rome. If he did more than just skim, he might learn about how that tiny town became an Empire, and once it ceased being a republic, was ruled over by Emperors. He might then learn about one particular emperor by the name of Nero, who supposedly played his lyre while Rome burned.

Nero once fiddled, or plucked, as the case may be; earlier this week, Smirk strummed a guitar while New Orleans drowned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

For someone who heads the gummint, you'd think he'd check with NOAA once in a while, or even just turn on the TV. I'm sure even Fox News cut away from its adulation of the administration and its friends to show the swirling mass of chaos that wended its way across the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into the delta country, overwhelmed New Orleans, then went on to make mincemeat of the Mississippi coast. But no-- no bad news in Smirk's sphere. Just another day trolling for support for Medicare, making trips across the country, wasting airline fuel on our dime, when all the while the hurricane struck, the levees broke, and people died.

This wasn't a spur-of-the-moment event; I believe there's something called "hurricane season," that runs from June 1 to November 30. Katrina clipped the Keys on its way to Louisiana and Mississippi; I'm sure baby bro down in Tallahassee thought to let Smirk know what was happening in his neck of the woods.

But nope; it was Arizona and California for Smirk. In Arizona, I don't think he was a universal hit; as this columnist states, Smirk should have delayed his trip, at minimum. At the least, John McCain, who celebrated his birthday with Smirk, should have had the common sense to urge the "President" to hop back on Air Force One and take care of something more urgent than eating cake (shades of Marie Antoinette there...?). After going to Arizona, he then went to San Diego yesterday, to commemorate V-J Day, and play a guitar (in this excellent indictment on Daily Kos, scroll down a bit; you'll see Smirk playing the guitar) . He's finally planning to head back to DC now, but not before having spent the night in Crawford.

He has the ability to cut funding for hurricane protection, ignore a major hurricane, shaft a bereaved mother camped out on his doorstep, but has time for music and cake?

Let August, 2005 be remembered as when Smirk Strummed While New Orleans Drowned.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

On A Lighter Note...

It's Katrina all the time, now-- while I'm devouring the news of what's going on, it's nice to read about something else too. I found this neat travel article which sparked a nice memory for me.

A few years ago, I had a conference to attend in D.C., and a new wife to boot. I figured as part of our first summer as a married couple, we'd combine my obligations with some fun, and make a coast-to-coast journey. Considering the rise in gas prices this year, that was probably our last hurrah as far as a major cross-country road trip, and I'm glad we did it. We drove around the country for a full month, stopping to see friends and family along the way. The following year, in the wake of an aborted wedding, we made another road trip, this time along the coast to Canada and back. This time, for about ten or so days, we meandered up Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast, before crossing at Port Angeles to Victoria, B.C.

One of our stops, recommended by my sister, was at Heceta Head, on the Oregon coast, to see the lighthouse there and have a little picnic. Just before we reached our destination, we saw that there was a sea lion cave. In full-on tourist mode, we decided to pull over and take a gander. I'm glad we did- this is an enormous cave, full of sea lions, and it was worth the pit stop. You can read about this tourist destination here, courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle. I'm just disappointed this excellent summary didn't include Heceta Head, but I'm sure those people who make the journey to that area will stop there as well. Maine isn't the only place with picturesque lighthouses, y'know!

Now, back to your 24/7 Katrina coverage...

Two Worlds Apart

Well, Katrina's struck, and it looks like those with the means to get out got out, while those who couldn't stayed. What that means in bottom-line terms, of course, is that the rich and middle-class are now safely with family, friends, and in motel rooms all over the South right now, while the working class and the poor get to camp out in the Superdome and the Convention Center, among other places. Somehow I don't think this was their idea of a summer vacation...

Ironically, two separate articles just highlight the fact that the United States is starting down to the path to joining its South American sisters in becoming a two-tier society: a small enclave of super-rich and moneyed (often living in gated, walled communities; not exactly new here!), and the vast masses of the rest of the population, often living in abject poverty. In the first article, CEO pay has risen exponentially yet again, and is now at 430-t0-1, when you compare average CEO pay to average worker pay. On the flip side, another article that came out today as well notes that the poverty rate here in this country has risen yet again, from 11.3% last year to 12.7% this year, with an additional one million-plus joining the ranks of the impoverished. Gee, you think maybe there's a correlation...?

I'd be very surprised if you found a CEO or any of his nearest and dearest sitting in Row K right now at the Superdome. Most likely, they're in Houston or Atlanta in comfortable surroundings. New Orleans has one of the highest numbers in terms of black population in the country (around 67% black, if memory serves me right), and it also is one of the poorest cities among the major metropolises in America. While I doubt people are going to put two and two together by reading the articles I've linked to, I think the disparity in the face of this disaster just might jolt some people out of their cocoons. We'll see...

In the meantime, hurricane or no hurricane, I think these new pieces of information are rather upsetting; why are we allowing more and more people to hang on the financial precipice, clinging to a vanishing lifestyle of sufficiency and falling into the cracks? As for the CEOs and their ilk, just how much money does a person really need? Do we really need overpaid athletes, entertainers, and corporate managers? For that matter, why are so many people making far more than the President of the United States does (not that I want us to suddenly hand Smirk a wheelbarrow full of cash!)? Does anyone really need to make that much money? What do you do with it after the mortage/rent is paid, the bills are taken care of, the kitchen and pantry fully stocked, some cash is socked away for retirement, a little is set aside for pleasures and vacations, and a lump sum banked for emergencies? These CEOs are earning so much money-- do they really need tax cuts? What the tax cuts essentially mean is money that you and I pay for government services (such as FEMA!) is instead handed out like Christmas bonuses to people who already have way too much money as it is. I don't know about you, but I'd like to think my money is going towards the services we all use, and to people who need it, not towards killing people in other countries or directly from my hands (and the hands of friends and relatives) to the pockets of people who have bank accounts the size of which I will never see, much less dream of?

Why is our money in their pockets? Do they deserve it? Why isn't our money being used for the government operations, expenses, and services we've come to expect? Why are developers allowed to build McMansions as second (or third!) homes for people who don't really need them, thus pushing up the overall price of housing? Why are mental health services, student financial aid, welfare assistance, and educational institutions all being denied federal monies, or in perpetual danger of cuts? Are these CEOs going to turn around and help us with these things, and many more? No, they'll just buy another house or two, upgrade their cars to the latest model, maintain their yachts, and generally put the money away in tax shelters, where it will never circulate in the economy again. They'll build or purchase homes in tony areas, sometimes behind walls or gates, away from the rest of us. Before you know it, there'll be less and less money for government at all levels, less and less for society as a whole. Goodbye, United States; Hello, Banana Republic!

Maybe that's a bit too drastic to envision at the moment; it probably is. But if we're not careful, that is exactly what's going to happen, and we'll be two worlds apart.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Behaving Badly

It always amuses me when the FBI, CIA, National Guard, etc. sends in undercover spies to infilitrate progressive and anti-war groups, surrounds protests with tons of uniformed officers, takes pictures and notes on rallies and meetings, and otherwise conducts surveillance, all in the name of fears of "disruption" and "violence." Yet it is often those on the right that tend to cause problems.

Case in point: In Crawford, where Cindy Sheehan continues to vainly await a meeting/explanation from Smirk (who won't do anything except fly to fundraisers, clear brush, and otherwise sit on his ass in what has got to be one of the longest Presidential vacations ever), tons of people have surrounded her; many are supporters, but across the way are pro-war, anti-Cindy minions.

Well, a few of them got their undies in a wad and went after each other. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity in the end, but I think it's rather revealing just who's turned out to be "disruptive" and "violent." Do click on this link and scroll down to near the bottom. You'll see the "Protest Warriors," a group with a bunch of rather misleading posters and flyers that are in the end pro-war, being chased, attacked, and kicked out of the pro-war camp in Crawford. A hoot, even if it is rather disturbing to see the lack of tolerance and the promotion of dissent among "Americans" who champion the values of this country. Guess they have no need for the First Amendment.

Speaking of which, a recent poll by AP-Ipsos shows 90% support the right to protest, which just goes to show that when you talk to actual people, they're far more cognizant of what our constitutional rights are than Smirk, Scowl, Rumsfailed, et al seem to be. These corporate neo-cons and their supporters are certainly behaving badly. Where are the real adults when we need them?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

An Eye on New Orleans

In just a few hours from now, Hurricane Katrina is predicted to make landfall in Louisiana, and it looks like it's headed towards New Orleans. While I don't plan to have a hurricane watch of my own (it's predicted to hit early this morning, which translates into even earlier in the morning here), I know when I check the news tomorrow, the papers, the web, and everything I see and "hear" will be plastered with information about Katrina. All I can say is, good luck, New Orleans. I hope you survive...

The Dark Side of 1955

1955 was the summer that Disneyland first opened; it was also the summer Emmett Till lost his life. Fifty years ago today, the 14-year-old from Chicago was dragged from his relatives' house in the dark of night in Money, Mississippi, and was never again seen alive. A few days later, his mangled body was found in the nearby Tallahatchie River; once his body arrived home in Chicago, his distraught mother decided, against the advice of others, to have an open-casket funeral so that, in her words, "Let the people see what they did to my boy."

Emmett's death is one of the various triggers that initiated the full-scale Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., which took off in the wake of his death with Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955. In the fifty years since, so much has changed. But despite the arrest of Emmett Till's killers, they were acquitted by a jury that took just over an hour to return a verdict. This summer, his body was exhumed for the purposes of identification and examination for further clues. A dwindling handful of people who may have been involved with the murder are still alive, and there's speculation of possible indictments. Somehow I doubt that, but it'll be interesting to see what does happen.

So what else can you say about a long-ago murder case? I just read an article (WaPo-- registration required) that both looks back at Till's death and the changes (or lack thereof) since; when you think about it, yes, a lot has changed since that August night in 1955, but in many other ways, a lot hasn't. The piece discusses the exhumation and the prospects of new charges in the case-- many of those interviewed said it was too long ago, and may not really make a difference now. While I can appreciate that, I disagree, for one sole reason: near the end of the article, a group of youths are asked if the name "Emmett Till" rang any bells with them. Only one was able to volunteer any information about the young man who was their age or slightly younger, who today would be on the verge of being eligible for Social Security.

I think part of the problem today with a lot of issues such as racism, abortion, religious divisions, etc. is that we don't struggle as much with these issues as we once did. While this is a *very* positive thing (who wants segregation, back-alley coathanger abortions, and religious antagonism back??), many younger people don't remember what it was like, or why the fight for change was vitally important. I think it's one of the major problems for Labor today; not enough people remember when working conditions were much more terrible than now, and only the unions stood up against the bosses and big business. So it is with Emmett Till and racism: occasionally you'll run across an incident or case that brings back a reminder, but by and large segregation, lynchings, and middle-of-the-night "disappearances" are a thing of the past. This is why understanding the past, knowing the history, and keeping alive the memories is an important thing to do. So even if all that is accomplished by digging up Emmett Till's body is to lead to an article like this one, then it may be enough: someone who didn't know, or doesn't know enough, will read it-- and they'll remember.

Rest in peace, Emmett Louis Till.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Unseen War

Lest anyone think the only thing in the news the last several weeks has been Karl Rove and Valerie Plame, there's still a war on. A war that daily now has been adding casualties at a slow, steady, and seemingly inexorable rate. Cindy Sheehan has done a splendid job of late at retraining the spotlight on our military losses, thanks to her son Casey and his brethren in death. But beyond our KIA list lies much, much more. War is never as neat or tidy as opposing masses of young men in uniform marching, fighting, and moving on, or little flags being moved around on maps.

General William T. Sherman had it right when he said, "There is many a young man here today who looks on war as all glory, but boys, it is all Hell." (he also said, "War is, at its best, barbarism.")

What little in the way of information that seeps out concerns our armed forces, Halliburton (read: war profiteers), private contractors, and the steady beat of bombings, ambushes, and other assaults between warring factions. Behind all this, though, are citizens, the forgotten people: the businessmen, the students, the workers, the women and the children. The prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the displaced families, the orphaned refugees, the present and future occupants of hospital beds.

Many of you are probably familiar with the images from past wars, especially Vietnam, a drawn-out bloody conflict whose only learned lesson, sad to say, was that the Pentagon must never allow the truth about war to be fully revealed. Instead, the Pentagon and the gummint have colluded to "embed" reporters; to make sure no photos of coffins or corpses are released; and to effectively sanitize any combat photos so that we don't see it on the nightly news, on the front pages, or in magazine articles. Above all, prevent the public from ever seeing the inhumanity of war, the reality that those in the invaded territories have to live with, day in and day out, throughout the fearful nights.

On the internet though, it's a different story. Salon, an online subscription journal, often has some interesting, thought-provoking articles, opinion pieces, photo essays, and cartoons (if you don't have a subscription, fear not: you can get a "day pass" to its content after viewing a very short ad/commercial. It's worth it). Today they have published a photo gallery that shows some of the very images the gummint doesn't want you to see. Far from being "unpatriotic," these are the kind of pictures I think everyone should see. There's a brief introduction, and then a series of pictures. I think it's powerful enough that rather than doing additional commentary, or offering analysis, I'll let the piece speak for itself. So go ahead, and view "Iraq: The unseen war."

Friday, August 19, 2005

War and Peace

Wednesday, at about noon, I became an "extern-widower." Despite my loneliness, I promise to endeavor to keep my readers entertained, amused, angered, depressed, and bemused with all of my postings. *grin*

It's now well into Smirk's five-week vacation; for all his blustering about "evil" France, he's certainly taking a siesta that outshines the vacations the French take. I always thought Ronald Reagan was a fairly relaxed guy, but Smirk makes vacationing look like an extreme sport. If he isn't careful, his "Presidency" is going to be a vacation reality show rather than anything resembling "The West Wing."

Meanwhile, Cindy Sheehan has set up camp just outside the "ranch" (what ranch? Five head of cattle? *please*) in the (vain) hopes that Smirk will meet with her and she can ask something quite a few of us have wanted to know for some time now: what the hell is this war all about? Why are so many people dying, and for what "noble cause"?

So far Smirk has had time for fundraisers, planned bike trips with Lance Armstrong, and the like, but no time to meet with Sheehan. I hope he saw Sheehan's sign: "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?" Whatever you may think of Sheehan, certainly she makes a good point: why is it the rich have access, but the average citizen doesn't? That's not to say that our leaders can and should meet with every single person that wanted to meet them; that would be impossible and would leave no time for governing. But it certainly would behoove Smirk to at least meet with Sheehan, and perhaps other mothers-- after all, it is their children's lives he's putting on the line, their children's lives that are being sacrificed, and he can't stop to explain?

Even if you wanted to be totally supportive of Smirk, totally selfish about this war, and righteously contemptuous of Sheehan, just from a PR viewpoint, wouldn't it have been best for Smirk to have met her right away? A leader like Clinton, for all his faults, would have waded out into the crowd immediately, met with Sheehan and the others encamped there, and regardless of the outcome, made it clear that he had done his part in meeting the bereaved mothers. Perhaps it wouldn't change a thing, and the whole war would continue, but at least it would have nipped in the bud a PR headache. For all his vaunted skills, Rove is failing Smirk on this one: instead, in the middle of the dog days, when the docile but bored press is cooped up in the middle of Texas, Sheehan's narrative is gaining legs. Now each day that passes is a day when Bush certainly comes across as unfeeling and uncaring, regardless of how you actually think he feels (I think he *is* unfeeling and uncaring-- others reading this may think the opposite)-- as I've said earlier, image really is everything.

Sheehan by herself is a totally sympathetic figure, and I do agree with a lot of the pundits, both online and off, that she's galvanized the anti-war movement a little bit; but by the same token, her outspokeness does make her a target, and gives some ammunition to those that are trying to accuse her of being a tool of anti-war groups. Still, I think she does put a human face on the consequences of the war, and that can only be a good thing. I think too many people have thought about this war in a rather abstract manner, not really taking the time to consider what's really happening in Iraq: the lives being lost and destroyed, the people being maimed and killed, and the total unnecessariness of it all.

One thing I do find interesting is that Sheehan's "Camp Casey" is attracting counter-protesters and other forms of opposition. The ironic thing is that it's the pro-war forces that are demonstrating rudeness and insensitivity, not Sheehan, her supporters or allies. Case in point: the jerk who attached a chain to the back of his vehicle and mowed down all the crosses. These crosses carry the names of slain soldiers; regardless of where you stand in this conflict, disrespecting the dead and their sacrifice is extremely insulting. An Iraq vet also found this offensive. Here's what he had to say.

The "violence" thus far isn't coming from the anti-war crowd; it's coming from those who insist on "respect" for their views. Rather ironic, that. For a country that insists that it's all about tolerance and freedom, mowing down a bunch of crosses is rather intolerant.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Open House

I have had Mormon friends, Mormon roommates, even dated a Mormon. I lived in Utah for two years, and have lived within walking distance of a temple for a total of five years. Right now, if I go up to the top of our building and look west, I can see Moroni. I've even been to two baptisms, one of which was a rare one in Utah. But I'm NOT Mormon. I've never had any serious interest in becoming one, and that won't change.

But in all my experiences and travels, I've never seen the inside of a temple. That's because unlike churches, cathedrals, sanctuaries, synagogues, and mosques, the Mormons won't permit anyone who's not a "good" LDS member to enter the temples after they've been dedicated (this requires a temple recommend, which is not as easy to get as a driver's license). You can go to their usual Sunday services, you can be indoctrinated by the missionaries, you can certainly read the Book of Mormon and their other holy books all you want, but the temples are for the baptized devout only. The one exception is after the construction of a new temple, when the building is open to the public for viewing. Afterwards, the temple is dedicated, and once sealed, is then off-limits to all but card-carrying Mormons.

There never was a potential temple for me to visit until recently. In Orange County, a temple was being constructed at Newport Beach, and last month it entered the public viewing stage. We decided to go to the open house out of curiosity.

Newport Beach isn't exactly next door; it took us a little over an hour to get there. It's just south of UC Irvine, deep in the heart of Orange County. A nearby church was gracious enough to let its parking lot be used, so we found a spot in the shade and left our car. We trundled over to the shuttle buses. On the way, out of curiosity, I looked at the license plates-- a good 1/3 were from Utah, with the remainder mostly California plates, with a smattering of Arizona and Nevada here and there.

We boarded the bus, and found ourselves among some very well-dressed folks, considering the weather. It was mid-August, and rather warm, but most of the men were in long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants, and the women in modest dresses or slacks. We were dressed casually but comfortably, but not in anything loud (no Daisy Dukes or wifebeaters). Less than a quarter-mile away, the bus pulled into the parking lot and we exited onto the grouds of the stake meetinghouse, where non-temple church activities take place. We entered the line, which moved fairly smoothly, if not rapidly. Once we entered the building, I approached a large female volunteer and asked for interpreting services (I had requested this beforehand). After a short interval, the "interpreters" were located: two female missionaries, one deaf and one hearing. They accompanied us to a small room where a group of visitors sat, ready to watch an introductory video. Initially the hearing missionary interpreted the tape, but once the subtitles were located, we sat back to watch the presentation.

It was a very slick production piece, a PR missive which gave a broad overview. But half of it was about the generalities of the religion, and half of it was shots of elderly white men talking about the holiness and the rapture they were going to experience and the sanctity of the temples and their family, and how they were all going to experience eternity forever. These rhapsodizations conveniently left out the Mormon concept of three heavens, and the fact that while a man may be sealed to all of his wives, a woman can only be sealed to her first husband; just that once. The brief film stressed the word "family" and the concept of "family" over and over again, but beyond a couple of minutes of a glossed over history lesson, there was nothing really substantive about the Mormons or the LDS religion in general. It left me disappointed. For example, there was nothing about how long it took to build the temple, its dimensions, why the site was chosen, the history of temples, precious little in the way of the history of Mormonism, and certainly nothing that would allow any outsider to understand more about this purely American religion. It was, as I said, a nice example of mindless PR, produced for mindless viewing. Perfect for the short attention spans of today's Americans.

After the film, we were ushered back out into the hall, down the corridor, and outside the building, where we followed our guide to the temple grounds and the temple itself. One thing I will say: the temple grounds I've seen (and I've seen quite a few) are very beautiful, nicely maintained, and lend a certain beauty to the temple itself. But this is also true of Catholic churches, Protestant houses of worship, and other holy houses of worship.

We approached the temple doors, where we were told we would need to put on plastic slippers before we could go inside. I don't know if it's part of keeping things "pure," but it made sense from a general housekeeping perspective: less dirt, dust, and other detritus. So we went up to the LDS volunteers, mostly fresh-faced high-schoolers, and had the slippers placed on our feet. We then entered the sanctuary itself.

On the way, our "interpreters" kept saying we were going to find it the "most beautiful" building we'd ever seen and that it would totally blow us away. They kept on talking about the various temples they'd gone into, and both practically orgasmed over the prospect of someday going into the Salt Lake City temple. I expected to see a nice building, but knew the build-up would probably leave me underwhelmed at the end, and I was correct.

The entrance lobby was very nice - I especially liked the ceiling, and it was all very clean and in many places, very white. We were taken through to the baptismal room, the sealing room, past the changing rooms, into the celestial room (a place to commune with God and a place where we weren't supposed to talk. We stayed in that room the longest, for some reason). While it was all very nice, I find quite a few other houses of worship to be far more beautiful. While I have yet to visit Europe or go outside the Western Hemisphere, I think the Catholics and the Muslims have set the standards. The Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. is also a good example.

Before long, the tour was over, and we were guided back to the meetinghouse, where questions were now permitted, and cookies and water were available. We availed ourselves of refreshments, left a little memory of ourselves in the restrooms, and left. All in all, there was nothing particularly different or special about the temple, nothing that made me feel that it needed to be off-limits, but there was also nothing that attracted me to the religion at all. Aside from a informational postcard and a brochure, there was nothing at all about the church's history, its goals, or any real information about the building itself. It was merely an Open House, but at least I satisfied my curiosity.

Monday, August 15, 2005


The last week or so has been fairly crazy around here-- a lot of cleaning, a lot of activities, errands, and definitely a lot of time spent together. My wife is going to D.C. for four months to do an externship at the Department of Justice. She'll be leaving this week, and returning in early December.

While we've been apart before, I have never really liked it, and I'm not looking forward to this particular separation. We're more or less broke, so making visits to DC or home will be difficult, if not impossible, and I just don't like being apart. Whiny, whiny me...

So we've been filling up our days going to museums, going shopping, eating out, spending lots of time together... just basically enjoying each other's company. We've also gone out to dinner at various friend's houses or out with other people, since everyone wants to see us before she leaves. Now we're in the middle of doing laundry, packing, doing all the final, last-minute stuff that comes with major trips. The only positive thing is that the day she leaves, I can start the countdown towards when she'll return. Parting is such sweet sorrow...

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Toddlin' Through Tinseltown

Considering that we won't have another opportunity to do this til December at the earliest, we decided yesterday to take yet another urban exploration trek in this town of ours. Our target yesterday was to complete all of Hollywood Boulevard, from its east end in Silverlake to its western terminus near WeHo and the Sunset Strip. It's a much shorter walk than our marathon-training crawl along Santa Monica Boulevard, but about comparable to our stroll down Melrose Avenue.

We set off once again on the 4 (a handy bus line!), this time debarking at the intersection of Santa Monica and Crescent Heights; this is a T-intersection, and the small triangular patch of green in the center is officially called the Matthew Shepard Memorial Triangle. We walked north on Crescent Heights, turned right on Sunset (a future walk!), and a few blocks down to the Griddle Cafe, a favorite breakfast spot of ours. It's right next to the Director's Guild building, so sometimes enterprising (or desperate) screenwriters and other industry hopefuls will hang out and have coffee, breakfast, or the like in hopes of ensuring their future by meeting some established soul from the DGA offices.

After ensuring our carb intake for the day, we boarded the #2, heading down Sunset towards downtown. We got off near the Sunset/Hollywood split, and walked back to the intersection.

Hollywood Boulevard splinters off of Sunset in Silverlake, and right across the street at this particular junction is the Vista Theatre, on Sunset. It's a cool-looking theatre, dating from the early years of Hollywood's glory, and the Golden Age of movie palaces. It's either been nicely kept up or splendiferously restored (click on that link back there to see what it looks like!); either way, it still shows first-run movies. Too bad there aren't more neighborhood joints like this still operating. I suspect it's part of why Hollywood profits are down.

Silverlake is one of those neighborhoods that are spread out, and thus contain everything from the run-down to the trendy to the funky. We crossed Sunset, went up to the next part of the intersection, and turned left onto Hollywood Boulevard. From here, the famed Hollywood sign is visible. But just down the street is the Cheetah strip joint-- a reminder of the area's (ahem) diversity.

Just a block or so past that, we made a lengthy detour at the Soap Plant, one of our favorite places to window-shop. This is really three businesses in one: Wacko, Soap Plant, and La Luz de Jesus art gallery. It's a kitschy, off-beat store that offers just about anything you can think of. Some of its merchandise includes retro-style lunchboxes, kitschy dishes, funky cookie jars, candle holders, bamboo curtains (Frida Kahlo, anyone?), cups (Betty Boop, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, an eyeball, aliens), and an assortment of oddball items such as voodoo kits (I should buy a couple-- one for Smirk, one for Scowl, one for Rove, etc.).

A children's book section has some offerings that will keep your kids occupied for a short time while you peruse the (*ahem*) more adult sections. There's a wide variety of other books as well, ranging from anatmoy, American Western culture, cigarette matchbook art, fashion, tiki culture, nostalgia, collectibles of all kinds, tattoo art, film, television, sex/erotica, counterculture writers (Burroughs, Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Bukowski, etc.), true crime, death (poetically on the very next shelf to sex/erotica-- no need for goths to stray very far in the book section!), some manga, graphic novels, astrology, religion, and new age. Their art section is rather extensive: art in general, mexican art, books on Dia de Los Muertos, voodoo art, movie poster art, surrealism, religious art, architecture, and design. Other books cover topics such as music, travel, automobiles, magic and deviancy in general.

Beyond the books are candles, religious art, picture frames, shot glasses, tiki mugs, bobblehead dolls (a lot of pop culture childhood memories here! This section includes Quick Draw McGraw, H.R. Pufnstuf, Mr. Peabody, and the animated Funny Face drink characters, to name a few, with more current ones including Arnie's "Terminator," Andre the Giant, and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" characters), pirate action figures (think Blackbeard and Jean LaFitte), and 8 balls of all kinds.

Wait! There's more! card decks, lotions and creams, light sets (from the ubiquituous chili peppers to the Pillsbury Doughboy, hula girls, cows, and even "pecker party lights" (guaranteed to "light up" your sex life *grin)), stickers, postcards. At this point you reach the rear, with the La Luz de Jesus gallery, a revolving display of art by unknowns and possible future household names. Beyond that is a third section, with Simpsons tchotkes, ouija boards, model cars, paper lanterns, lamp/shades, and Chinese Cultural Revolution memorabilia (Mao's Little Red Book, guaranteed to be a hit at parties everywhere). There's racks of "action figures" (the masculine name for dolls for boys): Hellraiser, Family Guy, Simpsons, Futurama, Ren & Stimpy, Munsters, Quisp (bonus points if you even know what Quisp is; even more bonus points if you've partaken of Quisp!), Sandman (if you're a fan, stand up proudly; Neil Gaiman is our latter-day mythologist!), Astro Boy, and historical action figures (think Cleopatra, Alexander the Great, Benjamin Franklin, Freud, Shakespeare, Bach, and Pope Innocent III; in grad school, someone made a parody (thank you Photoshop!) of Foucault). Among the more, shall we say, unusual offerings in this section are something called "Homies"-- little plastic figures of barrio characters with names like "Masta Blasta"; the new set of "Homies" is called "Mijos", which seem to be Homies-in-training. There's also a number of, um, "adult action figures," featuring the likes of Jenna Jameson. Something to send to that obscene phone caller next time he dials you up, I guess...

*whew* That's practically an advertisement in itself. One thing I like about this place is that while they have an eclectic selection (not to mention a diverse staff!), they are insistent on certain graces: a sign by the cash register says, "We will help you when you get off your cell phone." Amen.

After we finally dragged ourselves away from all of this stuff and out the door, we made another unscheduled stop a few doors down, at American Apparel. My wife had heard of this place before, but I hadn't. This is a clothing shop where everything on sale is made right here in the ol' U.S. of A. It's has some pretty good shirts and pants, actually, and I'll come back eventually when I'm ready to get some new clothes. There's apparently a store in Westwood and another in Beverly Hills, so not too far from us...

At this point, we realized we were doing less walking and too much "shopping," so we resolved to move a little quicker down the street. We walked through present-day east Hollywood (decades ago, the Los Feliz neighborhood was sometimes referred to as "East Hollywood"), into "Little Armenia." It wasn't the spiffiest part of town, but definitely culturally interesting. After passing several shops and groceries with signs in Cyrillic, we'd pass a store with all its signage in Spanish. This ethnic mixture continued a few blocks down, as we entered "Thai Town," with a large number of Thai restaurants and some groceries. But still the storefronts continued to be punctuated with business names and ads in Cyrillic or Spanish. We passed by one of our favorite Thai restaurants so far: Sanamluang Cafe. It's a hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall with terrible parking, but the food is outstanding (not to mention fairly cheap!). It's also open til the wee hours, although we haven't availed ourselves of a 2 a.m. feeding yet.

Just down the street is Thailand Plaza; the top part has a spacious restaurant; we've eaten there before. The food is good, and the waitresses/hostesses are dressed in traditional Thai costumes, and there's Thai music, but if you want the best, go to Sanamluang. It was still a nice evening out for us. On the ground floor, though, is Silom supermarket. I always enjoy exploring ethnic markets, so we decided to go in for a few minutes. If you're Thai or love Thai food and want to make it at home, this is the store for you. Inside was all sorts of Thai culinary items: coconut, taro, frog's legs, squid, thai cakes and pastries, grass jelly juice, mango juice, more tea than you've ever seen in your life, and all kinds of fresh produce. They even had whole, uncut durian, which delighted my spouse. I promised we'd buy some eventually. Inside was one aisle devoted to "American" foods, which I found amusing. Outside Silom is a Thai spirit house on the sidewalk. Definitely a good place to visit if you want to get a sense of Thailand here in the States.

Despite the presence of Little Armenia, Thai Town, and the promise of Hollywood proper ahead, the area is still sketchy enough that the old Harvard House motel, despite its neon and old-time feel, offers waterbed and adult movies. There's also signs of cultural adaptation and mixing as well; on the corner at one intersection was a Thai fast-food joint in an old hot-dog stand, with a huge hot dog still perched on the roof. This business is right next door to an adult bookstore.

A few blocks away from the heart of Thai Town is the Hollywood Freeway. This is an often-congested spur through the Cahuenga Pass to downtown, and even on Saturday, was no exception; while the northbound traffic was smooth, the lanes leading towards downtown were approaching bumper-to-bumper status.

We continued our march down Hollywood Boulevard, past Tommy's (a local hamburger joint that has a reputation; apparently aficionados like the original site, at Beverly and Rampart) and the Los Angeles Free Clinic-Hollywood branch. We also passed a number of car lots.

But before long, we arrived at the corner of Hollywood and Gower. This is the start of the famed Hollywood Walk of Fame, with all of its stars. Our mission from this point on would be to see all of the "stars". We definitely assumed our tourist persona at this point, alternately walking ahead and looking down at the names of stars past and present, known and half-forgotten. There are over 2,000 names, so that's quite a bit of reading!

Just before the fabled intersection of Hollywood & Vine is the Pantages Theater. Once a glamourous movie palace that hosted the Oscar ceremonies during the 1950s, it has since been spruced up back to its old glory and now offers first-run plays. A recent offering was "Wicked", based on the book of the same name (and I predict will eventually be filmed and playing at a multiplex near you). I have yet to see a play inside, but judging from the elaborateness of the exterior and the ticket booth area, it's definitely a top-notch place to enjoy a few hours of entertainment.

Right after you pass the Pantages, there's a narrow alley between the theatre and the next building, and straight ahead you can see the Capitol Records building. It's actually located just up the block on Vine, but can be seen at a distance from some locations, including the Hollywood Freeway. It's in the shape of a stack of 45s on a turntable (for those of you who are saying, "what's a stack of 45s?? A turntable?", here's a link for you. Now, go away. You're making me feel old). For my hearing readers, the building probably needs no introduction; Capitol Records was the first West coast label, and recorded or produced for such notables as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, the Kingston Trio, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Linda Ronstadt, Blondie, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, among many, many more. The "needle" on the top of the building spells out "Hollywood" in Morse code (not that I would have recognized that).

At Hollywood & Vine today, there's not a whole lot to see, although there are quite a few old buildings here and along this section of Hollywood (but not a lot of stars or talent agents hanging around either, contrary to myth). We walked up Vine, since the Hollywood Walk of Fame is also on Vine, between Sunset and Yucca. The stars are on both sides of the street on both Hollywood and Vine, so we walked up to Capitol Records (where, appropriately enough, John Lennon's star is on the sidewalk just outside), then across the street and back to Hollywood Boulevard.

A lot of the buildings we saw were a mix of old and new, with some buildings hosting their original businesses or being used for the original purpose, while others have been converted to other uses, or replaced entirely by something much more modern (and not always as attractive!). Among the buildings we saw were old hotels and apartment houses, such as the Knickerbocker, and departed businesses, such as the Broadway (once a department store). At the corner of Hollywood and Ivar is the Guaranty Building, which once housed offices for luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper hung her shingle here for years. Now the building houses the L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition Museum-- no Tom Cruise around, and needless to say, we passed on the opportunity to learn more than we ever needed to know about Hubbard.

Just up the block on Ivar is the Knickerbocker; it is still a very attractive building, and has a rather interesting history. Seminal film director D.W. Griffith died there in 1948, and Harry Houdini's widow, Bess, held yearly seances there, hoping to make contact with the Great Beyond and reunite with her husband.

As we continued down Hollywood Boulevard's north side, we saw little evidence of its heyday and a lot of its present-day life as a living neighborhood-- albeit one that was a bit sketchy at times. We passed a lot of little shops, tobacco stores, tons of gift/souvenir shops, but nothing particularly trendy. The stars on the sidewalk continued to draw our attention.

One particularly glitzy-looking shopping development, though, was centered around Hollywood Boulevard's last remaining Victorian, the Janes House. Once a private home, then a school, and finally the Hollywood Visitor's Center, it now houses offices, as I understand it. It's a nice Queen Anne-style home, the kind of house I wouldn't mind living in (although at a different location, thank you).

We made another quick stop, this time at a used bookstore, Book City, which is now a departed business. After we had scanned the shelves for possible new reads, we left and continued on our journey. Before long, we arrived at the busiest part of the avenue: the Hollywood and Highland area. We sauntered past Musso & Frank Grill, a longtime fixture where stars used to come in for meals. We passed it up this time, but we'll probably come back sometime for a bite, if just to soak up the atmosphere. Just down the street is the Erotic Museum, a newcomer to Hollywood. No time for that this trip, either. It was already well into the day, and since we endeavored to see the entire Hollywood Walk of Fame, we needed to keep moving.

The next couple of blocks has a plethora of sights, including the Hollywood Wax Museum, the Guiness World Records Museum, Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium, the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex, and a pair of well-known theaters. We decided to really be tourists in our adopted hometown, and paid for entrance to the Hollywood Wax Museum. It was passable; a lot of the wax dummies weren't as lifelike as they could be, although the "Chamber of Horrors" was kind of cool. I prefer Madame Tussaud's, though.

The intersection of Hollywood and Highland is one of the busiest in Los Angeles; it's not for the faint of heart. Not only is there an abundance of vehicular traffic, but the mass of humanity swarming around is at its zenith at this point on Hollywood Boulevard. We crossed the street and wormed our way through the crowds. The Hollywood & Highland Center is an oversize shopping mall full of stores that you can find in dozens of malls elsewhere. Gap, Banana Republic, and Brookstone are examples of stores that aren't any more special just because of the location. The developers took what could have been a fantastic opportunity given the site and instead turned out yet. another. mall. The redeeming feature is the outdoor courtyard; here, the exterior is designed to look like the set from the D.W. Griffith film "Intolerance", complete with Babylonian-style carved elephants and the like. It's worth a quick look-see, then you can dash right back out. If you enjoy wandering through 75 stores, be my guest.

The only other unique thing is the building attached to the shops: the Kodak Theatre. This is the current site of the Academy Awards, so if you're an Oscarphile, you'll want to take a gander. Otherwise, the real attraction is right outside on the sidewalk and down the block.

That's because a variety of street performers, from old-fashioned mimes to spray-painted "statues" that walk to costumed characters ready to have their picture taken with Junior for a "donation," hang out daily on this block. Due to the "entertainment" there's always a throng, so clearly seeing the stars in this stretch can be difficult. Yesterday we passed Superman, Batman, "Johnny Depp" from "Pirates of the Carribean," "Johnny Depp" as Willy Wonka, Spider-Man, Spongebob Squarepants, Zorro, Marilyn Monroe, Darth Vader, and a host of other pop culture icons. These photogenic entrepeneurs especially like to cluster in front of the building next to the Kodak Theatre: Mann's Chinese Theatre.

The historical name is Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and the exterior is always worth gazing at. It's also fun to wander among the hand and footprints and signatures of stars of yesteryear and today, and compare shoe sizes. We had already paid homage to the forecourt on previous visits, and this is one of the most-requested stops our guests want to make, so we merely glanced at the theatre and skedaddled.

Another sightseeing opportunity for another time is the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, which was near closing time when we passed by. A block or two more, and we reached the end of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, right by where it officially starts. We crossed Hollywood at La Brea and paused to view the Silver Four Ladies of Hollywood Gazebo, a quartet of statues of four women who influenced film: Anna May Wong, Dolores del Rio, Mae West, and Dorothy Dandridge. I don't know much about the history of this set of statues, or why Mae West might have been chosen, but it really is a wonderful way to recognize the contributions these particular women, and all women by extension, have made to Hollywood and the industry.

We doubled back on Hollywood, this time on the south side, continuing to follow the starry road to its conclusion. Within a couple of blocks, we were outside the Roosevelt Hotel, which unlike other hostels in Hollywood has remained a hotel. Johnny Grant, the "Mayor" of Hollywood, lives in the building's penthouse, and the poolside area is now a VERY trendy hotspot for hipsters, stars, and the club crowd to hang out. This is yet another site where Oscars used to be handed out, and has hosted many notables over the decades. It also reputedly is haunted by Marilyn Monroe's ghost; she spent quite a bit of time here, whether getting a bite to eat, staying in one of its 300+ rooms, or posing for publicity shots (she did her very first ad here). On the way, we passed by Hooters, Baja Fresh, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and a number of other chains. No matter where we go, corporate America is never very far...

The very next block is opposite Grauman's, the Kodak Theatre, and Shopping Mall Extravaganza. Here we encountered the El Capitan Theatre, which is now owned by Disney and is where its movies premiere these days. I've been inside the restored theatre, and it really is worth a trip there (I went to see "Sleeping Beauty," which is one of my all-time favorite Disney flicks). Next door to the movie house is a Disney gift shop (surprise, surprise); what was nice though is that Disney recognized an opportunity and converted part of the rows and rows of Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear dolls into a soda fountain. After indulging in a snack, we ventured back outside and on our merry way.

Just south on Highland from Hollywood Boulevard is the former Max Factor Studio, where the makeup mogul used to turn Hollywood's stars into beauties and studs. Today the art deco building now houses the Hollywood History Museum-- another stop we decided to take a rain-check on (those admission fees do add up... we're not at the Smithsonian, you know...).

Back around the corner were Ripley's and Guinness. Since we'd already done Ripley's, we too a pass, but our pricey tickets for the wax museum across the street entitled us admission to Guinness, so we went in. it was definitely a fascinating set of displays, and a lot larger than I'd imagined. It's housed in the former Hollywood Theatre, one of the avenue's first movie palaces.

In the next block is yet another old-time movie house, the Egyptian, which today has been restored and shows movies, thanks to American Cinematheque, which often offers revivals, retrospectives, and the like. I attended the Egyptian years ago, when I first saw "Star Wars" there in 1977. It really is a neat building to look at, and has a long forecourt done up as an entrance to an Egyptian tomb. Ushers of yesteryear actually dressed the part; today, I doubt the ushers are garbed in loincloth. The Pig & Whistle, another in the list of old-time Hollywood eateries, is right next door to the Egyptian.

From here, we returned from the shadows of Hollywood glamour of yesteryear to the Hollywood of today, passing by an army surplus store called Supply Sergeant (with a large neon sign of a sergeant), and numerous tattoo parlors. Before Victoria's Secret, there was Frederick's. Our next stop was Frederick's of Hollywood, housed in the former Kress Department store. Unfortunately, Frederick's is leaving its longtime Hollywood Boulevard home, and its Lingerie Museum was temporarily closed, pending the move. We entered anyway, mulled purchasing a marked-down piece of boudoir ware, decided not to, and exited-- probably just as well for me, as I was nearly the only man in sight.

Next door was another equally interesting business: Hollywood Toys & Costume, which is definitely the place to go at Halloween time, or if you're a big costume freak. Tons of costumes, wigs, masks, make-up kits, Halloween decorations, and the like. It was a fun place to just wander around and admire the various costumes.

By now we'd spent most of the day, mixing a workout with exploration and sightseeing, so we decided to wrap up and finish the Walk of Fame. We marched down the street to Vine, went down the southern portion to Sunset Boulevard, crossed the street and walked back up to Hollywood Boulevard. We finally arrived again at Gower, and concluded our vista of stars.

Once we'd satisfied this objective, we headed west again, this time moving much more quickly, since we'd already played tourist, and now we were once again urban hikers. Once safely past La Brea, Hollywood Boulevard becomes solely residential, mostly comprised of apartments and condos on the south side, with nicer homes on the north side (which makes sense; Nichols Canyon and Laurel Canyon's southern reaches were within walking distance). A dozen or so blocks further, and we reached a T-intersection: Hollywood Boulevard at Laurel Canyon Boulevard.

We walked down Laurel Canyon to Sunset, at which point the street becomes Crescent Heights. We crossed over, continued down the hill, and back to Santa Monica, where we boarded the trusty #4 and tiredly made our way home.

Hopefully this winter, or maybe in the spring, I'll be able to bring you yet another Sandbox Urban Exploration™ account.

Monday, August 08, 2005

From Egypt to the World

Today we finally went to see the Tutankhamun exhibit at LACMA, along with half of the West Coast, it seemed. It was the first day of my wife's fairly short vacation, and seeing the exhibit was one of our priorities. We locked in our tickets ages ago, and to avoid the hassle of parking and driving, took the bus. Despite what you may think of public transportation around here, it really was smooth-- we took the 4 up to Wilshire, transferred within minutes and in a total trip time of less than 30 minutes we were right in front of the LACMA West building, where the Tut show was.

I had heard that the entrance lines were long, but when we got to the huge tent set up for the queues, it was very brief-- maybe less than five minutes total, and then we were quickly ushered into the LACMA West building. The entrance to the exhibit itself was rather glitzy— tall statues of Egyptian mummies, tomb paintings, and the like. The first half of the show focused on personages and rulers other than the “boy-king”, which was good as it gave some context to the times. There was even a genealogy of Tut’s presumed ancestry.

One thing I really appreciated throughout was a deviation from the norm in museum text presentations. Instead of the normal placard directly below each item, the glass cases in this exhibit had one placard in the normal spot, and then one at the top of each case. This meant I could stand back at a distance, read the material at my own pace, then dart in to examine the artifact close-up when an opening was available.

About half of the stuff on display were from tombs and people other than Tutankhamun, so it was a chance to view and compare different items from different times. The first half of the exhibition was fairly smooth, and we were able to wander along, reading and glancing at each piece on display, and not get bogged down.

But about midway, in the beginning of the exclusively Tut material, a room that detailed items and information about pyramids and tomb traditions became totally bottlenecked. It was increasingly crowded from that point on, I suppose because everyone wanted to see Tutankhamun’s belongings and funerary accoutrements. There was a little of everything, from the chair Tut probably sat in, to feathers and crowns, to bows and arrows. One thing that I particularly liked was the coffin of another mummy, and the ability to walk completely around the coffin and view the intricate detail. Another item that stood out was a storage case in the shape of a scarab beetle, exquisitely outlined in semi-precious jewels and gold inlays.

One thing that was disappointing for my wife (and many of our friends who have gone to see this) is that none of the actual coffins or masks were on display, as they were in 1978. Nevertheless, the last two rooms were fascinating in their own right. The first had a holographic display of Tutankhamun’s coffins and mummy, with outlines showing the size and approximate location of each coffin layer, ending with a 3-D form of Tut’s actual body. The final room showed models of what Tutankhamun might very well have looked like, which was interesting to see.

It’s really amazing when you stop to think about it—these people died 4, 5, and even 6,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptian beliefs centered on the afterlife, and all that preparation for eternity. Yet when you think about it, we go to these shows, we ooh and ahh over the coffins and mummies, we buy the souvenirs: These people were right all along—they *did* live forever.

After we exited the show, the corridor led to the ubiquitous gift shop, full of gadgets, games, trinkets, t-shirts, coffee mugs, the “Mummy went to see the Mummy and I all I got was this Mummy” action figures, and the like. There were quite a few National Geographic videos and DVDs, some of which I’m interested in, but that’s what Netflix is for. After we’d checked out some of the books, we left the building, and went over to the main section of LACMA for lunch.

Following a leisurely repast of salad, panini, and a couple of drinks, we decided to “do” LACMA. One benefit of paying through the nose for the “blockbuster” was that our tickets also permitted us entrée to LACMA on the same day. We decided to start at the Japanese arts building.

Part of this was mildly interesting, and part of it was fascinating. The temporary exhibit du jour was about Japan and the World’s Fairs, which was interesting in the sense that it allowed the viewer to observe Japanese contributions and Western perceptions of Japan at global expositions. But the permanent display on the first floor was worth the time. It was a room full of netsuke, which I had never heard of before. Apparently these are the little carvings from wood, ebony, and other materials that serve as “locks” for the cords attached to purses that were attached to kimono belts. The netsuke range from mythological figures to animals to abstract pieces, and ranged from early Edo period pieces to more modern representations. Although they were not on display (obviously!), there also seem to be netsuke of a more risqué sort. Thus I got the chance to see some interesting art and learn something about Japanese culture.

From this end of LACMA, we went to the Modern Art building next. Since I am not a fan, I dashed through all the floors rather quickly. I did see a few paintings and pieces that were interesting, but for me, “good” art ends around the time Cubism started. For example, I like Picasso’s Blue Period, but the middle and endpoints of his career I can do without. But as you know, art is subjective—my wife and others enjoy modernism (which I refer to for the most part as “kindergarten art,” as in, “any kindergartener can do that”), even if I don’t. I did like one piece that was made up of black-shrouded, anonymous life-size figures seated in a circle on the floor. It made me think of ringwraiths, dementors, and other evil figures, or just simply unknown priests of a bygone era. Another project I liked was two rooms that were set up to resemble an American commercial garage from the 1940s-50s. To me, it was a mixture of history and art that I found fascinating.

The next building was European, American, African, Islamic, and non-Japanese Asian art. It was this building that made me realize just how huge LACMA really is. The first floor had Mesoamerican, African, and South American art, American furniture and arts and crafts, and 20th century American art. So far, so good. But the second floor was European art practically from the Dark Ages to the Impressionists. I wandered through Manet, Degas, Raphael, more religious art than you can shake a stick at, portraits of long-dead noblemen, stone effigies from medieval tombs, even an entryway from a Mediterranean church or estate house. The layout of the various rooms became confusing, and since there was no map provided, I had to keep careful track of where I had been.

A couple hours later, my wife was all “arted” out and decided to retreat. I forged on, as I wanted to see the non-European sections. I found the Islamic art section to be very interesting—illustrated pages of the Koran, models of royal ships, and even a small-scale model of a mosque. The Indian subcontinent area contained numerous statues and carvings of Buddha, Rama, Kali, Ganesha, and a host of other deities; there were more bodhisattva carvings than there probably were bodhisattvas to begin with. At this point, it was all starting to swim before my eyes, and I still had the Chinese art left on yet another floor. At this point I too capitulated, and went in search of my spouse. We agreed it had been a wonderful day, and a good bang for the buck—for less than $30 each we had traveled throughout art history and time from Ancient Egypt to the rest of the world. While LACMA isn’t as large as the Met in NYC, it definitely is worth a repeat visit.

Friday, August 05, 2005


The big news around here this summer is that all of the windows in this building are being replaced. Our building was built in 1961, and the outside reveals its age-- googie architecture and all. The individual units vary though. I've had the opportunity to go into a few, and ours is one of the better looking apartments in the place. Still, overall, it's very nice considering the neighborhood we live in, not to mention the town we live in!

We loved the look of our windows-- the old-style "slat" windows that you find in apartments and houses from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. None of this modern stuff for us. Unfortunately, some of the other residents have complained about problems with mold, etc. and the landlord has also had an eye on the bills as well-- so all the windows are being replaced with modern, full-sheet glass versions that are energy-efficient.

We've never had a problem, never wanted our windows replaced. We're satisfied with how it is. But we didn't exactly get a say, so we've had maintenance people tramping in and out of the apartment, in and out of the building. They were supposed to start with us and our next door neighbor in mid-June, then that got pushed back to late June/early July. It was a bit annoying as I had to take everything off the balcony, away from all the windows, and essentially ended up with a huge pile of our stuff cluttered in the center of our living room. I anticipated it would be a day or two-- it turned out to be about three weeks before I could put everything back.

The bigger hassle, though, is that we had to keep moving the car. Street parking in this area is problematic, and it didn't help that the parking slots in our building were blocked off from 8-5 daily. This meant I had to make sure the car was moved before 8, then keep moving it every two hours, unless I was doing errands. We were housesitting during part of this time, so I hinted strongly that this would be an excellent time to finish our windows. Did that happen? Yes and no... they finally started towards the end of our housesitting gig, but didn't finish until after we had returned.

Then this week was a bit worse-- a new tenant moved into the building, and like every third idiot in this town has a SUV. Well, this behemoth won't make it up into the rear parking area thanks to the overhang, so we were asked to move our car to the back from now on. A very minor hassle, not too big a deal. O-kay... Unfortunately, before, all I had to do was move the car out of our stall, down past the sidewalk, and onto the driveway itself. Now, I would have to remove the car completely and compete with everyone else for street parking.

It was okay, up until today. I completely forgot that the parking area directly across from us is off-limits on Fridays from noon to 3 p.m. due to street cleaning. So this morning I cheerfully got up, pulled out of our spot, out the driveway, across the street, and left it for the day. I went upstairs, and later on, I left to have lunch with my wife at her office in Echo Park.

After I returned, I strolled up the street, when all of a sudden, I had a sinking feeling as I spotted a slip of paper stuck in the windshield wiper...



I immediately decided to erase this horrible memory as quickly as possible, so I've just dashed off, a few minutes ago, my $45 "contribution" to the City of Los Angeles. *grumble*

The good news is I just saw the crew foreman a few minutes ago, and he announced they're done, at last. I decided to take a look for myself, and navigated the perimeter of our building. Yep, yep, and yep... all the windows have been replaced on all three floors.

Last year it was the plumbing, this year the windows. What's next?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

In Politics, It's Image

These days, I'm still officially not affiliated with any one party; I left the Democrats a while back for various reasons, with one central one being that they've lost their way. Obviously from my postings, I'm solidly in the middle of the Left, with some moderate tendencies on certain issues. But no way you'll ever catch me hanging out on Free Republic, lending my mind to groupthink.

I do check out certain blogs, newspapers, and groups from time to time, trying to understand both sides of an issue. But once I've formed my opinion, I'm very opinionated (as if that weren't obvious!). The Democrats are still muddling along these days, despite the breath of fresh air they got with Howard Dean's ascendancy to the party leadership. They still aren't winning a whole lot of elections, and they still haven't developed a core message. It was hard for me to want to stay with a party that couldn't figure out what they stood for. This isn't to say that all Democrats or potential Democrats don't have opinions and principles; it's just that at the national level, there hasn't been very good articulation of just what it is Democrats expect of themselves, how they view themselves, and how they want the country to view them.

While I can't say I admire the Republicans, they're doing a better job on this front. That's largely because they're very good at showmanship, which is half (and sometimes, all) the game these days. Whether the Republicans are authentic isn't the case; it's how they present themselves. I ran across an editorial, "Republican Nemesis," the other day, and it's a thought-provoking read. The author, James Kroeger, discusses the current state of affairs in campaigning, and I agree with his main point: the Democrats have got to get it together, or they can't expect to win.

Kroeger argues that regardless of all the possible issues one could discuss, it comes down to presentation in the end. The use and manipulation of emotions is what counts: Republicans express disgust at the word "liberal"; they laugh contemptuously any time a Democrat opens their mouth; they are angry when any opponent says something half-way logical or reasonable. Most of all, the use, abuse, and manipulation of fear, which is something many voters buy into, largely from a self-centered, economic standpoint, and sometimes from a larger, communal fear. So much for FDR's proclaimation, "we have nothing to fear but fear itself."

I think if the Democrats can get in touch with how they want to present themselves, they too can master emotional discourse, in addition to being able to talk about the issues. What's equally important, though, is having a narrative. This is something that the Democratic candidates of late have failed miserably at. Who are you? What are you about? Where did you come from? Where are you going? Most of all, are you "genuine"? It's this authenticity that's most important-- the ability to be yourself, to show that you're just "you" and not anything else, and convey a sense of "realness" along with purpose. This isn't to say that I think the successful candidates of the last few elections were truly genuine, honest, aboveboard people-- they just passed themselves off better than their opponent. For example, I don't buy Smirk as a Western-style rancher, a "man of the people." For all his pretense, he's still a preppie slacker.

One thing that Kroeger doesn't really discuss is the fact that the solution is not just grasping the need to formulate better responses, to carry off a presentation; it's also understanding the reality that the main conduit to voters remains the Corporate Media, which is controlled by a handful of people, most of whom are largely in the pocket of the Republicans or are themselves right-wingers (see: Rupert Murdoch). This means the Democrats need to learn how to effectively use the media all over again, utilize the avenues they can, and stop responding (or not responding!) all the time. Rather than react, they need to become proactive. This is a lesson they've failed to learn so far.

It doesn't help any of us though, that on both sides we are surrounded by politicians and second and third-rate hacks, with precious few statesmen at hand. While one gets a sense of what the Republicans stand for and what their platform is, it doesn't mean it is the best path to take, or that they will stand on their principles; just as often as not, political expediency beckons. That's because in politics, it's image that's the key.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Our Money, Their Party

Well, it's August already. Seems like time's going by faster and faster these days. We've just gotten through some pretty hot days, and I have been sitting here in what at times feels like an oven. Luckily, as I probably said before, we live about five miles from the ocean, and we're not in the Valley, so we do get the benefit of those ocean breezes, foggy eves and mornings, and general cooling effects. But it isn't always heaven around here (for heaven, drive two hours south: it's called San Diego, which must be blessed with the best weather in the nation). Still, all things given, I'm glad I'm not up north in my childhood environs, in the great Central Valley, where it's 110 degrees in the shade, I swear...

To get through the heat, I'm doing something that doesn't exactly help: I'm reading all kinds of articles, usually about things that piss me off (how typical of him, you're probably saying). One of those things is the fact that Smirk thinks its okay to take our money for his roadshows (what he likes to call "public" events), but ban half the country from seeing their "president." Somewhere, Stalin is smiling in his tomb...

At one such "town hall" gathering in Denver in March, one of Smirk's stooges evicted three people. These three citizens filed suit in court, protesting this act; unfortunately, nothing is going to come of it. This editorial, though, points out that the rest of the world seems to understand better than we the value of free speech. In other nations, people actually think about the kind of questions they want to ask, and take the opportunities they get to ask them. Reporters actually do their jobs. Here, we have a totally stage-managed gummint, and we allow ourselves to be treated like marionettes, guided by strings controlled by puppeteers behind the screen.

What really bothers me though, is that the courts seem to think it's perfectly okay to use public funds (read: OUR taxpayer money) to fund events that should be open to the public, but aren't. When a government is allowed to do that to its own people, freedom dies a little.

So far, it's our money, their party; I look forward to a day when enough people stand up to say, "Our money, OUR party."