What Lilly in “The Grifters ” Called it . . .


THE L.A. TIMES’ Steve Harvey had a amusing column in today’s paper about the issue of pronouncing the city’s of Los Angeles’ name. Over the years, I’ve noted that it’s regional. So many friends and relatives, deacades ago, would often mangle it terribly. Trying to twist it into something fancier or folksier than need be.

Snip from Harvey’s piece here:

In the early 1900s, The Times advocated the Spanish version, carrying a box by its editorial page masthead that proclaimed the way to say Los Angeles was Loce AHNG-hayl-ais.

English speakers who found that difficult could only be thankful that the city had shortened its original name, which some scholars believe was El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula.

The Times’ campaign aside, the United States Board on Geographic Names decreed in 1934 that the name should be Anglicized to Loss AN-ju-less.

Harvey’s newspeg is Texas Governor Rick Perry’s mangling of the city’s name, where he apparently welcomed a room with “Buenos dias, Los Angeles!” According to Harvey, “He rendered the city’s name as Loce AN-guh-leeze, as though it contained a hard G and rhymed with “fleas.”

One of my favorite on-screen elaborations is in the Grifters, when Anjelica Houston’s character Lily, let’s it roll off her lips “Los AN-ju-leez” I wish there were a clip to be found in the YouTube universe, but alas, there is not.

The piece made me think about how people mispronounce other city names — New Orleans comes to mind immediately. New Orleaneans are quick to correct you after about the third try — usually they do it by saying the city’s name — a lot — in conversation, hoping you’ll catch on. Angelenos don’t do the same thing, I’ve noted.

My favorite from Harvey’s column is this one, uttered by the former Mayor:

A few years later, Times columnist Jack Smith detected another mayor, Sam Yorty, using “a sort of nasalized Law SANG-lus” version, which he “brought with him from Nebraska.”

That brought me back to watching “The Big News” on KNXT with Jerry Dumphy. Long, long time ago . . .

(title card image via http://annyas.com/screenshots)


Cross Between the Lines

YESTERDAY, I had to pay penance for a speeding ticket I received early last Spring. I picked a school close by — comedy traffic school — and crossed my fingers for the best.

As it turned out, the comic actually wasn’t half-bad — sort of a cleaned up version of Bernie Mac, chiding us for our infractions, calling us “hey, criminals.” But the part of the proceedings that struck me the most was this little thread of something, that I’m sure he’s working out as part of his own act. He made his more about the fact that pedestrians here just doing give a flip about getting hit, that they know their rights. He also grazed the notion of power and what it held to have this moment in the center of a busy thoroughfare. This subject/gesture had been on my mind for a while — and I’d been working through this act of street defiance I see weekly here and it’s made me stop and really think about what it means symbolically:

Below is the unwinding I’d been pecking out:

FOR months now, I’ve been thinking about how to write about this idea of crossing the street as power.

It was prompted by a sole act of urban defiance: As, I waited to turn right turn at a busy throughfare, a girl in ill-fitting clothes — too tight in some places, too droopy in others — was crossing deliberately against the light. Deliberate may not be the right word. I’d say insolent or some cousin of it. She moved like an iceberg — and that’s not reaching for metaphor. We’ve all seen versions of it, but this was not the new stutter-step hesitation we see when we spot pedestrians traversing the crosswalks texting — one step, a pause, another, full-stop. This was much more focused on the task. A slowness that’s not mere disregard but rather dressed up exasperation. Her head swiveled to take a look at me — to make sure she was producing her desired effect 00 daring me lean onto the horn, or roll my tires across the limit line. She was fully aware of what she was doing and how she was doing. It. The light glowed red, she stepped off the curb and onto the street like wading into a too-cold pool.

She looked pissed off. But a pissed-off that seemed deeply embedded, not the result of some recent infraction Her short hair, yanked back in a crooked ponytail, was fly-away enough to suggest that she may have slept in it that way and didn’t feel she had time or the need to muss with it any. Each step she took, had a rolling, hesitating teeter. And even though the stretch she was going to be crossing couldn’t have been more than 30 feet, it felt like a yawning distance that could take her minutes not moments.

Watching her move a sort of under-water motion, I had lots time to think about what this might mean, what it symbolized. Slowly, almost as slowly as she traversed space, it came to me that this was not just any power play. She was metaphor for something very real in our culture: At no time in her life, I imagined, did she feel so powerful, in control, a force to be reckoned with. In the rest of her life, who would be forced to pause for her in any other place in her life? To consider her clothing, her hair, her expression, her deeper thoughts.

In a city like this one, you see it a lot, boy crews unleashed into the street slowing as they reach the crosswalk, stepping down from the curb as the old green turns to yellow — waiting for it —  daring you to give them the finger, damn them to some hot place. Boys in khakis and wife-beaters, teens in skinny-jeans with belts down near their knees. All of them, on a catwalk for show. But this one felt different from all the rest I’ve seen in my thirty years of traversing this city’s tangle of ever-crowding arteries. This lone girl’s march, slow, deliberate, attitudinal — was her moment. But a moment that has been flitting around in a loop in my brain, one that I’m still pondering, weeks and months later. i’ve been a version of that girl, we’ve all been. ‘you’re going to wait for me.’

— so It’s going somewhere.

Los Angeles: Up Close, Personal

I’M HAPPY to say that my piece in Boom about Kevin McCollister the eye and imagination behind, East of West L.A.,has finally hit the news stands.

McCollister was generous enough to let me shadow him a couple of weekends and watch him work. His blog, which evolved into a book, “East of West L.A. — caught my attention a while ago. I was captivated by his eye, the way in which he was able to evoke a Los Angeles free of cliche and bold-faced name. An L.A. born and bred Angelenos recognize and navigate through 95% of the time. Gorgeous work that’s intensley felt and sensitively expressed. I remember telling him before I met him, when I was trying to convince him to do the story that I didn’t understand how he was able to capture an L.A. that felt so personal — and what I meant was, he was expressing L.A. as I saw it, felt it. I’d link to the piece, but it’s not online. There is talk about posting a photo gallery, when that goes live, I’ll link to it.

(photo by Kevin McCollister, via East of West L.A.”)

Summer Sides

GENERALLY WHEN I think Coleman Hawkins, I think this:

Not this:

And what I mean by that is I think: the cigarette, the stingy-brim Fedora and tweed. Nighttime. Fall. Basement room with a stage.

Not a blast of summer color.

But this is what I heard yesterday, our first day that June Gloom broke a bit and the sun re-introduced itself if only briefly (it’s misting again outside enough to make the streets slick). The song keyed into something. Coleman Hawkins’ take on “One Note Samba” particularly shimmery around 5:40 in fact — and that means summer is here.

I have a close friend who routinely turns her closet around each year. I always thought it was an odd exercise here in L.A. because the seasons are so — elusive. But she is dedicated to moving the “season’s” clothes to the front of the closet. Mine is sort of a mishmash that reflects the unpredictability of the desert nights I’d grown up with as a child — yes, I have the summer skirts and dresses, but the sweaters are close by in in case the temps dip for a night west, closer to the water. I still, to this day, always keep a baja in the car.

But listening to Hawkins’ take on “One Note Samba” made realize that my music selections for quiet dinners at home, or lounging around, or procrastination, or because of the particular light streaming in fact *do* shift somewhat. There is some music I listen to no matter the season, I’m simply pulled to it because it’s been playing in my head already, or something I read nudges me that direction. But the summer for me has for as long as I can remember has always included healthy doses of Jazz Samba and the Bossa Nova I grew up with — Getz/Gilberto and Getz/Jobim. “Tropical” was good for this climate — so that meant Cuba and that meant, Machito and Mongo Santamaria too. Perez Prado was always good to start the conversation. Later, much later, when I began to collect in a more serious way I have found, I still lean toward the stacks of a very particular combination of sound. It can be Latin or a late-60s early 70s R&B both political and joyous expressing freedom. I can just be just a voice and a guitar.

It’s not as if I say, “I must put away all hard bop for the summer.” It’s not strict. What happens is I tend toward more brass. More acoustic. Lots of atmosphere. Space and texture. Something to move around in. Music that in some way reflects the pace and mood that coy shimmer of light that’s lingering a little longer, but won’t be forever.

One of my favorites here — Stan Getz and Laurindo Almeida: