Weekend Walks Along Wilshire Boulevard 


A DEEPLY involving and bittersweet presentation at #LAPL’s Central Library on Saturday afternoon. Annie Laskey and her mother Marlene hatched a plan to walk the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from its downtown high-rises and mid-town department stores to the edges of the sea. Annie mentioned that the thrill at first was less about the walk and more about getting to operate the Minolta SLR. Annie shot and Marlene made note (see the notebook in the grid below). While Marlene and many of the iconic locations that the Laskeys recorded are no longer with us, the absences were filled with vivid stories. Grateful for the Laskeys and their. sticktoitiveness Hundreds of sites have now been preserved on Kodachrome slides. The Wilshire Boulevard — the Carnation Building, Mutual of Omaha, Ambassador Hotel– that still exists in my head flickered to life with her stories. You can glimpse 100 of those images in a new book, “The Wilshire Slides 1978–1979” put out through LAPL’s Photo Collection and Photo Friends the nonprofit organization formed to support & promote the collection.

Poetics of Location

I’M MORE THAN a little tardy posting this but projects have been flying in and out the door,  and my fingers are trying their very best to keep up. But this afternoon from a couple of weeks back remains on my mind.

Mike Sonksen (AKA Mike the Poet) is a civic treasure. He’s one of those faces that float into view at almost every poetry event and almost every corner of town. He’s a many-generation native of Los Angeles and with that he’s taken a multilayered interest in the city. All of it is up for exploration and inquiry.

Mike is also known around the poetry scene for his indiosyncratic city tours — on foot, by bus, via Metro —  that have always featured the energy and of freestyle poetry and history. For as many years as I have known him, this was the very first time I had  been able to take part in one of the downtown walkabouts.  This round he featured otherIMG_9387 poets along the way, among them — Traci Akemi Kato-kiriyama, Rocío Carlos and F. Douglas Brown —  who paused to share observations or self-reflections about sense of place or considered their personal place within with ever-shifting landscape of Los Angeles.

Much of the day and night before, it had been storming. Uncharacteristic downpours for May. But by mid morning the rain eased and the clouds pushed back enough to give the sky depth and offer a poem itself. We walked up and down hills, stood on overpasses and beneath flowering jacaranda trees to listen to aural snapshots of the city. Tourists in our own town. Just as we finished for the day, the clouds gathered again and the rain made an encore. Polite enough, however, to wait until the very last word. It was as if Mike had arranged it. Not once did he appear worried that we’d rain out, have to run for cover. Not one minute. He knows better. He knows how to read not just the streets, but the skies and the promises they won’t break.

To read Mike’s latest about L.A. new poet laureate, Robin Coste Lewis, click here.

 

 

“call it what you like . . .”

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FOR A COUPLE of months now, I’ve been telling a friend about an ongoing issue  I’ve had with one of the baggers at my local market.  Not a huge issue, but a head scratcher. Strangeness sunk into the mundane.

A few weeks ago,  he refused to sort or bag my purchases. Just walked away, arms folded, head-shaking — to the checker’s chagrin.  My friend suggested that I stop spending money in the market  — especially since it hadn’t been  the first time (this head-shaking incident was just a bit more dramatic than others prior).  “That’s why you pay a little more. Avoid that mess.”

True.

Well today, I needed to  make a quick neighborhood run. No time for fancy. I head to my old spot. I’m almost out the door with my essentials —  my coffee stash, fixings for dinner. I have almost successfully avoided him when, just as I near his checkout lane,  he does a quick double take and then pauses to  crook his finger in that “come-over-I-have-something-special-&-top-secret-to-share” manner.

So I do.

With reservations.

He asks: “Do you know Mike Jackson?”

I say no. (Not realizing where this is going.)

He says: “Well he’s in heaven. Prince is on his way too, you know.” He winks. Like we’re old friends, sharing some insider 411.

Then comes the smile.

I suppose all this must be his version of a truce.

 

(image via mashable)

Green Space

YOU WOULD have to be living beneath a rock to not know that we Angelenos are  deep in the throes of a drought. Even my friends, thousands of miles away,  ask about what that might mean, are versed in the details. So, with a sense of great surprise, I’ve been noting how many residents are still showering their beloved front lawns with affection — read: lots of water — despite fines and the threat of other penalties.

It’s hardly something that one can hide.

Now, months into no rain and state-imposed water restrictions,  the dramatic side-by-side differences are everywhere. That checkerboard of front yards made me realize just how much our symbolic first impression might still mean to us.

My short meditation on lawns and how they figure into the Southern California imagination is up here at Zócalo Public Square.

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“Slippery Oasis”

image by Damon Casarez linked via Los Angeles Magazine

NICE PIECE up at Los Angeles Magazine by Jesse Katz about Westlake’s “slippery oasis” known as MacArthur Park.

A snip:

The people who turn up in the lake these days may look different from those who perished a century ago. They may come from different parts of the world and inhabit different social echelons. We may have a more sophisticated vocabulary for their breakdowns, a more nuanced understanding of addiction and despair. But the guile of the lake—the melodrama of our city—is not a modern condition.

Every fall, I think about my old across-the-landing neighbor who worked graveyards undercover with LAPD, his beat to spin around those shadows in the Park. I know he could write a book or two. Jesse’s piece brought all that back…me standing, balancing with my laundry listening to native noir stories.

More of Jesse’s wonderful, moody piece here

into the center of it

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LAST SUNDAY, I drove into Watts pulled by something larger than an anniversary.

I’ve been back and forth a great deal in recent years, months, weeks — for work and personal visits — but this journey felt more like flipping back to the opening pages of a book, to re-orient myself in a story that didn’t move the way I had expected.

I’ve been swimming through all the coverage today — and in the weeks leading up to — this 50-year anniversary of a what began as a traffic stop and then exploded into an italicized exclamation. One that now echoes across decades.

Like so many, I’ve been revisiting photos and essays and spoken testimonials that so freshly recall that stretch of hot August days. I’ve been talking to old friends and old colleagues. I stare deep into the frames of these grainy newspaper images of collapsed buildings, piles of wood, the silhouettes of storefronts, fancy blade-signs and realize — once again — that so many never re-opened. The story finished there. Full stop.

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As a small child, I felt some foreign emotion creep in, take up real space; a feeling related to the noise, the smoke, the tanks, men in uniforms and guns at the market — where we bought our milk and fruit — the strange measure of days that hemmed us in within our own home: That new word “curfew” flashed in my brain like neon.

August 1965 was the summer my grandfather visited from New Orleans to take the first, in-person glimpse of his infant grandson. The two-pronged reality of that visit: the first bloom of the new family branch, strikingly backdropped by the racial inequity and violence not at all foreign to this quiet and proud Southern-born man — just Southern-California style. Early the next morning he woke before the rest of us, disappeared. We later learned, through his detailed stories, he’d wandered off, to find the hot center of it. To know the story better.

How — he must have reasoned — could you be so close and not try?

The journalist that I would become understands.

Now, as an adult, I realize the emotion I must have been trying to sort through was the very same that might accompany the instant when a table might be upturned and there’s a moment — long, protracted out-of-real time — where everything was still in the air. The finish yet to be determined. Ruin or reclamation? It was all still up for grabs.

50 years.

So fast. So long.

And yet.