Archive for the ‘California’ Category


September 25, 2013

You always hear people say, “I never saw it coming.” But I remember thinking, months ago, “I hope Les never kills himself.”

Les is my writing teacher. Was. At the beginning, I was a little uncomfortable being in the same room with him. Such visible signs of suffering.

He was on the cusp of old age, too poor for a car or a smartphone. Wifeless, childless, alcoholic, only one good eye. When I met him he had about three teeth but over the last year he’d gotten good replacement teeth, which I took as an optimistic sign.

The only time I heard him complain was when a bed bug infestation sent him to the ER.

Les was generous.

Every week he brought us candy. That’s what gets me: Imagining him going to the CVS on Rose, buying bags of Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, putting them in his backpack alongside our carefully corrected homework, hopping on his bike. He had a beautiful deep voice, and told us to not to focus on what was wrong with our writing, but what was working. He made it so easy for his students to ignore his troubles.

Oh, Les. Fuck.

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October 27, 2012

October, Los Angeles. Women start wearing boots, Starbucks brings back pumpkin lattes, and people carve jack-o-lanterns. But it still doesn’t feel like fall.

For one thing, the jack-o-lanterns tend to rot.

Fall is the hottest time of the year here. It’s when the Santa Ana winds kick up over the Great Basin, heat up over the Mojave, and come racing down the hills and canyons, right into Los Angeles.

The Santa Anas turn the sky red and shake the fronds from the palm trees. They blow dust in your eyes and make you want to put on Chapstick. Most years, they fan forest fires.

When the Santa Anas are blowing, you can sit at the edge of the ocean and feel a hot wind on your back instead of a cool breeze on your face. It feels backwards, like the god of wind has a hangover.

Maybe the strangest thing is that no one outside Southern California has heard of the Santa Anas. They’re a thing, like the leaves in New England or the monsoon in India. But somehow they don’t fit our idea of autumn, so every year, they just blow out to sea. And disappear.



August 24, 2012

We didn’t actually hike 20 miles, because we didn’t make it to the top. Luckily the side of the mountain has lots of beautiful things too. Like this little tree that had been strangled by a big tree.


This must be close to Fish Creek Saddle, where we camped. I like the names they have on mountains. “Dry Lake” and “Big Tree” and “Poopout Hill.” The mountain itself is nicknamed “Old Greyback.” Isn’t that nice?


On Sunday we got up in time to see the sunrise. Here the light is filtered through the rain tarp thing, which was hanging up to dry. I can’t decide if the tarp ruins the picture or makes it.


One of the good things about Eric is that he sings in the morning. Here he is stirring some hot cereal over a camping stove while singing “Boots With the Fur” by Flo Rida.



August 24, 2012

I slept on Mount San Gorgonio last weekend. Here’s how it happened:

Eric:  Want to go camping?

Me:   Will there be bathrooms?

Eric:  Not exactly.

I’m one of those people who thinks I’m roughing it when I buy recycled toilet paper instead of the quilted kind. But I thought it over, and decided Eric on a toiletless mountain was clearly better than a toilet in an Ericless apartment.

Two days later, we were wandering around REI shopping for a bed roll and dehydrated beef stroganoff.

Eric:  What kind of shoes do you have?

Me:   Regular.

Eric:  Hmm. It’s a pretty long hike. But you’ll be fine.

Me:   Long long?

Eric:  Nah, like 20 miles.

I added “blisters” under “pooing in hole” to my mental list of things to worry about.

On the morning of the hike, I took a moment to review the list out loud.

Me:   What if we run out of water? What if we get lost? Will there be bears?

Eric:  Nah. Just lemme know if the altitude gets to you.

Me:   Altitude?

Turns out it was a tall mountain. I got a headache. It rained. And somehow, just like Eric promised, I was fine.

Better than fine.



June 15, 2012




Car washes in LA are different.

They not only hawk air fresheners and windshield wiper fluid — but also magazines, greeting cards, espresso, snacks, even ice cream. They offer outdoor seating, where you can enjoy these delicacies under a sun umbrella (or, at one place in Culver City, from the comfort of a coin-operated massage lounger) while before you, an army of very recent immigrants bend over the hoods of BMWs, Audis and the occasional Honda, whipping them shiny with an endless series of clean rags.

I always try to tip well, and directly into the hands of the guys doing the work, ever since I read an LA Times article about how car washes compete with strawberry fields for Worst Office Environment in America. Most of the workers are illegal, and some owners take advantage by paying them even less than you’d think, and then confiscating tips to boot.

But if you’re on the right side of the curb, there are cool drinks, sunshine, nothing to do but sit — you might almost think you’re on vacation in a third-world resort, the kind of place where brown people in white uniforms keep everything picture-perfect for the visitors.



April 8, 2012

On Friday I went to the Stahl House with some coworkers.


This is the street-side facade. Basically, it looks like a very small Walmart.


But when we walked in the door, we all gasped. Honest to goodness, gasped. (Keep in mind these are a bunch of design professionals. Their usual reactions are more like, “It’s not visually cohesive,” and “Too much cyan.” You don’t often get a “Whoa!” out of them.)


Here’s the Julius Shulman shot that made the house famous. Roman Polanski must have been looking at this picture — or this view — when he said, “Los Angeles is the most beautiful city in the world. Provided it’s seen by night and from a distance.”


Paula, Jon, me.


The main living area.


The groovy open fireplace.


It makes you want to have a margarita.


Or not.


Sometimes Los Angeles just takes your breath away.



March 28, 2012


This morning I went for a walk in my neighborhood, taking pictures that I thought would illustrate “Los Angeles in Spring.”

But when I got home and examined the photos, I found something else entirely: an enchanted forest; a haughty fairy; a frog prince’s bachelor pad; the wing of an elegant green beast; a many-eyed, long-lashed monster; the buttocks of an ogre; a bouquet of stone flowers.



March 20, 2012

At my yoga place, you take off your shoes outdoors, by the door. This is usually a good system in Southern California. But on Saturday it was raining: cold feet, wet socks.

After class, I was putting on my rainboots when I noticed the man next to me. He was scruffy and bearded, wearing jeans and a snappy pea-coat, just like half the men in LA. Except he was missing several teeth. And exchanging his own soaked, ripped shoes for someone’s newer, dryer pair.

I went Nancy Drew on his ass: Marched back inside the studio, told an employee that a homeless guy was stealing Uggs, and fled down the stairs before he’d know who tattled.

When I came out of the grocery store ten minutes later, he was standing outside Starbucks, wearing his original wet shoes. (I checked.) It was drizzling; he was hunched forward as though his chest were an umbrella for his feet.

I passed him. Went another twenty paces. Stopped. Took out five bucks and walked back.* His skin was almost as bad as his teeth.

“Take this,” I said. He mumbled thanks.

But I don’t think either of us felt particularly generous, or thankful.



* Get out the money in advance: The same strategy I employ with valet parking guys. That way there’s no prolonged small talk, no fumbling with my wallet: What if I find I have no cash? Or, worse, only twenties?


November 9, 2011

When you move to Los Angeles, everyone who doesn’t live here wants to know why.

Why live someplace that’s all boob jobs and short shorts, bad traffic and worse smog? Where the people are either smarmy Hollywood types pretending to like each other, or else daffy hippies who reject chemotherapy in favor of colonics. And LA doesn’t make any intellectual or cultural contributions to the world, unless you count Call of Duty 3.

I wanted to refute these stereotypes, one by one. I wanted to explain how LA is so misunderstood.

Then Friday my work organized a field trip for the creative department. The idea was to soak up some high culture on a visit to the famous Eames House. So we all tromped out to the parking lot and climbed onto a giant… gold… party bus. Equipped with drink holders, flat screen TV, laser lights, disco floor, and stripper poles. Stripper poles! Right in the middle of the aisle, precious close to the seats.*

We did eventually make it to the Eames House. And it was cultural. But I have to say — and maybe this is the thing about LA — it’s the bus I can’t get out of my head.



* The seats were vinyl. The easier to hose off.


October 27, 2011

Ryan took me and Jane to a tasting at Denner Vineyards. Denner is on a quiet hilltop; that day, it was a hot, bright, quiet hilltop.

Jane marveled at the size of the wineglasses; like just about everything else, they’re bigger in America than in England.


After dinner, Ryan took us back to the building where they actually make the wine. Here he’s punching down the grapes. He explained why you do this, but all I can remember is that it’s a crucial step in the process. You have to do it three times a day, like walking a dog or feeding a child.


Ryan and me and wine-in-the-making.