Archive for the ‘Los Angeles’ 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.



July 27, 2012

I’m taking the train across the country, starting from here.


Union Station is exuberant and fantastical, like a lot of architecture in Los Angeles. And like so much else here, I think it’s under-appreciated. At least, I’d never stopped by to soak it up before.


You can still wait on the original seats.


Why did we stop making tile and metalwork like this? Sometimes I worry that beauty has gone out of style.


When I get back to Los Angeles, I want to go to this bar and order an Old Fashioned.



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.



June 3, 2012

It was a really good first date. Comfortable, but not boring. The kind where you feel like somehow, you already know each other. Like you’re the same age, maybe not in years, but cosmically speaking.*

It was the kind of first date that’s followed by a second date. Within the same week.

We went to a place that specializes in LA’s latest culinary trend: “bar food for dinner.” Everything on the menu is either fried or pickled, full of fat and salt — designed to make you reach for another sip of your handcrafted cocktail. We had fun.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for the end of the evening, when we were standing by his car, in that sweet, awkward, pre-first-kiss silence.

Me:    (inside my head) Now? Is it going to happen now?

Him:  There’s something I’ve been thinking I should tell you.

Uh. Oh.

Me:    Yes. You should tell me.

Him:  I’m actually… with someone. I can’t remember if I’d mentioned…?

Me:   No. You definitely didn’t mention it.

Him:  I mean, I think it’s ending.

Me:    Uh-huh.

So, it was a date. The kind that makes you remember you don’t know anything after one or two dates.



* And I think we can all agree that a date which leaves you musing about the cosmos is either really good… or really, really not.


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.



November 19, 2011

LA had its heyday when America did. You can see it in the Eisenhower-era freeways, the bungalow-style apartments, the uselessly glamorous office buildings.

I love this about LA: Feeling connected to the days when cars were good and Russians were bad. When movies had newsreels, television aired live, and newspapers were actually made out of paper: My neighborhood still has newspaper boxes on most corners.

The first time I moved to LA, years ago, my father told me the LA Times was decent. Not the New York Times. But better than most local papers these days. My dad was a professional news junkie. In the morning, while he was getting ready for work, he’d tune his shortwave radio to the BBC and carry it around the house. He read three newspapers a day, not all of them in English.

So when I see the newspaper boxes, I think of him. I can hear him putting the quarter in the slot. I can almost smell it. He’d take a paper, put it under his arm, come back to my apartment — which would surely be familiar to him: the 50s kitchen, the wooden floors, the picture window.

Surely, he would recognize it.


November 13, 2011

My new apartment is in Santa Monica. The neighborhood is also new to me. It’s bounded on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by the Brentwood Country Club. I can walk to three different Whole Foods Markets. In other words: ridiculously posh.

I’m not sure how I feel about it. I mean, in London I lived in the yuppiest loft imaginable, but it overlooked the ghetto, which took some of the guilt out of it. Before that I lived in Venice, one of the few LA neighborhoods that’s really mixed: my gated townhouse was a few doors down from a building where entire families of non-white people lived.

Looking around my new local Starbucks, the most color I see is a couple of brunettes. This neighborhood is very quiet. It’s nice. Like most heavily Caucasian areas, it suffers a from chronic deficit of cool. (Cupcake stores and Pilates studios may be trendy, but that’s not the same thing.)

Again: I’m not sure how I feel about it. When night falls, I get into bed and there are no helicopters circling, no drunks arguing, no car alarms. It’s very quiet. It’s nice.


November 12, 2011

My friend Steve emailed me to say, “Really? Your office hired a bus with stripper poles to take you to a work outing?”

Steve is from Chicago, where apparently such a thing would not happen. That was kind of my point.

For those of you who have never been inside a real LA party bus, and are quietly curious about it, I am providing these photos.


The first thing that strikes you is all the crazy lights: along the ceiling, under the floor, inside the stripper poles. The colors shift continually, from red to blue to green. There is also a mini laser light show that casts sharp slashes across people’s faces. The total effect is mesmerizing. And, when you’re careening up the ramp onto the 405, somewhat nauseating.


Maybe my favorite feature was the Saturday Night Fever floor. I’d assumed those floors died when disco died. Turns out, they’re alive and more or less well, just like John Travolta.