Monday, December 29, 2008

Don't Text While Driving

This message has sprouted over the last week on our wonderful information displays on the Southern California freeways. If this works as well as the "no holding a cell phone and driving" law, the amount of texting-while-driving should go down 10 or 20%.

Thank God we have a law against texting-while-driving. Now we need a law to ban biting your toenails while you drive, and trimming your eyebrows while you drive, and reading books while you drive (I suspect there's no law against this....) How about taking photos while you drive?

I was a bit concerned about these signs however. Usually at this time of year, they say "Don't Drink and Drive". Just think of all the people who will die because they didn't see a sign that reminded them not to drink and drive. But I guess the texting thing is pretty important.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Memories with no one to remember them

This photograph was taken in 1925 or 1926. The girl on the left is my grandmother, Adeline Hellwig Kreiner.

Adeline died just over a year ago, and as my family was gathered for Christmas we were sorting through a cache of her photos. I thought I'd seen them all before, but this one, which initially was in the pile "nobody we know", jumped out at me. When I suggested the girl was Adeline, everyone agreed right away. That flirty, mischievous smile stayed with her to the end.

We threw out a big stack of old photos - friends of my grandmother, proud school photos of children and grandchildren of her friends... photos that might be memories for someone but not for us. My son A. did grab a selection of photos that he liked.

I wonder about that day on the beach. I imagine it was summer in Cleveland, Ohio or at least somewhere along Lake Erie because I don't think my Grandmother went anywhere further than a trolley ride from her home when she was growing up. It looks like a fun, happy moment - but there's no way to know, because there's no one to ask. It's a memory that is now gone.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

We Used to Send Out Christmas Cards

A song, written and recorded on Christmas Day 2008. Thank you to all my many wonderful friends. I don't think I could have made it through this year without you. I hope you find joy in this season.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Browsing for Records With my Son

I spent many many hours in my youth browsing through record stores. Big stores like Tower in Hollywood, small ones like Field of Zaad in Venice, looking for new records, imports, cut-outs, boot-legs. The rhythm of flipping through the records, pulling one out, showing it to your buddy, shoving it back in... out of one store, on the road to another... the enjoyable or awful music blaring over the store P.A.... friendly and helpful or snotty and obnoxious clerks in the stores... it's a memory of a time that has certainly passed. Tower is gone, Rhino Records is gone, nearly every decent "record store" is gone.

Fortunately there are a couple of decent ones left in LA, and oddly enough my 17-year-old son A. actually likes to spend time in them. We started out this afternoon at Rockaway Records in Silver Lake, where he picked up an Electric Light Orchestra album and one by XTC. "If I'm going to get music, I'm either going to buy it on vinyl or pirate it," says A.

Later we ended up at Amoeba Records in Hollywood where he picked up another ELO album. He'll add it to his small album collection that includes a couple of Zappa albums. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the Voxtrot EP he wanted. As we were digging through the records, he commented that "if it wasn't for the Internet, this would be REALLY fun..." We managed to have a good time anyway.

A. was never really that interested in baseball, or hiking, or many of the other things I did with my Dad and I had imagined sharing with him. I certainly never imagined watching my son buy an ELO EP. You don't know where the connection is going to come, you just have to be ready to let it happen when it does.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When I was a boy in Mar Vista, my parents used to take my sister and me out one evening in December to see Christmas lights. We used to go up to Grand View Blvd, which at the time had a line of houses with impressive displays.

"We ought to go where the rich people live," I remember suggesting to my Dad. "They would have the best lights."

"Naw," he replied. "They didn't get rich by wasting their money of Christmas lights."

Generally he's right, but the Balian Mansion in Altadena is an exception. The Balian family made their money selling little cups of ice cream to LA City Schools. I think they were a nickel, and came with a wooden spoon.

I don't know how the neighbors can stand it. I wonder if the real estate agents have to disclose this when someone buys a house on the same block. And I don't know what the appeal is - but I enjoyed taking my daughter there nonetheless.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Riders on the Storm

A long slow slog through Monday traffic in rainy L.A., and then just as I was getting to my destination, the crash of distant thunder and the sound of rain drops coming from the radio, then Ray Manzarek's haunting piano line, and Jim Morrison singing "Riders on the Storm"... a perfect morning.

(photo by Lee Kelso, some rights reserved)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Welcome to the Hotel California (not)

For the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of spending a couple of days a week at California State University, Channel Islands. Despite the name, the campus is not on an island - it's in Camarillo. The campus is nestled against the hills at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains, surrounded by an alluvial plane that stretches to the ocean just a few miles away.

The campus opened about 10 years ago on the site of what was the Camarillo State Hospital, the main hospital for the mentally ill in Southern California. Before I visited the campus the first time, I had imagined a cold, industrial, prison-like setting, but instead it's a beautiful example of California Mission Architecture. Given our embarrassing history of mistreating the mentally ill, I'm sure it wasn't such a great place in its heyday, but it feels like a peaceful resort, a place to get well.

View Larger Map

The history of Camarillo State Hospital is rich - many of the people on campus and in the community have friends and relatives who worked there in its previous incarnation, and there are many stories about the early days of the campus when it was common to find former residents who had returned looking for sanctuary. Of course, there are lots of ghost stories. I'm only there during the day but people get spooked at night.

The most persistent rumor is that the hospital was the original "Hotel California", the place where "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave". This has been denied many times by members of the Eagles, but the myth persists, and people say they know someone who knows someone who's seen the secret register of celebrity patients, and they are certain Don Henley stayed there despite any evidence to the contrary. (But jazzman Charlie Parker did spend time there, and wrote a piece "Relaxin' in Camarillo".)

Whatever the history, it's a beautiful campus, and the people I meet there mostly seem happy to be there. It's a nice place to spend some time, and a wonderful place for a student who wants a somewhat bucolic campus to think and learn and grow.

Why is it called CSU Channel Islands if it's not on an island? That's a story for another time.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


While standing in the 7-11, waiting for my daughter A. to find a tube of blue candy that she needed for a gingerbread house, I was startled by this display of "energy supplements". It seems to me that not that long ago there was just NoDoz and Jolt Cola. There must be a lot of people who feel crappy and think that the right magic mix will make them feel better. I'd rather take a nap.

Monday, December 1, 2008

This is the funniest thing I've read in a long time...

"I hate cave crickets" by Dan Greenspan. (Not recommended to be read while eating...}

On Modding a 70-year-old Bed

My daughter A. owns a beautiful handcrafted bed made from black walnut in the 1930's by her grandmother when she was in high school. As such things happen, it suddenly became an urgent project to replace her perfectly functional twin bed with the old walnut full-size bed.

We needed an inexpensive way to get a mattress that would fit, and she liked the $149 dollar foam mattress at Ikea coupled with the curved birch bed slats. So we got it home, set up the bed, and... the 53" slats were too small for the 54" bed, they barely made it to the edges of the wooden rails and would easily slide through. So we needed to come up with a way to make it work...

When you're dealing with a bed that was lovingly crafted from black walnut, you don't want to muck it up. I'm happy that we found some nice 1"X2.5" red oak strips at Home Depot, screwed them in with way more screws than it probably needed, gently nailed a half-inch pine spacer on each side, and put it back together in less than an hour. My new cordless electric screwdriver worked great! A. is very happy with the result and I'm not embarrassed by my work, which stands up adequately with the integrity of the original piece of furniture.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Going shopping? Take the Ferrari.

I can't really imagine ever owning a Ferrari, but I've fantasized about driving one. However my driving fantasies don't include driving to the Ralph's on Foothill. I suppose if you own a Ferrari you can take it wherever you want, but I think I'd probably use the Porsche Cayenne for shopping... or maybe the Land Rover, just in case there was a flash flood and I needed to ford an arroyo...

I love going to the movies

Last night my family and I went to The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood to see West Side Story. It was projected from a beautiful new 70mm print on a huge screen in one of the last of the great movie palaces. The music sounded amazing, the design and cinematography and lighting and editing are phenomenal - and the print was so good that you could pick out spots where the focus wasn't quite right or the lighting was a bit off. I love the dancing in this movie, and I love Natalie Wood.

My son the critic pointed out that some of the acting was rather wooden, and he's right. The movie doesn't really have the emotional impact that it ought to, because it just doesn't seem believable, at least watching it today. And there's a few changed lyrics that really gall me, that apparently were nods to the censors in 1961. I grew up with the LP of the stage play, and for me, that's the gold standard, but the movie is a wonderful experience. Seeing it in a big theatre full of fans, listening to their reactions, watching the dancers looming 30 feet high, there's nothing like it.

It's popular to dis movies - too expensive, audiences are rude, movies are lousy - all true, if you go to the local cineplex on a Friday night and watch most of the junk coming out of Hollywood today. Relatively recently I got a DVR and a high-def TV and for most movies that's a perfectly adequate way to watch them if they are worth watching at all. But I love the epic movie on the big screen - and I love the really good "small" movie, in the dark with others.

And I usually love the crowds in Hollywood and Burbank and Glendale. You're often sitting with members of the Hollywood working class, the gaffers and the transportation captains and the animators and the studio musicians and the special effects programmers, who sit 3 or 4 minutes into the credits so they can applaud their buddies. If the movie is good, or even decent, they sit in rapt attention. With the right movie and the right conditions, there's still something magic there.

I can't wait to see Australia. In a theater.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Where I live

If you met me and asked me where I live, I probably wouldn't tell you that I live in Verdugo City.

If someone from, say, Barcelona, or Baton Rouge, or Cleveland asks me where I live, I'll probably say Los Angeles. And indeed, I live in Los Angeles County, and just about 14 miles from the center of the City of Los Angeles - there are lots of people who live in the Los Angeles city limits who are farther from the center than that.

If you live around L.A., I might say I'm from Glendale, which is my mailing address and the city that I live in. Glendale is one of the larger cities in L.A. County, and most people around here have a vague idea where it is, although most have never had a reason to come here so they are not really sure. "Is Glendale in the valley?" they ask? Well, it sort of it... it lies right between the San Gabriel Valley and the San Fernando Valley and just above Dodger Stadium.

But the part of Glendale that I live in is about 5 miles from the part of Glendale that people know if they know Glendale. So for people who know the area, I tell them I'm just west of Montrose. Montrose is known mostly for its old-fashioned shopping district, with a few sort-of-trendy restaurants that draw people from the surrounding area.

The neighborhood I live in is just a block from the crossroads of Honolulu Ave and La Crescenta Ave, and back in the 1930's some optimistic real estate developer (is there any other kind?) decided that this land should bear the name Verdugo City. We're at the base of the Verdugo Mountains, on the old Verdugo Spanish land grant. But there never was a city here, just the quiet, pleasant, and semi-rural suburb in which I live. Nonetheless, the California Department of Transportation recognizes Verdugo City, and there's a post office and a zip code (but no houses bearing that zip code, just post office boxes).

I would say that you can't find Verdugo City on a map, but of course if you type it into Google Maps it will point you right at the intersection of Honolulu and La Crescenta.

So I live in Verdugo City and I figure I'll be here for a while. It's a good place to live.