Thursday, January 28, 2010

Heidelberg Canyon and a birthday

The other day I was on top of the hill looking down and saw something I hadn't seen before, reflecting off the sky and clouds...

I hiked into the canyon down a steep path that had been dug by a mysterious stranger. Nobody knows who's been digging these hiking trails but it's not the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the land preservation group that purchased this California black walnut grove in 2003.

To my surprise, someone had built a little way station for hikers. It's perched on a wooden platform and looks out onto a grove of black walnuts, where you can spot red-tailed hawks circling overhead.

Is it the same mysterious stranger who's been digging these trails traversing the canyon—not to be confused with the coyote trails—that picked this spot for a respite? Most likely it is.

 coyote trail

When my dogs Ghostie and Reyna died almost four years ago, I had this sensation that wherever I walked they were right there, walking beside me. I no longer have that feeling, but I still think of my dogs. We used to explore this canyon regularly. I wish they were with me now so I could take advantage of this little way station. I'd sit and read while my dogs, in the manner they were accustomed, grazed the hillside like goats. And my books? A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present, and Franny and Zooey. RIP, Mr. Zinn and Mr. Salinger.

Postscript: Today is my daughter's birthday and she's going to kill me but this is one of my favorite pictures of her as a child. Why? Because what she was here at two is exactly what she is today: tall, strong, determined (to get her bottle), brilliant, and an attitude that says, "Get out of my way world, here I come." That's my daughter and I love her madly. Happy Birthday Maya!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tiger Mouth

Yi and Xin'an

The other evening Xin'an spilled into the classroom talking a mile a minute, all smiles, but totally incomprehensible. Finally he managed to tell us he'd been robbed earlier that day. Two large men had surrounded him in broad daylight outside the Bank of America in Chinatown. At gunpoint, they pulled him close and took everything he had (the hundred dollars he'd just withdrawn, his i.d. cards, and backpack with his cellphone and English grammar homework).

When Yi heard what had happened, he jumped to his feet, firing up some karate chops, kicks and punches. Yi is a master of Tae Kwon Moo (a form of Korean Martial Arts). Yi and Xin'an sit next to each other in class and, although a bit like the blind leading the blind, they're always helping each other with grammar. They amuse each other, but Yi didn't seem amused now; he was concerned about Xin'an's ability to defend himself. I asked Yi if he wouldn't mind demonstrating a few practical moves to the class, so, last Thurs., English grammar flew out the window.

Yi showed us the "tiger mouth," a move designed to kill instantly, by positioning the thumb and forefinger just so, to poke a hole in your opponent's windpipe. Yi taught other moves as well: the poking out the eyeballs move; the knee in the balls move; the elbow breaking backwards move. After 45 minutes, I'm not sure any of us could replicate what he'd shown us, but the whole class participated with enthusiasm.

The sad truth is that as a white American, I'm safer than my students. I asked the class: how many had been mugged in LA? A number of students raised their hands. For these immigrants, seeking refuge from hard lives, they're moving, vulnerable targets. I'm beginning to think that the best thing I could teach them is to keep their eyes wide open at all times.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Raging River

LA River at Fletcher

My husband Tom took this picture at the height of the storm on Wed (1/20).  I find it alive and exciting; also a damn good photo, made seamlessly from four different photos. For those of you unfamiliar with the LA River, the current is usually a meek mouse of a tributary, not this raging lion. The islands that sometimes serve as campgrounds for LA's homeless are completely under water, and the ducks and herons have flown to safety (but where I wonder?). You can find more of Tom's photos at his flickr account:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Mother's Coat

Maya posing in my mother's coat

My mother died in 2005, and every time I go on a walk around the hill, every time I talk to my daughter in a certain way, I think about my mom. She was the sweetest, most conciliatory person I've ever known. Why am I not more like her? Why did I have to take after my father?... but that's another story.

Yesterday, I found myself working madly on a story/video about my mother's coat. Later, my brother left me a message reminding me of the anniversary of our mother's death, (1/19), which I'd completely forgotten about. After work, I rushed home to light a yahrzeit candle and to finish her story.

When my mother died she left behind a number of her coats. Most were given to Goodwill, but one remained and it's been hanging in my closet, giving me trouble, ever since. If you, dear reader, have any idea what I can do with it, please leave your suggestion. Otherwise, keep in mind, this is no ordinary coat—it has a story. Here it is:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Perceived Danger

On her way back to LA, my daughter had a full body scan in the Tulsa Airport, with airport personnel in full view glaring at the screen (so much for the TSA being out of sight). I didn't think much of it at the time, but slowly it began to dawn on me: here we go again, post 9/11: we're scared to death.

Fear seems to be pervading everything.

These posters, announcing a proposed MTA tunnel through Mt. Washington, Highland Park and Glassell Park to complete the 710 freeway, are up everywhere. The project is impractical, costly and would never be built, but people in my Northeast neighborhood are proclaiming an immediate threat.

A few years ago, during the Bush years, the FBI showed up at my neighbors' home at 6 a.m., pulling them outside (in their pajamas) while a half dozen agents tore the house apart and confiscated their computers. My neighbors, J and C, wanted to know what they'd done, but the FBI refused to tell them. Afterward, during questioning—lasting five hours—they were told J's friend (X) had been accused of wrong doing, although they wouldn't say what. But X was a Kurd, like J, and like a good Kurd, J had welcomed X into his home as part of a long line of Kurds in LA who support one another. Because of their association, J had been implicated as well. During the interrogation, J repeatedly told the agents that Kurds weren't Arabs, a fact they had trouble keeping straight.

A few days later I got a call. It was from the FBI. They'd been tapping my neighbors' phone and found my number. They began by letting me know, not too subtly, they knew everything about me, including the activities of my daughter. They wanted information. Well, they came to the wrong stool pigeon. I reprimanded the agent (a woman) as though she were a naughty child, telling her I had only contempt for how they'd treated my neighbors—upstanding citizens. But here we are, almost a decade after 9/11, and the FBI and TSA are watching us again. This is what I'd tell them if given another chance: listen to Israeli Intelligence— focus on the "list" if you must (except for poor Mikey Hicks), use sniffing dogs and heat sensors (cheaper and more effective than the $190,000 body scanners), have interviews with shady characters, but leave my neighbors and my 18-yr-old daughter alone.

Stand With Haiti

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rick Prince: Banjo Man

This is Rick Prince, a bluegrass banjo pickin' fool from the fertile delta of Chicago. I first saw Rick in front of the Eagle Rock Fresh and Easy Market about a month ago playing a mean banjo, but when I went back the next day he was nowhere to be found. When I saw him again a few days ago, I practically ambushed the poor guy, asking him if he wouldn't mind if I recorded him. He said sure; he'd been trying to get on YouTube to promote his playing among the bluegrass banjo crowd here in CA (who knew?). So, here you go, Mr. Prince, as you wish: in the first video (v3) Rick plays "With Love From Someone," and the second (v4), "Pick Away."

Rick Prince can be found most weekday afternoons at the Fresh and Easy Market at Eagle Rock Blvd. and El Paso, or contact him at:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


It's a new year and, although unscientific, I've been combing my neighborhood searching for auspicious signs for a favorable year ahead. According to this definition I should be looking for birds:

1596 (implied in auspiciously), "of good omen," from L. auspicium "divination by observing the flight of birds," from auspex (gen. auspicis) "augur," lit. "one who takes signs from the flight of birds, "from *awi-spek- "observer of birds," from *awi- "bird" + *spek- "to see." connection between birds and omens also is in Gk. oionos "bird of prey, bird of omen, omen," and ornis "bird," which also could mean "omen...." 

Inspired by the eight auspicious signs of Buddhism—1) a conch shell, 2) a lotus, 3) a wheel 4) a parasol, 5) an endless knot, 6) a pair of golden fishes (shouldn't that be birds?), 7) a banner proclaiming victory, 8) a treasure vase— I have compiled eight auspicious signs that have to do with flight— birds and otherwise—for the new year. (Please keep in mind the futility of capturing small flying objects with a point and shoot camera):

1) Tiny migrating yellow birds in the backyard lemon tree

2) A gaggle of birds, both large and small, in the front yard birdbath

3) Dozens of bees rattling the agave plants (auspiciously good, since bees foretell favorable environmental conditions, i.e., more bees, less pollution):    

 A bee doing the moon walk

4) Two crows cackling overhead, sounding like ping pong balls bouncing off the canyon walls

 5) Tom flies to OK on Monday, zipping through security in 19 minutes. By coincidence it's 19 degrees in Tulsa when he arrives. Here's the extended forecast for Maya's arrival on Friday (brrrrr):

36/ 11°F


17/ 5°F
Partly Cloudy


16/ 3°F
Partly Cloudy


24/ 11°F


40/ 25°F
Partly Cloudy

6) Mekko packing for the DR (Dominican Republic) on Monday, not waiting until the last minute (only the last hour):

This picture of Mekko in his marigold bedroom reminds me of my favorite picture of my mother (l.) when she was young. Notice how they both face the camera with an easy grace. I took the other photo (r.) when I was an art student in Philadelphia many moons ago. My mother posed without complaint.

7) As for auspiciousness, I'm not sure this counts...well, let me stop here for a minute.
Ever since an ex-girlfriend of my brother's questioned me, I've been somewhat confused as to how some people (especially above mentioned ex-girlfriend) interpret the word "auspicious." We think of it as a favorable sign, a good omen, the stars aligned to bring good luck; but in certain circumstances, one might construe it to mean something else, something sinister, a foreboding sign. I imagine this happens when the "sign" in question is connected to an unwelcome memory/event, and thus, the good omen is taken for something bad. For instance, here at the Rat's Nest we're all relatively healthy and we hope to stay that way throughout the new year, but we know so many people who are not, which burdens us. I'm thinking now of my neighbor who was whisked away by ambulance on Monday.

But she's home today and feeling much better after needed medical intervention, so... was the ambulance parked in front of her house an auspicious sign, or something we don't want to think about in 2010?

8) And last but not least...
the best omen for the new year had nothing to do with flight, but with repetition, the second full moon of December, appearing at the height of the winter solstice. And even though Charles F. is still searching for the true meaning of 'blue moon,' I consider this an auspicious sign indeed.

2009 Blue Moon