Monthly Archives: May 2009

Homicide in LA update

Turns out it was a shooting just down the street from me…Jose Soto, 49, shot on May 19th, 2009. More information next week, maybe. Maybe not, it’s a bit hit or miss. 16 people dead last week, all of them shot.

You can see the statistical breakdowns here:

And you can see how many violent deaths have happened near you. Turns out it’s a lot near me, but I knew that. And you can think about life and death. White women don’t really seem to get shot very often, it’s certainly a luxury to be one statistically speaking.


Jellyfish and other wonders

Cnidarians. Schyphozoa. Hydromedusae. Science is full of these amazing Latin words that evoke the world’s riches, and the words are no more beautiful than the creatures they name.

You can watch them, well…I could watch them for hours. A graceful inhaling-exhaling dance through the water, a ripple of translucent flesh that catches the light as they pulse effortlessly through the world’s oceans. They are a wonder of gelatinous color and texture.

Though many of them are almost invisible in the ocean. They have no internal systems, breathing through the diffusion of oxygen through their skin, absorbing nutrients through the lining of their gastrovascular cavity. They do not have a nervous system but a nerve net.

The large groups of them found in the oceans are called blooms.

There are males and females, but they don’t really mate. That would have been another wonder to behold. Instead they release eggs and sperm (in a multitude of different ways), which combine and form tiny polyps. Attached to a surface, these polyps grow, and they reproduce asexually…releasing tiny jellies or medusas into the great watery world. It’s extraordinary. What happens to the polyps after this? Do they ever long for freedom?

Medusa of the water, I love that image…another kind of mermaid. One with snakes. One that flowers, stings, kills, eats its own. Moves through the oceans, sometimes with a will, sometimes without.

And some of them are fixed…the upside-down jellyfish:

They have traded their freedom for a symbiotic relationship with the things that live in their tentacles, generating nutrients…

I’ve had a nature documentary sort of weekend really, we went to the California Academy of Sciences, the amazing new(ish) museum in Golden Gate Park, we waited ages to get in but it was entirely worth it. They have nautili. And peacock shrimp. And sculpins and lumpfish. And giant sea bass and these sea horses with amazing leaves to camouflage them and an albino alligator and a lion fish and a COELOCANTH! Holy shite, the prehistoric fish that they thought had been extinct for millions of years before one popped up suddenly in the 30’s some time. Or was it the 20’s? Amazing either way. The Coelocanth is sitting in formaldehyde of course. And a lungfish, the fish that can breath in air and water, a key for how evolution could have happened and the emergence of life from water to land. And a giant salamandar. Several feet long, one of the more amazing things I’ve ever seen.

And then the Aquarium on the Bay, which I also loved…I’m going to learn to scuba dive. It’s decided. And there have been other adventures, but more soon.

Chortling Chinchillas and Jabberwocks

So I was having a conversation with a friend about the word chortle, I really love this word… I would like to chortle, I think I might from time to time, but generally speaking it always seemed to me something that plump people do, a deep belly chuckle that involves a lot of happy stomach jiggling. Or babies who are always round and, well, rather fat, and do a good bit of chortling when not drooling or crying. Being tall and thin, it seemed rather beyond my abilities…though I swear I never giggle.

I was happy to find that apart from people with large bellies, chortling is also a technical term used to describe some of the communication between chinchillas. Just look at this:

I don’t know the genius who is responsible for this sign, nor quite how to explain the presence of chinchillas at San Francisco’s aquarium on the bay, but was very happy about both.

Still, the word chortle seemed to require a bit more investigation. So investigate I did. And was astounded and amazed to find that the word was actually invented by Lewis Carroll in the immortal poem Jabberwocky (at least, that’s what wiktionary says).

Now I have been in love with this poem ever since I first read it at a very tender age, it is perhaps my favourite poem of all time, though my love for it is slightly different then my love for the poetry of Akhmatova, Neruda, Heaney, and even Poe. And it’s a bit…well no, I am immensely excited and happy and well nigh overjoyed in the amazement to find it was first coined there in 1871

‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ He chortled in his joy.

I never knew. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says it can also mean to sing or chant exultantly, but I think they’re utterly wrong, and obviously not as in tune with the great Carrollian mind as I am…how could they say such a thing after writing that the etymology of the word is “probably a blend of chuckle and snort?”

But I think this much discussion calls for the complete poem

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

And I am newly reminded about the importance of using frabjous much more regularly. Of whiffling and burbling and the sound of snicker-snack. I do often use galumph, having once had a cat who used that as his regular mode of transport. And I know this is an out and out nonsense poem that has since had reams of very learned sillyness written about it, but ’twas magical the world it created for me as a kid. And the doors it opened in language. And the frumious bandersnatch remains one of my favourite creatures ever…I’m still hoping to meet one, though not in a dark alley.

And it only adds to the happiness of chortling chinchillas.

Homicide in L.A.

I rode my bike to the gym last night, and passed the little park just two blocks away…my friend Jose helped plant the trees there. I had to stop for a minute, confronted by the spectacle of more cop cars than I have ever seen in one place (outside of the DNC when it was here). 10 or 11 of them, and crowds of neighbors clustered on the corners…I remember hearing the sirens earlier, because there had been so many. But I always hear sirens.

And then I rode on without finding out what was up, feeling a little guilty about the huge spike of curiosity that tragedy always seems to evoke when it is not tied to people I love. When I came back a few hours later there were only two black and whites, and a handful of others with the city crest on the doors. Homicide. Kidnapping. I wonder.

I looked it up in the Times today and found nothing…I shall have to go back I suppose, looking in the list of homicides for next week. I found that John Ortiz, 46, was beaten in the head with a planter and killed only a block and half away from me on May 2nd. While I was sleeping.

And there have been 13 homicides this week in L.A. County, all shootings but the hit and run, and the drug overdose that apparently was not suicide. Almost all young men of color. Almost all in the ghetto. Even when the young men of color leave the ghetto they still get shot, the big story of the week being the rapper Dolla getting shot in the parking garage of the Beverly Center.

There are a structural reasons of racism and inequality and hopelessness that help explain why we kill each other. Mixed in with drugs and alcohol, passion and anger, the flood of guns. Mixed in with frustration turned on the wrong people, and life and death struggles over things that should never be life and death. It makes me angry and sad in equal measure. And sometimes I even despair just a bit. Each of these violent deaths has rocked a family to its foundations, and filled the markets and liquor stores of their neighborhood with old coffee cans, complete with pictures of the victim (usually with their kids or family) and a plea for money to pay for the funeral…I have helped pass those around. It breaks your fucking heart.

I wish the LA Times would print those photos, as none of us is an island… But people from our neighborhoods tend to be treated so, just some more fucked up kids.  They’re online with something that looks like a mug shot. Their names appear in a long list of other murders that is almost impossible to comprehend. One murder is news, 13? In a week? Two a day? Too much to follow up on, though the reporter on the crime beat does try.

Homicides: May 11 to May 18

The Los Angeles County coroner has confirmed the following deaths as homicides. The Times will report more details later this week:

Roberta Romero, a 24-year-old Latina, on May 11. Romero was shot near the intersection of Glenpark Street and Bellevue Avenue in Pomona.

Michael Moore, a 20-year-old black man, on May 13.  Moore was shot in the 1100 block of south Chester Avenue in Inglewood.

Erika Balayan, a 27-year-old Latina, on May 13. Balayan was shot in the 8300 block of Van Nuys Boulevard in Panorama City.

Robert Rodwell, a 28-year-old black man, on May 13. Rodwell was shot in the 1400 block of 105th Street in Athens.

Courtney Adams, a 24-year-old black man, on May 13.  Adams was shot in the 6800 block of Atlantic Boulevard in Long Beach.

Victor Moreno, a 19-year-old Latino, on May 14.  Moreno was shot in the 1700 block of East Vernon Avenue in Central Alameda.

Jose Chavez, a 30-year-old Latino, on May 15.  Chavez was involved in a hit-and-run near the intersection of Huntington Street and Third Street in Pomona.

Ly Tran, a 45-year-old Asian man, on May 15.  Tran was shot in the 13100 block of Lakewood Boulevard in Downey.

Alejandro Perez-Robles, a 25-year-old Latino, on May 16.  Perez-Robles was shot in the 2900 block of Hyde Park Boulevard in Hyde Park.

Javier Gonzalez-Cordero, a 19-year-old Latino, on May 16. Gonzalez-Cordero was shot in the 2900 block of Hyde Park Boulevard in Hyde Park.

Oleida Robinson, a 40-year-old white female, on May 16. Robinson died of an apparent overdose in the 10600 block of Soledad Canyon Road in unincorporated Los Angeles County.

Danny Quijada, a 30-year-old Latino, on May 16.  Quijada was shot in the 6300 block of Milton Avenue in Whittier.

Marcus Smith, a 31-year-old black man, on May 17.  Smith was shot in the 800 block of Osage Avenue in Inglewood.

Masked luchadores can fly

Revenge was the goal, and the good guys had won, the bad guys had lost…we thought it was all over. When suddenly, for the second time of the night, a masked wrestler was thrown at us and another swan dived into us off the ropes. But that’s almost the end of the story.

It started at ten to nine this hazy Sunday morning, when Jose woke me up with a phone call, told me to get my chanclas on because we were going to the farmer’s market. I was still asleep (having had a heavy night of cider, Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen the night before), so I did.

The Hollywood farmer’s market is one of my favourite places, but today it passed in a kind of blur. I got some coffee from Angel, that helped, but I still apparently walked right past Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. Not that I’m exactly sure what he looks like, apart from being the one without the long hair. You know, that one. So we walked around, Bev and Jose bought vegetables while I smelled them and feasted on samples, and then we came home, and I went back to bed.

I got up again, did some work, played around for a bit, and then headed to the Cuban Music Festival in Echo Park…I love the Cuban Music Festival.

The music is superb of course, just what I love on a Sunday, as is the dancing. I also love the mix of people, and Cuban words rolling vowel-less and without their final syllables all around me. The old guys in their guayaberas and white linen pants, their straw hats, their clack of dominos. The sound of congas. Everyone smiling. The smell of platanos fritos and black beans and garlic chicken. Jose and I bought puros; we added to the fragrant smoke of cigars rising in benediction to the sky.

And then Ryan called, said there was lucha on in South East L.A., now. So we headed back to Jose’s to pick up Bev and the car and headed out. The ring is in a converted warehouse, with folding chairs set up around it three rows deep. There are industrial lights hanging above the ring, and chandeliers around the outside, the paint is peeling and there are mirrors along two walls. Tecate and nachos and tortas are all $2, the place is full of families, generations mixed up and getting rowdy. Here is one of the first luchadores, Pinky, howling a war cry amidst the crowd. And yes, his shirt does say that tough guys wear pink.

So lucha libre…it is pure show. Every match is between los tecnicos (good guys) and los rudos (bad guys), one against one, two against two…and tonight? We even had three against three. Not everyone wears a mask, but IF you wear a mask, it is the greatest humiliation possible to have it taken off, and you must try to preserve your anonymity. That happened twice tonight. The other great humiliation is to have your hair cut off, saw that happen in TJ. There is sometimes one ref, sometimes two. The ref is sometimes neutral, sometimes corrupt. And almost everyone in the audience is for the good guys, though of course, they don’t always win. Here’s one of the signs made by the kids in front of me on the back of the program

1,000,000 % TECHNICOS!!! 0% rudos. Yeah!!!! 00000% rudos, really!

You can’t get better than that sign. And you can see the devastation under the chairs from the first time we had to clear out when the wrestlers came flying over the ropes.

Tonight there were no midgets, but there was the out and out gay wrestler who kissed his opponents and bewildered them with his charisma. Sadly, said charisma in the form of grinding, kissing and playful spanks was carried out at speed and therefore impossible to capture in the terrible lighting, but I did try…

The costumes were phenomenal…

This one was Cali something (I actually and irresponsibly didn’t grab a program…I grabbed tecate instead, which would explain it), pure shiny vinyl, and the state of California in gold with a pair of sunglasses. Behind him is Mecanico, he came out in the full mechanic’s jumpsuit which you can see there hanging, and an improbably large wrench, which did come into play during the match.

And a more traditional costume, but snakeskin is always a hit with me (the pose is almost always the same…)

But the winner for the evening, both in costume and loony toons inspired theme song:

White Pork. I couldn’t make this up, reality often shames the power of my imagination. And of course, apart from the wrestling and show and political and social statements of it all, it’s kids like White Pork’s number one fan that make the evening so amazing, which is why I enjoyed this evening far more than I did Lucha Va Voom at the Mayan.

And then the revenge match was on, three on three. The audience was outraged by los rudos and there was a lot of back and forth. This is a very participatory sport and I have a lot more to say about that but it’s getting late, but it’s always nice to be able to shake your fists and scream anything you like at the bad guys without any consequences.

And the match was crazy and the ref was corrupt and it all looked grim, and then there was a bit of a fight off to our right and then there was an EARTHQUAKE! For a split second I thought the really tremendously fat luchador had done something crazy behind our backs, but I quickly realized (my splendid intellect hard at work) that no one could make a concrete floor jolt like that. Everyone around confirmed that of course, but the fight continued…

And finally against all odds the good guys had won, the bad guys had lost…we thought it was all over. When suddenly, for the second time of the night, a masked wrestler was thrown at us and another swan dived into us off the ropes.

You can see Jose scrambling to get out of the way. Those chairs were recently occupied by Ryan, Erica, Bev, and myself. All very exciting. And the good guys won the match, and the post match as well, but there was a lot of shit talking at the end…the rudos told everyone in the audience that they were too poor to come back next Sunday, everyone insulted everyone else’s family but specifically one guy’s recently deceased father…well. It was a cliff hanger.

So we left, and nachos not having been quite enough for dinner, we stopped at the taco truck…

And now I’m home writing this blog, it’s hitting 1 am and next door they have been drinking since I got home, aye-ayeing and listening to ranchera, and now they are very likely about to fight. Some beer bottles just went flying. We’ll see, hopefully they’ll all just go sleep it off. Which is what I am going to do.

The politics of my street

I walked down my street today, past the thick smoke of Bernie’s, fragrant with teriyaki chicken, past the house slowly collapsing on itself (its porch the latest casualty of neglect, and boasting a new chain link fence compliments of the city, a stopgap measure to deal with a 10 foot retaining wall straining to comply with gravity). The owner of the Korean store was outside, smoking on the corner.

Diamond Street has tagged up many of the walls, con safos, I live within territorial boundaries and contested terrain. Physically I am here, they are here, but our worlds don’t overlap except in the pounding of their subwoofers at random times of day and night. Their peeling out of tires. You take these things for granted. But today I wondered at these small wars, fought entirely by youth of a certain age. For corners. For drug sales. For machismo. For friendship and family. And it builds fear in everyone, but if you are not young and from the hood, it is simply of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I live in the zone, yet it has nothing to do with me unless I make it my business. Modern warfare, an attempt to hustle money and respect from these streets. To be big here and fuck everywhere else. Everywhere else doesn’t exist, it is nothing more than an ill-defined fog of a world that hates, rejects, exploits, locks up.

I think about the shooting that just happened on my street, violence seems impossible on a day like today. The birds are singing for fuck’s sake. And the flowers fill well kept gardens with gorgeous color, in front of well-loved houses full of kids. And here are generations defined by race and geography who simultaneously believe that they are invincible, and that they will be dead by 25. They make me angry for the absence of critical thought, but nothing compares to the rage against the system.

I sat at the bus stop and watched one of them (pelon, huge white T-shirt, baggy jean shorts, white tube socks pulled up to his knees) crossing and re-crossing Temple just below the ridge of the hill on an electric scooter. High. Or just feeling the need to defy death. Or waiting for someone and bored. I don’t know. Families walked past me, pushing strollers. A father and his beautiful daughter eating cheetos, flaming hot for him, regular for her. Some old pilipinos were playing tennis across the street. The sun shone through the marine layer, I wondered what the haze was until I suddenly remembered that LA is actually on the ocean. It is so easy to forget, because without a car? You almost can’t get there from here, it is a trip of hours. The paletero walked past ringing his bells and I wanted an ice cream, but then the bus came.

This is my world. I love it and hate it, some days it is enough. Some days though, some days this is just the reflection. Some days hadas laugh around the edges of my vision, and the world of my imagination takes the fore. My street takes on a spanglish personality and rhythm in her fall down the hill; the collapsing house hides an interior full of strange creeping life eating dust and tendriling up walls with lazy sentience. Some days history walks, ghosts whisper from the shadows and lurk in old doorways or peer from dirty windows. Some days words turn upon themselves and writhe and wriggle into new configurations, channeling  along the lines of the cracked walls in spraypaint and reflected heat. But always con safos. Some days the dogs forget to bark at me, and I wonder why. Some days I think thoughts I have never thought before and I see things I have never imagined. The street is my inspiration.

And the world of my imagination is part of my neighborhood, part of its richness.  I ride the bus away into other L.A. places farther removed from this street than my imagination could ever be. And they are removed on purpose. By plan. They are walled and made safe by cops, not terrorized by them. My imagination could never come up with that. The way we treat each other. Some days just going from street to street is a struggle.

Nobody Rocks Press and the future of books

Well! It has been a while since I’ve blogged, I think the Michael Jackson post was just a bit too hard to follow. And it has been a long couple of weeks full of events and book festivals and far too much alcohol and a bike accident that left me battered and scraped and bruised…

So I wanted to introduce Nobody Rocks Press, a great independent press just starting up like my own. Unlike PM Press, however, they have fully embraced the new digital reality of the 21st Century and have eschewed all physicality for the world of the download. So grab your new and improved kindles and get ready for a crazy ride. We’re all watching with breath held…

‘Twas a warm Wednesday evening at Stories bookstore in Echo Park (it’s new and one of my favourite little independents, they’ve got great selection, great coffee, and great patio seating, who could ask for more?).  We milled, mingled, I tried half-heartedly to figure out who exactly Greg Aden was, a friend of a friend and the reason I was there. When after some warm up acts, Jason Flores-Williams, author of the cult-classic The Last Stand of Mr. America, set the crowd on fire. Raw and powerful…and shocking. I can think of nothing more likely to jolt you, eyes blinking and extremities tingling, entirely out of the ruts of your everyday life and into the greater world of experiences you could never ever imagine. Explicit as all hell, and I think my eyebrows must have hit my hairline. They have almost returned to their original place…I didn’t get any photos the night of the event, but here’s one of the man himself at the march on May day.

The San Francisco Examiner calls him “a literary force of nature…A train wreck of genius.” I’ll let you know if I agree when I read it, or you can tell me. I will say in all honesty it was a reading like none other. The only other person who could possibly match the content is my friend Larry Fondation (yet another amazing writer), but I must admit, I haven’t seen him read those particular pieces in a crowded room.

And of course, we finished the night off in alcohol fueled style at the Gold Room. It was rather joyous.

And it will be interesting to see if it works…I am torn by the question of the new electronic media. It means that books are immediately available at the touch of a button to anyone with the technology to read them. It makes books a great deal less expensive, though the kindle and sony player are still costly enough to keep them out of the hands of the masses (for now). It makes books  searchable, you can pull directly from the text for quotes and notes, you can store loads of them on your computer and carry all of them with you wherever you go.

And yet…and yet I find such a pleasure in books themselves. It’s a very sensual pleasure to open a book for the first time (and the hundredth), or to look at a row of them sitting on your shelf. The books you know and love shoulder to shoulder with the new and the unexplored. Troves waiting to be mined. Knowledge still hidden but on the brink of revelation. Words of power and beauty. Imaginings that will throw your mind wide open. Illustrations of grace, and the art and colors rampant over the covers.  I know I’m a big book nerd, but that shit gives me chills. And what would those classic crime novels have been without those amazing lurid covers? I wonder.

I imagine the future will be a hybrid of the two desires, the usefulness and easy access of one. The physical joy of the second. For myself, nothing beats a book for reading in the bath, or lying curled up under covers, or kicking it on the beach (Sand, water, sleepiness and electronics are always a bad combination). And I love marking up those tomes of theory and philosophy with a pen and writing the ideas sparked in the margins. Books are for passing on as well, often I finish a book and immediately know which of my friends would absolutely love it. What greater pleasure then to share something like that? And I will always love the smell of ink when you get a box of books fresh from the printer. The anticipation and weight and feel of them in my hands. Staring at them on my shelf and the brief joyous reliving of other worlds that comes with it.

But I will be getting a digital reader one day, once the damn price has come down. And I am rather excited about that. And I suppose it’s good for the trees, and the landfills full of remainders that no one could be convinced to buy. Of course that might be cancelled out by the oil and metal required to create any technology, and the business practices of all corporate bastards, it’s a complicated world we live in. But I think having access to ideas and information in many different forms can only be a good thing. And I’m a bit jealous of the incredibly low overhead, though truth is it’s uncertain exactly whether this new technology will lead to decent wages for writers and publishers, and how. Of course, the publishing industry as it exists is crumbling anyway, we’re only a few years behind the music industry.  So cheers to some of the leaders in the field, may they flourish and open up new visions for what is possible…