Monthly Archives: March 2012

slices of death valley

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city council meeting

The  Sierra Madre city council meeting got going around 5:30 . I think . I went over about 8:30 to meet Ada . We wanted to find out what the final decisions about the library are .

Good luck !

To make a long story short , before I make the story long : The meeting was still rambling on by 10:00 and we left , with no recognizable decisions cast forth .

There was a lot of , ” We should take another look at this ” and ” Can we move on ? We have forty more pages of budget matters ” .

There was a certain amount of : ” We know these people and that’s what makes it especially difficult to cut the positions . ” Sierra Madre is a city of 10,000 people . Yeah , they do know these people , or the guy next to them knows her , or six people in the audience knows him . Council members  wear the requisite pained expressions . ” But that’s what leadership is . We need to make the hard decisions ” , one of the council says .

” But the pool ! ” two or three of them repeat throughout the hours of jargon , statistics , and rambling  chatter , ” We need to keep the pool open on weekends ! ”

During the public hearing part a woman who speaks at every meeting and sounds like she’s another member of the Council steps up to the podium  with a cluster of notes . ” I was telling you at the last meeting that we should consider …………”.  And she jabbers on .

This time , surprisingly , she made some sense .Between the last meeting and this one  the Council was to direct ” staff  ”  to come up with some ways to find revenue to try to avoid cuts . They reported : 1.  suggestion is to hire an agency to issue more parking tickets , and  2. suggestion is to charge a fee for overnight parking in a couple of city-owned parking lots .  ” I was hoping for some creative ideas , ” our jabbering self-styled member  told them , ” but what we get , instead , is hiring  an outside agency for a big chunk of cash to give more parking tickets and to charge fees to the ten or fifteen people who park overnight in the city lots . ”  At this point she paused , made a small clucking noise with her mouth and shook her head back and forth , subtly , like a disappointed parent  , just enough to register her  disapproval .

If I had to bet on it , I’d bet the Council wasn’t listening to her . Councils and boards hear from the public because , by law , they have to hear from the public. No law says they have to listen . Generally speaking , I don’t think the city council listens . The L.A. School board didn’t listen . They used to walk around the table consulting with one another during the public hearings or they’d read reports . A few of them would leave the room until the public hearings had ended . At least the Sierra Madre City Council didn’t leave the room or chatter with each other or whisper into cell phones during public hearing time . I would still bet , though , that they were hearing but not listening .

One of the women on the Council spoke up late in the evening : ” If we do this , and we implement that , and we install light meters in the tennis court , which we should have done anyway , to save electricity when nobody is there , we would save……..” She gazes at her notes , pages through her thick folder ……….” we would generate four hundred and sixty…………”

The council president pipes up : ” Well the uniform this or that only accounts for ten thousand…..”

” Okay ,” our councilwoman says , ” take  uniform  out and we still save two positions ………”

” Well ,” the council President Pro Tem  begins , ” we need to make cuts . If we find money over here we can’t spend it over there because we still find ourselves in the same hole .”

” I want to save the positions if we possibly can ,”  the councilwoman says . She says it like she means it .

” I would like to save the library position , ” the council president says , then  .  The library people in the audience stir . Maybe there is still some hope for the library . The library worker already given notice is a long-time Sierra Madre resident , a long -time library employee , a loyal , effective worker . I see her sitting off to the side of the room . Still . Silent . Evidently she is being fired so that the library/city can hire an IT person to build and maintain a digital archive of  Sierra Madre city hall paperwork .

The city manager sits at the end of the council table . She has already given her powerpoint presentation on city finances . Compliments come from the council : ” Such a nice presentation!”.  She pages through her booklet to answer impromptu questions from council members as the long meeting drags on and on .  More of  ” We’ll have to take another look at this ” and  ” We’ll direct staff to revisit that .”    More and more jargon and money figures are released to swirl around in the stale council chamber air .  From time to time the city attorney pipes in with her incomprehensible input . People are yawning ,  bigtime .

” It’s a dog and pony show ,” a friend of mine would have said . ” That city manager should be honest and say , ‘ We’d like to save your job , but we’d rather spend your salary on new technology instead .’  Just be honest and save us all a lot of time .”

Ah !  The simplicity  of cynicism  !

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10 things I don’t like about your list of 10 things

Some people like to make lists .

Some people make lists of things they don’t like , or of things they do like , etc. Ten seems to be a favorite number for lists . Ten best cities to retire in . Ten worst . Ten most highly taxed states . Ten safest places in the United States . Ten top tourist locations . Ten reasons to go on living .

Here’s my list of 10 reasons not to read this post any further :

1. There are 10 more interesting things to be doing right now . [you have to fill it in below] :

10 Better Things To Do Right Now :











[please do not continue reading before y0ur list is complete]

2. Reading this post doesn’t get you any richer .

3. The post seems to be going nowhere . It has no focus or apparent purpose .

4. There are tons of other , more erudite , literary , cultural  things to read .

5. There are tons of other , more erudite , inspirational , informative blogs to read .

6. There is a world of books out there .  .

7. There is no 8 or 9

8. (see 7)

9.(see 8 )

10.You could be getting some exercise .

David Letterman has fun with his lists . Ten reasons to vote for Romney . Ten things to whisper to Dmitry Medvevdev  on an open mike . Letterman lists them from number ten  , then nine , eventually upward to number one . Number one is supposed to be the funniest one , I suppose . After all , It’s number 1 . Most lists , though , move from #1 down to #10 . # 10 isn’t necessarily the best one .

Most lists like this , I’ve noticed , have one item on the list that seems to be just a filler , a space keeper , or a weak attempt at humor . I saw a list : Nine Things I Don’t Like About Gardening . First thing on the list was : ” 1. weeds . I was going to write about this but the word itself is enough”. ( try for humor). Everything else on the list had long explanations  and self-reflectively whimpering analysis attached .

A law school professor might make a list like this : Ten Remedies for Tort Reform—-

1. When the tortfeasor is derelict in a quasi tort involving , but not internally subject to contributary negligence , and in rare  cases vicarious liability , then tort reform may be warranted , provided no intention is involved (intentional tortious action) .

2. When proximate cause in a statutory tort case revolves around court review of said tortious loss and defendant is represented by counsel in a civil wrong action involving private party .

3. If equity issue arises in duty to care action if tortfeasor regresses quasi tort negligent liability { Corpuent v. State of Utah } as stated in court documents without aforementioned malfeasance or intent to commit common law breach of statute ( no contract or proximate cause present ) .

4. # 1 and # 3 , but never # 2, and sometimes #4 .

5. # 1 and # 4 . Never # 3.

6. Always # 3 in cases involving intention tort combined with contract unrelated negligence .

7. All of the above in municipal actions .

8. If defendant is not represented by counsel and all legal precedents apply .

9. When intent to deceive the court is in evidence and tortfeasor is a minor in certain designated jurisdictions under supervision of pubic agency ( except : Caligula v. Rogers exception rule ) .

10. There is no ten .

At least the Nine Things I Don’t Like About Gardening list varied from the standard 10  :only  nine . How refreshing!

So I read it even though I know  there are ten other things I should be doing .


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ray ray

More  Raymond Chandler :

” I shook the rain off my hat and looked at the building directory beside the case of false teeth. Numbers with names and numbers without names . Plenty of vacancies or plenty of tenants who wished to remain anonymous . Painless dentists , shyster detective agencies ,small sick businesses that had crawled there to die , mail order schools that would teach you how to become a railroad clerk or a radio technician or a screen writer — if the postal inspectors didn’t catch up with them first . A nasty building . A building in which the smell of stale cigar butts would be the cleanest odor .”

Our favorite private detective , Philip Marlowe , goes there to the Fulwinder Building , Western and Santa Monica , four-twenty-eight at the back , to meet Harry Jones , the grifter , to get information that Harry’s girlfriend , Agnes  , has . ” She’s a grifter , shamus , ” Harry tells Marlowe . ” I’m a grifter . We’re all grifters . So we sell each other out for a nickel . Okey .”

Of course when Marlowe gets there the gunman Canino , who works for Eddie Mars , has cornered Harry . Marlowe didn’t bring his gat  so he’s naked .  He listens in the next room as Canino is about to rub poor little Harry out . Harry just wanted his two hundred bucks .

” I walked like a cat on a mantel ,” Marlowe tells us , ” and reached the hinged side of the door , put an eye to the crack and saw nothing but light against the angle of the wood.

The purring voice was now saying quite pleasantly : ‘Sure , a guy could sit on his fanny and crab what another guy done if he knows what it’s all about . So you go to see this peeper . Well , that was your mistake . Eddie don’t like it . The peeper told Eddie some guy in a gray Plymouth was tailing him. Eddie naturally wants to know who and why , see .’  ”

By this time in The Big Sleep  we know that Eddie Mars has his hands in city graft . He’s got police connections or he wouldn’t be in business .  Mars is dangerous . Very dangerous . But did he have anything to do with Geiger’s murder ? Or the death of the Sternwood’s chauffeur ? What exactly is the connection between Eddie Mars and the older Sternwood sister , Vivien , other than she gambles big dough and loses it in his casino ?  Why does Marlowe care , at this point ? General Sternwood has already paid him off — five C’s .

On the same night Marlowe resists the advances of both Sternwood sisters . First Vivien , after he saves her from an armed robber . He doesn’t have his gun , again , so he holds his pipe like a gun and in the heavy fog that tricks the crook . Vivien makes a pass at Marlowe later in the car . He kisses her but then rejects her . ” You won’t be a sister to me ? ” he says to her .

” If I had a razor , I’d cut your throat , ” she tells him , ” just to see what ran out of it .”

” Caterpillar blood, ” Marlowe says .

By the time he gets  home to his apartment at the Hobart Arms at Franklin and Edgemont , the younger Sternwood sister , Carmen , has talked the manager into letting her in . She is naked under the covers in his bed . But Marlowe is Marlowe : ” It isn’t on account of the neighbors ,” he says to her after he tells her to get dressed. ” They don’t really care a lot . There’s a lot of stray broads in any apartment house and one more won’t make the building rock . It’s a question of professional pride. You know —-professional pride. I’m working for your father . He’s a sick man , very frail , very helpless . He sort of trusts me not to pull any stunts . ”

Eddie Mars must be behind the disappearance of Rusty Regan . Eddie Mars is behind everything.

” That’s too bad ,” Mars says to Marlowe , ” with too much meaning . His gray eyes twinkled and then hardened as I went past him to open the door . He added in a casual tone : ‘ The girl can dust . I’d like to talk to you a little , soldier .’

I let go of her arm . I gave him a blank stare . ‘Kidder , eh ?’ he said nicely .’Don’t waste it . I’ve got two boys outside in a car that always do just what I want them to .’ ”

Marlowe stands up to Mars , of course .

Mars: ” Is that any of your business , soldier ? ”

Marlowe: ” I could make it my business.”
Mars: ” And I could make your business my business.”

Marlowe: ” You wouldn’t like it . The pay’s too small.”

Marlowe charges twenty-five dollars a day , plus expenses .

Raymond Chandler’s comment [from a letter to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly] :

” By the way , would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks , and that when I split an infinitive , God damn it , I split it so it will remain split , and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular , this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect , but it’s all I have .”

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playing pool

Every Thursday I play pool over in Monrovia . Bill and Will and Dan and I go over to the 4th Dimension . Tim , the owner , greets us . He calls us ‘ The three wise men ‘ and we don’t know who he’s leaving out .

I asked the school police officer to play with us and he did , one Thursday . He was hungry and he half-snuck some pizza from the place next door into the 4th Dimension. Tim walked up to him . He put his face up near the pizza , sniffed it , inspected it at close range . The cop was a little intimidated.

” Can’t bring food from outside in ? ” he asked .

” Where you get it ? ” Tim asked . Next door .

” How much it cost ? ” Tim asked . Twelve bucks .

” We got better here ,” Tim said . ” Only eight bucks . Better than this .”  And then Tim went back behind the bar .

” Is he mad ? ” the cop said .

No , Tim’s not mad . Tim was just making conversation . He likes us . When we skip a Thursday once in a long while he complains . Once or twice we show up on Wednesday instead of Thursday . Tim doesn’t know what to think . Last time we did it he begged us to come on Thursday , too .  ” I give you first drinks free you come tomorrow , ” he said .

A friend of mine once called us a drinking club with a pool problem . We used to drink more than we do now . Before Bill . Bill usually has a beer and drinks half . Bill drives us to the place and doesn’t want to wait for us to finish too many beers before we go . We play five games nowadays and then go , mid-beer or not . Sometimes five games go fast .

Another school cop I know had a father who was a jazz musician and a pool shark . This cop as a kid  followed him around to pool halls and learned to play pool like a pro . He never has come to join us on Thursdays . He’d laugh at how terrible we play . Ten years , every Thursday , and terrible ! Bill was supposed to teach Will and I some of his technique . We were supposed to soak up some of his skill . Bill was a superb pool player ten years ago and proud of it . He has sunk down to our level more than we’ve risen to his . Dan is a fairly recent addition to the pool group . He plays about as well as the rest of us . He fits right in .

” Did you have fun ?” Ada asks when I get home . We always have fun .

Tim wasn’t there tonight . Maybe he went , finally , back to China for a visit home . Next Thursday we’ll ask him , ” Where the hell were you last week , Tim ?” and he’ll say that he went golfing , or that he couldn’t stand to see us shoot lousy pool another week so he stayed home . He’ll be smiling and he’ll most likely have some joke about Will , his favorite target .

‘ I thought you were four bums ,” Tim told us once .  After years of playing in his pool place  he’d found out through some snitch that we actually had jobs . Dan is a retired school administrator , Will runs a doctor’s office , I was a school dean , and Bill is a surveyor.” You the wise men ,” he said , and the name stuck .  We just look like bums .

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st. clements school was once here

Terry , the principal , tried to save the little school once . He called the Archdiocese and asked for money . Someone had told him that the parishioners of the parish , over the last sixty years , had raised money to build a new church . Most of the money had been collected in the twenties and thirties when the neighborhood was still posh . It was right on the edge of Abbott Kinney’s Venice by the Sea .

The amusement aspect of Venice went out of style , though , and the neighborhood went down fast . Eventually most of the Venice canals would be filled in and asphalted over and the little vacation cottages would begin to go to seed and people with money would go somewhere else .

” How much money are we talking about ?” I asked Terry . He told me two hundred thousand , give or take , raised by Saint Clement parish people and theoretically sitting somewhere downtown . That’s how the Archdiocese did things . They’d hold the money, invest it themselves ,  until the parish was ready to build the church .

Well , the parish was poor now , full of poor immigrant families just barely getting by , many of them struggling to pay the Catholic school tuition , nevertheless .

” Now they need help ,” Terry said he told the Archdiocese money men . ” They’ll never raise enough to build a church . Since it’s parish money  let’s use it on the parish ,” Terry said he told them .

No dice .

I told Terry to call back and ask for , at least , the interest on the money . It’s the least they could do . It’s St. Clements money , after all , isn’t it ? And the little parish school was desperate for money to keep going .

No dice .

So the little school was closed soon after that and the brick classrooms and the wooden cabinets  and the metal awnings were  all torn down and the ground was scraped to remove any trace of what had been there. The sycamore tree planted during the Bicentennial year was taken out , too .  There’s a giant facility there now , sitting on the school site , making its own memories .

I do wonder what happened to that two hundred thousand , give or take , that the St. Clement parishioners from eras past raised . Maybe  St. Clements Church got it eventually . But I think it’s in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles pot , in the pot down at headquarters along with the Pagan Baby money , and the Propagation of the Faith Easter collection money , and who knows what else  —— a  stupifyingly  gigantic  pile of nickels and dimes stacked to the ceiling in some marbled vault in the sub-basement of the Temple Street cathedral downtown .

St. Clements lost the parish school , never got a new church , and I suspect those pagan babies , now approaching   geezerhood ,  probably never got their names or their five bucks .

But the Venice neighborhood has changed again . It’s *posh once more , and the poor have been priced out years ago . The dive bars on Main like the Mucky Duck and the Cheetah are  long gone now , and upscale trendy bistros and gastro-pubs and galleries have taken their place . People with money in their pockets flock to the place . And , to borrow loosely from Raymond Chandler : ” It’s a cool place , and if you don’t like it you must be crazy , or sober .”

*note on ‘posh’ : port out , starboard home (posh). The opposite sides of a sailing ship would get the wave-pounding upon leaving port and returning as the ship tacked . Thus , better sorts got the posh cabins .


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