Tag Archives: los angeles

Pershing Square: A Ringside Seat at the Circus

It’s Wednesday, and my blog post is late. I’m sorry about that. I have been pretty busy with different writing things, including my first published restaurant review: The Saffron and Rose Ice Cream shop in Westwood. Here is the link. I have stayed away from dining articles because I never considered myself a foodie, but I made an exception for ice cream.

I also took part in LAist’s Park a Day series. My park, Pershing Square, carried with it a very personal meaning. I worked downtown for a year and change and would walk to the park during my breaks or after I left for the day. While the USC Geography Department describes the park as an “urban desert” on this website, I disagree. For me it was an oasis. There was always a shady spot to sit. In the winter there was ice skating and in the summer concerts. And there were always people, whether confused suburbanites, transients, or workers on their lunch breaks, to provide entertainment.

I agree that it is designed poorly, and with all of the concrete and security guards, in many ways it resembles a prison. But it also has a garden, statues commemorating fallen soldiers, and a fountain—an ugly fountain, but nevertheless a fountain. Like Los Angeles, it is not one thing, but many things to many different people.

There is a quote about Pershing Square that I keep returning to in my thoughts. Not only is journalist Carey McWilliams decrying Los Angeles in this passage, he is also celebrating the city and its imperfect parks—and people. Nothing feels more fitting than that his half-tribute to the park engraved on the southern wall.

Thanks to the good people at USC for transcribing it.

In the center of the park, a little self-conscious of my evening clothes, I stopped to watch a typical Pershing Square divertissement: an aged and frowsy blonde, skirts held high above her knees, cheered by a crowd of grimacing and leering old goats, was singing a gospel hymn as she danced gaily around the fountain. Then it suddenly occurred to me that, in all the world, there neither was nor would ever be another place like this City of the Angels. Here the American people were erupting, like lava from a volcano; here, indeed, was the place for me — a ringside seat at the circus.

-Carey McWilliams

Not Everything about Los Angeles Is Bad

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you know that more often than not, I am complaining about LA: the traffic, the people, the pollution, or whatever pet peeve it is this month. But in recent months I have revised my opinion: yes, it is exceedingly difficult to live in LA. This is not a very livable city like Ann Arbor or Portland. But there are certain advantages to living here. What follows are some:

1. The weather. It’s eighty-four and sunny. No, not today, every day. If you suffer from Seasonal affective disorder, like I do, there is no better place to feel good, year round. The greatest weather catastrophe we get is rain, and that’s about once a year. Beat that, Seattle.

2. The beach. I live five miles from the Pacific coast. Need I say more?

 

 

 

3. Randy’s Donuts. Short of heaven, I don’t think there is anywhere better to get a hot, fresh donut. If you are ever in LA, even just passing through LAX, make it a point to stop at the giant donut.

My only complaint: more restaurants aren’t designed by way of what they serve.

 

 

 

 

4. Free movies. There really is no place else in the world where people outside theatres give out tickets to free movies. Sure, many of them are previews of movies I have no interest in, but the simple idea that anyone can get into a movie for free (and not try that hard) makes me happy.

5. Downtown LA. There is nowhere quite like Los Angeles’ downtown. Filled with interesting stories, shops, and a rich history, crowned by aging movie palaces down Broadway, it is a shame so many tourists stick to Hollywood. There is really so much more to see. At least see the giant redwoods in Clifton’s Cafeteria if you can.

6. KCSN. It may not always be The Music I Want (per their slogan) but it is always on in my car. I like the variety, the absence of deejays, and their choice to broadcast World Café every day. I don’t understand their programming philosophy, but maybe that is why I like it.

7. South Pasadena. I discovered this sleepy little town off the 110 through my work on their local Patch.com. I recently made this video for the site.

Everyone is reasonably friendly, the stores are cute and not ostentatious, and there are some amazing places to get sundaes. Maybe I like it so much because it is so un-LA. The outlying neighborhood of quaint Craftsman houses reminds me of that sleepy little mirage of a town the astronauts find on Mars in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Bradbury is local, after all, and I bet he based it a little bit off South Pas. Probably not the midnight assassination part, but the quaint part, yes.

8. Vroman’s. Located in Pasadena, this little bookstore that could always occupies several hours of my time when I am out that way. A truly independent bookstore, they are always hosting author talks, putting out good employee picks, and stocking up on new releases. When I worry about the future of publishing, I worry about Vroman’s, and hope they can stay open a little bit longer.

9. Independent Cinema. I live a couple of blocks from the Nuart, the Regal, the Royal, the Regent, and the Bruin—all great single screen theaters that do their best to be independent. And where else would Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams draw crowds other than the Royal in West LA?

10. The Margaret Herrick Library. Some of film’s greatest moments (and an Oscar or two in a display case) are available in this gem of a resource located on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Open to everyone, but used by only a knowledgeable few, it’s a perfect place to spend a couple of hours learning up on some film history.

11. Hollywood. Walking its streets, seeing the lines outside the Pantages, or even passing buskers on the street, something always catches in my throat. I start to see stars, not just the Walk of Fame kind, but the imaginary ones, too. Whatever I may know about the hard rock face of reality, I feel there is possibility here. Even if those opportunities do not exist, or the way up is pretty hard, it doesn’t feel that way on an empty stomach and a head full of stars walking on those streets.

The Los Angeles Theatre

It’s a little offbeat to eat at a cafeteria these days, especially one where you get the senior discount. I thought this very thing last Wednesday night while I meditated in front of a plate of overcooked salmon and a “tomato platter” at Clifton’s in downtown LA. Now, to be fair, the senior discount was not because I had reached a certain age, but because tonight, I was going to see King Kong (1933) at the historic Los Angeles Theatre, a movie showing as part of the Last Remaining Seats series, and Clifton’s offers a promotion.

There’s a tendency in Hollywood to forget. Stars only last so long, careers evaporate overnight, and the next hot thing (Miley Cyrus) seems to fade all too quickly into last week’s salvia smoking scandal. As a member of twitter and facebook, sure, I ascribe to that ethos, but I’m also a bit of a rebel. Hollywood, and Los Angeles, the actual city, sometimes feels like a historic theme park to me. I only need to look down on Hollywood Boulevard and see Myrna Loy’s name or venture to Hollywood Forever to visit with Valentino to know that this place bleeds history.

For me, it’s the old downtown movie palaces of the teens and twenties—before Hollywood became the West’s film center—that are my true historical interest. Last year, I saw Peter Pan (1924) at the beautifully refurbished Orpheum, and even wrote a piece for LAist.com on the program, Last Remaining Seats, that makes it all possible. For twenty-five years now, the Los Angeles Conservancy has opened these theatres to silents, short subjects, and two reel Technicolors, so for just one night we can experience what it may have felt like in the twenties and thirties to belong to one of these glitzy movie palaces.

But there is something far more exciting about LRS than the mere experiencing of film history. For me, it’s a way to connect with my history. I think especially of my grandma Ann, who recently passed. While a true Detroiter, she visited Los Angeles during the Depression, even going so far as to write she would be attending UCLA in her Detroit Central High yearbook. Family responsibilities tugged, and except for a few trips, she never made it out here. But I remember how much she loved the movies, especially the classics. I don’t remember her television being tuned to anything but TCM. To watch King Kong in a movie theatre that may have been open when she was here reminds me of her and forges a deeper connection with her memory.

But those connections do not end there. Turns out my girlfriend’s grandmother even worked at Clifton’s as a cook. It’s exciting to learn these things, and to dive deep into a fascinating Los Angeles history, one that constantly yields pearls.

Quickie Review: Greenberg

Imagine if these guys never got over themselves

I think my thoughts on this movie are summed up best by my father’s comments as we were leaving the theater: “I can’t believe they made this movie! I wonder how they did it.” So passionate, interesting, intellectual, and, yes, thoughtful, this is not a movie you generally see at an AMC. Maybe a festival, but not a multiplex. And it was crowded, too!

Beside the bravery of writer-director Noah Baumbach in creating such a personal, heartfelt effort, let’s talk about whether it worked. The story of misanthrope Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a burned-out dude approaching forty-one and hanging out and house-sitting in LA is not exactly new to me. I must know tens of guys like this, shoot, in many ways I am Roger Greenberg. While I should have been on the edge of my seat, watching myself on screen like that, I was strangely bored by a middling plot. I’ll say this, the story had moments. Wonderful moments.

Greenberg’s Los Angeles is the one I deal with on a daily basis and not the stuff of Hollywood dreams. When sometimes girlfriend Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig) mumbles “will you let me in?” to every driver she passes as she drives errands, I laughed out loud. Another moment at Musso and Frank’s, Greenberg is presented a birthday cake by the staff and he freaks out at his friend Ivan. The anger and campiness of the moment came through—I suffered with Greenberg, although I would have set that moment at El Coyote. Meanwhile, the frequent shots of swimming, playing, and partying in the backyard pool, which form the film’s spine, are reminiscent of the backyard diving scenes in The Graduate, another superb Los Angeles film.

There is an amazing moment early on in the film when Greenberg and friend Ivan approach a “barbeque” and realize it’s a kids’ birthday party. It was a great visual joke and it really captured Greenberg’s character, habitually late to the wrong party—I laughed out loud. Stiller’s performance is quite good. He doesn’t give in to jokes and plays the character, warts and all, with humor and strangeness. In a movie as devoid as heroes as this, he did an amazing job making us sympathize with a character who was completely unsympathetic. As he changes and becomes more flexible, the audience comes with him on the journey. Stiller is at once an unselfconscious character actor playing a totally self-conscious dude. He plays that so well, gosh, the two almost cancel each other out.

Beyond Stiller’s performance and these beautiful moments of pure awkwardness and self-loathing, the movie didn’t work. The plot was boring and the other characters around Greenberg were merely caricatures. They were people the audience didn’t care about and the screenwriter didn’t care about really either. Or if he did, his caring didn’t come through in the final picture. They felt like props—LA garden party gnomes, significant only for their Southern California specific sadness.

Baumbach made a deliciously honest movie, one whose authentic feelings and emotions came through the staginess of some of the dialogue. I hope that for the next one, he broadens his reach beyond overeducated men approaching forty. After all, if he can get a green light for this extended navel gaze, there is no telling what else he can direct.

New Video!

Here is a quick silly comedy I wrote called “The Unemployment Diaries.” Let me know what you think. I am showing it tonight at the Hammer’s Open Projector Night, which is quite exciting. Wish me luck!

Jon

Resolutions

So, this post will be pretty short. I want to wish you a Happy New Years and to share a story and my New Years resolution, too.

My brother visited me in Los Angeles this fall and while there he insisted on seeing a friend from an old law firm. All vacation, while we were at Dodger Stadium, in the apartment, and out on the road, he would call and text in order to get in touch with this friend. Once, they planned to meet at a bar, but that plan fizzled. Finally, they agreed on a time, and the last night of his visit, sure enough, the friend rolls up in his sports car, walks to the curb, and has an awkward conversation with us for about ten minutes in front of my apartment. I asked if he wanted to come in and sit down, and he said he would rather not, and that was the end of the encounter.

Later, I asked my brother why after all of that time he insisted on meeting up with this former coworker. He said that he was tired of “not following through” on things. He had spent too much of his life turning people down, not following up, and missing appointments. It made me realize that I too hadn’t done such a good job of this either. There were relationships the past year I had neglected, ideas I had sent to bed, whole destinies I had just off-handedly rejected. And I realized I needed to make a better showing of things. You have to meet the former coworker. You have to be a friend. You shouldn’t flake out.

And for me this “following through” thing means I have to sell the screenplay. That is my resolution. I have to do what I set out to do; that is the reason I drove to California with my mom in the car in the first place. So, this year foremost among my goals is to be a screenwriter. This has always been my goal. I am not about to let go of it. Not this year at least.

My Brother and I Saw Crosby, Stills, and Nash at the Greek Theatre

Merry Christmas/Visions of Los Angeles (3rd St and Alvarado)

I love Los Angeles this time of year. Every neighborhood has a different way of celebrating the holidays, which can mean splendor (Beverly Hills) or sort of (South Pasadena). It doesn’t matter how you celebrate, though, as long as you have the people around you whom you love and care about. I’m taking a break from Los Angeles, but I thought the best way to remember my time there this year were a few pictures I took around Macarthur Park this December. Hopefully they won’t make me too nostalgic. Take a look.

Thank you readers for following my blog and have a happy holidays and a great new year!

Pedestrians walk on Third Street in the shadow of skyscrapers.

I don't know what attracts me to defunct beauty salons

Los Angeles, the city of the car, is littered with these self-serve stations. Here you can see my semi getting a nice wash.

A broken chair, evidence of a late night move?

A now closed pupuseria

Steaks, coffee,what more could a dude ask for?

Where I plan to spend my last days of Hollywood falling stardom

The Swap Meet, A Los Angeles Institution