Friday’s front page (yes, the print version) had a touch of “The Day of the Locust” about it.
Although the Nathanael West novel is about Hollywood, its biblical allusion to plagues and disaster works for Los Angeles as a whole. What other city has such epic natural disasters etched on the world’s imagination?
The photo above the fold looked like a painting of a city being menanced by a spooky but oddly beautiful cloud – smoke from the Colby fire, as the wildfire season starts way too soon.
And right below the photo was the touching Column One/Great Read by Marisa Gerber looking back at the rescue at the Northridge Meadows apartment complex on the 20th anniversary of the city’s last major earthquake.
As someone who went through that earthquake soon after arriving here and was evacuated in the massive Station fire, I still wouldn’t change the wildness that is at the heart of “Day of the Locust” L.A.
Years ago, I had a David Lynchian moment watching the movie version of the book, starring Donald Sutherland. I was on a road trip with some friends, and we were all sharing a room. The movie showed up on late-night TV and everyone else was asleep, so I watched it on mute. The ending, a riot at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, is even more surreal when watched without sound. Try it sometime.
Anyway, in these roundups of the week gone by, I’d like to offer the first paragraphs of each Great Read (or, as they’re known in print, Column One) -- maybe they’ll buy your eye and you can settle in for a good weekend read. And you’ll also get the songs that inspired me while editing the stories, or reading them later if my fellow editor Millie Quan ushered them through. A story-song combo!
Marianne Williamson's spiritual path into political realm
It was a Thursday night, normally a slow time for churches and synagogues, but the sanctuary of the Source Spiritual Center in Venice was packed.
When a diminutive woman stepped to the front of the room, people paused in their scramble for a chair or purchase of a T-shirt and engulfed her in cheers and applause.
She called for a moment of silence. The audience stilled. She dedicated the evening ahead “to all that is good … to the fulfillment of love” in everyone.
“And so it is,” concluded Marianne Williamson — friend of Oprah, associate of Hollywood elites, best-selling author and charismatic spiritual leader.
Williamson has spent three decades offering a path to inner peace for those who seek it. Now she's entering an arena in which inner — and outer — peace seems in particularly short supply: She's challenging Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) for the congressional seat he first won when Gerald Ford was president and the country was preparing to celebrate its bicentennial.
“This is a journey we're all taking together over the next few months,” Williamson told the crowd of 200 or so who had shown up that night to volunteer for her campaign. In the cadence of a revival-meeting preacher, she talked of a corrupt system in which the two major parties and the corporations that fund them have “locked out” citizens and ignored some of the country's most pressing problems.
#storysongs combo: “Waiting for the Miracle,” by Leonard Cohen. I love how his voice has deepened and became a bit sinister as he’s aged.
Dentist for Anaheim Ducks winces at every hit
The doctor holds up a hand and says, “Wait.” She turns away to rummage through a drawer, explaining: “I want to show you something.”
It takes a moment to push aside the syringes and packets of gauze before she locates a small, white shard and cups it in her palm.
“Sometimes I save the broken teeth,” she says.
Forty or so nights each winter, Dr. Bao-Thy Grant practices a different sort of medicine, setting up shop in a cramped room beneath the stands at Honda Center in Anaheim. She is the team oral surgeon for the Ducks.
Her patients arrive sweaty and out of breath, wearing helmets and skates. Maybe a flying puck has smashed them in the mouth. Maybe they need stitches for a high stick that has sliced open their cheek.
“We get some complex, deep lacerations that require deep sutures,” she says. “You don't see that with an elderly woman who tripped taking out the trash.”
This self-described “short Asian chick who knows nothing about hockey” administers to professional athletes who have unusually high thresholds for pain, yet she speaks to them in soothing tones as she cleans and numbs their wounds.
In the rough-and-tumble world of a violent sport, Grant sees herself as a mother figure, bugging the players to wear their mouth guards and wincing at every big hit on the ice. It makes her wonder: Why must they be so hard on each other?
“She certainly looks over us,” defenseman Cam Fowler says. “You can tell that she doesn't like seeing us get injured.”
Futsal, soccer in miniature, gains ground at L.A. parks
The amber lights flicker on above the tennis courts at DeForest Park in Long Beach. The nets have disappeared. Tennis balls are nowhere in sight. This evening, people are playing with a different kind of ball.
On the chain-link fence that surrounds the courts, spray paint marks the goals. Shots whiz by like cars on a freeway.
English and Spanish blend as players chant “Corre! Corre!” (“Run!”) and “Mira! Mira!” (“Look!”). The murmurs from onlookers — “nice” and “wow” — swell after each dazzling play.
The matches on this concrete court are quick. The first team to score wins. Losers retreat to wooden benches, ceding to the next challenger.
Arturo Sanchez is in his element. The 20-year-old from Long Beach grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood, following friends into basketball and football. But when Sanchez moved to a side of town dominated by Latinos, he fell in love with soccer.
During the day, the soccer field down the road at DeForest Park was overrun with youth leagues and when night fell, the unlighted field was dark. The tennis courts, though, were bathed in light.
So, several years ago, Sanchez and a group of friends began to turn the tennis courts into miniaturized, rock-hard soccer courts, mimicking what Brazilians and other Latin Americans started doing nearly a century ago — re-imagining any flat, open space, from basketball gyms to rooftops, as a soccer field.
They know this fast-paced and squeezed-down version of soccer as futsal.
#storysongs combo: “You Trip Me Up,” by Jesus and Mary Chain. In the world of ’60s-pop-through-punkish-prism bands, they win my vote. (Sorry, Ramones.)
Colorado town declares open season on drones
Wearing a black duster and a black cowboy hat, Phil Steel walked to the front of the meeting room armed with a Nerf gun and a smile.
The U.S. Army veteran was there to pitch his big idea: an ordinance that would legalize and regulate drone hunting inside Deer Trail city limits. If approved, residents could pay $25 to get a drone-hunting license; the town would pay a bounty for every drone bagged.
“Really?” someone asked sarcastically as the theme music to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” blared during Steel's entrance. Laughter rippled through the room.
Steel had hammered out the 2,800-word ordinance in just four hours. Its key points:
When a drone flies into its airspace, Deer Trail will consider it an act of war.
You can only shoot at drones flying lower than 1,000 feet.
Unless your life is in danger, you can only fire up to three shots at a drone.
Some at the August meeting thought the drone-hunting ordinance might be a good idea. Others used words like “stupid” and “a joke” to describe a proposal that they worried might become an embarrassment.
To many, that's exactly what it has become.
#storysongs combo: “Shoot You Down,” by the Stone Roses. Finally I get the Roses into a story soundtrack! “I’d love to do it, and you know you’ve always had it coming...”
Deadly power of '94 quake was revealed at Northridge Meadows
Alan Hemsath woke up to the earth cracking underneath him. Wood beams splintered above his bed, and the window shattered into small slivers.
He ran for the doorway, but the ground kept convulsing. As the apartment's walls crumpled, he fell face first onto his kitchen's concrete floor. His right hand was in a fist and pinned under his chest. A metal circuit breaker box collapsed onto his other arm. He opened his eyes, saw black and whispered the Lord's Prayer.
It was 4:31 a.m. on the third Monday of 1994, and he was trapped inside Apartment 110 of the Northridge Meadows apartment complex.
Half a mile away, the temblor tossed firefighter Mike Henry out of bed at Station 70. The two-story, brick firehouse jolted up and down and then rocked side to side. He tasted dust. Pieces of the ceiling had fallen into his boots, so he emptied them out and pulled them on.
He ran to his hook-and-ladder truck, waited for a few other guys to hop in and began to back out when an aftershock hit. Parts of the station collapsed.
Henry, who had turned 36 two days earlier, started south down Reseda Boulevard, along the route he was assigned to survey after earthquakes. He swerved around potholes and downed power lines.
“The whole Valley was just pitch black,” he said. “Dead, dead, dead black.”
#storysongs combo: “Walls Come Tumbling Down,” by Style Council. It was a bit strange choosing this upbeat song for a story about disaster, but in the end I decided the theme of unity and empowerment worked. (I will point out that it’s a rare style misstep for the usually impeccable Paul Weller in this video.)
If you have ideas for story-song pairings of your own, tweet the title and artist to @karihow or @LATgreatreads with the hashtag #storysongs.