L.A. Now

Setting Times stories to music: From the Doors to Dusty Springfield

When I was editing the Valentine’s Day Great Read (which showed you there’s no expiration date on love), one song was a true soundtrack: I played it on repeat for the entire time I was editing it.

That song, the spanking-new “Always Forgetting With You,”  was a Valentine from the band Spiritualized to its fans. With lyrics like “If you want a shooting star/I would be a shooting star for you,” it had my heart doing flips and really got me in the mood to see the band Friday night.

It probably isn’t surprising that I’m one of those types who can play a song over and over. But is there anything worse than hearing someone else do the same thing? Especially someone who doesn’t have your taste?

When I first moved to L.A., I had an upstairs neighbor who would come home after yet another day of failed acting auditions, take about 10 minutes to park her rattly diesel Mercedes, clomp up the stairs, walk to her stereo and, inevitably, horribly, put on the Doors.

Night after night, I would hear a band I never liked much to begin with played at such volume it rumbled the wood floors.

I still tense up when I hear “Hello, I Love You.”

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 soundtrack!


Monday’s Great Read:

In Torrance Police Dept., forensics is women's work

Gabrielle Wimer was nine months pregnant and working a crime scene when she found the closest thing to a smoking gun for a forensic specialist: a clean, detailed fingerprint.

“I was like, 'Oh, I got a beautiful print right here,'“ she recalled. “And I turned and my belly just wiped it off.”

That was it, she said: “I'm done until I have this baby.”

Now almost 3 years old, Wimer's daughter is still too young to understand her mother's job. All she knows, Wimer said, is that it's for the police. “Police,” she'll say. “Mama's work.”

Wimer is a forensic identification specialist for the Torrance Police Department — one of seven experts in charge of collecting evidence from scenes, analyzing it for clues and helping detectives close their cases.

And for about a year now, the team has been made up entirely of women.

Law enforcement is dominated by men. According to the FBI's most recent statistics, only 11.9% of officers nationwide in 2012 were women.

Science is also dominated by men, who tend to collect higher degrees and higher salaries than women.

By all accounts, forensic science — the marriage of the two — should be the same. Instead, more women are finding jobs, filling classrooms and creating careers for themselves in the field. In places like Torrance, they're not just catching up to their male counterparts, they're outpacing them.

#soundtrack: “Girls It Ain’t Easy,” by Dusty Springfield. From the great “Dusty in London” album (second only to “Dusty in Memphis”).


Tuesday’s Great Read:

Animal wranglers add themselves to endangered species list

Animal wrangler Jim Brockett stands a few yards away from Arrow, like a director studying his actor.

The African augur hawk latches his yellow talons onto what looks like a severed finger — actually a piece of foam — and swoops into the air before landing on the gauntlet of a falconer (who promptly rewards him with a thawed chick stashed in a leather pouch).

“He's got the finger part down,” says Brockett, who's helping train Arrow for a macabre scene in the crime drama “Bones.”

Brockett, 70, and his wife, Gina, are owners of Brocketts Film Fauna Inc. in Thousand Oaks. They have been supplying hawks, bobcats, alligators, snakes, spiders, lizards and various other critters to the entertainment industry for more than three decades, operating out of a secluded five-acre ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The Brocketts and their animals have made regular appearances on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” numerous crime dramas, including “True Blood” and “CSI NY,” and movies such as “Terminator III” and “We Bought a Zoo.”

But they've grown increasingly uncertain about the future of their business.

“We're not going to be doing it that much longer,” Gina Brockett says. “It's going to go away.”

#soundtrack: “Crawling King Snake,” by the Doors. Had to pick this cover by the Lizard King (even though I’m not a fan).


Wednesday’s Great Read:

LAUSD food effort makes local farms healthier too

Down a dusty road surrounded by orange trees and the rolling hills of Redlands, the farmer in a battered straw hat and worn jeans worked his land, just as his father and grandfather and great-grandfather did before him.

Bob Knight remembers pulling weeds from the soil almost before he could read. He was 6 years old and could barely reach the pedals when he first steered a truck, then began picking and packing the fruit, and checking drip irrigation systems.

Now 54, lanky and long, Knight tends 67 acres bursting with thousands of orange trees bearing sweet Valencias and seedless navels, knobby Gold Nuggets and deep red Moros.

But on this warm January afternoon, this man whose family has painstakingly cultivated citrus for more than 100 years was planting a cauliflower.

Knight is fighting to save his family's livelihood and the farming heritage of Redlands — a city so named for the deep red earth that once produced the nation's largest crop of navel oranges. And his unlikely ally in the high-stakes gamble is the Los Angeles Unified School District.

#soundtrack: “Vegetables,” by the Beach Boys. Mushrooms must have been the vegetable that Brian Wilson was eating when he wrote this song. I saw him perform it at Disney Hall years ago, and I have to admit it was fun hearing him pronounce it so it rhymes with tables.


Thursday’s Great Read:

Sochi's ice makers tested by variety of winter sports

The slightest shift in temperature — a few degrees either way — can make all the difference.
If the ice at his arena becomes too cold or brittle, Sergey Pliner will hear grumbles from figure skaters who want a soft landing for their triple axels.

So the refrigeration engineer from Moscow has learned a trick. He adds a fine layer of warm water, quickly freezing it to a not-so-rigid consistency.

“There are many peculiarities,” Pliner said. “Technical things we can do.”

Anyone who thinks that ice is just ice has never been to the Winter Olympics.

The organizers of the 2014 Sochi Games have enlisted a select group of technicians from around the world, men who understand the idiosyncrasies of each sport.

They know that speedskaters like a hard, fast track, and hockey players need a smooth surface to keep the puck from skipping. They use only purified water — without calcium or magnesium — to ensure consistent throws at the curling center.

Working long hours behind the scenes, fussing over subtle variations in texture and humidity, these ice makers set the stage for gold-medal performances.

“Oh, there's lots of pressure,” said Hans Wuthrich, an ice specialist for curling from Canada. “People have no idea what we go through.”

#soundtrack: “Ice Rink in Berlin,” by the Mekons. OK, so Berlin isn’t hosting the Olympics. It’s in Eastern Europe, at least...


Friday’s Great Read:

Lovers in the twilight time celebrate each moment

If you think you have all the time in the world to love, by all means bring home roses once a year.

Jerri Kane and Raymond Sternberg lack that luxury. They celebrate their happiness each month.

Last April 8th was the day they moved in together. In the outside world, their boxy bedroom and small bathroom would be called a studio apartment. In Eisenberg Village at the Los Angeles Jewish Home in Reseda, it's room 224.

Jerri points to the number and says two plus two plus four adds up to their lucky number: 8.
She's 88, by the way. The guy she's shacked up with? He's 93.

Who needs to tie the knot? They know what they have, and what they've lost.

Jerri and Ray lived long lives before they met each other. She wed three times, he just once — a marriage that lasted 71 years.

Alzheimer's ripped away the lovely girl who was just 19 when she married him, in terrible slow motion, day by day, thought by thought. When Ray speaks of Shirley, who died last January, his voice quivers and his eyes well with tears.

But if first love is special, so is last love.

Jerri and Ray are giddy with it.

They smooch in public. They wiggle their eyebrows at each other. Risque lines crackle between them.

One day he's wearing a bandage on his arm. She bats her eyelashes and says, “He told me to be gentle. I forgot.”

He puckers up. She grips him close with her pink fingernails. “My gentle giant,” she coos.

To be with them is to be three's a crowd.

#soundtrack: “Always Forgetting With You,” by Spiritualized. See above. Swoon.


If you have ideas for story soundtracks of your own, tweet the title and artist to @karihow or @LATgreatreads with the hashtag #soundtrack.



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