encounters


There’s a striking mural depicting the facets and faces of the Black Panther movement on the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and 11th Avenue titled “To Protect And Serve” that I’ve found very revelatory ever since I first discovered it back about 10 years ago.

It was painted in 1995 by Noni Olabisi, and the story of how it almost never was until the community and the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) rallied against opposition to it from civic leaders is compelling in its own right.

In the 22 years since its installation, it has proven to be as polarizing a work of art as the movement, enduring various defacements and damage.

About six months ago I was pleased in passing to find it being restored. The dramatic color scheme, long faded from years standing against the afternoon sun, was brought back to gloriously eye-popping vibrancy. But there was little time to celebrate its renewal. Seemingly only days after work had been completed I drove by and found the center of the mural caved in. The heartbreaking indentation looked to be about as wide and as high as a bumper, so my assumption was a vehicle involved. The question was, given the indignities this mural has endured over its years, was its ramming accidental or intentional? Passing by a few days later I saw the letters “KKK” had been added near the crushed section.

The damage stood until a couple months ago, when repairs were made to the wall, leaving a large replastered area. I figured fixing the wall was inevitable, but not so clearly a given was if the mural would be.

Then came Tuesday afternoon and on my way home from work I saw Olabisi, brush in hand and filling in that void. I thought about turning around and coming back to meet her, but I was lazytired and so I didn’t. Yesterday afternoon, same story, but different ending; this time after seeing her I yanked a right at the next street and came back up 11th Avenue where I found her in conversation with a fellow named Victor. I stepped right up and told her how thrilled I was to see the mural being re-completed. She bemoaned the fact that in the time between Tuesday evening and now someone had already marred it. She pointed out the word “Apache” had been tagged onto the sleeve of one of the officers depicted subduing Bobby Seale whose face had been covered in black spray paint. We all stood there shaking our heads.

The three of us eased into a wide-ranging discussion on race, art, history, politics, the Rwanda genocide, the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, basic human goodness and instincts, Tupac, Jimi, Daryl Gates, and how love and respect is the answer to combating evil. I asked her about the significance of the bright circle on the beret near the top center of the mural (visible in the picture above with Olabisi on the left and Victor on the right), and she told me it represented the sun which shines upon us all equally and without discrimination. Amen, sister.

Before I gave Olabisi a hug goodbye, I was emphasizing my continuing belief — despite ample evidence to the contrary — in the basic goodness of us as individuals and as a species. A young lady, showed up to take some pictures of the mural and as she passed us Olabisi was talking to me about Hendrix and trying to remember a statement attributed to him. “When the power of love… is greater,” she started, but couldn’t remember the rest, and I couldn’t either.

The young lady turned around and finished it for her: “than the love of power…”

“That’s it!” Olabisi exclaimed. “When the power of love is greater than the love of power then the world will know peace.”

Righteous.

This morning we made it two successful skunk meetups in a row. Emerging from yesterday’s way-too-close encounter while walking Ranger was a miracle. This morning’s jaw-dropper of a stand off was something even more glorious: proof that Ranger has perhaps finally learned after at least three previous backyard skunkings that those “funny looking cats” (and the subsequent unceremonious deskunking baths involving hydrogen peroxide, baking powder and dish soap that follow) are to be avoided at all costs.

Awake early but way too lazy to go for a walk, I instead let Ranger out in the backyard to do her thang — but not before first conducting the obligatory flashlight enhanced patrol of the area to make sure there were no critters out and about.

Once I’d cleared it, out went Ranger who promptly found a patch of dirt and laid down upon it, looking at me with a forlorn expression. This is not her normal behavior, which is to do her own urgent patrol, and then after much back-and-forthing in the way-back part of the yard find a spot to pee and then another to poop. This self-imposed “I’m just gonna lay down here until I die or Momma comes home” exile is how she acts in protest to Susan (who’s on a weekender to visit old friends and her mom) not being here.

Sigh.

I tried to encourage Ranger to “go peepee!” but she was having none of it so I adjourned inside to make coffee, freshen the water and kibble bowls and advise the imploring cats gathered in the kitchen that breakfast wouldn’t be for awhile yet.

Roughly five minutes later (and in hindsight pleeeeenty of time for any number of creature — rat, squirrel, opossum, raccoon or coyote — to breach the backyard while seated with my cuppa joe in the kitchen, I saw Ranger was no longer prone outside, but was instead upright and facing north with interest. Simultaneously, a couple cats hopped up into the backyard facing windows I’d opened and were staring intently in the direction of the tortoise hutch. So I went outside to see whatever the object of their collective attention was.

My eyes went wide. It was a skunk. About the same size as the one yesterday. Standing atop the short retaining wall beside the hutch, stock still, facing in Ranger’s direction about 20 feet away with tail straight up.

This would typically be when I would yell out a blood-curdling “Noooooo!” and Ranger would ignore that go all territorial and charge, forcing the skunk to execute a 180-degree turn of doom and release its appropriate and terribly effective counter measures. Past episodes Ranger’s been blasted in the chest and the side of the head. She even took a direct hit in the mouth and eyes on one occasion. That one was particularly horrible with her spastically rolling around on the ground, foaming at the mouth and eating dirt like she’d gone instantly Cujo-level rabid. Poor girl.

And after each of those times while scrubbing her down Susan and I would question when or if she’d ever learn.

That question was answered this morning. Not only did she just stand there showing completely no sign of charging, but when I called her, she headed to me immediately and followed along while I hustled us to the back door and back inside the safety of kitchen. Even when the skunk went frantically mobile and started to probe the north fence for an exit, Ranger didn’t waiver.

Inside I hugged her and praised her for five full minutes, before going back outside to ensure the skunk had gone. Then I came back and hugged her some more.

 

 

Miracles DO Happen: On this morning’s walk with Ranger I got an earlier and darker start than usual (owing to Susan being on a weekend trip to Reno to explore her punk rawk past). So we detoured on the back stretch of the walk and came up a block we normally don’t traverse. A few hundred feet in I heard a sharp and short hiss from the curb and I figured we’d passed a cat perturbed by our passing presence.

I couldn’t’ve been more wrong. Looking to my left I found myself realizing that Ranger — for the first time in her life — had chosen to ignore what was a mature skunk standing planted and unmoving less than four feet away from us. Our dog’s entirely uncharacteristic behavior and reaction (she’s been skunked in the backyard at least three times and has showed no signs that she wouldn’t get herself bombed a fourth time given the opportunity) was really valuable given the skunk had its tail in the fully locked-and-loaded position.

The miracle is that I was looking into its eyes and not upon its backside. For whatever reason, probably because Ranger elected not to lunge at it (another miracle — GOOD GIRL!!!), the skunk opted out of nailing us. Despite our arm’s length proximity it deemed us not a threat warranting what coulda/woulda/shoulda been a complete and direct and all enveloping hit. By all rights and laws of urban wildlife, Ranger and I should really be stinking up the place right now.

Suffice it to say I wasted no time giving ground and moving me and Ranger out of range and then simultaneously thanked the skunk and congratulated Ranger for their combined restraint.

What a wonder-full way to start the day.

photoMy friend David and I have made it something of an irregular tradition to walk to Tommy’s for lunch every few months, and schedules conspired to allow us to do that today, joined by his brother-in-law Mark who was in town to participate in Sunday’s CicLAvia.

So after we got our burgers and fries and drinks, we settled into a section of counter near the end, and conversation included my TAP card travails and, of course, CicLAvia, which apparently caught the attention of an elderly gent a few feet away, who approached after I mentioned coming back to downtown via the Blue Line that day.

He stepped toward us saying how he heard me mention the Blue Line and that it’s his firm belief that bikes have no business being brought on the trains.

I held myself back from saying something impolite  and instead curiously inquired as to why he was so firmly against the acceptable and encouraged practice. He replied that cyclists already have a form of transportation at their disposal and they shouldn’t be crowding up the train cars.

Wide-eyed at such an idiotic statement, I started to point out that by his logic walking was a form of transportation, so why wasn’t he an equal opportunity hater in feeling the same about all those pesky pedestrians loading up the trains, but realized I was in a battle of wits with an unarmed geezer.

And the fact is, there is a kernel of truth buried deep under his bullshit. MTA rail cars are really not designed to accommodate anything but passengers, and I don’t think they ever will be. One needs to remember that back in the early days of our reconstructed light rail system, bikes were not only allowed on trains during limited time-frame windows, but you actually had to be registered and carry an MTA-issued picture ID card that had to be presented upon demand.

We’ve come a long way since then, baby. But it’s been an uncomfortable integration.

Today sure, a couple cyclists with consideration can position themselves out of everyone’s way, but it’s still awkward, at best. Add more cyclists and compound it with the inconsideration that is too often demonstrated in blocking aisles and doors and seats, and to a degree I can appreciate where this grumpy old man is coming from. I could just imagine him on the Blue Line on Sunday with a train car overloaded with raucous bikes and riders coming to or going from the event, and all he can do is get progressively grumpier as the trip went along.

But instead of  commiserating with him, I asked him next if he felt the same about bikes and buses. And he was quick to say they had no place there either. When I mentioned the bikes are stowed outside the bus, that didn’t matter to him. He just shook his head vehemently, spitting out some more generalized negativity that concluded with this doozy:

“Bikes are the reason for everything that’s wrong in this city.”

I stood stunned for a moment, trying somehow to understand how someone could wholesale equate cycling to “everything that’s wrong…” to the city’s struggling economy and to its crime and to its homelessness and to its school drop-out rate, and its gridlock. How does one even begin to counterpunch such a ridiculous haymaker? People with more patience and smarts might know, but for me there is simply no way or reason to continue a discussion or debate with so spiteful an intellect of such a small caliber.

So I didn’t.  Instead, I wished real hard to myself that I never be so hateful and stupid about anything if I’m fortunate enough to get to be this kook’s age, while out loud I brought it to his attention that by insulting and demonizing cyclists as a whole he was in fact insulting and demonizing me — to which he replied that he didn’t care and restated that all of us are inherently detrimental to his way of living (or at least what little living he’s got left).

With that clarifying point of order out of the way I then admonished him for making such a despicably baseless judgment and criticism, adding that though I was personally raised not to make such uninformed criticisms, he and his insults were making it hard for me not to formulate one about him. Raising my voice well over his and in no uncertain terms I insisted that in the interest of stopping his senseless jawing so that he could return to gumming the remainder of his Tommy’s burger, he vacate my vicinity as quickly as was physically possible for a man of his years.

That caught him off-balance, and some flustered words fell out of his mouth whose syllables quickly broke apart into gibberish, before he realized we weren’t ever going to be friends and complied with my directive to cease and desist being audibly inane in my specific direction.

David, Mark and I hung around long enough to finish our meals and for my hackles to lay back down, before taking our leave to ruminate on the walk home the fact that no matter the issue, some people will find a way to magnify it out of proportion and hate on it all the harder.

 

 

Another thing seen that was interesting during yesterday’s 30-mile roundtrip bike ride happened on the way back home toward Silver Lake in the form of this multiple motorcycle officer-escorted camera car traveling north on Arden across 4th Street in Hancock Park (click it for the bigger picture):

cameracar

The work that goes into making fun… man!

I was too far away for the camera to allow you distinguish who was behind the wheel, but I recognized the actor as Emily Mortimer who costars on HBO’s “The Newsroom.”

As to what was being shot? Well, according to her IMDB page her current project is a comedy series called “Doll & Em,” which is billed as an “intimate, funny portrait of female friendship set against the backdrop of Los Angeles.”

So just call me Access Hollywood.

The cool thing was that the sight of me on my bike dutifully waiting for the rig to pass caught her attention, too. Eyes on the road, Em. Eyes on the road!

Sure, it’s that first day of the fourth month of the year, but I guarantee you the below image, captured by my motion-triggered  front steps cam this morning, is no April Fools Day prank (click it for the bigger picture):

coyote1

It just happens to coincide with the time of year when the coyotes are increasingly out and about and at their most brazenly nonchalant in dropping by and looking for something to eat.

We saw this fellow again walking down  in the middle of the street as if he owned it just as Susan was heading out for work a few minutes after 8 a.m. It looked up at us and just kept on going without so much as a twitch or a start.

It’s a coyote’s world, we just encroach upon it.

I’ve been pretty lucky in the number of visual contacts I’ve had with Cooper’s hawks, but for most of us, seeing one doing anything other than circling or streaking across the sky above is a bit of a rarity. The reclusive birds aren’t known for being comfortable in the proximity of people. So you can imagine my surprise when, while watering the side yard, I saw one dive to a branch in the camphor laurel tree in the front yard and then quickly drop down out of view behind the neighbor’s fence.

Wondering if it had pounced on a would-be meal, I peered through the slats and was greeted with this incredible view of the aerial predator totally on one foot, totally at ease on the ground — veritably reflective beside the small reflecting pool in our neighbor’s front yard.

So laid back was it that it was still there a couple minutes later when I came back from getting my camera. Completely aware of my presence behind the fence less than 20 feet away, it had no trouble with me shifting for better angles and clicking away. With the light so low and me shooting through less than a one-inch gap in the slats, this was pretty much the best shot of the bunch (click it for the bigger picture):

raptreflex

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