Flashback: The River Wild

Two Mays ago Susan and I pitched in and picked up trash along the L.A. River:

May 1, 2004 — As planned, but a little later than expected, Susan and I made it over to the Friends of the Los Angeles River’s annual clean-up at the Los Feliz station (one of 10 stretching from the Tujunga Wash in Sun Valley down to Long Beach.

We kicked ass and not only scored free t-shirts, but also two tickets (a $38 value) to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, a place I’ve not yet been. Coolio. Plus it was a gorgeous morning and a beautiful day.

Parking at equestrian center where the LAPD’s gorgeous Mounted Division’s horses are stabled, Susan and I walked back down to the sign-up table just north of Los Feliz Boulevard and were set up with trash bags and work gloves.

Deciding to head south of the boulevard picking up crap along the west bank, then cross the river at the Sunnynook Drive footbridge and head back up the eastbank to the boulevard.

As we’d gotten there about 10 a.m., the first several hundred feet of riverside were picked up pretty well. So I finally found a way to hop some rocks onto one of the river’s islands and found a motherlode of papers and plastic wrappers and such (Susan was sure I would be taking an unplanned dip in the brackish waters at some pointl; I didn’t disagree).

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Upon Arrival & After Pick-up

The majority of crap looked like the content’s of a students notebook (it chilled across my mind fleetingly to hope that the student’s body wasn’t nearby), and most noteable of the stash I picked up was an L.A. Times Calendar section from June 15, 1990, an unused hair curling iron (still in its plastic bag) and an item (also still in its original packaging called “Bear Paws,” an item that looked like giant brass knuckles (but made of plastic) with a series of sharp-ass claws used to skewer and transport large hunks of meat from pan to the table.

They look like something X-Man Wolverine might envy.

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Of course, I Googled the brand name and found a link on barbecue-store.com to the horrible things. And I quote, verbatim:

“Famous in the north and east, these sharp prongs can quickly turn barbecued pork shoulders & butts into PULLED PORK!”

Well shit-howdy, I’ll take two!

Anyway, by the time I hopped back onto dry land from the island, my haul was about 20 pounds. I was just getting started.

A couple more hundred feet down and we found another volunteer hauling a shopping cart out of the water. I helped haul it up the inclined bank to the bike path rail, hoping I’d be able to pull a cart of my own out of the muck.

Ask and the river shall provide, baby. Down at one of the Sunnynook footbridge’s supports, I found my prey wrapped around it. Another volunteer a few feet downstream suggested somewhat skeptically that if I wanted to test my strength I should give it a yank.

In no time, off came my backpack and onto the slippery rocks out over the water I went.

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Bad knee and all, it took some serious concerted effort, soaked shoess and several dozen pulls, but damn if I didn’t feel as if I could move a mountain and soon up out of its watery grave it came — in several pieces.

Last but not left behind was a long piece of rebar that wouldn’t give up without a fight, but I twisted and turned and eventually took it out as well. Behold the proud hunter with his quarry:

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After hauling everything up the bank to the edge of the bike path, we crossed the footbridge…

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The Sunnynook Footbridge

…and Susan got a picture looking north at the stretch of river from which our salvage operations were running.

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Bag on the river if you must, but it was gorgeous and serene and we saw a variety of waterfowl and swifts and swallows and silky smooth water this morning — made all the more beautiful by the hearts and souls and efforts of all who came out to pretty it up by getting rid of just a small portion of the shit with which we make things filthy.

Heading back north, we found, beer cans, bottles, butts, and even women’s hosiery, but once again, the place had been picked-up pretty well by those who had come before us. And without any islands in the stream upon which to hop, we resigned ourselves to wrapping it up.

Well, almost. Turns out I still had one last haul in me.

Up near Los Feliz Boulevard there was a green area at the bank and after traipsing down the concrete bank, at the edge I found a large rusted metal pole whose end had been planted into a large bucket of concrete… something that may have once been a tetherball set-up.

It had to go, and so it went.

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It was one thing to wrestle it out of the reeds and rocks, but then I had to cope with dragging the ungainly thing up the craggy rise of the bank — and it easily weighed at least 200 pounds. Every six feet up I had to set the thing down and catch my breath.

Halfway up, another volunteer thankfully came to my rescue and shaved four minutes off the five more minutes it would’ve taken me to get it all the way up on my own.

With that mission accomplished, Susan and I meandered along the bank and picked up assorted bits of refuse until we arrived at the water station set up just south of the boulevard where we relinquished our work gloves and happily received our 15th Annual L.A. River Clean-Up t-shirts.

Back at the sign-in station north of the boulevard, we were awarded our choice of two tickets to the L.A. Zoo or the Long Beach aquarium. “I work at the Zoo,” I told the lady with a laugh. She handed me the aquarium tix.

With our work well done and finished, I was already looking forward to next year’s clean-up and thinking how handy a kayak would be in getting out to the untouched islands in the middle of the river.

I’m sorry it took me 15 years to get involved, but I’m certain that my efforts today made up more than a little for lost time.

A Visit With Mom

Went over to mother’s pad today to help her move a piece of furniture and go through a stack of old albums of my deceased stepfather’s that she thought I might be interested in bringing home. There was some cool stuff. Old oldies of “Fats” Waller and Louie Armstrong and Jimmy Durante and Earl Hines and Bing Crosby — even a waaaaay old platter of famed tenor Enrico Caruso.

Alas most of them were not only in pretty scratched-up shape, but they run at 78 RPMs, of which my turntable only does the 33 1/3 and 45 RPM thing so I didn’t bring any back with me. But it might be a worth it to seek out a company that specializes in digitizing old records.

The moms and I actually had a pretty good talk. She was pleased to see the newer, 20-pounds-lighter version of me and we talked about my new commitment to self-improvement and my writing and what I need to do to spur my creative dogs to hunt.

I’m getting there.

But then she was telling me about an episode of the TV show Medium that she was watching recently. She said it concerned the ghost of a dead boy who was haunting his mom. Through the show’s star, Patricia Arquette, he’s finally able to communicate with his exasperated mom who couldn’t understand why the kid who she’d spoiled rotten when he was alive was now playing Caspar the unfriendly ghost.

“I got you everything you ever wanted!” the mom cried.

“But what I never got was you,” he replied… through Arquette I guess.

My mom said that hit her pretty hard. And made her think about how tough it was a single parent to raise me and how she could see me feeling the same way as a young boy.

To some degree that’s true. As a latchkey kid growing up I never much had the luxury of mom attending my little league games or regularly taking the time to play with me. She worked hard all during the week juggling a job and raising a boy on very little money and there wasn’t much left over most of the time for anything extra-curricular. As a result I became a pretty self-sufficient little punk. I taught myself to ride a bike. Walked by myself to school the first day of first grade — even knew how to find my way home from one end of Beverly Hills back to its slums when my mom dropped me off for a morning at the YMCA on Little Santa Monica with neither of us knowing it was closed for the day and split to her errands before I could catch her after finding the front doors locked.

Eight years old and I didn’t waste any time crying about my predicament. Just marched myself over to Wilshire and all the way down it back to Tower Drive three blocks east of La Cienega. I knew I was heading the right way when I passed the Bud Get car place just east of Robertson… knew my way around town but didn’t know how to pronounce “budget.”

Regrets, there may be a few. But beyond them I’m very appreciative and respectful of what my mother went through and did to keep me from becoming a serial killer. Or a rightwing nut job. And whatever I felt was missed through my formative years, what I relayed back to my mom today to quell any retroguilt she might be feeling was just that: she was there for me. She clothed me and fed me and got me to the hospital when I messed myself up and disciplined me when I screwed up, and loved me and encouraged me and taught me. As best she could.

And that’s plenty enough for me.

What Lies Beneath

A brief follow-up on yesterday’s post about L.A. history… I don’t know how I’ve missed this in the year and a half I’ve been living where I’m living, but walking the dog this morning we came to the corner of Occidental and Bellevue (as we have done many, many times) I saw for the first time this exposed brick underlayment harkening back to those days of yore:

Brick

Ghosts In The Air & History Underfoot

I don’t want to wax too nostalgisophical about Los Angeles, but the “city of angels” is an apt name for this place… in the sense that angels can be seen to signify change or reinvention via an anthropomorphed spirit or presence of something that once was real but is now more or less memory.

Being a native, my L.A. landscape is full of these ethereal memories. Countless are the places I can venture past and where now may stand a minimall or a condo complex or a Redline subway station used to be a place where I lived or visited or played or learned or otherwise knew about. Living here for any length of time you come to accept that such a loss of touchstones just comes with the territory. Literally.

Some of my earliest L.A. memories come from where I lived in an old courtyard apartment building that stood on the corner of Westminster and Fourth Street in what’s called Windsor Square. I lived there with my mother when I was sometime into my third year and I can remember looking out of my east-facing second floor bedroom window and being able to see the illuminated Union Bank logo on the west facing side of the tall building on the southwest corner of Wilshire and Western. Back then the logo was kinda strange… it was like a big round money bag topped by an eagle head in profile with small wings on either side. I used to remember wondering how a fat bird like that could fly.

The apartments on that property met the wrecking ball sometime in the 1970s. They’re condos now. But I don’t mean this to become a My Dead Places list. I merely bring it up because one of the things I truly cherish about the Silver Lake area I live in is that there are remnants that regularly remind me I live in a very old part of town. Obviously not “old” like Parthenon old… but then again for something to go 80 years or more in L.A. without being resurfaced or torn up and built upon is quite an achievement in my book.

A significant landmark? Hell no. What’s prompting this post is something as simple and insignifican as a section of street — specifically the paving contractor’s stamp that I see while walking the dog:

Street Stamp

This one is located just off the southeast corner of Marathon and Parkman, but they’re all over the place. Of course, I did a web search for the company name and came up with nada.

I would guess that part of my appreciation of such an historical footnote is fed by the regular disappearance of my personal landmarks and coupled by the 18-year period of my life lived in the San Fernando Valley, where landmark status was once (unsuccessfully) sought to preserve the 1950s-era car wash that stood at the southeast corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard (Now it’s a doubledecker shopping center). It’s not that there isn’t history in the valley, after all Encino was home to a 1,000-year-old oak south of Ventura on Louise (that sadly fell in 1997). It’s just most of its modern history only goes back a half-dozen decades (making the Encino oak’s death all the more heartbreaking) so it’s tough to get all excited when you’re walking streets that aren’t even 40 years old and living in places that aren’t even as old as you — and easy to yearn for a section of the city that has some history.

That’s why something as simple as a two-mile walk around my neighborhood is always a romanticized thrill. I pass residences that have been standing since before automobiles roamed the earth and up the Music Box Steps that are named and famous for their role in the 75-year old Oscar-winning (for the category of Short Subject) Laurel & Hardy film, and I envision a far simpler and more delightful place. What many may see as a meaningless contractor’s stamp in old section of street is a ticket allowing me to travel back to a time in this town when the clang of a Sunset Boulevard Pacific Red Car was long from becoming the angel of my imagination it is today.