writing


I opted to bus it to my friend Joel’s regularly scheduled ExecTec networking event in Westwood via the No. 704 “Rapid” bus. Point of order: Nothing is rapid between Silver Lake and the westside at 6 p.m. and it took me an hour to get there from here. On the plus side, it also allowed me to chew up a travel-sized chunk of pages from my current read, John Gregory Dunne’s absolutely awesome “True Confessions,” and I just have to share with you a snip from chapter five when Detective Tom Spellacy is recalling his barely legal past as a repoman, and how during on particular grab a dog bit him badly on the backside and his future partner with the LAPD showed up, to save his butt — literally.

He rubbed his ass.

The dog who bit him in 1933 was named Wolf and Wolf had taken thirrty-seven stitches worth out of his ass when he was trying to lift a black Packard with nine thousand miles on it. Crotty was the cop on the beat and when Tom Spellacy screamed, Crotty showed up and drilled Wolf with one shot. You dumb fuck, Spellac had said, you could’ve got me. Not a chance, Crotty had said. He blasted Wolf once more for good measure. You ought to think about joining the department, Crotty said. It beats hot cars and you can shoot the fucking dogs.

That last line made me laugh out loud, right there in the back of the No. 704 bus westbound out of Century City on Santa Monica Boulevard, and as I looked up from the pages I found one of the MTA’s “Poetry in Motion” series placards hanging above the window across from me. It featured a work by Gwendolyn Brooks titled “Speech to the Young : Speech to the Progress-Toward.”

Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
the sun-slappers,
the self-soilers,
the harmony-hushers,
“even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night.”
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.

Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.

Who knew one could fall in love with two works of art and their artists right there in the back of the No. 704 bus as it crawled past the Mormon Temple.

Odd as it might be to some that deciding how I’m getting to an event would help me figure out what I was going to do once I got there, that’s how things worked out for last night’s inaugural L.A. Bloggers Live at Tangier in Los Feliz Village.

labl0.jpg

Neil from Citizen of the Month

In the throes of a potent cocktail a couple weeks ago I said why not and signed up to participate, hell yeah! Woot! But in the far more sober and less enthusiastic aftermath I kicked myself up one side and wondered down the other what in gawdz name was I going to actually read. With a proposed five-minute limit that ruled out the vast majority of my deathless posts and so up until a couple days ago I was at a total loss… until I decided to bike there and it hit me that I should do a post about biking. After all, I had an editorial in the L.A. Times on the subject recently and it’s an activity near and dear and hell, in my travels around the way me and my bright orange bike are even starting to get the occasional glances of recognition from people I pass. Certainly I’ve got years and a long way to go before I become the two-wheeled equivalent of the iconic Silver Lake Walking Dude, but more and more people are equating me and The Phoenix as fixtures around the neighborhood and the greater L.A. cycling world, too.

So the topic was settled and in short order the selection was made: my “The Butt Stops Here” post from March 13 in parts because it was within the suggested time constraints (I timed it), and had some confrontation and payback entertainment value.

labl2.jpg

After locking up The Phoenix outside the club and trying to cooldown a bit before entering, Blogging.la co-captain David Markland arrived and we went inside where he was kind enough to buy me a Newcastle which I used to help calm the nerves that are unavoidable whenever I’m set to stand up in front of a mic and bunch of people. New B.la contributor Julia arrived and just after things got underway with introductions from the happening’s organizer Leah folowed by Joe from Artlung, shortly thereafter Cybele arrived and things moved pretty quick down the list of readers:

  1. Deezee from Confessional Highway
  2. Neil from Citizen of the Month
  3. Jenn from Aka Jesais
  4. Abigail from My Life According to Me
  5. Peter from The Buddha Diaries
  6. Tim from LA Daddy
  7. Marissa from Engel’s Angle

My turn was between Abigail and Peter and when I downloaded the pix I snapped from last night strangely I found one of me that was physically impossible for me to take (I expect it was snapped by Cybele):

labl1.jpg

I think it went well enough. By that I humbly submit that I managed my nerves and I didn’t fall down going to or from the mic, my tongue only tripped me up the requisite thousand half-dozen times, there was some polite laughter at the appropriate moments and no impolite laughter at inappropriate moments. All in all I was glad to be one of the pioneers of what has the potential to become a regularly scheduled showcase. And as a bonus I had the pleasure of meeting Clifford of Asymptotia who was in attendance and introduced himself afterwards.

The Vine

vine.jpg

I aspire,
To go higher.

Well first off, what a pleasant homecoming gift to arrive back from 15 hours of flights from Paris to Atlanta to L.A. to  find  my urban bicycling editorial gracing the pages of today’s L.A. Times. Much appreciation to the Times’ Robin Rauzi for tapping me for the duty and for honing the piece, and nods of appreciation to those who’ve written in congratulatory response to it. If you’re dropping by for the first time from it, welcome. The brief  and immediate backstory  is that I’m just now returning home with my wife from two weeks in Europe and there’s plenty of catching up to do on sleep, regular mail, email and all that.

When we left the jacarandas were still sleeping. How wonderful it is to return to them wide awake!

Sorry for the even more irregular postings here these last few days since docking in Monte Carlo. Apparently the internet tubes either don’t reach Paris or are exceptionally hard to find (perhaps even moreso being so distracted by everything!). I also apologize for the lack of direct response to those of you kind enough to drop me notes about the Times column, but I am as happy to be home as I am totally freakin’ exhausted and the only thing I’m going to try and do right now is get some zzzz’s  and my body clock hopefully re-synched to local time… right now it’s 6:30 a.m. in France.

I lied: before I go collapse, of the average 225 photos I took per day here’s une snap du Paris in the form of the magnificent view of Quasimodo’s castle and the Seine and the street scenery that Susan and I shared for three nights from our fifth floor corner room in the aptly named Hotel du Notre Dame (click to enlarge):

notredame.jpg

Until tomorrow!

No sooner had I posted yesterday about my Rwanda and little bike short rejections when e-word came out to me across the internut from the L.A. Times that an op-ed column they solicited from me a couple weeks ago on the city’s plan or lack thereof for a cohesive bicycling network has been given a go-ahead for publication.

Not only that but there’s money involved (and I’m not talking about the somethin’ somethin’ twenty I paypal’d to my friend on the staff there to help it along).  I’m not sure how much and frankly I don’t care, I’m just pleased as punch at seeing a green light instead of another red. Any cha-ching is just gravy.

As to when it’s scheduled to run, I don’t know that either. Most likely sometime after Susan and I’ve left Saturday so if by chance any a yooz get the paper, happen upon my column and can save it for me then you’ll have my grateful apprecation (all right and a twenty, too!).

There’s plenty for me to kvetch about in regards to yesterday’s first L.A. Storytellers workshop at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But the encompassing aggravation is that I’m a writer, not a teller.

I won’t go too deep into a play-by-play other than to say I arrived to find a much larger turnout than I’d been expecting, and I’m happy to say that the Music Center personnel were terrifically accommodating in allowing me to secure The Phoenix in the Dorothy Chandler’s coat check room (perhaps the first time a bicycle has graced the confines normally reserved for furs and such).

After checking in, the workshop facilitators with Cornerstone Theater (of whom apparently actor Bill Pullman is perhaps a board member because he was the the videographer for the day) got everyone loosened up and mingling with several engaging exercises successfully designed to get us all talking to each other, Then after a bagel and juice break we reconvened to count off from one to five and be divied up into smaller groups for the actual story telling. I wound up in the “1” group and as fate would have it I was the only male among the 10 of us.

After some fun physicalization drills, our group’s director Page dove us right into the storytelling and I made the mistake of speaking up and inquiring as to whether I should freestyle through the 100 word synopsis I submitted when I signed up or wade through the 3,000 word draft I’d written some time ago.

Page’s eyes got wide at “3,000” but she told me that the choice was up to me and why don’t I go first.

“But I don’t want to go first.”

“Why not.”

I started to say because I don’t wanna, but looking around at the pleasant circle of ladies (most of whom were older than me) I had a good idea that my story — besides being monumentally looooong and rather personal — was also going to be the only tale involving a throat being cut. And all my personal indicators were telling me to be anyone but the first one.

But instead I just said “fine” and away I launched bumblingly into a very poor construct of my downtown tale of theft, insurance fraud, deceit, double cross, blackmail and murder in which I felt obliged to apologize for the backstory, in between getting ahead of myself and having to backtrack and reiterate and generally just feel like an idiot.

But nevermore so idiotic then when I was finally getting to the homestretch and all of a sudden up pops Page with a built-in condescension she may or may not be able to avoid but was perhaps trying to mask with something attempting sincerity (and failing) telling me from behind this phony grin that I instantly hated how sorry she was to interrupt but that I needed to wrap it in the interest of everyone else having the opportunity having to tell their stories.

Note: I have a history of reacting rather strongly
to being interupted in the middle of presentations.

A lot of things happened in the seconds that followed Page’s spike strip. I looked at my watch expecting in horror to see that a half hour had somehow transpired from the moment I opened my mouth, but was pleased to see I was only approaching my sixth minute. Then I got pissed off at Page for a whole number of reasons: stopping me; failing as the so-called “director” to provide anything resembling direction (such as “try to keep your presentations to less than five minutes” would’ve been nice); her fake grin. Then I totally lost my train of thought and briefly toyed with just saying “and they all were incarcerated happily ever after, the end.” and abruptly gathering my stuff, bidding the fair ladies adieu and getting the fark outta there and on with my life.

But instead I shrugged and wrapped the story up anticlimactically and sat back seethingly inwardly as Page and her assistant scribbled some notes before moving onto the next story, which was an elderly woman’s quaint tale — in poem form — of herself as a young girl coming down with her Yiddish-speaking mother to the old Philharmonic via the Red Car to see Arthur Rubenstein perform. Very nice.

The rest of the women brought forth nothing resembling stories so much as brief recollections, vignettes and reminiscences of downtown events and experiences. Most were very nice and very brief, reinforcing me as the odd man out, literally, figuratively and narratively.

After that we adjourned upstairs for some final thoughts with everyone before being released. Whereupon I retrieved my bike and rode down to the site of my story’s murder — my first time back since my last day working there in 1982 — to find the place was just as I remembered it from 25 years ago:

1106.jpg

Barring getting some sort of “thanks but no thanks” correspondence from the events organizers, I’m certainly willing to return for the second L.A. Storytellers workshop and subsequent “performance” in a couple weeks. But that’s contingent primarily on my willingness to whittle my story to a more concise format, and secondarily on whether or not I have any desire to work with the likes of people such as Page. Editing the piece down is no problem, but should I accept that mission and then show up to find I’m paired with her again, I just might run screaming from the building.

Got home to find a voicemail message from an editor at the Times, calling to confirm I was indeed a writer of a recent letter to the editor signed by me and telling me they’re interested in running it some time this week.

I’d forgotten all about the letter, being one that I whipped off last Friday Thursday morning after reading a puff brief on a performance last week by Yusuf Islam, which mentioned his most recent 2004 controversy but somehow ignored the much bigger one he stoked the year my daughter was born:

I grew up adoring the music of Yusuf Islam back when he was called Cat Stevens, but that adoration abruptly ended in 1989 when he publicly supported calls by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for the assassination of author Salman Rushdie who allegedly blasphemed the Muslim religion in his novel “The Satanic Verses.” Thus I found it interesting in Ellen Wulfhorst’s review of Islam’s performance this week (“Older, wiser and back aboard ‘Peace Train,'” Calendar Weekend, December 21) that his 2004 “no-fly list” controversy was mentioned, but not this far more disturbing public position.

In recent years, such as with this U.S. performance, the former superstar has attempted to mitigate the damage to his career and spin-manage his stance but the fact is he hoped for the death of the writer and said he would willingly help bring it about if he could, and to me that will forever derail whatever “peace train” he tries to get aboard.

Will Campbell
Los Angeles

Am I grudge-hugging too hard? Nope. This man and his music were inspirations to me and I wasn’t exagerating when I wrote of my adoration of him. His little ditty “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out,” which I first heard as a teen in the film “Harold and Maude” was like a revelatory scriptural anthem to me and there’s nothing that can reconcile the shock and betrayal I felt with his blatant support for Rushdie’s destruction. I simply can’t listen to anything of his now without it being clouded, and certainly won’t suffer his weak explanations of how what he said back then was misinterpreted or taken out of context.

« Previous PageNext Page »