Category Archives: Los Angeles

Come on baby, put out my fire

Because Southern California hasn’t had rain in something like six months, the areas around Los Angeles are burning.  People are being evacuated, and those who refuse to leave then find themselves in need of rescue (assholes).   12,000 homes are threatened, and two firefighters have died trying to stop the blaze.

Armageddon seems to have hit.

We’re fine where we are, thanks for asking.  But the air quality is crappy.  So crappy, in fact, that I have conceded to closing the windows and using the air conditioner, a state of affairs that would please my husband if I were just willing to set it lower than 77.  You can see smoke in the distance, but you can’t see much of anything else.  Getting out of the car on Sunday, Zachary whined, “I can’t breathe.”

Given that my mother died of non-smoker’s lung cancer in her thirties, you can imagine how such a statement resonated with me.  So, the kids are staying indoors, which is going about as well as you think it is.  Every three-year-old likes to be kept inside all day.  And the baby is ever so pleased, as well.

I just don’t get why L.A. is considered some sort of paradise.  Every summer, the hills are alive with the sound of helicopters spraying flame retardant chemicals.  In the winter, the rains bring down the mountainside.  Periodically, the entire earth shakes and people start talking about “the big one.”

Not to mention the public schools with twenty-five kids to a kindergarten and many more in the older grades, fire departments in a state of “brown out,” and domestic violence shelters closing because there is no money.  For the privilege of all of this, we have an exorbitant cost of living and obscenely high taxes.

Makes a girl homesick for Philly.

And, I repeat: WTF?

By now, perhaps you have heard that Michael Jackson died.  If you have not, I would like to know what rock you have been under and whether there is any room there for me.

Los Angeles, the city that for better or worse I currently call home, is hosting a memorial service for the King of Pop today.  People have been going slightly insane trying to score tickets for this thing, which is expected to draw a hell of a lot more people than will fit into the Staples Center.  There are overflow plans and there are security plans, the second of which will be funded by the City of Los Angeles.

Now, I couldn’t give two craps and a hula hoop about Jackson when he was alive, other than to be sad at what a talented child turned into, but I’ll tell you what I do care about.  The Los Angeles Unified School District.  And the Fire Department.  And the Police Department.  And [insert here any one of numerous public services funded by my tax dollars].

Los Angeles, along with the rest of the State of California, is completely broke.  Bankrupt.  Belly-up, busted, in the red, and gone to the wall.  The city is struggling, cutting back on essential services, and raining pink slips on teachers like confetti.  And we’re paying for the fucking security at a memorial service for a singer?

Once again, Los Angeles proves it knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Here’s another blogger on this topic.

Hump day


            Wednesdays are rough.  On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, I have a nanny here all afternoon and evening.  On Fridays, Daddy is home for supper.  But, Wednesdays, they can be very long days.  By the time I get Benjamin down for his nap, Lilah is screaming.  Then I nurse her while Zachary entertains himself.  Often, while I sit with her, I hear him trot into the bathroom, put on his little seat, grab a toy catalog, and sit down on the porcelain throne.  Eventually, I hear too much toilet paper being ripped off, the flush, and then Zach singing “happy Birthday” twice while he washes his hands.

            By the time I eat lunch, empty the boys’ lunch boxes, and close my eyes for fifteen minutes, it’s almost time to get Benjamin up, and Zach and I have only read a few books together.  And then it’s snack time, and Lilah needs to get up so we can go to karate, where somehow I am supposed to entertain the little ones in the tiny waiting area, and then home where I try to feed her whilst the boys pull out every last toy that we own, and finally I give up turn on the Tinkerbell movie and order a pizza for dinner.

            Don’t even ask about bathtime.

            Yesterday was especially rough, as J had taken the morning off so we could meet with Benjamin’s teachers to discuss his, ahem, spiritedness.  We were late because traffic was backed up to our front door.  The 405 was running smoothly, as we could see from the surface streets where we were sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, unable to actually access the highway.  And, then traffic was brutal getting back to our neighborhood, where we were scheduled to visit the local elementary school to decide if our little guy is ready for kindergarten next year.  And Lilah thinks her car seat is some sort of Medieval torture device, causing her to scream mercilessly in that thing, so eventually we pulled over so I could nurse her.

            Don’t even ask about traffic getting back to the preschool for the noon pickup.

            And pickup was funky because the parking lot was jammed with cars due to the Chinese New Year party the Synagogue Sisterhood was hosting.  No, I don’t know why.   And more traffic getting home, with Zachary whining about the windows and Benjamin threatening to fall asleep and Lilah screaming some more.

            Some kid had been going the wrong way on the 10 Freeway, it seems, and he had plowed into a cop on his way to work at 5 AM.  They had a spectacular crash that snarled L.A. traffic pretty much all morning.

            It also killed both men.

            When we got home, I was relieved to be out of the car and start getting Benjamin down for his nap.  But, mostly, I was relieved I was not one of those mothers or the officer’s wife.

            And then there was the small plane crash in Santa Monica yesterday that killed two people.  Plus the dude who shot his whole family earlier in the week.  It’s a damned good thing that a woman just had octuplets, because the population of Los Angeles has taken a real hit this week.

Further evidence that a Ph.D. don’t mean I’m smart

            Los Angeles is not a particularly hilly city.  I mean, there are hills surrounding the basin that so famously captures and holds the heat, but it is one of the flatter places I have lived.  Chapel Hill, N.C., for example, is a place totally aptly named, as pretty much every part of that city is either up an incline or down one.

            Despite the abundance of flat locations to choose from, whomever first conceived of the Los Angeles Zoo decided to build it on a rather steep slope.  It is in Griffith Park, a lovely area surrounded by the hills that reportedly were used to film the opening sequence of M*A*S*H, which goes a long way towards explaining why every time we head out that way I feel like I am driving into Korea.  The zoo itself has a flat parking lot, but it is all uphill from there.  You have to trek about a half mile upwards, past innumerable concession carts, before you even get to see a single animal (other than the flamingos, which are positioned maybe a quarter mile from the front gates).

            Now, I knew this because we have been to the zoo before.  And I knew I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant.  And I went anyway on Sunday.  I even pooh-poohed the tram that could take us up because it wasn’t scheduled to leave for another ten minutes.  Benjamin wanted to see the tigers.  You know they put those damned things at the very top of the zoo.

            Consequently, I am currently very close to immobile.  I can only walk very short distances, due to some muscle or another I pulled or strained above the groin and below the belly button.  (It is much worse when I have to pee – anyone with better anatomical training that I have want to hazard a guess as to which it might be?)  Thank heaven we have a nanny to cover some of the hours when my husband isn’t around, because I am sure not showing my kids a good time right about now.

           Naturally, when we finally got there, all four of those tigers were sound asleep.

Celebrity hound (part 1)

            The mark of a true Washingtonian is the ability to say things like “over by Capital Hill” and “down at the Smithsonian” without gasping at the sheer governmental importance of it all.  A Washingtonian would never do what I did, one New Year’s Eve, and walk over to Richard Gephardt at the next table in a restaurant to wish him well in the Presidential campaign.  Fat load of good it did him, of course, but a true native or a well-assimilated transplant would be cool in the face of political superstardom.

            Every city has these quirks.  Bostonians don’t visit the Cheers bar; Londoners find those double-decker busses useful, not charming; and New Yorkers for the most part do not visit the Guggenheim.  In Los Angeles, of course, you can tell the natives from the out-of-towners because they are way cool when they run into movie stars.

            And so, one day last week, had you been in Long’s Pharmacy, you would have assumed I was quickly assimilating to my new home (unless you, say, read my blog and know better).  Because, as I walked in the door, exhausted preschooler and hungry toddler in tow, and looked up at the checkout line by the front door, I did not swoon.  I did not fumble for a pen to get an autograph.  I merely gave a half-smile and a quarter nod in Henry Winkler’s direction before heading off to look for ice packs for Zachary’s lunch bag.

            Winkler, too, would have assumed, had he thought about it at all, that I was being respectful and giving him his space.  This would have been a gross miscalculation.  The fact is, I was not entirely sure it was Henry Winkler.  It’s not like he was wearing a leather jacket and waving out the window of the Cunningham’s garage.  And, I am notoriously lousy at recognizing celebrities. 

             I am the woman who, early in 2000, stood next to Martin Sheen on the curb at National Airport.  He looked oddly familiar, and as we drove away, I stared as I tried to place his face.  He smiled and waved, so I did too.  Then I turned to J.  “That guy looks strangely familiar.  Is he one of my old professors?”

              Whatever my next career move, I am clearly not cut out to lead any of those “spotting the stars” tours.

               And so, by virtue of my cultural idiocy, I will blend right in, respecting the rights of the stars to buy their cough syrup in peace.  Unless I spot Rachel Griffiths.  Girl, if I see you anywhere, you can rest assured I will drool all over you.


            Getting out of London was complicated, what with revisions on the book and organizing the packing and helping the boys towards closure, but arriving in Los Angeles has proven even more overwhelming.  For three of us, at least, it may as well be a foreign planet.  Until two weeks ago, I had only ever spent 36 hours here.  The neighborhoods, the highways, the rhythm of the weather, the architectural style – it is all different than anything I have ever seen before, and I spent the first week simply trying to orient myself, as did the children. 

             Neither of our sons had ever seen a palm tree before, and Benjamin, even two weeks later, is absolutely smitten.  From their point of view, those trees are about as exotic as vegetation can be.  Nor can either child quite figure out what to make of all that sunshine.  Zachary deals with it by insisting upon having his window open every time we get into the car, while Benjamin starts screams “OUTSHIDE” the moment he gets out of bed.  He stands at the front door in his pajamas and yanks on the door handle, stopping only to grab my shoes and then beseech me to put them on.

            As we get our bearings, we are also trying to piece a life together.  J has one more week of UK vacation time stored up, but we have been doing anything but vacationing.  Our lives in Philadelphia were liquidated, and we are starting from scratch around here.  J bought a car shortly before we came, on his last business trip out here, but we needed another one.  We also have to find doctors, babysitters, grocery stores, and playgrounds, not to mention a few other salient items, like a place to live.

            You see, we are in temporary housing, which, by its nature, is temporary.  So, if you are wondering why the quality of my posts as nosedived and why I have not been reading or commenting very much lately, it is because we are busy going to open houses and scheduling viewings.  In my quest for good air quality, we have landed ourselves in one of the most pricey parts of a very pricey city.  Now, we have had to prioritize in very short order.  We need enough space for all five of us, but how much space is enough?  Can five people live comfortably in 1400 square feet if three of them are under three feet tall?  We don’t know if we will send the children to public or private school, but which elementary school has what we are looking for?  We have another six years at this preschool, so how far away are we willing to be?  Will we trade five more minutes in the car to and from preschool for an extra 200 square feet of living space?

            All we know is that we had better have a little back yard, because one of us plans on spending all day outshide.  

A different world

            We are starting to get our footing.  We have found the playgrounds.  We are figuring out neighborhoods as we work on house-hunting.  We are learning the side roads and how best to cross the 405 during rush hour.  Life in L.A. is a different ball of wax than life on the East Coast or in London, and we are poking that ball to determine its texture.  It remains to be seen if it will suit us.

            There is, however, one aspect of life here that is rocking my world.  Here, I am not the weirdo with the canvas bag in the grocery store.  Here, in fact, I never need to say “I don’t need a bag.”  And people look at you a little funny if you need one.  We seem to have entered a world where people recognize that they are visitors here on the planet, and they had better behave themselves.

            At the Santa Monica Aquarium, which, by the way, is stretching the definition of “aquarium,” they have dual-flush toilets.  You push one button for urine, another for more solid contributions.  This is brilliant, as one form of waste requires a good deal less water. 

            At the farmer’s market, there are no trash cans.  It is one of those markets with food stalls and tantalizing breakfast options served up on paper plates, but there are no rubbish bins.  Everything used there is either recyclable or compostable, so there are only those two types of bins.  Volunteers stand by to help people sort out which item is which.

            It got a little complicated when I had to change a poopy diaper.           

If a crowded farmer’s market can go zero-waste, why can’t more food courts?  Why can’t we all have dual-flush toilets?  Why can’t other cities create the type of peer pressure I am finding around here to carry one’s own bags? 

I feel like I have entered some sort of environmental nirvana, despite all the driving.  The jury is out on the people and the cost of housing (holy shit) and the sprawling city, but I think it is safe to say that LA has won a very important portion of my heart.

Into the fire

            There may be a few posts up this week about moving because, well, we’re moving.  On Friday.  For those of you who missed the memo (or slew of memos), let me recap.  We have been living in London for almost two years.  We were slated to return to Philadelphia, where we owned a house and had a preschool picked out and were a few hours away from J’s parents.  Where we knew the best places to get pancakes and had all of my business contacts.  A comfortable place, the geographical equivalent of pajamas.

            And then we were not returning to Philadelphia.  The powers that be wanted us in Los Angeles.  And sometime around December, the final decision was made.  Anyone who has spent December in London will realize that LA starts to look pretty good when the light comes out at 8, makes a few half-hearted attempts at daylight, and then disappears completely well before 4.  So, we scrambled for preschools and rushed to sell our house and found ourselves some temporary housing.

            And, now, we’re moving to LA on Friday.  We’re moving to a city where I have spent a total of 36 hours in my entire life, a good chunk of that at the airport.  We’re moving to a city where the major industry is a type of entertainment I have indulged in three times since my eldest child was born three and a half years ago (and two of those were Harry Potter movies).  We’re moving someplace where apparently, everyone has to drive everywhere.  This last scares the shit out of me, because I am hardwired pedestrian.  I just do not like to drive.  I find it annoying.  And a bit rough on the air I breathe.

            However, what scares me the most is not the driving.  Or the housing costs (sweet heavens, please tell me why the housing recession does not seem to be making much of a dent).  And, although I am mighty nervous about how the kids will adjust, it is not even the hunger strike that Zach will inevitably go on for our first week there that worries me the most.

            What wakes me up panting for breath in the middle of the night is that I am just not good-looking enough to live in LA.  I did fine in Philly, where people intentionally stick their middle fingers up at New York by refusing to wear black.  I did OK in DC, because I was younger then and everything was kinda higher – above the equator – in those days.  I did great in Chapel Hill because of all those chemistry graduate students wandering around with barium compounds in their hair making the rest of us look good.  I was alright in Charlottesville because back in those days I used to put a little bit of, you know, time into my appearance.

            Nowadays, however, my morning routine takes about seven minutes, and that’s including four for brushing my teeth.  I have never been much for wearing makeup, and I only dig it out for fancy occasions.  I might start now, except eye makeup feels funny when I try to focus on writing and lipstick comes off on my water glass.  Now, even the things I used to do have fallen by the wayside.  I don’t even own contact lenses anymore.

            To make matters worse, it has come to my attention that feminine maintenance has grown more complicated over the last 15 years.  Like, what’s with the eyebrow shaping?  I am expected to pay someone to change the shape of my eyebrows?  Seriously?

            Yes, I know I could learn how to do all of this.  I just don’t want to.

            Well, at least I will be hitting LA with a good haircut.  I scheduled an appointment with my hairdresser here for a week ago, figuring that way I would not have to think about it for awhile after hitting the ground.  He is a fantastic hairdresser, and he has always made me look as good as can be expected given that I refuse to straighten my hair or use product and do not own a hairdryer. 

            I think last week he might have been smoking some rare form of crack, because the haircut he gave me makes me look like a cocker spaniel with a mullet.  Thanks, dude.  And, so, I came home from the salon, close to tears, but reassuring myself it could not be so bad.  Surely, everyone in LA is not as good-looking as they are made out to be.  There have to be SOME people there who are not failed movie actors.  I read a few blogs to make me feel better, and came across this post.  Thanks for boosting my spirits, Becky.

            And, so, on Friday, we move to the land of the tan from the land of the pasty and pale.  We move to the land of the boob job, the tummy tuck, and the “war of the brows,” which is apparently a battle between the leading eyebrow pluckers.  And me?  I will be just pregnant enough to look fat, the only woman in a 300 mile radius wearing glasses, and will be sporting a haircut that makes me look like a canine with an 80s fetish.