June 17, 2015No Comments

Homelessness in LA | Let’s Not Look Away

There are more homeless people in Los Angeles in 2015 than there have been since the homeless census in 2007. The biennial homeless count, released in mid-May, reported a 16% increase in the number of men, women and children living on the streets or in shelters. And the most notable change? A huge bump of 85% in the number of people living in tents, cars and recreational vehicles. My North Hollywood neighborhood is proof of this. A virtual tent city has cropped up around the 170 freeway near Magnolia Blvd.

Personally, I've noticed an uptick in panhandling around the freeway exits and the Metro stations, and I've been trying not to avert my eyes, but to really see the faces of people so down on their luck that they are asking strangers for money. They are mainly single adults, with a heart-breaking 20% of families with children. Collectively, they paint a picture of the life problems that can knock a person to the fringes of society: 20% are mentally ill, 17% have substance abuse problems, 15% are victims of domestic violence, 14% are physically disabled, 6% are veterans.

Their stories are mere sketches of details. A disability or disease or mental illness that makes it impossible to work. A boyfriend who beat her and abandoned her in LA with no money and no way to get home. I get the sense listening to these stories that a gigantic iceberg looms underneath these simple details. For a problem as intractable as homelessness, is there ever one cause? So many problems have deep roots.

So how does the city of Los Angeles respond to this uptick? Yesterday (June 16), the City Council gave preliminary approval to two ordinances designed to make it easier to break up homeless camps. The new ordinances would replace the current city practice that gives the homeless three days' warning before seizing their belongings if they're left on sidewalks or in parks. Now, homeless people will be given just 24 hours' notice, and large personal items like tables and couches can be taken without warning.

This is wrong. Criminalizing homelessness isn't a cure for it. It's averting your eyes and saying "not in my neighborhood."

When I was younger, I used to dodge panhandlers in Westwood on my way to work. I never gave them money because I didn't think they were really homeless. One of them had a car and drove to the same spot every day. He said once, in a moment of a candor to one of my co-workers, that he made more money panhandling than working. I don't know if that was true.

I'm less judgmental now. I don't try to guess another person's motivation behind asking for money or sleeping on the street. I think asking strangers for money must feel degrading and awful.  If there are those who find it fun or love doing it, they are a tiny majority.

I give them all the benefit of the doubt, a smile and some spare change. If it funds alcohol or drugs, then I hope it dulls the pain that day, and I hope they get further help. I wish we could find better long-term solutions. In the meantime, here are eight great organizations fighting on the front lines.

Downtown Women's Center
Provides permanent supportive housing and a safe and healthy community fostering dignity, respect, and personal stability.

Fred Jordan Mission
On Los Angeles' Skid Row, this 71-year-old Christian-based mission feeds hundreds of hungry people and provides assistance to impoverished individuals and families.

Los Angeles Mission
Provides emergency services such as shelter, food, clothing, as well as professional medical and dental services from its Skid Row location. Christian-based. Also offers long-term residential rehabilitation programs including education, professional mental health counseling, job training/placement, and transitional housing.

MEND
Provides emergency food, clothing, medical, vision and dental care, job skills training and job placement assistance, English as a Second Language classes, youth activities, and a Christmas program. In the San Fernando Valley.

Midnight Mission
Provides emergency services like food and shelter, and addiction recovery, job training, education and work programs from Skid Row location. Founded in 1914.

Ocean Park Community Center
Offering services related to housing, domestic violence, physical health, mental health, life skills/wellness, income services and substance abuse in west Los Angeles.

San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission
Offers 90 days of emergency shelter to families, traveling shower trucks and hot meals. Also operates three thrift stores, and is always taking donations of household items, baby stuff and clothes. A fire destroyed their emergency shelter in May 2014, and the newly built one in North Hollywood will open soon.

Union Rescue Mission
One of the largest Christian-based missions in the nation and preparing to celebrate its 125-year anniversary in 2016. Offers emergency and long-term services to men, women and children from its Skid Row location.

Learn more about the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and its biennial census.

 

June 2, 20151 Comment

Fiction in a Minute: Dude, Part 5

Editor's note: you can read Part 4 here.

He knew as he walked to the waiting room with Melly that he couldn’t leave. He texted Ray that he was tied up, then slumped into a chair like a man knocked down by a haymaker punch he never saw coming.

His mind played back Linus’s request like an audio loop. The image of a baby formed before his eyes against the blank waiting room wall, its innocence and potential as pure as sunlight. His genes, and those of his father and mother (now gone), living on through this sparkling baby. And what an offer -- to procreate without responsibility, a donor of life who gives and then departs, his duty done in minutes rather than over decades.

And of course there was the karmic payback, the chance to give life where once he had taken it. Now in his mind’s movie theatre he saw himself in another waiting room, his girlfriend Kimmie’s red eyes and smeared mascara, the signs on the wall about sexually-transmitted diseases and something called the morning after pill that he had never known existed.

Someone said “father” and he looked up to see Melly staring at him, holding a pot of thick black coffee in one hand and a styrofoam cup in another.

“What did you say?”

“Coffee. I asked if you wanted coffee,” she said.

Neil shook his head, and watched her turn from him, her hands moving over packets of sugar and artificial sweetener and dried creamer.

“You and Linus have been looking into the artificial insemination thing for a while?” he said.

She turned to him, her face wrinkling in confusion, teeth chewing her bottom lip. “We can’t afford that kind of thing,” she said, and he understood with great clarity that he was expected to have sex with her. He found himself appraising her with different eyes, noticing the way her button-down shirt gaped slightly between her breasts, and the soft roundness of her rear end.

After a time, sitting in silence next to Melly, the thought occurred to him: What if Linus died on the operating table? Did he mean for Neil to take Melly as his wife? Panic stirred in him, and he sat up straight in the chair, his legs ready to run. He willfully slowed his breathing. Certainly that wasn’t Linus’s expectation. He just wanted to come clean with Neil about his reasons for dragging him to the Green Man bar. A deathbed declaration of truth was all it was.

His mind took on the prayerful mantra, “let him be okay, let him be okay,” and Neil realized this was the closest he had come to praying since his mother’s death. But because he didn’t believe in God, he threw the words out into the universe like pennies into a wishing well, rather than addressing them to some supreme being with the power to grant him this request.

Melly turned on the television, standing on her tiptoes to reach the buttons that changed the channels. A remote control was nowhere to be found. She settled on a cooking show, and they both stared at the female chef at her stove, talking directly into the camera. And so the hours passed.

The surgeon strode in on lime-green running shoes, his head covered in a blue bandanna that matched his eyes.

“Mrs. Deguerra?” he said, and Melly glanced at Neil shyly before taking the more expedient choice of letting him identify her this way, instead of going through the “we’re not married” speech.

“The surgery went well. The bullet missed his heart by an inch. It sliced through his shoulder and went out the other side, so we had nothing to remove. We’ll know later if he’s lost any motor function or has nerve damage; in which case he may need more surgery. But he’s recovering nicely.”

Melly seemed to melt with relief, and Neil felt a weight lifted. No need to worry about interpreting Linus’s intent in making his odd request and wondering if it included becoming Melly’s guardian, protector and baby daddy.

After another cooking show had begun and ended, Neil heard the soft squeak of sneakers on the tile floor. A nurse in pink scrubs holding a clipboard motioned for them both to follow her. Neil followed the two women, feeling tethered to Melly and unwilling to let her out of his sight until he had delivered her back safely to Linus.

They came to brightly lit single room, where Linus lay looking out the dark window.
Neil heard Melly gasp back a sob, then watched her as she flung her brown purse on the ground and slid into the chair next to the bed. Linus turned to her and they pressed their heads together, hands clasping. She kissed him several times, her lips making soft smacks on his skin. Linus winced in pain but still smiled. Their love electrified the air, and Neil felt the tiny hairs on the back of his arms and neck begin to stand up in response. Here was certain love.

“I’ll do it,” he blurted out, and they both turned their eyes to him, first in surprise, then joy.

April 25, 20152 Comments

Fiction in a Minute: Dude, Part 4

Editor's note: you can read Part 3 here.

The smell of diesel fuel and exhaust hit Neil’s nose, then gave way to the disinfectant and alcohol smell of the emergency room.

Last time Neil was in an emergency room, his mother was still alive, a cut on her head needing stitches on Christmas Day. They weren’t at this particular emergency room, but something about these waiting rooms made them all the same. Slow, tense places serving as holding pens for the big show behind closed doors.  About thirty people sat in clusters of two and three, in straight-backed chairs designed with cheapness not aesthetics in mind. Fear and worry thickened the air.

Melly picked up the handset of an old-fashioned push button phone, the kind of phone his parents had before the ubiquitousness of “cordless” technology. She kept her back to him while she spoke, and he saw her nodding her head.

“They said we should go to the fifth floor waiting area,” she said to him.

Unmarked doors, name badges, long white corridors, the shell-shocked faces of other families, a man with a face like a mouse slowly mopping the floor. A nurse in pink scrubs met them at the elevator.

“You’re here for Mr. Deguerra?” she asked in a matter-of-fact way, clipboard at her side.

“Yes,” Melly said. Neil waited to be asked if he was family, but apparently this nurse wasn’t going to bother.

“He’s in pre-op,” she said. “Why don’t you go in for a few minutes?”

Pre-op sounded to Neil like serious family time. He couldn’t imagine Linus would want him in there -- what if he had important, deathbed kind of things to say to Melly? Surely this would be where they parted ways.

Melly smoothed her hand over her hair and he felt her hand clamp his forearm and squeeze gently. The nurse marched ahead of them down the hall without looking back.

“Please come,” Melly said. “I don’t think I can do this alone.”

The pre-op room was the size of a small theater, divided into twelve compartments by drapes hanging from ceiling tracks. They walked down the well-lit aisle, dark eyes following them from the occupied beds.

Linus laid in the furthest bed, his head propped up and his eyes dull with pain. His hospital gown drooped, exposing his right shoulder, making him seem small and old.

“You came,” he said, his lips lifting into the beginnings of a smile. “Perfect.”

Melly crooked her hand around his, her knuckles pressing into the white sheet. Tears spilt onto his arm.

“No, no,” he said. “No crying, for everything is going to be all right, Melly.”

“You saved my life again,” she said, a sob shuddering through her thin frame.

“You don’t know that,” Linus said. He blinked and refocused, this time on Neil. “Maybe this dude here saved both our lives.”

I didn’t save anyone’s life, Neil thought. If anything, me and Linus surprised the robber and that made him shoot. If we hadn’t walked in, maybe it would have never got violent. Maybe the man would have taken the money and left Melly, shaken but unhurtWho could say whether our appearance was a good thing or a bad thing? It just was.

“It was nothing, man. Now you’ve got to relax and let the doctors do their work,” Neil said.

“But I need to tell you why I brought you there,” Linus said.

“You wanted me to play for Melly,” Neil said.

“This is going to sound weird,” Linus said. “Because, to be honest, I’ve forgotten your name--”

“Neil.”

“Okay, Neil. Well, it’s still going to sound weird, but listen, if I don’t make it out of here, I need you to know this.”

“You’re going to make it out of here,” Melly said.

Neil chimed in. “Definitely.”

“I want you to get Melly pregnant,” Linus said.

“Linus!” Melly dropped his hand and covered her mouth. “Not now.”

Neil had no words to respond. “Err, um...”

“Look, I wasn’t going to spring this on you like this. We were going to warm you up to it. Get to know you. We wanted a musician, and you’re good-looking and you got talent. That’s the truth of it.”

“You’re freaking him out,” Melly said to Linus before turning to Neil.

Her blue eyes pleaded for his understanding. “I didn’t know he was going to do this,” she said. “That’s not why I asked you to come.”

“No, it’s perfect, though, babe, don’t you see that?” Linus said. “He feels the connection. He’s a good man, see?”

Neil shifted his weight and slipped his hand into his pocket. The cool plastic of his phone reminded him of Ray and his invitation, and he wished he were there now blasting a joint, strumming his guitar.

“I don’t have a job,” he said. A stupid thing to say, but all he could think of. Me a father? I can barely make my half of the rent most months.

“We’d take care of the baby,” Linus said. “We just need your sperm. My equipment doesn’t work.”

The nurse in pink scrubs appeared. “We’re going to take you in now, Mr. Deguerra.” She grabbed a handful of the white and blue curtain and yanked it open.

“Think about it,” he said.

“Yeah,” Neil said, thinking that he was sure he’d do little else. What an awkward, unexpected proposal -- a man potentially on his deathbed asking for him to get his wife, girlfriend, whatever, pregnant.

“I love you,” Melly said, holding Linus’s hand again and walking alongside the gurney.

Editor's note: you can read Part 5 here.

April 24, 20152 Comments

Fiction in a Minute: Dude, Part 3

Editor's note: You can read part 2 here.

Still in shock, Neil found himself walking ten blocks back to his car, a dark green Toyota mini-pickup, not sure how it had come to be that he would to take Melly to the hospital. There’d been some confusion after Linus was shot, during which the ambulance left without her, sirens screaming.  And she’d stood there, in the middle of the bar, arms folded over her chest and her face puffy and wet from crying. “I’m too upset to drive,” she said. It also turned out that she and Linus didn’t have a car.

The sun was too bright, and the others on the sidewalk were too cheerful. The saline, fishy smell of the ocean bit at his nose. A paperback mystery novel he had once enjoyed sprang to his mind, its dark comedy of murder and death set in the sleepy beauty of the Florida Keys striking him as horrible now that he had witnessed in person a violent crime. There really was nothing funny about being shot.

His T-shirt was as damp as if he had ran two miles, and the cool sea breeze made him shiver. The sound of laughter pealed out of a juice and smoothie cafe. His phone buzzed in his pocket, and irrationally he thought it was Melly or Linus, calling to see where he was, before realizing that of course neither had his mobile number.

The text on his phone was from his friend Ray. “Want to come over and jam?”

Neil thought about the last jam session he’d gone to at Ray’s; a kickback, marijuana-infused afternoon playing riffs and listening to Ray’s girlfriend come up with crazy lyrics to their impromptu songs. It sounded like the best possible antidote to the events of the day; the gunshot could become a story with edges dulled by distance and pot.

He put the phone on the seat without responding and five minutes later, he was parked in front of the Green Man bar. The urge to put the truck back in drive and keep going was strong. Why get involved in these peoples’ lives? They didn’t even know his last name. Surely they would not be surprised if he never showed up again, an afternoon ghost with a guitar on a day of tragic events.

But then Melly stepped onto the cracked sidewalk, her hand shading her eyes from the glare, and a green purse strapped around her body. She looked fragile and small, like a doll, standing there, so Neil tapped the horn -- one beep -- and with the faintest of smiles she walked toward him.

“I guess I could’ve taken the bus,” she said, settling into the truck’s bench seat as he slid the phone back in his jeans pocket. “Thanks for coming to get me.”

Neil saw she’d pulled her blonde and grey hair into a thin ponytail, revealing a sharp jawbone and hollow cheeks. Good-looking, for an older woman.

“No worries,” he said. But she’d already turned her head to look out of the window while he drove, her long fingers knitted together and resting on her lap.

They drove in silence for a long time, down Washington Boulevard to Lincoln, stopping and going and stopping in the usual beach area traffic.

“Linus owns the Green Man,” she said, out of the blue. “He likes to tell people I do, but it’s not true.”

“Are you two married?” Neil didn’t know what else to ask her, and even this venture seemed intrusive, odd. The kind of question that served only to highlight how little he knew about both of them.  He was a stranger thrust upon them in a tragedy.

She just shook her head. “Lived together a long time,” she said.

“Common law marriage, then,” he said, not sure why he was pressing her on this. She shrugged and kept looking out the window.

Neil drove through the enormous intersection of Lincoln Boulevard and the Marina Freeway, the white buildings of Daniel Freeman Hospital shining like a beacon against a bright blue sky. A day for taking pictures. He pulled into the driveway, following a sign that said emergency services drop-off. I’ll drop her off then head over to Ray’s. Duty done.

She closed her eyes and sat still as a mannequin. Neil held his breath, worried she would never get out. He realized that it would not be so simple for him as to be able to drop her off at the emergency room and then go about his life, chalking the whole experience up to a weird life lesson about not going off with strangers. He resigned himself to taking care of this woman, who had just witnessed her lover's shooting, and been at gunpoint herself. Let’s not be such a selfish bastard today, he thought.

“He’s saved my life five times,” she said, trembling slightly and Neil saw the tears brimming over her lashes and spilling on to her cheeks.

“Why don’t I park the truck and we’ll go in together?” he said.

She nodded and opened her eyes so he could see the gratitude outshining sadness briefly in their blue depths.

Editor's note: You can read part 4 here

April 17, 20152 Comments

Fiction in a minute: Dude, Part 2

[Editor's note: you can read part 1 here.]

Feeling some trepidation at following a stranger to an unknown location, Neil trailed behind Linus, his guitar case banging against his thigh. The other man carried Neil's mini-amp in one hand, the extension cord draped around his neck like a thin, black snake.  They crossed the street and headed north on Main. They walked for blocks in silence, until gluten-free pie bakeries and forty-dollar T-shirt stores gave way to liquor stores and apartment buildings begging for fresh paint.

Neil cleared his throat. “So, are we almost there yet?”

“Almost there,” Linus said without turning to face him.

“Longer walk than I expected,” Neil said, and when Linus didn’t respond to that, Neil felt a prickling along the back of his neck. What made him go off and start following this strange du-u-ude to a secret spot? He considered peeling off, claiming he had some pressing appointment he forgot about, but he didn’t want Linus to think he was some kind of pussy afraid of walking a few blocks. If it came to it, Neil could throw a punch.

At the next intersection, Linus turned right and ahead of them was a white stucco building, bars on its curtained windows. Someone had painted “Green Man” in shaky, uneven lettering above the open door.

It took a few moments for Neil’s eyes to adjust to the quiet darkness inside the bar. He first saw a jukebox on the far wall opposite the door, with red, green and yellow lights flashing. A thick man in dark clothes stood in profile to them, his left hand twitching at his side. Facing him was a tall blonde woman, who was pulling money out of the cash register with shaking hands.

“Melly,” Linus said. “You gotta hear this guy play.”

The man pivoted to the door. Neil didn’t see a gun, but he saw the flash of an explosion coming from the man’s right hand. The sound was deafening. He dropped the guitar case and then dove for the floor just as Linus was thrown backwards and on top of him.

“LINUS!” the woman shouted.

“The money!” the man said, his eyes darting from Linus and Neil to the door.

Neil’s throat closed over the coppery taste in his mouth. He saw dollar bills flutter to the floor like leaves, then scooped up by the man with shaking hands. Neil waited for the sound of the gun, but all he heard was heavy footsteps headed out the door.

He wiggled out from underneath Linus’s legs. Blood soaked the left shoulder of Linus’ shirt. Neil looked at the woman, who still stood frozen behind the bar, her hand clapped over her mouth.

“Call 911,” he said. “Now.”

She picked up the phone and he turned back to Linus, who was staring at the ceiling.

“Dude, we’re getting you some help,” Neil said. “You’re going to be all right.”

“Is that Melly?” Linus asked. The woman sobbed street names and numbers into the phone.

“She’s okay,” Neil said. “Just shaken up.”

“I wanted to bring you here for a reason,” Linus said.

“Yeah, my songs,” Neil said.

“More---” Linus said, then a coughing fit pulled his shoulders off of the floor. The bloodstain on his shirt spread to his chest. In the distance, Neil heard the sirens.

“Don’t---“ Linus said in between coughs.

“Lay back,” Neil said. “They’ll be here soon. Try to rest. You’ll be fine.”

“But---“

The sirens grew louder and louder until he heard the crunch of tires on gravel and doors opening and shutting outside. Two of LAPD’s finest came through the door with guns in hand, scanning the room before one kneeled next to Linus.

“Gunshot wound to the shoulder,” he said into his radio microphone. “Everyone else okay?”

Neil nodded, as did Melly.

“You shouldn’t---“

“Are you trying to tell me something about the shooter?” the police officer asked.

Linus shook his head, then slumped back on the floor, his eyes shutting. Neil watched his chest, relieved to see he was still breathing. Whatever he had to say to Neil, he’d have to do it when he was in better shape.

Editor's note: You can read part 3 here.

June 13, 2014No Comments

Nirvana: Yup, that’s the voice of my generation

Picture of grungy guitar

I was angry in the early 1990s Los Angeles. My new college degree in business wasn't helping me find a job in California's deep recession and weak recovery. I was working two part-time jobs -- one doing car insurance quotes on the phone and the other working as a receptionist in a Malibu doctor's office, selling prescription medicine for baldness to one of my teen idols. It was disheartening to say the least.

Just a few years earlier, it seemed like any business student who was willing to work long hours and be just a little smarter than their competitors could make a million bucks overnight in mergers and acquisitions. Remember Michael J. Fox outwitting his boss in 1987 movie Secret of My Success? Or 1988's Working Girl? I was going to be just like Christy Wills or Tess McGill, a top executive in her 20s making millions and drinking champagne on the rooftop of a Manhattan skyscraper.

I remember reading a career guidance book from the time that suggested that young executives should be making a salary that was three times their age, with three zeros at the end. In other words, at 22, I should have been making $66,000 a year. In 1990. When I finally landed a full-time job in 1991, it was as a receptionist for a PR firm making a third of that. Ouch. Where was my glamorous life?

Hearing Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit on the radio was a revelation -- a sign someone understood my anger and disaffectedness and my sense of humor, as well as my disdain for anyone who would try to sell underarm deodorant to adolescents with the ridiculous name of "Teen Spirit!" Nirvana's grungy sound and music video set in a smoky gym with goth cheerleaders was the perfect antidote to the relentlessly upbeat hits of that same year -- REM's "Shiny, Happy People" and Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now." What on earth was there to be so happy about?

"Hello, hello, hello, hello, how low. With the lights out, it's less dangerous. Here we are now, entertain us."

Back then, we probably would have completely discounted any kind of nod from some institution like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because that's how we were -- angry, disaffected, disappointed by the opportunities we were presented with and definitely NOT IMPRESSED with how things were turning out. But 23 years later, even Courtney Love admitted that the band's induction in 2014 was an honor that Kurt Cobain would have liked, had he lived to see it. His heroin addiction led him to put a shotgun in his mouth and pull the trigger in 1994.

"I found it hard, it's hard to find, oh well, whatever, never mind."

And that is the great thing about music. Like sex and art, every generation invents it for itself. 23 years later, all that anger is gone and in general, I'm a pretty happy person. But in 1991, Nirvana's music expressed my anger beautifully. It made them the voice of my generation, evocative of that place and time and those feelings. Hell, I know they weren't the Beatles or Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones but Nirvana was all mine.

January 6, 2014No Comments

Things to do in NoHo in 2014

New year, new experiences. And my North Hollywood neighborhood has lots of new and stand-out restaurants, shops, theatres and studios to try out this year. Here are ten I'm going to put on my list for 2014. 

IMG_0925Bob's Espresso Bar, 5251 Lankershim Blvd (at Weddington)

Cute little coffee house with room for just about 20 people. Hosts open mic nights and you've got a fair chance of ordering your Americano from the owner, Robert Romanus aka Damone from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

Antaeus Company Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd (at Otsego)

Critically-acclaimed classical theatre company proves LA art is more than movies. Last year's line up included David Ives' adaptation of "The Liar" and Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." Plus they did a hilarious naked fund-raising video on YouTube.

California Institute of Abnormal Arts, 11334 Burbank Blvd (at Lankershim) IMG_0933

I've simply got to see a show this year at CIA, which calls itself the ultimate FreakShow experience. The venue hosts the best of the underground featuring art, music, magic, puppetry and independent film.

The Road Theatre Company, two locations: 5108 Lankershim Blvd & 10747 Magnolia Blvd

One of the few theatres dedicated to plays you've never heard of by playwrights no one knows.

SC Fitness, 5101 Lankershim at World Fitness Center

I've heard great things about the Zumba and Cardio Body Sculpt classes taught by Sandy Campy at the World Fitness Center. High-energy, fun, good music and reasonably priced.

Yoga Noho, 5257 Vineland (at Weddington)

Yoga studio with the usual vinyasa flow classes plus Tai Chi, belly dancing and something called a sound healing offering cleansing vibrations from planetary gongs and crystal singing bowls.

Movement Lifestyle Studios, 11105 Weddington (at Blakeslee)

Hip hop dance studio offering drop-in classes for intermediate and advanced dancers. Would love to check out one of their exhibitions.

Besame Cosmetics, 3505 W. Magnolia (at Avon)

Technically in Burbank but a stone's throw from NoHo, this store features its modern reproductions of classic luxury makeup from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. It offers hand-crafted lipsticks in vintage packaging to die for.

Pinup Girl, 3606 W. Magnolia (at Cordova)

Not too far from Besame Cosmetics is the California rockabilly headquarters, Pinup Girl, a clothing store devoted to vintage-looking dresses and outfits from the glam days of Hollywood. Pick up wiggle dresses, thigh-high stockings, leopard car coats and more.

Skynny Kitchen, 5166 Lankershim Blvd Unit D (at Magnolia) Skynny Kitchen NoHo

Boasting a menu where every option is under 500 calories, Skynny Kitchen offers bison burgers, protein shakes and tempeh bacon (whatever that is). I hope Skynny Kitchen has better luck than its location's previous tenants, the now-defunct Otis Jackson's Soul Dogs and Cefiore frozen yogurt.

August 4, 2013No Comments

You know you’re a Los Angeles dog owner when…

Your dog has taken Intermediate Animal Acting...twice, but still no breakthrough role.

Your dog has taken Intermediate Animal Acting...twice, but still no breakthrough role.

You keep trying to schedule a play date with your dog and the neighbor's pot-bellied pig but you're just too busy.

You keep trying to schedule a play date with your dog and the neighbor's pot-bellied pig but you're just too busy.

You've complained about cell service at the off-leash dog park.

You've complained about cell service at the off-leash dog park.

While at work, you've watched videos of your dog playing at doggy day care.

While at work, you've watched videos of your dog playing at doggy day care.

You've driven the dog 10 miles to Runyon Canyon for a hike (and spent 15 minutes looking for parking) instead of walking her around the block.

You've driven the dog 10 miles to "see and be seen" Runyon Canyon for a celebrity-spotting hike (and spent 15 minutes looking for parking) instead of walking her in your own neighborhood.

Courtesy of Flickr by Heartlover1717

You have considered asking your medical marijuana doctor to label the dog as an "emotional support dog" so she can go into Whole Foods Market and Target with you instead of waiting at home.

You've used dog-sitting services at the local farmer's market so you could pay too much for organic apple butter and handmade soap.

You've used dog-sitting services at the local farmer's market so you could pay too much for organic apple butter and handmade soap.

You take the dog to Olvera Street every year on the Saturday before Easter for the Blessing of the Animals.

You take the dog to Olvera Street every year on the Saturday before Easter for the Blessing of the Animals.

You've brought the dog to a screenplay writing class.

You've brought the dog to a screenplay writing class you bought through Groupon.

You underwent a background check and two home checks to adopt your chi-weenie/labradoodle mix from a local rescue group.

You underwent a background check and two home checks to adopt your chi-weenie/labradoodle mix from a local rescue group.

May 8, 2013No Comments

Avoiding that Peaceful, Sleepy Feeling While Driving

In cities with a lot of traffic, road rage gets all the media attention. But I'm more regularly afflicted with a more peaceful, sleepy feeling when stuck on Los Angeles' great bottleneck, the 405 Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass. There's a mile-long stretch that can take 20 minutes or more to lurch your way through at speeds ranging from zero to five mph. It's more hypnotic than hackle-raising to me -- it's like the lack of scenery and lack of progress conspire to send me into dreamland.

Driving while drowsy seems like more of an issue for long-haul truckers, shift workers and road trippers, but an informal survey of co-workers and friends who commute showed that I'm not alone in fighting off sleepiness on the daily drive. And driving while drowsy can have serious consequences: it causes one out of six deadly traffic accidents, according to a 2010 survey by the American Automobile Association.

Adequate sleep the night before is clearly the best solution to the problem, but not always possible. Pulling over for a short nap when your eyelids start to droop is the second best strategy, but this is not feasible on the narrow 101/405 interchange.

The only other solution blessed by science is caffeine -- about two cups of coffee worth. Downing caffeine via coffee, energy drinks, colas or NoDoz about 20 minutes before you hit the road will give it time to hit your bloodstream.

Another option is to try varying your activities and the car environment as traffic begins to thicken. Keeping your mind alert and changing the environment can help keep sleepiness at bay.

Keep your mind alert with these preventative strategies:

  1. Nibble on something tart, like a green apple or sour candies.
  2. Crunch on ice.
  3. Chew gum.
  4. Sing out loud.
  5. Drive barefoot. It's just uncomfortable enough to keep you alert. It's illegal in some places, so check local laws.
  6. Listen to an audio book or podcast.
  7. Roll the windows down, especially if it is cool outside and warm in the car.
  8. Turn up the music. Whatever gets your feet tapping will help keep you alert, at least temporarily.
  9. Reach out and talk to someone on the phone -- hands free, of course -- conversation and interaction boosts your brain.
  10. Pay attention to your surroundings -- move your eyes around, noticing who is in front of you, who is in back. Try not to let your eyes fix on an object for too long. Memorize the license plate of the car in front of you or try to turn it into an anagram.

I've found though that once sleepiness sets in, these tricks don't always work. Remember, the best thing you can do once you're sleepy is take a short nap, no longer than 20 minutes.

January 27, 2013No Comments

Volunteering as Easy as Riding the Bus

The Do Good Bus glided through the wet streets of Inglewood on a January morning, carrying forty volunteers ranging in age from 15 to 65 to a mystery destination. Only the leader, Rebecca Pontius, and the bus driver knew the destination: to Morningside High School and Bennet-Kew Elementary School for a day of tree planting.

Los Angeles is filled with opportunities for public service -- almost too many, and for many well-intentioned volunteers the choices and logistics are overwhelming. Pontius hopes to change that by making it as easy as meeting friends for lunch through her "Do Good Bus" - a day-long philanthropic plunge with plenty of hands-on activity.

The Do Good Bus passengers bopped off the yellow school bus to the sounds of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and got their orders for the day. The Social Justice Learning Institute partnered with TreePeople to distribute 2000 fruit trees to Inglewood residents. Our group was directed to plant mini-orchards at two elementary schools. The ultimate goal? Create more oases of fresh food in this onetime food desert. It's an ambitious project, and a long-term one. It will be likely three years before these trees drop a plum or nectarine into the hands of an Inglewood resident.

The volunteers around me -- from neighborhoods like Sherman Oaks, Culver City and Pasadena -- are used to lots of choice when it comes to grocery shopping, but that isn't always the case for those who live in low-income areas. According to "The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters," impoverished Los Angeles neighborhoods have fewer supermarkets per household compared to more well-off areas. The stores in poor areas are less likely to stock healthy foods than those in wealthier neighborhoods. Activists call this food justice.

Food justice is the focus of SJLI's 100 Seeds of Change initiative. Through creation of 100 gardens in Inglewood and the South Bay, SJLI sends students and community members home with healthy food after teaching them how to grow and harvest healthy food.

After ten minutes of instruction from a TreePeople volunteer, we slipped on workgloves and grab shovels. Rainclouds vanished to reveal bright blue sky. After a few shovel-fulls of dirt, most of us removed our jackets, warmed by exertion and the brightening sun.

Planting the trees is gratifying, and we stood back to admire our bare branch orchard. A few people took pictures next to their trees, each named in honor of the victims of last month's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Pontius organized a small ceremony after the planting is over. We stood near trees, our arms extended, sending our energy to these fledgling life forms. It was a little hippy dippy but also kind of sweet -- a moment of good karma after more than an hour of hard work. We headed back on the bus for lunch, socializing and a few games, tired but satisfied to have showed up and done something more than watch the Storage Wars marathon on A&E or click through Facebook postings on this Saturday afternoon.

The Do Good Bus will hit Los Angeles streets again each month. Check their web site for the details at http://dogoodbus.com/.