Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Two Shrines

This morning I ran an errand in Hollywood. Found a parking space on Vine and crossed it, and then I noticed the wreaths and the flowers. It had to be for James Brown.

There it was, right by his star in the sidewalk. It's on Vine, just north of Sunset Boulevard. It's next to a Borders book store. Two cheap easels with wreaths, ribbons thanking James, and a few candles and written messages. It rained overnight, and the display had gotten drenched.

The first thought was that it was surprisingly small, considering Brown's following. The second thought was this: we arrest people for sleeping on the sidewalk, on grounds that they are obstructing. This display takes up about as much space as a sleeping man.

Coming back from that errand, driving east on Los Feliz Boulevard, I saw an enormous shrine - three times as big as James's - by a tree in front of a gated house. A jogger had stopped to look over the items on display, as if it were a macabre yard sale. Curiosity got to me, so I parked and walked back to the big old tree that had become a memorial.

There were handwritten messages in English and Spanish. Poinsettias and ribbons. Sports jerseys. Baseballs arranged in a crucifix. Many, many candles and votives. Considerately, someone had posted a newspaper clipping cluing passers-by in to what this was about. From the deep gash in the tree's trunk, I had already guessed that a car accident had taken place.

The story is a sad one. A Nissan Maxima full of teenage boys, students at a nearby Catholic school, were driving the boulevard at high speed Wednesday night. The boy driving the car swerved in order to pass a car, lost control of the vehicle, and drove straight into this old tree. For some reason, the car caught fire and the boys were trapped inside. The neighbors emerged from their fortress-houses with buckets of water and garden hoses, but the fire was too hot. The story gets even worse than that: the father of one of the boys had been following them in another car, and he could do nothing but wait for the fire department to arrive while his son died in a vehicle fire right in front of him. Three boys died. One boy survived, and so did the tree.

The shrine included burnt and melted parts from the automobile.

For a moment, it felt as though there was nothing to do but read the tributes. Grieving friends and family members had built a colorful and solemn shrine here. The death of a pop star felt like a remote event, something in a storybook. This was a real event.

As I stood by the exhibit, a woman approached with two grandsons in tow. She spoke to them in Spanish. She had brought them here to see, to hear the story, look at the tree and the melted bumper, to catch the sadness that had been left behind. The boys took it in with big deer eyes.
Wise, wise woman.

And as I finish typing this story, the rain has begun to fall again.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Eve: A Moment Alone With The Whole Universe

All I wanted for Christmas was for someplace to be open on Christmas Eve. Thank you, Santa, for Figaro Cafe on Vermont Avenue.

It was looking like a rough Christmas Eve on my own in L.A. First, there was the bright idea of redeeming a gift card at Barnes & Noble in Glendale: nothing doing. All the shops closed at six.

Back in Los Feliz, it was looking very small-townish. Mexico City: closed. Skylight Books: closed. Grocery store: closed. Everything: closed. In such a diverse city, I wondered, could there be a lack of Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and other non-Christmasy employees and customers?

Then Figaro appeared, its awnings trimmed with little lights and lively conversations going on at their absurdly small sidewalk tables. Oooh la la, could I go for some coffee and some port while writing a couple of Christmas letters!

That's right: I wrote Christmas letters on Christmas Eve. Is there a problem? I don't welcome people to places before they have arrived, thank them for things they have not yet done, or resent people who have not yet hurt me. Because of this perversion, I write my Christmas cards and letters sometime around Christmas Eve. This works nicely, because at the same time I tender blessings for the year to come.

So Figaro was my host as I sat on Vermont Boulevard writing letters.

A theme emerged as I wrote Christmas cards for some Buddhist friends. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. What, you and I both wonder, would I write about?

Currently, I am conversing with Grayling's Life, Sex and Ideas, and arguing with the book a fair amount, especially with respect to religion. Unlike Grayling, I am willing to see something artistic and creative about the religious imagination, provided religion has not become an ideology. Grayling, it seems, makes no such distinction.

It is not my belief that a man literally sat under a tree for six years without scratching his nose or eating something or dying - yet the story is a moving one, and points to a truth that lives in my emotional and creative being. Does this make any sense? It is inspiring. Because it inspires, it is telling a truth that is not history but plays a role in it. I don't need to believe Siddhartha sat there for six years literally. There is no document anywhere of him making this claim himself!

Stephen Mitchell suggested that religions are elaborate languages for discussing the inexpressible. This is beautiful.

Anyway, so this Buddhist is sipping port and writing Christmas cards to his Buddhist pals. Does this sound like a joke? It is. I won't promise you a good punchline, but here's what I wrote about Christmas.

Christmas Eve is a space where friends and family appreciate one another as they are, coming together in appreciation for conversation, eating, sharing music and comparing an opinion or two about this world we've made.

Then Christmas comes and Buddhists, without believing Christianity literally or accepting Jesus as an exclusive and personal savior, can still appreciate the meaning of Christmas. The Holy Spirit is born as a person in the world of form, and submits to the suffering of the human realm like a mop, taking the grit into its body, for you and me. Do Buddhists not recognize and celebrate this?

On my personal altar, I not only put up a seated Buddha, but also a rosary with Jesus on the Cross. The seated Buddha moves me for its resolve, the faith it takes to say, "I am not going to get up from this place until the mystery is penetrated." The Crucifixion, for me personally, conveys the terrible gravity of the Bodhisattva vow. Compassion is not a bowl of strawberries - not among human beings.

(It reminds me of a time I witnessed somebody ask Zen Master Dae Kwang how long they should "try" Zen practice, and he shot back at them: "Try it until you die.")

So coming together - whether it's in time and space, or in the heart of a person writing letters to loved ones at a sidewalk cafe - we appreciate the flowering of you and me, forgive folly, and (perhaps) renew a vow we would do well to follow every day of the year.

Namu Kwan Se Um Bosal.

Merry Christmas.

Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your life.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Soon My Eyes Will Close (Soul-Tuckered)

Been working on a song for ukulele, lyrics by Gus Kahn...

Though the days are long
Twilight sings a song
Of the happiness that used to be.
Soon my eyes will close
Soon I'll find repose
And in dreams you're always near to me.
I'll see you in my dreams...

I am bone weary, deep hearted, metallic taste in the mouth tired. World-tired. Soul tuckered.
When it's time to close my eyes and find repose (if not parinirvana ) , will I have the energy to pluck that song out on my ukulele - the loopiest sort of death poem ever?
On this cold night in Los Angeles, while my ginger tea nightcap brews on the stovetop, Shakespeare and Seung Sahn are having a dialogue. Listen in.

Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

-Shakespeare (from MacBeth)

Coming empty-handed, going empty-handed -- that is human.
When you are born, where do you come from?
When you die, where do you go?
Life is like a floating cloud which appears.
Death is like a floating cloud which disappears.
The floating cloud itself originally does not exist.
Life and death, coming and going, are also like this.
But there is one thing which always remains clear.
It is pure and clear, not depending on life and death.
What is that one pure and clear thing?

-Seung Sahn

I would like to wrap this blanket around everyone lost in the cold.

Tender eyes that shine,
They will guide my way tonight.
I'll see you in my dreams...

ka-plunka dunka wunka chung...!

Bringing Santa To South L.A.

At a quarter to nine yesterday morning, as I was pulling in to APCH, the line had already started. We would not be giving away toys until 1:00 PM, and the line was already around the corner from 29th Street reaching down Central Avenue. Soon I was told that in the past people have camped out for a place in line.

After a staff breakfast, the entire place went to work. Toys were still being delivered after the toy giveaway began, so for the whole day we had people sorting toys into appropriate age groups. We put the merchandise into gift bags - perhaps 2,500 of them. The line soon extended several blocks. People were stamped on the wrist as they departed, to prevent repeat visits. A whole lot of happy children came and went. Children arriving with their parents were greeted inside by Juliana in a Santa Hat, who shouted back orders such as, "Boy! 8!" and "baby girl!" and runners worked their way around the dance room, now stuffed with bags of gifts, until - long after dark - there was nothing left to give the stragglers.

There was talk of handing out tickets for the remaining gifts, so that people who were just too late could at least go home instead of waiting in that line. Other heads were concerned about the real possibility of fighting for the tickets - there had been fights in the line during the day, a line that didn't shrink until nightfall.

The donations came from all kinds of sources. A wealthy investor went on a shopping spree, buying up a vanload of toys in addition to toys for every child who happened to be in the store that day. We also received shipments from warehouses with surplus they wanted to dump, or promotional items, some of which we discarded. Some people really think it's a great idea to give kids from South L.A. gun toys - or maybe they aren't thinking at all.

Another howler was the shipment of cricket bats from the BBC. Because Los Angeles is such a big cricket town, you know. Big hefty deadly weapons, these things. We disposed of them. Another screamer was the pallet's worth supply of Republican and Democrat presidential campaign souvenirs - going back to 2000. Yes, we had Gore/Lieberman donkeys and Bush/Cheney elephants, with clock radios in their chests that no longer worked. How good would we feel about giving out broken toys? How good would we feel about giving people mementos of a president who cared nothing for them and their problems? We moved these boxes into the back.

And the sun went down and we kept on handing out toys. Some teamsters came out and volunteered their time - all of them employees of UPS and used to all of this, the only difference being today they could do it in jeans and Santa hats. The company provided boxed lunches from Subway and everyone left bone-tired.

At the end, we put together bags for stragglers - assembled with the stuff that was left: laniards, keychains, strange little books, JEOPARDY sweatshirts, Lakers teddy bears, and funny wigs (it was some Superbowl souvenir).

In the end, we even broke out the donkeys and elephants. We figured that as long as we distributed them in pairs, it was fair; and enterprising parents could always cut off the politicians and be left with a decent dolly for their baby.

And after I left, there was one more Christmas errand.

From time to time throughout 2006, a certain friend kept mentioning a desire to pick up guitar. A few weeks ago, I contrived to bring him with me to a music store - the conceit was that I was "Christmas shopping," and in a sneaky way that is actually true: I wanted to see what he did in the music store. Sure enough, he was nosing about the guitars and trying them out.

Being in no position to buy someone a guitar, a few mutual friends together, one of whom found a good deal for a beautiful classical guitar, and Sarah is going to give him lessons. Last night, we presented him with his gift (he leaves town this morning) and Sarah taught him his first two chords. His reaction was delightful.

It is fun to be an elf.

Pinky Boot Camp

The Theatre Dojo held the last of its 2-day introductory workshops in North Hollywood last week, and a bunch of wonderful participants appeared who took part in our experiment and were generous with criticism and praise.

On Saturday, I had scheduled a class on meditation and movement for actors. Rooted in traditional Zen sitting, the idea would be to incorporate movement and improvisation without altering focus, so as to allow creative inspiration to move us without censorship. It is my fantasy to develop a performance piece (and generate a text) using this process. This would be, however, only an introduction.

On Saturday morning, calls and emails started coming in: one cancellation after another. It happens. Sick. Holidays. Sick of the holidays. One by one, including my fellow Dojo instructors, people let me know they would not be coming. One participant was left.

There was a temptation to cancel. It was a rainy day in Los Angeles, the rare kind of wonderful rainy day I like to savor with a brisk walk outdoors, perhaps through Griffith Park or even by the ocean, wrapped up in a scarf and my cherished brown cap, with a stop at a pub for a hot toddy.

It is a familiar situation and a familiar temptation for anyone who has managed a Zen retreat or a Zen group. There are times when you don't get turnout, and you are faced with the decision: I committed the time, do I go through and sit anyway? Interesting to watch desire and vow wrestle one another - two wrestlers to whom we ourselves give birth.

In the end, I went through with it: drove down to Theatre Row in Hollywood, found a good parking space, and K. had shown up right on time. It wasn't the day I expected, as I had planned for a group workshop, but we had a lovely day practicing together: sitting, breathing, moving about, opening a door to let the space infiltrate us and dance us around. It was a great day.

On the subject of teaching, Sunday's uke lesson at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica was a delight, as always. Sometimes the half-hour becomes more like an hour, with Steve and me plunking away and giggling a lot. The new thing is to exercise my pinky: I'm going through "Pinky Boot Camp," with repetitive exercises to strengthen that little piggie.

There is more - but the coffee is hot and the oatmeal is cooked and it's time to follow my situation. More later, friends.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ratnasambhava Nagila (A Blogprovisation)

The guy is yellow, but I don't think it's jaundice.

He's playing a ukulele. Fine looking instrument, too: mother-of-pearl inlay, koa wood, beautiful nylon strings.

Beautiful, yellow skin built on an imposing frame. This guy should be an African king. Maybe it's because he looks so regal sitting on that horse. In the middle of L.A., yet.

"You must be looking for me," I say to him. "Who are you?"

"Who's asking?"

"Shit, you are looking for me."

"Got a question for you, friend." He says this calmly, never looking at me, plunking away on the ukulele. He's better than Brudda Iz. He continues. "I am wondering: what is the last thing you care about?"

"That's it? You stole that animal from the LAPD so you could come here and ask me that?" I step forward. My head feels like it has a saw bit buried in it and my chest is belching smoke into my eyes. I get like this when I'm grumpy; maybe I'm grumpy because I get like this. I don't know. Are you a doctor? No? Then shut up. See what I mean? Grumpy.

"Are you talking to yourself?" he asks.

"I'm narrating, Your Majesty," I tell the guy. "It's a blog. Never mind - long explanation. Oh, and I don't think we've been introduced. Please, don't stand up."

"My name is Ratnasambhava."


"I don't expect you to remember it."


"What is the last thing you really care about, friend?"

"Uh. I ... care about a lot of things. Did you have something in mind?"

He laughed. I can't help thinking of that guy in the old 7-Up commercials - oh boy, long time ago. He's got that laugh. Do you know what I'm talking about? He laughs THAT laugh and says, "I want to show you something. You've got time."


He has picked me up. "It's in here. In you go."

And I am falling through space, having been dropped between the C and E string. Down I go into the hole in his ukulele.

* * *

You are a sweet song with one note out of tune. It doesn't sound messy so much as sorrowful. What is sorrow? It is the flap left where something has healed. The difference is just enough to pull that note out of position and give it that quality. It is beautiful. It is you.

And you - nothing sounds like you.

And you.

As soon as you try to write something about this song, people's bodies explode into thousand of little written musical notes that flee. Individual notes wiggle away. The sixteenth notes have found out how to flap like wings together and fly away.

Far above my head, my turmeric-hued captor is having a delightful time strumming away, and down here the uke is loud as thunder. There is a tapping sound behind me and turning I see the flapper girl tapping away. When she starts singing I realize I've heard the tune before and yet this is the first time:

I was a fool to think you loved me
I was a fool to think you cared
Everybody I meet in town hands me a frown
They think that I turned you down
But you know as well as I know
Who's causing all the pain
I was a fool
But if you want me back
I'll be a fool once again. *

* * *

"Cute song," he said, on his horse, gazing into my eyes as if he were beaming the sunlight into them directly.

"Am I supposed to say something illuminating here?" This is stupid. I hate this shit. I don't take this Buddhist shit literally.

"Don't worry, friend," he says to me, having read my mind. "We don't take you literally, either."

If you're going to read my mind, can I dispense with typing all these quotes?


Fine. Anything else?

Oh, there will be more. The fun part hasn't even begun. Don't worry, it's all good.

It's all good?? It's all good?? A Buddha appears to me and he talks like a goddamn Southern Californian?

This has always been my teaching. It's all good. Always. The dark matter is goodness; the string in string theory is goodness; everything is worth it, and you aren't so bad yourself -- so cool it.

Cool what? Hey. Hey! Where are you going?

And who's going to pick up all these quotation marks I spilled?

""""" " """ """" "
""""" """" " " " """""""" """ " " """"""" """
"""""""" """ """""
""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" """"""""""""" " """"""""""""""""""""""""

* "I Was A Fool" words and music by Manny Romanz,

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Head Will Split Open

A cracked rendition of the story of Kwan Seum Bosal, who had a thousand heads and a thousand arms.

Word has it that Kwan Seum Bosal is the offspring of Ami Ta Bul, the Buddha of Boundless Radiance. She was born from a ray of light that shone from his right eye. Don't ask. The Buddhas all have their own unique things, and in the legends even the Buddhas themselves don't completely understand what's going on. That's one aspect of Buddhist lore that I have always loved: the heavens will rain flower petals and the Buddhas think, "WTF??"

Anyway, Kwan Seum Bosal is said to have attained complete awakening of her being, and her unity with the entire world, through the gate of hearing. Even her name is a reminder about deep listening:

Kwan = perceive
Se = world
Um = sound

She became known as the bodhisattva who hears the cries of the world. So she said to papa: "Nothing I hear is inside me or outside me, I am completely involved here, and rather than dissolve into the jacuzzi jets of Nirvana, I will stay here until every last being is at peace."
And she made an interesting vow: "If I do not accomplish my vow to save all beings from their suffering, my head will split open like a coconut."

So she went to work and there is a long, long story about her trying to clean up the various hells and deal with human suffering, and how the suffering kind of piled in around the sides no matter how she dug, until she felt overwhelmed (and perhaps rather sick of people, to boot), and then she QUIT.


Papa Buddha, Ami Ta Bul, had something to say about that.

He remembered that vow about the coconut, and he immediately administered tough love on his offspring. KA-POW! He hit Kwan Seum Bosal on the head and her head split open.

Kwan Seum Bosal said, "Great. Now I have a splitting headache."

Ami Ta Bul said, "I can take care of that for you. You can pass into Nirvana and not feel the pain anymore. Is that enough?"

"No, it's not enough," said the offspring. "The headache is a wake-up call. My head isn't feeling good, but the world-pain is worse. I must go back to work."

Papa said this was fine. Then he hit his offspring on the head a few more times. (Maybe you parents understand this impulse.) Every time he hit, a brand new head appeared until there were a thousand heads, a thousand sets of eyes. Second from the top was the head of the frightening Lord of Death - because some people need the reminder. And at the very top, Ami Ta Bul put his own head just to keep an eye on things.

Then Kwan Seum Bosal sprouted arms. A thousand arms, each equipped to hold different things. In the center of each palm was an eye - hence the "thousand hands and eyes" sutra chanted at Zen Center every day.

It is 8:00 am as I write this and I have somewhere to be so this story must end abruptly, but of course it hasn't ended. The headache continues to stream like a shaft of light from Amitabha's eye, giving birth to the one who awakens to our condition, hears the cries of the world, and automatically reaches out: "How can I help...?"

That's you, and I hope you have a nice day.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Peter Boyle

Who could forget that rendition of "Puttin' On The Ritz?" When Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein donned top hat and tails to present his singing and dancing monster, singing the verses while the monster chimed in with that wailing voice of his. "Pudda on da riiiiiiiiiiiitz!!!!"

Lately, he was better known for a role he played on a sitcom I never watched. (I was told that everybody loves Raymond but I never checked it out.) Now the morning news tells us Peter Boyle has departed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Hermit / Bodhisattva Coin

Being like most people, I imagine it is very easy for me to become intoxicated by my own opinions and convictions, not noticing that they are conditioned responses to the truth. Therefore, I conclude that I might not be the best judge as to whether my cynicism is realism. This is why I do not completely embrace the life of a hermit. A true hermit should become empty. I think there is a still danger I would become full - of myself.

* * *

To me, vow and direction are very much part of Zen practice, and I see our participation in a democratic society as a vow. We choose our lawmakers and our Chief Executive, and if we do not participate, that is also a choice (a choice that helps lead us to entrenched incumbency, the two-party monopoly, and leaders like George W. Bush). So we get what we are choosing. We are responsible.

We can impeach Bush or not; we can blame Bush for the damage his policies have done, or not; yet either way we are responsible. The bodhisattva way is about taking responsibility for the entire world.

* * *

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all.


Yet, when there's a fire, there is fetching water.

When a certain little girl visits me in my office, there is the question: "Have you got any homework to do?"

When it seems like voting is meaningless, and probably is: voting happens.

"I can't go on; I'll go on." (Becket)

Infinite vow.

Try again. Try again. Reach.

Kwan Seum Bosal, Kwan Seum Bosal, Kwan Seum Bosal.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Return of the South Central Farmers

I recently put down a circle and drew roughly a six-mile radius around APCH, where I work in South L.A., and it illustrated very clearly how Los Angeles is several cities. The six-mile circle encompassed Hollywood and Silverlake; downtown L.A., a center of international finance; the rough places, like Compton and Huntington Park and Southgate, parks, hospitals, universities. Several different L.A.'s are represented in the "six miles."

There is also an organic farming community. For years, they had been permitted to use some land in the middle of the city for a community garden, and there were some decent vegetables being grown in the city. They lost their land to a developer - you may have read about the actress Darryl Hannah being arrested during the protests last year - but the farmers are back, as this story relates (with a considerable amount of editorializing):

-------------------------This story was written by Leslie Radford for Indymedia:

It was bittersweet, turning right on 41st Place off Alameda. The South Central Farmers were celebrating the opening of their community center. There they were, the Farmers bringing fresh organic vegetables into South Central, where Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Trader Joe's dare not tread.

The Farmers had lined the tables at the tianguis with chard, radishes, pomegranates, almonds, squash, and grapes. Grapes not too sweet, grapes that tasted like a crisp, slightly fruity wine. Four dollars could be swapped for two plastic bags of fresh produce, all from small farmers in the local food shed.

The center itself is four freshly painted rooms, lined with art and photos and reminders of the fight to save the Farm, waiting for more art, music, computers, and eventually a storefront. It is here that the Farmers and their supporters will meet to assess the community's needs and how best to meet them, where they will continue their efforts to engage and educate the community.

And they will use the center, just yards from the now-bulldozed Farm, to pressure local officials to take "a principled stance," as Tezozomac, one of the Farm leaders, put it. With pride, he added, "We delivered what we promised: we said we'd raise the money to save the Farm, and we did. We promised to deliver healthy food to the community, and we are. We'll be here every month."

The Los Angeles City Council approved the sale of the land--abandoned by the City and cultivated by local Mexican and Central American Farmers for years--to a local developer for $6M. The developer, Ralph Horowitz, promptly raised the price to $16M. In spite of an international outcry, hundreds attending nightly vigils, pleas from celebrities and ordinary residents, the Annenberg Foundation and other sources' offer to buy the Farm, and a standoff with sheriffs that ended in protestors being plucked from trees and jackhammered out of concrete-filled barrels, Horowitz ultimately refused to sell the land to the Farmers.

A band of musicians played, sang, and danced in the street, while children romped in one of those big, blow-up balloon houses. Perhaps four hundred people were coming and going, streaming by with bags of groceries. Friends from the Farm struggle smiled and hugged. New Farm supporters were introduced to old. One newcomer, Irene, had helped facilitate a small grant between the Farmer and the Community Research in Cancer Network, a project of UCLA Public Health Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network. The money produced DVDs for South Central residents on healthy eating. Irene had spent her day helping children make gift cards printed with fruits and vegetables.

She cited a Community Health Councils initiative to bring quality food to South Central. Although the CHC was working to use existing local outlets--she mentioned Vallarta Market--she feared that the City would end up subsidizing large chains and, as always in Los Angeles, developers would suck up the subsidies. A Farmer chimed in, "Vallarta has three types of potatoes, all tasteless sugar. Here today we have twelve types of fresh, healthy potatoes."

Some of the original Farmers have relocated to a community garden at Avalon and Stanford, last month inaugurated by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for the third time. Both the L.A. Garden Council and Councilmember Jan Perry have opened the same garden in past months. The Stanford Avalon gardeners, where sixty of the three hundred and fifty original South Central Farmers now labor, have chosen to use chemical fertilizers on their fields. High tension electrical lines, suspected of causing cancer, leukemia, and brain cancer, cut a swath across the land, but the L.A. Garden Council notes that the electrical towers and their electromagnetic fields guarantee that "the land is not threatened by development over the long term."

Villaraigosa's "grand opening" ride on a tractor was heralded by mainstream media in an obvious ploy to distract his largely Chicano and Westside base from his disastrous handling of the South Central Farm.

Meanwhile, according to The Planning Report, Perry is enticing developers with "300 acres of industrial land in South Los Angeles," noting "there is no shortage of opportunity"--except for the South Central Farmers and healthy food.

One of the struggle's organizers stepped up. Dele went to the political core: "Villaraigosa's boulevard to higher office is plowed straight through the South Central Farm." His jaw was clenched, his eyes sparked. "And Jan Perry won't do anything that doesn't satisfy the real estate interests."

Before the Farmers began reclaiming the fourteen acres at 41st in Alameda back in 1992, it had been an informal dump and drug hangout. Today, in the custodianship of Horowitz, uncultivated nopales and corn stalks struggle against the intrusion of countless of styrofoam cups, yards of broken glass, car bumpers, abandoned sofas, and dozens of discarded tires. It's easy to imagine dealers and customers once again scurrying in and out of the holes in the fence, crouching in the shadow of the bulldozer or sliding under the black walnuts that had nestled tree-sitters in their limbs just four months ago.

It's difficult not to despair. The Annenberg Foundation has boxed up the trees for Mr. Horowitz who, by city statute, has to preserve or replace them. The sister walnut trees are still in the ground, but a shallow circular trench marks where their roots will be cut.

Villaraigosa has offered to find the trees a temporary sanctuary in Griffith Park. There's an odd irony there. The city has just completed a $93M renovation to Griffith Observatory--nearly six times Horowitz's asking price for the Farm--and admission now requires reservations and three fees to get into the observatory there: for parking, for a shuttle, and for the observatory show.

Villaraigosa and the city council couldn't find a dime to save the Farm, and now, if the low-income Farmers want to visit their trees, it's unlikely they'll be taking their children to Griffith Park's chief attraction.

I asked a middle-aged Farm supporter why he had come out today. He said, "Eighty percent of the youth volunteers have not given up on the land. This is their Oaxaca. And now they're fighting for Oaxaca and Atenco. They're fighting police oppression. And they're still fighting for the Farm. I'm here for the kids--they keep me fighting. We're getting hundreds of calls from young people across the county today. They want to know what they can do."

On one side of the sidewalk was a neighborhood dump where a Farm has once flourished. Trees are yanked from the earth, their roots imprisoned in wooden cages. On the other, hundreds of Farmers, shoppers, supporters selling fresh produce where no Whole Foods will go, with Azteca dancers, bouncing children, and a bright art-laden community center. It is an act of will, a leap of faith, a commitment to the power of the people to believe the Farmers can win.

Aqui estamos y no nos vamos.

[end story]

Eyes of the Moon

This Letter to the Moon appeared in The Blue Doodle on October 21. To see the latest letter to the moon and tons of other good writing, go visit the Blue Doodle!


Dear Mr. Moon,

We are writing to check on your progress, six months after undergoing revolutionary ALL-LASER LASIK surgery at our clinic.

Although ALL-LASER LASIK produces a smaller flap than conventional Lasik procedures, there is still a chance of experiencing glare for a period of time after the surgery. By now, however, we hope your lenses have healed and adjusted and that you are enjoying astonishingly clear vision.

May I say personally that it was an honor and a humbling experience to supervise this procedure for a patient of your stature. Having performed more than 11,000 Lasik operations, I had never imagined that I would perform the surgery for the Man In The Moon.

Frankly, I have lost some sleep over the past six months wondering what it is you needed to see more clearly. I try to contemplate your vantage, and I get lost. I have been taking classes in astronomy and installed a three-dimensional hologram map of the solar system in Bill's room. Oh, that's my kid. We sent him off to college last year. He doesn't mind about his bedroom becoming the Milky Way. He said to me, "And you thought my room was messy!" Ha ha! My point is, I guess you could say I am a little obsessed.

What is it that you see more clearly. Do you actually look down on us? Did you squint before having the surgery? What was it that made you squint? What was it that you wanted to see? Somehow, the notion of the Man In The Moon seeing things does not freak me out - I guess I always accepted that, and never thought about it.

What makes me uncomfortable is the idea that there might be things you want to see but can't.

This is my card. It has all my contact info. Please, you must have time, can you be in touch? I would like to move on from this question and I don't know how.

Yours Truly,

Dr. Garabendi

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Denouement 2006

Yesterday was the first day of a new job in South L.A. I can't tell you how it's going yet because I am a bit of a baby when it comes to change and it takes me some time to adjust to a different situation and new people.

What I kept noticing through the day is how much the employees genuinely like APCH. When people here say "Welcome" they mean "Congratulations."

The children are treated like family by everyone who is employed here, and the children like to walk around and visit. Two young girls walked into the bungalow where I work to visit staff members and do their homework. They make up songs to help themselves memorize things. I will be hearing this a lot.

* * *

NPR presented an investigative story yesterday about how the brass at Fort Carson in Colorado are failing to help combat veterans exhibiting PTSD and other emotional problems; in fact, they are punishing G.I.'s who seek psychological care. The story is here and it is very upsetting.

* * *

Right now, it is of little importance whether scholars at this or that university call George W. Bush "The Worst President Ever." What I would wish him to be called is "The Third U.S. President To Be Impeached." Or, perhaps, "The Second President To Resign Rather Than Face Impeachment."

We still have 776 days to accomplish one of these.

* * *

Jennifer was preparing to entertain guests, and when I dropped by the kitchen was an explosion of ingredients and implements. "I don't know what I'm doing," Jennifer reported. Then the request: "Please cook something, if you like."

Are you kidding? I love that. I gathered things and chopped and each time I was asked what I was making I told the truth: "Don't know." Call it Black Beans Mexiprov: onions and garlic, black beans, bell pepper, minced jalapeno, and chopped tomato. Squeezed half a lime into it, doused it with some very spicy cayenne, dribbled a little beer into it, added some cooked rice: voila. To my surprise, it was yummy.

* * *

It has been chilly in the mornings and Christmas decorations are up everywhere. At the end of a workday, it's dark outside. All of the seasonal reminders to shop, shop, shop are in place and flashing like harsh neon.

Bill O'Reilly is screaming and making stuff up about the "war on Christmas" again, in what feels already like a kooky American tradition. We all go shopping, and Bill O'Reilly accuses the retailers of demeaning the holiday and taking out its spiritual meaning! It's pure gold.
There is a ficus tree standing in front of me dressed in colorful lights and looking most festive; the windows are trimmed with blinking lights and the wall is crowned with a wintery wreath.
Today, there will be much to do at APCH and from time to time I will check the news to see what new damage the idiots are doing.

776 days.