The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 3

Today brings us to the third part of the closing novella, which takes place at the wedding of the daughter of the mayor of Los Angeles and brings all of the main characters together at one event.  You can catch up to last week’s installment here or start at the top here. Last week, we saw the wedding ceremony and the plans for the post-wedding receptions, public and private. Now, we catch up with our main characters as they celebrate.

TAKING HOPE

Toby’s reason for getting to the wedding and bringing Adrian along had a single purpose. His attempts to rebuild Edna’s property had hit a brick wall, and it was called Wendy Rue, the City Council representative for the 10th District, although Toby thought of her more as the big developer’s rep for herself. Less than two weeks after the quake, she was making pronouncements about rebuilding her district, but she was so far in the back pockets of the developers that what this really meant was eminent-domaining the shit out of any red-tagged property slated for demolition, and then tossing out the building permits for luxury condos like they were, well, birdseed at a wedding.

She had set her sights on Edna’s property early on, with dreams of putting up a fifty story mixed-use commercial property and luxury hotel, and Toby had sicced his lawyers on her almost immediately. Luckily, he didn’t live in the 10th. He lived and did business in the 13th, and that council member, Jay Beeber, hated the gentrification of the city with a passion. Toby knew him personally — he was a major campaign donor — and Jay was trying to talk sense into Wendy on Toby’s behalf, but she was having none of it.

At least Toby had managed to get an injunction against the imminent domain attempt back in July, but it was only for 90 days, so there wasn’t a lot of time left.

So his quest at the wedding was to get some face time with Alejandra, explain what was going on, and asking her to intercede. Fortunately, because of the various scandals back in ‘23 that had seen half of the Council Members recalled and half of the rest lose their re-elections, the replacements had actually passed laws giving the Mayor a lot more power over them, akin to what governors and the president had in terms of veto power, something that had long been lacking. This also included a very California innovation, borrowed from San Francisco, and it was called the Right of Absolute Intervention or, as the public had dubbed it, giving the mayor teeth.

In short, any government contract that a single council member or the entire council chose to enter into could be voided, without penalty, by the mayor, and without appeal short of a two-thirds majority referendum vote by either the district in question or the city at large, whichever applied.

And that was what Toby was banking on, since he knew Alejandra’s leanings, and once he’d gotten the chance to explain to her that he was determined to create what would truly be low income housing for people in need, he had no doubt that she would bare her teeth and bite Wendy Rue off at the knees.

He just needed to actually get that time with her and, honestly, the only person busier than the happy couple at a wedding were the mothers of both of them. That was why he brought Adrian. The kid was amazing and brilliant, and if Toby couldn’t get to her, Adrian would.

Alice and Edna couldn’t have been happier when they walked the green carpet and entered the cathedral, which was awe-inspiring inside. They were even more blown away when they were shown their seats, to the left of the altar and in the front row. Then again, this was well after their wedding outfits and shoes had been delivered to them, “Courtesy of the Bride and Groom,” although those weren’t quite a surprise, since a nice young man named Finley had come out to measure them.

They hadn’t known each other before now, but when they’d been introduced in line by the kid named Adrian they’d both met, they formed an immediate connection. After all, they were property owners on the 3400 block of West 8th Street in Koreatown, Adrian and Toby were trying to help out both of them, and while only Edna had been directly threatened by that City Council woman whose name she refused to remember, Alice had known of and hated her for years, because she did not understand the value of the arts, and had constantly lobbied Alice with ineffective bribes to try to get her to move out in order to raze the building and put up a boutique hotel on top of a bunch of upscale shops.

When that woman had visited her in person to try to push her agenda, it was the one and only time in her life that Alice said the words, “Fuck you” to another person. This managed to make the City Councilor stalk off in high dudgeon, as well as get a round of applause from her students, who had been standing behind her at the time. That applause was the only thing that made her not feel utterly ashamed for having been so rude to a government official. In fact, it made her feel more American than she ever had in her life.

And, at this wedding, Alice and Edna feel young and important, and look beautiful, and could not believe where they were sitting and, more importantly, which famous people they spotted as the room filled up. They kept quietly whispering to each other.

Edna: “Oh my god, is that Brad Pitt? He’s still hot as hell and he’s what? Sixty-five?”

Alice: “Yeah, but damn. Tarantino just looks… old.”

Edna: “I didn’t even know that Angelyne was still alive.” Of course, she was seated way in the back.

Alice: “Please tell me that Justin Bieber is crashing this and they’re going to kick him… Oh. Great. No.”

Edna: “All right, that’s it. Betty White is a vampire or something. How old is she now?”

Alice: “She looks amazing. I think she’s like… 107 or something?”

Edna: “Wow. I should only look so good in 25 years.”

Alice: “That’d be 2054. Wow. And I’d only be 98.”

Edna: “You know, with science nowadays — ”

Alice: “Yeah, but only if I get to look like I’m thirty.”

Edna turns to her and they fist bump.

At that same moment, James was quietly trying to figure out whether he could casually finger-bang Finley behind Tycho’s back without anyone noticing it, but Tycho noticed, grabbed James’ arm, and moved it back to his right side.

“We are at work, dude. We do not fuck at work. Got it?”

“Not even a little?” James pleaded, giving his best puppy-dog eyes.

“Not even at all, you horny whore-bag. But if you manage to keep it in your pants until we get home, I promise that Fin and I are going to DP you until your face explodes. And if you’re really well behaved, we might even invite Adam and Tony along to see how many dicks we can get up your ass at once.”

“Behaving!” James replied, and then he shut up and kept his hands to himself.

The whole complicated sex thing between Tycho, Finley, James, Adam, and Tony had finally settled into a pattern once Tycho actually moved into his government condo, but that had taken a bit longer than until the middle of May, mainly because there were two groups that hadn’t gotten moved into new permanent headquarters, and it was all due to a single city council member who Tycho had taken to referring to (privately to Finley and James) as “that Goddamn Shit-cunt Wendy.”

She was trying to take over their properties when both orgs had sufficient endowments to rebuild. He had had to work through the County Board of Supervisors to get the Mayor of L.A. to basically tell Wendy to fuck off, which she immediately did as soon as she got the scoop — it did help that one group was a Catholic org, and the RAI order was fired off so fast and hard that, Tycho hoped, it singed away half of Wendy’s Karen haircut.

He had managed to fast-track it, so that by June 1st the properties were secured, plans were being submitted for approval and permitting, and temporary quarters were placed on the sites, ending his need to stay down there. Although he’d found it laughable that this was even a requirement at all, because of how it worked out.

In theory, everyone should have been lodged as close to their area as could be, in this case Koreatown. In practice, that wasn’t possible. But the great irony was that Tycho’s condo downtown was actually closer, and on the same B Line that brought him down from the Valley in the opposite direction.

The only upside was that hotel sex was totally awesome, and their whirlpool tubs and showerheads could do amazing things in the right hand and aimed at or up the right parts. Otherwise, though, it was absolutely stupid, but he wasn’t going to waste his breath complaining about that to any of his superiors, because it would never change.

He guessed that at least a couple of the members of the Board of Supervisors owned stock in the various hotels people were being lodged at, so had a vested interest in keeping business booming at taxpayer expense. Yeah, one thing he’d really learned on the job was that the Supervisors’ level of corruption made the shit that had finally destroyed and rebuilt the City Council look as trivial as a fourth-grader charging other kids a dollar to copy from their homework.

It had been going on for a lot longer, and nobody ever did anything about it. It almost made him angry enough to want to run for the Board and change things from inside, but he knew that this wasn’t possible and feared that he’d become just as corrupt.

The City Council has fifteen members and the County Board of Supervisors has five. At the wedding, as Tycho scans the crowd, he spots all five of the Supes, but only fourteen of the Council, and secretly does a little internal dance of joy when it’s still only fourteen right before show time.

He leans over to Finley and whispers, “Shit-Cunt’s not here.”

“You think she was invited?” he asks.

“Inevitably,” Tycho explains. “The invitations went out months ago, and all the council and department managers and other top levels would have gotten one. It’s protocol.”

“So she decided not to show up?” Finley wonders.

“Most likely,” Tycho replies. “She’s known for being petty and vindictive.”

Adam leans over to whisper to the two of them. “Cindy told me that she’s trying to take over her old landlady’s property and turn it into more luxury condos for rich people.”

“What does the landlady think of that?” Finley asks.

“Of course she hates the idea, but Rue’s been going around doing eminent domain.”

“What a bitch,” Tony adds.

“I am definitely going to chat up the Supes today to see what they can do to cut that shit-cunt off at the knees,” Tycho tells them all as the lights change and a sudden plaintive flute starts up at the back of the nave. It’s followed by drums and then, to their total shock, a bunch of accordions playing a polka kick in from the other side of the house.

The rest of it is the most awesome thing any of them have even seen in a church.

Image: US Bank Tower, Downtown Los Angeles, © 2018 Jon Bastian. All rights reserved.

The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 2

This week continues the closing novella, told in third-person, in which everyone comes together. Since a lot of us are still locked up, I think I’m going to share a bit more of this one in a few installments, since this part is 20,000 words or so. You can catch up to last week’s installment here or start at the top here. Last week, we set up the Southern California social event of 2029, the wedding of the mayor’s daughter at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Downtown L.A. Now, the wedding is about to begin.

TAKING HOPE

It all began with the procession, because there was no “Here Comes the Bride” or opening hymn. Instead, a lone flute played a mournful tune, and then there were drums at the back of the house — yes, Alejandra thought of it in those terms, because she at least fully understood how the Church created western theater out of older Roman and Greek traditions, and how Mass and a play both were rituals, and she was going to take full advantage of it. The drums were pure Aztec and they played a few bars from house left before the first mind bend happened, and accordion music started up on house right.

Yep. Native American ritual drumming combined with a goddamn polka and, as they had discovered in rehearsal, the two went together so well it was ridiculous. Right as the audience was looking around in confusion, the entertainment entered from both sides. Down the outside left aisle came the Aztec dancers in full native regalia — feathers and fringe and fierceness. Down the right side, came the Bavarians, in lederhosen and dirndls. The two sides could not have been more different, but the two together could not have been more L.A.

To be honest, even Alejandra started sniffling at this point. It was just so sublime and incredible, unexpected and yet absolutely appropriate. As one reporter would describe it later, “This American wedding of the century could not have been a better representation not only of how Los Angeles has put itself back together a mere five or so months after a major disaster, but of how the country has done the same in almost a decade since we came to the edge of another Civil War, but averted it when unity finally prevailed.”

As all of the other performers gathered together and knelt in front of the bema, four of them mounted it — two men doing the Schuhplattler, which is that famous Bavarian dance that involves slapping the knees and thighs, jumping in the air, slapping the knees and thighs again, and then slapping each other. A young woman in traditional dress with sleeves and leggings decorated in red feathers took her place above them. Her face was covered in white make-up embedded with shimmering glitter in red and green that caught and reflected the light. From somewhere, the smell of incense began to fill the room, a mixture of sage and pine. The young woman watched them, arms lowered. Meanwhile, another woman came to stand above all of them, dressed as the Aztec Xochiquetzal, the goddess of beauty, love, fertility, flowers, and vegetation, and the patron of arts, weaving, and prostitution.

The woman portraying the part is young and beautiful — she was actually Miss Hispanic California 2028 — and the lyrics of the old song La Bikina described her perfectly: “Altanera, preciosa y orgullosa…” Well, the way she played the character, at least. She held a bouquet of flowers in one hand (Jackson had convinced Alejandra to use green carnations, even though they were not indigenous) and had a headdress made of bird’s feathers. In legend, those of Quetzalcoatl, the flying feathered serpent, but since those didn’t exist, Jackson had made a deal with Fumiko to contract another vendor in the garment district to obtain seagull feathers and dye them in shades of cyan, teal, seafoam, forest, and Kelly green. Although slightly harder to get, they were the better choice, because crow feathers — also the more indigenous choice — would need to be bleached first, and that would just soften them and ruin the effect. He had considered peacock feathers, but to some people they represented bad luck. Besides, those wouldn’t read as Quetzalcoatl at all.

Finally, Miss Hispanic California, whose name was Kathy Ruiz, was decked out in a lots of gold jewelry, which was entirely authentic and loaned by a shop down on 7th that was next door to the 24-hour Walgreens.

It was a stunning tableau, made more amazing by the lighting by world renowned and award-winning designer Dan Weingarten, abetted by the crew from CTG, the jewel of the Music Center (and Culver City), not to mention the amazing tech set-up in the cathedral.

Yeah, only in L.A. would a Catholic sanctuary have lights and sound that would give a Broadway theater a run for its money.

But the performers hit their places, the lights did their thing, and the two white guys were downstage slapping each other silly as the two women hovered above them in contrasting colors, Xochiquetzal looking increasingly upset even as the woman with red feathers appeared more sad.

“Moketsa!” the goddess suddenly cries out, and the young woman raises her red-feathered arms high. “Aufstehen,” an offstage voice cries, and then the men stop slapping each other. They make eye contact with the most profound sense of forgiveness before they hug. The woman curves her arms around them without touching, then pulls away, turns abruptly and bows to Xochiquetzal, who gives a gesture of benediction. The woman nods, turns back, and moves in a ritualistic way. She circles the men twice to the left, twice to the right, then stops above them, raises her arms, and lets out a single shout. She raises her arms above her head, slowly lowers them to be by her sides, then sharply turns to her right, moves a few steps, turns to her left, then marches out. The men follow without ceremony, then Xochiquetzal raises her arms.

“Tlasojtlalistli. Paxia. Tlauelkaktli.”

There’s a dramatic light change, the music stops, and they all exit in the brief moment before the processional of the bridal party finally starts.

And no. It’s not “Here Comes the Bride.” That would be too obvious, and, besides, the bride and groom have taste and a sense of humor. They enter to Beyoncé’s Single Ladies, but, of course, it’s not recorded — the lady herself is performing live from the back of the ambulatory, the entire wedding party comes in doing the choreography, and the crowd goes crazier than Dodger fans after Stefanie Lopez hits another homer.

The best part about the choreography is that it takes the wedding party the whole length of the song to make it to the altar, and in their outfits, it just looks spectacular. Alejandra thinks, “Jackson outdid himself,” and makes a mental note to give him and his assistant an extra bonus because of this moment.

The priest and altar servers leading the way are also doing the choreography. There was the added bonus of Father O’Malley, a middle-aged man who’s gayer than Christmas, leading eight teenage boys and girls in cassocks down the aisle first and doing the same choreo. The cute young blond (but of-age one) up front is O’Malley’s partner, but everyone knows it, and Pascale and the  padre are rocking the hell out of it. So is everyone else.

After the bride and groom and wedding party, both families follow but, while Valentina and her soon-to-be husband Chris, along with the groomsfolk and bridal party and both fathers make it up onto the bema, the song runs out, so the extended family is left to change the dance and we get another olidie — Born This Way by Lady Gaga. Valentina was a fan of the oldies, after all.

The rest of the ceremony proceeded in a more traditional fashion, although typically for a Catholic service in L.A., the readings and sermons were an equal mix of Spanish and English. Father O’Malley himself had attended seminary in Mexico, and his first assignment was to a church in Puebla, which was really the only place in that country where Cinco de Mayo was a holiday, because that’s where the original events happened.

Once O’Malley had come back to L.A., the celebrations here made him feel like he was back in what he considered his second home, especially all around La Plaza, El Pueblo, and Olvera Street downtown, right across from Union Station and a stone’s throw… well, a Metro stop from the cathedral.

One of the unique things about Southern California in general and Los Angeles in particular was that the city had never lost its Spanish heritage, and even more so had never lost its Mexican heritage. After all, this was part of the western third of what was now the United States that used to be Mexico before it was taken from them by the U.S. Sure, there had still been racist pockets of people here and there, but mostly in Orange County and until the end of the last century the west end of the Valley, but those people had all fled to the even more conservative and racist Simi Valley once everything north of Victory and west of Reseda became very Hispanic.

That was all before what Father O’Malley termed the American Troubles, thinking back to what his ancestors in Ireland had gone through about forty years earlier. But after the events that the press had dubbed Retribution and Reconciliation, the bigots and racists seemed to disappear from public life completely. Of course, a lot of them had simply died because of their own bad decisions, but that was all in the past now.

“Funny how the mind wanders when you’re doing something you’ve done a billion times,” he thought as he snapped out of his reverie having not missed a beat or a word of the Gospel (he had chosen John 15:12-16), and was very present as he delivered his homily, very cannily basing it on Mark 10:25: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” but rather than playing it as a straight condemnation of wealth — mustn’t piss off the guests too much — he steered it toward a description of the difficulties a marriage could face as two people suddenly tried to follow a single path.

“And especially,” he noted, “Dos personas de dos mundos diferentes, two people from completely different worlds.” This became a meditation on how embracing differences only made the world stronger, and the only way for two threads to make it through one needle was for them to wind themselves around each other. And in the real world, if you sewed that way, one thread around the other would create a thing of greater beauty, because both colors would show in a spiral and make the whole cloth much more interesting.

Jackson and Finley both looked at each other at this one and smiled, and Finley knew that Jackson was getting ideas — although it would be damn hard to pull off on a standard sewing machine, and hella expensive to do by hand.

“Dos hilos, una vida; dos mentes, un corazón; dos almas, un verdad,” he said. “Two threads, one life; two minds, one heart; two souls, one truth: Valentina and Chris unidos, united.”

Once the wedding part of it was over, the rest of the Mass still had to happen, and this was when a lot of the press took their lunch break. They hadn’t been invited to the pre-ceremony luncheon.

When it finally came time for the recessional, the song was I Won’t Let You Down by OK Go and yes, the actual band was performing that one live, too. Their costumes, also designed and created by Jackson on Alejandra’s commission, reimagined them as Edwardian gentlemen, but each one themed to the vibrant primary colors that they had been splattered in at the end of their video for This Too Shall Pass, released nearly twenty years earlier.

It was known as the “Rube Goldberg” video because of the elaborate jury-rigged machine that followed the tune and led the viewer through a warehouse of insane contraptions until that one moment when the band members were shot with paint cannons — Andy in yellow, Damian in blue, Tim in red, and Dan in green. Jackson put each of them in elegant morning dress all of similar cut, but each one made from fabrics in five different hues of the chosen color — swallow-tail cut-away coats the darkest; pinstriped pants slightly lighter with the stripes matching the coat; shoes slightly lighter again (in suede), laces matching the pants; cuff, collar, and tie lighter still; and shirt in the most pastel version of the color. Cufflinks and tie-tacks contained the appropriate gemstone — in order, citrine, sapphire, ruby, and emerald.

Almost as an afterthought, he gave the four-button coats surgeon’s cuffs with piping just above to match the pants, figuring that the band would unbutton them and that they would add just a touch of visual flair to their playing as their shirt sleeves flashed beneath. He had figured correctly.

While the wedding party didn’t ride out on Honda unicycles a la the video for I Won’t Let You Down, they did all twirl umbrellas. The bride, groom, best man, and maid of honor had white umbrellas with a red spiral winding from the center, while the rest of the wedding party had solid red umbrellas — yet another incidence of the costume planning colliding with the props to follow Alejandra’s hidden theme, which was also a direct reference to the band’s classic video for the song they were now playing. Alejandra and Jackson had both nixed the idea of having anyone do a quick-change into a Japanese school-girl outfit from that video, though. That would have been too much.

And then it was on to the reception, which was in Grand Park, and in two parts. South of Hill street, on the City Hall side, was the public celebration, everyone invited, and absolutely free — admission, food, beverages, games, dancing, entertainment, whatever. North of Hill up to Grand right below the Music Center was the private party, guest list only, and where Alejandra would be soaking the millionaires and billionaires throughout the course of events. Various bands had been scheduled to play on the landing at the top of City Hall’s steps from one in the afternoon onward — easily viewable by the people south of Hill, and particularly south of Broadway, but a bit farther away and occluded to the hoi polloi north of Hill, especially by the red and white party tents that had been set up to make the rich not have to look at the poor — in their minds — but which Alejandra had intended for the opposite reason: so that normal people didn’t have to look at the rich assholes who were literally above them topographically, but which she considered completely beneath them socially.

She had arranged for her special VIP guests to be told, “Come to the reception for the food, then duck out and go down the hill right after the cake to party with the real people. You’ll enjoy that one a lot more.” That schedule was a lot more interesting and diverse, and was publicized in all of the social media posts and posters like so:

11:00 a.m. — 12:00 p.m………………………………………………… Mick, Paul, Keith, and Ringo

Hot off of their Beat the Stones Farewell Tour, half of two famous bands that have become an even bigger legend together give a preview taste of their upcoming final U.S. gig at Amazon Dodger Stadium.

12:30 p.m. — 2:00 p.m…………………………………………….. Meghan Trainor featuring MIKA

“Daft by Design.” Join Meghan Trainor and MIKA as they team up to celebrate and lament love, loss, life, and lollipops.

2:30 p.m. — 4:00 p.m……………………………………………………………… Red Hot Chili Peppers

A special command performance in honor of the royal wedding on the palace steps from 2:30 thence to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, the Twenty-Third of September Two Thousand and Twenty-Nine.

4:30 p.m. — 6:00 p.m…………………………………………………………………………………… OK Go

We’re playing the wedding, but wanted to share with our fans, so we asked and the mayor got the county to let us put on our own show for you all. It’ll be interactive with giveaways and all the usual OK Go fun. DL the App for the full AR experience. See you there!

6:30 p.m. — 8:00 p.m…………………………… Maná with Natalia Jiménez and Special Guests

¡Les invitamos! Domingo el 23 de septiembre, 2029. Ven a la fiesta y disfrútenla, pero por favor no nos falten las dieciocho y media hasta las veinte en el pórtico suroeste del palacio municipal en un concierto corto por todos.

8:30 p.m. — 10:00 p.m………………………………………………………………… OMG OG-a-y-cons

Darlings! Join the last of the red-hot Mamas as they show you they’ve still got it as these Divine Divas revisit their greatest hits. They may be the original generation gay icons, but they are still iconic to this day, and to everyone. Barbra. Bette. Cher. Combined, there’s over 254 years of talent on that stage.

10:30 p.m. — 12:00 a.m………………………………………….. Shakira with Maluma and Pit Bull

¡Ven y bailen con nosotros en un espectáculo muy especial! Nuestros anfitriones serán Argelia y Omar. Tendremos muchas sorpresas, camisetas, carteles, y otros grandes premios. Y presentaremos un estrella invitado/a tan famoso/a que no podemos mencionar el nombre.

12:30 a.m. — 2:00 a.m…………………………………………………………………………………… A-Pop

The world phenomenon boy band that has taken all of Asia by storm is now conquering the west. Treat your eyes and ears to their decadent music and looks as they show off for you in public!

2:00 a.m. — 4:00 a.m………………………………………………………………. DJGomes and VJBDJ

Electro Beats cultivating the House vibe with flavored Italo Disco Cuts on top as we scratch the old skool vinyl with the latest AR and spin hits from the last 75 years of American, Euro, Latin, and Asian pop, rock, dance, disco, EDM, and anything else you can think of. Come with your dancing shoes on and your mind wide open and expect anything to happen.

OMG OG-a-y-CONS had been a compromise. Alejandra had wanted to call it “Octetris,” since all three of them were in their 80s, but they had all rejected the idea — although not as vehemently as Barbra and Cher had rejected Bette’s suggestion of “Octopussies.” Instead, they came up with “OMG OG-a-y-cons.” It was awkward, but if you read it slowly, it scanned, and this turned out to be the most popular event of the evening, despite the stars being a good fifty or sixty years older than most of the audience.

After they wrapped up at midnight, it was a dance party with DJGomes and VJBDJ that went until four in the morning, although the rich people side of the reception would have wrapped and gone off in their limos at eleven p.m. The DJs had wanted to call their show “EDM-Night Shamalamadingdong,” but the county had rejected that idea as culturally insensitive, so they went with their names.

Everything happening on City Hall steps and the southern part of Grand Park had been arranged and paid for by the county as a wedding present to the bride and groom, and also as a trade-off, since Grand Park was actually county-owned and maintained…

To be continued…

Image source: The Ezcaray Reredos altar carving, Our Lady of Angels Cathedral, Los Angeles. © 2017 Jon Bastian. All rights reserved.

The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 1

Last week brought us to the last first-person short story. Now comes the closing novella, told in third-person, in which everyone comes together. Since a lot of us are still locked up, I think I’m going to share a bit more of this one in a few installments, since this part is 20,000 words or so. You can catch up to last week’s installment here or start at the top here.

TAKING HOPE

September 23, 2029, was the high point of the Los Angeles social calendar of the year, possibly even the decade, and it all began early on that Sunday morning at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, at Grand and Temple downtown or, as locals knew it, DTLA. The wedding was going to be presided over by Archbishop Cacciapuoti, successor to Archbishop Gomez, with the actual celebrant being Father O’Malley, who had been the bride’s first confessor.

Apparently, it had taken some finagling on the part of the bride’s parents to make it happen, since the groom was the son of a Lutheran mother and a father of no particular faith, but since his father was a prominent real estate developer in the county, enough wheels were greased that it was not a problem at all at all and he didn’t need to go through the motions of converting, and that the ceremony would still be a full Mass, which was very unusual in the case of “mixed” marriages. But, nowadays, the Church really needed the money, and the cathedral did need some repairs after the earthquake, the groom’s father knew people, and the work was agreed to be donated by the middle of August, ahead of the wedding.

There were half a dozen media vans parked outside the Cathedral, antennas extended and reporters deployed to harass arrivals by six a.m., although the arrivals for the pre-ceremony luncheon weren’t set to start until ten a.m. Say what you want, but only in L.A. would you find a green carpet and a step and repeat in front of a place of worship early on a Sunday morning. (Yes, the green carpet was in keeping with the chosen wedding theme.)

The schedule of events had gone out in advance to all of the invited guests who had RSVP’d, as well as to the media, planned out to the minute as follows:

11:00........Arrivals Begin, 2 North Grand Avenue
11:00 to 13:00.....Pre-Luncheon, The Plaza at CTG
13:30......Ceremony, Our Lady of Angels Cathedral
15:00.................Reception, Upper Grand Park
18:00 to 20:00.............................Dinner
20:00 to 23:00;............Cake, Dancing, Karaoke
23:01....... Departures from 2 North Grand Avenue

The luncheon and dinner menus were elaborately detailed, with guests instructed to choose up to three entrees per meal, with options to pick the same for both meals or different ones for each meal. There were ten choices here, covering all the bases through the five most common meat food groups (beef, chicken, pork, fish, lamb) and specialized options (vegetarian, pescatarian, keto, ovo-lacto vegan, and vegan). Any or all of these could also be requested as gluten- or lactose-free, kosher, or halal.

The mayor’s planning team had missed nothing, so there were also heart-healthy/low-sodium options and diets catered to diabetics, with an email and link on the wedding website set up to take even more specific requests, and there were going to be multiple wedding cakes to cover all possible options — yes, even a vegan, gluten-, dairy- and nut-free version that was both kosher and halal. It was also sugar-free and made without salt, baking soda, or baking powder.

The entertainment during the reception included a bunch of A-listers, mostly local talent: music from Tudor, The Valet, and Tom Goss, with comedy from Lauren Pritchard, Bill Chott, and the dynamic duo of Rebekah Kochan and Ryan Kelly, better known to fans of “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” as Ryko Rebkel. Rounding out the bill were Gandalf the Magician, some aerial work from Kennedy Kabasares, and a ComedySportz improv show with eight performers and a referee who were well-known from the hit Amazon Prime interactive series that was now in its fifth season.

Of course, none of the people who stayed inside the “snooty party,” as Alejandra had taken to calling it in private, would probably ever figure out to wander down to what was being billed — quite separately and in channels the rich would never see — as The People’s Concert in the Park. She had planned it that way intentionally, and the County was footing the bill for that one.

She could plan it that way, after all, since she was Alejandra Peréz, the mayor of Los Angeles, and mother of the bride. To her, there was something symbolic about Grand Park anyway that she didn’t think a lot of people picked up on. The bottom end of it — literally. Since it was the lowest elevation — faced the steps of City Hall. The second division, the same size as the first, was flanked by the L.A. County Hall of Records and the Law Library. The L.A. Metro Station was located at the top end of the second division — rather appropriate in the scheme of things, as will become apparent shortly.

The upper level, which was as big as the other two combined and much higher up, was flanked by the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration Building and the L.A. County Sheriff’s headquarters. Opposite the top end of that part of the park was the L.A. Music Center. It was also the part with the huge fountain and elevators.

Alejandra always thought of it as a very subtle topological representation of the politics of failed capitalism. City Hall was a reminder that all government should derive its power from the People, and no one else. It stood at the lowest end of the park as a reminder that even the lowest citizen had equal rights and standing in the eyes of the government — and the steps leading up to its portico across Spring Street were a visual reminder and invitation: Anyone in our system is welcome to climb. Well, in a true Democracy, sure. In capitalism? Not so much.

The second level represented citizens who were a bit more well-off, but still in view of City Hall, with two public resources of information on either side. These were the folk who benefited (or should) from society’s most successful implementations of socialism: public education, and public libraries. Alejandra wondered whether the placement of the Metro station at the top of the hill above this part of the park was intentional or not. In reality, the station long pre-dated the creation of the park, but really turned out as a fitting marker, because the L.A. Metro station had turned out to be a great equalizer and method for helping the poor to have greater access to their own city, in effect, pulling them up the metaphorical hill of Grand Park.

As for the upper part — it was a bigger piece of the pie, had the better stuff, and was surrounded by the halls of power. If you started at City Hall and walked up, it took real effort, and if you were handicapped or unable to walk uphill in any way, forget it. You weren’t making that journey. But if you did wind up in that rarefied atmosphere of those on top, you would emerge from the park to find yourself at the bottom of a set of steps that almost seemed designed to say, “Stay out,” because you really couldn’t see what was at the top of them.

What was at the top was one of the premier theater companies in the city — the two thirds on the right for the people — and the snooty, old-money ballet and opera company on the left for the old and rich. It was sort of a microcosm of Grand Park repeated and turned on its side, with the plaza between an analog of the Metro Station — the place for all wedged between the place for common folk and the place for the overlords.

Kind of ironic that from the POV coming up from Grand Park, the former was on the right and the latter on the left, but that was probably something way out of the hands of city planners. After all, the Music Center complex up top had been built in the 1960s, while Grand Park didn’t open until 2012. (What Alejandra had no way of knowing was that the Music Center was one of the reasons that Cindy’s mom had convinced her father to relocate the family to Los Angeles, even if Cindy’s mom did wind up at Universal instead of Center Theater Group.)

Still… because Alejandra had always had this take on Grand Park, she had requested of the wedding planner that the wedding party start there, and basically follow the route of Los Pobladores, who were the (mythical) original 44 settlers who founded Los Angeles in 1781, when it was known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula. This was another reason that she had insisted that her daughter made as much as possible in the wedding green, because everything else that didn’t involve the couples’ clothes was either red or white, and la alcaldesa, Alejandra, had also arranged for there to be live eagles trained to snatch (but not kill) non-venomous snakes from among the crowd outside and then tow them to conveniently placed rocks around the area, one of the largest in the middle of the Grand Park fountain.

Those who needed to get it would. Those who didn’t, well… they would probably inadvertently wind up donating a ton of money to the city because of all of the souvenir stands that appeared to be set up by locals, but which, again, were all the mayor’s doing. That, and stuff that would be happening here later, during the reception.

To be honest, Alejandra was tired of this shit, but since she had found an actual non-corrupt way to soak the hell out of the rich upper classes in this city of vast income inequality, she was going to milk it for all it was worth, and then let it actually trickle down.

Every single person on the work staff was going to split at least 10% of the total sales take in tips, which would probably be enormous, and there were going to be at least five opportunities during the reception for the stupidly wealthy to get into a dick-measuring contest over who could donate the most or bid the most or whatever, all of which would (unbeknownst to them) be divided up equally among the reception serving staff. All they would hear is that they were donating to a worthy cause, so they could feel good about themselves, never suspecting that the people they were helping were actually the people around them that they ignored or insulted or patronized every single day. If anybody pressed her or her staff on it, they would only respond, “Your donation is going towards fighting poverty in the city.”

Well, it wasn’t a lie, was it?

Alejandra really didn’t care about the mechanics. She only cared that the really big bucks sucked out of rich assholes in this way would get divided among all of the non-management workers and would probably cover all those stupid things like oh, who knew… rent, food, insurance, utilities, student loan debt? Possibly for several months. You know… those “luxury” items the rich don’t think that the working class need.

It was her version of backdoor socialism, or an arrogance tax. Make the superrich feel like they were stroking their egos by wasting money on shit, then smile and say thanks while that money actually did some good.

She had been open and transparent about her plans within the government itself, and while not made public, the plan was vetted and approved by her own legal counsel, the City Attorney, the City Council, and the County Commissioner and Board of Supervisors for good measure. If word ever did leak out, the paper trail — well, electron trail — would be incontrovertible proof of her honorable motives and, if anything, it would really boost her popularity. Who knew what she could accomplish in similar fashion as Governor?

The best part, though, was that not a peep about it leaked to the entire wedding staff, and she would have word sent out about halfway through the reception that there was a mandatory meeting at the end of the event, with her direct staff instructed to act like it was a bad thing, but say nothing. Then, when they’d gathered everybody into the lobby of the Mosk Courthouse, which was serving as a staging area, she was going to come in looking royally pissed, let them all shake for a moment, and then break into a broad smile and say, “I bet none of you expected that this job came with a nice bonus,” and then explain what had happened and end it all with the per-dollar figure per person.

Hey, she had been a stand-up comic back in college, which is what led to her becoming an inspirational speaker, which is what led to her becoming mayor in the first place. And she loved nothing more than making people happy but knew the power of hills and valleys when it came to emotions. (She’d spent some time as an actress, too.) Make them feel bad for a moment, then give them amazing good news, and they’ll shoot even higher into sheer joy, and that was the emotion she wanted them to feel.

Meanwhile, the people who had helped make the whole thing happen got the VIP express transport to and preferred seating in the Cathedral long before any of the celebs or politicos who thought that they were special did.

Alejandra moved her tailor and all of his staff and guests and SOs front of line, so that Jackson and his date Cindy, and Finley and his dates Tycho and James, just get to waltz right in and take up the pews to the left of the altar, closest to the action. In gratitude and at the bride’s request, Alejandra also lets the vendors and contractors in, so that Jackson was able to bring Fumiko Miyade, Jackon’s fabric provider, and Haru Toyama, her nephew and assistant. Jackson even finagled it so that Adam and Tony got to sit with Finley and company, since they all apparently had some sort of complicated multiple relationship going on.

As for Toby Arnot, he bought his way in, because of course he did, but after his ridiculous donation, he’s allowed to bring in his assistant, Adrian, to the latter’s extreme gratitude. They both also, although it’s not clear at whose behest, bring along an older Chinese woman, Wei-Tso Yung, and an even older American woman, Edna Ferris, and only a few of the much older conservatives in attendance recognize her from her film work, but ashamedly say nothing. Toby is also able to grease the wheels to be able to bring along all of Wei-Tso’s tenants, of which there are 44 at the time.

Thanks to some advance notice via Alejandra to Jackson (and her largesse), all of the early seated, non-wedding party VIP guests to the left of the altar got their own matching wedding garb — nothing as fancy as the wedding party, but the men got tailored evening suits in corresponding colors, and the women got gowns and shoes. She had also personally paid Jackson to outfit every last server, usher, cook, bartender, and bar-back in similar fashion and, just for shits and giggles, she had him outfit the photographer, videographer, and planner to boot. Again, they were all outfits that could be worn at places that weren’t weddings.

She had paid for all of the non-wedding party outfits herself although, ironically, while she could have easily afforded it, Toby’s little admission “bribe” (which wasn’t really one) more than reimbursed her the expense. Luckily, in her mind, there was no way in hell she would approve any of the crazy gentrifying projects of his that had been in the pipeline to date.

Eventually all of the guests were seated, with the press awkwardly stationed on top of the part of the narthex that technically jutted into the nave at the back of the sanctuary. Well, okay, technically not the narthex, because the layout of this cathedral was very non-traditional, but it served that purpose, being the atrium outside of the entrance down the center of the nave. Above it, they were on a platform about thirty feet up, with a perfect view of everything from here to the back of the ambulatory and the bema and altar dead center.

Just before things began, Alejandra looked around and thought, “I wonder how many people in this room realize that this part means absolutely nothing, and that my daughter and son-in-law are already married because they signed the paper in my office yesterday afternoon?” Maybe it was just because she’d been involved in the law for so long but, despite having grown up Catholic and still appreciating the trappings, Alejandra also knew that a church ceremony didn’t mean squat when it came to actually, you know… marrying two people. For that, only a license from the government and two witnesses were required. She’d known this for years, and it was one of the things that most frustrated her as she’d fought against Prop 8 in what seemed like the dark ages. No matter how many times she’d told the religiously recalcitrant, “No, nothing about this will force your church to perform gay weddings,” they turned a deaf ear.

Then again, as an elected official, Alejandra had learned what everyone else in a skilled and trained profession also knew: Everybody who doesn’t do what you do thinks that they know everything about it and could do it better, and every one of them is dead wrong.

Something something Dunning–Kruger effect… but then she heard the opening notes of the procession from the back of the nave.

What nobody expected, but which Alejandra and the groom’s mother, Brenda, had planned for months, was how much of a pageant this would be and, for a lot of people, probably a mind-bender because it would account for the background of both partners.

To be continued…

Wednesday Wonders: Seeing the real magic

Due to a personal family situation that I may or may not write about here later, here is a flashback of a popular article that was originally published in November 2018. Rest assured that I have not been to the Magic Castle during lockdown, since it’s not open anyway.

And now for a story that starts out a bit Hollywood-centric, but it will become more general as we go on.

I recently made another foray to The Magic Castle in Hollywood, which isn’t quite as hard to manage as it’s reputed to be. All you have to do is befriend magicians, and ask — or know people who know magicians. Or, if you have the money, you can become an associate member for a $1,500 initiation fee and $750 per year, or just stay in the adjacent Magic Hotel. If you’re into magic, it’s well worth the visit.

If you don’t have that kind of money and have to rely on connections, note that the valet parking is a bit pricey at $14 per car, but if you don’t mind a walk you can get there from the Hollywood and Highland Metro Station, or just use a ride-sharing service. The food is excellent but, again, on the higher end. However, eating in the dining room does get you admission to the main room shows, which is where the big effects happen, so factor that into the price of the meal. If you don’t mind missing the big shows but are still hungry, food at either of the bars is in the typical restaurant range for L.A., and it is likewise very good.

Now, like a lot of people who were once little kids, I went through my fascination with magic phase, and had the obligatory kits and tricks. There was also a magic shop a few miles from my house that I used to ride my bike to during my middle school days, and the owner was kind enough to let me hang around and watch him demonstrate tricks or watch magicians try out new effects or card moves.

The only problem was that when it came to doing magic I did not have the manual dexterity for it. My hands were adapted to playing piano, not to sleight-of-hand, so unless a trick did itself, I wasn’t very good at it, so I never pursued it. For a long time, I kind of resented magicians for this reason, until I discovered Penn & Teller. Their whole shtick is partly about revealing how some old classic tricks are done, but even then they’ll top it by using the exposed version to show what kind of mad skills it takes, or subvert it by then hiding a bigger trick behind the reveal — in effect showing you everything while hiding something even more amazing.

Anyway, it was ironically through their giving away of secrets (something that some other magicians absolutely hate them for) that really increased my appreciation of magic. I went on to learn about how all sorts of tricks worked, but then watching magic became an entirely different sort of thing for me. Audiences who don’t know the tricks (no, I’m not going to call them No-Maj, thanks!) are wowed and amazed and baffled. Meanwhile, when I watch, I appreciate the sheer talent of a skilled magician while I watch exactly how they’re misdirecting the audience. I may know the punchline to the trick the moment the magician sets it up and long before it’s revealed, but that’s an entirely different level of enjoyment.

I’d compare it to the difference in experience between a musician and a non-musician watching a performance. The latter may just appreciate the music on an emotional and aesthetic level. Meanwhile, the former may be watching it from a completely different place, which could very well offer frequent thoughts of, “Holy crap, how did they make those two keys fit together in counterpoint and have two separate lyric lines suddenly mesh perfectly?” (This is also known as “pulling a Sondheim.”)

The other night at The Magic Castle, I was lucky enough to be sitting at the right hand of the close-up magician who had invited my friend as he did a half-hour routine especially for our group at a green felt-topped table that was quickly surrounded by spectators not in the inner circle. And for his whole routine, I knew enough to ignore the misdirection and always watch what the hand he didn’t want us to look at was doing. I did catch one specific move that I think may have actually been just to fake me out because it shouldn’t have been necessary for the trick that followed, but as I found out afterwards, he was as onto me as I was to him. When I complimented him afterwards,  he said, “You’ve done magic, haven’t you?”

“No, I’ve just studied it a lot,” I replied.

During his routine, while everyone else was watching what he wanted them to, I was just as enthralled watching how skillfully he was pulling off what he was hiding — every palm and ditch, force and false cut, load and steal, every stack and double lift. In magician’s terms, I was giving him a burn. But my intent was never to go, “A-ha, you just (reveal trick)!” No. It was to be awed on an entirely different level. His skills are absolutely amazing.

The Magic Castle is like that, and the place is full of little bits of magic to be discovered, but probably one of the most remarkable is Irma, the ghost piano player who performs in the lounge behind the upstairs bar. The effect is simple. When she’s not on break, ask Irma for a song, and unless it’s something ridiculously obscure, she’ll start playing it. (I stumped her with Echame la culpa, but I figured that it wouldn’t be in her repertoire anyway.)

She’ll also answer questions with short musical bits. For example, someone in our party asked if she was in love with anyone, and this was answered with “I’m Just Wild about Harry.”

Obviously, the grand piano with no one sitting in front of it is somehow remotely operated, but the big question is how. And remember: Irma has been a part of The Magic Castle all along, since its opening in 1963, at which point the effect presented itself exactly the same way, more on which in a moment.

I’ve heard people theorize on it, conjecturing everything from tons of player piano rolls, to voice recognition and AI, to a hidden player pulling up sheet music via computer. And, of course, it all works through hidden microphones. The first two are unlikely, the third is unnecessary, and the microphones don’t explain everything that happens.

Once you start really paying attention to what’s going on, you’ll discover that there’s one thing a lot of people don’t realize. In fact, I didn’t realize it until we walked into the lounge with our magician host and Irma immediately started playing The Pink Panther, which he pointed out is his theme song. Also, when he set his trick bag on the table in front of us and went to the bar, the table slowly rotated so the bag was suddenly in front of me. When he game back, we told him what had happened and he said it was just Irma’s way of being funny.

After that, one of our party joined us with a glass of tequila and yes — Irma played a few bars of that song. Much later in the evening, after we paid one last visit to Irma and were on the way out, she started playing Anything Goes — the first song asked for that night by the one member of our party who’d never been there before and who had had the tequila. He had started walking out without a word.

So there’s no possible way that it’s just microphones, but I could not spot any likely place for cameras to be hidden. Not that it’s not possible, although it’s more likely that they still rely on the low-tech method of people with microphones behind two-way mirrors to relay information to the — pardon the expression — ghost in the machine that is the human player hidden somewhere. This would certainly be a logical use of some very old mind-reader act trickery, after all.

Personally, I’m entirely convinced that Irma is operated by a human piano player who is not relying on computers or AI or any other fancy technology. Rather, it’s a human who is just relying on their own talents and skill. And that is the biggest magic trick of all.

Remember that the next time someone amazes you with what they can do, and thank them for it — then go out there and be amazing at what you do.

To my American readers, Happy Thanksgiving! ¡Feliz día de la acción de gracias!

Wednesday Wonders: The Earth is not happy with us today

Today, April 22, 2020, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Ironically, while we probably won’t be celebrating it in public this year, we’ve already sort of helped the planet out by staying home. There have been some positive effects on the environment,

In my hometown of Los Angeles, we’ve not only had the cleanest air we’ve had in decades, we also have just about the cleanest air of any major city. But considering how many cars we’ve taken off of the roads in the last month, that’s not a big surprise.

It should be self-evident from these changes, and others, that human activity does have a negative impact on the environment. It should also be clear that staying at home and social distancing does save lives.

A perfect example of that is the difference between California and New York. There are a lot more people in California, but a lot fewer cases of COVID-19 — around 33K in the former and 250K in the latter — and certainly a huge difference in the death toll. California has lost 1,200 people. New York State: 19,000. (Note: the death statistics are still wildly unreliable, however.)

Why the huge difference? It’s hard to say. Part of it may be that California is much more reliant on car culture, but that’s not true of all of the state. The Bay Area, for example, is just as dependent on public transit as New York.

Population density could also be a factor, with people in the five boroughs packed in like sardines, while those in most of California (again, outside of the Bay Area) are spread out all over the place.

It’s possible, but we really don’t know yet, that the virus came to New York from Europe, and so was a different strain, whereas cases in California may or may not have come from China, although they most certainly did not begin in the fall of 2019.

So what lessons should we take from this particularly unusual Earth Day? Maybe that we should have been paying more attention to our Mother all along. That we should have understood that important little bit that we are all connected on this planet, and borders, cultures, walls, and artificial divisions do not exist.

You know, the old saying: One planet, one people. Please!

In honor of Earth Day and the idea of cutting back, I’m keeping this one short and sweet. Stay home, take care of yourself, eschew greed, envy, and plastic, and share what you can with friends and neighbors as you can, but also don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

Happy Earth Day 2020. May the planet be a better place, and may we still be on it, in 2021.

Sunday Nibble #13: Taking pause

I don’t know what designation historians will come up with for the year 2020 — or even if it will be limited to just one year — but it will definitely be one of those great cultural markers that represents a hard stop, an irrefutable before and after point in human history.

It’s also going to have that significance in every single country and culture on the planet, and I can’t even think of a precedent in all of human history. There are certainly hard stops that had far-ranging though limited effects, like the fall of the Roman Empire, the end of the Aztec Empire, and the Reconquista, to mention three that mostly affected the western world.

Larger regions were affected by things like the Napoleonic Wars, and both the Great War and its unimaginatively named sequel World War II — but there were places that largely escaped the direct influence of those events. Asia, Australia, and most of Africa were untouched by Napoleon.

The World Wars may not have directly threatened every country on every continent, but may have indirectly changed things for them. It certainly changed world politics forever by leaving us with the Cold War and its aftermath.

This current plague is different in that no country on the planet has escaped it, and no person in the world is unaffected, period.

It’s as if the entire planet has become London in 1666, when the entire city was shut down by plague. The bad news there is that the thing that effectively ended it was the Great Fire of London, which destroyed densely populated and impoverished areas, driving out the rats that carried the fleas that were the ultimate cause of the disease. The true human death toll isn’t known.

Contemporary writers claimed that few people perished, but the fire burned so hot that entire communities could have been cremated without leaving any evidence behind.

It does feel, though, like we’re going to see another Great Fire in a metaphorical sense, as old institutions and ways collapse, never to exist again. If the lockdowns and lack of governmental help last long enough, then we may see widespread revolutions. At the very least, there may be general strikes that will starve the ruling classes of their income.

There is hope in the darkness, though, and I see it whenever I take the dog on a very limited walk and look up at the sky to see how clean it is. We’ve also had a lot more rain here than we’ve had for a while, and it’s unseasonal. It feels like the planet has decided to take a shower and clean up while we’re all inside.

I have friends who are at home sewing masks and others who are making videos or hosting shows on Zoom to keep people entertained. Still others are making sure that friends get things they need if they don’t have them, all while social distancing.

My improv group has been meeting regularly on Mondays via Zoom for some mutual self-care and to perform, and the main ComedySportz L.A. improv company itself has been having online shows that have been selling out every Saturday night.

I’ve seen very little in the way of stupid directly and for the most part people are maintaining social distance and wearing masks. The few moments of stupid I’ve seen haven’t been recent, and were in the grocery store, when a large group of people, generally youngish, and clearly probably not all living, together would come in to hit the liquor aisle and then all stand really close to each other.

Currently, the only stupid I’ve seen are the very few people who’ve gone to the grocery store without a mask or, extra special stupid, they’ve had a mask, but it’s pulled down so that it doesn’t cover their nose.

Sigh.

I do think that there’s a special place in hell, though, for a few Instagram “influencers” I’ve noticed who are still going out into the world to shoot their “OMG this is so fucking important” bullshit. I won’t mention names of the offenders, but one in particular was stupid enough to post time-stamped video of a bunch of unmasked people working in what I assume is some sort communal office space, or a group of people riding in the same van very close together.

Oh yeah, in that one, the person shooting also shows the speedometer, and ass-boy is doing 125 mph down the highway — while one of the group is standing in the back of the van.

I will mention one influencer who’s doing the right thing: Juanpa Zurita, who is stuck in isolation with his entire family somewhere in Mexico. They’ve been spending their time making masks and face guards for health care workers, not going outside, as well as pranking each other, and otherwise just being entertaining.

So, I don’t know. Maybe future historians will call this period “The Year When the World Stayed at Home,” or “The Great Pause,” or “The Global Reset.”

Another name for it might be “The Darwin Awards Ultimate World Championship.”

I am doing my best to not win any awards in that competition, and I hope that you are, too. Tomorrow was originally supposed to be the end of the lockdown here in L.A., but it was extended to May 15 over a week ago. I’m not holding out any hope that that date won’t be extended, either.

But whatever it takes to pull the planet through this, let’s just team up and do it.

The Saturday Morning Post #11

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter 11. If you want to catch up, check out the first one here and the previous one is here. The one thing to remember is that each of the 13 short stories is narrated by a new character, and the novella is told from an omniscient point of view tying it all together. In this one, our new narrator, Edna, has an encounter with a character from Chapter 2

LOST AND FOUND

This has definitely been a very strange week of ups and downs, literally and figuratively. Last Tuesday, I saw my pet project destroyed by a natural disaster, and one that most Californians are not fully insured for. On the other hand, one of my favorite tenants was pulled out of the wreckage alive, and I hear that she’s found a new place to live down the street.

But… my building was red tagged, meaning that it’s going to be pulled, and I’ll be left with an empty lot worth far less, although I’m sure that some wealthy developer will spot it, offer to pay me less than market value, and then turn it into housing priced out of the range of most people in this neighborhood in the continuing gentrification parade.

Oh, the city has done some things to battle these evil bastards, but not enough. They’ve only managed to severely reduce and cap rents in certain parts of the city, but developers, who have always had the City Council in their back pockets, have also gotten laws passed that eliminate all rent control or caps on properties within two miles of a Metro station. Unfortunately, we are well within this distance, but I absolutely refused to raise my rents to sky-high levels.

It was so promising back during the plague days, too. Six months of no rents, no mortgages, and no property taxes. And we somehow survived it, like we’re surviving this quake. Except that after the vaccine, people went back to being their greedy, selfish selves. Well, some of them did. A lot of them got turned out of office, but their replacements… not much better.

As for this place, I’ve owned it since the early 80s. It was originally a small hotel, and the only reason it wasn’t a motel is because all of the parking was off of the alley in the back instead of in front of the rooms. The layout was a basic square with an empty middle where the swimming pool and courtyard lived. There was a small office up front, and multipurpose community room in back. When I bought it, I left the ice machines in place for that nostalgic touch, as well as the laundry rooms because they were necessary. While I had been able to convert the original 10 suites and 50 rooms into 10 two-bedrooms, 40 one-bedrooms, and 20 studios, there was no room in any of them for washing machines. Besides, back then, laundromats were plentiful and cheap and it was not considered an amenity.

I was only breaking even on this place, but that didn’t matter. It had been a good emotional investment. Besides, I had plenty of properties that did make me money. I had followed the advice I’d heard from my father constantly back in Schenectady: “Invest in real estate. It’s the one thing that never loses value because they’re not making more of it.”

Once I’d made my money, I did, but I’ll save that part for later. I mostly invested it in income properties managed by other people and kept it all at arm’s length, but then one day I found out about a place that intrigued me.

It was the Starlight Hotel in Koreatown, and I jumped on it, because the asking price was pocket change. Sure, if I did what I wanted, I’d never make money off of the property, but I made up for that by briefly going into the business of flipping houses, but only doing it in rich neighborhoods and only selling at inflated prices to assholes who had more money than they deserved.

Okay, maybe there’s a conflict there because I am raising prices in one place and not the other. Then again, nobody who isn’t filthy rich was ever going to buy a house in Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Malibu, Woodland Hills, or Brentwood anyway.

I rebranded the place as the Starlight Apartments and opened it up for tenants in January 1984, but I was as selective as legally possible, looking for people who most needed cheap housing, favoring gay people, and people of color, and even senior citizens, thinking that I could give them an education in tolerance in the bargain.

I kept the rent low, and my favorite tenant, Cindy, moved in something like more than thirty years ago. Technically, she didn’t fit my original criteria at the time, but she had some medical experience as a vet tech, which could always be useful. What I was charging her for a two-bedroom was less than most of the shitholes around here were charging for studios that had shared bathrooms, no kitchens, and no parking.

I don’t believe in raising the rents here, but I’ve preferred to keep this place a word-of-mouth secret… and then, in a few minutes on a Tuesday in April, bang. Gone. And the annoying part is not the loss of property. What I regret is that this was the only property I’d ever bought in order to help out people with their rent, and I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to rebuild because that expense itself might be too much.

The Monday after the quake, I was sitting out in front of the tents we’d set up on the sidewalk, enjoying a coffee with some tenants when a young man in a suit walked up.

“Hi,” he said. “My name is Adrian. Adrian Miller. Do you know who owns this property?”

“Me. Edna,” I reply, immediately hating him. “It’s not for sale.”

“Well, it’s not in the greatest shape, either,” he says, and I wonder whether punching him in the throat would be considered a crime given the circumstances.

“It is not for sale,” I repeat emphatically.

“I know,” he replies. “But is it up for rehab?”

This catches me off guard. “Um… what do you mean?” I ask.

“Was it fully insured?”

“Not for earthquakes.”

“I see. And after the deductible and all that, are you able to finance reconstruction?”

“Hell no,” I tell him. “So, what do you want? Because if it’s to buy and gentrify the hell out of this space, you can fuck right off.”

He stares at me a beat, and then just laughs.

“Oh, Edna, gentrifying is the farthest thing from my boss’ mind.”

That catches me off guard even more — not just his statement, but the proof that he was actually paying attention to me as a human-being when I said my name.

“Okay, Adrian,” I reply. “Tell me more.”

“Great,” he says, taking the offered camp chair before launching into it. “We’ve been walking neighborhoods since the quake, seeing how we can help out, and I had a very interesting conversation with a woman who’s living at that theater center down the street. The one who was your former tenant…”

“Cindy,” I said and he nodded.

“And she told me all about what you’d done for the tenants in your building, which is exactly the kind of thing my boss wants to support.”

“Who’s your boss, Bill Gates?”

“No. He prefers to stay out of the public eye, so you’ve probably never heard of him. Toby Arnott. How many units was the place?”

“It had 70 units on three floors,” I explained.

“Hm. We could probably make the replacement bigger — ”

“Absolutely not,” I cut him off. “I’d prefer it to look as much like the original as possible.”

“I suppose that all depends on the codes,” he said. “Obviously, it will be updated to whatever is current when the contractor pulls the permits, but the outside could look like the original, I suppose.”

“So how exactly would this deal work?” I asked him. “This isn’t some sneaky way to buy my land without it looking like that, is it?”

“No. Toby has set up a foundation for earthquake recovery, so it would be a charitable project. At the end of it, you’d still own the land and the building. We’d just ask that you continue to rent it out the way you have been, and at the rates you’d been charging, with priority to any former tenants who want to return.”

“It sounds like I’m not the only one you’re doing this for.”

He just smiled. “Actually, you’re the first one we found that’s worth doing it for. Well, the first apartment. I think we’re going to be investing in that theater company, too.”

“I’d need to see a contract and have my lawyers look at it first.”

“Of course. The next step is to bring Toby down here to meet you and see the lot. I’ll research what the building did look like, too. Oh. Do you know what arrangements your tenants have made?”

“Some of them moved back home, as in out of state. Others are staying with friends and family. I got all of their new contact info first so I can get them their deposits back, and luckily I saved the hard drives with all of the tenant records on them.”

“And you?”

“For the moment, living in one of those tents over there.”

“Well, we’ll have to change that. If you can wait a couple of days, we’ll find a long-term rental we can put you up in during the reconstruction.”

“Assuming the deal happens.”

“No, we’d do that part even without the deal.” He quickly checked his phone. Ah. The boss wants me to meet up where he’s at, but we’ll both be back around soon. Do you know of any other apartments or businesses you’d suggest we stop in at?”

I mention a few — one other landlord I know also isn’t a gouger, and a couple of family-owned shops on the street. He thanks me and heads off, and I don’t know what to think about it all.

Los Angeles was such a different place when I came here. It was right after I graduated college, May, 1969. No traffic, everything was cheap, and there was a sense that the sexual and hippie revolution that had started in San Francisco a couple of years before had finally sort of made it down here. The smog was horrible, and people smoked everywhere — elevators, movie theaters, hospitals. Hell, even doctors would puff away during exams.

None of us would even think that this was abnormal until about the mid-80s.

But… what else? Oh yeah. This was the year of mainstream movies rated X. Midnight Cowboy. That one came out the same month I’d come to L.A. Of course, this was also when “adult cinemas” sprang up advertising “XXX Movies!!!” Three X’s and three exclamations must have meant that they were three times as dirty, and they were. The month after I arrived, those riots happened at that gay bar in New York, and they would wind up changing everything more than I would have ever thought, especially for me.

I was young, ambitious, and naïve, and so wound up in early July going to an “audition” in a second floor office that was above Frederick’s of Hollywood, of all places. This was a business well-known for selling sexy lingerie, although the offices above it had nothing to do with the business below it. That’s even what the receptionist told me as I signed in.

“Everyone thinks the same thing when they come in, dear, but don’t worry. The guys downstairs don’t own the businesses upstairs.”

“I guess that’s a relief,” I say as I hand her my headshot and resume, and she laughs, a little too earnestly. “Right through there… Edna,” she adds after glancing at the name on my headshot.

I enter the waiting room and it’s surreal. One side is lined with women I could swear are my duplicates — we didn’t have the word “clone” back then, but we were all clearly of a type. On the other side sat an equally similar line of young men, every one of them tall, skinny, pale, with black hair, brown eyes, high cheekbones, and hawkish noses that complimented everything about them perfectly.

I was getting a bad feeling about this, although I had no idea that I was somehow predicting a movie line that would become famous in eight years.

A woman came out of the office finally and called two of us in — “Edna Ferris, and… Stony Boon?”

Okay, I couldn’t help but think that that was a stage name. On the other hand, the guy I walked in with was easy on the eyes and introduced himself with a deep, soft voice and strong but gentle handshake. “Stony Boon,” he said, then added in a whisper, “And no. It’s not.”

We entered the inner office and the woman who called us left, closing the door. It was a small room with one desk, and a rotund, middle-aged man in clothes that were two decades too young for him, obvious toupee, and with a cigar in his mouth. Lit, of course.

Now, before Stony could tell me his real name, it was obvious that he knew something I didn’t, and was quickly flinging his clothes off, so that in about ten seconds, he was butt-ass naked and facing the director with no shame.

“Hi, Doug!” he called out, cheerily.

“Hey, Stony. Always a pleasure. Have you met…” glances at my docs, then grimaces, “Edna… honey, we’ll have to change that.”

“I did in the hall,” he says, looking at me, “But I’d like to get to know her.”

And then it all gets awkward. I don’t know where to look. I mean, okay. Stony, or whoever he really is, actually is pretty goddamn hot, although I’m doing my best to look at everything but little Stony, which ain’t that little. At the same time, I’m feeling this weird impatience from Doug, the director, while Stony just looks confused.

“Honey, did you read the sides?” Doug finally asks me.

“Oh, yeah, sure. I recognized it immediately. Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing.”

“Right, you read the text, but it’s a screenplay. Did you read the action?”

“Um… no. Sorry,” I replied. Doug sighed, but Stony jumped to my defense and I don’t know why. “She’s a stage-actress, man. Don’t blame her. The first thing stage directors tell actors is to ignore the directions.”

“Well, fuck,” Doug says. “That’s why I don’t do theater,” although he pronounces it as “Thee-uh-TAH” with contempt. “If you’d read the directions, you’d know that this is the scene where Hero and Borachio fuck.”

“I’m sorry… what?” I ask him.

“You have read the play right?” he demands.

“I’ve done it four times, and I’ve played Hero twice and, trust me, she and Borachio never… have relations. That’s the entire point of the whole play.”

“Not in my version, honey. Have you even seen Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet?”

“Of course I have,” I reply.

“And, in that one, they fuck.”

“They pretty much did in the original, too,” I tell him.

“Ooh. You’re uppity. I like it. Maybe I should consider you for my Marquis de Sade movie.”

“What?” Stony and I say in unison.

“Oh, honey, don’t you get uppity, too,” Doug says, clearly addressing Stony. “I can put you back in those Fire Island Fantasy flicks in a heartbeat.”

This seems to humble Stony a bit and I’m on the verge of walking out when Doug says, “Okay. Which Shakespeare couple — who actually fuck — would you like to play with your leading man here?”

Since I’m now convinced that this Doug guy doesn’t know Shakespeare from his own asshole, I snap back, “Kate and Petrucchio,” and he leaps out of his chair. “Brilliant!” he screams. “The Taming of the Screw! It’s perfect. Let’s see that audition…”