Theatre Thursday: How to start an argument in L.A.

Here are eight surefire ways to start an instant argument among your L.A. friends, family, and co-workers.

I know the subject is Theatre Thursday, but this topic is appropriate here because every one of these things can lead to a lot of drama.

Now, L.A. is generally a pretty laid-back place, except during the occasional riots — although the legitimate protestors are never the rioters here, and vice versa.

But there are some things you can say or do in the City of Angeles that will immediately start disagreements. Here are some of them.

  1. Declare that (Establishment X) has the best (Food Y) in the city

You can fill in that Y however you want because that part doesn’t matter. It can be donuts, pizza, burger, chili, hot dogs, Chinese, Thai, Korean BBQ, comfort food, whatever. You can even extend it to cover bars, bakeries, food trucks, or anywhere else that people can stuff their faces.

No matter what you pick, there are strong partisans on all sides. You might get agreement with a statement like “Randy’s has the best donuts,” but you’re just as likely to get a range from, “They used to be good until the original owners sold it” to “They taste like stale oil and barf.”

And, of course, you’ll get plenty of people with their own preferences. This includes the very wrong, who insist that it’s either Krispy Kreme or Voodoo Doughnut (hint: It’s neither. The former are bland and mass-produced; the latter are way over-done and aimed squarely at foodie hipsters.), as well as those who have a very specific and independent hole-in-the-wall that they’re fond of.

Personally, I tend toward the latter, although not necessarily a specific place. Look for a tiny storefront donut place run by a Vietnamese or Cambodian family, and boom. Best donuts in the city, guaranteed.

When I was still commuting to work, I found one in North Hills called Uncle Joe’s Donuts that was amazing and cheap. Caveat: I never had any non-donut items from their menu, so I can’t speak to those, but in the morning, the donuts are fresh, hot, and amazing.

The most polarizing places in L.A. seem to be In-n-Out Burger, Pink’s Hot Dogs, and anything with “Gastro” in its name.

  1. Pronounce the city of “Los Feliz” in proper Spanish

Now, in some ways this is a shibboleth, meaning a word or phrase that only locals can say properly. A famous one in L.A. is “Cahuenga,” which most tourists either badly mangle or just give up and ask before they ever try to say it, with the most common mispronunciation being “Cahoo-enega.”

The proper way, at least to Angelenos, as “kuh-WANG-uh,” which isn’t how it would be pronounced in Spanish except that it’s just the Spanish version of the native Tongva name Kawengna, which means “place of the mountain.” Perfectly appropriate, since it denotes the mountain pass connecting the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood.

If you’re feeling lucky and don’t believe in curses, you can also look for the famous lost treasure of Diego Moreno up there.

Now there’s an Angelino pronunciation for “Los Feliz,” but also the Spanish one, and this has strong proponents on both sides. Generally, English speakers will say it as “Loze FEE-lis,” while Spanish speakers will say “Lows feh-LEASE.”

It can vary beyond this, though, and quite often native Angelenos who grew up bilingual will say it based on whichever language they’re speaking at the moment, or just default to the gabacho version.

Now, while places or streets like Sepulveda or Ventura or Alhambra or Alameda tend to get a pass on being mangled, rendered “incorrectly” as “Se-POLE-vay-duh,” “Vin-TYURE-uh,” “All-HAM-bra,” or “A-la-MEE-da,” Los Feliz is just different.

That’s probably because its origin is so much a part of city history. The area was named for a rancher named José Vicente Feliz, who was granted land called El Rancho de Los Feliz in the early 1800s. Eventually, after the land went to the city of Los Angeles, it kept the “Los Feliz” name.

However, a lot of people prefer the Spanish pronunciation simply because it refers to a family and not a word. Yes, it’s amazing how many people just think that the name means “the happy,” which it almost would in Spanish because “feliz” does mean happy. But… “feliz” is singular and “los” denotes plural.

So, if you’re referring to a generic group of happy people, then “los felices” is correct — or “las felices” if they’re all women. On the other hand, when you’re referring to an entire family named Feliz, then “Los Feliz” it is. This is the equivalent of Mr. Jones and his brood in English being known as “The Joneses.” We pluralize the name. Spanish doesn’t.

So, really, for those of us who insist on the Spanish pronunciation, it’s more out of respect for the family who gave their name to the place than anything else. Still — nothing funnier than being contradicted on this by someone who only speaks English.

  1. Mispronounce “Los Angeles” in the worst possible way

Oddly enough, this is one that even L.A. native Spanish speakers pronounce in the local way. it’s “Laws ANN-juh-luhs,” with a very short “s” sound at the end. At least it’s accented exactly the way it would be in Spanish.

But all the local desert gods help you if you come here and end it with a long E and drawn-out Z sound, giving something like “Lows anjuh-LEEZ.” You will be corrected and laughed out of the room if you pull this one.

Primarily, I find this to be a prominent sin of British tourists more than any other group, and it makes me want to ask them of they’ve ever been to “Lone-done.” Oddly enough, it used to be a lot more common in American English, apparently, and if you listen to old newscasts or movie news reels from the 30s through 50s, you’ll hear it a lot.

This may have been due to the use of the so-called “Mid-Atlantic” accent very common in this era, which was a blend of British Received Pronunciation and upper-class east coast American, and it mostly existed for two reasons: First, because early recording equipment sucked, and this over-emphasis was just easier to capture. Second, because it made it easier for Americans to understand British actors, and vice versa.

Cary Grant, British, and Katharine Hepburn, American, both had the accent, as you can hear in the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story. In fact, they probably epitomize it. In reality, Grant was born Archibald Leach, and grew up with quite the Cockney accent.

  1. Declare out-loud that you’re a Giants Fan

If you’re a diehard baseball fan, Los Angeles is Dodgers Country, period. However, people who moved here from elsewhere will get a pass if they root for the Yankees or the Red Sox — and no one else.

What they should definitely not do is be an open Giants fan, since that team, from San Francisco, is part of the enormous, sometimes joking and sometimes serious, rivalry between the two cities.

San Francisco is the much older city that became the hub of west coast life in the late 19th and early 20th century until the film industry came to Southern California and a little earthquake in 1906 wrecked the City by the Bay for long enough that it lost its prominence, rebuilding in the same time period that development in L.A. was exploding.

Wearing their gear in the wrong place can be dangerous. This one can actually start fights, or at least assaults, and it once did during a very unfortunate incident in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium on opening day just over a decade ago, in 2011.

This is the worst place on Earth to show your Giants pride.

San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow and several friends were heading to the car wearing Giants gear when they were viciously attacked. Stow wound up in a coma and it wasn’t sure he was going to survive. Fortunately, he recovered, and his experience turned into a positive, as he now tours schools teaching kids anti-bullying.

  1. Suggest the best route from Point A to Point B during rush hour

 You’ve no doubt seen the long-running SNL bit The Californians and thought, “Oh, that’s funny, but it’s not real.”

I can assure you that the discussions in this bit are 100% a documentary, and for every shortcut or best route one person suggests, someone else will have a better trick. And never, ever insist that the freeway is actually the best route no matter what (even when it is) because you will get slammed with five hundred alternate routes on side streets.

Really experienced drivers do know, though — just take the damn freeway or take public transit. The only reason surface streets seem better is because there’s more to look at, but while they create the illusion of making good time for short stretches, you’ll eat those time savings up stropped at every ill-timed red-light in the city.

Meanwhile, on the freeway, you may be moving slowly but, for the most part, it’s also steadily.

  1. Talk-up the “wrong part” of town in the wrong part of town

Largely because of the geography and traffic of Los Angeles, we may be one big city and one much bigger county, but the city and county themselves are sliced up into much smaller bits that are often separated by mountains, canyons, crappy urban planning, and more. The city also has plenty of carve-outs for smaller cities within it, like Malibu, Santa Monica, Culver City, West Hollywood, Burbank, and so on.

It’s really hard to make a nutshell version of this, but I’ll try. L.A. is divided up by borders both natural and manmade. The natural ones are our mountains, canyons, and coastline. The manmade ones are neighborhoods, roads, freeways, and mass transit.

This naturally created a few divisions — the Valley in the north; the Westside, which hugs the coast from the northern end of the county all the way down to south of LAX; Mid-City north, which includes some of the most affluent areas; Mid-City south, which includes a lot of the poorest communities; Hollywood, which is the tourist magnet slapped in the center and mostly avoided by locals; East Hollywood, which is the corridor leading to downtown (or DTLA) via Los Feliz and Silver Lake, home to many ethnic neighborhoods; DTLA, a strangely evolving clusterfucked mess that is both gentrified as hell and homeless central; and then, to the east and south of DTLA respectively, East L.A., still largely Hispanic and not gentrified; and South Central L.A., still largely Black and not gentrified.

The 405 Freeway creates one of the major divisions of the Valley as well as separates the Westside from everything else, while the Santa Monica Mountains keep the Valley from falling into L.A. and environs.

Connectors from the Valley to Mid-City include the Canyons — Beverly Glen, Coldwater Canyon, and Laurel Canyon — and the route from the Valley into Hollywood is through the Cahuenga pass or down the 101, although for the latter, the Metro is also perfectly acceptable. The Cahuenga pass is the last division in the Valley that separates the Mid-Valley from the East Valley. The 5 divides the City of Burbank from everything else.

On the other side of the hill, the 10 is pretty much the dividing line between “rich and white” and poor and black,” and yes, it was damn well planned that way as well way back in the day.

But the point is this: Go to Santa Monica and rave about the Valley (or vice versa), tell someone in Burbank that Culver City has much better nightlife, try to convince someone in Woodland Hills to take the Metro G and B line to DTLA with you, try to convince a designer on Robertson or Melrose that you’ve seen much better and cheaper stuff in the fashion district, and on and on.

You won’t be able to do it.

It’s a stupid and silly divisional argument that has been going on for no reason since forever. The point is that every part of this city is interesting and has its advantages and disadvantages. Plus, if you’ve been paying attention and are willing to take proper precautions (get vaxxed, wear a mask, get boosted, and wash your hands a lot) our current Metro system can get you to a lot more places more easily and cheaply than you’ve ever suspected.

Hell, it’s now even possible (and has been for a while) to take the train from the Mid-Valley right to Santa Monica. Sure, it takes about as long as the freeway, but you don’t have to look for (or pay for) parking, and you actually get to see a lot of the Mid-City on the way.

Win-win.

  1. Ever try to argue that (Thing X) from (Home State Y) was just better

To be honest, if it were really better, then we probably already have it here. Shit — you can find White Castle sliders in the freezer section of any grocery store, although I hate to tell you this but… overrated!

Likewise, most of your beloved IPA and craft beers are probably also being sold here, too. Chain restaurants? We either have the ones we want or never allowed franchises for or quickly ignored and let shut down the ones we didn’t.

Philly Cheesesteak? Yeah, we got it, and we won’t make adults talk like giant babies and demand “Wit wiz.” Chicago deep dish pizza? You might find it a couple of places here, but I’m sorry to disappoint you. Put this crap in front of most Angelenos and they’ll just look at you and go, “WTF is this, a tomato sauce casserole?”

The best New York style pizza, meanwhile, is at a little place in North Hollywood. And L.A. native pro-tip for tourists: If you come here, you must absolutely eat at Porto’s Bakery and Café three times: Once for breakfast, once for lunch or dinner, and once just for the desserts.

We have probably every conceivable kind of ethnic food and restaurant here and, more importantly, all of the good ones were founded and run by people actually from those countries. Well, the ones who arrived recently.

Yes, American “Chinese” food is just stuff made up by railroad workers from ingredients they happened to have access to, and it bore little resemblance to the real thing, but it’s still really amazing, and it was born here.

I’m also pretty sure that IKEA probably knows what it’s doing with its cafeteria and off-the-shelf Swedish food.

But, yeah… pick a food, give a home state example, and there’s an Angeleno ready to prove you dead wrong.

Even about your Grandmother’s blinis. Especially about your grandmother’s blinis.

  1. Write an article on “How to start an argument in L.A.”

Seriously — every item on this list will meet with either hearty nods of agreement or red-faced indignation, with no middle ground.  The only thing worse than accidentally starting one of these arguments in L.A. is intentionally point out that they happen.

Oh well…

So what are the big argument starters or local disagreements in your home town or city? Tell us in the comments below!

Talky Tuesday: Another random batch of birthday call-outs

Here’s another round of famous people born on November 6 who have nothing in common but the birthdate.

Because it was so interesting last time I did it to show how ridiculous Astrology is because these people, despite being born on the same day, have nothing in common despite sharing a sign.

And before anyone starts going on about how, “Astrology isn’t just birthdates. It has to do with the location of planets, constellations, and ‘houses’,” let me stop you right there and ask you this. Would you care to explain, then, exactly how all of those things have any effect at all on a baby being removed from its mother’s womb down on the surface of the Earth?

Not to mention how can those effects be so different for babies born at the exact same moment but half a world away, because the locations of the planets and whatnot are different for both of them?

The only concession I’ll make to the concept is that the time of year that someone is born can affect their perception of the world and life in general, but that’s it, and it’s for very real-world reasons.

“When” is only important in a narrow context

I would go so far as to say that what’s really important to someone at birth is the season in which they are born. It also depends, of course, on societal norms when they were born, so that somebody from an agrarian society in the pre-industrial era is going to have quite a different experience than someone born in a modern, urban, post-information age society.

Looking at the former society, for example, somebody born in winter is going to grow up in early infancy being kept indoors and around family, and this is going to be their perception of the world: Safe comfortable, and warm.

If they’re born in the spring, it’s planting season, so everyone is out seeding the fields. The infants and toddlers don’t have to work but are probably strapped to Mom’s back, and their association here is not a lot of direct human contact, but a lot of sunshine and being outside. Independence and resistance to being controlled, probably.

Summer kids are there for the real work, so they’re probably left home alone or with grandparents while the adults and older kids go out to do the hard work of weeding, fertilizing, and otherwise making sure that the crops don’t die. They don’t even see their parents or older siblings for weeks, so they bond with these other people who smell different, and are probably inclined to become caretakers, as well as to appreciate older people.

Finally, kids born in the fall arrive at harvest time and while they don’t go out I the fields in their infancy, they do experience the immediate boon of successful crops being brought in.

For one thing, this means that the family will now have made enough money to pay off all the debts they’ve accrued over the year in order to grow all that food. For another, it means that they may have enough leftover to live off of through the rest of the year, the long winter, and well into the next spring.

If you’ve ever wondered why we have all of those feasting holidays, like Thanksgiving, in the last three months of the year, this is it. Right around the end of September, it’s time to reap what’s been sown and enjoy the benefits.

So autumn babies also grow up spending a lot of time at home with loved ones, but under more joyous circumstances than their winter counterparts. They’re probably also a lot better fed, so might tend to be taller and stronger as adults in general.

Keep in mind, though, that I’m not tying all of this to any specific dates of birth. Rather, it all applies to season, and all of the effects probably happen within the first five years or so, tied to the child’s own circadian rhythms, sense of time, and possible reminder once a year when they were born.

Cause, effect, etc.

Modern birth and timing

As for how it works in modern societies, we have to shift the calendar off of seasons and go strictly by calendar quarters, which are about ten days off in both directions. For example, winter runs, in general, from December 21 to March 20, but the first quarter of any year is from January 1 to March 31.

Where this becomes important is not in infancy, but in school, because it determines when kids start school, when their birthday falls within the year, and so forth.

For example, kids born in the 4th quarter may actually be too young to start Kindergarten when they’re five, so wind up starting later, meaning that they are always a bit older than a lot of their classmates. One of my best friends in elementary and middle school was like this — born about six weeks before me, but technically a year older when he started school.

I have no idea whether this is really the case, but he always felt like a big brother to me, and certainly looked out for me. On the other hand, I also kind of had to look out for him, because he could also be shy and fearful when I wasn’t. We made a great team, although anyone who wants to say, “Well, he’s Capricorn and you’re Aquarius, so the stars say…” can just STFU.

A quick google tells me that astrologers say that Capricorn and Aquarius cannot be friends or lovers, and I know for a fact fifteen ways from Tuesday that this is dead wrong. Oh well!

As for the rest of the calendar year and school, people who enter on the other end of the scale, when they are as young as possible, might be more prone to bullying or just developing slower and always feeling awkward. Sorry, summer kids!

So who are today’s Scorpio Babies who bear no resemblance to each other? Here we go. Enjoy!

Charles II of Spain (1661—1700)

Probably most famous for being the product of so much incest that the “Hapsburg Jaw” was named after him, and he could barely talk or eat because of it.

He also died fairly young and was infertile, so he left no heir, becoming the last Hapsburg King of Spain. Later researchers determined that many of the inbred members of his family had about 9% of DNA that came from common ancestors shared by both of their parents. Charles II, though, topped out at a whopping 25%, which would be around the same as the child of two siblings.

His parents were niece and uncle, by the way.

Adolphe Sax (1814—1894)

After you get over the icks from the previous entry, you’ll be glad to know that this man was not the result of incest or inbreeding in any way. You can probably guess from his last name what he’s famous for.

The son of instrument makers, he himself went on to become one, and he invented the saxophone, which has since become a staple of jazz music and orchestras.

He almost didn’t get to that point, though. He was so accident prone as a child that nobody thought he would make it to adulthood, but managed to survive falling from three stories, having a stone fall on his head, accidentally drinking acidic water, or sleeping in a closed room with recently varnished furniture.

The universe sure wanted that saxophone.

John Philip Sousa (1854—1932)

Not to be outdone, Sousa had his own namesake instrument, the sousaphone, which unlike a tuba was designed to be worn around the player so that they could march with them. They are not the same instrument, though.

Sousa was known as the March King when marching bands had become very popular, around the end of the 19th century. This was the era when patriotic parades were a big thing, along with community bandstands in the park — remember, no modern media existed yet. It was a way of bringing the concert hall outside to the people.

Marching bands were also easy advertising, and the reason that we all associate one particular song with circuses is because it was frequently used as a “screamer,” which was a loud and brassy song a band would start playing as it marched down a town’s Main Street followed by all of the circus performers in order to let people know they were in town. They were also used in the show itself.

Nowadays, Sousa’s most well-known work is arguably The Liberty Bell March, although you might know it better as the theme song from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Mike Nichols (1931—2014)

One of the more respected and esteemed film directors of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, he gave us such classics as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Catch-22, Silkwood, Postcards from the Edge, The Birdcage, Primary Colors, and Charlie Wilson’s War.

While every one of those films is very different than the others, all of them shared the same incredible wit and humor in the storytelling. Of course, Nichols had gotten his start in improv comedy along with Elaine May, herself an incredibly accomplished writer and actor. She co-wrote films like Reds, Tootsie, and Labyrinth, and adapted both The Birdcage and Primary Colors.

The film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, an adaptation of Edward Albee’s 1962 stage play, was Nichols’ first-ever film. It was nominated for 13 Oscars, meaning that it was nominated in every category it was eligible for, a feat only accomplished to date by one other film, 1931’s Cimarron, although it only nabbed 7 nominations, which was still a record at the time.

Nichols’ film won five of its awards including Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, although it did not win for Film, Director, or Screenplay.

Sally Field (1946—)

Sally Field has had a remarkable career as an actress, starting out by playing silly characters in TV shows like Gidget and the Flying Nun and moving on to become a serious respected actress whom we all “liked!”

Her first serious dramatic role was in the 1976 TV movie Sybil, about a woman with dissociative personality disorder and although it was later proven that the author made most of it up, Field’s performance was still a tour de force.

She eventually won Best Actress Oscars for Norma Rae and Places in the Heart, and  won the Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality Award in 2012. Her youngest son, Sam, is gay.

Conchita Wurst (1988—)

You’ve probably forgotten by now, but this young Austrian singer took the world by storm and captured its heart when, in 2014, he won the Eurovision Song Contest while decked out in drag but still with a full beard, long hair and minimal make-up. Watch the performance, and you’ll see why.

In case you’re wondering, Conchita is she/her, but the gay man behind her, Thomas Neuwirth, is he/him, and does not consider himself to be transgender or female at all. And, after watching this performance again, why Conchita has never been asked to write and perform a Bond movie theme song is beyond me.

I mean, hell, the winning song alone already sounds like it is one.

Bowen Yang (1990—)

Bowen has set many records in a short period of time. He started on the show as a writer, then broke out as a featured cast member, the first ever Chinese-American cast member, only the third openly-gay male cast member.

Even more remarkable, he became the first featured cast member to bever be nominated for a Primetime Emmy. He had also been nominated as a writer in 2019, but the featured player thing is kind of a big deal, because these are the performers who are kind of back-benchers, as it were.

That is, they will rarely appear in a prominent role or anchor an entire sketch of their own, and frequently appear as background characters feeding one- or two-liners to the stars, particularly in scenes like opening political parodies or any kind of press conference or talk-show take off.

Apparently, it’s a very stressful position to be in, with quite a lot of the featured players never going on to become regular cast members. It looks like Bowen has a good chance, though, because he has been getting those strong sketch-anchor parts, and he tends to knock it out of the park every damn time.

Happy 31st birthday to him — and do you feel old yet?

Image: Conchita Wurst by Albin Olsson,(CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

A little cure for the Monday Blues

As might be obvious from some of my posts, I do have a day job — in the field of Medicare insurance — and from October 15 to December 7 every year, it’s the annual enrollment period, or what we like to refer to as our tax season.

So… I’ve been working seven days a week, plus overtime most days, and it’s not going to let up for a while, and this can have an effect on keeping up with the regular publishing schedule.

Don’t worry — The Saturday Morning Post installments of The Rêves are written and scheduled well into March, and the Friday Free-for-All questions are actually easy to do because they’re prompted.

But I might be doing more recycling or shorter mid-week posts up to Thanksgiving, at which point I’ll have a special treat as I bring back a month-long feature from last year’s holidays.

Meanwhile, I wanted to give a shout-out and a plug to an incredibly talented young actor, comedian, singer, writer, dancer, improviser, Disney park super-fan, and all-around swell guy I know: Zach Timson.

Some of you might even know him from a little online thing called the Who Was? Show. (In that clip, he shows up briefly as Henry VIII.)

Anyway, I’m fortunate enough to know him IRL through ComedySportz, and his talent, despite his youth, never ceases to blow me away. Here’s just one sample.

His big ambition is to one day be a cast member on SNL, and if it’s still around, I have no doubt that he would be if he makes the right connections. If you liked the clip above, do yourself a favor and go browse around his other videos.

Oh. Did I mention that he is one of the most amazing voice impressionists I have ever heard? If he doesn’t make it on SNL, he could still be the Rich Little, Billy Crystal, (insert famous impressionist here) of his generation.

I was fortunate, in the days before the lockdown, to meet a wide range of people via ComedySportz, from our College League on up to senior members of the company and those I played with in Rec League.

But the most important thing it taught me was that you should never discount someone’s ability to teach you just because of outer appearances like age (lack of or too much), physical ability or disability, or experience or ability in actually doing improv.

That last one might seem paradoxical, but sometimes it takes seeing something done… I don’t want to say “wrong,” so maybe I’ll just say “not well,” in order to make you understand how to do it better.

I certainly learned that one in trying to help beginning writers improve their work over many years. The ones who taught me the most were, again paradoxically, the ones who seemed to learn the least from me.

Of course, when a master of their craft walks into the room and starts teaching, it’s obvious in a second, and I have also learned over the years from many brilliant mentors, like the late Jerry Fey, who guided me from being a novice writer to a produced and award-winning playwright in a very prestigious regional theatre, or Rick Steadman, who got me into and then made me reasonably good at improv.

Which is the long way around of saying that Zach — and all of his teammates on the college league — have taught me a lot (as mentors) about doing improv, how to be funny, how to relax and just have fun on stage. But if I’d ever looked at any of them and thought, “Yeah, they’re just kids. What do they know?” I never would have learned a thing.

Listen always to the generations above and below yours. The elders have experience, while the youth have passion. Unite the two of those in yourself, and oh, the places you’ll go.

Image courtesy of Pixy#Org via CC0 1.0 license.

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