May 28, 2015 § 2 Comments
1934 – 2015
In more than 3 decades of living in the United States, Salvadoran national Maria Lorenza Guardado never learned English.
Not that she didn’t try. But speaking the language summoned memories of the January day in 1980 when a Salvadoran death squad kidnapped and tortured her under the direction of a man with an American accent.
That same experience did not deter Guardado’s political activism, however. She was “so militant, so omnipresent, you think there are four or five Marias because everywhere you go, she’s there.” (This from the late Don White, who was himself no slouch when it came to standing up for justice.)*
Born January 15, 1934 in La Union, El Salvador, Guardado began working at 13 to help support her ill mother and 8 orphaned nieces and nephews the family had taken into its household. Stirred by her country’s pervasive poverty and injustice, and despite increasing persecution that put her at risk, she worked with and organized campesinos, teachers, students, and market vendors, joining leftist political movements agitating for change.
As conflict in El Salvador escalated towards civil war, death squads targeted activists of all stripes—teachers, priests, labor organizers, even students—disappearing, torturing, assassinating.
When kidnapped, Guardado was blindfolded, bound, and driven to a secret location. Her captors offered her a bribe to name names, which she would not do. Guardsmen then beat her, applied electrical wires to her breasts and genitals, raped and then sodomized her with a wooden rod, leaving her in a pool of blood.
“I thought I had died,” she said in recounting her ordeal between pauses to quiet the agitation these memories engendered.* Guardsmen revived Guardado only to continue torturing and interrogating, breaking multiple bones and burning her across her body.
Three days later, her captors dumped her naked body on a city street; she had to beg a taxi driver, fearful for his own life, to take her home, “so I could die in my own house.”*
Friends took Maria to San Salvador for medical care, though not to a hospital where she would again be detained. When able, she made her way to Chiapas, Mexico, living for a time with nephews who had fled El Salvador in fear. With Mexican authorities threatening repatriation to El Salvador, Guardado was persuaded by Sanctuary activists to emigrate to the United States where First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles offered refuge. She was granted refugee status after a protracted legal struggle and eventually received treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Her therapy of choice, however, appeared to be political action. A partisan of El Salvador’s leftist Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), she could also be found at meetings, protests, and vigils for any number of human rights issues: immigration, Palestine, labor rights, School of the Americas. I first heard her speak at a gathering that addressed on-going affects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. For Guardado, all such issues were linked to an over-arching cause: capitalism and imperialism.
Guardado brought realities of U.S.-financed Salvadoran civil war home to thousands of Angelenos, a generous gift given her psychological scars. So much easier to move on, forget, build a new and different life. Instead, she showed us how an indomitable spirit lives and leads.
* Quotations are from the documentary film by Randy Vasquez, Testimony: the Maria Guardado Story, portions of which can be accessed on YouTube.com.
September 22, 2014 § 1 Comment
The sad remnant of our hometown newspaper is one-half advertisements these days and often woefully short on news. Recently, however, an ad appeared that outclassed everything around it.
An 88-year-old Southern Californian named Gary Platt purchased a half-page in Section A to say thanks to the “great many people [who made] my life so wonderful.” And then he named names: Bertha, Cy, Reuben, Shesh, Chavalo, Aunt Renie, Matsu . . . multiple paragraphs resonant with names of parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, boyhood friends, in-laws, employers, fellow employees, and “the wonderful friends that have become family.”
In so many ways, Gary Platt’s story is paradigmatic of Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century; the big-hearted humility, however, is his own.
Platt’s father and future father-in-law emigrated from Russia in 1912, entering the U.S. at Galveston, Texas. Expert cabinetmakers, they earned enough within a year to send for his father’s bride-to-be, her sisters and grandmother.
They emigrated again from Texas to Los Angeles, settling, as did so many Jewish immigrants, in Boyle Heights. The Britannia Street home purchased in 1919 stayed in the family for more than 50 years.
When his father’s parents—still in Russia—were killed in a pogrom along with an uncle just after WW I, his father helped another uncle bring the remaining family to the U.S. “This made our family whole,” he writes, “and I was able to enjoy growing up with some wonderful cousins.”
Gary Platt included four photos with his thank-you: he and his wife of 60 years; their daughter with her husband and “the light of our life four year old granddaughter Lily”; his “beautiful mother Fannie,” c. 1910; and his father, Albert, a dashing young man in the uniform of the Czarinas Royal Guard. With evident pride, Platt tells us that the unit was composed solely of six-foot tall men who, besides being expert horsemen, looked good in the saddle, adding, “He was probably the only Jew allowed in the organization.”
Platt is endearingly generous with his compliments. His future wife was “a beautiful blond switchboard operator”; his grandfather was “smart” for buying the Brittania Street house; an employer was “a genius for production.”
For someone who had a 52-year career with the same company—as a salesman for a manufacturer of restaurant furniture—he is notably modest about his accomplishments, which included a line of casino seating spun off as Gary Platt Mfg. No, the kudos go to that “genius” employer and the partner’s business direction, their “far superior” products, and the “many wonderful people” he met working at L&B Mfg. His service in WW II is mentioned only in passing.
Sincere gratitude flows from Platt’s words. Though he is “certain more names will come to me later of people that are important to me that have slipped my mind,” Platt’s tribute appears encyclopedic, from the set of Tom Swift books given to him at age 10 (thanks to Leo Platt), to acknowledgement of Hollenbeck Junior High and Roosevelt High Schools.
In closing, Platt writes with particular affection for “a special friend,” Mr. Moses J. Thompson, who lived across the street from the Platt family on a small ranch in Sierra Madre. Mr. Thompson not only shared his fresh fruits and vegetables with the young boy but told him stories.
One that stuck with him is how Mr. Thompson said when he was Gary’s age, then five, he would sometimes go to work with his father to see his special friend. His father worked in the White House and his special friend was Abraham Lincoln.
“Can you imagine that my special friend Moses J. Thompson had another special friend named Abraham Lincoln? I like that.”
And I like you, Mr. Platt.
July 23, 2014 § 2 Comments
Silverlake living is yours in the height of contemporary tri-level townhomes with a rare sophistication in luxury and style. Lavishly appointed residences offer 2, 3 and 4 bedrooms, offices, stunning roof top terraces and square footage ranging from approximately 1,243 to 1,910. You are minutes from downtown and everything that is happening. Follow life’s directions to a new experience . . .
A writer got paid for coming up with this bit of promotional fluff, which, as a member of the National Writers Union, ought to make me happy. To the contrary, my teeth hurt reading such drivel, particularly as it describes a condo development in my neighborhood.
Nebulous, and a more potent signifier for being so, “Silverlake living” hints at more than just “residing in the neighborhood of Silverlake.” “Silverlake living” is now a commodity, a desirable thing that can be bought and sold. “Silverlake” used this way is not a place on Earth, a neighborhood with tangible houses, streets, trees, coyotes, and people but an adjective modifying “living.”
Lacking explicit meaning, “Silverlake living” becomes a repository for whatever potential residents might desire: a residence close to the Meadow and Griffith Park; good schools; relative safety; high resale value because of all the foregoing. Regardless of what ownership might in reality entail, and the high tension lines running across the property are nowhere mentioned, this fill-in-the-blanks ad-speak offers everything and nothing.
More than mere habitation, these condos, the developers suggest, will endow their owners with a certain cachet, a social significance that bestows identity on residents—-but will their lives as actually-lived define what “Silverlake living” consists of?
According to the copywriter, residents will acquire sophistication and style, along with a lavish and luxurious home. They will be close to downtown—which could mean Disney Hall, Bunker Hill offices, or clubs like The Edison, but not, presumably Skid Row—and “everything that is happening,” a promise of cosmic proportions.
I don’t imagine that the “life directions” we’re urged to follow are our moral compass, or urgings of conscience, social concern, or revolutionary zeal, but the lemming flow of perceived hipness and nonconformist conformity. This “new experience,” the website intimates, will elevate us above the hoi polloi, or, failing that, at least be new, the true marker for American exceptionalism.
And what have the site’s developers christened their project? The perfect ad-speak appellation: Latitudes, a word suggesting “scope for freedom of action or thought.” The designation insinuates that wherever you live now, you are constrained, prevented from reaching heights you know you deserve to inhabit. Move to Latitudes and an expansive life awaits you.
Back in the day, only religions offered these kinds of pie-in-the-sky inducements. Tri-level townhomes, it appears, are the new Paradise.
Unclear if pearly gates are part of the package.
July 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
Have you seen the Chandelier Tree?
A tall, spreading sycamore at the corner of W. Silverlake Drive and Shadowlawn Avenue, by day it seems a marvel because of the variety of chandeliers suspended from branches high and low.
The L.A. Times scooped me on this item, writing in the “Saturday” section (July 13, 2014) that the creator and keeper of the tree is Adam Tenenbaum; he began the installation seven years ago; and there are 30 chandeliers, hung with the aid of his aerialist roommate, Brion Topolski.
The article also reported that lighting the tree costs Adam $200 in electricity every month. Which is why I drop a quarter into his quirky donation box–a repurposed parking meter–whenever I stop by.
June 20, 2014 § 1 Comment
Responding to a Los Angeles Times article about the San Diego Zoo’s new tiger habitat, a letter-writer averred, “Animals in captivity show us nothing of the true behavior they would exhibit in their natural habitats. A captive wild animal can only show us the loneliness and boredom they experience, day in and day out, for the entirety of their miserable lives.”
Is this true?
We all know there are captive wild animals who live in horrible conditions. Let’s take them out of the discussion right now; nobody in their right mind thinks that’s okay. But what about the thousands of wild species held by keepers with the best of intentions?
If you’re looking for a definitive answer, you can stop reading now. I don’t have one. But I visited the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens a few weeks ago and have these observations.
- If I had stopped at the lion habitat only, I would agree with the letter-writer. Despite being newly refurbished, the exhibit held a bored lion who paced around and around the too-small enclosure, mounted his mate, then paced some more.
- The river otter habitat in the new Rainforest of the Americas section lies at the other end of the spectrum; it’s an expansive and varied landscape with pools large and small. (The day I visited, however, it interested them not at all: They were too busy learning how to escape, making their way over a waist-high gate and out onto a ledge overhanging their glass-walled pool.)
Did the otters go AWOL because they were dissatisfied with their new digs? Or are they simply rascals whose impulsive curiosity led them to test their limits? I’d vote for the latter.
- Then there’s the Red Ape Forest where the beautiful, smart orangutans brachiate along artificial vines strung high over a grassy landscape through which a brook flows.
Eloise is one of its residents. She was brain-damaged at birth and lives with a cerebral palsy-like disorder.
Eloise probably would have died in the wild. At the zoo, she receives Rolls Royce medical care that has kept her alive and mobile.
- The LA Zoo also houses a number of koalas, who sleep 16-20 hours a day–as do koalas in the wild–because their diet of eucalyptus requires so much digestion time. Are they really less happy sleeping in the shade of a eucalyptus tree in Los Angeles than in the Australian outback?
- Same goes for Reggie the alligator. Inside his enclosure, he does pretty much what alligators do: bask in the sun and eat, albeit without hunting for his food. What “true behavior” would we like him to exhibit? Stalk, capture, and eat a small mammal–like that toddler leaning against the enclosure fence?
- As for the new(ish) elephant habitat, I’m agnostic. It’s much larger and more stimulating than the old barn-like exhibit, yet Billy continues his neurotic davening, repetitively bobbing up and down, while the girls, Tina and Jewel, do a lot of standing around.
Unfortunately, alternatives to captivity i.e., life in the wild, are diminishing due to habitat destruction. Corporate greed is responsible for much of this encroachment; the desperation of small farmers fuels still more. It takes a BIG effort to turn a population from poaching to protectors. And what if those animals we—safe in our First World habitats—would like to see protected are predators? Who is willing to take the place of villagers beset by tigers?
Which brings us full circle, back to San Diego’s tigers. Their new habitat, the letter-writer scoffed is not for them but for “the general public’s entertainment.” Perhaps. But I can’t think of a better way to stimulate Americans–whose consumption of 25 percent of the world’s resources is behind the greed that fuels habitat destruction–to support conservation efforts so that we don’t arrive at the point where the only place “wild” animals exist is in zoos.
N.B. The Los Angeles Zoo raises money for and actively participates in a number of programs to preserve endangered species.
June 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
Did your childhood include Saturday matinees at the local movie theater? Mine did: 25 cents admission and 5 cents for a small box of popcorn. The movies weren’t noteworthy–I remember only that I saw The Blob, which kept me in a state of panic for weeks, and a Zorro serial–but they instilled in me a love of the big screen.
That history is what draws me to the Highland Park Theater at 56 & Figueroa. Like the Uptown Theater of my youth, it’s cheap ($5 before 6 p.m.; $4 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and the impressive, multi-story rooftop neon sign suggests it was the neighborhood movie house in days gone by. Alas, the auditorium has been divided into three narrow screening rooms and the balcony stairs are roped off.
The Highland still is a neighborhood theater, however, in a way that mall multiplexes aren’t. Though a little down at the heels, it attracts local kids, their parents and grannies with its first-run PG and PG-13 studio fare. (Occasionally something off-beat slips in, like the animated, hip-hop version of Little Red Riding Hood we saw there a few years back.)
Though the sound system is now Dolby Digital, the Highland most likely will never go high tech and 3-D and that’s just fine with me. Viewing a movie there takes me back to a simpler time, when Saturday afternoons went on forever and popcorn could be had for a nickel. And that alone is worth the price of admission.
May 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
Is it a never-licensed restaurant? A private dining club? A television production set?
On Rowena in Silverlake, just south of Silverlake Blvd. West, sits a storefront restaurant that looks as if it were just about to open. Peer through the front window and you’ll see place settings resting on white tablecloths. The cash register awaits transactions. A mostly empty display case holds a few nonfood items.
And it’s been like this for years.
It’s name is a clever play on the neighborhood’s: Silver Take –as in take-out obviously. “A neighborhood restaurant,” reads the sign.
And yet, it’s never served a single meal that I know of.
Another neighborhood mystery.
April 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
. . . whatever happened to the birds that used to live on the west side of Silverlake reservoir, where Moreno curves east to meet Silverlake Blvd. West?
A sizable hen house and fenced yard once occupied the now empty space beneath this bougainvillea arbor. Five or six years ago, it was the first urban chicken ranch I had ever encountered. A sign announced the property as a registered “backyard wildlife habitat.”
I was so intrigued and spent so much time prowling about on that first visit that a resident (human, not fowl) raced from the adjacent house to inquire about my intentions. Apparently satisfied that my interest was harmless, he gestured towards the luxuriously large terraced yard beyond this fence and declared it to be the future home of an organic, urban farm. And vegetables were indeed growing there for the next several years.
I hadn’t passed that way for at least six months, however, and in my absence not only the hens but any trace of their home disappeared. The gardens lie fallow and the habitat sign has been removed.
I miss the chickens; even more I regret the loss of a site that pushed back urban constrictions and brought a bit of country life into the city. Asphalt, glass, and steel make our lives easier, but chickens remind us that we’re earth creatures like them, rooted in soil, air, and sunlight. That’s a service even better than eggs.
March 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
Chickens are so entertaining.
The Micheltorena School community garden is home to a hen house and eight birds. I stop by and marvel every time I’m in the neighborhood.
This being Silverlake, their shelter is no run-0f-the-mill shed but a redwood home with architectural flair.
This curious hen wondered what I was up to.
Not much, birdie. Just enjoying your company.
February 11, 2014 § 2 Comments
I’d probably need several years of psychoanalysis to determine why I’m so fond of this character, found on Sunset where Waverly curves down to meet the boulevard. Shouldn’t I find the dark scowl frightening/ disturbing/ threatening?
Instead, I read the face as determined/ take no bullshit/ ready for whatever comes. Walking to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings, I give it a friendly nod, happy to know it’s made it through another week unmarred by graffiti.
The remainder of the mural is pretty cool, too.