Thursday, April 29, 2010

Critical care

I was hustling up and down the concrete steps in section 10 of the L.A. Sports Arena, when a man in a Lakers cap said to me, "You oughta stop running around so much and get off that bad knee."

I looked at him. "How'd you know I have a bad knee?" I asked.

"I can tell by looking at you," he said, "'Cause I got one of my own. You got to slow down if you're gonna be doing this all day."

From April 27 through May 3, the Remote Area Medical Clinic is open for business at the Los Angeles Sports Arena - a shabby and venerable old event facility near downtown. A Knoxville, TN based private non-profit medical charity, RAM provides free medical care to thousands of people, at no cost to taxpayers or government.

Here are dental stations where people can get fillings, have teeth extracted, have limited emergency procedures performed, and get their teeth cleaned. People can see pediatricians, have diabetes screening, mammograms, pap smears, and other services. There are eye exam stations and glasses will be made and fitted on site.

According to statistics on the organization's site, 6,349 people were issued wristbands allowing them to receive medical care. Of those, 2,260 people had received care by the end of the day yesterday.

The clinic called upon medical professionals to volunteer their services. They also called for general volunteers to help with line control and helping patients find their way.

The L.A. Sports Arena

Last August, during the height of debate over the proposed health care reform bill, the Remote Area Medical Clinic held a similar event in Inglewood, at the old Forum. The contrast between the virulent rhetoric opposing health care reform and the sight of thousands of Americans lining up to receive health care they couldn't otherwise afford was startling.

What was this monumental and important effort? When I heard that RAM was returning to Los Angeles this spring, I signed up to volunteer.

Non-press cameras were not allowed due to patient privacy so this is my only photo of the event.

My shift began at 5:30 AM. I was sent to the entry area, and assigned as a patient escort.

The patients were admitted starting at 6:00 AM. While most people needed multiple types of care, they were told to prioritize - did they want to see a doctor first or a dentist? Or get an eye exam? We escorted groups of people down a long escalator that led to the lower arena floor, and then directed them to the waiting area for their first priority.

Photo from the Los Angeles Times

The lower arena floor was filled with dozens of giant RVs that served as specialty dental or ophthalmology labs, mammogram stations, eye-glass workshops or other medical labs. Thick electrical cables snaked across the floor to power these trailers up. Curtains or folding screens enclosed spaces where people could have blood drawn for HIV tests. Rows and rows of tables ranged up and down the concrete floor, next to portable dentist chairs. Dental techs in gauzy lemon-colored robes, doctors and nurses in colorful scrubs, and volunteers in our white tee-shirts roamed the floor. Formations of folding red chairs - the waiting areas - teemed with people sitting quietly, resigned to a long wait - they were patients, indeed, in both senses of the word.

For the next couple of hours, I moved quickly. It was easy to pick out patients from volunteers, because they clutched a sheaf of papers colored pink, blue and white.

By 10:00 AM, the waiting areas on the arena floor were full, so overflow waiting areas were set up in the upper concourses of the Arena. People were asked to sit in order of arrival. Volunteer runners would arrive from below to escort groups of ten or twenty down to the floor as space opened up. I was in charge of the overflow Dental Reception area.

This was a little different from my earlier duties - Instead of leaving people within sight of the dentist they had come to see, now I had a crowd that stayed with me for a long time. As the overflow area filled up, people grew increasingly dismayed as they realized how long their wait would be. I had to explain the rules - to keep people in line without cutting, or keep people from getting on one anothers' nerves.

As the wait grew longer, people had to make choices that were sometimes agonizing. Should you wait two hours in Dental to have that aching tooth pulled? Or should you take your child to the pediatrics line first for an immunization, and risk losing the chance to relieve your pain? We triaged people with elevated blood pressure to the Medical area - yet some desperately needed glasses. A caregiver had placed her charge, a mentally retarded woman, in the Dental area while having her own diabetes screening. The lengthy separation had made the dental patient anxious. Volunteers were dispatched to reunite the women.

Some folks couldn't walk the steep concrete stairs of the seating area. We kept a row at the top for those folks, and asked them to use the buddy system to remember their place in line

I got to know people as they remained with me. Some were friendly, others glum. Some were annoyed. Still others were helpful - a lady named "Arlene"* who used a scooter for mobility stationed herself at the top of my stairway and sternly corralled newcomers until I could seat them.

A big guy who looked like trouble didn't want to sit in line with others. He sat off to himself listening to his I-pod, and kept bantering with me as I ran up and down. Finally one of the older ladies asked me for some water, so I asked Mr. Trouble if he would mind going to fetch a glass of water for the lady - after that, he helped direct traffic for me.

Every half hour or so, twenty of my charges were escorted to the lower floor. There were old folks, families with kids, young people. Our Team Leaders expected us to treat everyone with respect - people were "sir" or "ma'am" and when we referred to them they were "gentlemen" or "ladies." We kept families together in rows. We tried to answer questions if we could. We refused to discuss rumors. We pointed out locations of bathrooms. We handed out sandwiches donated by Subway.

The Remote Area Clinic was founded to bring medical care to isolated Third World areas and remote rural areas where medical resources are scarce. Yet as medical costs soar and the number of people without health insurance increase in the United States, the need is just as great in our biggest cities as it is in the headwaters of the Amazon where RAM began. It's a disgrace that people in America have to line up and wait six or more hours so that ten-year-old children can see a dentist for the first time in their lives.

This spring's clinic has its challenges. The number of volunteers are down. One problem is a legal one - the state of California currently does not allow out-of-state practitioners to serve here. Legislation to correct that is pending. But volunteers are critically needed. Because of the lack of volunteers, some people may be turned away, even after waiting so patiently for so many hours.

If you live in Los Angeles, and have some free time between now and May 3, visit the RAM Volunteer Registration website and consider volunteering. If you are a dentist or a dental technician, they need you. If RAM is coming to your city in the upcoming months - consider volunteering. You won't regret it.

The Advil is for my aching feet

I lasted until 1:30 PM before I was urged to take a break - and my aching feet and legs kept me from arguing. On the way down to the lunchroom, I passed the dental area, and there was "Arlene" on her scooter. "How are you doing, did you get checked out?"

She was fine - she'd had her examination and was now waiting for a prescription to be filled. "I want to thank you," I said, "for helping me out up there."

"Oh now, baby, everyone's doing such a good job, it's only right I gotta help out too." Bless you, "Arlene".

*I have edited this to change the lady's name, to protect her privacy.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sumo Chicken

This is one of my favorite signs of all time. This sign is at a chicken restaurant in East Los Angeles on Cesar Chavez Boulevard.

Sumo Chickens.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


On Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of Los Angeles, you might not find it surprising to see a lot of street lamps massed together.

Or maybe you would be surprised indeed.

Here in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, over 200 vintage cast-iron streetlamps salvaged from Southern California cities, are massed in a strict formation, creating a presence in the street landscape.

This is an art installation and sculpture by noted Southern California artist Chris Burden, titled "Urban Light." Installed in 2008 with the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, it has become a much-loved part of Los Angeles' public arts landscape.

Burden began collecting the old streetlamps after finding parts of them in flea markets. They were sandblasted, restored, repainted, and assembled in configuration on his property in Topanga Canyon.

In 2005, [The Man I Love] and I were lucky enough to be invited to Burden's home up in the part of Topanga known as the Mesa, and saw the installation in place outside his workshop studio. Set in precise rows, with the lamps only a few feet apart, the installation creates a perspective illusion that sometimes feels like solid-walled corridors as your eye loses the ability to see the gaps between the posts.

We wandered among the colonnades under a pale twilight sky, and then Burden turned on the switch, and the glass globes sprang to light with an almost audible hum. Suddenly the perspective changed - the ceiling of the universe descended and it was as if we were in a vast walled space, like a cathedral. Another writer has likened the LACMA installation to the great columned halls of the temple of Karnak.

In 2008 the lamps were installed in front of LACMA and the work has become a part of the streetscape on Wilshire. Today when we visited, tourists wandered the rows. A group of young girls in head scarfs posed for one another to take photos. Children are fascinated by the rows of lamps, and run, ducking and hiding, in between them.

At night the lamps come on at the same time ordinary street lamps come on, and remain lit all night until dawn.

Chris Burden is a provocative artist with a controversial history, and like other works, this has generated a wide range of opinions. But as far as I'm concerned, this is something he's given to the people of Los Angeles that makes living in the city more fun, and makes you think about the history of Los Angeles.

Read more about Chris Burden's "Urban Light" at this article in the L.A. Times.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekly Jack

Each week, Jack's fans can get the latest news about him. Here's your Weekly Jack.

Jack introduces himself to a couple of friends on Red Rock Canyon Road.

They all try to get to know one another.

The shepherd wants to play.

So does Jack. We allow a few minutes of play and then continue our walk.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Get together

This Thursday marked Bossy's (No) Book tour's stop in Los Angeles. A blogger meet-up was arranged, with yours truly stepping up to choose the location and make reservations, and then worry for the three days prior because our weather had turned cold and rainy.

But all was fine on the appointed evening, and we gathered in the sheltered courtyard of a Lebanese restaurant called Alcazar, nibbling hummos and enjoying one another's company. The company included Kelly and Motherscribe and Shayera and Jason and SueB0b (and friend) and Smacksy and Tootsie Farklepants (and her lovely daughter) and Heidi and Barbra. Oh, and Flat Debbie, too!

We had a great time chatting, and after our inhibitions were loosened somewhat, Bossy had each of us confess our secret lives to the observant lens of her cameraman - I had to go first, but I decided I was glad, because that way I got to listen to everyone else's stories without being worried about what I was going to say when it was my turn.

And I have to say - I'm so impressed. Each person has an inner richness, a unique viewpoint, and his/her own fascinating story to tell. What a great thing that we have this tool of blogging to let us share our stories.

So go click on everyone's links and check them out!

I have a special reason to be grateful to Bossy and my fellow L.A. bloggers - it was two years ago at Bossy's last visit to L.A. that I was inspired to start this blog. I want to thank JCK and Tootsie Farklepants especially for urging me to go for it.

Friday, April 23, 2010


I missed signing up for Pink Saturday this weekend because I was too busy. More to follow about a busy Thursday, a blogger meet-up and all kinds of shenanigans.

But look at this pink rose that is open in my garden this week.

It's an Austin Rose - one of David Austin's roses bred to bring back fragrance and Old Rose quartered beauty to our gardens. I got it so long ago I am not sure what it is, but I think it is Climbing St. Swithun.

Here it is on an early spring morning, droplets not of dew but from the sprinkler beading its delicate petals.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Easy Annuals

For gardeners, some of most rewarding flowers are the easiest. Annual flowers that sprout quickly, grow fast and bloom abundantly provide almost instant gratification for gardeners - and especially the lazy gardener.

There are a number of plants that are so easy to grow all you need to do is toss handfuls of seeds out in the yard to plant them.

"Tidy tips" or Layia platyglossa

Many of these are native wildflowers, but others are old beloved cottage garden flowers that have been grown and passed down from gardener to gardener for centuries.

Nigella damascena photo from Wikipedia Commons

When we moved to my second Seattle garden, we had to fence the yard right away to keep our dog from roaming. In the front yard, the fence left an 18" strip of bare dirt along the sidewalk. I sprinkled packets of nasturtiums, annual poppies, nigella ("love-in-a-mist") and annual cornflowers onto the soil, mulched it with a mixture of bagged manure and bark, and forgot about it.

By spring, it was full of flowers.

Phacelia distans in Topanga

On our street in Topanga, there's a steep slope that was graded and bulldozed as part of a drainage project. At the finish, the contractor seeded the slope with a mixture of annual seeds. This spring, the hillside is beautiful, sporting bright California poppies, larkspur and lupine, sweet-smelling alyssum, phacelia, and baby-blue-eyes.

Texas bluebonnets on Texas Route 59

In Texas, the verges of state highways are famously rich with native wildflowers, inspired by the preservation efforts of Former First Lady Ladybird Johnson.

This rural garden, open last April for the Theodore Payne Foundation's Native Plant Garden Tour, depends on easy annuals for color. Here red flax (linum grandiflorum), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), baby-blue-eyes (Nemisia menziesii) and the California wildflower "tidy tips" (Layia platyglossa) bloom on a Topanga hillside.

In mild climates, like California, the American South, and the Pacific Northwest, annual seeds can be broadcast after your fall garden clean-up. In colder climates, you have to wait until the snow has melted. Just broadcast the seed where you may - you can always weed out seedlings that end up in the wrong place. The flowers will come up through and around more established perennials and shrubs. If you let them go to seed in place, you will have many seasons of repeat blooms - although if you plant selected varieties, they tend to revert to the common form in a few years.

Some of the easiest seeds to try this with are:

Sweet peas. A hand full of sweet pea seeds flung into the garden one year led to five years of repeating flowers.

The assortment of delicate blue, pink and white blooms reverted to a dark maroon-purple over time, but this one was the most fragrant and vigorous of all.

Nasturtiums. In Southern California landscapes, nasturtiums have escaped the garden and now grow wild, foaming down the bluffs rising up from the Pacific Coast Highway north of Santa Monica. With their big chick-pea-like seeds, nasturtiums are easy for children to plant, and their round leaves are fascinating to see. As an extra bonus, nasturtiums are edible flowers that look beautiful in a salad. Nasturtium blossoms stuffed with a bit of cream cheese make a delicious treat.

Another edible annual that's easily grown is Calendula. The petals of Calendula officianalis, the pot marigold of the old world, have been used since ancient times for dye and for coloring butter and cheese. You can sprinkle the petals in salads for beautiful garnish. The single form here is pretty, but you can also find them in fancier double forms.

Papavar rhoeas photo from Wikipedia Commons

Field poppies
, Papavar rhoeas, are the annual red poppies that grow in the field of Europe, famously on the World War I battle fields of Flanders. Their bright red delicate flowers have become associated with wartime remembrance. In addition to the traditional red poppy, you can find selected varieties in assorted colors, some as delicately ethereal as mother of pearl. Another annual poppy, Papavar somniferum, is the opium poppy and - all fears aside - they are legal to grow in the U.S. for ornamental purposes. Opium poppies are prized for the variation of color and form of their blossoms.

California poppies are members of the poppy family, but are called Eschscholzia. In spring, their abundant bloom cover the hills and deserts with gold. Here a variety selected for its deep brick-red color blooms in a West Los Angeles native-plant garden.

Larkspur are annuals that used to be included in the same genus as their showier perennial cousins, Delphiniums. Now botanists have separated them out into their own genus, Consolida. If you've despaired of growing tall, gorgeous delphiniums, give larkspur a try. Their delicate spikes of flowers, each with its own "spur," come in shades of blue, lavender and white.

Recently I've become acquainted with this annual - Cerinthe major 'Purpurescens.' A Mediterranean native, it has nodding, purple tube-like flowers surrounded by bracts of the same color. Its foliage is grey-green and waxy. Its thunderous coloration and graceful drooping shape make it appear exotic and difficult - though I understand it's a reliable re-seeder and can even be somewhat of a thug in rich soil.

Phacelia tanacetefolia

You can find seeds of common garden annuals in most hardware stores and garden centers, and even in Dollar Stores. Seeds of native wildflowers can be purchased from organizations dedicated to the preservations of wildflowers or from large mail-order seed houses like Thompson & Morgan. Join local gardening clubs to participate in member seed exchanges.

As you master other aspects of gardening - design, propagation, or specialized collecting - you'll continue to rely on easy annuals for color and pleasure in the garden.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Angels' fishing rod

I'm not one to fish for compliments, but I'd love to hear what you think of a garden perennial that's blooming in my garden right now.

This is Dierama pulcherrimum, a South African native member of the iris family, similar to crocosmia. Its 3' - 4' long flower stems arch out gracefully from grass-like foliage, bearing bell-shaped flowers along wand-like stems that bend and nod in the breeze. They are commonly called Angel's Fishing Rod, or Fairy Wand.

The flowers range in color from white to pink to dark cerise, blooming from papery bracts suspended from the main wand by stems as fine as silver wire.

The name "dierama" comes from the Greek word for "funnel." The plant in my garden has blooms that are a pink so pale as to be almost white, with delicate darker shadings in the funnel's throat.

It's somewhat tender, but should do fine in Zone 7 or higher. Although it needs regular watering through its growing season, it's somewhat drought tolerant once established, and after blooming its grass-like foliage remains evergreen in the garden most of the year.

I planted mine about five years ago, and this year it's in fine form. There are at least a dozen stems arching out gracefully, festooned with flowers. When the slightest breeze blows they dance and toss.

My dierama is planted at the top of a sloping garden, near the stairs, so that as you walk beneath it, you can look up into the dancing bells. It grows beside a clump of a delicately feathery ornamental grass.

There are several species of dierama, but pulcherrimum is the largest and most commonly grown in gardens. Many cultivated named varieties may be hybrids with other species. They are easily grown from seed - the nodding flowers rippen into round seed capsules that you can allow to remain bobbing enticingly on the stems into autumn. Established clumps may be divided, but dieramas resent disturbing, and may sulk for a couple years before blooming again.

I got mine inexpensively, from a mail-order house. Although I adore it, I often wish it were more intensely colored, like some other named varieties selected by nurseries. There is a selection I'm dying to try, called "Blackbird" that is stunning for its dark magenta flowers with deep purple buds.

Seeds and plants can be easily found by mail-order. Thompson & Morgan is a good source of seed, and Digging Dog Nursery in California sells plants. Or, if you want me to send you seeds of mine when it ripens, just email me.

You can read more about dierama at this link to an article in Flower & Garden magazine.

Weekly Jack

Because Jack has so many fans, I've decided to give you all a look at him every week. Here is your Weekly Jack.

This week, Jack is enjoying a hike in Red Rock Canyon Park here in Topanga.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Final rest

This is the junction of Wilshire Boulevard and Westwood Avenue in Los Angeles. North on Westwood is the campus of UCLA and its large medical center. To the West is the Federal building and Veterans' Administration complex. Beyond this junction to the east the boulevard is dubbed "Millionaires' Mile" because it is lined with soaring high-rise luxury apartment buildings. This is one of the busiest urban intersections in the United States.

It's said that 100,000 cars each day pass through the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Westwood Avenue in West Los Angeles.

Here on a Saturday morning, it's not quite that busy, but this boulevard is still a prime example of Los Angeles's car culture. The street landscape is not welcoming. Pedestrians have to brave ten lanes of traffic to cross Wilshire Boulevard. buildings for banks, real estate firms and Occidental Petroleum building present slick marble faces to the sidewalk.

This is not a place where you'd expect to find a refuge of eternal rest.

Walk down Glendon Avenue south of Wilshire, and turn into the driveway of the tall brown marble office tower that faces the street. You'll see a broad driveway, signs providing helpful directions to the parking garage.

But keep walking, and then turn right at the hedge.

Beyond here is Westwood Memorial Park Cemetery, hidden in the middle of this over-developed urban block. It's small - only a couple of acres in size. A lawn dotted with colorful floral memorials is dominated by huge trees - two tall evergreens and a vast chestnut tree that spreads its wide branches protectively over the graves.

To the north, the property is bordered by the walls of a long open crypt, the stone walls bearing named plaques and bronze holders for flowers. To the south, gardens and semi-private spaces shelter granite-marked graves.

Who rests here? This is the final resting place of many of Hollywood's elite. Just walking around I found some famous names.

Yes, the Incredible Mr. Limpet - Barney Fife - is buried here, in the grass behind the Avco Theatre.

Farrah Fawcett is a recent arrival. Sleep peacefully, Farrah. You earned your rest.

Great comics and character actors rest here. Walter Matthau and his wife Carol share a stone engraved with enjoined hearts.

Merv Griffin's stone reads "I will not be right back after this message."

Comic Rodney Dangerfield's headstone reads "There goes the neighborhood."

Some of the residents of this place have cult followings, notoriety or tragic histories. If you look at the map at, you can find the graves of Natalie Wood, Bob Crane, Dominique Dunne and Dorothy Stratten.

Others are simply odd-balls whose talents set them apart from everyday people. It's kind of cool to think of Roy Orbison and Frank Zappa getting together to jam with Buddy Rich.

Of course, one should really leave a white magnolia or some lush flower at the stone commemorating Truman Capote. He was interred here when he died in 1984, but at the death of his long-time companion, his ashes were exhumed to be scattered together in Bridgehampton New York.

The star of Westwood Memorial Park Cemetery lies in a crypt in this wall.

After death, she still fascinates. The crypt next to her is empty, but was bought in 1992 by Hugh Hefner so he might rest at her side. One wonders whether she would appreciate it, or whether this is just another example of predatory men exploiting this vulnerable woman and her fragile beauty. Although I don't suppose it matters much to her now.

In August of 2009, the crypt above her was auctioned off by the widow of its occupant, offering to exhume and move her husband if the sale of his crypt would help pay off her mortgage. So far, it hasn't sold.

Non-stars lie here too, although perhaps they derive a bit of glamor from their companions. Or maybe they bring their own glamor and class. This cemetery is located in the part of Los Angeles that is called Little Teheran for its population of Iranian immigrants, many of whom came here after the 1979 revolution.

Tombstone of Aziz Rafiee, one of the pioneers of the film industry in Iran

There are many polished slabs with elegant calligraphy commemorating people from Iran, including this one for a man who - happily, in death - came to rest among his American colleagues in show business.

And because everyone who lives in Los Angeles takes on a note of glamor and irreverence, we leave commemorating this lady.

Rita Kaslov, born December 14, 1937, died April 13, 2005. She is buried next to her husband Tommy, who died in 2000. They are pictured together in a photo engraved on the stone. Her stone proclaims that she was a psychic, and adds a note that a palm reading costs $5. Her stone also includes the motto: "Diamonds are a girl's best friend."

I bet that from her current perspective, Rita could give you a unique reading indeed.

All these fabulous souls in a little hidden block off Wilshire. If there's an afterlife I bet this is the location of the hottest party in town.