Archive for the ‘LA Weekly’ tag
BAGHDAD — I’ve spent the last few days driving around looking for those signs of exuberant jubilation that you see on CNN. I don’t know where they find them. I’ve come across one anemic parade down Karada Street, a few dozen men and a handful of women chanting out, “Saddam is nothing.” The women were the most exuberant. Four older Shiites in black abaya robes saying, over and over again, in Arabic and English, “I am so happy. I am so happy.” Along Karada, the main shopping strip in Baghdad, men stood in front of their shops, staring blankly at the revelers.
Benji Breitbart doesn’t go to Disneyland every day.
“I wasn’t here last Thursday,” he says as we walk down Main Street. “I usually come six days a week.”
We’re moving quickly. “I have things I need to do,” Benji says. He’s canvassing the park, looking for anything new or out of place.
“We’re reopening the Electric Parade, so they’re getting ready,” he says, indicating some people in white uniforms scurrying about. I hadn’t noticed them, and it’s hard to tell exactly what they’re doing. But Benji knows. He knows everything that happens here almost as soon as it happens.
AT ANCIENT GROUNDS, A RELATIVELY NEW WATER-PIPE CAFÉ IN SILVER LAKE, FOUR Arab men are playing gin rummy in a corner. For an hour they sit, engaged in their game, dragging on water pipes and happily chatting. A few tables away, I suck on my own pipe, a sort of gorgeous, elaborate bong. Suddenly, everyone starts screaming, raising their hands, throwing cards at one another. I don’t understand what is happening — the fight is in Arabic — but one man, Mohammed, yells the loudest, standing over everyone and pointing his fingers. Soon the others call out to an old man with sad eyes sitting near the entrance, “Abu Yusef, Abu Yusef.” Abu Yusef walks over and speaks quietly with the men. Mohammed storms out and paces in front of the store as the others laugh and go back to playing cards. Abu Yusef sits down again, and I approach him.
“Ninety percent of the Arabs who come here are Christians,” he tells me. “The Muslims are harder. They have their own places.” Mohammed, the one Muslim, is outraged, Abu Yusef explains, because he threw down cards he meant to keep. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t just pick them back up. “I told him, ‘You made a mistake. It doesn’t matter what you meant, it matters what you did. You blew it.'”
TALL, SKINNY AND SHY, VYGANDAS Relys is a young Lithuanian arachnidologist who spent most of Memorial Day weekend in a state of mild shock. He was manning the desk at the first ever Los Angeles Spider Survey — which means he spent the day taking vials and bottles and cups of spiders out of young children’s hands and trying hard to identify the species. He was shocked for a lot of reasons. First, he thought almost nobody would show up with spiders and, instead, hundreds and hundreds did, forming a long line of parents and grade-school kids clutching their specimen containers. He was also shocked at being forced to identify species outside of his lab. “Usually, we have microscopes,” he said to one parent who was demanding the identification of a spider curled up at the bottom of a pill bottle; it might be a sack spider or a ground spider and he just couldn’t tell, he tried to explain. He only left Vilnius a few months ago and he’s just getting to know L.A.’s spider species. “In Lithuania, I could do this with my eyes. Here I have to go through the literature,” he said, his hand flipping through an imaginary spider book.
Ultimately, he’s just shocked to be here at all. In January, he was an up-and-coming professor at the most prestigious university in Lithuania. (“I made my Ph.D. in Salzburg,” he said, in a tone suggesting that Salzburg is the world’s capital of advanced arachnid studies.) And then his wife was offered a post-doc fellowship in biochemistry at UCLA. “I had no choice,” he said, clearly wishing he had.
“Fluffy Gray Kitten” is a photograph of a straggly-haired blue-gray kitten with white paws and chest. The cat, borrowed from a Glendora pet store, leans on a log and is backlit so that a halo of bright light appears behind it, and its hair appears fuzzier — fluffy. Its head is cocked to the side, and it has that serious, confused look that kittens get when they pause for a moment from being completely silly and frantic. You’ve seen this kind of photo countless times: on posters, calendars and gift cards, and on the sweaters and mugs of some obsessive cat lady in your office. This type of image is so familiar that it’s nearly impossible to judge any single example, like this one, on its own merits. You see it and, if you think of it at all, you just say to yourself, “There’s another one of those cat pictures.” But this particular picture of the fluffy gray kitten was judged, carefully, and it won the gold medal at the most prestigious amateur photo contest in the country. The award made its creator — Joanne Stolte, a business consultant to ophthalmologists — so proud that she could only scream and jump around when she found out she won.