Monthly Archives: June 2008

Police Action

It’s easy to get a picture when they hover over your house

Were I to write an essay entitled “How I Spent My June Hiatus,” I would definitely have to put “Didn’t Get Killed In My Own Home” on the checklist.

“But,” you ask, “couldn’t most people who were able to write the essay also be able to say that?”

That’s true, but the difference here is that, yesterday, I had such a wonderful opportunity to be killed and I missed it.

I have been working on a router table in the garage for a few days, a very noisy pastime, and when I shut the machine down at around 11:30, I noticed that there was a helicopter circling overhead. And by overhead, I mean just overhead, while a half-dozen American-made cars raced around the block.

Being a Los Angelino these ten or more years, I decided to get my camera.

I shot some great video in HD – I’ve been looking for a shot of a helicopter to use in a graphic for work – and after about ten minutes, I realized I probably didn’t have to run to get it. The helicopter kept circling, and now there were squad cars blocking off all the streets. The helicopter began to announced that the police had the block surrounded and that, if I had any weapons, I should probably put them down.

I went inside. Locked the doors.

I was finding it hard to concentrate on the television with that chopper mercilessly beating the air overhead, making loose change dance across the counter and the screws start to work their way out of the hinges. So I went upstairs and peeked out the window at the cops on the corner: there were now about twenty, and every time one of them spoke into his or her walkie-talkie, you could hear it on everyone else’s, feeding back like the warmup guy at an outdoor concert.

Things seemed under control, and I couldn’t find anything on the radio or TV news about it, so I thought I’d pop out there and get the story.

I walked out of my front gate, and everybody put their hands on their pistol butts, squared their shoulders, and pointed their chins at me. When the closest guy, who was just a few feet from the gate, gave me a suspicious and surprisingly tenor “what can I do for you?” – from where I stood, “shoot me” was the only answer they could have acted on with any kind of speed.

“I live here,” I said, “just want to know what’s up.”

“Two suspects, both male, African-American, probably shirtless, fled through your next door neighbor’s driveway to the rear of his residence,” he replied, very fast. I thought, at that level of excitement, it showed great obedience to his training that he chose “African-American” over “black,” but who wants a lawsuit, I guess.

“Am I in any danger?” I asked (meaning from the suspects, not the fifteen young men and women with unsnapped holsters).



“Go back into your house. Lock the doors and windows. If you see someone, do not attempt to alert the officers outside. Call 911 and report a prowler.”

You mean, after they put me on “hold.”

And so, with my trusty Louisville Slugger Junior Tee Ball Edition baseball bat in one hand, my house phone in the other and led by my stalwart miniature poodle, I checked out every nook and cranny of the house. I didn’t find any criminals, but I DID find my Blackberry charger I lost last week.

I ended up sitting on the edge of my bed, watching the cops out the window, listening to their walkie chatter and hoping they’d catch these guys as fast as possible. I must not have been that worried because I fell asleep, and when I woke up, the cops were gone and I didn’t have any bullet holes in me, so far as I could tell.

My neighbor came by and told me the suspects were caught. They had split up, and were hiding two blocks over. I went back into the workshop and started up the routing mill again.

And as I ran some test g-code to the stepper motors, I thought back on my day. I had spoken to a man who put his hand on his gun and asked me what he could do for me. Kind of a mixed message, if you asked me.

But then I thought, now what, that’s perfect. That’s the L.A. cops all over. Swat teams, Emergency Services, dozens of cars laying siege to a quiet neighborhood, ready to shoot the first chubby white guy in an Izod that makes a false move. They should make that their new recruitment poster. Forget the ethnically mixed, friendly faces fresh from the academy in the current poster: give me a nervous 30-year-old on Human Growth Hormone, twenty miles away from his sense of humor with a hand on his gun butt, and the caption, “What can I do for you.

All on a nice, breezy, carefree summertime day.


Big pod of Saddleback Dolphins, about a mile off Santa Monica Pier

I’ve been out in the Pacific in my little Boston Whaler dozens of times, and at every time of the year, but I’ve never seen it as deserted of boats as today.

It’s no surprise, since the average member of the Mosquito Fleet goes out in something at least 20 feet long, with twin whatevers that suck down the gas. Or diesel. Plus, gas in the marina costs almost 7 bucks a gallon (they pay all sorts of fees to be able to spill gas into the harbor) and you’ve got an industry suffering from the gas crunch.

I’m glad I bought the 4-stroke Mercury 60 for the Whaler. I did it for the environmentally friendly side first, but now that gas is so expensive, it’s cheap to run. Where my old 2-stroke Evinrude took down 18 gallons in about 3 hours, this thing can go at least 10 without getting down to a quarter tank. I took it to Catalina with Dash 2 years ago, we fished, then cruised around the whole island before returning to the Marina, and we hadn’t quite used a third of a tank.

There’s a drawback to not having any boaters out there: you can’t get in their chumline, look for bent poles, or otherwise cheat at finding the fish by finding the happy fishermen. Oh sure, there are the party boats, but they always go to the same spots, and the likelihood of being blown into their lines or getting crapped on by the army of seagulls (would that be “Airforce of Seagulls?”) is way too high. Plus, you get your own boat to get away from the party boats.

Today was my shakedown cruise for the start of the summer. The kids are at camp, the wife is visiting her girlfriends — what better time for a man to face off against the elements by going 40 miles per hour in the wide Pacific? I dropped the wife off at the airport, drove to the Marina, put the battery in the boat and backed it down the ramp.

Leave it to Mercury — everything started up and worked perfectly. I put up the canopy, raised the antenna, fired up the fishfinder (a gift from my pal Sam) and the ship-to-shore and steamed out through the no-wake zone. I just wanted to make sure everything was working before bringing kids and fishing poles and the like.

But once I got out to open water, I had to fire it up. It was pretty choppy this morning, and I got airborne more than once, but I won’t be feeling those injuries to my neck and spine for a few days. And as I was out there, all alone, I noticed a big commotion of birds, maybe two miles off the Santa Monica Pier.

So I went. I was hoping it wasn’t harbor seals gnawing at something under a kelp island. I used to love seeing them, but they are so brazen, and have eaten so many anchovies off my line, I don’t need to burn any gas just to get snorted at. Plus they’re always easy to find lolling on the buoys. The homeless people of the sea.

But I was in luck. The birds weren’t just dropping in from high up like they do with a few seals. They were hovering just above the water, picking up scrap after scrap. And there were thousands.

I raced around the big pack of birds to the head of the line, and there in the splashes I could see hundreds of saddleback dolphins, racing and hunting all in a north to northwest direction. At this point in the bay, the warmer water from inshore forms a line that washes out and south with the current — you can see it just as you take off from LAX, especially if there is any rain runoff — and the dolphins hunt in giant packs, pushing the baitfish in the warm water up against the colder current further out to sea.

The baitfish don’t like this — a small but sudden temperature change can shock them and cause temporary paralysis, so the first ones to hit that line double back against the feeding dolphins, making a hell of a mess. As I sat there idling, cursing the fact that I had lent my wife my camera and trying to figure out the zoom on my Blackberry, a huge school of anchovies boiled to the surface around my boat, and I was surrounded by furiously feeding dolphins, jumping, diving, snorting air, making impossible moves on their backs and going fast, fast, fast — I could feel a vibration under my feet like a rope singing in a stiff breeze — and I couldn’t help thinking of these little guys (the saddlebacks are about half the length of a bottle-nose) as lovable, friendly piranhas.

Then Crap Force One caught up, and I got out of there, taking the above photo as I went.

As I left, a number of dolphins escorted the boat, leaping out of the water and having a good look at me. I can’t help think that they are more curious than most people I’ve met in my work. Especially the Jaywalkers.

Temple of the Golden Eyesore

If you want to bring a neighborhood down a peg in terms of attractiveness, livability and property values, nothing beats a run-down Winnebago.

It is like a giant billboard for shabbiness. The sides are high, blocking the view when it is parked in front of your house. The engine is loud, and throws off some intense, oily smoke. And because of the street cleaners, it moves around in the middle of the night, seemingly on its own, a quantum distribution pattern that, over time, resembles a fly buzzing around a turd. Or in this case, the turd is the one buzzing around.

And no matter how rusted, pitted and stained the outside is, you have to imagine the interior is worse. One imagines it to be like a bookmobile, a traveling lending library of mildew and seething biphenyl emissions that combine with fluorocarbons from its ancient rooftop air conditioner, rising into the atmosphere and jabbing holes in the ozone layer, while ruining the view down here.

The view, by the way, right in front of my house.

When it first showed up, my next door neighbor Mike and I met up by his driveway and gave the beast the once-over. The scratches on the bumper seemed to come from a troupe of baboons from a safari park, who, after they brutally humped the poor RV, were themselves attacked by some kind of large, predatory cat. The rear window was frosted out by hand, no longer clear but deeply scratched by steel wool or a wire brush, making visibility to the rear impossible. Then again, why would you want to see behind you when driving this thing? All you’d get would be a 16 by 9 view of angry homeowners, running into the street and shaking their fists, chasing you a short distance to be sure you weren’t going to try and park.

But parked it was, so Mike and I decided some homeless guy had moved in, and the bottle-and-can trade in our neighborhood would be slim pickings for a while.

Then we found out it belonged to our neighbor.

This is the same neighbor with the mean dog. The picket fence that’s loosely roped into position. The one who leaves an old toilet on the curb every six or eight months, that nobody picks up for at least three weeks. What the hell are they doing in the bathroom that they go through toilets like that?

I don’t want to name any names for fear of lawsuits (even though this article is completely factually accurate and any litigation would be thrown out of court), so for now, we’ll just call this neighbor S___. If the Winnebago is still here by Christmas, then I’ll tell everybody it’s Stuart and take my chances, but until then, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

Soon, S___ could be seen briskly walking to the Winnie and moving it. He does it often enough that the oil leak never creates a stain larger than, say, the vehicle’s shadow. My wish is that these gallons of sludge will find their way down into the La Brea oil yield before they hit the groundwater or drain into the ocean. Here’s hoping.

And so we adapted. Our jaw muscles developed nicely as we gritted our teeth every time we walked the dog. Worn things have the tendency to blend in after a while, and in the right light, sometimes it hardly resembled a crystal meth lab at all. And it was fun waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of the beast’s explosive backfire, imagining that it was really a gunshot and S___’s brains were slowly dripping down the insides of that frosted back window. Did I mention that it takes about ten minutes to warm up? On a hot summer evening, with the windows open, it’s a 96 decibel white noise generator, akin to trying to get to sleep with an idling chainsaw under your pillow.

Then, mysteriously, bit by bit, the Winnebago began to change. A rusty-looking color bookwormed up the sides, uneven, strange. One day it was up to the door handles, then next it was overhead. Could this be? Were our prayers being answered? Was this hideous blot on the Miracle Mile disintegrating before our eyes?

Of course not, dammit, it was only getting worse: S___ had painted it gold.

Gilt-y as charged

Some of the spraycans contained shiny paint, some matte. None of it makes sense. Maybe he did it so he could inhale the paint fumes. Maybe he thought it would increase the thing’s resale value to, I don’t know, fifteen dollars. Theories abound, but no one has thought to ask him why. The answer has a very good chance of being incredibly stupid.

So the next time your neighbor sculpts a topiary of Angelina Jolie as Laura Crofft, or paints their house chartreuse, or puts a John McCain yard sign at eye level outside your kitchen window, take a breath. Get into your car and drive down to the Miracle Mile. And worship at the Temple of the Golden Eyesore.