Just Above Sunset
May 2, 2004 - Nathaniel West, cellos and mountain lions... Strange Times in Los Angeles

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Nathaniel West, cellos and mountain lions… Strange Times in Los Angeles

The Zeitgeist Prowling Griffith Park



Readers of my daily web log As Seen from Just Above Sunset noted I did not post much early in the week.  This was partly the heat – the first two days of the week were hot, and this was record-breaking hot.  As I wrote to my friends – this was two days of well over a hundred degrees in the shade.  Of course there was no humidity, and we had that interesting light breeze blowing the alkali-laden dust in from the Mojave, across the city and then out to sea.  Look up and the sky is cloudless steel blue - but look out to the horizon and the air is brown in all directions.  Thirty-miles east in Riverside County the brush fires were running through the low hills.  The usual end of the world stuff here at the edge of the world....  We call this earthquake weather.  It does give one apocalyptic, murderous thoughts. 

I didn’t like the idea of sitting at the computer and reading… and writing?  But finally the weather broke - and it has been in the low-eighties in the afternoons.  The breeze has shifted around so it comes in off the Pacific – and this comes with a slight white haze (the marine layer) instead of chunky brown crap off the desert.  In the evenings now the fog slides in, working its way up Sunset Boulevard from the cold Pacific. 

As for current events – well, Tuesday afternoon I listened to and read about the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) sessions on this business of detaining American citizens incommunicado with no council or redress, forever, for the good of the country – achieving public safety through executive fiats that pay no heed to the niceties of habeas corpus or due process or any of that sissy stuff – and I got depressed.  All it takes is the president to declare them enemy combatants and that’s that.  No need to charge them with any crime or anything like that.  Did the congress really authorize this?  I don’t think so – but those congress folks are idiots too. 


Monday at SCOTUS it was the energy advisors to Cheney – do we citizens have any right to know who they were?  Folks out here in California who got screwed big time by the energy companies two years ago do have a bit of a beef with whoever it was that came up with the overall policy.  We’d like to know who’s running the show, if anyone.  But I suppose that’s none of our business.  Those arguments weren’t really centered on Executive Privilege, but I still liked the comment from Scalia - "I think executive privilege means whenever the president feels that he is threatened, he can simply refuse to comply with a court order.”  Right, Tony.  (What – Fat Tony is channeling Marlon Brando in the Godfather movies?)

But I don’t know much about the law – and when my attorney friend on Wall Street explains to me his afternoons spent arguing what Sarbanes-Oxley really implies about IPO issuance, well, I’m kind of glad I never went down that road.  When I was in graduate school at Duke I looked up famous folks who went to Duke Law School.  Try Angela Davis AND Richard Nixon.  Ha! 

The law is a puzzle.  So the Supreme Court will do what they do.  These days I suspect that means they will rule the president can do what he wants, whenever he wants, to anyone he wants, and tell no one anything about anything if he so chooses.  This is all allowed, and implicit, in his role as Commander-in-Chief?  Guess so. 


The arguments presenting the issues were made this week, and the rulings are due in late June.  What will they rule?  These SCOTUS folks – as least those with key votes - were appointed by the prseident’s father, and in turn these guys appointed the somewhat feckless son president, so the June rulings on these matters are unlikely to surprise anyone. 

And after June it will be an even better time to keep your head down and make no waves… or leave. 

As you can tell, this seems to me to be all too much of - as the phrase coined out here in Southern California goes - a bummer. 

Hey, even the minor news is odd out here, as anyone who follows the hot items knows.  The FBI told the LAPD that they received a threat that some terrorist group intended an attack at one of the shopping malls here on the west side of the city.  One call.  No specifics.  No actual mall named.  But the city was on edge for a full day, and I suspect business was off at the big malls.  By late afternoon everyone was pretty much in agreement that this was a prank call – perhaps some thirteen-year-old fooling around.  Another day in paradise? 

And note too that Mother Nature is trying to weird us out too. 

This hit the local paper this week:

A Mountain Lion Far From Home
Griffith Park officials won't kill animal unless it attacks
Steve Hymon and Christiana Sciaudone, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2004


A mountain lion has taken up residence in Griffith Park, one of the nation's biggest and busiest urban parks eight miles from downtown Los Angeles, park officials said Wednesday, prompting them to begin posting signs that warn visitors of dangerous animals living in the area. 

After receiving several reports of lion sightings by hikers and horseback riders in the last month, rangers say they found evidence of a lion bedding down in the higher reaches of the park.  They said they also found the partially eaten leg of a deer nearby. 


And it goes on and on in great detail.  You will also discover that mountain lions in this state have attacked fourteen people, killing six of them, since 1890, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. 

Obviously this is a dangerous place.  From my office window I have a view of the park – I can see Griffith Park Observatory a few hills over to the east - think Sal Mineo (Plato!), James Dean and Natalie Wood in that "Rebel Without a Cause" movie.  Now the beast is roaming there. 

Between here and there is the wealthy and trendy neighborhood of Los Feliz – the new home for many of the young television and film stars.  And a different sort of bad stuff happens there. 

Consider this:

Stradivarius cello owned by L.A.  Phil is stolen
Diane Haithman, Los Angeles Times, April 28 2004


A $3.5-million Stradivarius cello owned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been stolen from a home in Los Feliz.  No other items were taken. 

The instrument, played by Philharmonic principal cellist Peter Stumpf, was last seen Saturday and was stolen either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, said Deborah Borda, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. 

The cello, built in 1684, is known as the "General Kyd," after the man who brought it to England at the end of the 18th century. 

"I loved playing on this cello," Stumpf said Tuesday.  "It was a sheer joy, it has seemingly unlimited expressive range.  It opens up all kinds of doors artistically to someone who plays it. 

"I've had a pretty long career, and I never expected to play on an instrument of this level
," added the cellist, who has borrowed another instrument from a colleague for the time being.  "I was on a high for the past two years, playing this cello.  I feel kind of desperate about being able to play it again."

"It is very emotional for Peter, but it is also emotional for the association," Borda said of the cello, which the orchestra purchased in the early 1970s.  "The premiere of the Dvorák Cello Concerto in England was performed on this piece in 1896."  She said that musical dealers worldwide have been notified, meaning that it would be virtually impossible to sell. 

Anyone with information on the missing cello may call Los Angeles Police Department Detective Donald Hrycyk at (213) 485-2524.  Anonymous tips can be directed to a hotline, (213) 972-3500.  The cello may also be returned, no questions asked, at the artists' entrance of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Avenue. 


No one has returned it yet.  Perhaps the mountain lion ate it. 

Odd stuff.  The end of the world is near? 

Of course with the Dvorák connection one does wonder about this particular LAPD Detective, Donald Hrycyk, and this famous cello.  Hrycyk is a Czech name – and I should know given my mother’s family was Czech and my father’s Slovak.  Could it be that Don is in on this? 


No – conspiracy theories are just the product of oppressively hot weather. 

So Los Angeles still here – with the usual fires, earthquakes, and drive-by shootings – and the Tongan gangs are still fighting the Samoan gangs down in Long Beach – and the smog is thick.  Compton and South Central are still mean places.  The Lakers, led by an inspired accused rapist, are winning games in the NBA playoffs, and terrorists may blow our malls.  And now we a have a new city-dwelling mountain lion who may be pinching cellos. 

And here on the 1600 block of North Laurel Avenue? 
As I mentioned last year in these pages, F. Scott Fitzgerald was living at 1403 North Laurel Avenue when he died in 1940, a few doors down the street, while working on The Last Tycoon.  Ah, an end-of-all-things depressing book.  And in case you’re wondering, that’s the corner of Laurel and Sunset - and 1403 was torn down and replaced by a giant Virgin Megastore.  Ironic?  I suppose. 
Nathaniel West – who wrote Days of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts - lived a few blocks east, on North Ivar Street and was a friend of Fitzgerald. 

West’s 1939 novel Days of the Locust is about the bitter and sensation-seeking lower-middle class out here.  As in this - "Their boredom becomes more and more terrible.  They realize they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment.  Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and watched the movies.  Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars.  This daily diet made sophisticates of them."

The novel ends with an apocalyptic riot at a Hollywood premiere (this fictional riot takes place a mile east of where I sit now) – but there is no mountain lion involved, as far as I recall. 

But Nathaniel West was onto something.  These are strange times. 


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
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