Tag Archives: los angeles

Big Dreams, Small Places

1889There is nothing quite like minor league baseball. Young and hopeful talent, goofy small-town promotions, and unsurpassed fan access all wrapped up in a classic sport.  On my recent stay in Ogden, Utah, I could not pass up the opportunity to see the hometown rookie league affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers in action, so I splurged the twelve bucks required for the best seat in the house and sat on the second row behind home plate in the middle of scouts with radar guns evaluating the 18-24 year old athletes on the field.  It was awesome.

Lindquist Field is reportedly the most picturesque venue in the league, and I cannot argue. The view from my high-priced seat featured the centerfield flagpole, which stood in front of the city’s Mormon temple, which stood in front of a gorgeous mountain range lit up by the evening sun.

It was clearly the minor leagues, however, complete with the civilization-insulting Chicken Dance, a corny hometown announcer, and a grounds crew consisting of a grown man dressed like Elvis and two unfortunate children dressed like a Dalmatian and some sort of hound dog. If I was the kid dressed like a hound dog sweeping the dirt, I would be crying all the time, too, simply from sheer embarrassment.

I ignored sound nutritional advice and downed a hot dog, nachos, and churro and root, root, rooted for the home team Ogden Raptors like I was a local. There was no shame in Ogden that evening since a couple of teenagers planted home runs over the sponsorship-laden wall en route to a 3-1 victory over the Grand Junction Rockies in exciting Pioneer League action.

I couldn’t help but think of my trip to Dodger Stadium earlier in the summer when I paid much more than twelve bucks to sit about as far away from home plate as one can manage and still be in the ballpark. The Dodgers are the hottest team in baseball this year and are the darling of a star-studded city, and not that long ago their crazy good all-star rookie Cody Bellinger was just a kid playing for the Ogden Raptors. As was their all-star closer Kenley Jansen. Even the legendary Dodger manager, Tommy Lasorda, once managed the Raptors, too.

The road to the big show always begins in much smaller places. To me, those small places where dreamers set their sights on the distant mountaintops are more fun than the actual object of their dreams.

1895

 

 

Life Soundtrack

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The Teragram Ballroom is an intimate concert venue a little off the beaten path in downtown Los Angeles that holds around six hundred people. My wife and I tracked it down Thursday night to see Princess, a Prince cover band, since my wife is a huge Prince fan (and since our friend, Karl, told me about the concert just in time for Mother’s Day shopping).

We arrived early, partly because that is a sickness of mine and partly to combat the oppressive Los Angeles traffic. We entered the venue ninety minutes before showtime only to discover that there is no seating in the Teragram Ballroom, so we found a spot at the edge of the stage and began our standing marathon.

It was worth it.  It was such a fun show.  Princess consists of Maya Rudolph of Saturday Night Live fame and Gretchen Lieberum, a singer-songwriter college friend of hers, so it was part great music and part hilarious. That Rudolph’s fellow SNL actor, Fred Armisen, unexpectedly was part of the band made it even better.

I don’t go to many concerts but happened to attend a couple lately and both were trips down memory lane. Both U2 and Prince music apparently produce large class reunions from the 1980s. I did not see kiosks for treating baldness, midlife crises, or fading eyesight at either concert, but those seem like missed opportunities.

What I did see were people reconnecting with thoughts and emotions from over thirty years ago that were important early chapters in what has now become life stories.  I was not immune.  I surely did not know what I was looking for in high school, but reconnecting with that U2 song made me consider how I have handled the journey in the intervening years. And I didn’t really go crazy in high school, but reconnecting with that Prince song made me reflect on whether I have made good use of this fleeting life since I first sang that fleeting life anthem along with him in 1984.

It was fitting that Maya Rudolph and her college buddy were on stage Thursday night.  They are us, the children of the 1980s, and we are all together at this interesting stage of life.  In this time of life reflection, it is a general rule that regrets and disappointment show up to say hello. So if I can call for one more class meeting, I simply have one question for my fellow students: Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?  

I choose to punch a higher floor and start looking up.

Refuse to Be Overwhelmed

Jody1

Some days it feels like my wife and I should move to Nairobi to be with the children we met there who live on the hard streets.  On others I consider Delhi where I learned that young girls are vulnerable to sex traffickers.  On still others I remember the poor Brazilians we saw living in the favelas of Rio.  But today, I live in California.

And then some days I drive down L.A.’s “skid row” and wonder how I can live in Malibu instead of with those in absolute squalor just a few miles away.  And then I open my eyes to Malibu and see homeless and un/under-employed friends looking for work at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange.

The needs are simply everywhere.

How does one live in this old world?  I have worked for several causes, from at-risk children to poverty housing to disaster relief to homelessness to day laborers…  

And then I see those heart-wrenching images of Syrian children on television.  And then churches in Egypt are bombed while celebrating Palm Sunday.

The needs are everywhere, and they are overwhelming.

My personal belief system leads to public policy opinions that seems to place me at odds with all presidents, not to mention most of my friends, but it also leads me to devote (some but far) less energy to public policy discussions and more to being with the sufferers.  Knowing names.  Sharing hugs.  Sharing tears.  

But there are so many.

So here is my plan: 

I will not let such overwhelming need harden my heart so that I give up on caring.  I refuse the temptation to apathy.

I will not allow the impossibility of being everywhere at once immobilize me so that I give up on trying.  I refuse the temptation to quit.

And I will encourage others to make similar commitments.  I refuse the temptation to think that it is all up to me.

May the privileged few share with the underprivileged masses.  Everywhere.  Together.  Today.

from international rescue committee

Syrian Refugee Children (via the International Rescue Committee)

 

A Night at the Orchestra

17267869_230418650696729_6304749396227522560_n(1)Last week, my oldest daughter and I attended a concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, or as we sophisticated people call it, the LA Phil.  The specific concert was titled, “Tetzlaff Plays Dvorak,” which as it turned out, was not a tennis match after all.  

You may be surprised to learn that I did not attend orchestral performances growing up in Paragould, Arkansas.  We had our share of drama, sure, but not much orchestra.  The closest I came was purchasing the soundtrack to Close Encounters of the Third Kind on vinyl.  

But who knew, if you purchase a ticket and have a beautiful date, “LA Phil” will apparently let pretty much anyone into the crazy cool Walt Disney Concert Hall.

I really did enjoy (most of) the performance, but my cultural unsophistication did allow my mind to wander to less-than-cultured places from time to time.  Like whether the guest conductor also played Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  And how one particularly animated violinist looked like a marionette under the influence of a tipsy puppeteer.  And how two gentlemen with a remarkable resemblance to Stephen King and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy were playing an unidentifiable instrument that made them look as if they were smoking fancy grenade launchers.

But the best part of the evening came shortly after intermission when a woman in our general vicinity began to painfully unwrap a piece of candy, which in that hall of hushed reverence sounded like she had trapped a squirrel in a bag of potato chips.  The surrounding patrons were silently livid, which my daughter and I discovered to be the funniest kind of livid to watch.

Much more seriously, as we sat side by side listening to classical music in Walt Disney Concert Hall, it occurred to me how far Erica and I have come in our precious years together.  I did not feel smug in this thought–as this essay shows, I remain far too ignorant to feel arrogant.  And yet I did not feel out of place either, even though that was obviously the case.  Instead, I just felt happy .  Happy at the honor of allowing such beautiful music to wash across my soul in that spectacular venue in this magical city with such a lovely young lady that I have been privileged to walk alongside for all these years.

I never imagined an evening like that one.  I wonder what other evenings I have yet to imagine?

This Is Life

Flipping through television channels is one of my least favorite things to do, but that is what I was doing Sunday evening when I discovered CNN’s “This is Life with Lisa Ling,” a series that describes itself by saying that Ling “goes on a gritty, breathtaking journey to the far corners of America.” The episode I watched was more grisly than gritty as she journeyed to the L.A. County Coroner’s office (like “This is Death with Lisa Ling”).

The show was creepily captivating—and a little personal since I learned that everyone who dies in L.A. County outside of being in a hospital under physician’s care is taken to the warehouse that Ling toured for the world to see. I live in L.A. County.

I also learned that approximately eleven thousand dead bodies are processed in same warehouse each year, which if you do the math, is a lot. The crazy number is at least understandable since L.A. County is the most populous county in the nation (ten million people!), which is like Arkansas plus Mississippi plus Oklahoma (or, for easy math, the nation of Sweden). But still. That thirty dead people on average show up there every day is just difficult to imagine.

Ling introduced viewers to several employees filling several roles at the Coroner’s, and in so doing, basically walked us through the entire process. In particular, we followed the path of the unidentified dead, from the search for family members to the eventual cremation of those whose families cannot be found.

I mean, it was a fun show. Sort of a new Addams Family!

No, it was heartbreaking. Until, that is…

At the end of the hour, Ling shared that the Coroner’s office periodically hosts a multi-faith service in Evergreen Cemetery to honor the unidentified, which sadly numbered over a thousand at the one featured on our television screen. That part was still heartbreaking. The heart-mending part for me was the point Ling made that although these souls died alone, their ashes are honored in community.

That part—the honoring of all people in community—fits the name of Ling’s show. That is what life is all about if you ask me. Now, if we can just work backward and honor the lonely while they are still alive, we will have arrived at someplace worthwhile.

Let There Be Light

You live in a prescientific world and notice the amount of sunlight decrease each day, which for you means less time to find food. You wonder if the sun will soon completely vanish and life will end for you in one long cold night. But it doesn’t. Suddenly, miraculously, the day grows longer. The gods have answered your prayers, and there is cause for celebration!

Which is why late December is the holiday season a zillion years later.

Today is the Winter Solstice in Los Angeles (8:49pm PST to be exact), that “shortest day of the year” that signals this darkness/daylight transition and explains why December 25 or so has historically been filled with celebration.

If you are interested, Christians began to co-opt the party about seventeen centuries ago to celebrate Jesus’s unknown birthday and the many pagan traditions that Christians carried into the holiday such as trees, reindeer, gift-giving, and mistletoe led subsequent Christian groups (including Puritans in the American colonies) to unsuccessful attempts to take the Christmas out of Christmas.¹ Those attempts aside, still today, ‘tis the season to be jolly.

Call me a pagan, but for the moment I’m skipping over the religious overtones and arguments to say that I love the astronomical metaphor at this time of year. The darkness has now reached its zenith, and light is about to take the reins.²

I of all people do not want to sound pessimistic, but I have sensed a growing darkness in both rhetoric and reality in this world of ours. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to identify with those prescientific worriers in thinking that death, destruction, and division just might win and leave us alone in a long cold night. But here is my pledge: I promise to keep watch for more light, and when I see it, to shout the news and unleash the party.³

Let there be light.

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¹ My faith tradition used to be somewhat in that crowd, taking the ironic position of being Christians who were okay with celebrating the non-religious parts of Christmas but not the religious parts since December 25 was surely not Jesus’s birthday, i.e., we were the rare Christians attempting to take the Christ out of Christmas. Maybe it was the irony, but I don’t hear that much from our tribe anymore.

² Ha, unintended-yet-sneaky Santa metaphor!

³ And I will warn you now: When I shout the news, the religious reference will be unavoidable: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1: 5 (New International).