Friday, June 21, 2013

Funny, Sad, Frightening, and Odd

The call went out on a typical Wednesday morning:  OnStar, the safety, navigation and communication system available on all General Motors’ vehicles reported an unknown trouble at the intersection of Moorpark Street and Tyrone Avenue.  The LAPD dispatch officer asked for more details.  The alarm had been activated on a black Cadillac SUV indicating either distress or an accident, however, the OnStar operator said the line was open and she could hear frantic voices.  Several LAPD units responded “Code three,” which usually means lights and sirens.  Within seconds, the first officers arrived only to find a major complication.  At the intersection of Moorpark Street and Tyrone Avenue sits Casa de Cadillac, a dealership serving the Los Angeles area for more than 50 years.  The responding officers found literally hundreds of black Cadillac SUVs in neat and ordered rows in several parking lots.  Which vehicle had the trouble was anyone’s guess.  Later, it was determined that a mechanic had accidently set off the call while repairing a car.

The Long Beach Press Telegram reported this week that, “Unable to pay for a funeral, an Apple Valley woman reportedly told sheriff’s deputies she was forced to bury her husband in a shallow grave in the couple’s backyard weeks after the man died.”  Apple Valley is a high desert community about 95 miles northeast of Los Angeles.  Deputies came to the home for a “welfare check” on the 63-year-old man.  The woman made no attempt to hide her “crime.”  She led deputies to the grave and reportedly knelt down nearby as the officers uncovered her husband.  Neighbors set up a fundraising account at where people can donate to help the woman give her husband a proper burial.  The effort netted $120 in the first hour.  A local men’s apparel store promised a suit for the deceased.  In California, it is illegal to bury a human body anywhere but in a public cemetery.

A woman taking pictures at the tourist trap location of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue was stabbed to death by three transients when she refused to give them a dollar.  This is the location of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre where so many movie stars have placed their hand and foot prints in wet cement.  The woman took a photograph of the transients because she found the sign they were holding to be amusing.  The sign read:  “Fuck you.  Give me a dollar, please.”  After snapping the picture, the men demanded money and when the woman refused, they jumped on her, knocking her to the ground.  When she stood up, blood gushed from a wound in her stomach.  She died a few feet from the well-known Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Also near Hollywood, journalist Michael Hastings died in a fiery solo car crash on North Highland Avenue.  Hastings, 33, was an award-winning journalist who wrote a 2010 Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal that led to the career military officer’s resignation.  According to colleagues and friends of Hastings, the journalist had claimed in recent weeks that he was under investigation by the FBI, however the LAPD released a statement saying there appeared to be no foul play involved in the accident.  Hastings’ car was caught on video traveling at a high rate of speed just before the accident by a freelance news team  working nearby on an unrelated story.  Conspiracy theorists are already hard at work trying to prove something more sinister, and with the recent revelations of National Security Agency monitoring of cell phone and social media communication without warrants, anything is possible.

So what does all of this mean?  Every city has its oddities, its stupid criminals, its inept politicians.  There is no shortage of tragedy and despair anywhere in America.  Los Angeles, though, always has an extra layer of weirdness, that additional aura of eeriness.  Writers like Joan Didion and James Ellroy have chronicled the creepy L.A. scene going back decades, and those of us native to the city know that behind the shiny brightness of the Rose Parade and Tinseltown, darkness lurks.  Los Angeles is a city of juxtapositions, of brilliant sunshine and steely knives, of big dreams and drive-by shootings.  On a typical week, there are a million stories in the naked city, and many of them are tinged with weirdness and tragedy.

Today is the first day of summer, and tourists are already flocking to Santa Monica, Hollywood, and Universal City.  But the heat brings an uptick in strangeness, a harbinger of dark violence that lingers over this town like smog.  People should be forewarned not to become one of those million stories.  The streets can be funny, sad, frightening and odd.  Be careful out there.

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