Category Archives: Los Angeles

Publication of my flash memoir,”My Oldest Brother”

The Provo Canyon Review wrote me the other day and said:

Hi Len,

We are delighted to say we would love to take your latest submission, if it is still available for publication.  Please also furnish the bio and photo you’d like to accompany your piece.
Congratulations again for a job well done.
Chris and Erin
Here is the link:
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From Rural Texas to Beverly Hills: A Few Observations

I have lived in Beverly Hill (or BH to the locals) for 21 years. I came to LA with my family when my brother Jim was sick and needed support during the last year and a half of his life, and we moved to Beverly Hills because we needed a good school district for our kids. Who knew what unlikely lessons I would learn from living here?

1) Everyone in Beverly Hills hesitates when people outside BH ask them where they live. Most – including my family and me – hem and haw and say, “LA.” Only when people press with, “Where in LA?” do most of us answer. Why you ask? Aren’t you proud of where you live? The answer is prejudice. Most people have a stereotypic view of Beverly Hills residents, mainly that everybody is rich and snotty. People get a look in their eye when you say, “I live in Beverly Hills,” and it’s not a particularly friendly look.

2) Not everybody in BH is rich. Many are well off, of course, and some are rich – usually the “above Sunset Boulevard” set, but there are also a fair number of average citizens in Beverly Hills. The people who do “well enough.” There are even some people who have several generations of family living together in one apartment, primarily so their kids can attend the school district.

3) One of my biggest misconceptions when moving here was that people were so rich that they didn’t have “real” problems. Imagine my embarrassment when a BH housewife and mother of one of my daughter’s friends sat in my living room and told me about her child with severe birth trauma and her father, who lived far away and was dying. I felt so ashamed that I had pre-judged her as someone who couldn’t possibly understand how “the rest of us” feel.

4) Beverly Hills 90210 is not an accurate reflection of Beverly Hills and especially BHUSD. When we first moved here, I expected to see the non-actor equivalents of the 90210 show on the schoolyard in Beverly Hills. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that BHUSD has a very large contingent of Persians Jews and that in the elementary school my kids attended, 26 nations were represented. My children were in the distinct minority as Christians and I would soon need to educate myself on Jewish traditions.

5) Iranians here call themselves Persians and have a poignant history. Don’t mind me, but before moving to BH, I hadn’t spent a lot of time on Iranian history. I have had the occasion now to know many Persian Jewish families. Many of my students are Persians. I have heard poignant stories from many of their parents’ and grandparents’ escape for Iran when the Shah was overthrown, and their arrival in the United States with traumatic memories and sadness over leaving their beloved homeland. I have had the opportunity to learn much about this lovely and lively culture.

6) Jews come in as many varieties as Christians. Probably most people already know this, but coming from a little Texas town where there was only one Jew, and he was only half and a practicing Unitarian, well…to say I was underexposed is an understatement. Most of the Jews I know are Reform, but not all. It’s been educational to learn about this rich religious tradition and to get to know people who range from being Jew “ish” to Orthodox.

7) You really can see celebrities at restaurants and in the grocery stores here. Not always, but often enough. I have seen over the years a whole range of well-known people: Arnold driving down our street in his Hummer, Ben Stiller jogging down our street, Katie Holmes (a while back) walking in West Hollywood, Rod Stewart at Coffee Bean, Keanu Reeves waiting outside a movie theater, Jane Fonda in the elevator in the parking garage of that same theater (ArcLight Hollywood), David Arquette in an auto accident near our house, Lindsey Lohan emerging from the high-rise across the street from our house, Dave Navarro at a local bakery, Christina Ricci sitting at the next table at a restaurant, Jeff Goldblum grabbing take-out from a restaurant where we were having breakfast, K.D. Lang at Whole Foods. More, I’m sure, but those are the ones that quickly come to mind. That’s always a little fun. The whole “celebrity sighting” thing. Half the fun of living in LA.

8) People in Beverly Hills are just like people everywhere else. I have spent a lot of time in Beverly Hills working as a volunteer with PTA. I coordinated the parenting workshops for the BHUSD for over ten years – that was my gift to the district for educating my children so well – which meant one workshop in each of the five schools every year. I have met with the core people in each of these schools many times and I’ve come to realize that the same type of people in every town and city across the U.S. (and the world) join together to help children. They are down-to-earth, generous with their time, and civic-minded. Never mind if they arrive in a ten-year-old Toyota or a brand new Bentley, they are cut from the same cloth.

9) Beverly Hills has no discount stores. Damn. I have to drive 45 minutes to get to the nearest Costco. And don’t think I don’t see half of Beverly Hills there. They are there.

10) People in Beverly Hills (and LA) dress down, not up. People are more dressed up in North Dallas then on Rodeo Drive, for the most part. “California casual” means you can walk into Gucci in your shorts and flip-flops, and salespeople never know if you’re rich or not. That is a gift for someone who is not driven by fashion. Not to say fashion is not here. It is everywhere. That same woman sitting in her sweats at the restaurant for breakfast, might be wearing Prada tonight. The difference is she will be dressed up to go somewhere, not just heading down to the local bakery for a croissant.

11) People are pretty here. It’s true. Go to the local mall or out to Runyon Canyon for a hike and be astounded by the number of beautiful people. It is not surprising since many “beauties” move here in hopes of a television or movie career and stay long after that dream fades. Still, it makes people-watching extra pleasant.

12) It doesn’t really matter where you live. I love LA and I love California, but I’m a Texas girl through and through. I bring those hometown values with me here and I take my city experiences back to Texas, where I love to spend lots of time. You take you with you wherever you are so places are not nearly as important as one might think.

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Repost: Childhood Play as a Clue to Ideal Career

You know how sometimes you read that if you go back to what you loved doing when you were a little kid – 4, 5, or 6 – then that will tell you what your ideal occupation should be? Well, in my case, this is exactly true since when I was a little girl, my favorite thing in the world was to teach my imaginary students all about reading and writing.

When I was a little girl, I had my own schoolroom (the south porch) where I “taught” my students. I went to Woolworth’s Five and Dime and bought not only writing and phonics workbooks, but also grade books in which I kept meticulous records of my students’ attendance and grades. I made up names for all of my students and each had marks for participation, as well as homework and test grades. I stood up at the front of my imaginary class and used my little chalkboard to go over grammar concepts. I called on students, reprimanded them for talking, and praised them for trying their best. Clearly, I was a child with an active imagination and a deep love of teaching.

Fast forward a few years, and there I was getting my Master’s degree in Counseling and starting off in the field of Mental Health. Lord knows, I really wanted to teach, but counseling was a close second and paid a bit more. Then my husband came along and lured me into the world of antiques and off I went on the adventure of learning about art, antiques, history, buying and selling, and small business ownership. That was an education in itself, but I must say as much as I enjoyed all of that, I still longed to teach. I wanted my students and my classroom back in my life. I couldn’t shake the allure of chalk dust on my fingertips.

Then, I came to LA and after my brother died and we were trying to figure out a way to survive here, I answered five blind ads for teaching jobs in the LA Times, got five interviews and five job offers. I must admit that it was mid-summer and these schools were desperate for teachers, but somehow I landed a job at one of the top private elementary schools in LA, the movie industry school. I saw Jack Nicholson bringing his children to school and Jamie Lee Curtis walking through the halls. I was hired to teach 4th grade Language Arts and, of course, I was in heaven. No longer imaginary students, but real ones and they were smart and excited and loved to write.

The problem came in the form of money – or lack of it – since even though that school charged a hefty tuition, I was down at the bottom of the totem pole and my salary was hardly enough to help support our family in rural Texas, much less Los Angeles. So, after one year and a long talk with my husband, I decided to go look for a job out in the “real world,” hopefully with a higher salary attached. In the meantime, I had a few deep-pocketed parents who approached me to work with their kids during the summer while I looked for a job. Was I willing to teach writing to their kids privately? They would be happy to pay me well if I would.

That was 16 years ago. Those students turned into more students and here I am sitting in my living room where I sometimes actually pull out a chalkboard and go over grammar. I don’t have to have a grade book, but I have lots of workbooks and I get a stream of students coming in for small group lessons and one-on-one. They range from 4th grade all the way to adults. I praise them when they do well, shush them when they’re too talkative, and generally recreate my 5-year-old classroom almost every day. And I couldn’t be happier.

There clearly is wisdom in looking at what you loved when you were a kid to help you gain clarity about your career. It certainly has worked for me. I could never shake that love I felt for teaching when I was five. I hope I’ll get to continue until I’m seventy-five.

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Two Thumbs Up: Hell or High Water

Tonight we saw the new movie starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster called Hell or High Water. This was shot in New Mexico, but the setting is West Texas. I don’t want to say much about the film in case you see it, which I would highly recommend. Superb acting and a story that explores several major themes: brotherly love, bad choices, duty, poverty, and justice.

A definite must-see.

Here’s the trailer:

Master of Ceremonies Training at St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood

Today I began my training as Master of Ceremonies (MC) at St. Thomas the Apostle Anglican/Episcopal Church in Hollywood. The MC is in charge of how everything goes during the mass and ensures that all acolytes and sacred ministers are doing what they are supposed to be doing all through the service.

I arrived at 9:15 for the 10:30 mass and Reece Thompson, head acolyte, was busy the entire time walking me through all the needed preparations for the service. The MC also is one of the acolytes during the mass as well so there was even more to learn once we officially started.

Luckily, Reece is very organized and helpful. He presented me with a full-page list of things that needed to be in order before we started then went over each one with me. During the mass, he pointed, pushed and poked when necessary (quite often), and then patted me afterwards and gave me a reassuring, “Well done.”

You have to have already been trained for torch, crucifer, thurifer and Lay Eucharistic Minister before you are allowed to train for MC In my case, I have already been trained for Sub-Deacon as well. The reason for this is so you’ll know exactly what everyone is supposed to be doing in those positions. The MC is also supposed to remind the deacon and priest of where they are supposed to be in what can be quite a choreographed event over that hour and a half. Clearly, I have no idea what that entails. Perhaps that is why this is a three-week training.

Thank you Reece, fellow acolytes, Deacon Johnson and Canon Davies for your help getting me where I need to go today. I am excited to get to work in this position since this is just one more way that I get to express my faith at my beloved St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood.

 

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Bad Luck and A Little Bit of Good

Well, I am not a real believer in the “Mercury in Retrograde” phenomenon, but I have had a run of bad luck over the past week or so. Not only did I manage to pull that gas nozzle right off the gas tank, but I also received a red-light notification in the mail (meaning there is a video and photos of me running a red light two weeks ago). In addition, I ended up with a bacterial infection that sent me to Urgent Care, and my computer bit the dust, I mean completely, like I had to order a brand new laptop. Hmmmm. Maybe there is something to this Mercury thing.

I will make this short tonight because I have had students for several hours today and I am tired.

The gist is this: I have been working a lot lately, which makes me tired, and this may account for everything that’s happened except for the computer. That may have everything to do with a five-year MacBook that is used constantly.

The tough part is all of this coming at once.

The good news: good luck surely is right around the corner.

I did get several pieces of good news:

I learned that one of my student’s college essays is used as the model for all potential students at Bennington College in Vermont. Yippee!

And one of my students who received a fellowship at Stanford this past summer told me that he learned while there that the admission board considered his essays to be superlative. Hooray.

That good news will sustain me for a while, I can tell you that. Particularly since I am knee-depth in college essay season once again.

I hope your luck has been good lately. If not, surely there’s a change a’comin’!

Talk to you tomorrow.

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Facebook Responses to My Gas Nozzle Story

Interestingly, admitting my foibles about my recent gas hose dissection brought forth a plethora of comments, mainly from those who were willing to admit their mistakes as well. I’m glad to see I am not alone in the realm of doing dumb things. Is this a birds of a feather thing or just the universal condition? I’d like to think my friends aren’t the only ones who are crossing over three medians to get to that road they want or else trying to drive a friend’s car from the passenger seat only to crash straight into a building.  Then again, I may have a few friends who are as foolhardy as I am. I like to think we all have these stories of bad choices, particularly in reference to cars and driving, and some of us are just better at keeping those transgressions under our hats than others.

My husband Ray has delighted in telling everyone we know my severed gas hose story. He likes to throw in a few details of his own like, “I was standing in the Del Taco line and Len comes in and says, “Ray, I drove off with the gas hose still attached to the car and now they want me to pay $250. What should I do?” Ray pauses for effort, then says, “I told her, ‘Len, I think you ought to pay them.'” What I was really doing was trying to explain there was an insurance option, but when you have a thousand dollar deductible, there’s no point in bringing in the insurance company when you can solve the problem for $250.

I will say that I have been entertained by the wide range of comparable stories that have been shared on Facebook where I always post my blog. From the sound of it, old ladyhood is not the real culprit. Distraction or just plain ole bad judgement seems to be running right up there at the top of reasons people find themselves in situations similar to me driving off with the gas nozzle still firmed placed in the opening to my gas tank.

So, take this as a cautionary tale. Focus, focus, focus. And no more cell phone texting when you are supposed to be listening. It appears trying to multitask is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Heading to bed, folks. Thanks for some entertaining stories of your misadventures. They definitely brought a smile.

We’ll be talking again tomorrow.

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