Watts Towers has been on my Los Angeles to-do list since I first realized I wanted to always vacation here and started making Los Angeles to-do lists. Usually our transportation is a clever and speedy mix of subway, bus and footwear that laces. That's cool because we can both make a whole day out of a ceremonial trip to In-N-Out Burger. But this trip was NOW! WITH MORE CAR! so the detour to Watts Towers became possible.
This is a series of cone-shaped structures with a jungle gym-y base that started in the 1920s by an Italian immigrant, a construction worker who repurposed found items to create what would become a piece of public art owned by the city, but first a controversial mass that pissed off neighbors, frustrated the builder, and was threatened with destruction.
It really is something to see. They weren't open to tours on the day we visited, but you can still check out a lot of it including the mosaics and the base of the structures which include the green rounded bottoms of beer bottles and broken plates and colorful tiles. I like that the man who built it was a construction worker, not an artist, and just felt compelled to make it. Though his relationship with it soured.
Fun(ish) fact: This is the second of nine pieces of folk art listed in the National Register of Historic Places that I have seen. (The other is Mystery Castle in Phoenix).
From there we made a quick dash to El Segunda to hit a quiet beach with an industrial view. Scenes from "CSI: Miami" are filmed in the area. I love standing in the Pacific Ocean, which is surprising because I live on my own large mass of water and never stand in it. Lake Superior gives your ankles brain freeze and I'm a pussy.
"How long could you live in one of those apartments before you went crazy?" Chuck asked of the little apartments on the boardwalk.
"I'd be done with it as soon as it became normal," I said.
We ended up in our first Los Angeles traffic jam. Obama was partying at Clooney's place and roads were closed and traffic was redirected and you know.
That night we ate Philly Cheesesteaks so juicy the foil-wrapped foot longs busted out the end of the bag and we watched "Withnail & I," a British cult classic from the 1980s that made me want to dip my body in scalding hot water. Funny, though.
I can't say the word arboretum, which is why someone else will have to provide the audio of this post. We went to the Los Angeles County Arboretum to look at the trees and birds and flowers and peacocks and outdoor things. Scenes from "Fantasy Island" were filmed here. I was mostly into the chorisa speciosa, with its coconut-sized pods filled with seeds and this loose cotton-y substance.
Before we left for vacation our duvet sprung a leak and the bedroom floor has been covered in white fur. It looks exactly like the mess left by this South American tree.
I was wander-and-look'ed out, so I snagged a park bench in the shade and cranked through seven percent of "Brideshead Revisited." Two non-English speaking tourists explained that I needed to come look near the snack shack, quickly, using the universal gesture for THE PEACOCK FANNED ITS TAIL!
I concede that none of this makes up for seeing the spot where Tattoo stood to watch for "The Plane! The Plane!"
TRIP HIGHLIGHT ALERT
And then: Fiery balls of awesome. Cath, who really knows her shit when it comes to good eats, had read about a Chinese restaurant she wanted to try so we wound our way through unfamiliar Monteray Park looking for it. Tons of restaurants in this neighborhood are Chinese restaurants -- the city has the largest concentration of Chinese Americans in the country -- and finally we found it tucked, nondescript, in between a Chinese restaurant and a hardware store.
We were the only customers and had to rely on 8x10 portraits of the dishes on the wall so we could point and grunt our orders. Then, whammo, the table was filled with so much food, almost all of them starring more hot peppers than any human colon could possibly withstand.
Mine, Fried Chicken with Peppers, was the hottest food I've ever tasted in my life -- including the homemade chili debacle of the late 2000s that knocked me into the fetal position in the middle of a fateful night, Chuck's trigger finger dangling over 911, thinking this evacuation might require medical assistance.
This one made my face puff, splotch red and my eyes filled with water. But I couldn't. Stop. Eating. It. Usually spice knocks the flavor out of a food, but this just didn't for some magical reason. It was just good. Inexplicably good.
"Beer?" I croaked at the waitress.
"No beer," she said.
Cath and K dropped us off in Hollywood, right in the middle of mosh pit of rabid tourists and right where I wanted to be. I also like this chaos, people seeing their first adult male dressed as a superhero, someone is always blasting Michael Jackson. A kid sprawled with his luggage around him eating generic cereal from the box. People jamming pedestrian traffic to get a photo of someone's star on the Walk of Fame.
"It's not so much that they take a picture of the star," Chuck said. "It's just that the star is always someone embarrassing."
Meanwhile someone loses her mind over, like, Liza Minelli and Chuck refuses to crouch next to Lionel Richie. Men with video cameras take advantage of a green light to film a man crossing the street, slow and cool-like, some sort of low-rent music video or maybe the scene before the scene in a short film. It's all so high-decibel and fevered for no real reason. You're not going to see a celebrity. But if you want to see someone in drag pretending to be a celebrity ... well.
We wander to the Frolic Room, a tiny bar that must have some significance, and have two quick drinks. Mostly I just like the mural.
We decided to go out that night to a bar in Cath's neighborhood. A small stop with a long line for karaoke. We found stools tucked at the back of the bar and one of Cath's friends and proceeded to drink beer after beer, I sang, we drank more beer and eventually the bar closed and we were still inside. Someone started cleaning. Still we sat. Later Chuck would say "I just remember having to unlock the door to get out of the bar."
We bumbled three blocks home, raided Cath's fridge, pairing gourmet crackers with an entire block of cheese, drinking water from coffee cups.
I had social shame in the morning when I heard Cath wake up. Here we were, sprawled out on her floor with plans to sleep all day. We'd gotten wrecked at her neighborhood bar with her friends then we'd come home and eaten all her cheese.
"We are the worst house guests ever," I thought before falling asleep again.
We slept much, shoe shopped, ate a burger and chased it with super great milkshakes from a 50s diner. The rest of the crew watched a movie. I cozied into a nest in the corner. Still with the "Brideshead Revisited."
"Chili?" the vendor asks me and I nod. I trust that he knows what he's doing and, hell, if he wants to sprinkle chili powder on the three fruit combo he's tossed into a baggie for me -- yes. And it's truly great. A mix of pineapple, watermelon and mango -- hot damn do I suddenly love mangos -- with a heavy dose of chili powder, some lime juice, maybe salt? It's so good. It's so sticky. It lasts the entire car ride to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where we are going to hit the massive flea market before skipping town.
"How the fuck do you get out of this place?" a guy behind us asks right when we walk into the maze. "No, seriously." I hear him as I'm drooling over a pair of penny loafers that seem illuminated, glow-y, sample shoes, just what I'm looking for, a half-size too small.
We all chuckle in that way that shows it is funny, and we expect to say the same thing at some point in the day.
There is everything here. Everything. Jewelry with dead bugs trapped inside. A painting of a man drowning in a watermelon (which Cath bought). Roller skates, floppy hats, vintage clothing and new clothing and slightly soiled clothing. A man has homemade TV covers. Another man gets mad at a woman for opening her umbrella in front of his stand and blocking the view.
"Are these men's or women's shoes?" I ask him.
"Who cares?" he says.
Cath and I put vintage sundresses on over our clothes and it feels like playing dress up in the basement. I'd love to come back and pick at things slowly and think more creatively about how I can use this $3 whatever.
The part in my hair burns. So does everything but a diagonal line across my shoulder from my purse strap. And then there it is. The collective: How do we get the fuck out of this place. No, seriously.
BACK IN MINNESOTA
Chrissie and QT pick us up from the airport. For this kind service, a lucky 5-year-old scored herself some candy cigarettes -- which she looks adorable pretending to smoke. I forgot to lock Chuck's car door and someone went through all of his stuff while we were gone. They left a pile of CDs on the driver's seat and glove box debris on the passenger side. Nothing, it seems, was taken. Not even that Material Issue CD I listened to incessantly that one summer in the 1990s.
It was the friendliest of crimes.