JACK LIFFEY
MYSTERY SERIES
created by john shannon

 

JACK'S L.A. LORE


THE CRACKED EARTH

Alas, all page references are to the out-of-print Berkeley Prime Crime mass market paperback. 

p. 1: Craftsman, Norman and Moorish

Craftsman: The Arts & Crafts style, as reinterpreted in California with a bit of Japanese influence in the early 1900s, often a low-lying bungalow with wood frame, wide wood eaves and off-center verandah. In an interior it would suggest a lot of dark paneled wood for wainscoting, and maybe muted William Morris colors--those light greens, yellows and browns.

Norman: Another "revival" style common in the early century. In an exterior, suggesting a very steep pitched roof, very thick stucco walls with set-back arched windows, an arch over the door portico, and very commonly, one very tall neo-gothic front window arching to a point. In interior, it would suggest thick stucco walls and gloom.

Moorish: Another popular revival style, or style element really, out of Spain via Mexico, suggesting rough stucco, doors made of timber and metal straps, floors of quarry tile, plus decorated tiles, the hand-hewn ceiling beams would be exposed and the ceilings very high and drapes would be hung on rings on cast iron rods.

The other style mentioned, at the bottom of the page, is Mission: used most often for interiors of rough-hewn furniture, heavy dark oak tables, rude cabinetry, and those wonderful leather armchairs and sofas with big flat oak arms. It's become so popular that it's now more expensive than more refined antique styles in finer woods.

Taken together in an interior, these styles don't actually conflict too badly, as you might expect of California eclecticism. The overall effect would be darkish, textured, heavy, and confident old money. (But remember, "old money" in L.A. only means before Technicolor.)

p. 8: S.E. Hinton.
An immensely popular writer (but only for adolescents) who romanticizes the angst and massively honor-driven urges of groups of teens who, in her books, all seem to exist and form their personalities and mini-gangs in a stylized world completely devoid of adults. The writer was a young girl herself and the entire phenomenon of her books flew in under the radar of normal literary criticism until Francis Coppola started filming them back-to-back: The Outsiders and Rumble Fish (both 1983). Coppola characterized her as "Camus for kids," but this is pretty charitable. For the record, a third one of her books, That Was Then This is Now was also filmed, directed by Christopher Cain in 1985.

p. 8: The Fountainhead
A novelization of the life of a brilliant, anti-establishment architect, very like Frank Lloyd Wright, by Ayn Rand. Filmed in 1949 by King Vidor with Gary Cooper. Bad enough as film, as a novel it is unreadable sludge. An utter reification of the concept of genius. Rand's philosophy of "Objectivism" is really just selfish thumb-in-your-eye individualism writ very large and it would probably appeal to teen-agers of any age struggling to find themselves. (Our Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan was an Ayn Randist, lord help us.)

p. 8: ESP Rhine Cards
Begun in the 1930s, popular in the 1950s, J.B. Rhine, a professor at Duke University (in North Carolina) decided to study ESP "scientifically" and developed a set of playing cards with simple objects on them (star, square, circle, plus sign, wavy lines). People who were supposed to be proficient at transferring their thoughts through the air were set to turning up cards at random and "sending" what they saw to others. The "positive results" obtained were all debunked later by procedural flaws, and the Rhine center was booted out of the university, but the cards remained popular all around the country with those who wanted to think of themselves as special in some way (as were eccentric religions or UFO sightings).

As you can see, all of these objects in Lee's room are signs of a bright young girl, floundering around to find something of value, or at least something special to cling to. As I say in the text, all the "cul-de-sacs of Western culture."

p. 9. "end up in a coffee house in the valley."
This would suggest a fairly safe and secure place for a maturing would-be adventurous young intellectual to end up, a bit more risqué perhaps than sitting at home watching the highbrow dramas on public TV but nothing like the far extreme of being "in a Buick driven across the plains of Idaho by a handsome serial killer."

p. 15. What kind of electric railways do you mean? Tram cars?
Early in the 20th century, our own robber baron Henry E. Huntington built his Pacific Electric Railway into an interurban streetcar line that covered the entire basin, basically as part of a scheme to sell real estate all over the area, which he also owned. The cars were bigger than ordinary streetcars and often carried freight and mail in three-car trains. At its peak the system had 1,000 miles of track and ran about 50 mph. It was called colloquially "the red car," and was powered by overhead electric wires. At the end of "The General," it's red cars that Buster Keaton is demolishing. I rode the red cars some as a kid and loved them, but it was an aging system.

Huntington sold out to the Southern Pacific early on, and then in one of the great L.A. scandals--referred to ironically in the film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"-- General Motors, Firestone Tires, Standard Oil and Mack trucks formed a dummy company to buy it up and destroy it. (They did this all over the country and were eventually fined $37,000 for it.) Thus we have freeways and car glut.

p. 16. Burning the midnight oil. Working overtime?

Yes, working overtime, but it can just mean working late, too. Implying that these folks were in the buildings during the late-night cave-in. I have exaggerated this cave-in a bit, but it did actually happen and left a gaping hole for quite some time while they were building the metro under Hollywood.

Chapter 2: The following are streets you mentioned in chapter two. I need to know if they are avenues, boulevards, etc...

As you probably know, street naming convention in America is in some ways rather rigid and over-determined. Most American towns are tidily gridded, as they were often laid out by plan as opposed to accruing over centuries like European cities. (This dominance of the surveyors and geographers in our early history is one reason most towns have a Euclid Avenue.) The grid almost always follows a rigid plan of increasing address numbers by 100 for every block, a system that began in Northern California I believe early in the 20th century and spread over the whole country to the delight of mail carriers and milkmen--who, alas, no longer exist. This practice even continues down rural highways, increasing by 100 every quarter mile or so, so you sometimes get the huge addresses that seem so odd to Europeans, e.g. 12565 Bodega Highway. Generally there is a Main Street in the middle of town as the zero point and addresses go east or west of that, and the same for north and south. Often one axis or the other will be reserved for numbered streets, First, Second, etc. Incidentally, the even-numbered addresses are almost always on the south and east sides of streets. Odd numbers on the north and west. Thus, 1921 will be roughly across from 1922.

Some cities like New York reserve the word "avenue" for north-south streets, and "street" for east-west streets. And some cities impose even more order by naming their streets alphabetically, Apple, Beech, Chestnut, etc. Or even A St., B St., etc. We rarely honor writer or painters; often presidents and generals but, most often, just the developers themselves. Generations of students who passed through UCLA believed that the street names in Westwood--Gayley, Weyburn, Hilgarde, etc.--must have some illustrious forebears. In fact they were the names of the real estate agents in the tiny office when the place was first subdivided.

And finally, the names used for streets do carry some implication of their stature, though there are many exceptions:

Boulevard--big and broad. In LA, all the big east-west streets, and some of the north-south ones, are boulevards: Hollywood Blvd, Wilshire Blvd, etc.

Avenue--not as often big and broad. In LA most of the big-north south streets are avenues: Western Ave., La Brea Ave.

Street--ordinary street

Place, Terrace--Usually short with a dead-end

Circle--usually loops back to a main road

Drive--usually winding

Road, highway--often leaving town or rural

And then, for obvious reasons, Southern California has a scattering of Camino de, Avenida de, etc, often strangely enough in the newest white suburbs.

By the way, in common parlance, the designation will usually be left off, and many people will not even know it. People will just say "At Sunset and Highland." I had to look these four below up.

p. 16. Bronson Ave.; Gower St.

p. 21. Cahuenga Ave.; Ivar Ave.

p. 23. Facel-Vega.
You should know of this in France; you must be too young. The Facel-Vega was a lovely French sports-touring car built roughly from 1954 to 1964. FACEL stands for Forges et Ateliers de Construction d' Eure-et-Loir. Immediately after the war there were FACEL-Bentleys but they needed a better engine. After the Hispano, Bugatti, Hotchkiss and Salmson died, FACEL made the only French sports cars for a while, but it was a troubled marque from the beginning, assembled from pieces from many places. The Vega began in 1954 with distinctive stacked headlights, wraparound rear window and windshield, pushbutton doors, horizontally-barred grill in a big sucking-a-lemon oval, and a Chrysler 4.5-liter V-8 engine. By 1956, it had a 5.6 liter Chevrolet Typhoon engine. It was very fast in an overpowered wallowing Detroit way but had many flaws, including bad drum brakes, breakdown problems, unwillingness ever to enter it in races and "improve the breed," and limited corporate financing. Only a few thousand were sold. The company went into liquidation in 1964. It looked great and you still see a few running around in posh bits of America or car shows, often for some reason in lime green.

p. 23. Residence room.
This is a boarding school, and I'm suggesting that the teacher, too, boards behind her office.

p. 24. Der Blaue Reiter.
The proper article is definitely der. A group of German painters with spiritual/mystical bent named for a magazine that published only once in 1912. The best known were Kandinsky and Franz Marc. Theo Harten is my little private joke. He doesn't exist, but the name is based on the elusive character in Le Carre's "A Small Town in Germany," Leo Harting. All the business of synesthesia is however, quite true, and Kandinsky claimed the ability, as well as the others I mention, including David Hockney (who seems to be going deaf now to make up for it.) My UCLA film professor Marvin Borowsky (whose name I use later in the story) claimed to associate colors automatically with words and could reproduce this at will.

p. 24. The Second Coming.
This is the only poem I know by heart, still. I imagine it has provided more titles for literary works than any other short poem in English:

Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
Slouching Toward Bethlehem - Joan Didion, etc.

p. 27. "Ballad of a Thin Man."
This is by Bob Dylan, off the great early Highway 61 album. It is the classic young-taunt-the-old song, with the immortal verse:

You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked and you say, "Who is that man?"
You try so hard but you just don't understand.
Just what will you say when you get home?
Because something is happening here
And you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

p. 30. fade haircut
This is so popular now as to be becoming passé. A haircut with the sides shaved right to the skull but the top left a more normal length. It was and still is very popular with Asian-Americans here.

p. 30. hackey sack
A little beanbag, the size of a crabapple, that you keep in the air by kicking or bouncing off your elbows, etc, soccer-style. It leads to a lot of mindless physical tricks and stunts, much like the Frisbee, but is easier to use indoors and more popular with cubicle-bound techies (those few with physical agility, that is.)

p. 30. "I think you are your favorite application."
A 21st century techie wiseass update on "You are what you eat." A bit clumsy as a joke, but suitable to the nerds who are talking.

p. 30. "Unless you're just empty-file."
A techie response to the above, "Unless you're nothing at all." An empty file is one of those disconcerting artifacts we find from time to time on the computer, a file name in the directory that looks like it betokens a real file but when opened contains nothing.

p. 31. "Stone the crows"
This is an Australianism, roughly equivalent to "I'll be damned!" Parfit is Australian. His "shoot on through" earlier is also Australian. The full lugubrious expression is "Let's shoot on through like a Bondi tram."

p. 32. Whiffle basketball
A small basketball backboard and hoop, maybe the size of a toaster, with a very light plastic ball. For fooling around in an office. Sometimes they are mounted over wastebaskets as targets for crumpled balls of paper.

p. 32. Chunky Jiff
A brand of peanut butter, "chunky" meaning the variety with bits of broken peanut in it. Popular with some techies as a "spoon food" that can be eaten unconventionally right out of the jar. Observers of this subculture note that techies also love "flat foods"--bologna or cheese slices, say, that can be shoved under the doors to them as they work all night writing code.

p. 35. Baboo.
I am supposing here that down at the bottom of the New Age food chain, the Indian form of address Babu--an honorific title associated with several sages--probably gets reduced to this.

p. 37. Softlights.
Lights that that cast little or no shadows, used mainly for "product shots" in video and advertising. The bulb is in a large box as big as a TV set covered with a dense scrim, so it appears one diffuse source of soft white light.

p. 39 Title in French "Epater la bourgeoisie". It sounds correct but we tend to say "Epater les bourgeois".
Oops. I obviously remembered it wrong, but she might, too. Yours is better, of course.

p. 39. Grapestake
A very common sort of yard fence in California. Grape stakes are about five centimeters square, rough hewn and pointed at the top, maybe two meters tall. There were probably thousands of used ones available after staking up grapevines and somebody thought of using the older ones to make a fence. The wood turns a nice silver in color with age and they are nailed right next to each other to make a continuous wall with a pleasant ribbed texture.

p. 41. "Metro" station: bus or underground
Underground. We named ours after yours, I think in part because the cars on the main Red line are made in France. Unfortunately, planning in LA being what it is, the cars used on the Red line are different from the light rail cars used on the Blue line, and different again from the cars on the Green line. None can run on each other's tracks. Which is about as smart as running the Green line to within a half mile of the airport and then turning hard left instead of going in to the terminals.

p. 42: Street edition.
In cities with huge commuter subway or train systems where it is still common to read a newspaper on the way home from work, the "street edition" is even today an edition with late-breaking news timed to be available to street vendors at commute times (as opposed to the home edition which probably had an earlier deadline due to the complexity of delivering it all over the city.) They once existed in L.A. for both morning and afternoon papers. There are vestiges of street editions in L.A., available in little plastic vending machines, but since we commute by cars, they have been mostly supplanted in importance by car radio news and TV. Street editions in a place like New York would be showier and have bigger headlines to grab attention. When I last worked for a newspaper in Long Beach (we had both morning and afternoon papers) we had staggered deadlines: suburban editions first, early editions, then the big home edition (about 9 am for the afternoon paper), then a street edition for later news, often just the same news displayed more sensationally (and always "above the fold" so it can be seen in a rack). There are also "extra" editions, put out for street use during major events. These are the papers that newsboys in old movies wave and cry "Extra, extra, read all about it!" The last two true extras printed by the L.A. Times were for the O.J. Simpson verdict and the World Trade Center attack. One further edition deserves note: the last edition of the day, often late at night, was sometimes called the Bulldog.

p. 42: News rack: kiosk or machine here?
Vending machine. There are probably less than a dozen true newspaper racks in the city, with an attendant and a large choice, and a recent attempt to reanimate them seems to have failed. Two new ones in Culver City have died. You really need more foot traffic and more density to make a staffed news rack work.

p. 42: "Off the Pig:" Kill the cops?
A little more ambiguous than that. When the Manson fanatics killed the music teacher Gary Hinman, they wrote "political piggie" on the wall in his blood. Two weeks later, they killed Sharon Tate and several others, and scrawled "pig" on a door in her blood. A few days later still they killed the La Biancas, ordinary grocers, and scrawled "Death to all pigs," "rise," and "helter-skelter," in blood.
The expression here is just an echo of these earlier scrawlings. To the extent that you can work out the Manson psychology, the resentment seems directed toward Hollywood/music business types, who he thought were thwarting his career. He actually did write a song for the Beach Boys and scared the bejeezus out of Brian Wilson. But then Manson also wanted to purify the planet with a race war, so who knows?

p. 42: dim sum
Literally means a "little bit of heart," one of the delicacies in a dim sum meal. (A popular 1984 Chinese-American film by Wayne Wang about family relationships was titled: "Dim Sum: A little Bit of Heart.") It's a Chinese Style buffet meal, often on Sunday, with the items brought to you on rolling carts, a large variety of "nibble foods," smaller dishes, steamed rice cakes, vegetables, etc. To my taste it's mostly gluey rice with fishy flavors. In the rest of the world, at least in Australia and other areas in Asia, the custom is known as yum cha and dim sum is just one of the dishes.

p. 42: R&R
Rest and Relaxation. A brief military leave, usually to a big city or wholly out of country. Often became a euphemism for drinking and whoring.

p. 45: "The Shadow"
A noire radio play of the 1930s and 1940s that I only dimly remember. It always opened with eery music and the lines: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows." And then there was a wicked cackle of a laugh. He began as the announcer of the show and eventually became a character: The Shadow--real name Lamont Cranston--a slim figure cloaked in black who fought mobsters, evil scientists, crazed rich men and foreign invaders with two blazing automatics. Orson Welles played his voice briefly in 1937.

p. 49: "Silent-movie Spanish"
The kind of little Spanish-style bungalow courts that were popular in L.A. in the era of silent movies (and even appeared in some of the Keystone Kop and Laurel and Hardy ilk.) Thousands exist all over the city. There is a small walking path off the main street and it is lined with a half dozen or more bungalows facing one another. Not always in "Spanish" style--here meaning tile roofs and maybe arches and little else. In fancier incarnation, they might surround a tiled courtyard and fountain. The missing Consuela Beltran and her son lived in one in The Concrete River.

n.b. Strangely enough all your South Africans seem to be named van der Merwe: the missing girl in Liffey n°1 and Hennie in n°2.
Thanks, I'll watch that. It's the "Smith" of South Africa and is very common.

p. 50: Newport Harbor
p. 50: County
In context, these are both museums. Newport Beach is the new money Orange County equivalent of old money Newport News in the east. Yes, L.A. County Museum of Art, also called LACMA. Both have collections that include video art. I was thinking primarily of the pioneering video artist Nam Jun Paik. The museum I think you and visited downtown is Museum of Contemporary Art, or MOCA.

p. 65. Golden Globe: what kind of award is that?
It's a lesser form of the Academy Awards for various film categories, presented by the Foreign Press Writers of Hollywood. It used to be considered quite a meaningless joke, as the writers accredited to Hollywood were often just hacks who were somebody's nephew, or worse, some gigolo who happened to be living in L.A. But consistent with the "awards inflation" that has taken place they are now quite important, and are being chased by even lesser awards, such oddities as the "People's Choice Awards," "MTV Movie awards," etc., etc. All of which precede the Oscars, and are part of the horrible ballyhoo that surrounds this tawdry and meaningless event. (Can you imagine people flocking to their TVs to watch real estate agents give one another awards: "Best sales pitch in the $300,000 freestanding homes category...")

p. 55: Fold-down desk
A small temporary desk surface that folds out of the wall or out of a small piece of furniture like a secretaire, often revealing cubby holes. Some houses have them built in for "paying bills" and the like. Almost nobody would use them. It just emphasizes the haphazard character of Mike Lewis' life, making do with whatever is there at the moment.

p. 56: The Bowery Boys
A wonderful group of young goofy New York street gangsters, who started out in the classic play and Bogart film Dead End (1937), then went on to make hundreds of their own shorts and films, always foiling bad guys, fracturing the language with malapropisms and New York accents and doing their best to be cocky working class anti-heroes. First called the Dead End Kids, then East Side Kids, and best known as The Bowery Boys. Lasted into the 1950s with the same actors.

p. 57: Ice Plant
A very common succulent in Southern California. Native to South Africa but it's so common here that nobody would know that. The most common type is like damp cold green fingers on a stalk, each one triangular in cross section. They are very heavy and wet and easy for kids to snap off and throw at each other. It probably should be one word: iceplant.

p. 62: "Boy on a Dolphin:" What was it about? I must find
it's French title. Was it actually a wet shirt, or T-shirt?
A rather undistinguished 1957 Alan Ladd vehicle about treasure hunting in the Mediterranean. It was Sophia Loren's U.S. film debut, as a skindiver helping Ladd. The newspaper ad ALWAYS featured a shot of her sopping wet. I think she was kneeling and it was probably a normal cotton button-up dress with little under it. It's not released on video so I can't check.

p. 67: The Johnson County War: one of your creations
after an actual movie?
Yes, I invented this movie, but the event was real, in Johnson County, Wyoming. It would make a great movie as it is the absolutely perfect incarnation of the real Western experience: immigrant small farmers, mostly Russians here, being shot out by rapacious cattle barons. Unfortunately that pompous and incompetent twit Michael Cimino ruined the tale with his mega-disaster Heaven's Gate. It turns out, though, that the Texas writer and Western buff Larry McMurty is now producing a mini-series for cable under this title.

p. 68: Warren Zevon
American singer-songwriter of the 1970s and after, with a political and satiric bite. Lori recognizes the lines Jack Liffey speaks above as lyrics from his song, Send Lawyers, Guns and Money:
Now I'm hiding in Honduras
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan

p. 69: Dore Schary
Fabled film producer of the 1940 and 1950s, head of production first at RKO and then MGM.

p. 69: "Sunset Boulevard" Which year was it released?
A great Hollywood classic melodrama by Billy Wilder in 1950, about a down-on-his-luck would-be screenwriter (William Holden), who allows his life to be eaten alive by a domineering over-the-hill movie star. The obvious parallel is a bit unsettling to Jack.

p. 72: Righteous, Righteous (says the Jamaican).
A common Jamaican expression of delight.

p. 73: Babylon.
To Jamaicans, or at least Rastafarians, reinterpreting the Bible in their own terms, they are trapped in a Babylonian Captivity away from their home. Generally, it means England, but in America it could easily mean America, and by extension the state's agents, the police. That place of sorrow that holds us prisoner. Later in the book, Ivan Monk will explain all the I-and-I stuff.

p. 75: Franciscan works: The monks?
No, I don't believe the ceramic works ever had anything to do with the monks. Its predecessor company was founded in Northern California in 1875, but Franciscan Ware started when this company bought out Tropico Potteries in Glendale just northeast of L.A. in the 1930s. They patented a process that mass produced durable, glazed earthenware with flowery colored designs matching the raised shapes on the tableware surface. From about 1940 on they turned out designs such as Desert Rose and Apple and Ivy that became hallmarks of a kind of homey cheerful middle class kitsch in America. The plant was pulled down in 1984 to leave a toxic lead-infested site and the patterns were sold to Wedgewood in England, which still makes them.

p. 78: Shiv. Shiv is prison slang for a home-made knife, but not here. It's just short for the Gaelic name Siobhann, which is properly pronounced roughly shiv-awn.

p. 79: Heidi Fleiss address book.
Heidi Fleiss was a big LA celebrity of notoriety for a brief time in the '90s. A young and fairly attractive Hollywood procurer/madam to the stars. Amongst many others, the actor Charlie Sheen used her services and fessed up. She served some jail time (tax evasion, I think) and then tried to merchandise her name with a brand of underwear. Her address book would presumably contain the names of a LOT of people who would not want to be named publicly, and any detective who could keep it out of the public domain would be very popular indeed among the glitter crowd.

p. 79: Zoomie.
Mildly derogatory slang for someone in the Air Force.

p. 81: a baaing noise
"Baa-baa," said the sheep. As a sidelight, I believe several divisions of French troops were marched into battle toward the end of The Great War, knowing full well they were marching to their deaths at the hands of incompetent officers, and they began baaing like sheep in bitter, empty protest.

p. 83: SAC
Strategic Air Command. The guys who flew the B-52s loaded with bombs 24-hours a day so we would be ready at the drop of an insult to incinerate the USSR. They had lovely shorty brown leather jackets, which wannabe macho kids still love (okay, okay, I've got one) especially if they have a name tag like Buzz and still have the service patches.

p. 83-84: "Ozzie and Harriet, when it wasn't yet high camp."
One of the archetypal "normal family" TV situation comedies of the 1950s. ("Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best" are probably the others.) An "Ozzie and Harriet" world implies all that false whitebread cheerful conformity of the time. Oddly enough, the Nelsons--Ozzie, Harriet and sons David and Ricky--were a real family and anything but normal. Even on the show the dad never seemed to go to work and was a bit of a doofus. And in real life Ricky--now preferring Rick--was a fleeting rock star and then died in a plane crash.
"Not yet high camp." Jack is just showing his age. He's old enough to remember the show straight, rather than as a nostalgia trip on old-time TV.

p. 91. Tuck and roll expert at the body shop. (Not sure I got that one right)
Tuck-and-roll was a popular customized car upholstery done in the 1950s, particularly on hot rods and customized cars. The entire width of the bench seat and back would be redone in a series of raised pleats or tubes with enough interior padding to puff up (each tube running parallel to the sides of the car), each one perhaps two-inches wide. Door panels and other interior surfaces would be done up to match. It would be in plastic (before plastic became uncool) in some gaudy color, and the cheapest way to get it done was to take it to one of dozens of upholstery shops in Tijuana, but East L.A. was full of them, too.

p. 92: Mr. Frost: Robert Frost?
Yes, probably his most famous poem, "Mending Walls," known to almost any American, has a line about good walls making good neighbors. In fact, the line is an internal quote from his terse neighbor, "Good fences make good neighbors," and though most people take it straight, the author and the poem are critical of this cynical attitude. Frost's attitude is better encapsulated in an earlier line: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."

p. 98: Schlemiel
Yiddish. A pitiable clumsy character, a pipsqueak, born loser, gullible uncomplaining victim. Yiddish is wonderfully expressive for insults and LA, being the home of Hollywood--the world the Jews built--is wonderfully full of it.

p. 109: "Malamud rang a buzzer:" literally?
He's had his hands on a signal box to send signals to the line-up denizens behind the glass. Now he's using the loudest signal, which can be heard in the viewing room, to break their death-glare.

p. 104: Mark Fuhrman
The LAPD detective who was accused of "framing" OJ Simpson by planting the bloody glove, presumably because he was racist. In the trial he swore he never used the word Nigger, but they had him on tape boasting of his cop exploits to a woman writer and using the word over and over. He's probably no more racist than most detectives, but he muddied those waters by quitting the force and moving to Northern Idaho, the spiritual home of white supremacy. The joke at the time was that Fuhrman was so incompetent he couldn't frame a guilty man.

p. 104: "Open grill-work New Orleans elevator"
One of those old-time elevators that run in an open lacy cast-iron framework, which would be right at home beside an art nouveau Metro entrance. The 1893 Bradbury building has the only two that I know of in the city. The interior of the building is an atrium under a glass roof, with five floors of terra cotta walkways all bordered by lacy cast-iron balconies that match the two exposed elevators. It was built to make maximum use of natural light and is a real beauty. Ironically, instead of Rosewood Detectives (a hint of the infamous Pinkertons), the real Bradbury houses, amongst many things, the LAPD Internal Affairs Bureau.

p. 106: a sixties handshake
Also, black power handshake. I think it comes distantly from Africa, but basically it grew out of black culture of the 1960s, and got very big in Viet Nam. A very complex series of hand-to-hand actions that showed you were in the know if you could do them. In the variation I knew, the hands would shake first with fingers angled down, then up, then cupping fingertips and pulling away, then both doing a finger-snap simultaneously, and ending with a little pop of fists one on top of another, and perhaps an admonition like, "Knowledge is power." Sometimes one hand would grasp the other hand's thumb and then vice-versa, then to the finger clasp and finishing with an open-hand slap. Variations were probably endless. I hear the kids in Kosovo are happily using them now, learned from GIs.

p. 115: Caprice. A Ford?
Close. A full-size(in America this means huge) plain Chevy sedan. Very common as cop cars in the 90s, and nobody else bought them except extremely old couples in Iowa. They became so very boxy and ugly, and sales collapsed so badly, that reputedly for an emergency redesign the GM style department simply wrapped one with clay and used that to make molds for new body panels, so it became just as big and boxy but now rounded. It went from ugly to REALLY ugly.

p. 122: Chavez Ravine. Much wider than the bottom of a canyon, I reckon. What does it look like?
Ironically much of what we think of as the ravine is actually a hill, more properly a small hilly mesa. It's also a famous L.A. tragedy/scandal. It was a fairly isolated bucolic Latino barrio near downtown on its own hilltop. It was full of dirt roads and fairly pleasant shacks, but rather poor and slummy and was targeted for redevelopment as integrated planned federal housing by the housing activist Frank Wilkinson in the late 1940s. There was a great deal of resistance, but it was leveled, and then ironically, the project became a victim of the Cold War. Local real estate folks and the conservative Times of the time, helped by the Police chief and the FBI, wanted to stop federal integrated housing at all costs, and they attacked Frank Wilkinson as "a red" in order to drive out his mentor the progressive mayor Fletcher Bowron. Frank refused to divulge his politics on principle and spent a year in prison for it, and a conservative mayor, Norris Poulson, came in and stopped all subsidized housing projects. There are various sequels. Frank Wilkinson came out of prison and founded the Coalition to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee, which eventually had a hand in doing just that. And the leveled hill sat there for a while until the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to L.A. in 1957 and then they bought it cheap as the site for their baseball stadium overlooking downtown L.A., opened in 1962, which is what "Chavez Ravine" means today.

p. 123. she ate it (the joint). Literally?
Sure, reasonably reckless people will do this to get the last of the high out of the dope. It must taste terrible with all the congealed tars, but it's tiny so you can probably take it straight down like a pill.

p. 125: forced his rage down into the white space at the center of him. What do you mean?
It's just an image of pure suppression of emotion, tucking his anger into some place in his psyche that is so controlled it is blank.

p. 127: Caspers Regional Park: named after a person or after a place (it makes a difference in French.)
It's named after an Orange County Supervisor Ronald W. Caspers who recommended purchasing about 5000 acres for the park. These are the kinds of folks our Babbitty local governments always honor, rarely poets, painters, writers, naturalists, or genuine heroes.

p. 129: strap undershirt.
The kind of armless undershirt, often mesh or gridded or ribbed cotton, that in its older form became identified with eastern European and southern Italian immigrants and the Tennessee Williams characters representing them in his plays like The Rose Tattoo and Streetcar Named Desire. In any production of Streetcar, Stanley Kowalski will wear a strap undershirt throughout. Latterly, because of this, it's been nicknamed a "wifebeater t-shirt." In slightly more sleek form, based more on Olympic swimsuits, it's called a tank-top.

p. 130: poison toad.
Ugly and deadly character. The Gila Monster in the Southwest and Mexico is actually a poisonous amphibian, if not exactly a toad.

p. 131: Ruby Ridge.
The rural compound in Idaho where the Randy Weaver white supremacist family and pals, self-styled militia folks, locked themselves in after a shootout with a couple of federal agents coming to check on firearms charges. It became a huge standoff, with every adult in the cabin either killed or wounded, and a government sniper eventually shooting through a partially opened door and killing Weaver's wife. It was over-reaction all around with the FBI issuing its now-infamous rules of engagement: "if you see 'em, shoot 'em." Justice Department studies were highly critical of the whole mess. Ruby Ridge has become a rallying cry for the far right (like Waco and its shootout.) In both cases, it's important to note that federal agents were shot and killed first, and it is not surprising that this will rile up their friends.

p. 131: Auto-magnum: Magnum Automatic?
Yes, this is a very weird heavy pistol made of shiny stainless steel so full of curves and reflections it often looks like it's carved out of ice. High Standard made them in the 1980s to chamber the magnum .44 round, the only automatic (self-loading) pistol I know of to use this ammunition. They only made 388 of them and they are quite valuable today. It's the same ammo that Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry uses in his immensely long magnum revolver. If I remember right one of the last Dirty Harrys featured an auto-mag, too.

p. 132: box-lock gun.
A fairly common shotgun mechanism that reloads by tilting the barrels to open the breech. The box lock often appears very square as opposed to sidelocks which have removable side plates and look more rounded.

p. 132: There might be a typo: "The sear kit mail order. " A reference to Sears & Roebuck mail order catalogue?
No, but nice guess. The sear is a mechanical part of the gun's hammer mechanism, a catch that holds it cocked. The sear has to be replaced (or modified) in order to make a semi-automatic into a full automatic. Full-auto sears are illegal to own or sell, but since this is such an anarchic country, they are commonly sold mail order, or under the table at gun shows. People even convert .45 handguns and M-1 carbines that would be wildly uncontrollable in full automatic fire.

p. 136: Pink's hot dog
A famous Hollywood hot dog stand that's been in the same spot, Melrose and La Brea, since 1939, originally just a hot dog cart run by a man named Paul Pink. The dogs are usually served with chili and there is now a small patio and its own parking lot. Movie stars occasionally eat there but it is very informal.

p. 141: Thomas Bros. Thomas Brothers?
Yes, but they list themselves as "Thomas Bros. Maps." The long floppy Thomas Bros. Map book is just as omnipresent and indispensable in L.A. as the A-to-Zed in London, and just about every car has one. Other versions cover most other areas in California. The most common L.A. version, in fact, has both L.A. and Orange Counties. It is not generally known that the Thomas Bros. Mapmakers sprinkle a handful of tiny non-existent streets throughout the book, perhaps even one per page, which they call "copyright streets." If one of these phony streets shows up on somebody else's map, it's a sure indication of plagiarism.

p. 143: lederhosen
Those atrocious leather short trousers with a bib and over-the-shoulder straps that Bavarian boys and self-consciously Bavarian show-offs wear.

p. 143: Dirndl
A female equivalent of lederhosen, more or less, a dress with tight waist low neck and short gathered skirt.

p. 149: D-and-C
Dilation and Curettage. A surgical procedure that expands the uterus so the uterine wall can be scraped clean. It can be done to obtain tissue for examination or to control bleeding, but is most often performed after an abortion. In the period when abortions were pretty much illegal, a D-and-C was sometimes performed as a cover for an abortion and was used as a euphemism for the forbidden practice.

p. 149: Greene and Greene table
The architects Charles and Henry Greene were pioneers of the American arts and crafts movement and their wood-heavy, elegant, shallowly gabled houses, mostly in Pasadena, are superb examples of this style. In fact their work gave rise to thousands of simpler smaller copies built all over the West, and even the East, which came to be called the California Bungalow.

p. 150: Teacher's Pet: an invented title, I guess.
Alas, I meant it to be, but there is a 1958 Clark Gable-Doris Day movie of that name. Jack Nicholson appeared in dozens of cheap exploitation pictures, biker movies and spear-and-toga movies in the 1960s, before making it big, and I meant his and Lori's paths to have crossed in a cheap teen trouble-in-high school movie by this title.

p. 151: Lady Bountiful
A term that tends to mean a benevolent rich lady, a bit puffed-up, who offers some of her largess to the peons around her. It's from a very obscure 18th century play called "The Beaux' Stratagem," by George Farquhar, but the term itself is widely known, at least in part because a mildly ironic reading of the surname suggests the personality.

p. 151: French Silk (literally?)
Possibly. It's just meant to imply that the nightgown is luxurious, expensive and sexy. Therefore, it must be French.

p. 155: the value of pi to nine places
Just a bit of random arcane knowledge that Jack carries around. The usual high school requirement, in my day, was to know pi to four places: 3.1416. I think I counted wrong though. Off the top of my head I only know pi to eight places: 3.14159265.

p. 156: The Bells of Rhymney
This is a fairly well known Pete Seeger rendition of a Welsh coal mining dirge. It was always one of my favorite folk songs. To do it Pete Seeger's fashion, you have to retune the guitar to a lower register. Pete pronounces it Rim-NEE when he sings, but I'm told this is nowhere near the proper Welsh pronunciation, which is probably something like "Smith." As a fellow Celt you will appreciate this.

p. 158: something out of Bedford Falls
Bedford Falls is the mythical ordinary mid-American town in the beloved sappy Frank Capra film "It's a Wonderful Life," wherein a guardian angel shows poor suicidal Jimmy Stewart how much poorer the whole town would be if he had never existed. The house I describe belongs in Bedford Falls.

p. 158: liquidambar tree
A very common tree in Southern California, also called "sweetgum," and I believe it's actually native unlike most of our trees. It's usually tall and straight and one of the few here that changes color with the seasons, the leaves going brownish red rather late in fall and winter. The leaf looks a bit like a maple leaf, and the tree's fruit consists of dangling spiky seed balls the size of ping-pong balls.

p. 160: straw finger trap
I believe the Chinese invented these things, probably back with skyrockets and pasta. Or maybe the Mexicans. It's a tube the size of a finger, woven of straw in such a way that when you stick both index fingers into it from opposite ends and try to pull them out, the tube tends to constrict and trap your fingers. The harder you pull, the harder it squeezes. The trick is to push inward to relax the weave and then gently remove your fingers. It was a common party favor in my youth. Probably made of plastic today, if they still exist.

p. 160: you just can't comb a hairy ball smooth
This is techie slang. Some problems have no solution.

p. 162: bazz fazz and rowrbazzle
These odd expressions, probably of mild surprise or mild disgust, come from the comic strip Pogo. The strip ran in the 1950s, but it was so good in its way and has been reprinted in books so many time that you could expect an intelligent techno-nerd to know it today.

p. 165: waving a dead chicken at the problem
More techie slang. In utter frustration, resorting to a voodoo solution that you know won't work.

p. 166: state equalization
The California body that collects state taxes is called the State Board of Equalization. Weird. It sounds like a leftover of some 19th century Levelers campaign to equalize us all through taxes--California did spawn some wonderful populist movements like Upton Sinclair's EPIC (End Poverty In California) when he ran for governor in the Depression--but the term's origin is undoubtedly a lot more prosaic.

p. 172: do I dare to eat a peach?
This is from T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and is a fairly well-known line. I reckon this is one of the greatest English poems of the 20th century. Roughly: as on old and cautious man now, do I dare do something as messy and uncontainable as eat a peach (presumably a very ripe wet peach)?

p. 173: a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floor of silent seas.
Also from Prufrock. Daring, loud and rough-hewn, the very opposite of somebody who wouldn't dare eat a peach.

p. 175: POP'S WARNERS' CHEAR TYROUTS
There is actually a junior football league for kids called Pops Warner, like Little League baseball, and they actually have girls of roughly the same age acting as cheerleaders. Imagine seven- and eight-year old boys in tiny versions of the gladiator suits and helmets American football players wear. Then imagine eight-year-old girls in bright cheerleader costumes, pumping away inexpertly with puffy pom-poms. I stumbled on these very tryouts once on a long drive and realized all at once that there is actually no way to satirize American vulgarity. The reality will always beat you. Here, of course, every word is misspelled, and both apostrophes are wrong, just to nail down the level of intellect involved.

p. 180: I bend my eye on vacancy ....: Where in Lear roughly?
Typical of Lee, she is showing off and getting it wrong. Though Lear is actually only Jack's guess here, she lets it stand. This quote is not quite right and it's from Hamlet. In fact the Queen is talking to Hamlet about his "madness," so Lee's point about playing out of gender doesn't even work. Act III, Scene iv.
"How is it with you, that you do bend your eye on vacancy,
and with the incorporeal air hold discourse?"

p. 191: Mumble! Mumble frotz!
Just techno-nerd nonsense. A call and response, like something you might hear at a party when everyone else has already left for another planet.

p. 192: Velveeta
This is a brand name for an egregiously overprocessed American cheese, mostly for small children. It is very yellow and distantly related to cheddar, but has a rather gelatinous or rubbery texture and comes in big blocks, or more commonly today, in individually wrapped slices. Allegedly made from petrochemicals.

p. 193: spods
The very lowest order of techno nerds, or computer geeks, those who have no social skills but aren't even very good with computers. Even worse than a newbie, weenie, or twinkie.

p. 211: Dove bars
Just a fancy chocolate bar, but one that wasn't around in my youth. Likely to be popular with Yuppies and the young.

p. 212: punch cards
I couldn't find the actual words "punch cards" on this page but Michael Chen does talk about the IBM 360 of the mid 1960s as a card walloper, which does in fact refer to computer machinery that relied on punch cards for input. This was the last generation of electronic computers to be programmed with sets of punched cards, and the poor programmers then had to write things out by hand and code their programs, instruction by instruction, via card punchers, then stack up the cards in order and put them into an automatic card reader. This anachronism rested on IBM's roots in much more primitive data manipulation equipment from early in the century that sorted hand-punched cards to make statistical and commercial studies, which in turn had its roots in the Jacquard looms of the early 18th century, that stored their textile patterns on big perforated cards. IBM stubbornly clung to punch cards far past their usefulness, but even a company as stodgy and elephantine as IBM eventually had to give in to the obvious advantages of electronic programming. This business of mischievous operators racing the obsolete unbalanced DataStars, by the way, is all true.

p. 214: with their body English
In billiards (or pool) in America, putting a spin on the cue ball by hitting it off-center to make it curve or stop in it's tracks or back up is called "English," probably from the proficiency of English players at using this control spin in the game of snooker. (In England, it's just called "spin.") Left English, Right English, back English, etc. By extension, it's fairly common to speak of someone who's torqueing his body around in hopes of influencing a bowling ball's path after its release, or a golf ball, etc., as using "body English."

p. 222: raas klat licks
These are just sounds meant to suggest the deepest most indecipherable Jamaican English, probably a curse.

p. 232: JC
In this context it means "junior college," which are now all called community colleges. A huge system of these schools, generally run by cities, was developed after WWII so that anyone who wanted to continue after high school could. They were generally run by city school districts and are very cheap, if not virtually free. They are roughly equivalent to the first two years of a university and, if you do well, you can transfer to a state university for the final two years. They also serve a dual function as trade schools, and teach many technical subjects that only require two years and grant a sort of sub-degree called an AA (associate of arts) in these fields.

p. 235: William S. Hart
A solemn-faced cowboy actor of the silent era, who always played a good guy and wore a tall hat. He had a lovely ranchhouse and ranch north of the city, which is now a public park.

p. 247: the proverbial breadbox
In TV guessing games of the early TV era (What's My Line? comes to mind), and a similar party game called "20 Questions," a very frequent question that is used to help narrow the inquiry about an unknown item is: "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" Few people have breadboxes any more but it would usually have been big enough to hold two loaves. (Today we'd probably ask, Bigger than a microwave oven?) I guess this is about half way between the largest and smallest items that bear any relation to human scale, between say, a bus and a sewing needle.

p. 253: a noisy bed of ivy
Just the fact that you can't walk through ivy without making a lot of rustling noise.

p. 260: Mickey Mouse
In this context, very easy, a snap, no trouble. College students call a very easy class a Mickey Mouse class, also a Mickey Mouse Test, and by extension any endeavor that gives you no trouble at all, or isn't of high quality or worth: a Mickey Mouse book, a Mickey Mouse invention.




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