created by john shannon




p. 5  jets booming sonic boom?
Technically, not a sonic boom.  The FA/18s are certainly capable of going supersonic at low level, but they wouldn't do it over habitation, especially as they're about to land at Los Alamitos Naval Air Station nearby.  The boom just refers to the sudden roar of a group of jets.

p. 5  hair cut into extreme fades. (some hair left on top but little on the sides?)
Virtually nothing on the sides, often a kind of see-through-to-white-skin stubble.

p. 6  a pho shop
Pho means noodles in Vietnamese.  Most simple Vietnamese restaurants are pho shops, and some even call themselves this.  They commonly serve soupy noodles with some flavoring, fish, pork, etc.

p. 8  Camp Pendleton temporary refugee camp on U.S. territory?
Camp (Joseph H.) Pendleton is a huge Marine Base almost exactly half way between L.A. and San Diego, its barren hillsides flanking the main road--I-5--for  about 25 miles.  It's just about the only thing keeping the two conurbations from bumping into each other.   Here and there you see barracks or a firing range or a few tank tread scars on maneuver grounds, but mostly what's visible is wild coastal chaparral (and a few sirens to warn wanderers if the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station at the very north end of the base goes critical).  When the refugees first came they were housed in a tent city on the base.

p. 11  Carp the fish ?
Yes, the fish.  Koi and Goldfish are carp.  Asians seem to love these things and build ponds for them everywhere.

p. 11  Ramen noodles
Little packets of hardened noodles to be boiled up into an instant lunch, usually with a flavoring packet.  Initially they were in cellophane-wrapped oblongs and had to be unwrapped and put into your own bowl and hot water added.  More and more, the common brands tend to be in disposable Styrofoam cups.

p. 16  bac-o-bits
Artificial bits of fried bacon-like substance, to be sprinkled on salads or other things.  Lord knows what they're made of, probably petrochemicals.

p. 16  Gallo cream sherry
A cheap California brand of cream sherry, not that bad actually.  If you like your alcohol sweet and sticky.

p. 25  The tree didn't fall in the forest (literally?)
No, not literally.  This is a play on the old saw, "If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"  In this case, for all practical (or, let's say, philosophical) purposes the tree didn't even fall.

p. 30  Knott or Beach (Knott's Berry Farm or ...?)
Same Knott as the amusement park--Walter, the Orange County pioneer--but this is just a big north-south street in Orange County named for him.  It intersects with another big K street called Katella, which was named for another pioneer's two daughters--Kate and Ella.   The Berry Farm, incidentally, is mainly just a big amusement park now.  And, curiously, it's about a half mile away from Knott Avenue.  Beach is a Boulevard. 

p.31  a shotgun mike. (Sound prop of which sort?)
One of those microphones, usually long and "shotgun-like" --used to pick up sound at a distance, or to isolate a sound source and not pick up much coming in off the sides.  In most filming you see out of doors, it will be a shotgun mike, often inside a big foam sound blimp to stop wind noise, that the assistant sound man is holding overhead on a boom.  Incidentally he's not pointing it at the actor's mouth, but at the "sound box," the area where sound actually occurs in front of the mouth. 

p.31  where exactly in As You Like It (the Shakespeare quote)?
Act II, scene 1, line 12.  The Duke speaking with his companions in the Forest of Arden, of the solaces of rural banishment.

p. 32 Twenty-three skidoo
This is very dated but quite well-known slang from the 1920s, meaning roughly, "Beat it!" or "Shove off!"  He's responding to her use of her own new slang word "'tude" for attitude. 

p. 35  Chautauqua ( Chautauqua circuit ?)

The chatauqua circuit was a wonderful American phenomenon of the early 1900s, a mix of political orators, actors doing bits of famous plays, preachers, singers, and Sousa bands that traveled through small-town America with a big tent just like a carnival or circus, but bringing rural America tidbits of culture, rather than lion-tamers and acrobats.  It peaked in the mid 1920s, declined into the 1930s and was pretty much over by wartime--killed by the talkies as well as the Depression.  It began in Lake Chautauqua, New York, and thus the name. 

p. 37  an Exacto knife

The main (maybe only) brand of hobby knife in America.  It came in a variety of handles, from a big fluted brown plastic job to a slim aluminum tube, but they all use the same replaceable very sharp blades of a few standard types a diagonal, a truncated diagonal and a shallow curve.  Graphic artists and hobbyists still use them quite commonly, mainly the slim handled one with the diagonal blade. 

p. 39  Angels park and the Pond

Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Orange County, formerly known as the "Big A" but renamed Edison Field in the current greedmania to rename every sports field in America to get big dollops of corporate sponsorship.  It's where the California Angels baseball team plays--and where the L.A. Rams football team played for some years after they fled the Coliseum near downtown (left over from the 1932 Olympics) with its surroundings of black people.  The Rams fled to the white far suburbs.  They have since fled much farther--St. Louis--for promises of lots of money and a brand new modern stadium.  This kind of demand from teams to cities has been going on for years now--build us a new mega-stadium with public money or we'll move elsewhere.  I'm proud of L.A. for refusing the blackmail, and hence being the only major city in America without a pro football team. 

The Pond is right next door, an indoor arena where the ice hockey team The Mighty Ducks play.  It also holds rock concerts, etc. 

p. 40  squashed between ...  an unincorporated industrial estate or one
split on the land of the three different towns mentioned

It's actually on the land of all three cities, but "squashed between" residential areas of each, just another example of the irrationality of all these borders that don't really outline definable entities. 

p. 53.  Saddleback  mountain ? mountain range ?

Saddleback (Mountain) is part of a range called the Santa Ana Mountains that parallels the coast and roughly divides Orange County from Riverside County inland.  It's a very common name in America for any distinctive-looking doubled mountain with a dip between the peaks shaped like a saddle, and I'll bet every state has one.  The city of Phoenix has a prominent one between itself and Scottsdale.

p. 53  High rises  sky-scrapers ?

Well, tall buildings anyway.  "Skyscrapers" is pretty much a New York word, and reserved for the really tall pointy ones mostly, and even then, a bit dated.  It might be used in downtown LA, but never in Orange County.  The ones he's looking at are maybe 20 stories tall, more like upended Kleenex boxes. 

p. 53  islands ? 'Visual' islands or literal ones surrounded by water ?

Here, visual islands.  The small gatherings of taller buildings here and there in the solid mass of low residential development.

p. 54  so THEY stop trying to eat us for lunch.    Who are THEY ?

The capitalists, presumably.

p. 56  The boy had risen to take his hand.    Whose hand ?

Jack's.  He's a very polite lad.

p. 58  Night lab.

The physics lab at UC-Irvine that the advanced physics students and graduate students would use at night, after their day classes are over.

p. 60  I had a lion riding in my car.

Note, it's "I saw a lion riding in my car."  This is a very commonly cited example of ambiguity in English due to the (careless) placement of phrases.  For all practical purposes, in the normal run of English, the sentence suggests that the lion was riding in the car, not you. Various ways around this ambiguity would be "Riding in my car, I saw a lion.," or "I saw a lion while I was riding in my car."  I'm suggesting that it's a "cultural fault line" because many speakers of English as a second language, even very adept ones like yourself, would probably accept the only sensible and logical reading of the sentence at face value, and probably not notice that it violates the deep structures of the language to create ambiguity.  At least this was true in Malawi where I had to draw a picture of the absurd meaning on the blackboard for them to see the problem.

p. 60  lomo saltado.

A very common Peruvian dish that's as described (sauteed onion, tomato, meat and "French Fries").  Literally in Spanish it's either salted back, salted loin, or salted hill.  I don't know if it retains any of it's literal meaning, like so many food idioms.  The dish is usually mounded up a bit, so salty hill might be it.

p. 63  Burkett time sheets.

Burkett is an actual talent agency in Orange County that supplies actors with speaking lines as well as what are called "atmosphere" actors, who are only used for what they look like and are paid less.  When I made medical videos for Mediapros (actually called Medcom) we often hired "talent" through this agency to play patients lying in bed and looking the part of whatever we were treating (elderly, overweight, etc.)  And, of course, nurses and doctors too.  The "time sheets" are just the logs of the hours each actor has worked, that the director or assistant director (having an assistant is a luxury at this level of video production)  signs off on so the actors can get paid by their agencies.  All payment is handled through the agency to avoid a myriad of legal problems. 

p. 64  taco stands.

Small Mexican restaurants.  Technically, this would usually refer to a very small place that sold take-away tacos through a hatch, or even a street vendor with a pushcart, as is common in Mexico.  It would stretch, though, to any small and fairly cheap Mexican eatery.  The bigger "businessman's" Mexican places--often chain restaurants with sumptuous bars and a largely Anglo clientele including date-night happy hour crowds--however, would never be called taco stands. 

p. 65  pink eye (the iris ?) What shade of pink ?

I didn't give this a lot of thought, wanting to let the horror of the idea grow in your own imagination.  I suppose I'm implying the whole white of his eye is pink, but really it's more likely to be the iris, having some strange quirk of albinism.  A very light and unearthly pink, like an albino cat's eye, which I've seen

p. 66  high kicks.

Karate kicks delivered to Jack's upper body.  Back in my political days, with some friends I was helping to defend the showing of a Vietnamese film at a local college, and a mass of angry right-wing Vietnamese descended on us (not surprisingly).  It constitutes my only real "street fight."  I was defending an old man comrade beside me, and one attacker went for me like this, and I was astounded at how little effect the kicks had on me--but I don't know whether he was any good at it.  Part adrenalin on my part, I suppose, and also maybe he was holding back some. 

p. 69  keepers & keeper.

Fish that are too short or too light have to be thrown back into the water, according to Fish & Game regulations.  (This really applies more to lake and river fishing, and specifically to trout, but it probably affects sport fishing in the ocean, too, for some types of fish.)  Once fish reach the regulation size, they become "keepers" and you can keep them and take them home.  The parallel with taking him home is intentional, and, knowing Tien, probably eating him alive, too.

p. 98  to pull afterburner. 

That's what the flyboys call it when they turn on the afterburner to get a sudden rush of power.  The afterburner is the power booster that almost all military jet engines use that fundamentally squirts raw fuel into the flame issuing out the back of the engine to intensify its thrust.  You only use it for takeoff or combat as it eats far too much fuel.  

p. 117  Tiki god. 

A Polynesian god figure, carved in wood.  You can visualize one of those Easter Island heads if you want.  These god-awful apartment buildings of the 1950s and 1960s occasionally had a "theme" look to them, South Seas, Whaling Village, etc.  Here I am exactly describing one that a close friend once lived in, then called the Samoan, but I was stunned the other day when I drove past it and the tiki god had been replaced by a big pine tree and the place is now called North Woods.  Even fashions in kitsch change.

p. 121  animal crackers

These were a treat when I was a kid, probably one of the very first snack foods of the consumer era aimed at American children.  A small box is painted up to look like a circus animal wagon, with a barred front and a pacing lion behind the bars.  Inside the box are small rather bland cookies shaped like zoo animals.  I was surprised they still existed, but saw a box the other day.  In the story, of course, the box is only being used for its "look" as a circus wagon. 

p. 127  One typo noticed in passing, 'hangars' instead of 'hangers'.  

Right you are.  Surprised nobody caught it.  Of course if the clothing was somehow stretched out over aircraft hangars....

p. 131  rock cabins

Cabins made out of rounded riverbottom rocks.  They are popular up river canyons and a lot were built in the 1930s and 1940s.  They don't survive earthquakes well, however.  Most of L.A's. lovely rock chimneys have disappeared from the face of the earth, and almost all rockwork these days is a phony facing of flat bottomed pseudo rocks that are glued to flat surfaces (you will meet this soon enough as a major theme of City of Strangers.)

p. 135  "the lady who does the kitchen". Does she do the cooking, clean the kitchen, or both?

She's probably just a cleaning lady, though coming at least twice a week might imply that she cooks for him, too.  He doesn't really say enough to know for sure. 

p. 138  Parcheesi game

This was a popular board game of my youth, vaguely similar to backgammon, though in fact it has been in America since the 1850s, adapted from the national game of India, pachisi, which apparently traces to the 4th century.  Why have the Indians invented most of our high strategy games?  Is it the long-running existence of a leisured upper caste, with nothing better to do?

p. 142  half-timbered

The term for the half-exposed beams you see on the exterior of Elizabethan and Tudor English houses, with the spaces between either filled with exposed brick, or more commonly whitewashed plaster and stucco.  It's a quaint style that doesn't belong in Southern California as there were virtually no Europeans here when it was a legitimate style, as opposed to a nostalgic quirk.  On the fringes of south London, the upper middle class re-creations of this style are known as "stockbrokers' Tudor."

p. 143  ask Dan Quayle

One of our most lamebrained politicians, and this is saying something.  One well-known story that made the rounds about him, though it was probably apocryphal, had to do with him thinking there were actually Latin-speakers in Latin America.  Quayle actually did get himself videotaped correcting a child in a spelling bee, butting in to change potato to potatoe.  This one he never lived down.  It was said George Bush, the elder, insisted on having Quayle as VP as insurance against assassination.

p. 156  6-bys

A military designation, shortened as slang.  A 6-by-6 truck has six wheels, all of them power driven.  I believe some ordinary off-road vehicles still call themselves 4X4s or 4-by-4s.  It's also possible to have a 6-by-4, with only the four rear wheels driven. 

You're going great guns!  As we say. 

p. 160  Weaver hold (a name or a reference to the trade)

Also Weaver stance, or Weaver grip.  It's from the name of a pistol enthusiast, Jack Weaver, who invented this stable two-hand pistol hold in the 1950s, which got taken up by a number of police departments and the military.  The right hand grips the pistol as you would expect and is then thrust forward against the cupped palm of the left hand.  I believe the elbows are kept slightly flexed and the force of the right hand pressing forward against the left pressing back provides a supposedly steady hold.  There is a "modified Weaver" which I believe was taught to women, in which the right hand and butt of the pistol grip rest down upon the open left palm which points upward.  This is less steady and I believe is also called a "sissy grip."

p. 162  heads in Saran

Saran is a very common brand of plastic wrap, so common that it is almost a generic name here for clear plastic wrap, like Kleenex for tissues.

p. 173  banker's boxes

These are large cardboard cartons with lids that are commonly used to store outdated financial and other records and correspondence that probably won't be needed again but must still be kept, for banks, insurance companies, libraries, etc.   Roughly the size of the carton that would hold a case of wine, if you wish a French point of reference.

p. 173  piece de resistance (It means main dish or main course in French. In Billy's case, I would rather use Grand ï¿œuvre, but it depends on what you mean).

In English, I'm afraid this expression has gradually morphed into meaning one's crowning achievement or most outstanding work, so it sounds grand oeuvre is better. 

p. 174  hook rug

More commonly "hooked rug."  A rug made of old rags and cloth scraps, often bundled into a half inch-thick rope which is then coiled round and round and sewn into a large rug, rather like a giant version of those grass placemats Africans make to sell in airports.  Some were more elaborate and colorfully patterned.  I believe hooked rugs go way back to colonial days in America, combining thrift, recycling, homely skills and something to keep a section of cold flooring warm on the feet.

p. 179  Von's

A giant supermarket chain in the L.A. area, now owned by an even more giant national chain, Safeway.  Safeway had such a lousy reputation for quality that they were driven out of Southern California and the only way they could get back in was buying this existing chain, and they seem to be keeping the Vons name, probably out of fear of losing all their business once again.   The apostrophe is a mistake, by the way.  It's just Vons. 

p. 181  The pretentious British 'U' in the name

It's spelled (or spelt, if you're feeling British) harbor in American English, but harbour in British English.  If you look in your Thomas Bros., Map 827 lower left corner, you'll notice that this ritzy area of expensive homes on boat channels is spelled Huntington Harbour.  (To be snotty, I always insist on pronouncing it Huntington Har-BOOR.)  This is roughly akin to Ye Olde Junke Shoppe.   There are really only a handful of spelling differences between the languages, tire-tyre, connection-connexion, etc.  Far fewer than the differences in pronunciation and diction.

p. 188  He had been in her PORSCHE . (No, it was a Mercedes 560L. What should I do about this? Does Tien have two cars ? If not, should we change the Porsche back into the original Merc ?) This looks like a minor inconsistency. Or have I missed something here.

Man, when you're right you're right.  It was indeed a Mercedes before.  Why do I bother having an American editor?  You can go whichever way you prefer. 


p. 185  Toonerville toy boat

May I refer you to the queries for The Concrete River:

Toonerville Trolleys
This suggests a tiny and rather silly passenger tram or streetcar. It's also from a comic, one of the pioneering strips of the same name from the 1890s. The expression has stayed current though the strip is dead these 100 years. People in L.A. are unused to streetcars--since, in a notorious conspiracy, a consortium of oil, automobile, and tire interests bought up all of L.A.'s extensive streetcar lines in the 1950s and purposely destroyed them to sell more buses, gasoline and tires--so someone in L.A. might find the new Blue Line overhead streetcars rather quaint looking.

Same concept, as applied to a boat.  These little harbor or channel boats are like flat scows, with a flimsy framework over them and a fringed canvas top. They have tiny outboard engines or even electric engines.  Even a serious ripple would sink one of them. 

p. 191  Vacaville

This is the prison in the California prison system for head cases, those whose crimes are deemed dangerous due to mental disease.  I don't know if it's still true, but occasionally in the 1970s a few hard core politicals were sent here--just as Russia put its dissidents in mental hospitals.  (The black activist I worked for, Frank Shuford, was held for a time in Vacaville and subjected to mysterious "mood control" injections.)  It's inland from San Francisco, about half way to the state capital of Sacramento. 

p. 196  Groodle bits

An invented candy.  I just made it up. 

p. 199 Chapman.

Avenue.  A major east-west thoroughfare across most of Orange County that changes its name eventually to Santiago Canyon and goes up into the hills (see Thomas Bros., p. 800-801.)    I think you and I drove up there, but I'm not sure.  It's slightly confusing because there's another Chapman Ave. in North Orange County, mainly in Fullerton.  But this more southerly one is the main one. 


p. 211  sugarbush

A nice chest-high dense bush with deep green leaves in the sumac family.  It stays leafy and green year round. 

p. 212  Which poem by Verlaine do these lines come from?

The translation is pretty literal

Voici des fruit, des fleurs, des feuilles et des branches/

Et puis voici mon coeur qui ne bat que pour vous.

            "Green," from Romances sans Paroles (1874)

p. 213  "Everything is wrecked."  Looks and sounds like a quote. Where from?
Not a quote; just Billy's streak of melodrama.

p. 214  Casey Stengel's famous declaration

Alas, you have tumbled to an error I made which got me an angry letter of correction from a woman in the Bronx.  Casey Stengel, the manager of the baseball Yankees back in the 1950s, was fairly famous for mangling the language and logic, but so was the Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, and the quote alluded to belongs, in fact, to Berra  "Whenever you come to a fork in the road, take it."  Presumably he meant something like, "Take the lesser path," or "Take the smaller road," or "Take the more unusual direction." 

I should have known it was Berra, because he wrote a book by this title (or had it ghost-written for him). 

Here are some other famous Yogi Berra quotes

"It isn't over until it's over."

"Nobody goes there--it's too crowded."

"The other team could make trouble for us if they win."

"It's deja vu all over again!"

"If people don't come to the ballpark, how are you gonna stop them?"

"90% of the game is half mental."

"Pair up in threes."

"Never answer an anonymous letter."

"We have a good time together, even when we're not together."

"I really didn't say everything I said."

And here are some from Casey Stengel, for comparison

"Well, I made up my mind, but I made it up both ways."

"All right, everybody line up alphabetically according to your height."

"The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided."

"I'd always heard it couldn't be done, but sometimes it don't always work."

"There comes a time in every man's life and I've had plenty of them."

p. 222  a little sniff sleep.

An involuntary snooze after sniffing some drug such as a tranquilizer or muscle relaxant or....

p. 227  PCH

It stands for Pacific Coast Highway, the road that parallels the ocean through all the beach towns in Southern California,  but the initials PCH are so well known (on both coasts) that it's almost never called by it's full name, and PCH also became a line of beachware.  

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