The Earthquake Experience For Those Who’ve Never Had “The Pleasure”

In the 35 plus years I’ve lived in LA, I’ve experienced two major earthquakes, plenty of minor ones and who knows how many teeny-tiny ones too small to feel.

Last night’s 4.6 temblor, apparently, is related to the 1987 Whittier Narrows quake — my first Big Un. One’s first big quake is truly special. I think it imprints on you the way you’ll react to every other earthquake you feel. At the time, my wife and I were renting a little Spanish bungalow near the corner of La Brea and Santa Monica — WeHo Adjacent in current parlance. It really was special.

The house — two bedrooms, one bathroom — sat about forty yards from the street, behind lots of trees, its own off-the-street parking lot big enough for three cars, a high fence, more trees, a swimming pool and then a few more trees. If you didn’t know that bungalow was there, you’d never guess. It was very private. We threw many excellent naked pool parties there. It was a long time ago.

On the morning of the quake (October 1st), our German shepherd Sophie had the first inkling that something was about to happen. I was up, watching the news. Kent Shockneck was doing the local spot on KNBC when — at 7:42 — the 5.9 temblor hit.

The first thing that strikes you is the sound. It comes from beneath, filling the space with its unbelievable basso profundo. That’s this particular earthquake’s sound signature. The nature of the earthquake will determine the nature of the shaking (depending on the nature of the ground you’re on). The bungalow felt like it was undulating, like something beneath it was rolling and the house was rolling right along with it. As the house’s wood and stucco material vibrated and shifted, it, too, had a sound signature. THAT makes an impression on you. You suddenly realize the structure you’re in isn’t as solid as you think.

I pulled my groggy wife from our bed and, together we stood in the nearest doorway (which, in fact, would have been a useless doorway had the house actually come down on us). From there I could see out into the yard where Sophie, our dog, stood by the pool — watching the water lap violently over the sides.

Time gets strange during an earthquake. When they’re happening, they seem to last forever. Even if it’s only been a few seconds, you feel like it might never stop. Inside my head, two very distinct reactions took place simultaneously.

The first was an intellectual reaction — my head. Being as it was my first earthquake, I was something between a tourist and a guy gawking at a car wreck on the freeway. If you can put your fear aside for a moment and appreciate — intellectually — what’s happening all around you, it’s beyond cool. It’s pure nature. It’s pure plate tectonics doing a master class with you as one of the exhibits.

That’s where the second reaction — the animal one — takes over. That sound the earth is making is truly terrifying. Nothing else sounds like that. Thank goodness. There’s no place to run to, no place to hide where the sound — and the shaking — isn’t happening. And the shaking — you absolutely believe your house can fall down on you right then and there. Throw in the sound of stuff falling and breaking (our experience during the 1994 Northridge earthquake (a 6.7 that did considerably more damage than the Whittier Narrows quake).

As calm a museum-goer as your intellectual side may be in the midst of an earthquake, your animal side (if you’re like me) is galloping around, its hair on fire, screaming “We’re doomed!” That battle gets louder and louder inside your head the longer the shaking goes on. To be honest, the only earthquake where I felt a sense of mortal peril was a minor earthquake. It may even have been an aftershock from the Whittier Narrows quake.

I was temping for a financial company downtown in their highrise. I was on the 35th floor of a building with great views — because there was glass on every single side. When the earth quakes, these tall buildings are designed to dissipate the quake’s energy by literally bending slightly. That bit of to-and-fro will save the building. Now, if you’re INSIDE a building when that’s happening, you may be able to intellectualize that that’s what’s happening all around you — a good thing — but it doesn’t feel like a good thing. As the building lurches from side to side, the same motion that’s helpfully dissipating all the energy also compels one’s body in the direction the building is shifting.

On the 35th floor, I felt like the building was pushing me toward the glass windows. That was scary.

Last night’s 4.6 wasn’t subtle. The house shook for a good four or five seconds. The earth had a sound signature and so did our rented 1902 Craftsman. “Just what we needed,” muttered my wife. It had been an awful day. On top of the pandemic shutdown and the wildfire smoke pushing everyone indoors, Ruth Bader Ginsberg had died. The implications were/are staggering.

And then the earth shook.

Our cats pretty much took the quake in stride (though one, Daisy, was a little needy for the first 20 minutes afterwards). Little or no damage has been reported as of now.

As earthquakes go, last night was a minor event. The one that happened earlier — when RBG passed away — that was the real earthquake. Maybe the Earth itself was sympathizing for a change.

Dispatches From The Apocalypse (Well, Los Angeles During Coronavirus)…

Of all the places to sit out the Coronavirus Apocalypse, Los Angeles may be one of the better places. The weather should be reliably good by April. We’ll have some June gloom in May but that just means the marine layer takes a little longer to burn off in the morning than the rest of the year.

We’ve always been east siders, my wife and I. The furthest west I’ve ever lived in LA is West Hollywood (when I first arrived back in 1985). Starting in 1987, I began migrating east — to Hollywood… then Echo Park… then Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Glassell Park and now Highland Park.

By far, Highland Park’s the most “urban” LA neighborhood we’ve lived in. We can walk to a cool old movie theater (the Highland Theater), lots of great bars & restaurants (all or most of which, hopefully, will return when this nightmare ends), a large grocery store and lots of great mom & pop shops (hardware, florist, produce, bakery). We can even walk to the Gold Line (part of LA’s Metro). It’s kinda like living in an actual city.

Out walking today, it breaks my heart that so much is closed. A lot of those places might not make it to the other side of this.

I still bump a little on seeing people lined up outside a food store (in this case a little upscale produce store) — six feet apart, heading down the street (because only one or two people are allowed in to shop at a time). A few weeks from now, I bet, that will seem normal.

The corner store had lots of napkins today. They had no idea when they’d be seeing toilet paper or paper towels again.

Why, I’d like to know, when coronavirus suddenly reared its head — threatening a pandemic of respiratory failure, did so many people think first about wiping their asses?

People buying up all the tissue — that I get (though the hoarding is offensive). But ass-wipe? What up with that?

Our two kids are driving down from their colleges north of here. Lots of mixed feelings there — and that’s strange.

I look forward to seeing my kids of course. But I’m a little concerned about them coming here, too. They’re college kids who’ve both just been on large University of California campuses. I have no idea if they’ve followed any safe practices at all. I have no idea if they’re carrying coronavirus (they could be completely asymptomatic but spreading the virus) — and have no way to test them of course.

We now live in times where a kiss can kill. Literally.

Both LA’s mayor (Eric Garcetti) and California’s governor (Gavin Newsom) both put stay in place orders yesterday. There are loads of exceptions (for now). Food stores and pharmacies of course but also hardware stores and (like San Francisco) dispensaries — it doesn’t get more essential than having cannabis when the coronavirus is upon you.

Why Losing Kobe Bryant Hurts So Damned Much…

I’m an Angeleno. A transplant from the East Coast. So was Kobe.

I grew up just outside Baltimore (in the 60’s & early 70’s). My parents were Baltimore Colts season ticket holders. It’s hard to describe what it felt like the night Robert Irsay loaded the team onto moving vans — at two in the morning actually because he hoped to avoid publicity — and drove the franchise halfway across the country to Indianapolis. It felt like a betrayal.

As is often the case with beloved sports teams, Baltimore Colts season tickets were a legacy. You’d let go of your life before you’d let go of the Colts tickets. A woman had the seats directly in front of my parents’ seats. I don’t think they even knew her name but my parents and this woman saw each other and chatted amiably at least seven times a year when the Colts played at home, at Baltimore’s (now gone) Memorial Stadium.

This woman knew her shit about football. She knew stats before people started keeping them. She understood why the team succeeded when it did and why it failed when it did. Her grasp of strategy and tactics and player capabilities was flawless. And then, one Sunday afternoon — she didn’t show for a game. Her two sons did.

This was shocking. The woman had NEVER missed a game — going back years (as far as my parents knew — they were equally religious about THEIR season tickets). My father leaned forward and asked the two boys (they were in their late teens) where there mother was.

“She died yesterday,” they replied. She had cancer. Had been suffering from it for a while and finally succumbed. But — even as she was dying — she told her boys that regardless of how sad or miserable they were feeling, they were NOT letting those tickets go un-used — by them. It was unthinkable to her that death would get in the way of her family getting to a Baltimore Colts game.

Sports have that place in our hearts. Sports heroes become icons of heroism (regardless of the fact that they play a game for a living). We invest a great deal of ourselves in our sports heroes — in their success and their failure. It becomes ours by extension.

I arrived a little late for the Showtime Lakers. They were already a successful unit when I became a Lakers fan. I didn’t get to watch Magic Johnson evolve into one of the most talented basketball players ever. But I did get to watch Magic deal with having AIDS.

That felt a little like a death at the time. It’s a little weird, if you think about it, that Magic is still with us (and thank goodness for that!) — while Kobe isn’t. Here, in Los Angeles, we got to watch a 17 year old, basketball-obsessed kid live up to the unlikely challenge he set for himself: to be better than his idol, Michael Jordan.

We watched Kobe evolve from that brash ball hog into a guy his own teammates wanted to have the ball at the end of the game. There are no guarantees in sports, but Kobe had a remarkable knack for making impossible shit happen.

Then Kobe bumped into his own fame. In a Colorado hotel room, he confused being loved by the public with getting to do whatever he wanted. He pushed himself sexually on a woman.

It’s what Kobe did afterward that cemented his legacy. He grew up. He became a better husband to his wife. He became a great dad to his kids. He was on his way — with daughter Gigi — to a basketball game where Gigi would play and Kobe would coach. He loved coaching his daughter’s team. Loved coaching her.

He championed the WNBA — and saw his daughter playing there and owning the league. Who knows what other great ideas and plans and goals Kobe might have achieved? Who knows what Gigi would have become?

Who knows what the other seven people on that helicopter — the Altobelli’s, the pilot, Christina Mauser (another youth basketball coach who was on the flight) — would have done with their lives? The tragedy of that crash will rippled across multiple families and lives.

It’s understood — we lost 9 good people yesterday. Kobe was the best known of them. But Kobe had become more than just another sports hero to us. He’d become a vital member of our community (here in LA and in the wider world). He saw his purpose as making the world a better place for as many people as he could. He was well on his way to become every bit the storyteller as he was a basketball god.

It really does feel like a family member suddenly died. There’s a hole now — in the day, in our feelings, in our sense of the future and what it should be. It’s been compromised by a helicopter accident.

Maybe the best takeaway we can hope for is a reminder to live life to its fullest because, for real — literally anything can happen.

Human Beings Can’t Help Being Tribal; The Trick Is To See As Many Other Humans As Possible As “Your Tribe”

I’m an Angeleno. As crazy-making as living in LA can make you, I love living here and I feel a very real kinship with everyone else who loves living here. Hell — I feel a kinship for those who DON’T love living here. I get it. I understand them and feel those same tugs. If you’re an Angeleno — period — I think of us as the same tribe.

Now, some of my LA tribe-mates are Clippers fans. Me? I’ve always been a Lakers fan. I was out of my head with Lakers Love during the Kobe Bryant years (lost it all during the post Kobe fiasco) and saw members of the Clippers tribe as unworthy. If that same person stepped outside of Staples Center and put down their Clippers merch? We’re Angelenos standing proudly together again.

I’ve been an east-sider most of my 35+ years in LA. Everyone who lives west of La Brea is a Martian. Unless they’re a Lakers fan. Or a Angeleno.

That’s the point. Every time I pull the camera back — and see my kinship in wider terms — I SEE kinship. Angeleno though I am, I also take great tribal pride in being a Californian.

I take great tribal pride in being an American. I take great tribal pride in being a Jew. And a Progressive. And a lover of reading. And a graduate of Vassar College. And a graduate of Pikesville High School in 1977. And a classmate at Fort Garrison Elementary School. And anyone who was ever born in Rome, New York (where I was born while my father was in the Air Force).

But I also take great tribal pride in being a human being.

We ARE all in this together. The more of us who get that fact — who see our common purpose and tribal kinship — the better.

“Conservative Thinking” Is An Oxymoron

What’s in a name? Everything. I’m a Progressive. I prefer the term “Progressive” because it’s more descriptive than “liberal” which (being less descriptive) can be twisted around to mean even its opposite. As a “Progressive”, my political philosophy is all about progress and progressing into the future.

Conservatives, by the same token, want to CONSERVE exactly as their name says. Considering as the future doesn’t exist, you can’t want to “conserve” it. So, what conservatives want to conserve is the present but, really, the past. To most conservatives, the present is already unacceptable.

Whereas progressives set their minds to creatively solving future problems, innovating wherever necessary, conservatives set their minds to taking us backward in time — to a time when white men ruled without fear of being questioned. We’re talking the 50’s — the 1850’s.

You don’t have to think to want to make that happen. If you could think to begin with, you’d see the impossibility of the task. But it’s not about what is, it’s about what “should be” in the conservative’s mind. And, to them, what should be is a world where they rule with total cultural and political hegemony.

It’s hardly a coincidence that, in America, conservative thinking is deeply racist. Conservatives have convinced themselves that THEY are “American Exceptionalism”. Talk about bullshit. The United States was the first country ever to be a product of immigration instead of long-term tribal occupancy. White men may have made up the rule-making class but that wasn’t because others weren’t interested. White men made the rules. White men benefited more than any other group from those rules.

A typical white, Christian conservative answer to immigration is to build a wall on the Southern border. Stone age technology to keep people out. Conservative thinking doesn’t care about the root cause of people leaving where they are to come to America. It only cares that they’re here and, so, devises cruel scare tactics to encourage them to leave.

White, Christian conservative thinking doesn’t concern itself with the violence at home that sent all these refugees fleeing north. It doesn’t care that the drug violence terrorizing them was born on the streets of America — Los Angeles especially. Conservative thinking, most of all, wants to moralize on your ass. They want to tell you how superior they are to you.

They’re simply not capable of “Doing Unto Others”. They’re not capable of caring enough. They’re not capable, frankly, of even thinking it.

Have I Ever Told Ya About The COOLEST Movie Project I Ever Got To Work On But Never Got Made?

When I’m not tilting at windmills here or on Twitter, I write movies and screenplays. And a book (which I’m now agent-shopping by the way…).

I’m going out as we speak with a huge TV series called City Of Angels — the story of how Los Angeles became “Los Angeles” starting in 1906 (and then going decade by decade telling the almost completely true, completely insane story of Los Angeles — a city like no other on the planet). There’s a reason noir was invented in LA.

The first season (running from 1906 – 1910) ends as the film business arrives on the scene. The rest of the first season tells the stories of William Mulholland, Edward Doheny, Griffith J. Griffith, Virginia Rappe, Roscoe Arbuckle, William Randolph Hearst and Ricardo Flores Magon — the intellectual architect of the Mexican Revolution (which was planned in large part in Los Angeles) among many, many others.

But I digress… A project I worked on eons ago — that I thought was dead — showed signs of life tonight — and I am thrilled. And I needed to shout about it a little — if only because it’s such a cool project and doesn’t deserve to die in total obscurity.

My wife and my therapist are asleep so — it’s gonna have to be “you”.

My friend Roger Harrison got the idea for “Cousins”. Roger’s an amazing producer with a great eye for material. For instance — Roger found, developed, backed and produced the musical “Louis & Keely Live AT The Sahara”. Roger wanted to put together a concert for charity. That concert would have reunited three great boogie-woogie piano players who also happen to be cousins.

These three men — their story is absolutely true — were all born in 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana and all three cousins grew up in a swirling gumbo of music (blues coming up from the delta, hillbilly coming from the Ozarks, gospel coming from everywhere else), religion (hard core, fire-breathing Assemblies Of God fundamentalism that believes absolutely in heaven and especially hell) and family dynamics as only happens there in Louisiana.

They became three very successful men. One became country star Mickey Gilley (whose gigantic roadhouse bar Gilley’s was the setting for “Urban Cowboy“. The next became famed-but-twice-fallen-from-grace televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. And the last became rock n roll’s “killer” — Jerry Lee Lewis.

They’re all first cousins. Jerry Lee and Jimmy are first cousins on both their mothers’ AND their fathers’ sides — cos it’s Louisiana.

Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart are flip sides of a very twisted coin. Both men envy the hell out of each other. They love each other but cannot (as of the last time I was involved with the story) stand each other. There are “issues”, shall we say.

Standing between these two men is their other cousin Mickey. Mickey genuinely loves his two cousins and wants them to reconcile. That is what the movie’s about — Mickey’s failed attempt to reconcile his two famous but ornery cousins — told against the backdrop of their larger story (what formed them all and caused their estrangement).

Running through it all is a shitload of incredible roots music — everything the three cousins were listening to and inspired by.

I was lucky enough to spend time with Mickey who shared a lot of wonderful stories and insights about his two cousins and what made them all tick. It was a window (in addition to my own research) into an amazing world. I didn’t get to talk to Jerry Lee or Jimmy. I had always hoped that, had the project moved further along, I could soften up Jimmy; I was told to forget about talking to Jerry Lee. Just as well — it was Jimmy Swaggart who I most wanted to talk to. I still want to sit down with that guy if I can.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to judge Jimmy in any way. I want to tell his story. I want the audience to understand what it was like to be him — to be groomed from the age of five to be a preacher — to be this “character” outside of who he really was. He had to start doing that before he even knew who the hell he was — and the character he had to play was a denial of half the things he felt. It was impossible not to be damaged by this.

Jimmy, Jerry Lee and Mickey were all excellent boogie-woogie piano players. But early on, something touched Jerry Lee. He was always the wild one, taking risks. He attributed his talent and success to a deal he said he’d made with the devil. He claimed that when he was 6 or 7, he was playing outside the sharecropper shack of a young black playmate when he heard Robert Johnson’s voice — singing “Terraplane Blues” — coming from the Victrola inside the shack. Jerry Lee asked his friend about the man on the record.

His young friend explained (his daddy had told him, he said) that the man playing the guitar and singing — Robert Johnson — made a deal with the devil just so he could sound like that. Jerry Lee, in his head, made the exact same deal. Jerry Lee got early fame and it was huge. Though his penchant for marrying young cousins brought him back to earth again, Jerry Lee remained one of the essential gods of early rock.

No one resented that fact more than Jimmy Swaggart. Jimmy wanted every last bit of Jerry Lee’s fame. But, on the flip side, Jerry Lee wanted something that Jimmy had. Jerry Lee envied Jimmy the relationship he had with their idea of god more than the relationship he had with their idea of god. That’s literally what Jerry Lee envied.

Jimmy pointedly judged Jerry Lee for every one of his failings. When Jimmy Swaggart fell from grace — he got caught with prostitutes not once but twice (never mind what he did or didn’t do with them) — Jerry Lee did not get his cousin’s back. He never called to lend any support whatsoever — and that failure was duly noted.

Like I said — flip sides of one very twisted coin. And in the middle of them — find Mickey — a very good man who just wants everyone to get along.

Hope in the film-TV business is a dubious thing. It’s like setting yourself up for failure — hoping about a project. In my mind, “Cousins” was never going to happen. That it most likely still won’t is the status quo.

That it might could find a home (the money) at, say, a Netflix (not a possibility because it didn’t exist when we first started working on the project eons ago) or other streaming service — well, that’s reason for genuine hope. In this town, “No” means “not this second but, if circumstances change, ask again”. And “No” doesn’t mean what you have isn’t worth a fortune.

William Goldman’s maxim — “Nobody Knows Anything” — is eternal. Don’t forget: every single studio in Hollywood said “No” to George Lucas when he pitched “Star Wars”. When Fox finally gave in and ponied up the dough for production, they thought so little of their investment that they gave Lucas 100% of the film’s merchandising.

That chunk of change is now called LucasFilm, LucasArts and Industrial Light & Magic.

Anything can happen. The trick is getting the words under the right noses. And therein lies another Hollywood tale — I sincerely hope.

Our Problem Isn’t That Humans Are “Tribal”, It’s That Humans Aren’t “Tribal ” Enough…

The English Premiership Football season started today. My side — I’m a Tottenham Hotspur fan (through marriage) going back 30 years — won! Though they played a dull first half, in the second half, the Spurs looked more Spurs-like. They pressed, they out-hustled, they attacked relentlessly. Our new guy (Ndombele) was great and Harry Kane who almost never scores in August, scored two goals! If you’re not a Spurs supporter like I am, that probably means nothing to you.

I understand. Spurs aren’t your tribe. You might be an Arsenal supporter (in which case piss off!) or you love Chelsea or Man U or Man City. I’ve got a good friend who supports West Bromwich-Albion (relegated last season to the League Championship, a tier below the Premier League). You might not even like footie. You might prefer American Football. Or hockey or baseball.

You might be a Lakers fan or a Dodgers fan — in which case, so am I. It’s not a problem for me (or anyone really) to take off their Spurs kit and put on a baseball cap or football jersey instead. One knows one can support several teams at the same time. One can belong to those tribes, as it were.

A fan base for a sports team — or even a singer — that’s a tribe, too. When you’re at a concert, surrounded by people who adore the performer as much as you do — you feel a sense of community with them. You’re both members of the same tribe.

For humans, being tribal is a survival instinct. We’re social creatures. Our success as individuals depends on our ability to cut it as part of the group. It’s a sad, horrifying fact: how one does in life is connected to how one does in middle school. If you socialized well in middle school, you should do fine in life. If you sucked socializing in middle school, you have a chance now to get your socialization right — with all the success and popularity that come with it. The trick is in which tribes you strive to become part of.

In middle school, of course, success depends on finding the one tribe that will have you. If you’re lucky enough to find, join and be accepted by that tribe, nothing else matters. Regardless of what happens to you, you’ll be fine in the end cos you’ve got your tribe.

Life works the diametric opposite way. Success depends on how MANY tribes you see yourself as part of.

When the Spurs game finished this morning, the Spurs and Aston Villa, their opponents, shook hands. The players all shook hands with the refs. The Spurs tribe on the field and the Aston Villa tribe on the field stopped being opposing tribes and became, instead, a tribe of footballers who all play well enough to be in the English Premiership. The players as a group stopped (for the most part) seeing refs as strange interlopers and saw them as a different breed of soccer professional — a different branch of the same tribe as them.

The fans at Spurs new, beautiful stadium, all cheered loudly for their conquering heroes. Eventually, they’d all finish celebrating, get their stuff together and head off into the streets — still Spurs supporters but also Londoners, too.

Those Spurs supporters never stopped being Londoners, of course. At the same time that I’m a Dodgers and Lakers fan (while remaining a Spurs fan), I’m also an Angeleno. I see other Angelenos as my tribe. I see people in my neighborhood as my tribe. I see Californians as my tribe. Excepting for Trump supporters (they’re racists), I see Americans as my tribe.

The problem with white supremacists (like there’s just “one” problem with them!) is that they see white people as their tribe. That’s it — just white people. Even when they say they’re Americans, you don’t get the feeling that their idea of the “American Tribe” and ours are the same thing. Their idea of “American” is them. If you’re not them, you can’t be in their tribe. You can’t be white (of course) and you can’t be American.

If I didn’t despise them for thinking how they think, I’d feel sorry for them — same reason. They’ve gotten it backwards.

The genius of America is that anyone can be American — provided they’re willing to work their asses off and work well with other people. Likewise, Americans moving to America from all over the world embrace diversity because they come from diversity. Diversity has always been what makes America truly exceptional.

Diversity demands finding kinship with as many different tribes as one can. The more diverse your circle of friends & acquaintances, the more diverse your tribe is. Before long, you begin to see human beings as your tribe.

Imagine that — seeing other people as your tribe just because they’re people. I hope the condition is catching. I really do.

Why I HATE Missing A Good Earthquake

I’ve lived in Southern California for 35 years — longer than I’ve lived anywhere. That almost makes me a native. It doesn’t — and for that I’ll be eternally sad. I grew up in the east — in a Jewish suburb in northwest Baltimore. I went to Vassar — 90 minutes north of NYC. After college, I lived in and around New York for years. My future was there. It wasn’t a question.

LA is seductive in myriad ways. I could go on (in fact, I do — in the book I just finished How To Live Bullshit Free {And Other Showbiz Tales} — which I am currently agent shopping). Within three days of visiting back in 1985, I went from being an LA-Hater to being… there’s no nice way to put it — LA’s bitch. More correctly — one of LA’s bitches. There are millions of us here. Most don’t realize that’s the nature of our relationship with LA. We’re the betas and always will be. The bottom line — once LA has you, you’re done. It’s just a matter of time before you get lured too close to the sun — like Icarus. Then your wings — all wax and feathers — melt, and you plunge back to earth.

Seasons are another thing we experience minimally (though it’s changing — almost as if climate change were real). From November to March, the daytime highs hover in the low 70’s. For Angelenos that means break out the down. I’ve been to Glasgow in July — and it was colder than LA in February — yet everyone still acted like it was summer. Southern California weather ruins everyone’s idea of “cold”. LA is overflowing with British ex-pats. They’re here for the weather (or the business) and they’re the first ones to shiver when the mercury dips below 80.

One of the unseen dangers (like the sun’s heat to Icarus), is California’s geology, perched, as it is astride the San Andreas Fault.

I’ve lived in Southern California for 35 years — longer than I’ve lived anywhere.  That almost makes me a native.  It doesn’t — and for that I’ll be eternally sad.  I grew up in the east — in a Jewish suburb in northwest Baltimore.  I went to Vassar — 90 minutes north of NYC.  After college, I lived in and around New York for years.  My future was there.  It wasn’t a question.

LA is seductive in myriad ways.  I could go on (in fact, I do — in the book I just finished How To Live Bullshit Free {And Other Showbiz Tales} — which I am currently agent shopping).  Within three days of visiting back in 1985, I went from being an LA-Hater to being… there’s no nice way to put it — LA’s bitch.  More correctly — one of LA’s bitches.  There are millions of us here.  Most don’t realize that’s the nature of our relationship with LA.  We’re the betas and always will be.  The bottom line — once LA has you, you’re done.  It’s just a matter of time before you get lured too close to the sun — like Icarus.  Then your wings — all wax and feathers — melt, and you plunge back to earth.

Everywhere on the planet has a fatal flaw — where human mortality is concerned.  The mid-west has tornadoes, the east coast has blizzards and hurricanes but even worse — the mid-west and the east coast have horrible humidity.  Having lived in LA as long as I have, I now find the east coast’s humidity unbearable.  We get humidity from time to time — but then it goes home again.

Seasons are another thing we experience minimally (though it’s changing — almost as if climate change were real).  From November to March, the daytime highs hover in the low 70’s.  For Angelenos that means break out the down.  I’ve been to Glasgow in July — and it was colder than LA in February — yet everyone still acted like it was summer.  Southern California weather ruins everyone’s idea of “cold”.  LA is overflowing with British ex-pats.  They’re here for the weather (or the business) and they’re the first ones to shiver when the mercury dips below 80.

One of the unseen dangers (like the sun’s heat to Icarus), is California’s geology, perched, as it is astride the San Andreas Fault.

The San Andreas isn’t the only fault under our feet.  There are thousands.  That we know of.  It’s just a simple fact of Life: a massive, catastrophic earthquake lies in California’s future.  It will devastate the state.  And then we’ll rebuild.  Cos it’s California and regardless of the destruction our geology causes, there’s no place else on the planet quite like it.

Provided that you’re staying regardless, the next question is — how do you feel about earthquakes?  How do you feel during them?  If earthquakes haven’t scared you back across the state line, headed home to wherever you came from, you must find them tolerable.  If you’re like me, deep down?  You actually kind of like them.

My first earthquake (and by earthquake, I don’t mean those little 4-pointers that feel no different from a big truck passing by) was the Whittier Narrows quake in 1987.  The quake hit a 5.9 at 7:42 a.m. on October 1 and did an estimated $213–358  million of damage, injuring 200, killing three people directly with five  additional earthquake-related fatalities.  At the time, I lived in Hollywood — in a 2-bedroom, 1 bath bungalow (now razed & replaced by squat, ugly condos) with off the street parking for 4 cars and a pool — all surrounded by a high fence and lots of greenery so it felt like a secure compound).

The first thing about earthquakes — they all sound a little different.  Of course they do — their circumstances are all completely different.  Our experience of an earthquake has everything to do with the earthquake itself — where it originates, why it originates, what soil type or water sits above it.  In Hollywood, it felt like the house was undulating.  It’s that odd sensation that suddenly opens your ears to the low, guttural growl thrumming beneath your feet.  It’s the earth talking to you.  Literally.

I felt (and have always felt) two very distinct reactions.  The first is a kind of animal terror.  The ground is moving.  You know you could be in mortal peril.  There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.  It sounds inside your head kinda like “Aaaaaaaaauuuuuuuggghhhhhhhhhhhh!”

At the exact same time, another piece of you (remember — you stayed here knowing this was a possibility) pulls up a chair, sits down and actually thrills to the sheer coolness of it.  You’re witnessing geology!

My wife and I ran to the nearest doorway.  It didn’t support anything.  Had the house collapsed, we would have been crushed.  But, from where we stood, we could see the dog outside — standing by the pool.  She was mystified — as much by the sound as by the way waves were lapping over the sides of the pool, spilling into the garden.

The house itself — the structure (it was wood and stucco) also had a sound signature as it heaved and sighed, cracking but not failing as it dissipated the earthquake’s effects into the air.  Quick side note.  I was on the 38th floor of a highrise for one good shaker (one of the smaller majors).  The building was designed to sway in the event of an earthquake; the swaying is meant to mitigate the quake’s impact on the structure.  When inside such a building, one tells oneself that the swaying is good — one won’t pitch out a window; but the animal won’t hear it; the animal you is screaming even louder than if it were experiencing this at ground level). Brick structures — being a lot more rigid — fair badly in earthquakes.  Fireplaces, for instance, suffer much more than the wood & stucco houses they’re part of.

When the shaking finally stops — and you see that you’re okay — the next step is check out the damage.  During the Northridge quake (January 17, 1994 at 4:30 a.m.), we lived in the hills of Los Feliz on Ronda Vista Drive in a 1927 Spanish (meaning stucco but with a brick fireplace covered in stucco).  We had a view of the LA basin (looking south).  City lights as the real estate people call it here.

My first impressions — the feel of the house swaying — the earth growling — then darkness.  Though we had a shade lowered on the picture window in our bedroom, LA’s city lights are still pretty damned bright.  It never gets truly dark in LA — unless the lights go out.  As they did.

That added to the animal terror.  Then another new component — the sound of things in the house falling and breaking.  Still — the wow factor plays. 

According to Wikipedia, “The quake had a duration of approximately 10–20 seconds, and its peak ground acceleration was the highest ever instrumentally recorded in an urban area in North America. It feels like forever when it’s happening.  Earthquakes definitely color our perception of time.  They warp the hell out of it. 

When the shaking stopped, we assessed the damage to and in the house (the pantry was a mess, we lost some nice glasses and other fragile objects and the brick fireplace cracked and would need to be repaired before we could sell the house) then went outside to see how all the neighbors were.  That’s where an earthquake becomes not a “me” event but a “we” event.

We all live here because we tolerate quakes.  We all like them on some level deep down even if we won’t admit it.  When the earth actually starts quaking, that means a club meeting’s been called and the last thing you ever want to be is absent from a club meeting.

My family and I were traveling from the east coast back to the west on July 4.  We got stuck in the same nasty weather that delivered some well-deserved righteous indignation on the head of Donald Trump and his psychotic supporters as they re-branded our Independence Day into their Trumpendance Day.  A 4 1/2 hour journey took 37 hours including an overnight stay in Phoenix when we missed the last connection by an hour. 

That meant we missed the initial 6.4 quake that rattled Ridgecrest out in the High Desert.  That meant we missed a club meeting.  Our house sitter went to the meeting in our place.

That would have meant (had an even bigger aftershock not rolled through last night), that we would have been outsiders to any discussion about the quake.  We’d have been no better than East Coasters shuddering about how scary earthquakes are.  But, I’m not sure if we got lucky or we just got “Southern Californian”.  Last night, as we all sat on the front porch of our 1907 craftsman in Highland Park, literally lighting up the first cannabis we’d grown ourselves, that a 7.1 aftershock shoved its way into our front garden gate and asked for a toke.

We all make deals with multiple devils.  My devil is Los Angeles.  Last night, my devil came looking for its due — and I was delighted to pay up.