Thursday, October 23, 2014

Photo Essay: Boney Island's Magical Skeleton Crew

I grew up in an area where neighbors reveled in their Christmas light displays, though nothing really compares to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn.

But since Southern California isn't terribly Christmasy, it seems like our residents spend far more effort in putting together their yard displays and home haunts for Halloween – a holiday that doesn't require snow, and that gives Hollywood creative types the opportunity to show off their skills.

Case in point: Boney Island, located near the border of Sherman Oaks and Studio City, which is not so much scary as it is entertaining....

...and feels like a little slice of Universal Studios in someone's actual backyard.

In fact, Boney Island is the backyard of Rick Polizzi, Emmy-winning animation producer for The Simpsons for the last several years...

...who created its cavalcade of skeletons for neighborhood families and visitors alike.


It's a family-friendly, carnival-style attraction in which sideshow skeletons talk to you, tell your fortune...

...and tell you to pick a card, any card.

Every six minutes, attendees are treated to a colorful, Vegas-worthy fountain show... which cauldrons spew out green spurts in various watery formations...

...egged on by yet another talking skeleton, positioned in front of a four-story treehouse.

You can actually climb up into the treehouse...

...which is such a treat... jack o'lanterns light up the night...

...and you can view the fountain show from above.

And it is amazing.

To follow the rest of this year's Halloween adventures in pictures, click here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Things I Used to Love

I used to be full of love.

Back in 2011, moving to LA was a great kick in the pants for me – the reset button I needed after my four final, difficult years in New York City.

Even though I lost the job that moved me out here, I decided to stay in LA, and not just because I loved its sunshine, and the year-round ability to swim outside, go hiking, and ride my bike.

I loved LA.

Now...I'm not so sure.

I'm not so sure I love anything anymore.

In dire times such as these, I used to seek solace in my apartment, my gorgeous apartment in a charming Art Deco building in Beverly Hills, the nicest neighborhood you could imagine for a hand-me-down girl like me. But when I lost my job in April and began working for my landlady so I could keep paying the rent, everything went sour. Home was work; work was home. I was on call all day and all night, throughout the week and weekends. Boundaries ceased to exist. I ceased to be a tenant, with tenant's rights. I fielded accusatory emails in ALL CAPS from the woman who controlled my living conditions. My own (legit) residential complaints were ignored, my every intention questioned.

And now, heartbreakingly, I hate it here, and can't wait to get away from it all when my lease is up in April.

But where will I go?

When I got laid off in April, I sought a sense of purpose and a feeling of usefulness everywhere around me. I welcomed volunteering. I went way beyond the call of duty for my job as field agent for Atlas Obscura – which, in some ways, had been a dream job for me, working for my favorite website. But beware of working with what you love, because, like the music industry for music lovers, it kind of ruins it for you. And sometimes, when you try to help, when you take initiative, when you work really hard and spend a lot of time on something, your efforts aren't welcomed. Your motives come off as suspicious. You're bossy. You're too opinionated, with a endless supply of criticisms. And so you're ignored, which just makes it worse because you try harder to make your helpful recommendations not fall upon deaf ears. And, after many unpleasant confrontations and a few tears, you finally realize you are fighting a losing battle. You give up, and you shut up. And you don't love it anymore. And you may never again.

Even despite the car accident which rendered me whiplashed, socially awkward, and dyslexic, I tried so hard to remain relevant and indispensable, in whichever ways I could. Even though I was in constant physical pain. Even though I couldn't have a normal spontaneous conversation, especially with strangers. But I could recite rehearsed lines, and I could bypass dyslexia enough to read off a page, so I continued to attend my beloved Tuesday night cold reading series, the first community to welcome me to LA after I moved here. I even managed to fill in as co-host, somehow finding the right spiel to say in front of 100 people when I had a hard time conjuring words in one-on-one encounters. But somehow, after our annual summer break and the time spent apart, absence made my heart grow colder, and I don't love it anymore. I've had a hard time going back since we resumed in September: I've skipped several weeks and have left early the times I have managed to go. I was so devoted to it for so long – I arrived early and stayed late, every week – and now...I just...can't.

I was looking forward to October because the month-long celebration of Halloween always soothes me, but somehow, this year, I'm not getting much out of it. I've got my costumes together, but I'm not looking forward to wearing them. So far, I haven't been filling my calendar with spooky adventures or haunted houses. Not like before, anyway.

So what can I do? What does "do it" for me anymore? Not record shopping, which is how I would pass hours of my time back in New York City. Not talking on the phone to my friends, who I used to call daily. Not even giving out my phone number, or meeting new guys, or getting taken out to dinner. I don't want to do any of it.

I'm tired.

I'm tired of trying.

When I moved to LA, I absorbed it voraciously. I took my ethos of "avoiding regret" very seriously. I took every road trip I could. I crossed every place off my list. I got up at dawn to go hiking in some far-flung locale, changed my clothes at the car, bathed in public restrooms, and spent all day out on adventures, saving enough energy to tear up the night without a nap.

I burned myself out.

I guess I knew it could happen, but I was worried about leaving LA, or LA changing, before I could experience everything. I was worried about leaving a stone unturned.

And now that I'm still here, I don't know what there is left for me. I don't know that I have any energy for those stones that surely do remain.

Maybe LA is too big for me.

Maybe I'm not as strong as I thought I was.

Maybe I just ran out of love.

Related Posts:
Love Is the Drug
To Say "I Love You"

Monday, October 20, 2014

Photo Essay: Hollywood's First Jewish Temple, Restored

You can't really talk about the history of Hollywood without considering Judaism.

And it would be tough to consider the Jewish history of LA without including Hollywood.

The two come together in beautiful ways at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple... what was once the western boundary of the City of Los Angeles...

...with nothing but bean fields between it and Beverly Hills and Santa Monica...

...but what is now smack dab in the middle of Koreatown...

...without a lot of Jews nearby.

Still, Wilshire Temple is the house that Hollywood built...

...under the leadership of architect Abram M. Edelman (also responsible for the Breed Street Shul and Shrine Auditorium)...

...but with contributions and donations from all the major film impresarios of the 1920s...

...including Jewish history murals (starting with Genesis) painted by art director and production designer Hugo Ballin (also muralist for Griffith Observatory), courtesy of the Warner Brothers.

Phase One of the temple's restoration, led by Brenda Levin of Levin & Associates Architects, was completed last year...

...which included seismic, cosmetic, and mechanical alterations (including lots of cleaning, upgrading the air conditioning, adding lighting and speakers, etc.).

It is the oldest synagogue in the LA area, the third home of the Congregation B’nai B’rith (founded in 1862)...

...and was officially closed for two years in 2011 after pieces of plaster literally had started falling down from the sanctuary ceiling.

It is Byzantine and Moorish in design...

...and feels very much like a theater, as was the wish of Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, who chose the new location to be on Wilshire, "The Fifth Avenue of the West," and whose Hollywood friends earned him the title "Rabbi to the Stars."

As you walk upstairs from the Wilshire Boulevard front lobby...

...past the art glass windows in the stairwell...

...under one of the many shadow-casting ornate lighting fixtures... get even closer to the sanctuary's 100 foot octagonal domed ceiling, fully restored, with its oculus lit in a midnight blue...

...and inscribed with the Shema Yisrael, a Jewish prayer from the Torah expressing monotheism – all a gift from Hollywood tycoon Irving Thalberg of MGM, rising high above gifts from the Warners, Sid Grauman, Louis B. Mayer, Carl Laemmle, and all his other contemporaries.

You also get closer to the stained glass windows...

...including the rose window depicting the twelve tribes of Israel, all of which were lovingly restored by LA's own Judson Studios.

But at one point, the sanctuary was in such bad shape, and Wilshire Temple had opened another campus on LA's West Side, there was a question whether there was even a place for a Jewish temple on LA's eastside, and whether the Koreatown location could be – or should be – saved. Fortunately, a master plan was approved, grants were received, and support poured in to restore not only the domed sanctuary, but the entire Wilshire Boulevard campus, inside and out. Handicap accessibility was added, resulting in a new side entrance through a courtyard off the parking lot.

Photo: Levin & Associates Architects

Inside, scaffolding was built to create a platform high enough to clean and paint the coffers in the ceiling. Elsewhere, too, paint was restored to its original color whenever possible, though much of what you see is actually a combination of several different colors of paint, and, in some cases, sprayed with gold on top. The carved walnut wood has been cleaned and restored (with the addition of a new apron at the end of the altar/stage area). The seats have been reupholstered. Flood lights have been replaced with LEDs and less blinding stage lights hidden high off to the side. The Kimball pipe organ was completely refurbished, the pipes and console cleaned and restored.

Since the sanctuary's acoustics are better for music than for talking, the Temple has welcomed a few musical performances and plans a calendar of many more in the future, as well as other secular and non-sectarian cultural events to attract the local community – Jews and non-Jews alike.

This is a real success story in preservation, and one that's not finished yet. For the second phase, they are building a large parking structure behind the temple, and are instituting more community outreach which includes a school, a food pantry, and social services (including medical, vision, and mental health care).

Download the LA Conservancy's brochure on the restoration here.
More great photos of the restoration from Curbed here.

Watch the video that shows the pre-restoration condition of the temple here:

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Breed Street Shul, Unsafe for Entry

Saturday, October 18, 2014

To Say "I Love You"

I've loved before, but I never said it.

They probably knew, but I never said it.

I never said it, because I knew they didn't love me back.

So when I finally decided to say it to someone, you would think it would have been hard to get the words out, to utter the sentiment that had been on the verge of my lips and in the core of my heart time and time before, tucked away, hidden, silenced.

Instead, it was the easiest thing in the world.

And once I started to say it, I couldn't stop.

Imagine my surprise when I heard those words said back to me.

It was the best feeling in the world.

It took 38 years for it to happen.

And now I realize it wasn't real.

The love I heard wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the love I wanted. It wasn't the love I gave.

He said "love is love," but this love is not that love.

And now I wonder why I had to open my big fat mouth. Why did I ever have to say anything at all?

It was a gift I gave him that he didn't want.

And the worst thing in the world is to say "I love you" to someone who doesn't want to hear it.

On a Break

Sometimes, you need to take a break.

Sometimes, things are just broken, and you have to throw them out.

Sometimes, things are so bad, you just don't have anything to say about them.

Sometimes you have to give up and do something else.

Sometimes you have to do nothing at all.

You don't cry.

You don't rebound.

You don't distract.

You don't self-medicate.

You don't lash out.

You just...don't.

There is no anger worth having.

There are no feelings worth hurting.

There are no hurts worth feeling.