June 21, 2015

Daddy's Girl

Grammy, Grampy, Uncle John, Uncle Dick, Aunt Ginger, and my dad in 1950

I love my father, despite the unspeakable horrors he allowed to happen to me and my sister as kids.

I love my father, and I think he loved me, once.

He was loving early in my life, but also could be incredibly scary. He'd yank me out of bed to confront me about some crime my mother had accused me of after he got home from his second job. He'd snatch me out of a church pew and drag me back into the vestibule to wag his finger at me and tell me to calm down during mass, because I'd been fidgeting – or, more likely, bouncing my leg up and down, a nervous tic I still have today. He never considered that something might be causing that anxiety in me at such a young age. He just knew I needed to be disciplined.

Church became so distressing that I started fainting there, so much so that my parents had me tested for epilepsy. After two different EEGs and several visits to a neurologist, Dr. Marasigan determined that the fainting (and convulsions) were just a stress reaction.

Despite the fact that my father would tell my mother and sister, "Sandi's not bad – she's just misunderstood," he would still subject me to some pretty severe punishments. I can't imagine what I could've done that was so horrible as to earn a raw wooden board with my name carved in it, used for spanking and stored in the ceiling beams of the basement. It stared down at me from up there as a threat, perhaps an intended deterrent. But I never really understood what I'd done wrong anyway, so there was no way I could change my behavior to avoid the splintery paddle on my bare bum.

It was also in the basement that my father said to me, many years later, "Don't make me choose between you and your mother. Because I have to choose your mother." After all, he'd already chosen my mother once; he hadn't chosen me, exactly. My mother's pregnancy with me had come as a surprise, only six months after she'd given birth to my older sister. But it never felt like I had been a pleasant surprise; it always felt like I had been a mistake.

And my father, the good Catholic that he was, used to say that he would take as many children as God would give him – that is, until God gave him me. After that, he was done. He'd had enough.

I'm not sure what kind of kid my dad wanted, or thought he would be given, but I guess it wasn't me.

Regardless, he tried to be a good father. To him, that meant being a good provider. He worked two jobs my entire life, stopping at home in between for a quick half hour dinner. His only day off was Sunday. He worked late Friday nights. He mowed the lawn and shoveled the sidewalk and kept the car running and did my mother's chores, which often involved getting a bucket full of soapy water. He was so indentured by my mother that he tried to joke his way through it, often saying "Yes massa" in a totally racist blackface slave impersonation.

My father's Catholicism is probably what kept him with my mother. After all, he'd chosen to share the sacrament of marriage with my mother, and he took that seriously. No matter how crazy she acted, or sick she became – no matter how much she lashed out at him or at God, and then came crawling all over him, begging for his affection – he wasn't going to break the covenant.

But for some reason, he had no covenant with the child who shared his genetic material. There was no promise made to the spawn of his procreation. And he wouldn't – or couldn't – protect me from the woman he'd chosen to be my mother, who turned out to be erratic, volatile, violent, and incredibly mentally ill.

In August of 1994, right before my sophomore year in college, my father sat me down – again in the basement – and said, "I think you should find somewhere else to sleep...for Thanksgiving, Christmas, summers..." It didn't come as a surprise, after he'd disowned me two summers in a row, saying things like "The daughter I once knew is dead." To be honest, it was a blessing. I'd been looking for a way out of that house for at least a decade. But symbolically, it was devastating.

My dad visited me in college a couple of times, but only while my sister was still there too, a year ahead of me. My senior year, after she'd graduated, my parents refused to come to Parents' Weekend, even though I was performing the lead role in a play. They almost didn't come to my college graduation. I didn't know until that morning whether they'd be there or not.

My father never visited me in New York City. I don't think it ever occurred to him to. I always kept a mental list of places where I'd like to take him, but I never had the chance.

And now, eight years after our last phone call on his birthday, today on Father's Day, I feel so terribly fatherless. I don't even know if he knows that I live in California now.

Over the years, I've tried attaching myself to my friends' fathers, but nobody's really been able to become my dad. And at nearly 40 years old, I still need a dad.

Both my father's brothers have passed, and I am now without uncles, too (not really knowing any of my mother's brothers, and not really wanting to have anything to do with her side of the family). I can only assume that my treasured godfather has passed, though I don't really know and don't know how I would find out. He was an innocent bystander in this whole thing with my parents, but unfortunately got caught in the crossfire. And I wonder who'll walk me down the aisle if I ever get married.

My father gave me away a long time ago.

I know that at this age, many of my friends (and now, my cousins) struggle on this day because they've lost their fathers, who were taken from this life too soon. I've lost my father too, but he's still out there, and he is – by choice – childless. He turned his back on both of his daughters. And he'll live out his remaining years all alone with the woman who always wanted him all to herself.

Related Posts:
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Carrying on a Legacy

June 18, 2015

Photo Essay: The Surprising Secret Life of the Zipper

It's taken me a while. They said it would. But I'm finally starting to find my fellow misfit toys.

I thought I was the only one who'd want to tour a zipper factory. I was surprised my boss approved the idea and let me put an event together.

I didn't do it for the money. I did it because I wanted to tour the zipper factory, and I was too embarrassed to ask for a tour by myself.

I figured I'd sell five tickets. But at least then, I'd be with five other people, rather than all by myself.

But you know what? Thirty people bought tickets, and another ten people added themselves to the waitlist. And some of those people were way more excited to step into U-CAN Zippers' facility than even I was.

And it turns out, zippers are one of those things in life that you take for granted, but have a fascinating secret life.

U-CAN has a dye laboratory where it concocts custom colors for the tape, teeth and sliders – because no colors of zippers are naturally occurring.

Even white zippers have to be whitened from their natural cotton color (which is more of an off-white). And besides, U-CAN does more than a dozen shades of white (and as many shades of black).

Almost all the zippers that U-CAN manufactures are for apparel, but some are also used for bags, and even furniture coverings and car seats.

As fashion dictates zippers can be either a colorful embellishment...

...or a utilitarian fastener.

The tape that holds the teeth comes on these giant bobbins...

...and the wires that make the teeth are ready to be unspooled, and fed into one of the factory's many machines.

It's loud in there, and while walking through, you may encounter a cloud of paint fumes, or tiny pieces of debris flying through the air as the zippers get formed, sliced, and spliced.

Some of the processes have become automated with more modern machinery, requiring less staff...

...but this is still a pretty handmade process...

...requiring at least the watchful eye of someone standing over the machine...

...ready to unclog the bottlenecks...

...and feed the sliders into the hopper.

The equipment is more reminiscent of a film projector than a sewing machine.

The process of the teeth being added and joining together with a slider is mesmerizing.

Some customers order batches of one length of cut pieces, but if they need various lengths, they might just order one epically long zipper and cut it down themselves.

There's a surprising amount of variety available in the zippers offered – not just in colors (though rainbowed, swirled and marbled are not yet available), but also in material (copper, plastic, nylon), finish (nickel-free nickel, antique) and size of the teeth. The biggest one they offer is a 15 gauge, but most of them tend to be more like a 5 gauge.

It's hard to imagine a zipper that big appearing on a piece of clothing. Then again, it would've been hard to imagine a zipper at all, if you'd only ever fastened your clothing with buttons, snaps, and laces.

The world constantly surprises.

Related Posts:
EVENT: The Last Zipper Factory in the West - with Obscura LA
Photo Essay: No Place Like Homeboy
Photo Essay: A Book By Its Cover

June 17, 2015

Keep on Looking

I've always had a photographic memory. Early in my acting career, I found myself memorizing what the script pages looked like and then just reading them in my mind. If other people lost something, I could tell them "Oh I saw it on the corner of the desk" or "It was sticking out from between the seat cushions," and they would marvel.

It's not surprising, then, that I would become a photographer. Taking literal photos of things and places helps me remember them, putting a kind of sealant on the snapshots of my mind.

But my mind has changed a bit lately. I'm becoming more forgetful. I've always been one to leave my belongings at a restaurant or on a bus or in the back of a taxicab – be they keys, sunglasses, earmuffs, or umbrellas, oh, so many umbrellas – but it's getting worse. Earlier in the spring, I lost a car key. How do you lose a car key? And because it happened on a day when I'd carpooled with someone else who was driving, I had absolutely no clue when the last time I had it was. I couldn't remember if I'd locked it in my own trunk, or if I'd had it at any point during the day. Because I have no pictures of it in my head that day, I'm convinced that I dropped it somewhere inside my car, and I just haven't found it yet.

But I keep looking, especially after calling every place I went to that day, each of which turned up nothing.

Every time I use my spare key with the red strap instead of the lost one with the purple strap, I feel the pang of something lost – the worst kind of pang, when you don't know when or where you lost it.

I'm trying to forgive myself for this loss, because it's probably not my fault, exactly. I'm getting older. I'm still recovering from being rear-ended over a year ago. I'm under a tremendous amount of stress and duress. I'm still adjusting to new medication which may or may not affect my memory.

There are lots of things I'd rather not remember, so I was OK with a little memory loss, if it meant that I didn't have to face some of my past trauma, or that I could easily get over new traumas. I was OK with it, that is, until I lost a check.

That is, until I lost two checks.

Losing an item of some sort is generally more about inconvenience, with some monetary impact. Losing money is about losing money.

Both of the checks were signed. Both of them were for a job. One check was to the order of me – my payroll, amount to be determined. I could replace that one; I would just have to wait for it. The other check created a significant amount of anxiety because it was blank, but signed. If I lost that one, anyone could've put their own name on it in any amount, endorsed and cashed it.

Oh. Shit.

My mind had captured a picture of it in a drawer in my apartment where I keep such things, but when I rifled through that drawer, I couldn't find it. I sifted through the drawer's contents probably four times, looking inside my own checkbook and repeatedly empty envelopes, between the pages of notepads, under the receipts and gift cards and foreign currency that tend to collect in that drawer. Nothing.

I checked every other place in my apartment where I might keep important paperwork. I opened the kitchen drawers. I checked under the bed and in the covers. I tore apart the inside of my car, with the hope of finding my lost car key if not the lost checks.

Remembering that I'd recently tidied up my apartment and thrown some things out, I convinced myself I'd thrown the checks out too. But just in case, I kept finding new places to look: the underwear drawer, the coffee table books, the pile of freshly laundered towels. I kept thinking about how my mother would always tell my father I did and said all these horrible things, and upon my denial, tell me that I must've blocked them out in some kind of dissociative amnesia. I've never been exactly sure of my own reality.

I thought I was haunted for a very long time, until scientific evidence seemed to indicate the ghosts were coming from inside my own brain. But when something goes missing, I can't help but wonder if it's the ghosts poking at me, playing with me to see what I'll do. The poltergeists are a mischievous sort, aren't they?

I don't know what kept me looking, but I kept looking for those checks. I needed the money. I needed to feel like I could be responsible enough to hold onto two measly checks. I didn't want to have to admit failure. And every time I looked, even when I didn't find something, I felt like I was at least doing something. I'd eliminated a lot of places where those checks were not hiding.

Or had I? As I started running out of new places to look – which became increasingly ridiculous in likelihood – I returned to the same locus, guided by some trace of geotagging left from my brain's image.

I kept checking that damn drawer.

Finally, after a day focusing on work and people and creativity and productivity, I returned to my apartment, with that sinking feeling of what it was missing. There were no checks here, where they should be. There were no checks anywhere. They had simply disappeared from my possession, and from my memory.

I checked the drawer for what I decided would be one last time. I yanked the drawer out of its cubby, and the envelope with the two checks was in there, crammed into the back of the cavity, crinkled hard into the corner, probably from my repeated openings and closures of the damn thing. I'd misjudged the architecture of the small mirrored side table that it was set into, thinking the bottom of the drawer was also the bottom of the table, and that if something had worked its way to the back of the drawer, it would fall out and onto the floor, like so many socks and t-shirts have done in my dressers from long ago.

Not so.

A minor example at best, but this incident reminds me that I have to trust myself. My instincts are rarely wrong. At times, I find myself thinking that I should be more brave or resilient or less sensitive or delicate, but usually it turns out that my intuition is pretty spot-on, even if it has to be validated the hard way. Sometimes I'd rather be proven wrong than proven right.

So, in this case, crisis averted. Two little pieces of paper and the envelope that held them were found. My efforts paid off, and I was right to keep looking despite my repeated failures.

Now if only my car key would decide to show its face one of these days....

Related Posts:
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Aren't We All LOST?
No Site Left Unseen
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Keep It Moving

June 15, 2015

Photo Essay: A Fairy Tale World of Sculpture, Tile and Glass [Updated for 2024—R.I.P. James Hubbell]

[Last updated 5/23/24 11:36 PM PT—James Hubbell passed away at the age of 92 in May 2024. The Ilan Lael Foundation property is currently open for small, docent-led tours.]

There are some places in this world that are just unbelievable. They must be a figment of someone's imagination, or a dream, or a manifestation. Even to see photographs of them, and read first-hand accounts of visiting them, it's hard to imagine that they're real and not an art project, or an experiment.

I suppose artist James T. Hubbell's complex in Santa Ysabel, California is a bit of both. And that doesn't mean it isn't real.

June 14, 2015

These Tremors of the Night

Now that I live in Southern California, I find myself particularly attuned to seismic activity. I've felt a very weak earthquake not terribly close by, wondered if it was real, and then confirmed with USGS reports.

I've developed a sixth sense for tremblors the same way I used to be hyper-vigilant about mice in the kitchen back in New York City.

In the early days, I wouldn't always feel the little quakes. Maybe I was in a basement. Maybe I was driving. Maybe I was walking home a bit intoxicated.

But now, I'm so sensitive to them, that I'm waking up from tremors that don't exist.

This isn't the first time I've felt phantom shaking. My Manhattan used to vibrate so much, I speculated that the ghost of the as-yet-built Second Avenue Subway was rumbling beneath. Even in this apartment, the shaking got so bad that I emailed my landlady, who postulated that it might've been from someone playing the stereo too loudly, or partaking in some afternoon delight.

It was not.

But those incidents were all in waking hours. Now I'm sleeping and waking up – thankfully with much fewer night terrors thanks to some meds – convinced that I've felt an earthquake. But when I check, my findings are uncorroborated by seismologists. No field reports. No meter readings. No damage.

So I am left to think only one thing: the tremors are coming from inside the bed.

It wouldn't be the first time I'd had seizures or convulsions. I passed out so many times as a kid – in church, at school, after falling down or looking at a cut on my arm – that my parents worried I was epileptic. I'd slump over and start convulsing, my eyes rolling to the back of my head. But when two different electroencephalograms determined that my brain was not short-circuiting per se, and that I was merely having a vasovagal response to stressful circumstances, my parents had to accept that that was just how I was. I was a fainter. And an eye-roller.

I haven't fainted or convulsed in a long time, though. I passed out after a shot of novocaine when I had a wisdom tooth pulled sometime in the late 90s. About five years ago, I almost passed out during gum graft surgery, something I wish I had not been awake for. But in my adult years, I haven't been one to get the vapors when times get tough. I usually just spring into action, choosing fight over flight.

But maybe I've just traded one parasomnia for another. Now that I'm not jumping out of bed to chase hallucinations out of my apartment, I have been clenching my teeth again – something I thought I'd cured myself of with a bite guard ten years ago. Maybe now that I'm not opening my eyes and seeing things in the room, my body is still tightening up in defense of whatever is out there to get me, trembling in fear.

But while my body wakes me up, my mind doesn't accept responsibility for it, and blames it on an earthquake.

It's hard not to think that something is shaking the bed, just like it's hard to believe that something isn't holding you down when you have sleep paralysis. Is someone – or something – trying to wake me up? For what? And why can I fall back to sleep so easily?

Who, or what, is with me every night, when I think I'm alone?

Unfortunately, sleeping has become more exhausting to me than being awake. In the morning, it feels like I've hiked a mountain, or lifted a boulder. There is no rest. There is no stillness, ever. Something is always moving.

And my heart beats out of my chest.

Related Posts:
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One of Many Firsts: Earthquake
Photo Essay: A Seismic Climb to Potato Mountain
These Creatures of the Night
These Terrors of the Night

Photo Essay: A Tale of Two Temples

I'm pretty adventurous, but for certain things, I believe in safety in numbers. Raised Catholic, I feel comfortable wandering into a Christian church or even a Jewish temple, but I feel like I need an invitation to storm in on somebody else's worship.

But I've been lucky enough to experience Chinese New Year at a Buddhist temple, dance with the Hare Krishnas, and learn about the Aetherius Society since moving to LA. I'm making my religious rounds, that's for sure.

So when I was invited to visit a nearby Hindu temple with a friend, I didn't hesitate. I'd missed out on visiting the Hindu temple in London in 2009, and had regretted it since then. For as much as I do, there's always something for which there's no time to do.

But instead of arriving at the Hindu temple, we actually first found ourselves at a Thai temple...

...another new experience for me...

...and a total happy accident.

I grew up with pretty serious Catholic iconography of sacrificed lambs and fire and brimstone...

...but the walkways and prayer areas at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Buddhist Temple...

...are bright and shiny...

...and downright whimsical.

We weren't sure if we were welcome...

...but we tiptoed around to take photos outside...

...before being beckoned inside...

...where visitors are welcome during the weekend.

We could've stayed for a Thai lunch...

...but, as much as we liked it there, we were still on the search for the local Hindu temple, which is a totally different thing.

Of course, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is actually quite easy to find, clearly visible from the 71 freeway, which we quickly discovered.

The visitor's center (the Haveli) was completed in 2007...

...with intricate wood carvings both outside and in.

Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside any of the buildings here...

...which is a complete travesty in the case of the Mandir, which opened in 2012.

Although its hand-carved exterior of imported Indian pink sandstone is certainly impressive...

...and elaborate...

...the interior is absolutely jaw-dropping...

...with hand-carved Italian marble...

...and shrines to various deities and gurus (Murti)... Shri Ghanshyam Maharaj, Shri Nilkanth Varni, and Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj.

Architecturally this place is fascinating: because it was so recently built, it can take advantage of modern technology and energy efficiency, fusing traditional Indian architecture with modern construction techniques. Forty base isolators allow for lateral movement during an earthquake, so the upper portion of the Mandir will "float" above the moving ground and foundation. It's also powered by solar energy.

You have to be brave to have experiences like this. Someday, someone might ask you to leave. But the prevailing experience I've had, despite my trepidation, is being welcomed. "Is this your first time?" they ask at the entrance gate. When I nod, they say, "You are welcome here."

And when I tiptoe inside, barefoot, someone else asks if it's my first time. And when I say yes, they offer to show me around.

Sometimes, just getting yourself up to that entrance gate is the hardest part.

Related Posts:
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Photo Essay: The Time Capsule That Is Lanterman House (Updated for 2018)

[Last updated 12/21/18 2;39 PM PT, new photos added]

The Lanterman family never intended to throw anything away.

Nowadays, we call people like that "pack racks" or "hoarders," but the hoarder keeps those things, just in case somebody might want them. They might be important someday.

And you know what? Sometimes they are.

In the case of the Lanterman House in La Cañada Flintridge, the cache of materials saved over the years has been turned into a valuable historic archive and history center.

The Lantermans first arrived in the Crescenta Valley from Michigan in the 1870s...

circa 2018

...founded the Church of the Lighted Windows...

...and left a legacy of three generations behind, ending with the death of grandson Lloyd Lanterman in 1987.

A lifelong bachelor, Lloyd lived in "El Retiro" (now known as the Lanterman House) with his brother Frank, also a bachelor.

The genetic legacy of the Lantermans ended with Lloyd and Frank, but they left behind plenty of items – from recipes to documents and even sheet music – to give a unique look not only into their lives...

...but also into several decades of the 20th century.

The house itself is unique, built in 1915 as a fireproof Craftsman-style bungalow made of reinforced concrete, to the specifications of Roy, a second generation Lanterman who inherited the plot of land from his parents.

The house's architecture is also unique because the adjoining bedrooms were built railroad-style: to get from the first one to the last one, you could walk straight through. But because walking through someone else's bedroom would be an improper intrusion, the U-shaped house was built around a central courtyard, allowing you to simply go outside through one of the 32 pairs of French doors if you wanted to get from one interior room to another.

Usually a house museum like this has few original furniture pieces, and instead has been furnished with reproductions, or era-appropriate pieces that were never actually used there.

At Lanterman House, now celebrating its centennial...

circa 2018

...everything is original and personal... the family bible from 1886 that was passed down from Frank's granny, Amoretta.

Lloyd and Frank Lanterman didn't get rid of anything...

...not even the well-worn furniture in the front parlor.

And to my delight, no one has decided to repair them, instead keeping them in a state of arrested decay.

The Lantermans weren't particularly wealthy, though they had a lot of stuff.

In fact, they were relatively cost-conscious, having built a dining room floor of marble only where it would be visible. Under the rug, the floor is concrete.

Even bottles of spirits stand stoic on the bar, their contents untouched and unimbibable for decades.

circa 2018

In the billiard room...

circa 2018

...nobody's sunk an 8-ball with the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company set in quite some time.

The kitchen is outfitted with the normal mid-century accoutrements....

...of a mother who did her own cooking.

Stove... box...

circa 2018

...with a Kelvinator refrigerator motor replacing ice...


...and cleaners.

This was distinctly the space of Emily Lanterman—mother of Lloyd and Frank, wife of Roy—and has her written all over it, though reportedly the socialite was never really happy at El Retiro.

Despite the fact that the house was inhabited well into the 1980s...

...the house was barely renovated or modernized, from the breakfast room to the sleeping porch.

circa 2018

But in the bathrooms... still find clippers and razors...

circa 2018

...blade sharpeners...

...tonics, powders, lipsticks...

...and salves.

And in the master bedroom—left vacant when Frank and Lloyd's parents died—a vanity set of brushes and perfume bottles.

Lloyd's old bedroom now serves as a timeline for the preservation of the house...

circa 2018

....which had suffered a lot of water damage and was in relatively rough shape, even while they were still living there.

circa 2018

On display in Frank's former bedroom are artifacts from his career as a state assemblyman in the 1950s-70s (including furniture relocated from his Sacramento office and gifts from his constituents)...

...and as a theater organist in the 1920s and 30s...

...including a significant sheet music collection.

Volunteers have curated special themed collections into some of the rooms... being used for something other than their original purpose, like the "music room"...

...which contains various games and musical instruments.

Since Frank was an organist, while he and his bachelor brother Lloyd had control of the house, they actually enclosed the central courtyard to convert it into a recital hall. When the City of La Cañada Flintridge approved the proposal to turn the house into a museum, the organ was meant to be kept for public recitals.

But the music hall that they built wasn't acoustically soundproof enough to appease complaining neighbors, so the organ was sold off to the City of Glendale, which intended it for the Alex Theatre (where Frank played on opening night), but then kept it in storage for years. The rare and valuable Mighty Wurlitzer (originally from the San Francisco Fox Theatre) now entertains audiences in pre-show performances at the 1926 Sid Grauman movie palace, El Capitan. And the courtyard has been restored to its original condition.

The Lantermans were big entertainers – so much so that they devoted nearly the entire second floor of their house to a ballroom for parties.

As with many restored landmarks, a small section was left untouched to show the rough condition it was in when Lloyd died and left the home to the City of La Cañada.

Not to be forgotten in the Lantermans is the patriarch who commissioned the house to be built: Dr. Roy Lanterman, son of Jacob and Amoretta, father of Frank and Lloyd.

His doctor's office has also been preserved, with various texts and medical records...

...and instruments.

Now the Lanterman Archives have become a repository of historic sheet music, taking donations from other organizations who don't know what to do with theirs.

Lanterman also has an extensive collection of past issues of the La Cañada Valley Sun, a local weekly, which has been painstakingly catalogued and sorted into archival storage boxes.

So much guesswork usually goes into history, and recreating historic habitats like this, so it's a treat to see a place like this frozen in time. It's not an archaeological site, nor a domicile from another planet. It's recent enough so that everything in there is pretty obvious. You don't have to wonder what life was like inside there; you just have to spend a little bit of time there to understand.

So for that, thank goodness they saved everything, because that "someday" is now.

Related Posts:
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