Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Category: June 2009
||The inaugural January 1953
issue of One magazine, published in Los Angeles, has been listed on
EBay. One was a historic magazine that dealt with gay issues. It was declared obscene by the Postal Service, resulting in a landmark 1st Amendment ruling. Bidding starts at $9.99.
Update: This item sold for $455.
Those Plastic Bags
There are times when public servants feel they aren't getting through to the public they're trying to serve.
Not long ago George M. Uhl, city health officer, warned of the dangers of permitting children to play with plastic bags, from which three children in his area have died. They use them as helmets in playing spaceman. Infants elsewhere in the nation have been suffocated by plastic coverings on mattress pads.
In his warning Dr. Uhl said the plastic material apparently set up an electrostatic charge, causing it to cling to the face.
A housewife phoned a few days later and said she used the bags to store fruit and vegetables, first scrubbing them out with hot, soapy water. What she wanted to know was would this kill the dangerous germs from outer space the health department had warned about.
"What was that again?" a startled health man asked.
"You should know!" the irate woman said, "you warned us to watch out for static germs from outer space in plastic bags!"
You can't win them all.
AS HE prepared to depart on a trip for New York a business executive had a violent quarrel with his wife. So, to let her know she couldn't push him around, he took out $125,000 in accident insurance at the airport naming himself as beneficiary and mailed it to her.
Gals appear in summer frocks,
The mercury is rising.
Vacation time! Good-by to clocks
And hard-sell advertising.
--JOSEPH P. KRENGEL
THE ULTIMATE ignominy has come to a proud small car owner. He drove into a downtown hotel parking lot, accepted the receipt from the attendant and went to his appointment. When he returned to retrieve his tiny Metropolitan he noticed that the attendant had written opposite "Make of car" the word "Bug."
SANTA MONICANS may be interested to learn that North Young has traced the origin of a classic slang expression to the loading dock of the Bay City Mask Co. HalO'Ween, the firm's president, confided to him recently that one of his shipping clerks, U. Snow Hooks, had been shouting this expression a decade before it became popular.
As Hooks was said to clam up around the idly curious, North borrowed the company's Mask No. 99 and, posing as a time-study engineer, stationed himself on the loading dock. Soon some chickens from a neighboring poultry shop flew up onto the platform and began pecking holes in the cardboard boxes awaiting shipment. Hooks rushed out and shouted toward the poultry shop, "Keep your carton-pecking hens out of here!"
A WHILE BACK Bill Sanella, Burbank auto dealer, called attention here to the unfairness of the state sales tax on autos. For instance, suppose you are allowed $2,000 on the car you turn in on a $3,000 car. Only $1,000 cash is involved, but you must pay sales tax on the full $3,000.
Since, readers have been pointing out that when the car is resold each new buyer must pay sales tax on the full purchase price. The refrain: "Where did they get that name -- Board of Equalization?"
AT RANDOM -- Every time a new Explorer satellite is sent aloft Tom Cracraft has a countdown of his own -- only he enumerates them differently: Expenditure III, Expenditure IV, Expenditure V ... Helen Hall, the real estate lady, asked for a compass in a dime store and the clerk replied, "We have compasses for drawing circles but not for going places." Fortunately, she was not going anywhere ... A man at a sidewalk stand declined mustard on his hot dog. "Ulcer," he explained. When the lady handed it to him he said brightly, "As soon as I divorce her I can have mustard again" ... When she doesn't feel up to par a lady addicted to adult westerns says, "I feel like just another notch in a killer's gun."
Kid Racketeers Outdoing Mafia
I can tell by looking at you that you are a wide-awake member of this community.
When you read this daily newspaper you don't limit yourself to the dated happenings of the Paleolithic Age, as reported by Alley Cop. Nor do you think the open sesame of all knowledge is when you "Ask Andy."
You are the rare type who -- on occasion, at least -- turns from the comic pages to digest the more significant text of the news pages.
And since you do, you are well aware that Page 1, in recent weeks, has been devoted to the hue and cry about an alleged fraternity of bocce ball players called the Mafia.
It's being intensely investigated by congressional committees, state Senate subcommittees, women's clubs, Sunday supplements and Sam Katzman.
I am not unsympathetic to this widespread probing.
If there is a Mafia, we should know about it at once and do something about it.
What we do, we make a movie on it starring Julius La Rosa as the nice Italian kid whose old lady always hoped he would be an opera star, but he winds up being a torpedo for the mob. However, he goes straight in the last three scenes and marries Anna Maria Alberghetti, a nice Italian kid.
But look at me. I digress.
What I started to say is that I don't object to their looking into crime. Trouble is, they haven't come up with anything conclusive about the Mafia.
The authorities disagree. Parker says there is one. And Cohen says there isn't one.
Or, more specifically, there ain't none.
And while they've been haggling, another syndicate has moved in right under their very noses.
It has come to my attention from a number of sources that a mob made up of little 11-year-old moppets is working the old Girl Scout cooky racket all over town.
First reports came from South L.A. where citizens began calling in complaints that pre-teen youngsters were knocking at their doors and representing themselves as bona fide Brownies. They announced that they were taking orders for Girl Scout cookies at 50 cents a box.
Collect Money and Lam
They collected in advance, lammed, and you know the rest -- no cookies.
The MO has been pretty well defined. The smallest one in the mob makes the pitch and affects an appealing lisp. They work a neighborhood dry in approximately one week and then move to another section.
For example, after South Los Angeles, they were reported in the central district. After that in the vicinity of Melrose and Virgil. And just yesterday I got a call from a lady in the heart of Hollywood, saying she and all her neighbors had been taken by the little tykes.
The situation is really out of hand.
If you ask me, our law-enforcement agencies should stop debating the existence of the Mafia and concentrate on bringing these phony Girl Scouts to justice.
And once we get them, what we do, we make a movie on it, starring Judy Garland as the nice little kid whose old lady always hoped she would be an opera star, but...
|Above, the dust jacket of Lawrence Lipton's "Holy Barbarians" that's in pretty good shape. Obviously owned by a square. |
June 28, 1959: Lawrence Lipton uses a review of "The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men," by Gene Feldman and Max Gartenberg to explore bohemian life of the 1950s.
The reading list at the Daily Mirror HQ is long and quirky: "Never So Few" and "Go Naked Into the World" by Tom T. Chamales, "Muscatel at Noon" by Matt Weinstock and EBay's latest contribution to my shelf of books by W.W. Robinson. Then there's the desiderata, like "The Bridal Night of Ronald and Thusnelda."
What jumped to the top of the list is Lawrence Lipton's "Holy Barbarians," a 1959 chronicle of the Beats in Venice, which I encountered somewhere in the clips, possibly a Weinstock column, although I can't find it now.
The book showed up in the mail a few days ago courtesy of EBay, so I've been playing Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and some Coltrane all weekend to create the right mood while I read it. To do the job right, I suppose I should have a set of bongo drums somewhere, hang netting and sea shells on the walls and fill the place with stale marijuana smoke, but I'm not that much of a stickler for authenticity.
The former husband of mystery novelist Craig Rice, Lipton was born in 1898, so he was about 60 when he wrote the book, roughly the twice the age of the beatniks who considered him an elder statesman of their disaffiliated generation.
Lipton was the Boswell of these Beats, capturing their lives in exquisite and often excruciating detail. It's fair to say that the book wasn't written as much as it was tape-recorded. Many conversations, some of them quite long, are merely transcribed from tapes Lipton made of his friends.
Behold, actual hipster talk (Page 102):
"It isn't art or intellectualism, it isn't genius that's got me hooked. It's the life. Do you have any idea what it's like out there? Sure, it isn't Main Street any more. Sinclair Lewis' Gopher Prairie is a thing of the past. So is Zenith City, for that matter.Squareville is modern now. It's got network television and Life magazine culture. You can tune in the Metropolitan opera on the radio. You can stay out late and come home drunk once in a while without being hounded out of town. You can play around a little, if you're discreet about it, without too much talk. The drugstores carry paperback editions of Plato and Lin Yutang.Notice that there isn't a single "daddy-o." In fact, there isn't one in the entire book. If you think James Ellroy's novels are written in authentic hipster talk, you'll be shocked that their speech is so ordinary -- though they do ramble.
"But the tension! Wages go up three cents and coffee goes up ten. So they pipe sweet Muzak into the supermarkets and you go around in a daze loading up that cute little chromium-plated cart without looking at the price tags. And let most of it rot in the refrigerator before you get to it. Last year's car is out of style before you finish paying for the tail fins. It's a rat race. Who's got time to laze around in the sand for an hour, or take a quiet walk by the ocean in the evening, or watch a sunset?
"Here I can get away from it for a while, at least evenings and weekends. I can do without things. God! do you know what a relief that is? Not to have to keep up with anybody. Nobody to show off for. The people at the office, they don't even know where I live. I tell them I live in Santa Monica. That's close enough, and it sounds respectable. It's got the same telephone exchange as Venice, so nobody suspects anything.
"This is the one place I've ever lived where you can take your skin off and sit around in your bare bones, if you want to. Only the rich, surrounded by acres of land and iron fences, can enjoy anything like that kind of privacy. That's what I mean by being hip. And staying cool."
Barbara Lane is part time square and part time hipster, but her heart is in Venice West. "In town, at the office, I work. Here I live," she will tell you. "It's like having one foot on each side of the tracks. But that's the only way I can make it."
I have more to say about "Holy Barbarians," but I'm only halfway through it. You might want to read along. The book is available for free from archive.org in pdf and plain text format.
Is it worth reading? Consider these gems:
Page 20: By which I meant, I suppose, pretty much the same thing that [Kenneth] Rexroth meant when he wrote, apropos of Bird and Dylan, "Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense -- the creative act."
Page 103: Like Jack Kerouac says in On the Road, "Mexico is a whole nation of hipsters!"
Comments? Send them along.