History Repeats, Again!

History Repeats, Again!
History Repeats, Again!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Life's Big Zoo:" Coming of Age in Laurel Canyon, 1968

 “Life’s Big Zoo” started off as a memoir and, like most memoirs, quickly turned into a fictional catcher in the rye bread, Jewish with an emphasis on “-ish” coming of age story set in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon, summer of ‘68 housed in an eclectic family with a refugee father, missing-in-action mother, wannabe rock star brother, wise and feisty Holocaust-surviving granny, and a suspected Nazi neighbor on a street named Wonderland that winds slightly to the left of the galactic center of the folk rock universe.  
The story of a precocious kid growing up between the shadow of the holocaust and the bright lights of the sixties is heavily influenced by my own experience coming of age in Los Angeles on the fringes the sixties.  
Being raised Jewish in a tumultuous era contributed to my perspective and isolation. My dad wouldn’t let me join the Boy Scouts because the uniforms reminded him of the Hitler Youth of his traumatic childhood in Nazi Germany. I don’t remember not knowing about the Holocaust that my father and his parents escaped just in time. Most of their extended family weren’t so lucky.  Growing up with this history meant being an outsider in mainstream America. 
But in the sixties, outsiders were everywhere. The sixties were a time for seeking meaning and searching outside one’s faith or tribe of origin for universal truths. I was very aware of this, even as a kid. 1968 was a year that still looms larger than life. Rigged elections, assassinations, wars, riots, rock and roll. 
I set the story in Laurel Canyon because I grew up nearby, though I was too young to fully participate. The Canyon was home to Joni Mitchell, CSNY, The Doors, and everyone in between (including The Monkees, my favorite band at the time).  Laurel Canyon was an artistic and cultural nexus like Paris between the world wars or Woodstock, NY on the other side of the country. “Colorful” would be an understatement.
But color is the flip side of darkness and I saw plenty of both. Like Max Strauss, my young protagonist, I saw the sixties unfolding from the window of the Los Angeles city bus I rode across town to my “special” elementary school. I listened to KHJ (“Boss Radio for Boss Angeles!”) and Wolfman Jack on my transistor radio, graduated to FM, dreamed of starting a garage band, and was scared by the nightly news.   
I figured that if the H-bomb didn’t get me, the war would. Few of my classmates expected to live past the age of thirty and some didn’t. In the book, Max’s musician brother, the draft-age, poor student Tommy, brings the specter of Vietnam, the spirit of rebellion and the dream of love, peace, and music. In the sixties and early seventies, lots of our big brothers went off to war or took to the streets to fight against it. 
Early readers love the feisty Nana character who survived Dachau and refuses to let history repeat. While humor permeates the entire story, there’s also increasing gravitas as Max and Nana tries to resolve and unfinished family mystery in Germany.
We’d all like to think of ourselves as heroes, but history suggests that most of us would remain silent if threatened. In “Life’s Big Zoo” I suggest that heroism wears many faces and has no age limit.I’m hoping that baby boomers will find some universal truths and that younger readers will learn something about their parents (and grandparents!) in seeing the kaleidoscopic world of 1968 through the eyes of a twelve year-old mensch.
Among the many wise things my grandmother told me one that rings true time and again is that God keeps a big zoo. In the summer of 1968 I joined the menagerie.
I hope you enjoy the ride.
Country Store Mural
 (Image courtesy of Spike Stewart)














Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Sedona Vortex Almost Killed Granny

Sedona, Arizona. New Age Mecca. Home of the mysterious vortex.

After a day of hiking the red rock canyons, my wife and I went to investigate Airport Mesa, a local vortex site, to see if we could feel the legendary power emanating from deep within the earth. 

Scorpions. Rattlesnakes. Black widow spiders. Coyotes. Wild boars. White women carrying babies on their backs and revolvers on their hips. Seems like everything in Arizona can kill you. Surely the vortex would offer some balance to the relentless assault of natural hazards.

After competing for a parking place with drivers who were less than mellow, we climbed up to the mesa and competed for photo opportunities. Nobody was meditating or doing yoga. No chanting. The closest thing to interpretive dance was a kid trying to bug his grandmother by doing the Gangnam Style dance. He seemed to be having a spiritual moment. She wasn’t.

I couldn’t feel any earth vibrations but the sky was darkening and the views were beautiful. 

A storm was approaching so we stayed to watch it arrive alongside the frail old woman whose family and dancing grandson had already descended. 

Big mistake.

When the wind gusts hit, we were nearly knocked off the top of the summit. (The next day, I would learn that the gusts had hit 55 miles/hour up there. To get a sense of this, stick your head outside the car next time you’re driving down the freeway.) 

My wife smartly dropped to her knees to minimize wind resistance. 

The old woman was disoriented and her oversized jacket filled like a sail. She was about to paraglide off the edge when I grabbed her thin arm. Her jacket hood blew over her face. My face was getting pelted by the fine red dust that makes the region so beautiful when it’s not trying to kill you.

Both of us were in trouble until my wife grabbed the woman’s other arm and guided her to a cable that serves as a guide rail.

Once stabilized, I looked down the hillside and saw the old woman’s adult son or son-in-law watching the whole drama unfurl. I waved frantically, hoping he would come and help his scared and uncooperative old granny, but he just turned and left. Not exactly a moment of new age love and understanding. 

The three of us we all inched down the hillside half-blinded by stinging dust, buffeted by the crazy winds gusting out of the canyon. It was really scary. 

So, yeah, I got my vortex. 

Truth is, it almost got me.
View from the Vortex