Saturday at Whole Foods

whole-foods11I was at Whole Foods, studying the organic bananas and attempting to sort the very green ones from the less green ones in the weird light cast by the environmentally correct light bulbs. It was cold in the produce department, the refrigerated cases lining the walls sent a chill into the air.  I thought longingly of the sweatshirt I’d left in my car, and started rubbing my hands together, very fast, trying to generate some heat. This drew the attention of the man next to me, a tall guy with a gentle face, who was pondering the heirloom tomatoes.

“I’m cold,” I explained.

He nodded thoughtfully.  “Well,” he said, in a slow, deep drawl, “of course you are.  It’s cold in here.  I don’t know why they do that.”  He glanced around, looking for someone to complain to, but there were no Whole Foods employees nearby.  So he sighed and returned to meditating on the tomatoes.  “What do I know,” he muttered. “I voted for Mondale.”

Mondale?  Wasn’t that like, 1988?  I felt disoriented, but I didn’t want to be rude.

“I voted for Mondale too,” I said.

Encouraged, my new tall friend looked up from the tomatoes.  “I believed him when he said he tried pot, but didn’t inhale.”

“Ummm,” I said, “that was Clinton – ”

“What’s worse?” he demanded, pulling himself up to his full height, and spreading his arms wide. “Lying about sex, or lying about a war?”

“Lying about a war,” I said.  I was pretty sure that was the answer he was going for.

He sighed again, and shook his head.  “I don’t get it,” he said.  “I just don’t get it.”  He moved on to the wild mushrooms.

Later, the produce department ran low on plastic bags, causing a minor frenzy until the hipster shoppers pulled themselves together and formed a line behind the one remaining roll.  I was after a tall, attractive man I figured must be some sort of celebrity; when it was his turn, he pulled off one, two, three, four bags, then turned, smiled, and gave two to me.  I thanked him, trying not to blush, and quickly made my way to one of the refrigerated cases, where an old woman in Birkenstocks tried to sell me on the benefits of okra.  “It’s good for stews,” she said.  “And digestion.”  She pursed up her lips. “Mucilage,” she said.

I threw some okra into one of my bags. She nodded approvingly and moved on.

Afterwards, making my way back to my car, a guy caught my eye and grinned, and we both started to laugh, in a punch drunk kind of way, two survivors of a Whole Foods shopping trip on a Saturday morning, wheeling out loaded carts of hip groceries.

It was pretty funny. Even if you did vote for Mondale.

(A-Z Blogging Challenge: W is for Whole Foods)

Los Angeles

Back Yard

I moved to Los Angeles a few decades ago, when I was young and eager and open to adventure.  Also I had a spot in a graduate program at UCLA.

Some of my friends, those who leaned towards the hippie persuasion, were horrified. “You’re not going to stay down there, are you?” asked one.  “LA is so shallow, so superficial. You’ll be back when you graduate?”

I promised him I would, but I knew I couldn’t be sure.

Los Angeles is seductive.  You come here for a short stint – say, graduate school – and then you wake up on a sunny January morning and it’s 70 degrees and there’s a fresh ocean breeze and flowers are blooming, brightly colored things that seem incongruous and wonderful to a relocated Midwesterner.

In grad school, those of us who were newcomers liked to quiz our native born classmates.  Over and over we asked, “Is it always like this?”

They would look at us uncertainly, not sure what we found strange about eating a picnic lunch on the grass in the middle of winter.

“Well, we usually have a few 80 degree days in January…”

A few 80 degree days.

Now, observations about the balmy weather in Los Angeles often cause people who have never lived here to remark, “Yes, but I like the seasons.”

I like the seasons, too.  I like visiting winter in Chicago from time to time, experiencing the brisk breeze off the lake and the cold air that freezes your nasal passages whenever you take a breath.  I like to study the ice that forms on puddles and stare, awestruck, at the negative numbers on the thermometer. Then I like to go back to California.

My daughter attended college in Ohio.  She often came home for a few days in February and I would pick her up at LAX, a gritty concrete maze overstuffed with traffic and irritable travelers. She would smile happily when I pulled up.

“It’s so nice here,” she would say.

It was 70 degrees.

(A-Z Blogging Challenge: L is for Los Angeles)


Kobe-Bryant-Black-MambaIt’s Mamba Day in Los Angeles, Mamba meaning the Black Mamba, the Black Mamba meaning Kobe Bryant.

In other words, it’s Kobe day.

Kobe Bryant, objectively one of the greatest basketball players of all time, plays his last game tonight at Staples Center.  I could rattle off his achievements but they’re well chronicled; around here today you can barely flip an electronic switch without hearing somebody say “81 points” or “third leading scorer.” His stats are remarkable, but what’s really amazing is just watching him play basketball – it’s almost like some strange evolutionary force made him perfectly suited to the game. He hits impossible shots, he cuts through astonished defenders. In his prime he pretty much made any game, no matter how pathetic, winnable.

But when his body started giving out on him and he decided to call it quits, he had one more remarkable trick up his sleeve – he made his last year in the league the Kobe Show.  Nearly every game he played this season had some element of nostalgia attached, and teams all over the country made tribute reels and gave gifts and otherwise acknowledged his impact on the game.  There’s never been anything quite like it before.  It was such a Kobe thing to do, unapologetically going out with a bang.

Meanwhile, his team could barely whimper.

There’s been some complaining that the Kobe Show has prevented the Lakers from hitting their stride this year, but that’s nonsense.  The Lakers are an abysmal team because of incompetent management and – with respect to Byron Scott – mismatched coaching. The team management (I’m looking at you, Jeanie Buss) has some work to do in those areas.  There are also some players who resent all the attention the Mamba is getting – well, actually, that’s just Shaq.

One of my favorite Kobe moments came during the first championship run, back in 2001, when the Lakers were in some impossible position in the final moments of the fourth quarter of whatever game it was. Phil Jackson called a timeout, and when he sent the team back out to play the camera found Kobe Bryant’s face.  He was just a kid then, and he was charging into the highest pressure situation of his young career with a wide grin on his face.  Everything about his body language said, “This is going to be fun!”

The Lakers won. And it was really fun.

(A-Z Blogging Challenge: K is for Kobe.)


Holding Hands

DtlaBridgeMy husband and I were walking through downtown LA, strolling among the homeless and the hipsters, looking for a mezcal bar he wanted to try.

A film crew was setting up on the street.  A youngish man wearing security badges and carrying a big cup of coffee stepped out to the sidewalk and grinned at us.

“Holding hands!” he said.

“Absolutely,” my husband responded, like he had these conversations all the time.

“After all these years,” said the youngish man, who had never seen us before in his life. “Holding hands.”

I felt like saying, “Actually, we met on Tinder an hour ago,” but I didn’t.

We kept walking.   The youngish man went back to the film set. I saw him corner one of the crew people and point at us.

“Holding hands!” he said.  “After all these years.”

Up ahead, we saw a bouncer rousting a couple of homeless people out of the doorway of the mezcal bar.  He glanced at us, nodded, and jerked his thumb towards the door.  “You guys are okay,” he said.

I was relieved.  I needed a drink.

(A-Z Challenge Day Eight: the letter H.)


2016-01-31 10.38.58It’s a gloomy day in Los Angeles, which turns out to be a good thing, because we need rain and El Niño is letting us down.  Northern California and the Sierras have gotten lots of rain this winter, but down here some sort of high pressure system has kept the storms away.

This is disappointing. I like the rain in Southern California. It’s very dramatic – the sky opens up and dumps sheets of water on unprepared Angelenos.  Little kids pull on their rain boots and send paper boats sailing down curbside streams.  The roof – surprised to suddenly have work to do – reveals holes that have gone unnoticed for years.

The last time El Niño passed through I woke up to the sound of water dripping, and discovered a happy little stream flowing from the light fixture in my children’s bedroom.  By the time I grabbed a pot to catch the leak, new ones had sprung through, six or seven across the pink ceiling. My sleepy children were delighted. They ran off to get more pots, the youngest lustily singing “Seems it never rains in Southern California…”

I have no idea how she knew that song.

It’s gloomy today in Los Angeles, and it’s been raining off and on, and the powers that be tell us that the drought is not over but the lovely rain is falling, and my grass is dark green.

G is for gloomy, day seven of the A-Z challenge.  How’s the weather where you are?