Twenty years ago Los Angeles exploded in a confusing nightmare of violence, triggered by the jury acquittal of four police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King. For the next month Frying Pan News will present personal stories of the incendiary events that have been called everything from a riot to a rebellion. Today’s post comes from Lovell Estell III, a longtime L.A. Weekly theater critic.
Hold the Flak Vest
I was in the fourth month of an internship at the Silver Lake-based L.A. Weekly on that day in April. There was a lead-dense atmosphere of tension in the building – but also an electric current of excitement. Earlier in the day, publisher Mike Sigman had asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of field reporting, after which he handed me a flak vest. I politely declined both the vest and his offer of potential journalistic immortality.
Seven a.m. My alarm jolts me out of a deep slumber. I make my way to the bathroom and run a hot shower. Fifteen minutes later I proceed to the kitchen to start my morning coffee, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, to be exact. I fill my cup and open the fridge to get some milk. No milk! My morning ritual comes to a grinding halt. No relative drank it all and placed the empty container back in the fridge; I’m just incapable of keeping my fridge stocked. I consider running to the supermarket, then realize that the nearest one is a mile away. I grudgingly put on a coat and walk two blocks to the corner store. I walk past the tiny aisle of wilted lettuce and mushy tomatoes to the combination dairy-alcohol case. I groan audibly. The shop only carries gallons of whole milk for almost $5 a gallon. Thank goodness I’m only out of milk.
A recent report, “Assimilation Tomorrow: How Immigrants Will Integrate by 2030,” published by the Center for American Progress (CAP) is a very important read despite its rather dry title. It is an economic crystal ball that focuses on measuring the ability of immigrants to assimilate into American society. Not surprisingly to those of us who have grown up in immigrant families and/or lean to the progressive side, immigrants have been and are integrating, whether it be through home ownership, naturalization, learning English or other ways of contributing to society’s well-being and need for diversity.
For me, CAP’s study stirred fond thoughts about my own family’s history and our journey to becoming middle-class Americans from the rural depths of Southern China over three generations. A trip I took to China in 2008 showed me the discrepancies between my family’s humble beginnings (chickens running around and dirt roads) and the markers of our success in the U.S.,
Remember August’s “Tower Guy” story? I happened to be working at the computer that night, when I heard my wife gasp from the other room, where she was watching the evening news. “Get in here,” she called, “some guy is having a Howard Beale moment!”
Turns out that she was watching KTLA, where police had just arrested someone for climbing Channel 5’s steel tower on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood—apparently he got some 30 feet into the air before the cops got him down. Was this some sort of crazy stunt by a thrill-seeker? An attempted suicide? A promo for some new reality show? Who could know? After all, the blurb in the L.A. Times was content to conclude that “it was unclear why he began traversing the metal tower.”
Of course, the dominant narrative is that the guy must be nuts. The cops sent a Mental Evaluation Unit.
I am an 84-year-old social activist – a calling that began in Pittsburgh, where I was recruited in 1942 at the age of 15 (69 years ago — oy) to organize an attempt to buy Jews out of Nazi Europe. That experience gave some focus to a world gone mad and, I believe, saved my adolescence. (And we had fun!) I have never since left “the fold” — who would I be if activism were not an important part of my identity?
Lately, though, I’ve been considering a new persona as I transition into my precious remaining years, asking myself, What? and Who? and How? This is where the Frying Pan comes in – by inviting me to post my thoughts about my plans here. Will these be more of the same? (And I do mean “same.” How many times can I gather up the passion and energy to work for peace,