By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“I’m sorry sir, but those seats are reserved,” he said.
I flashed my own reserved tickets and said, “Flea isn’t here. He would have already tried to pour his drink down my shirt if he was here.”
The usher looked nonplussed. Then he looked past me to a trim fella with dark hair sitting three seats away in the same aisle. It was Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I wanted to tell him how much I admire his music and that I consider “Under the Bridge” one of the finest compositions of the second half of the 20th century.
But then my tumblers began to click, and I had a “D’oh!” moment.
“Oh shit, thatFlea,” I said.
Changing of the Gardener
In the geographical green heart of Los Angeles’ concrete-and-plastic sprawl — deep, deep back in Griffith Park, past the Griffith J. Griffith statue and the pony-ride stable and the old L.A. Zoo and the even older merry-go-round, in the hills above the Boys’ Camp and the double-deck golf-ball driving range — lies a 5-acre hidden garden.
Hidden, but not secret. Amir’s Garden exists as two typewritten words and a black triangle on one of the three official photocopied maps of the park available from the visitor center. But there are no signs in the park pointing the way. If you want to find Amir’s — like all utopian spaces, a destination without an address — it’s best to know someone who knows how to get there.
It’s been this way since 1971, when the then-39-year-old Iranian immigrant Amir Dialameh started clearing debris from a serious fire on a hilltop along the park’s Mineral Wells trail. Over the next three decades, Dialameh labored, often alone, often seven days a week, always as an unpaid volunteer, to create an Edenic wonderland: part nature preserve, part sanctuary, part Zen center, part rest stop for hikers and horseback riders. Land was terraced; ground cover, flowers, eucalyptus, magnolia and a grove of palm trees were planted; a drinking fountain, a flagpole, and whimsically painted benches and picnic tables were installed. Eventually sanctioned by park officials, Amir’s Garden became a place where you could contemplate the cars on the 5-134 interchange, or the territory-marking habits of the local lizards, or the red-tailed hawks riding the airstreams above. Here, if you spent a moment, your senses would re-assert themselves. Your smog-caked nostrils could smell again. Your car alarm–damaged ears could hear again: the buzz of hummingbirds, the thwack! of golf balls on the driving range below, the bizarre cries of the peacocks from the zoo across the valley.
And, if you visited at the right time of the day, you might have encountered Amir himself, repairing a broken stair, or watering the ice plant, or reading a newspaper, with a blue jay sitting on his toe: Los Angeles’ own, benevolent Old Man of the Mountain. Soft-spoken and at ease, always interested in chatting with those who’d found their way to his garden, Amir would patiently explain why he did it: It needed to be done. The freedoms we Americans enjoy come through the volunteerism of those before us. With the patriotic zeal typical of immigrants, Amir had embraced America, and just wanted to do his part. “In the land of the free, plant a tree” was his slogan.
Amir Dialameh died last autumn from what were announced as natural causes. He was 71. Recently, wondering what had become of Amir’s Garden without Amir, I called Rob Zabrecky — musician, stage magician and the former housemate who first initiated me into the Garden’s delights — and we arranged, with Rob’s wife, Tommi, to foot it up to the park one afternoon and see firsthand how Amir’s Garden grows.
“You always get a sense here that there are trapdoors and hidden assistants, that there might be other rooms,” Rob says as we wander down the garden’s many paths, peering into the vined, shady alcoves and across the flower gardens full of late-blooming jade, aloe vera, oleander, ice plant, geranium and euryopis. The place looks like it’s being kept up. The American flag may not be flying, but sprinklers are running, most of the benches work, the paths are clear of weeds and overgrowth, the trash cans empty.
“Someone’s been looking after Amir,” says Rob, and he’s right. But who? Could the perennially understaffed park rangers be sending someone up here? A testimonial from a Boys’ Camp counselor named Scorpion is posted on the “Amir’s Garden — Since 1971” sign at the garden’s entrance — the only notice regarding Amir’s passing. Perhaps, I wonder daydreamily, the garden tends itself . . .
Drifting down the garden’s easternmost path, we find our answer. Two women are seated, weeding. Kris Sabo is the younger woman, wearing sunglasses, a hat, and a utility belt loaded with pickax, pepper spray and taser stun gun. She is Amir’s Garden’s new gardener.
“I first came up here at the end of ’95,” says Sabo, standing up to speak, hands on her hips, every bit the 38-year-old alpha-female den mother. I met Amir and said, ‘Oh, this is just bitchen — let me at it.’”
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