By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Very Vero Beach
It’s7:05,gametime,and Dodgertown’s Holman Stadium is more raucous than Chavez Ravine on Fernando bobblehead night. “Centerfield” by John Fogerty blasts from the PA. Fresh-faced families, tropically attired retirees and die-hard baseball fanatics, just in from the parking lots where they mingled over hot grills and cold Yuengling beer, move from seat to seat. Injured relief pitcher Eric Gagne sits two rows in front of me with his wife and kids. A lot of drinking, eating and kibitzing (“Now when the O’Malleys owned the team . . .”) is going on. The Dodgers and the Mets take the field and the game progresses slowly as the players switch every few innings.
Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida, where the team has held every spring training since 1953, doesn’t seem to have changed much. Imagine Dodger Stadium shrunk down and placed in a vast bucolic baseball wonderland complete with low-lying 1950s-era modernist buildings, multiple verdant baseball diamonds and plenty of free parking. But change is what this spring is all about. You feel the history and lore of the Dodgers as well as the encroaching storm of big business, slashed payrolls and discontented fans.
“Why they made some of these trades, I’ll never know,” says Kathy Ripka, a spring-season ticket holder, with husband Rick, since 1988. “McCourt has cut back a lot on Dodgertown. They’ve raised the prices on everything — tickets, beer, name it.” She hands me a homemade cheesesteak sandwich.
In the fourth inning, I spot general manager Paul DePodesta, the guy responsible for all those trades and perhaps the most reviled sports figure in Los Angeles, watching the game from the press box.
“How’s spring training going this year?” I ask DePo.
“Well, the expectations are vastly different this season. I think people were surprised that we won the division last year. We’ve changed a lot but I’m happy with the new team and all the new faces you see.”
“Are you getting used to Los Angeles yet?”
“I finally have a house and a new baby and you can’t beat the weather.” He grins.
“You know, not a lot of people in the city know who you are.”
“That’s exactly the way that I like it.”
“Well, if you win, the fans in L.A. are going to love you but if you lose . . .”
DePo looks at me carefully as top prospect Dioner Navarro, the man he basically traded Shawn Green for, hits a line-drive single and brings in a run. The fans cheer. Maybe, I think, things won’t be so bad after all.
Of course, I say that every spring . . .
On this day, at least, the new players, the higher prices, the turmoil is forgotten. Final score, Dodgers 16, Mets 4.
Astrafficzippedaroundthebendof Rowena Avenue, a small crowd gathered inside Cauldron, a Silver Lake goddess shop, to listen to author and renowned Wiccan high priestess Phyllis Curott cast a love spell on humankind. Twenty or so witchcraft practitioners and New Age types sat cross-legged on the concrete floor, scribbling their e-mail addresses on a sign-up sheet for Curott’s Temple of Ara in New York City, one of the longest-running Wiccan congregations in the country. On one lavender-painted wall sat brown packets of spells, labeled “Attract a Soul-Mate,” “Win in Court” or “Get a Job”; thick, velvet curtains framed the windows, and a thin ribbon of incense trailed through the air.
Introduced by Lorna Firman, owner of Cauldron and former stylist for BuffytheVampireSlayer,Curott plugged her latest book, TheLoveSpell:AnEroticMemoirofSpiritualAwakening,in which she tells of finding her dream lover after casting a spell and seeking counsel from a daemon. The memoir is the sequel to BookofShadows,which detailed the author’s discovery of Wicca (“wise one”), the modern revival of a goddess-oriented spiritual practice that is also referred to as witchcraft, the Old Religion and the Craft of the Wise. For Curott, who is also an Ivy League attorney, the book served as a response to the political backlash following 9/11 — a need to spread the message of “make love (literally), not war” to the red states, which, according to Curott, are more like “purple states,” because liberals live in Texas too.
Describing portions of the book as a romance novel written in the first person, Curott discussed the challenges of publishing autobiographical sex scenes. “It was the first time I was happy my mother was dead,” she said. At that point, Rae, a Cauldron salesperson with pink-streaked locks, yelled out, “That fantasy scene in the beginning? Holy mackerel, girl . . . wooooooo!”
“That was the hardest part for me to get through,” said an old woman with white curly hair. “It was, ummm, very personal.”
Curott’s quest for true love exposed how women often co-opt negative, masculine characteristics in order to succeed in the corporate and sexual world. She recalled coming home to a former metrosexual beau who was smearing his legs with rose lotion. “I had to be the warrior, and I couldn’t get the armor off at night,” Curott said. “I would come home, take charge and get on top.”
“We’re so primitive — we’re neither yin or yang! We’ve sunk so low,” Rae moaned.
“As yin rises, the yang must deplete — there needs to be a balance!” yelled a voice from the back.
“Uh-huh,” said a bespectacled, middle-aged woman, raising a fist in solidarity.
The book, a self-empowerment chronology of relationships that resulted from love spells — including two decadelong marriages — explains that there’s way more to witchcraft than just potions and chants. It doesn’t matter if you pray, wish upon a star, or mash herbs in a paste by moonlight — so long as you get in touch with your deepest longings and express them to the universe.
“Two of my love spells ended in divorce, but the moral is notthat you shouldn’t do the spell,” Curott said. “Learn to love, become whole and eventually let go.”
The talk then erupted into a group-therapy jam session on how the problems of the day are derived from a world that lacks love — the audience spouting rallying cries against religious fundamentalism (“That’s not theology, that’s abnormal psychology!”), patriarchal dead-ends (“Martha Stewart was persecuted!”), and other social ills. Even the tsunami that devastated South Asia was referred to as a flaw in human perception.
“We’ve forgotten how to read the signs of the Earth,” said a woman standing by the door. “The body has the ability to perceive beyond the limitations of space and time.”
Almost two hours into the event, as groans of affirmation filled the room, one of the Cauldron co-workers, who spent the majority of the talk furiously pushing buttons on her cell phone while playing a video game and sighing, said to Firman, “Shouldn’t we move on to the book signing already? We really need to tell her that.”
As a line emerged, books were sold and Hopi handshakes exchanged.
“God has a penis but no place to put it, and that’s why He’s been so grouchy,” said Curott. Pressing her book against her chest, she added, “But I think I’ve found a place for Him to put it.”