"Is anyone else besides me struck with how bizarre this gathering is?" asked magazine publisher and professor Richard Layman last week at the white-linen luncheon for author James Ellroy at the Pacific Dining Car. The L.A.-born Ellroy, who chronicled the citys underbelly of murder and corruption in such works as L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia and White Jazz, had chosen the elegant restaurant in downtown L.A. his former haunt, and in his novels the setting for characters like Mickey Cohen and Frank Sinatra to announce the donation of his voluminous literary papers to the library of the University of South Carolina.
Thats right: not the USC just a few miles away; its the flower of Dixie and home to the Gamecock that will soon house a vast collection of Ellroys hand-written manuscripts, notes, correspondence and memorabilia. "The cocksuckers never asked," Ellroy said of Tommy Trojan. South Carolina "was able to give me a good tax write-off."
In fact, the "demon dog" of American literature, as he was dubbed at the event, will be in good company. F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Dickey and Joseph Heller have their papers there. Layman, a professor at South Carolina and publisher of the revived crime magazine Black Mask, which first published Ellroys short stories in the mid-1980s, worked the deal. Clearly, he considers it a major coup. "He is a writer whose work will last. And his art rewards study," Layman said.
Now a resident of Kansas City, Missouri, Ellroy, a high school dropout and onetime author manqué, is disconnecting from his hometown just as its finally embracing him. According to one film producer at the lunch, "People in Hollywood are falling all over themselves to work with him," largely on the critical success of the Curtis Hanson film L.A. Confidential, which earned actress Kim Basinger an Oscar in 1998. Says the producer: "It is viewed as the great picture to follow in the tradition of Chinatown. It has that kind of cachet." Ellroy is being bombarded with offers to write for the silver screen, and his TV pilot, L.A. Sheriffs Homicide, is making the rounds.
Despite his digs at the City of Angels, Ellroy concedes that L.A. still remains the mecca of all things noir. Case in point: the current scandal in the LAPDs Rampart Division over cops stealing drugs and framing innocent people. "Nothings changed," Ellroy said. "There is a real sense of invulnerability in the LAPD . . . These things are bound to happen."
Poor Larry Flynt. Wheeled out in his gold wheelchair for yet another promotion for his flagging Sunset Boulevard retail operation last week, Flynt was upstaged by Hustler girl Alisha Klass in a red-velvet, fur-trimmed Santa bra and skirt. The micro-minis rear-end cutaway exposed 2 inches of crack under the tattooed words "Seymore Butts" (Klass former porn-actor boyfriend). As if that wasnt enough, the patient Flynt allowed Ms. Klass to wrap her legs around his shoulders, neck and sides, exposing the rest of her pantyless private parts. Mrs. Flynt (Liz) dutifully moved her chair aside to make way for Klass antics. All this for a bunch of Flynt hangers-on; media attendance was thin. A far cry from the stirring First Amendment battles of yore, eh, Larry?
Back in 1988, when California first awoke from years of neglect to find public education flat-lining, voters passed an initiative demanding that all schools report test scores, attendance, budget, etc., to the public. OffBeat was scanning these so-called School Accountability Report Cards on the LAUSD Web site and found a curious coincidence: high school principals messages, ostensibly personal greetings written in the first person, were identical. Over at Crenshaw, principal Travis Kiel tells us, "As you read this Report Card for our school, I believe that a picture will emerge of a school dedicated to improvement, a qualified faculty that is professionally and personally committed to meeting the learning needs of students, and a student body which is motivated to perform well." Amazingly, principal Wendell C. Greer Jr. of Manual Arts feels exactly the same way: "As you read this Report Card for our school," he says, "I believe that a picture will emerge of a school dedicated to improvement," etc., etc. . . . Ditto principal Etta O. Seamster at Jordan, principal Thomas J. Abraham at Marshall, principal John T. Hyland at North Hollywood, and principal Ronald S. Bauer at El Camino Real. Boilerplate turns up in other sections of the report cards; at some points, administrators appear to have forgotten to fill in the blanks. Crenshaw again: "Our school calendar contains 180 days, ______ of which were designated for professional development. This provided for ______ instructional days of student attendance which met or exceeded State requirements."
Now, isnt this what teachers call plagiarism? No, says Kiel:
"Im not saying its right or wrong, but theres a large number of schools, a lot of responsibility, and a lot of federal and state guidelines we have to follow," he says. "We try to provide information for the public and parents." OffBeat tried to speak to someone at the district level, but got lost in the usual LAUSD phone-transfer wormhole and never reached an official.
What about other urban schools, which presumably operate under the same government guidelines, etc.? At Lowell High in San Francisco, the report card is a fascinating document tailored to the schools rich history and achievements. Henry M. Gunn High of Palo Alto issues a detailed formal report to the city.
Now, Gunn and Lowell are arguably the best public college-prep schools in the state. So, is there any connection between a district that blows off a school-reform measure with meaningless schooleaucratese and lousy education? Just asking.
Echo Park firefighters are salivating at the prospect of a Starbucks coffee shop opening next door at the Sunset BoulevardAlvarado Street branch of Lucys LaundryMart, a new superchain of coin-operated wash-and-dries that is sweeping Southern California. The brainchild of Torrance businessman Bill Cunningham, who broke off from PW West laundries in 1995 to start his own business, Lucys aims to be the McDonalds of scrubberies by offering Subway-restaurant sandwiches, check-cashing services and a mail center along with your wash-and-dry.
But after an initial burst of enthusiasm from the neighborhood, Lucys spanking-new cement-block building stood three-quarters empty last Saturday. Three blocks away, Los Lavaderos a 9-year-old laundry whose only amenities are friendly employees and counter space where harried mothers prop children in front of Spanish-language cartoons was bustling. Patron Sonia Arana, 30, said she would rather spend an extra 10 minutes in freeway time to get to Los Lavaderos than walk to her neighborhood Lucys.
"I dont like Lucys," she said as she shook her head, folding her freshly laundered clothing on a dryer top. "The people there are mean. At this place, when you are ready to leave, they help you and keep an eye on your kids. Shopping and coffee dont have anything to do with laundry."
Could Echo Park be alone in bucking the supersuds trend? Brian Wallace, executive director of the Coin Laundry Association, a national trade organization, says chains like Lucys are on the fast track to revolutionizing the $3.5-billion-to-$5-billion laundry industry, which traditionally has been a mom-and-pop affair. With 13 stores up and 21 to go next year, Lucys is at the head of the pack. Cunninghams "vision was to create the Blockbuster of the laundry business," said Lucys senior vice president of business development, Robert Pardo.
Los Lavaderos employee Eric admits that business plummeted 90 percent when Lucys first opened, but says his patrons came running back. "Our repeat customers came back because some said that Lucys machines didnt provide enough water. So the clothes were still soapy," he said, pausing to help a customer carry her load to the parking lot.
"It is slower in the afternoons," assistant manager Sandy Magana explained about Lucys weekend lull. Magana said more than 250 people walk through the doors on a weekend day, spending $1,300 in $2 wash-and-dry "smart cards" and an additional $450 at the snack bar. Architect Lelia Scheu, a recent L.A. transplant, likes the food and other services. "At least you have something to do," she said. But farther down Sunset Boulevard, L.A. Wash customers also turned their noses up at Lucys. "There is too much stuff going on over there," said Karla Godoy, who is currently unemployed. "Whatever money you have left, you will end up wasting it on one of the other businesses. "
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