Pete Wilson in Gray Pinstripes?

Edited by Gale Holland

Governor Gray Davis, on February 28, reassuring Wall Street analysts that buying California’s privately owned electricity grid will be good for investors: “Republicans are to the left of me on this, and do not want to raise rates . . . I’m going to solve [the crisis] in a way the banks get paid, bondholders get paid, the generators voluntarily agree to make a modest contribution, utilities are back in business . . . I’m leaving you with a market that is still deregulated and will not collapse unto itself thereby precluding deregulation from ever working in California . . . As for deregulation, I have no beef for it or against it.”

—Greg Goldin

The Cat Man

To see a man sitting alone in a car night after night in a parking lot smoking a cigarette in the dark in pouring rain is already unusual. Add a couple of cats to the car (one on his lap, the other tucked away in the back seat), and the scene grows even more unusual. The man in question is named Victor, and he is the parking-lot attendant at City Spa on Pico Boulevard. When business is slow, it’s a lonely, even tedious job — or would be, if it weren’t for the presence of all the cats that hang around the parking lot. Somehow, those incurably cute creatures have turned what should have been a deadly job into one that, if not exciting exactly, is at least not without interest.

Victor had no particular liking for cats when he first took the job. In fact, he gave no more thought to them than the average person does to sparrows. But like Crusoe on his desert island, Victor in his parking lot found that animals can do much to alleviate loneliness. The poet Louis MacNeice once wrote that “if not a person,” a cat is nonetheless “more than a cipher,” and “if not affectionate” is “more than indifferent.” I suspect that Victor would agree with that assessment. Particularly on those rainy evenings when the spa’s customers are steaming themselves indoors and his only company is Sura, the owlish longhaired tabby curled up on his lap.

Victor, who comes to work in an old leather jacket, jeans and a navy-blue knit cap, is a gray-haired man in his 50s whose ruddy cheeks and blue eyes suggest a lifetime spent outdoors. But that’s speculation. Like most people who grew up in the USSR, Victor is loath to provide any but the most minimal information about himself. A Moldovian by birth, he came to the States about five years ago and began working last year at City Spa, which, with its three saunas, Jacuzzi, swimming pool, massage rooms, sleeping rooms, sundeck, restaurant and gym, is one of the best-kept secrets in Los Angeles. It’s a semi-coed spa whose most loyal customers are Eastern European immigrants and African-Americans, and it’s for people who take their saunas seriously. But Victor doesn’t go into the spa. Most days, he’s out in the parking lot from 10 in the morning until 10 at night, and there are times when business can be very, very slow.

Which is where the cats come in — cautiously, of course, paw by paw, preening and stretching like shell-shocked ballerinas. They’re all over the parking lot, under the cars, in the bushes, in the little cardboard hovels Victor has erected for them, at the bowls of food he lays out every day. There must be about 20 overall. Some, like a remarkably cute little black-and-white number, or an orange tabby of solemn philosophical mien, are friendly and more or less tame; others vanish the moment you approach them. But they keep Victor company, and transform what would otherwise be a barren stretch of concrete into something like home. It’s a favor Victor returns handsomely. Thanks to his efforts, most of the cats have been neutered and spayed, checked for ear mites and worms, and vaccinated against rabies and feline distemper. The result, says Bonnie van Alphen, who works for the Animal Birth Control Clinic, is that the cat population in the parking lot is stabilizing, because a large population of “altered” cats keeps the feral ones away.

Still, Victor would like to do a bit more for them. A couple of cats have already been adopted by City Spa customers, and Victor wants people to know that more are there for the taking. There’s no charge. All you have to do is show up at the parking lot (5325 W. Pico Blvd., at Burnside Ave.) in the afternoons or evenings. Point to the cat of your choice and give Victor your phone number. When Victor has caught the cat, he’ll give you a call and let you know it’s ready to be picked up. Furthermore, if you change your mind later on, you can return the cat to him at the parking lot, no questions asked.

Van Alphen isn’t sure that all the cats can be adopted. Some, like the badass tom Victor calls “Director,” have probably gone wild for too long to settle down to TV dinners and cozy domestic living. But most look as if they’re ready to make being cute and cuddly a full-time profession. As for Victor, he’s hoping all of them can be adopted, even though he’ll miss them when they’re gone. He worries about what would happen to them if he were no longer there. Even if he has to sit in a parking lot no longer enlivened by their presence, he’ll feel better knowing they’ve found a real home.

—Brendan Bernhard

Crash of the Concord

Readers of the L.A. Times may have been surprised Tuesday to find the name of multiple-homicide defendant David Attias, who is accused of driving his car into a crowd of UC Santa Barbara partygoers, in a full-page ad touting his high school alma mater. Titled “Concord High School, The Truth: A Tradition of Achievement and Excellence,” the ad ran on the back of the paper’s Metro section and consisted of reprints from newspaper articles lauding the Santa Monica private school, along with a list — alphabetically headed by Attias — of graduates who had been accepted to colleges and universities for the fall 2000 term. The notice, says Concord administrator Susan Packer Davis, was intended as a riposte to a recent Times article that noted the school is located in an office building and characterized it in part as an academy of last resort for troubled children kicked out of other schools.

“The L.A. Times has seen fit to besmirch the school’s reputation,” Davis told OffBeat. “The writer [Anne-Marie O’Connor] never asked me to verify a former student’s comments.

The student had commented that Concord had a reputation for taking “screwed-up kids.” Even though the student also defended Concord — and even though Davis was extensively quoted — Davis says she should have been allowed to correct the negative impression created by the student’s remarks.

The reporter, adds Davis, “says she left messages all day Sunday on my machine, but I will swear to my rabbi, whose temple is across the street, there were no messages waiting for me on Monday!”

Davis was clearly agitated about the bad press: “The kids came to school crying after the article came out. People have sent me hate faxes, saying, ‘You should have set up intervention classes!’ The tragedy was bad enough, but this story has hurt me and my family terribly. The school is my life — to make it part of a Hollywood ‘scene’ is a travesty.”

Still, it did seem strange to find Attias listed in an ad highlighting Concord’s achievements. “I put him there to put the school in context,” Davis says. “He was here for two years — not at the top and not at the bottom of the class. He was a sweet kid.”

Concord, which was founded by Davis’ mother and whose enrollment tops at about 100, sought legal opinions about taking the Times to court, but was advised against it. “It’s like the shooting yesterday,” Davis says, alluding to the Santana High School violence. “There’s going to be a lot of clawing around in the past, and people are going to get hurt. All I can do is stand in front of the school with a shield to defend it. Time heals everything — if it’s left to heal.”

—Steven Mikulan


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