So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
It is still dark when I wake up, and I pad down the stairs to put together one last breakfast of biscuits, eggs and juice before the rest of the family gets out of bed. The biscuits are made with cultured Vermont butter and the soft, fine flour I mail-order from the WeisenbergerMill in Kentucky. I will serve them with the plum jam that my neighbor Kazi sometimes makes when she is not otherwise engaged as the principal violist of the L.A. Opera. The eggs are from the Kendor Farms stand at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market. The juice is from my own grapefruit tree. The music on the radio is the Emerson Quartet playing Haydn. If it were a weekend, I might also throw a center-loin Schreiner’s smoked pork chop or a hot Italian sausage from Alexander’s Prime Meats into a skillet, and maybe brew a plunger-potful of Krakatoa-blend coffee from Monkey and Son, but I’m not eating until later.
The oven beeps. The biscuits are golden and flaky. My wife and daughter slide into their chairs at the dining room table, and my 4-year-old son fetches today’s copy of the L.A. Times from the lawn, where it has miraculously not been soaked with sprinkler runoff. (Are the headlines true? Are the troops really on their way home? Did the Celtics really agree to trade Kevin Garnett straight up for Kwame Brown?) When I walk Leon to his pre-K class a little later, he remembers to hug me goodbye.
From the school, I drive to the gym, where I meet Melody Schoenfeld from Flawless Fitness, who has the unenviable task of directing me through the workout. (Why would I go to the gym on my last day on Earth? You never know when core fitness is going to come in handy on the other side.) I am in luck — it’s arms-and-shoulders day, no squats or lunges, and the mook who likes to work out to the Rocky soundtrack is nowhere to be seen. Even better, JACK-FM seems to have been struck by lightning during the night: Everybody’s reps are powered by a podcast of last week’s Chocolate City on KCRW, and the host, Garth Trinidad, has found some late-’70s Meters sides I have never heard before. The iron practically lifts itself.
As quickly as Melody strips calories off, Sumi Chang at nearby Europane puts them back on. I would ordinarily have a chocolate croissant but it is nearing the end of stone-fruit season, and I have a frangipane-smeared peach tart with one of Sumi’s perfect cappuccinos, layered with foam dense enough to support a spoon upright. It is a rather dry day — low humidity is bad for the skin but great for baked goods — and the puff pastry explodes into a million buttery flakes. I glance at the sports section. Garnett really does seem to be coming to the Lakers. It is a good day, considering.
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I have a few minutes to kill, so I drive over to the Norton Simon Museum, where I spend a while looking at my favorite painting by Francisco de Zurbarán, a still life of lemons that almost tumble out of the frame, nipply, glowing fruit whose lusciousness affirms the existence of God more persuasively than a dozen stiffly pious Zurbarán saints. The beauty is almost enough to make me forgive Simon for dismantling and burying the irreplaceable contemporary collection of the Pasadena Art Museum when he took over the institution three decades ago, but even today I have only so much forgiveness in my heart. I take a short walk through the building to look at the big Sam Francis splashed against the wall, and I shake my head at what might have been. I decide to take the Pasadena Freeway, the most beautiful of all American freeways, into Los Angeles. I make a quick detour halfway into town for a deep-fried potato taco with guacamole at El Atacor #11. Five minutes later, I am back on the freeway, heading toward downtown.
It is a lightish day at the Weekly, and my wife agrees to have lunch, although she tends to roll her eyes at any intimations of end times. Laurie works hard; even today she brushes off any ideas of a long, winey lunch at Spago or on the sunny, art-strewn patio at Michael’s. We end up at Sapp Coffee Shop, a legendary Thai Town noodle joint, where I get the duck noodles and she gets the boat noodle soup — a dark, murky broth of beef innards lit up like a pinball machine with ground Thai chiles. For the first time in months we manage to get there before the fried Thai sausage with peanuts is sold out. Laurie blushes when my foot meets hers under the table, but then she says she needs to get back to the office. I tell her I’m thinking of going to the zoo, and she decides to come along instead of going back to work — it must be end times. We cruise through Griffith Park to hang out for a few minutes with the meerkats at the Los Angeles Zoo, and pick up our son at Travel Town, where a friend has taken him to play on the trains.
We pick up Leon’s sister Isabel at school, and we all go up to Bulgarini in Altadena for gelato. I get the gloriously bitter granita de caffé. Leon seems extra-excited about his scoop of banana. The four of us drive up to the end of Cheney Trail and scramble over the rocks to Millard Falls, where Isabel skips rocks and Leon pokes at centipedes as evening falls over the canyon.
Later, we all go out with friends for Sichuan fried chicken, water-boiled fish and stir-fried bacon with leeks at Chung King, followed by a quick nightcap of Lagrein at Louon Vine. Back at home, Laurie and I hold hands and wait for the dawn.
WEISENBERGER MILL: www.weisenberger.com.
L.A. OPERA: www.laopera.com.
KENDOR FARMS: www.kendorfarms.com.
HOLLYWOOD FARMERS’ MARKET: Ivar Ave. between Hollywood and Sunset blvds., Hlywd., Sundays 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
EMERSON STRING QUARTET: ?www.emersonquartet.com.
SCHREINER’S FINE SAUSAGES: 3417 Ocean View Blvd., Glendale, (818) 244-4735.
ALEXANDER’S PRIME MEATS: in Howie’s Ranch Market, 6580 N. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 286-8871.
MONKEY AND SON COFFEE: www.monkey?andson.com.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: www.latimes.com.
FLAWLESS FITNESS: www.flawlessfitness.com.
EUROPANE: 950 E. Colorado Blvd., No. 107, Pasadena, (626) 577-1828.
CHOCOLATE CITY: KCRW 89.9 FM, Saturdays 6-9 p.m. www.kcrw.com/music/programs/cc.
NORTON SIMON MUSEUM: 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 449-6840 or ?www.nortonsimon.org.
EL ATACOR #11: 2622 N. Figueroa Ave., L.A., (323) 441-8477.
SPAGO: 176 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, ?(310) 385-0880.
MICHAEL’S: 1147 Third St., Santa Monica, ?(310) 451-0843.
SAPP COFFEE SHOP: 5183 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 665-1035.
LOS ANGELES ZOO: 5333 Zoo Dr., L.A., ?(323) 644-4200.
TRAVEL TOWN MUSEUM: 5200 Zoo Dr., L.A., (323) 662-5874.
BULGARINI GELATO: 749 E. Altadena Dr., ?Altadena, (626) 791-6174.
CHUNG KING: 1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd., ?San Gabriel, (626) 286-0298.
LOU ON VINE: 724 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 962-6369.