On a warm spring evening, two members of Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous are contemplating what it is like not to contemplate food all the time. Morgan and Hazel, whose names have been changed at their request, are waiting for the support group's monthly meeting to begin, an hour from now, at a church in Westwood. Until then, they are killing time at a nearby Corner Bakery amidst the maple pecan bars and sticky cinnamon buns, deep in the belly of the beast.
Is it hard to be at a place like this?
"Well ... there was a time," Morgan says. "It might have been painful."
"How many clowns does it take to screw in a light bulb? Five: One to screw it in and four to tell him he's not screwing it silly." To the audible groans coming from his tour group, Crimebo the Clown snarls, "What did you expect? I'm a chopped-liver clown, I'm giving chopped-liver jokes. Get it? I'm a cut-up."
That's one way to describe Crimebo, especially since you get the feeling this is a clown who might actually cut you up. But unlike Chucky in Child's Play or the antagonists in Stephen King's IT (not to mention the clowns who recently freaked out commuters in both Staten Island and Northampton, England), Crimebo is charming in spite of his deliberately sinister appearance and cynical shtick. That's a big part of the success of his weekly tours, a downtown walking one and the Crimebo's Urban Legends van tour.
Crimebo is the brainchild of 47-year-old Michael Perrick, a third-generation Angeleno. Perrick spent a bohemian childhood bouncing across the city from Pacific Palisades to Leimert Park (his dad worked for the DWP, as a used-car salesman and as a taxi driver, while mom was a florist and interior designer).
On a blistering hot, summer Friday night, 65 people arrived at a campsite in the scrubby foothills of Brea for a wilderness survival camp called Krav vs. Wild. On the first evening, they learned how to maneuver in the dark, did hand-to-hand combat in the sand, practiced taking down an opponent, went on a mock intelligence mission and dispatched a few guards and attack dogs. They slept on cots in military-style tents, woke at 6 a.m., saluted the flag, ran a half mile to the sand pits for more combat, then fashioned improvised weapons for stabbing, crushing and throwing. Today, they'll be rotating through one-hour classes, including paintball, rock climbing, land navigation, archery and throwing tomahawks at severed pig heads.
It is, everyone decides, shaping up to be a pleasant weekend.
Now in its third year, Krav vs. Wild is organized by the training center Krav Maga Worldwide. Krav Maga is Israel's martial art. Instructors at the center figured their students might enjoy rounding out their personal badass-ness with wilderness skills.
It is the only event of its kind. While there are plenty of self-defense classes, and nearly as many wilderness-survival training events, organizers believe they may be the only one that combines the two.
Countless birds are squawking in the distance, as something scrabbles through the undergrowth. A small stream splashes by, the wind rustles the leaves, and an insect has just buzzed overhead.
No wonder the excited kids ignore the bearish guy with the close-cut goatee and khaki shorts. He looks like just another visitor, ready with his iPad to photograph something moving or slithering, but when he swipes his screen, it's as if lightning has struck. Suddenly there's no noise, no sound at all: Everything goes quiet, even (momentarily) the kids.
The man is Jason Cleanthes, and he's the AV technician at the Los Angeles Zoo. Grinning, he brings this zone of the Rainforest of the Americas exhibit instantly back to life in much the same way he originally silenced it — with a touch of the iPad.
Five years to the day that his friend Michael Jackson died, Shmuley Boteach, 47-year-old Orthodox rabbi and relentless self-promoter, is sitting at a cafe in Malibu contemplating the nature of fame. It is an overcast, gloomy summer afternoon — unusual but appropriate, he says. What he feels today is "sad, a bit of a void, an absence" and some regret. Boteach, who lives in New Jersey, is in town visiting relatives, but it is Jackson who is on his mind.
Boteach met Jackson through a mutual friend. At the time, Boteach was Oxford University's rabbi. He'd just published a controversial bestseller, Kosher Sex, and was lecturing about it when the friend called him up and said the magic words: "Michael Jackson wants to meet you."
Last October, Kristy Sandoval got a call from the owner of a Granada Hills tae kwon do studio. He'd seen her signature, "K. Sandoval," on a mural and wanted to commission a sign. "He kept saying, 'I need to speak to him, I need to speak to K. Sandoval. Where is he? Tell him that I need to talk to him.' I tried to tell him it was me. It took a couple times and he finally realized I was a woman," she says.
Sandoval had painted the mural, Decolonize, a few months earlier on the back wall of a Pacoima insurance office. It depicts a girl with feathers in her blue dreadlocks, freeing parrots and butterflies from a cage. The cage is a high window with bars across it; the girl's skirt is a maroon awning, popping out above the back door. "I don't know if he would have called me if I put 'Kristy,' " Sandoval says, "but it didn't stop him from hiring me."
Petite and soft-spoken, Sandoval, 31, says people often are surprised to see her painting a sign alone; after all, the job involves lifting heavy paint cans and climbing scaffoldings. But she's been taking her brush to the brick and stucco walls of the East San Fernando Valley for six years, to growing acclaim.
Fred Fox, oldest member of the Holmby Park Lawn Bowling Club, is waiting for the game to begin. He is killing time. There is nowhere he needs to be, no one he needs to meet. In a few short weeks, he will be 100 years old.
What is the best thing about being 100? "That's a nasty question!" Fox opines. "You should say, 'What are the problems of being 100?' "
Sitting on a bench here in tony Holmby Park, in his bowling whites and big straw hat, he details the vexations: He requires pills for digestion. His legs are numb. His feet tingle. His mind moves quickly but his body won't keep pace — too damn slow.
Once a month, the photographers come out to stalk the moon. It started with Raul Roa.
Roa, a 49-year-old photojournalist, is standing in a Denny's parking lot in Whittier one hazy summer evening, staring at the eastern horizon in anticipation of moonrise, exactly 54 minutes from now. This Denny's, as it happens, is within clear line of sight of the Los Angeles International Airport flight path. If he times it just right, Roa will capture that elusive and peculiar thing he has been chasing for nearly a year now: a photograph of a plane silhouetted against the moon.
His first moon photo was a fluke. He was driving up to Montebello on the 60 freeway one night and there it was, huge as a wheel of cheese in his front window. "I pulled over on the side to the Montebello mall parking lot, near the Macy's," he recalls. "After that, I tried on purpose to get it."He started timing the moon. He tracked it in his backyard in Whittier. Soon he was consulting maps, scouting the best locations to see the moon and downloading moon-trajectory cellphone apps. At some point, he figured out that sometimes planes would slip across the face of the full moon. That made for cool photos. He started trying to catch planes in front of the moon by driving along the two flight paths into LAX, which are about four miles apart.
JJ Villard just lived through a stretch of weeks that felt like a single day. Near the end of production for his forthcoming cartoon series, King Star King, the budget grew tight. The five-person team that provided layouts was gone, although there was one more episode to go. Villard had to do the job himself. He worked from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, churning out one drawing after the next.
Now, in mid-April, Villard is sitting in his office at Hollywood animation studio Titmouse, going through the work that he somehow turned in on time. There's the eponymous King Star King with his chest exploding. Villard pulls up another drawing as he describes the scene: "He's drinking, smoking aliens and snorting worms and then - boom! - all the eyes come out of the clouds."He proclaims, "The end animation looks beautiful!"
Shay Roberts, founder of Academy of Arms medieval combat school, doesn't consider himself a master swordsman. Although the soft-spoken writer and former computer teacher at Glendale College has spent nearly a decade swinging blades and poring over medieval manuscripts, it takes a lifetime of hard work to revive a martial art that hasn't been steadily taught for centuries. "I have so much more to learn," Roberts says.
The nonprofit Academy specializes in European fighting techniques from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, with a heavy historical approach. It's called Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), and both the students and their volunteer instructors spend countless hours studying and practicing for the chance to accurately relive medieval European combat.
On a recent Sunday morning in Burbank, a handful of students from the Academy line up on the grass at Verdugo Park. The day is bright, warm and lively: People play tennis or walk their dogs, and families chat while sitting at nearby picnic benches.The students have a different task. They face the head instructor of the techniques class, Jason Imboden. Each is armed with a wooden training messer.