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."
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.
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."
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.
On a balmy, perfect Friday afternoon, Michael Monk is thinking about blood, death and iambic pentameter. The 65-year-old employment lawyer - turned-playwright is the author of The Tragedy of Orenthal: Prince of Brentwood, a play about the O.J. Simpson case, penned in traditional Elizabethan style. First published in 2012, a second printing of the book has just been released to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the killings. Two murders most foul, a jealous lover spurned, justice denied - indeed, the O.J. tale is as Shakespearean as it gets.
Monk had been a big fan of O.J., he says, sitting at an upscale café in Santa Monica precisely two miles from where the murders occurred. On June 13, 1994, football superstar Orenthal J. Simpson allegedly showed up at ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson's home and stabbed her and her friend Ron Goldman to death on the patio walkway. Monk followed the resultant trial closely, and, as a big Shakespeare fan, it occurred to him that some of Macbeth's and Othello's soliloquies, which expressed the characters' innermost thoughts, might have been exactly what O.J. was thinking both prior to the murders and after.
After the shock of the verdict in 1996, Monk decided to tell the story as he believed it really happened. Transposing our modern vernacular into 16th-century verse form, he decided, would be "a great game." Holed up in his study each night after work with 1,000 pages of trial transcripts, he cranked out a draft in 14 months.
Tamar Geller, "life coach for dogs and their people," is sitting at a café in Venice contemplating her career thus far. "Oprah gave me the title. I did not call it to myself," she says. The anointing happened about seven years ago, when Geller was flying in Oprah's private plane to Oprah's house in Chicago to live, for one month, with Oprah's golden retrievers.
Geller is best known for her cruelty-free training methods, turning pets into "happy, joyful and well-mannered members of the family," as her best-selling book, The Loved Dog, describes.
The energetic, 40-something blonde with the megawatt smile was not always a life coach for dogs. In her early 20s, she was an intelligence officer with the Israeli army's Special Forces. They use dogs. Though she didn't like the harsh way the military trained the dogs, she didn't think much of it until after her service, when she went to the desert to, as she puts it, clean her mind.
From a cavernous warehouse in an undisclosed location in Southern California, the collections manager of the Natural History Museum, Beth Werling, manages a war against entropy. The warehouse's exact location must remain secret - the place is a literal treasure trove of priceless artifacts.
On this particular sunny spring day, Werling, a zaftig, self-possessed blonde, is contemplating the Scarlett O'Hara barbecue dress. The dress came into the museum's possession 10 years ago, after its sister institution, LACMA, decided to stop collecting costumes, and it has been languishing in storage ever since. As 2014 is Gone With the Wind's 75th anniversary, there is hope among staffers that the dress might be displayed.
The knit crawlers are coming. Yarn Crawl Los Angeles planning committee chairwoman Stephanie Steinhaus and veteran knitter Libby Butler-Gluck are sitting in Steinhaus' Burbank store, Unwind, taking stock of the progress they've made in preparing for the city's biggest knitting event, now in its third year.
For four days in April, knit crawlers will visit 30 yarn stores, one after another, covering a 2,000-square-mile territory, from Santa Clarita to Long Beach, Santa Monica to Claremont, scoring deals, window shopping and generally solidifying one another's devotion to the fiber arts. "It's like a bar hop but, instead of getting drunk on beer, you get drunk on yarn," Steinhaus says.
Today is one of those rare cool, misty, overcast days that hardly ever occurs in the Valley, and both women are wrapped in warm, cozy scarves they knitted themselves, even though they are indoors."We're in the final home stretch," Steinhaus says. "It's a lot of work. We have to recruit the sponsors, the wholesale vendors who provide the gift baskets, the shops. Coordinating 30 entrepreneurs who are used to running their shop their own way? It's like herding cats, trying to corral them into a joint effort."