Photos by Jodi Ortega
More than 300 poets, ages 13 to 19, arrived in Los Angeles last week from all over the country to compete in Brave New Voices’ Seventh Annual National Youth Poetry Slam Festival, five days of open-mike poetry and workshops, from Leimert Park’s Kaos Network to Cinespace in Hollywood. Some even expelled poetry improvisations while standing in circles in the street. Night hours were consumed making poetry by the pool of their hotel. By closing night, at Hollywood’s Ricardo Montalban/Doolittle Theater, their spirit of fellowship was impossible to disintegrate, despite the competition. Our young poets seem to be pretty emotionally bashed nowadays, but they hold strong hope for the future. Saul Williams, the spoken-word artist and star of the film Slam, who hosted the show, declared these poets to be the leaders of tomorrow. What follows are just some of the words of three of our new leaders — Dahlak Brathwaite, Alia Bilal and Jennifer Wong, who made 500 people go silent just by taking a deep breath.
Jennifer Wong, 16, Seattle.
“Hunger likes to chase the anorexic girls . . . She comes dressed in white . . . and her hair falls down in trails for you to trace your way back to this ring around your weight game in which you are always short of breath, and short of pride . . . Arms like brittle tree branches scraping nails across your neck softly when you pass . . . You wonder why you are never done? Because perfection has just begun.”
Dahlak Brathwaite, 18, Davis.
“I love my black people. But I hate niggers . . . Get high and fight niggers, smoke fire, crack buying, dope supplying niggers . . . See: Martin and Malcolm would be ashamed of you, nigger. I don’t care if you are rapper nigger, singer nigger, flashy nigger . . . I’m gonna hate you if you are an anti-thinking nigger. Don’t know how to behave, nigger? Well you are still a slave, nigger . . . You are doing what they want, niggers . . . There’s war going on . . . Get learned or get gone. Which side are you on, nigger?”
Alia Bilal, 17, Chicago.
“. . . Three strikes in one: female, black, Muslim . . . And still people edge away from me on the train . . . Complete strangers are scared of me . . . Televisions scream out insults to me, dismember my image . . . ‘I know your tricks . . . oh daughter of Osama’ . . . And airports. We won’t even start with them . . . It seems like yesterday, a 16-year-old was shot six times in the head for being suspicious. He went to my school. And I am the terrorist? Look around, little girl: This is America.”
There were three notable developments in my local, admittedly limited fast-foodie circle this past year. One was Tacos Villa Corona in Atwater Village staying open on Sundays. A second was the opening of the marvelously named Asparagus Pizza on Cahuenga below Franklin — I haven’t eaten there yet, but I looked into the issue and, yes, they do offer other toppings and, no, it isn’t the family name. Stranger than Asparagus Pizza’s mere existence, though, was the opening of a most unusual In-N-Out Burger in Glendale — an In-N-Out without a drive-thru. That is: an In-N-Out without an in and out.
Which is weird because the drive-thru is what In-N-Out is known for. The first In-N-Out Burger, founded in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, was California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand. When Harry died in 1976, there were 18 In-N-Outs; today more than 140 dot California’s freeways and major thoroughfares, little roadside oases where weary commuters with a touch of the gourmand may find a simple, dependable menu, freshly made food and zero promotional tie-ins.
And yet, here is an In-N-Out where you have to park your car. (In a Mervyn’s parking structure, no less!) Facing this immanent, undeniable heresy, I experienced an episode of cognitive dissonance. Did this represent some new corporate strategy? Was In-N-Out turning its back not just on tradition but, even more unthinkable in Southern California, on the car itself?
I decided to make inquiries. I called corporate offices in Irvine and asked what the heck was going on.
“Our Brand Boulevard In-N-Out is actually our fifth location without a drive-thru,” Carl Van Fleet, In-N-Out’s vice president of planning, patiently explained in an e-mail a week later. “The first location without a drive-thru opened in Placentia in 1984, and there are also two in the Bay Area and one in Laguna Hills. So we really don’t consider a store without a drive-thru as a break with tradition. We just have a few sites where a drive-thru was not possible but we wanted to be there anyway. And most of our older stores have two drive-thru lanes and outside seating with a walk-up window, [so] I wouldn’t call them drive-thru only.”
So In-N-Out on Brand, in a very distinct minority, is a variation on the formula, kinda like the chain’s infamous off-the-menu items: the 4 x 4 (four patties, four slices of cheese), the Flying Dutchman (a Double-Double without veggies), Animal Style (don’t ask). Just as the Protein Style burger has no bun, or the Wish Burger has no meat, this In-N-Out has no drive-thru.
In a way, it doesn’t matter, because you don’t really mind having to stay to eat. I mean, look at the place: With its vaulted ceiling and huddled masses, this In-N-Out is unlike any I’ve ever experienced — it’s somewhere between a pleasant cafeteria and a brightly lit cathedral. The Snyder family may still print New Testament quotations on the bottoms of In-N-Out’s disposable drink cups, but the Brand location seems a celebration of an altogether different trinity: you half expect the giant windows facing Brand Boulevard to feature stained-glass representations of Double-Double, Fries and the Holy Coke.
They don’t, of course. What you see when you look out the window is traffic. And, if you watch closely, I’m told by the store’s staff, sometimes you’ll see the same car pass by several times in the span of a few minutes, a puzzled look on the faces of the driver and passengers.
They’re looking for the drive-thru, you see.
They ain’t gonna find it.
AS I WAS COMPLETING a left turn onto Sycamore Avenue from a busy Beverly Boulevard, the driver of a baby blue Cadillac Seville pulled head-on into my path in an effort to get around the massive delivery truck waiting to make a right turn in front of him. I was able to stop, but by jutting into the middle of the street, M&M — my made-up name for the wigger driving what was most likely his pop’s hooptie — effectively pinned my shiny, 22-day-old Honda Civic between Baby Blue and a row of parked vehicles lining the curb. Accelerating would mean a game of bumper cars with consequences.
The driver’s-side window was tinted a few shades lighter than a limousine so I couldn’t tell for sure, but I’m guessing M&M was no older than 23. He had a faint beard and was reclined to the max in his seat. I think he was jostling a toothpick in his mouth. The hood of his sweatshirt was pulled down to his eyebrows, forcing him to raise his head when he finally decided to turn and acknowledge my presence, which he did only after I honked and honked again for not making an effort to let me pass. M&M then pointed his hand at me like it was a gun . . . Bang! That’s when I lost my cool.
I drew down my car window and spit a loogie at M&M.
Spitting at a person is low. It’s worse than a sucker punch because the recipient can’t react appropriately. How exactly does one deflect spit? Even though my loogie landed on M&M’s rolled-up window, he knew the real bull’s-eye was his face. Much disrespect.
Right after, the delivery truck turned, freeing up space for Baby Blue and me to maneuver out of our standstill. I continued down Sycamore. An adrenaline rush. A sigh of relief. Then, a double take in my rearview mirror: M&M was flipping a bitch on Beverly and coming after me. I sped up, then slowed down, then the pussy in me rationalized that I didn’t need the confrontation and sped up again, right past my apartment, before turning right onto Second Street and then right onto La Brea. The northbound chase was on.
In high school there was a group of us who did stupid shit like toss balloons filled with ketchup at moving cars and play chicken for real. Once, we pissed off a cowboy in a pickup truck and he chased us for miles, along the way firing his pistol just to scare us. This was in the backwoods of Colleyville, Texas, though, not a Hollywood thoroughfare, where there is safety, presumably, in numbers.
I lost myself in the music, the moment, I owned it, and temporarily eluded M&M. North of Beverly, however, he exhibited some skillful maneuvers to gain ground, swerving in and out of lanes, screeching and scrapping his way around other cars. Once aside me he veered Baby Blue close to my Civic, as if, like Craterface gouging Zuko’s Greased Lighting on Thunder Road, he was intent on doing some serious damage to my new ride. Colorful combinations of words spewed from his mouth. “Pull over, li’l bitch.” “. . . kick your muthafucking ass.” “You’re dead, punk-ass ho.” Realizing he was within spitting distance, I quickly closed my windows.
Then M&M tossed what must have been a lighter, judging by the impact and the mark it left on the passenger-side door, and swerved in front of me, his momentum causing Baby Blue to fishtail over to the other side of the street and face the opposite direction . . . the direction in which he kept going. The lack of lights and cameras confirmed for unknowing passersby that this wasn’t an action sequence for a low-budget film but instead real life, where one never knows who he’s fucking with.
I was reading the paper at the Rose Cafe in Venice when a well-heeled mother, very preggers, plopped her two small children — one about 4 years old, the other a sobbing, bellowing toddler — down on two tall stools and then left to stand in line for food and coffee. The toddler immediately started kicking the steel leg of the chair and intermittently yelling and howling. She came back and said something to him when the screaming got a little louder, causing him to cut his volume ever so slightly, but not entirely — probably because her version of the “firm hand” of parental discipline appeared to be more of a limp wrist. The moment she got back in line, the kid upped both his decibel level and his chair-kicking campaign.
I had a choice: Sit there until I got a migraine from the piercing howls duking it out with the high notes of Vivaldi blaring from the café’s speakers or take charge. I looked straight at the toddler and said in a firm voice, “You need to be quiet. It makes it not nice for all the other people here if you’re making all this noise, so please stop right now.” Miracle of miracles, he did. All it took was an adult talking to him seriously, a lone voice outside that vast sea of go-right-ahead mommying telling him, not cruelly, that I wasn’t going to just sit there and suffer his brat-hood. (Yo, mom — maybe your kid is testing you to see if you love him enough to give him the discipline he needs? Just a thought!)
My reward for my triumph in managing the unmanageable? His mother marched over to my table and demanded, “Did you just reprimand my child?!” Mustering an air of Gandhi-like calm (out of a less-than-Gandhi-like urge to bug her senseless), I told her I did. Her jaw dropped — all the way to the stretchy stomach of her chic L.A. yoga-mommy maternity wear. She launched into a bit of how-dare-you-ing and huffed, “It isn’t your job to reprimand my child!” Maintaining my Formica veneer of Zen, I agreed with her — no, it isn’t my job — and what a shame that the person whose job it is isn’t doing it, thus forcing the task on irritable strangers in cafés. Unwilling or unable to contest logic, she scooped up her offspring and took them to stand in line with her — far away from the odd Satan Girl who takes issue with having her eardrums exploded by toddlers when she’s attempting to read the newspaper in venues not clearly marked “Nursery School” above the door.
And yes, I know it’s fun to dress toddlers up in Petit Bateau and all, but kids do need discipline or they’re sure to become unmanageable brats in the short term, and their own worst enemies for the rest of their lives. Maybe just because you can afford to have kids, you shouldn’t necessarily foist yourself on them as a sorry excuse for a parent. Yes, there seems to be a child-trend — children as the hot new status item in Los Angeles. Have one, dress one, show it off on Montana Avenue! But as alluring as it is to join in the mommy-chic, perhaps women ill-equipped for the actual job of parenting might consider investing in a couple dozen Hermès handbags and a couple dozen matching Lincoln Navigators instead? —Amy Alkon