Sunset over East Hollywood, Los Angeles

Victor Avila: Hope Amid Stones both Tall and Gray

Infinity does not know the grave
though the digger’s hand still turns the soil.
These monuments that some think grand
only mutely invoke the names
of the long forgotten dead.

There is no permanence
as these stones hope to proclaim.
Whether we are buried over here or over there
only bones below in a box remain.

The earth gladly welcomes them.

Perhaps infinity is just a word
Like truth and God and love.
Are they just pretty syllables
for atheists and blasphemers
to ponder in their despair?

Faith is irrational. It’s the logic of angels.

No, I will never understand
the mystery of the silent mountains.
not far beyond these gray and somber stones.
All the secrets of the universe
I’ll leave for others to discover.
The unknown will remain for me unknown.
I am glad of this.

I walk among the intaglio of crosses
and joyfully accept my mortality.
It’s because of this that I do not fear
the eventuality of days.

For every story, even ours, has a conclusion.

The essence of everything
we hold briefly in our hands.
In reality though, there is nothing in between them.
I find this notion both magnificent and grand.

Dust in time will cover even this.

Nothing in life is learned
until beauty becomes our mirror.
Only then will we catch a glimpse
of all that we call immortal.
We do well when we chase the ethereal.

For it is in the chasing of it, that we find most joy.

V.A.

Victor Avila is a winner of the Chicano Literary Prize. His poetry collection, “The Mystic Thrones of Night,” was published through Vagabond Books in 2019. Victor’s poetry has been widely published and anthologized. Recent work can be found in such collections as EXTREME: An Anthology for Social and Economic Justice, and The Border Crossed Us. Victor has taught in California schools for over thirty years.

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A couple waits at a light at Vermont avenue and Santa Monica boulevard.

JIMBO TIMES is more than 2,100 Days Old Today

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 62)

JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller completed 2,100 days around the sun yesterday. The blog’s first column was posted on the evening of August 19th, 2014. According to Google, that was exactly 2,100 days ago, with today being the 2,101st day on record. During that time, I’ve published just a little over 700 columns on the site, or just short of one writing a day for two consecutive years’ worth of reading.

When I first started the blog, it was simply an ode to mom and the rest of the community that raised me through the streets of Los Angeles. I thought I had seen much of those streets by then, which I could showcase through the blog, but I had no idea just how much more was ahead.

I didn’t know, for example, that I would write about the deaths of young Latinos through the intersections of East Hollywood.

Likewise, I didn’t know that I would write about working as a barista and server behind Los Angeles’s registers.

I also didn’t know that I would get to review what would become my favorite book ever about Los Angeles, Mike Davis’s City of Quartz.

And even if I believed I could show up to classrooms all over Los Angeles to motivate young people towards their education some day, as well as juvenile detention centers for the same purpose, none of it was guaranteed. I strove to see all of it through.

Even so, if someone had told me then that all of that work would one day lead me to feature student voices on the blog, I would have believed it, but guardedly, under a quiet skepticism.

The only thing I knew for a long time was that even if these cuentos might not have seemed like extraordinary things to much of the rest of the world around me, they still mattered to me.

Today, our blog is 62 consecutive blogs into Pandemic in Los Angeles. I know that many readers haven’t had a chance to keep up with each column, but that’s the beauty of the site: like a good book, it’s not going anywhere.

Take your time to see if you can catch up, Los Angeles

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 23

The emotional integrity of a people is strong, and it’s a magical thing to overhear a family still chuckling during these times, chins raised in laughter, completely and uniquely forming part of a future for the world around them.

Even humans who occupy space all to themselves form part of a family, as well as a future; they carry in their hearts a kaleidoscope of personalities, moments, and far more information that inevitably needs to go somewhere to perform some thing.

I see this future all across Los Angeles, no matter what a news report to the contrary could bid me to buy about its present.

Today it’s been a full two weeks since mayor Garcetti and governor Newsom stood at the port of Los Angeles with the U.S. Navy Mercy ship docked to shore behind them. In their address, the mayor informed the public that at the rate L.A. was recording cases of coronavirus, Los Angeles was likely on a trajectory similar to that of New York in terms of its caseload and overrun hospitals.

But the mayor was wrong. And the L.A. Storyteller’s analysis of the mayor’s address that day predicted why the grim forecast was likely premature.

I’m not now gloating, but I do mean to reflect for a moment on the power of words. I heard an excellent quote not so long ago, about the incredible power of misinformation, paraphrased slightly here for brevity:

A lie can travel halfway across the world before the truth can finish putting its boots on.

The quote is a masterful summary of how often some of the greatest lies, mistakes, or forms of misspeaking are magnified and perpetuated at far greater lengths than truths, corrections, or statements of purpose or vision.

I think of two groups particularly affected by this phenomenon: the youngest among us, and the most senior among us. Just this morning, for example, I saw someone I follow sharing the link to a misleading report about some of California’s most recent responses to the pandemic.

It wasn’t the first time this friend of mine, who is older, shared this type of “click-bait,” but it did strike me that she likely didn’t pause before posting it to her profile to realize that it simply wouldn’t be a “good look,” for the click-bait revealed far more about what she was willing to believe rather than what was true.

This person is a voter. She is also a mother of two children in Los Angeles and therefore someone I have great respect for. But she, like most of us humans–including our mayor–is vulnerable to being misinformed, and to passing along misinformation to yet more people, if not for a few stops along the way to corroborate facts and distinguish them from fiction.

In the same way, in my experience working at L.A.’s schools, I’ve seen frequently the great power that words have over young people; words can be summoned to lift our young people up, or invoked to tear them down. More often than not, it’s a balancing act with little time allotted to it amid the throes of the quickly moving school-day. I would add for a moment that this is America, but the fact is that the school-day, like the work-day, moves quickly all over the world.

But whether at school or at work, balancing our words–like our actions–is something we have to frequently remind ourselves of, especially when trying to respond to the moment. I therefore hope more people in L.A. and across the world–including myself–can use this time away from rush-hour to find within all of our kaleidoscopes just what we need to restore for the sake of placing our best feet forward in days still to come. Indeed, JIMBO TIMES, as usual, will continue looking to remind the people just so.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 16

L.A.’s streets in the early evening are curled into misty shadows. Once again I walked through the city, moving to the drum of its dimmed pulse. I know this is a privilege that not just everyone gets to enjoy. I am thankful for what I have, and hopeful that by sharing that through this blog, I can still make a difference.

A friend asked me earlier today how I’ve been getting through the times, and I responded that I’ve been reading, and writing. Then repeating. During this process it’s become more clear to me how over the course of these last few years, as I’ve picked up my smartphone more frequently, I’ve picked up my paperback and hardcover books less and less.

This has been obvious enough of a case for most everyone, but through the course of the quarantine season, I’ve seen only more clearly how work and school and the rest of my time dashing through time and space have been divided in so many different directions, and how the smartphone became a bridge to connect these things.

That is, until now, when in lieu of these most recent events, my phone has become less of a necessary bridge. While I still need to set my reminders, I don’t need to rely on the screen for them. And while I still have appointments, I take them one day at a time.

In these times, Jimbo Times: The L.A. Storyteller has been the more necessary bridge–my daily reminder–or my way to not only remain connected but to become even more ensconced withing my community and culture.

Since so many of my daily treks across the road have vanished, I’ve gotten back to my reading goals in a way that seemed virtually out of reach only a month ago. In the first week of the shutdown, at long last, I finished Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace. Today, during this third week, I finally got past 600 pages of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Almost in celebration, I published an “early” review (or is that a critique) of Infinite Jest on the site, the first review in months for J.T.

At this rate, if I’m able to continue my sudden return to the classics, maybe I can finally get back to Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, not to mention W.E.B. Du Bois’s Reconstruction. These are books that have sat on my shelf for years now, but which at this particular juncture, for all intents and purposes, I can see and pick up again with refreshed eyes.

But after two weeks, I’d say I’ve gone on long enough about myself. What are the people of L.A. reading? And what might they recommend for yours truly to review on the site? At least for the time being, time appears to be just enough on our side for the matter.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 10

I saw recently an advisory that the World Health Organization actually recommends checking on updates for the coronavirus only once or twice a day. I very much appreciated seeing that advisory; I heeded their advice and took a reprieve from my laptop and the usual applications for this Saturday–not to mention the rate of my ‘updatedness’–and am likely do so once again through Sunday. Over the last two weeks, I’ve steered the galactic ship that is JIMBO TIMES towards optimal attention to updates on COVID-19 in an effort to relay the information to as many others in the blog’s network as reachable as soon as possible.

It’s made for a transition that’s been nearly seamless for the blog; I’ve very much enjoyed publishing the new word of the day, as well as publishing bulletins or announcements for the people regarding the latest on COVID-19 from our elected officials–not to mention these blogs–but as with all events in the observable universe, they’ve not been without their costs–or trade-offs–in exchange.

It’s required marked discipline from me to write each night before my deadline. And it’s worn my eyes slightly more than I might have anticipated, among other things.

At the same time,J.T.’ has always been a “trade-off,” although the “t-word” isn’t the most accurate term to describe what the process has entailed.

Many years ago, during another great seismic shift of the norm in the good ole USA, a close friend and I had a very brief exchange about another ‘downtime’ or major change in America, which, short as it was, I’d never forget:

“You know,”
I said, “the Great Depression wasn’t bad for everyone.”

I didn’t fully know if this was the case or not, but somehow took a leap of faith wide enough that my observation was fairly accurate that it sounded confident enough to register with my friend once it left my trachea.

“That’s right,” my friend said. “There were some people that actually really got rich after that,” he exclaimed with conviction.

Maybe we were both on to something that was quite more true than either of us could have speculated to be at the time. In any case:

In 2020, after much consideration and observation, at this precise juncture of time and space, it’s an honor to note that the blog has never been more positioned for success than it is currently; business is better than it’s ever been.

But what exactly is business?

I have decided that business is not just my consistency with the people, but that it’s consistency with myself. Take a day off all of it, Los Angeles. You’re going to need it for the days still ahead.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 09

At the time of this writing, the L.A. Times reports that the number of cases in California has grown to nearly 5,000, with 102 known deaths. Between yesterday and this Friday, the number of recorded cases more than doubled. If the trend continues, according to Mayor Garcetti:

A week or two from now, we will have images like we’re seeing in New York here in Los Angeles.”

Except that there is a discrepancy to point out; California has lagged far behind New York in testing–by about 65% according to the SF Chronicle–which means that the spike in cases shouldn’t be read as representing the rate of the spread of the virus, but only as representing the increased rate of California’s testing for it.

In other words, we can’t yet say for sure if we’ll be at New York city’s level of crisis without sampling or testing more of the population first.

But that’s where the trouble lies. Unlike New York, the state of California actually doesn’t have a federally approved test for COVID-19; instead, the state developed its own test for the virus. That’s where a bigger problem lies: the sluggish testing in California is also due to a shortness of staff and materials to administer the screening.

This underscores why the state’s leadership is panicked. It’s, of course, a serious failure on both the part of the 5th largest economy in the world and the federal government.

But what’s also true is that comparing Los Angeles to New York City as if they are basically twin cities on opposite coasts is simply misleading. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Los Angeles is a city of just under 4 million people, while it estimates that New York City is twice as large at just under 8.4 million.

But more important than the size is how differently these cities run. The density of New York City, where people are far more reliant on public transportation, far closer together at bars, restaurants and tourist locations, and where people are housed exponentially right on top of each other, shows why the risk of spread is greater there.

By contrast, California, the city of Carmageddon, is a city where millions of people already quarantine themselves on a daily basis en route to work each morning. There is density and clustering, but it’s far more sequestered. Think downtown L.A., Venice beach, or Hollywood. These are obviously hot-spots, where the risk of spread is just as great as anywhere else in the world, but the majority of the city is not as densely concentrated as downtown, Venice beach, or Hollywood. This is where the shutdown of L.A. was key.

It was the right step to close the schools and limit the amount of travel as soon as possible. And as Garcetti and Newsom have both noted, the vast majority of Californians have complied with the stay at home orders, which is a good sign.

Now the only problem is access to the tests, though. Once we can get more of our people screened, we can have a better projection of where to allocate our maximal resources, what areas to screen off, and where people can “get back to normal.”

Of course, “normal” is a stand-in for work. If not for nearly 40 million workers, how else could California rank as the 5th largest economy in the world, behind only Germany, Japan, China and the U.S. itself? The golden state’s wealth is formed daily not just by those millions of people in traffic authorized to work, but just as much by the millions of unauthorized workers whose hands also contribute to create its riches.

Con paciencia, mamá. Todo pasa por una razón.’

J.T.

A Strand of Humanity (An Eighth Grade Student’s Poem on this Covid19 Season)

I sit here alone between four dark walls
Longing for a connection I can’t help but recall

This deadly virus has taken more than spirit and soul.
It’s also broken a ritual between me and my friends.

I wish I could say “hi” to them,
Or shake their hands, or tap them on the shoulder.

Now we sit isolated in virtual reality,
Only a strand of humanity.

School and work are gone, off limits
But these places aren’t just somewhere to be,

They also bring light in to a dark room.

Calamity over the virus now makes for empty shelves,
People panicking ignorantly,
Angering themselves, shoving each other.

I hope to see some deliverance soon,
A respite from this gloom to light up my room.

JC

This poem is dedicated to the city of Los Angeles and all who read this poem.

Helen Bernstein High School from Sunset boulevard, East Hollywood

José Ocampo: I Wanted School to Be Over

Many students (high school seniors, I’m talking to you!) constantly share one common wish: for school to be over. As seniors, we have put up with nearly 12 years of schooling, have gone through twice as many teachers, met 5 times as many annoying-ass kids, and just wanted our final year to be a breeze. Do we still want that?

When we said, “UGH! I want to get out of here already!” we meant that we wanted the school year to go by fast, unnoticed. However, fate and life (and some may even say God) enjoy toying with us, and like making a wish at a magic genie booth at the L.A. County fair, we actually got what we wanted, just in the most undesirable way possible.

COVID-19 has every school in the major Los Angeles area closed with a very high chance that they’ll remain closed until the upcoming fall. Suddenly, all of us students have been forced into online schooling, with every teacher trying to host a Zoom session at the same time, with many teachers assigning homework every single day, and with some teachers still having no idea how to use technology. This is not the end we wanted.

Suddenly, it seemed our introverted lifestyles were becoming a law and a survival guide: don’t go outside, don’t interact with anyone, avoid direct contact, only leave to get food. Finally, our binge-eating and binge-watching routines were no longer taboo, but being encouraged by the leaders of our state. In a nutshell, it can seem ideal. Living in it, though, has been a serious challenge.

Be careful what you wish for. You don’t know the value of what you have until it’s gone. These are sayings that are kicking everyone in the ass at the moment.

The vast majority of people always complain about the insipidity of their daily routine; we’re always asking for a change. It’s only now that we start to realize how dependent we are in our customs. Think about it: you’re sitting on your couch, watching something random on Netflix for background noise, eating your 5th Cup Noodles this week, and daydreaming about how life was perfectly normal a month ago (though you were probably complaining about it then too).

Many of our lonely souls just want this to be over because we miss our friends. We miss making plans we probably weren’t going to show up for. We miss rolling our eyes at the kids in the halls who take their sweet ass time walking to class. We also miss seeing that one teacher that remembered what being a high school student was like. Some of us are even questioning if we’ll still remember our social skills once this is over. Will we remember how to say “hi” properly, or how to hug our friends?

No matter what kind of person you may be, you probably miss the times that seem like forever ago too. Every day lasts 72 hours now, and there is apparently nothing to do. We all want this to be over, and soon. But what can we do? Be awesome and listen. That’s what. Also, remember to wash your hands and practice saying “hello” at home whenever possible.

(This blog was originally published on the new LA Voice Blog by José Ocampo)

JO

José Ocampo is an 18 year old Senior high school student in Los Angeles who will be studying at the University of San Francisco as a Psychology major this upcoming Fall 2020. He loves writing about the world, and sharing his mind with as many people as he can. Please check out and subscribe to his new blog, the LA Voice, immediately during this quarantine season!

Julieta Galan: Memories of our reality

State street park, a comfort zone on the street to me.

I’d go there to play on the swings,

I’d feel the breeze passing through my untamed frizzy hair,

Through leaves of the trees and the rattling grass.

It balances the warmth of the sun, enough to be able to withstand the sun a while longer.

There are times that the sun gives streaks of golden sunlight on the grass,

The grass that has just been showered with water.

And if you listen closely it’s almost as if mother nature is trying to communicate with you.

This is the park where the recreation center instructor taught me how to play the guitar,

Where I first stepped foot on a stage to perform the Yellow Submarine by The Beatles in cold December.

The first terrifying moment of my childhood,

My heart was pounding and my hands were sweating,

I felt as if I was a contestant on American Idol,

It was only that the recreation center was encouraging me to practice the confidence that I carry within me.

Seven years later since I’ve visited this park it has only been a reminder of how I used to feel towards it.

Returning to this park now, I see the saddening truth of it all.

There is a fence dividing the park and the street that gets smashed into the basketball court,

Threatening the lives of the youngsters playing in the court.

Young drunk girls pee on the grass,

The gang that once used to run the park are all cracked out, not going anywhere with their lives,

These cracked out fools only looking for trouble asking the kids “what street they claim.”

In a house across the street the dealers sell drugs to anyone who needs a fix.

The police continuously make rounds around the park day and night staring down anyone who looks suspicious.

I can only reminisce about how I felt,

As it is a different life at State street park when you’re all grown up.

In the 20th century Boyle heights had a diversity of Japanese, Latinos, and Jewish, but because of racist banks the Jewish were run out. They could not borrow money or buy houses even after Bill Phillips helped in the process of bringing all these people together. Economics and racism are pretty much the same thing in Boyle Heights. The banks didn’t want to lend the Jewish people money or decide to reconstruct their homes, forcing them to move out.

J.G.

Julieta Galan is a Boyle Heights native and resident of Los Angeles.

Calling All Bloggers, Writers, Storytellers: Publish Your Voice on Jimbo Times: The L.A. Storyteller

It’s true.

“After five years of JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller, it’s time to make space on the blog for more voices and stories from communities in Los Angeles and beyond. Enter the new Submissions feature. To maintain and expand the blog’s love for city life and attention to its working class communities, here are the types of pieces writers everywhere are encouraged to submit…”

I’m very proud of this latest milestone for the site, and thereby look forward to seeing what types of stories we’ll be getting out there! Visit the new SUBMISSIONS page soon to go and see for yourself!

J.T.