A helicopter making the rounds above East Hollywood, Los Angeles

Summer has arrived in Los Angeles, and J.T. is going to Publishing School with LARB

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 96)

Our blog is officially kicking the season off with a fundraiser for yet another special program with yours truly this summer 2020. The Los Angeles Review of Books Fellowship (LARB) for entrepreneurial projects is a special opportunity rightfully fitting for Los Cuentos. Starting in July, along with a group of fellow burgeoning writers and storytellers, I’ll be work-shopping for five weeks under the guidance of the editor-in-chief at LARB to grow J.T. The L.A. Storyteller into a premier platform for working class voices in our communities as I know it needs to be.

Because if you think up to 100 blogs in a row for Pandemic in Los Angeles makes for a lot of reading, you haven’t seen anything yet, Los Angeles.

I believe in the power of words because they were once only a few words that endangered my life. Just as they were once only a few words that saved it.

Today, there are septuagenarians–or readers in their seventies–who follow Jimbo Times, and who I’m proud to count among the ranks. But there are also 13 and 14 year olds who follow the blog, who I’m inspired to think gain some perspective from its words. Most of all, there’s an array of readers in between these ranges who’ve come to count on Jimbo Times for thoughts and analysis of the always interesting times we find ourselves in.

One such friend and supporter told me to “tell those stories” from my eyes at the LARB workshops. I thought then of all the young people whose eyes have seen the depths of hardship in Los Angeles in ways that no one would wish for others. I am fortunate to be here, and fortunate to be able to make this call to the community in honor of our collective ‘eyes’, once again towards a brighter future for all in this sacred pueblo we call Los Angeles.

J.T.

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A single candle-light on Normal avenue following another fatal shooting in East Hollywood, the fifth in the area this year

Today, Put Your Sunscreen On And Get Ready for Another Walk, Los Angeles

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 83)

During a time of so much change, one is not unreasonable to ask themselves: what can I change? There is much work to do at home. Many lines to dial up, different items lying around needing to be stored in better places, handfuls of books to finish reading, and more.

But even when we see each of these tasks through, almost at the same time we close the cover on one set of interests, ideas, and responsibilities, we acquire new ones. Before we know it, we find ourselves swept by another cycle of work, traffic, and the need to slow down before it’s too late again.

Maybe that’s the single reason why death is so inconceivable: life as it moves seems like it can never be complete, even if sometimes it feels like it’s just a breath away from closing the covers on us for good.

In my own life, I believe I’ve walked through the same streets that too many young people have not had enough time to see as more than just more concrete they’re confined to.

I believe I owe it to each of them, and so many more lives that have come and gone, to continue putting together the pieces for serious visions of a better Los Angeles, one step and one breath at a time.

Here is to continue working for it, but first, to walk some more for it. The light is calling, Los Angeles.

J.T.

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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.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 44

It’s breathtaking to think that 44 days have whisked past Los Angeles since I first embarked on this writing series. The fact of the matter is that writing daily for a community is something I first envisioned doing many years ago, after I signed up for the New York Times’s newsletter featuring David Leonhardt’s daily musings about the news and American life.

I can also remember when I first mentioned this to someone, a stranger who I’d met at an end-of-the-year gala in none other than downtown Los Angeles. I was there to photograph for the evening, but before starting work, was offered a light meal to help me course through the night’s duty.

At the table when I sat down, I happened to come across the event’s very own local hostess, who would also sit down to an early dinner before overseeing the evening’s schedule. Over the clanks of forks and plates with chicken on each end, I can remember our brief, but lasting conversation. 

The hostess and I talked about the different ways that we found ourselves at the event, and how each of us was doing something we could enjoy while also supporting the special night, even if there was still maybe just a little more we wanted to do. Our conversation then turned to the question of just what that something more was.

When the hostess asked me what it was that I wanted to do, apart from what I just enjoyed, I can remember feeling completely at ease, as if I’d simply been waiting for someone to pose precisely that query. I told her that what I’d really like to do was just write and send all of my musings out for the whole world to see, as David Leonhardt got to do for his paper. I wanted to enjoy the same privilege, but on my side of town in sunny Los Angeles.

The hostess heard me graciously, then replied with a smile, saying,

“Something tells me you’re going to do it.

We then went our separate ways. The hostess went on to make the many guests for the night feel like they were just by home for the evening, while yours truly went on to click that shutter with a thankful smile for each guest who helped me capture a slice of the time. It’s now been almost three years since that night. And this column is the 44th consecutive blog from myself to the world.

But what would you say, Los Angeles, if you were at that table? Would you tell a stranger about dreams for yourself, as if it was just a matter of time?

Something tells me you’ve got to do it.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 31

As for most people, 31 days through this unprecedented time have gone by far more quickly than I could have imagined. I’ve been writing as a way to document my experience, but even so much writing only begins to tell the story. And while I’d like to look at everything written through the days to piece together some explanation of it all, it’s also true that I’ve got still more writing to do.

There are serious moments when I look at the world around me as though I may be the only one who truly exists in it. I know that might seem strange, but my mind is like a great shadow, cast over everything I say and do. Writing is a way to subdue this shadow, to reflect it back, and to let my mind connect with other minds who may also exist.

This probably also explains why I take so much pleasure in reading. I can be anywhere in the world, on an airplane 10,000 feet above sea level, or at my desk in the middle of a pressing workflow, but if faced with an engrossing read in my hands, the real universe can wait. A good book makes me a part of two worlds, both of which deserve my utmost attention and courtesy in equal degrees.

In the days following this quarantine, I hope to see more libraries, and more spaces where people are encouraged to sit peaceably as they read, write, and create their day in every other way they might. For now, while the “real” library is closed, there is another library stored in these entries of mine, as well as in the precious world offline, which still exists as mightily as ever, in the pages of a million books still left to read, in a million journals still left to write, and in countless real stories still between each line.

And for the record, I do not mean to be the only one who may exist. I value immeasurably every voice and every face promising that other minds besides mine also verifiably populate the world around me just like I do. In fact, as it turns out, the very mind that leads me to wander away from reality is the same one I use to get back to that very reality. I believe this is how it works for most of us, right?

In other words, it’s becoming clearer to me that perhaps even before the quarantine many of us were already quarantined, in our minds. But just like “the real one,” I can admit the long shadow has its upsides too. Today turns out to be one of those days. What does your quarantine say?

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 18

Even without the familiar road, there remains so much work to do. Life at home is only life with one’s long list of to-dos up closest to our periphery.

There is food to put on the table. And there are dishes to clean. There is fresh coffee to warm up. And there is old coffee to throw out. 

There is sweeping to do, in every room you can find. There is mail to sift through. Mail continues coming in each day. 

There is opening up this mail, the most important-looking one first.

There is mulling over the response, leaving the inconvenience for another time.

There is checking the phone, visiting the usual pages, refreshing them, then getting pulled into their warp for another minute, then another minute, then one more. 

There is putting the phone down, recalling life outside of virtual reality. There is taking a deep breath, then musing over what’s next.

There is a second meal to prepare. The more substantive, consequential, and by extension more costly meal.

There is opening the fridge, gathering what can be found, then recalling what’s missing.

There is a trip to the store to consider. There is checking the wallet. There is recalling what else is supposed to be saved for this week. There is checking the news. When will that stimulus check come again?

There is that other form in the mail again. The one opened yesterday and which was supposed to have been responded to by today. There is putting it off for just a minute longer.

There is the missing ingredient that still needs to be sought after.

There is putting shoes on.

There is putting a sweater on.

There is putting a face mask on.

Finally there is getting ready to head out the door. But then there is suddenly needing to visit the bathroom. There is stalling at the bathroom.

There is growling bubbling up, dryness stiffening, impatience taking root.

There is finally heading out the doorway, locking the door, then opening the gate and locking the gate behind. 

There is the openness of a new day outside to take in.

Then there is a rush we are reminded of. There is hurrying up to the store, finding the tomatoes firmly in reach, wrapping our bags around them, then heading into line.

There is the line to wait through, carefully, cautiously, acceptingly, if possible.

There is mulling over whether or not to check the phone again while waiting in line. There is deciding otherwise.

There is listening to the side-chatter, the registers opening and closing, and watching the traffic outside swerve by. There is wondering if life might always be this way from now on, steeped in uncertainty, or if it’s only been this way and it’s just that we’re now far more aware of it.

There is our turn at the register. There is exchanging our greetings, waiting patiently but also cautiously for our change. There is wondering if the change is worth the wait and risk. There is taking the risk and placing the change into the wallet.

There is getting back home again, locking the door behind us, then placing our things down and rushing to the bathroom to wash our hands.

There is returning to the kitchen, rinsing the sink, then taking out everything we gathered earlier, and finally placing the tomatoes alongside.

There is turning on the stove, placing the pot over the flames, filling it with water inside, then cutting up the tomatoes, the onions, and the celery. There is placing them all inside.

There is looking through the window, hearing the tunes of the birds, recalling that we’re still alive again.

There is taking a deep breath again. There is another chirping sound again.

There is friendship on the other side, reflecting another tenderness through the times. 

There is gratitude gradually shifting the whole being. 

There is the scent of boiling onions, celery, and tomatoes filling the air.

There is recalling that form in the mail, with a minute after all this time.

There is filling out the response, at long last, filling it out. 

There is still placing it into the envelope, finding and placing the stamp on the envelope, then placing the envelope out for pickup, and other work to do.

But first, there is the second meal again.

The longer-prepping meal, but by extension also longer-filling meal. The more rewarding meal of the day. Ahead, there is still another day just getting started.

J.T.

A pigeon sits atop a lamp post in East Hollywood, Los Angeles

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 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.

The Path of Togetherness (An Eighth Grade Student’s Poem on Growth)

As I wait patiently and try
Desperately to gain enlightenment I recognize a path that
Represents something unique.

Independently I strive to connect with this path,
But there are battles inside me casting a blinding fog
Trying to distract me. 

The fog tries to cast away my connection to the path,
But when I look closer, it calls out to me.

The path communicates a message of bonding,
Of teamwork and togetherness

It communicates gracefully, pushing me forward.

I recognize the path as one creating new opportunities for my future.

The path begins to become a part of me,
My trust starts to build upon this path I chose.

I have new paths to make, where I can manifest ideas
To develop my own independence
And to help others grow and manifest theirs.

SS

This poem is dedicated to the Los Cuentos community.