Radio reporter and podcast producer Jon Kalish is based in Manhattan and has been a freelance contributor to WNYC since 1980. For links to radio docs, podcasts and stories by Jon Kalish, visit his Tumblr page here.
A Fish Out Of Water
Monday, October 23, 2000
Santa Monica, CA —If there is any doubt that this town is on another planet, consider this:at a farmer?s market one weekend I saw a man selling mango on a stick. He peels the mango with a knife, slices into the flesh of the fruit so it looks kind of like a pine cone, douses the thing with lime juice and then sprinkles salt on it. Here?s where it gets weird.
Before the guy hands the mango on a stick to a customer, he asks: ?Would you like some chili powder on that?? I think not. And while I?m on the spicy mango thread, I should mention there?s a shop that sells nothing but little bottles of hot sauce, including a mango hot sauce manufactured by Cheech Marin. You remember Cheech, formerly of the great doper comedy duo Cheech and Chong and now a TV cop. Of course, a week later I?m sitting in a screening room at Universal Studios waiting for a documentary on the hemp movement to begin and in walks Tommy Chong. The graying comic tells the assembled believers, who start toking away as soon as the film begins: ?I smoke dope for a living. It?s a good job.?
There are working oil wells all over Southern California, including the parking lot of a Home Depot in Long Beach. Not far off the Long Beach coast there are four man-made islands with oil drilling rigs and hundreds of pipes that extend as far as two miles inland. What the rest of America doesn?t realize about Beverly Hills is that there?s oil in them thar hills. An oil well rises something like 15 stories above Beverly Hills High School (it?s right next to the football feild) and there are oil wells on the grounds of a swanky Beverly Hills country club.
On my list of places to visit in Beverl Hills is the Kabballah Center of Los Angeles, which is where Madonna and Roseanne have gone to study Jewish mysticism. One of the rabbis at the center is reportedly interested in doing peyote with Native Americans. I was told this by some guy in Chicago who did an Internet search on Jews and peyote that turned up a story I did about a character on the Lower East Side. Anyway, back to the Kabbalah Center... The cover of a Jewish newspaper in L.A. recently featured a story about the center selling spring water, whose molecular structure has ostensibly been altered by kaballistic meditations. The stuff costs $2.50 a bottle and even if it doesn?t have the spiritual cleansing properties it?s purported to have, I?m sure it will come in handy after one of those magos on a stick. For about the same money, though, you can get 12 ounces of ABC juice at a juice chain called Robek?s. ABC as in apple, beet and carrot. I?ve made a point of taking in alot of liquids because I spend alot of time out in that bright California sun.
Some of the men?s restrooms in restaurants out here have the front and back pages of the Los Angeles Times framed above urinals so that guys can take in the news headlines or sports scores while they?re relieving themselves.The L.A. Times, by the way, costs a mere 25 cents. The obituaries in the paper remind you that you?re definitely in the land of showbiz. One day there?s an obit for Nat King Cole?s road manager and the next day they mark the passing of the guy who illustrated the Donald Duck cartoons.
They don?t push restaurant menus under my door. Instead, they place these long rectangular four color restaurant flyers on my doorknob. One morning I noticed a tree crew taking a chain saw to one of the palm trees across the street from my house. I went out to investigate and learned that apparently palm trees have to be maintained. In addition to cutting off dead branches, the bark has to be removed from time to time. A guy on the tree crew explained: ?We?re just giving it a haircut so it can breathe.? When I told him I was from New York, he made a dsiparaging remark about us having bars on the windows of our apartments. So I countered that at least we don?t have road rage and strangers shooting at you on the freeway.
I?ve seen lots of dog parks here. Large dirt fields for rover to run, sniff and make his mark.I have also noticed that there are stainless steel water bowls for canine-Americans chained to water fountains at the beach.
On one of the long piers that extend out into the Pacific I noticed two small amenities you won?t find in New York. There were stainless steel sinks for the fishermen to clean their catch. And there were fishing berths on the pier for handicapped fishermen. The familiar blue handicapped symbols were stenciled on the floor of the wooden pier and the rails were lowered so someone in a wheelchair could cast and then plant their rod while waiting for a bite. Before I?m outta here I gotta find out if they give tickets to able-bodied anglers for fishing from a handicapped spot.
And speaking of fish, for WNYC, I?m Jon Kalish, your fish out of water in Southern California.