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Los Angeles Schools have their first Snow Day! Sorry, I mean Terror Day.

Los Angeles Schools have their first Snow Day! Sorry, I mean Terror Day.

My friends who grew up in Wisconsin wax nostalgic about days when they lifted the blinds and saw so much snow they knew they’d soon hear on the radio that school was cancelled for the day. They’d play Monopoly in their pajamas until their parents barked at them to read a book.

In California, we have our own version of snow days now — I call them Terror Days. 

We started small, with lock-down days. My daughter Lily is in fifth grade, and in the last six years she has had three lock-down days when nearby criminals were enough of a threat that her school stopped classes and locked the doors against possible invasion.

In Kindergarten, a wanted murderer was captured by police in the apartment complex next to the school, and Lily and her school mates spotted him as he tried to elude police. In second grade, bank robbers were cornered in the neighborhood and the doors got shut. This past summer, someone “committed suicide by cop” on Ventura Blvd, and Lily was caught for hours in her summer camp class. She takes these lock-downs in stride, however. They are part of her childhood now. 

“Were you scared?” I ask. 

“No, we closed the blinds and watched Frozen and Wreck it Ralph. It was fun.”

Growing up in California, I did earthquake drills where we’d dive under our desks. Now they also have terror drills where the kids and teacher prep for armed intruders. 

This week she got her first full Terror Day, where Lily missed the whole day of school — just like the kids in Wisconsin who skip school for Snow Days.

This is the e-mail that was sent to a member of the school board that prompted shutting down all of LAUSD schools and most private schools in Los Angeles.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

I am emailing you to inform you of the happenings on Tuesday, 12/15/15.

Something big is going down. Something very big. It will make national headlines. Perhaps, even international ones. You see, my last 4 years here at one of the district high schools has been absolute hell. Pure, unmitigated, agony. The bullying, the loneliness, the rejection... it is never-ending. And for what? Just because I'm 'different'?

No. No more. I am a devout Muslim, and was once against violence, but I have teamed up with a local jihadist cell as it is the only way I'll be able to accomplish my massacre the correct way. I would not be able to do it alone. Me, and my 32 comrades, will die tomorrow in the name of Allah. Every school in the L.A. Unified district is being targeted. We have bombs hidden in lockers already at several schools. They are strategically placed and are meant to crumble the foundations of the very buildings that monger so much hate and discrimination. They are pressure cooker bombs, hidden in backpacks around the schools. They are loaded with 20 lbs. of gunpowder, for maximum damage. They will be detonated via Cell Phone. Not only are there bombs, but there are nerve gas agents set to go off at a specific time: during lunch hour. To top it off, my brothers in Allah and I have Kalashnikov rifles, Glock 18 Machine pistols, and multiple handheld grenades. The students at every school in the L.A. Unified district will be massacred, mercilessly. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.

If you do end up trying to, by perhaps, beefing up security, or canceling classes for the day, it won't matter. Your security will not be able to stop us. We are an army of Allah. If you cancel classes, the bombings will take place regardless, and we will bring our guns to the streets and offices of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Bakersfield, and San Diego.

I wish you the best luck. It is time to pray to allah, as this may be your last day.

The e-mail was a hoax, but with the San Bernardino mass slaying being so close in time and space, I don’t blame LAUSD and the private schools for taking a cautious approach.

Lily thought Terror Day was great. She enjoyed a playdate with her friend Ruby most of the day until I phoned home and told her she should read for an hour.

This is my daughter’s baseline. This is her “normal.” I understand -- growing up I had a baseline of "normal"  that included some scary stuff too.

I didn’t fear earthquakes; in fact, I looked forward to them. Nor did I fear California’s famous serial killers and kidnappers who popped up twice a decade. They became Bogeymen in our scary stories that we’d use to torture our younger brothers and sisters — The Zodiac Killer is coming to get you…Treefrog Johnson is coming to get you…the Night Stalker is Coming to Get You…The Hillside Strangler is coming to get you.

Lily’s generation already has serial killers like Richard Ramirez to worry about, along with the kidnapper who chains you in a shack and rapes you for ten year before you can escape, and the men with guns who shoot it out with the cops on the main street of Studio City. But now she must also worry about the jihadist who was bullied as a kid who wants to kill dozens of students -- that's a reality I never had to face.

I hear her talking with friends, making up stories about all of them. I encourage the stories; they will help her and her friends make sense of her world, and help them to remain vigilant and observant in case something horrible does happen.

This is her childhood, and these are her Bogeymen. I just hope they stay in her stories and never become real. I know however, that this week's Terror Day won't be the last.

Here is a link to an article from the Los Angeles Times:

http://eedition2.latimes.com/Olive/ODE/LATimes2/LandingPage/LandingPage.aspx?href=TEFULzIwMTUvMTIvMTY.&pageno=MQ..&entity=QXIwMDEwMQ..&view=ZW50aXR5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California, media, Best of California Bull

Strange but True Hollywood Stories -- Escape from India

    This is the first in a series of blog posts on strange but true Hollywood stories. I’ve changed the names and a few details, for anonymity.

    A few years back, a friend of mine, Peter Muster, took a job as an audio supervisor on an independent movie being shot in India. It was a re-telling of the story of The Thief of Baghdad, but set in current times, financed with mostly foreign money, with an international cast, and produced by a mostly American crew. Peter took the job because he was friends with the producer, Nita Kumari, a citizen of the United States of Indian descent, and because he could travel the subcontinent for a month after shooting ended. 

    Production took place in the ancient and beautiful Aurangabad district of Maharashtra in the northwest corner of India. Known as “the City of Gates,” Aurangabad is a tourist hub with world heritage sites, including the Bibi Ka Maqbara, which looks similar to the Taj Mahal.

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    Peter’s job was to capture the audio, and his biggest challenge was keeping his equipment dry in the humid weather. Piles of terry cloth towels helped.

    In one scene, Abu the thief confronts a powerful magician, so the production designer (let’s call him Bob) had to create a book of spells for the magician to consult for his conjuring. First, Bob went to a store and bought a book with mysterious looking writing printed on thick white paper. He then brought it back to the hotel where the crew was staying, went to his room and ripped out fifty pages. He wanted to age the torn pages so that they looked like they belonged to an ancient text, after which he would stitch the aged paper into a leather cover that he’d also bought —and voila! — the magician would have his book of spells.  

    One trick for “aging” paper quickly is to soak it in tea, so he took his torn pages, burnt the edges with a lit match, and let them soak in a bowl of warm water steeped with brown tea. Next he had to dry the pages, but the hair dryer in his hotel room was on the fritz, and the pages were already disintegrating. Hoping to salvage his project, Bob took the bowl filled with the tea-soaked paper outside to the sun-drenched building across the street, where he carefully laid out each wet page on the hot stone steps. Soon the pages would be stiff, yellow, ancient looking, and ready for sewing.

    Unfortunately, the building turned out to be a mosque. Even more unfortunate, the book he’d bought and then destroyed was a copy of the Koran. Upon exiting the mosque, devout Muslims discovered the abomination —ripped and burnt pages of the holy book, brown with tea, were lining the stone stairs of their house of worship. Bob abandoned his art project and fled back into the hotel.

    An angry mob of young men surrounded the building, demanding the arrest of the American film crew. The hotel staff locked their front doors, and the crew locked themselves in their rooms. Police came to arrest people, especially Bob, but the officers were worried that the crew would be killed by the mob if they tried to leave the building, so they placed everyone under house arrest and seized all their equipment. The mob, in turn, grabbed some of the gear as the police tried to carry it to their cars, and destroyed it in the street. The mob did not leave for three days, and the crew was trapped inside.

    Nita, the producer, got on the phone, worked her magic and was able to strike a deal with the authorities. A judge came to the hotel and held a trial in the coffee shop, with the entire crew present. All were found guilty and sentenced to six weeks in jail.

    The judge then went outside, announced the verdict to the mob, and said that their jail sentences would start in two days. The people cheered.  

    No one wanted to go to an Indian prison for six weeks, but it was better than being beaten to death in the street. Meanwhile, Nita still had two days to work something out.

    The judge returned the next day and announced that it was now possible for each crew member to pay cash to a local Indian who was willing to serve his jail time for him or her. (This sounds like an odd arrangement, but paying another to serve prison time on your behalf was once possible in the United States, and is still common in modern China, for instance.) 

    Nita coughed up the money and paid twenty locals (hand-picked by the judge) to endure each crew person’s jail sentence, paid an additional fine to get any film gear back, and then everyone fled the hotel in the middle of the night after the lead Indian movie star paid the hotel bill. The judge had found a way to serve justice, appease the mob, keep everyone alive, and avoid an international incident. 

    The film was never finished, the insurance did not cover the destroyed gear, and Peter Muster didn’t get to see the rest of India. I do not know if any real jail time was served. However, Bob the designer is now working on big Hollywood movies, and even shared an Academy Award nomination with two other people for Excellence in Production Design.

 

Production Lesson One: Learn the local customs and don’t offend your hosts.

Production Lesson Two: Even if you ruin an entire movie and blow millions of dollars, it may not hurt your career at all.

Best of California Bull, California, Politics

My White Privilege

In my mid 20’s something frightening happened to me which made me realize how different my life is because I am white. Although it was scary for me, it was even scarier for the five black guys who were with me, and I experienced first hand their daily fear as young black men in America. This was in the early 90’s, when there was less racial tension in our culture. I think it’s worse now, and if the same event happened today, something terrible might happen.

Early in my career in entertainment, I worked as an editor cutting music videos for breaking rock bands. Nowadays an editor can put together an entire movie on his home editing system, but back then nonlinear editing systems were new, expensive and complicated enough that you had to go to a post production house where you would rent an editing bay for a day or a week. You’d digitize in your material and then edit your project. One of those places was Kolbe Post, on Ventura Blvd. in the San Fernando Valley.

An edit bay was cheaper to rent on the weekends, and after working Monday through Friday at my regular job, I’d often work two days straight on a weekend, editing round the clock to crank out a music video. I’d load the material in Saturday morning, edit until Sunday morning, sometimes sleeping on the floor, and then the producer and the music client would come in on Sunday, watch it, and give me changes to accomplish by the end of the day Sunday. If I did a good enough job I could get a full night’s sleep before another five days of work.

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Kolbe Post had no staff on the weekends. Somebody from the Kolbe office staff would let us young and hungry weekend editors in, make sure the machines and bays were working, give us keys to lock our bays, codes for the alarm system, and then he’d leave. If there was a problem we could page him to come back.

One editor might be working on a cheap TV commercial in one bay, an infomercial in another, and the rest of the bays had editors working on rock and rap videos, all of us hoping that our video would bust through and be on MTV that month.

Our bays all had phones, which never rang on weekends, and the main office area, past the kitchen, was locked up tight. We all came in through the back entrance off the parking lot. The bays were so well-insulated we could all blast music, maintain privacy, and not worry too much about anything from the outside world penetrating inside.

We got to know each other; we were fellow craftsmen and weekend warriors all trying to make it. We’d check out each other’s work, we’d make food runs together and eat our take-out lunches in the kitchen area. We’d talk shop and geek out, debate hard drive space, special effects, and how long we’d edit to the beat before letting it lag. It was neither white talk nor black talk — it was editor talk.

At 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, the place was like a fraternity, with food containers everywhere, music blasting, people shouting and girlfriends visiting, but we’d also give each other a heads up if a producer or a client was coming in. Then we’d clean up and keep our doors shut when someone’s paycheck was in the house. 

On the weekend in question there were six editors at Kolbe Post. I was working on a rock video for a Bay Area band, and the five other bays all had rap videos, which translated (at least on that weekend) to one white editor and five black editors. Some weekends it was more white than black, and sometimes it was an even split, but this weekend I was the sole white editor. 

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Because it was the music business, screening time often included people smoking weed. The musicians, the producers, and the music executives would show up and light up while they watched our cuts. Sometimes editors would work stoned as well, but in my experience it was rare — you couldn’t get a week’s worth of work done in two days if you were stoned, and most editors have enough “geek’ in them that they don’t lean too far that way anyway. There had been two or three screenings already, so the place had that tangy burnt smell of strong marijuana.

It was late Sunday afternoon, and we were all in our bays, cranking to finish before the end of the day. I noticed a green light flashing on my phone, and when I went to the bathroom down the hall I noticed that the main Kolbe phone lines were ringing behind the closed office door — and they kept ringing. I didn’t wonder why someone was calling incessantly on a Sunday afternoon. I just did my business, went back to my bay and shut the door.

About an hour later I went out on the enclosed interior sun porch — it was the one area where you could be outside without leaving the building. That’s when another sound that had been in the background of my brain moved to the forefront. A helicopter was circling overhead. Helicopter noise is as ubiquitous as freeway noise in Los Angeles and you just let it wash over you, but when I looked up, this helicopter was circling low.  I heard a voice come from the helicopter loudspeaker, but it was as indecipherable as the loudspeaker at the airport or the train station — so I stepped back inside and went back to work. There must be some criminal in the neighborhood, I thought, and I was glad to be safe inside this building.

About ten minutes later someone knocked on my door and said that six police cars were in back of the building with lights flashing. I remembered the helicopter and something clicked. Maybe the police in that helicopter had been talking to me…but that seemed impossible.

By now, all six of us editors were out of our bays and in the hallway. All of us were young men, college educated, gainfully employed, working our butts off on a weekend, trying to get ahead in the entertainment industry. But we had a problem — six police cars had surrounded the building and the strong smell of marijuana filled the halls. Not a good scenario. Still, I was not concerned. Whatever was happening had nothing to do with us, and if it did, I knew that it was just a misunderstanding.

That’s when I saw the look on the other guys faces. They were terrified. 

One of us is going to get shot.

Something bad is going to happen.

This is how people die, man.

I went to the back staircase and looked out a window to the parking lot and saw the police cars, with officers crouching behind their open squad car doors. I made eye contact with a young female police officer, brunette, with her hair in a pony tail. I thought she was pretty…until she raised her gun and aimed it right at me. They were preparing for a siege.

Then I felt nervous. I returned to the huddled group in the hall.

What the fuck are we going to do?

It’s just a misunderstanding. They’re making a mistake.

Of course they’re making a mistake! Doesn’t mean we won’t get shot!

Their genuine fear surprised me and suddenly I was scared too. I never thought that I’d ever be shot accidentally by a police officer, but I also instantly understood that this was a real fear they had all the time, and now it might come true for one of them. With five of them together, the odds were even worse.

Hey, that phone is still ringing. Maybe we should answer it.

It’s in the main office. We can’t get in there.

Maybe we should break in?

That’ll get us shot for sure.

Maybe we can answer it from one of the bays.

This was before cell phones, so we picked up the different extensions. Nothing worked. We couldn’t answer the main line. That’s when one editor got the bright idea of dialing 9, then calling the North Hollywood police, tell them what was happening, that we couldn’t answer the main phone, and give them the number for that edit bay, and wait for the phone to ring back. He hung up, and we sat there, five of us, crowded around the phone — and it rang. It was the police outside. He answered, he told them our story — we’re editors, we’re working, there are six of us — he heard what the police had to say, and then hung up.

They say there was a report of an armed robbery in progress in our building. A woman hiding in a closet called and said that they were taking hostages, and then hung up.

What do we do?

They want us to come out, one by one. 

I don’t remember how we picked who would go out first, but it wasn’t me, thank god. We lined up and waited in the stairwell, and when the officer with the bullhorn commanded the next person to come out, that editor walked down four steps, pushed open the heavy metal door and stepped outside with his hands up.

I was second to last, so from the window in the stairwell I could see it all go down.  As each editor exited, he’d put his hands in the air. Police would scream at him to get on his knees, and he’d obey. Two officers, with weapons drawn, would approach from either side, while the officers in front of them would keep their weapons aimed. One of the approaching officers would yell for him to put his hands behind his head. The other officer would holster his weapon, cuff one hand, pull it down, and then cuff the other behind his back. Two of the four editors who went before got pushed face first onto the asphalt so that the officer could cuff him easier. The officers would then each grab a forearm and lift the editor off the ground and lead him over to the side of the parking lot, and make him sit on the ground, his back against a horizontal creosote soaked telephone pole that marked the boundary of the parking lot. Another officer would then kneel down and question him.

Then it was my turn. I pushed open the big metal door and stepped into the golden late Sunday afternoon light.

And nothing happened. No one rushed up to me with guns drawn. No one barked at me to get on my knees. No one cuffed me. The officer with the bullhorn just rolled his eyes and waved for me to step out of the way, and then the pretty young officer who aimed her gun at me earlier stepped in, grabbed my elbow and pulled me to the side. II glanced at my colleagues, all of them cuffed, their heads down, humiliation on their faces as different officers demanded answers from them. They didn’t look at back at me.

I am white. English White. WASP. And at that moment, being a WASP also made me invisible and harmless to the police.

The last editor stepped outside, and they barked at him and treated him like the four others guys who preceded me. I was the only one who didn’t get cuffed and plopped on the ground and questioned. No yelling in my ear. No gun to my head. I didn’t even have to sit on the oily telephone pole and stain my chinos. I just stood there and waited for it to end.

That’s when I understood how in this culture I get a “by.” I could have been another Jeffery Dahmer, or John Wayne Gacy, but it didn’t matter. I simply am not perceived as a threat, while each of them were.

The “by” I automatically get goes pretty far. I always get the benefit of the doubt when I am out in public. I am never perceived as a threat. I get universal access that extends to stores and banks and jobs and bank loans, and preferential treatment by police. It’s an unstated understanding, yet I was not aware of the breadth of my automatic benefits package until that moment. I also think that the people who grant me my benefits — like the police officers that day — may not be aware of it either. I just get it and they just give it, without a thought. That’s how inbred and entrenched it is. It’s like the air we move through — it’s invisible but it’s there, and that afternoon I felt it first hand.

The police searched the building and found nothing, of course. They determined later that a disgruntled client or ex-girlfriend called it in as a prank. It was an early version of what the police now call “swatting.”

The event also changed my relationship with my colleagues. On future weekends they didn’t spend as much time hanging out with me talking about frame rates in the kitchen. I understood why. I remember getting beaten up by bullies in the park when I was a kid, and my friends not coming to my defense, even verbally. I was only 10, and I was so scared that I wet my pants, which was doubly humiliating. I was mad that the bullies didn’t pick on my friends and that I had been singled out for punishment. I didn’t want to be reminded of the incident, and whenever I saw those friends I was reminded of how they’d seen me at my worst and most vulnerable, and I steered clear.

Last year I saw one of the five editors from Kolbe Post, Michael, at a reception. He’s a well known producer and director now, and we caught up on old times. I reminded him of that incident, and how awkward I felt being the only guy who didn’t get handcuffed that day. Michael laughed and nodded, but I could tell that he may not have remembered the incident at all. That kind of event may have happened enough to him over the years that it could have been one many crazy misunderstandings with the police that he endured in his 20s. While I have one story, I could tell that he had many.