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L.A. Lit 2000

Work in Progress

April 16, 2000

"I see," I said. The ringing phone had awakened me from an afternoon nap, but I was too embarrassed to tell my father. He likes to point out that, even though he's the senior citizen, I'm the sedentary man in the family, a family that consists of him and me.

Bernard Cooper is the author of a collection of short stories "Guess Again," to be published in November by Simon & Schuster. His previous books are "Truth Serum: Memoirs" and "Maps to Anywhere."



Scott Thompson was upset because the lawnmower wouldn't start, because no matter how hard he pulled at the cord, it didn't begin to roar. There was only the brief flutter of the engine, like the cough of a sick child. And then a long quiet filled only with his frustration and the buzzing of the insects over the uncut grass. The lawn was precocious, ambitious, eight inches tall and for the moment it could still dream of becoming a jungle, a green curtain that would shade the house from the sun. It would rise as long as Mr. Thompson pulled at the cord and the lawnmower only coughed. He grunted and pulled again. The lawnmower spit twice. Mr. Thompson stepped back and threw his hands up in the air, then circled around the machine, staring at it, gritting his teeth, as if to ask, Why are you doing this to me? Araceli watched from the kitchen window, her hands dripping dishwater, wondering if she should tell Mr. Thompson the secret that made the lawnmower roar. The secret knob that would make starting the engine as easy as pulling a loose thread from a sweater. She had seen Pepe turn and adjust it so many times. But no, she decided to let Mr. Thompson figure it out on his own. She was still mad at him for letting Pepe and his chunky gardener's muscles walk out the door, for being a cheapskate who wouldn't pay a good-looking Mexican man the wage he deserved. *

Hector Tobar is the author of the unpublished novel "Farewell, California." His previous book is "The Tattooed Soldier: A Novel."



Van Nuys was just this furnace that could destroy any creative thought that managed to creep into your mind.



Recently, I've come out of denial over the fact that I do not live in Provence. Not only do I not live in Provence, I do not even live in a nice part of Los Angeles.

It's not that Van Nuys--an ethnically mixed, upper-lower-middle-class suburb in the sun-swept grid of the San Fernando Valley--is such a hellish place to live. My hand-painted Italian ceramic coffee cup rattles in its saucer but once a month due to wheeling police helicopters. Our night sky--smoggy, starless, nougat-hued, flamed by a million Burger King signs--has become so bright in summer you can actually read by it. With ever more carnicerias, taquerias, and pupuserias opening daily, with no effort I'm becoming both bilingual and an expert on pork products, and I celebrate that knowledge.

Sandra Tsing Loh is the author of "A Year in Van Nuys," to be published next summer by Crown. Her previous books include "If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now: A Novel" and "Depth Takes A Holiday: Essays from Lesser Los Angeles."



The night before he died, Russell Schaeffer came into the bedroom where his wife, Boyd, was getting ready to go to sleep. She'd already put Freddy, their small daughter, to bed and kissed her frog and the sexless, shapeless, nameless creature who attended the frog. Boyd was sitting in front of the triptych mirror, rubbing lotion into her sunburn, deep in thought, hardly seeing herself in the mirror.

It had been a hot August day. Now it was one of those "white nights" peculiar to Minnesota and other northern states: late season evenings when the summer dark changed texture and the night sky grew light again. Boyd was thinking about how migrating birds died because of these white nights--they thought it was still day and kept flying, long past exhaustion, long past their safe landings--instinct urging them onward, till they fell. She had read about these birds in one of Russell's poems, now she was wondering if he'd made them up.

Carol Muske-Dukes is the author of "Epitaph: A Novel," to be published by Random House next spring. Her previous works include "An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems," "Red Trousseau" and "Saving St. Germ."



Special Assembly: Part 2

Fifteen after ten. Fifteen minutes and already all those kids, brown kids, inner-city low-income underprivileged children of underrepresented ethnic minorities, have been waiting in a cafeteria. Waiting for me, their woman, brown woman, suburban raised, low on income, low on gas, from an underrepresented ethnic minority. And here I am late, again.

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