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Setting Times stories to music: From Elvis to Roxy Music

November 23, 2013|By Kari Howard

Last Saturday I went to a movie marathon put on by American Cinematheque at the wonderful Egyptian Theater. During the seven hours I spent there, I was grateful for two things.

One: that the seats were comfortable. That’s a lot of sitting.

Two: the theater itself, in all its gilt and Pharaonic glory, and its palm tree sentries guarding the neon-lit entry on Hollywood Boulevard. I’m grateful that we honor our Hollywood past, and present, by keeping the grand old place alive. It could so easily have become a forgotten corner of Los Angeles, chopped up into a multiplex, or worse.

Two of this week’s Great Reads illuminate forgotten corners of Los Angeles. In one, Frank Shyong told us about a lost Chinatown that I never knew existed. In another, Nicole Santa Cruz showed the Times’ commitment to telling the stories of the city’s forgotten homicide victims.

Maybe now they won't be forgotten.

Anyway, in these roundups of the week gone by, I’d like to offer the first paragraphs of each Great Read (or, as they’re known in print, Column One) -- maybe they’ll buy your eye and you can settle in for a good weekend read. And you’ll also get the songs that inspired me while editing the stories, or reading them later if my fellow editor Millie Quan ushered them through. A story-song combo!


Monday’s Great Read:

Paul's Kitchen hangs on as City Market Chinatown fades away

Every meal at Paul's Kitchen begins the same way.

A waiter in a spruce green uniform clinks a bowl of crispy noodle sticks onto wood-grain Formica and pours a cup of oolong tea so dark it verges on coffee. He flips open a notepad.

In the kitchen, two huge woks sizzle to life. Within 15 minutes, vintage Chinese comfort food is heaped onto the table, piles of egg foo yong, chop suey and chasu barbecue pork, all swimming in a deep brown gravy.

The food is a throwback to a different era in cuisine — culturally Chinese but unapologetically American — and a lonely survivor of Los Angeles' forgotten City Market Chinatown.

For 23 years, manager Charlie Ng has run the restaurant on downtown's San Pedro Street as his uncle Paul directed, adhering to a business strategy that has over the years been elevated to maxim: Keep everything the same. It's even woven into the restaurant's Chinese name, bao ju — a common naming format for restaurants of the time period that translates literally as “treasure memory.”

Here, the dining room's metal ornamentation stays pink and the horseshoe nailed over the door for feng shui has never moved. Each day, Ng dons the same threadbare green uniform he's worn for years, and every lunch hour, he needles his customers with the same jokes about their age, their wrinkles, their white hair.

The regulars endure the insults. After all, Paul's Kitchen offers a commodity in short supply outside the restaurant's smudged windows: permanence.

#storysongs combo: “Same Old Scene,” by Roxy Music. Sure, Bryan Ferry is lip-syncing on this Brit pop show, but doing it very prettily.


Tuesday’s Great Read:

LAPD library of homicide takes 'murder books' digital

Adrian McFarland awoke in a panic. His brother had come to him again in a dream. In this one, McFarland walked into a bar and there his brother stood, flashing a toothy smile.

But Charles had been gone for nearly two decades, shot to death in Los Angeles when he was 27.

McFarland, younger by four years, knew little about the crime. The dreams, he thought, were a sign. After all these years, had anyone been caught?

A few days later, LAPD Det. Mark Hahn's phone rang. McFarland was on the line from Monroe, La., with questions long unasked.

These calls never got easier for Hahn, even after 14 years working homicide: families checking in on the anniversary of a killing or the victim's birthday, their grief renewed by a date on the calendar.

Usually, answers would have been hard to come by, especially for a case so old.
But this time, Hahn knew where to turn: to the detectives creating the Los Angeles Police Department's first library of homicide.

#storysongs combo: “Somebody Got Murdered,” by the Clash. I’d forgotten how poppy this is.


Wednesday’s Great Read:

Socialist to occupy Seattle City Council

The rain was cold, dripping down her blue poncho, but the newly elected city councilwoman's words sizzled.

Surrounded by union workers gathered to support Boeing's machinists, Kshama Sawant denounced the two-party political system, corporate greed, military contracts and the leaders of the aerospace giant whose name has long been synonymous with Puget Sound.

“We don't need the executives!” cried Seattle's first elected Socialist in living memory, as the damp crowd cheered and rush-hour traffic hummed slowly by. “We need Boeing to be under democratic public ownership by workers — by the community!”

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