Posted in Around Town, Poesy

The Poetics of Community

The world is lousy with poetry. I like poetry because it makes a point in the most interesting way possible. I like irony, even though it hurts, like a little four-year old Latina girl wearing a full-color Barbie t-shirt. When I first heard the word irony, my kid-mind went straight to the image of a wrinkly piece of fabric. You are trying hard to iron the fabric, but the wrinkles don’t come out. The truth of the wrinkles remains. That’s irony.

“The making of community against anti-social technology is the chief object of the poetry gathered here.” – Andrei Codrescu, New Orleans, April 16, 1987 – Introduction to the first edition of American Poetry Since 1970: Up Late.

I first read those words in December 1993, and they might as well have leaped off the page and danced around the room. Making community has always been important to me: it is vital to our survival and yet one of the most difficult things in the world. Our American society is based on rugged individualism. Think of the Marlboro man belting out Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” – then devolving into a paroxysm of coughing thanks to his two-pack a day habit.

What can break down the cultural and economic divisions in our society? I moved to Northwest Pasadena in 1982 because of John Perkins. Since 1960, John’s been preaching about the 3Rs – Relocation, Reconciliation, Redistribution. In addition to his work in Jackson, Mississippi, he founded Harambee here in Northwest Pasadena and, more recently, The John Perkins Center at Seattle Pacific University (which not very ironically happens to be my alma mater, though I was there long before the Perkins Center). I have not maintained a close relationship with Harambee, but I’m still here in Northwest Pasadena.

John travels around the country telling the church that it has molded itself in its own image, that it is more concerned with preserving cultural and economic divisions than with the deep love that is the heart of the gospel. John says that 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. I would add to that – in the cases where the church is more integrated, all the members tend to come from one economic group.

Few worldwide institutions have wreaked more havoc than the Christian church. “Taking the Lord’s name in vain” is not a word couplet that comes out of your mouth. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is doing whatever you want to do to spread your own political, economic and sexual interests while pretending that God told you to do so.

Around the time that Harambee opened Harambee Preparatory School, I was the PTA President at Washington Middle School (about 4 blocks away). While I admire Harambee’s work and must respect their decision to open a school, I couldn’t help but think how great it would be if all the effort going into starting a new school could go into the local public school. At the time I was there (mid-1990’s) there were 240 students in the eighth grade class, and around 70-80 did not graduate. That’s a crisis.

Today is a tough day for those of us who love Pasadena. Two more people have died in violence, in vain. The headlines of the local papers: “Man watches as son, nephew gunned down” says the Pasadena Star-News. “A booming Pasadena fights rise in gang killings” says the Los Angeles Times.

Here in Pasadena, we are writing the poem of our community. So far the poem is about two education systems and great economic disparity. Our poem is awash in blood and hate and neglect.

There has got to be a way for kind-hearted, intelligent people to turn this poem around. It will take more than the do-gooders’ sense of wanting to help “those people.” I want the next line of our poem to say that we overcame embraced our myriad differences and, through participation, made our existing institutions do the work they were intended to do in the first place. Now that would be ironic.

Posted in Around Town, Let's Get Visual, Tennis

Sore Site for Eyes 2

Thanks to Metroblogging LA for the shout out on my post about tagging. I’m a big believer in posting photos to illustrate my blather. I almost posted the photo of the graffiti, but then when Verizon Wireless wouldn’t let me log in to retrieve the photo from my phone, I got to thinking. First, I had a weak mental moment in which I engaged in that “maybe this is a sign” thinking—like maybe I *shouldn’t* post the photo. That was a mistake. I think that kind of thinking is major BS.

But, and I mean big but – I had *such* a strong negative reaction to what was clearly a gang tagging. Pasadena has had 5 homicides since May. I had just spent a bucolic afternoon at UCLA watching tennis. Watching for free, since Kiefer pulled out of the previous night’s match and they offered us free tickets for Sunday to compensate. I’d had a free glass of wine courtesy of the Wolfgang Puck bartender who was packing up the bar after the final match. I’d even said a friendly hello to my favorite tennis commentator, Cliff Drysdale and collected an autograph from him and Patrick McEnroe. I’m that much of a tennis geek. I had a relaxing afternoon. I was prone.

That’s the context for making that turn from northbound Lincoln onto Montana and seeing the big doo-doo. It was slap-in-face, blow-to-gut. We are getting nowhere fast on the kids-killing-kids issue.

I feel like I need to post it so you can see just how gang-y it is. It isn’t like these examples posted by Zach Behrens at LAist. It’s a benign graffiti vs crime graffiti thing. (Anyone else remember the best benign graffiti ever: “Agnes Moorehead is God” (scroll down a bit) in Hollywood?)

* * * * *

Sigh. Had a call from Jacque Robinson to tell me that it has been painted over (!) so I’m gonna post it. As long as gangs don’t start coming here to see what tags they missed (ha ha), I feel okay about it. But let’s not get artsy-fartsy about how the letter ‘T’ appears to have hips or anything.

Tagged Wall 7-22-07

Update: Another shooting reported in the Pasadena Star-News

Police investigate Pasadena shooting

PASADENA – Pasadena Police Department detectives Tuesday were investigating a shooting in a parking lot July 18 that left two men wounded.

The shooting was reported at about 11 p.m. in the 100 block of West Washington Avenue. Police said an argument between two groups of people in a parking lot escalated into a fight.

When police arrived, all the people involved were gone. However, some witnesses drove the victims to a hospital. Investigators later arrested five people, but it was not clear whether any of the five were booked in connection with the shooting.

Posted in Around Town

A Sore Sight for Eyes

A major graffiti deposit this past weekend at the northeast corner of Lincoln and Montana. So disheartening I lost my verbs. Very disheartening in light of the recent violence in Pasadena.

I took a photo of the graffiti, but if I post it, it’s like they win. So I’m not gonna. Suffice it to say it was from the same gang that has tagged this part of Northwest Pasadena for at least the last 20 years.

I wish graffiti could get painted out immediately, but that is not the case. This morning the guy from the city’s painting crew was out in front of the building getting contact information for the tenant (a church). He said he has to contact them before painting. So the festering sore remains, and will remain until the proper contacts are made.

If you’re local and want to see it for yourself, here’s a map:

[ Yahoo! Maps ]

Map of the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Montana

The painting guy told me that there are some buildings he paints just about every day. He said graffiti is a misdemeanor, so no one is really worried about the consequences. He thinks that most graffiti is done by kids, out running around all night. He was in favor of going after the parents of these kids.

The folks over at the Pasadena Star-News have a page on their website: To Stop the Killing, a community forum to bring peace and reconciliation to the community.

A welcome dollop of helpful suggestions are in this article written by a Pasadena native who has worked with gang members. In the article, he bemoans what he sees as a lack of support for the guys who are working hard to keep kids from killing other kids.

As a onetime gang member, youth counselor and now (through a later mistake) an inmate of a California state prison, I offer you some free advice, which has proven to work in preventing bloodshed.

* Start seriously supporting the few individuals out there risking their lives to help these kids and the community, not just the traditional Band-Aid organizations.

* Organize these kids and their parents (along with neighborhood residents) and let them express their fears and concerns before the City Council. Demand that people like Tim Rhambo, Charles White and Mr. Mitchell get the resources they need. Storm in if you have to! If that doesn’t work, picket and rally in front of City Hall until they get the message that enough is enough!

* Create a grassroots network in the neighborhoods of people who want to get involved and protect their kids by finding solutions. This network must be comprised of Latinos and African-Americans who know the streets.

* Select mediators between neighborhoods and City Hall to implement the solutions developed by the networks.

* Leave out of the equation law enforcement, courts, the probation department, schools and all the phony nonprofit agencies, because all you will get is lip service and more “dialogue.”

* Set up sporting events with incentives for gang members. Through experience I know these kids will not show up if they know these are city-sponsored recreational events. I put together handball, football and basketball tournaments and these guys came to play every time. This is the perfect place to reach out to these young people.

* Lastly, pull the covers off those who have power and influence to help, but have refused. Let the kids and parents know why they are unable to help.

Just because I am in prison doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. These are not your traditional approaches. But the fact is traditional approaches have failed time after time over the past decade.

In several years I will return home and I plan to continue the work that I so dearly love — helping save lives and keeping kids from killing other kids.

If anyone is serious about preventing the violence that is plaguing our neighborhoods, contact me. If anyone knows what will and won’t work, it is guys like me.

A former Weekly columnist and a Pasadena-area gang counselor, Andres Romero was convicted of a drug-related attempted robbery and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Contact him care of kevinu@pasadenaweekly.com or write to Andres Romero, V54733, C.R.C. 211-87, PO Box 3535, Norco, Calif., 92860.

The guys out in the street deserve our support. That support includes vetting them to ensure they are good guys. Sadly for Pasadena, some guys parading as good guys are just the opposite. (Co-founder recalls warning signs of The Movement.)

Posted in Around Town, Tennis

Tennis in Pasadena

The City of Pasadena is happy to spend the big bucks to buy out the wanna-be ‘adult entertainment club’, Peppermint Garden, instead of investing in bizillion other options for community improvement projects. Seems like $4.6 million would be a good start for an affordable housing project. Or how about setting aside more green space in Northwest Pasadena (like a pocket park or two)?

Even something apparently benign such as rescaling and resurfacing the old and cracking tennis courts just south of the Rose Bowl (and just north of the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center) is a tough sell. Hard core tennis aficionados in Pasadena work hard to find a decent court. The good people at i-Tennis, who have the contract to manage tennis programs for the city, are poised to help–even if they have to hook us up in South Pasadena.

They’ve taken over the old racquet center of South Pasadena (by the golf course), and it is now The Arroyo Racquet Club. There’s an Open House today, July 21, that will feature the world’s #1 racquetball player. Free hot dogs at 12:30 p.m. Woo-hoo!

Arroyo Flyer

UPDATE: Pasadena City Manager Cynthia Kurtz was spotted at the Open House this afternoon, watching the i-Tennis pros battle it out against each other. One can only hope that she was inspired to champion the cause of tennis in Pasadena. Why not a Rose Bowl Tennis Center? Or did we blow our wad closing down the pesky strip club? I guess City Council wanted to “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”

Posted in Around Town, Food & Drink, Let's Get Visual

Bev 5: Man on the Moon Girl

That’s Kim Perez (on the left). She was born on the same day that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Happy Birthday, Kim! Lilli (on the right) and I raised a happy glass to Kim this past Wednesday at McCormick and Schmick’s, which has the best happy hour in Pasadena. Lots of great food options for cheap.

Kim & Lilli at McCormick & Schmick’s

Both Kim and Lilli are inveterate travelers; you can read about Lilli’s travels here. Kim doesn’t blog yet, but here’s a jump to her Continue reading “Bev 5: Man on the Moon Girl”