Laughter At The Gloomiest Place In Town

“To the memory of those who made us laugh: the motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons, in all times and in all nations, whose efforts have lightened our burden a little, this picture is affectionately dedicated.” – “Sullivan’s Travels”, 1941 Preston Sturges film.

The gloomiest population in all of Los Angeles is found at the Sunday morning gathering in the inmate visitor’s waiting room of the Men’s Central Jail, aka CJ..  

There may be more doomed locales in town – the coroner’s identification room, a hospice where the only hope is that the end will soon come – but, for a mass gathering of gloom, nothing beats the CJ crowd on a Sunday.

It’s depressing here every day, but there’s something extra glum about the Sunday morning visit. Perhaps it's the thoughts visitors have of being elsewhere: Of still being in bed or attending a morning church service or taking the family on a Sunday drive or having some early cold ones with the boys before the resurgent Rams or Chargers play an outta town game at 10 a.m..

Instead, here they are, in the main lockup of the largest jail system in the United States where nearly 20,000 inmates are housed. Some of the visitors are seeing loved ones off before they take the long bus ride to Corcoran or Susanville or even San Quentin's Death Row. Some are there to encourage those still facing trial. But, most are there to let the incarcerated know they are not forsaken.

Me, I’ve been here I don’t know how many times. I think less than a 100, but that I even have to think that lets you know I’m no stranger to the gloom. I’ve even been the one the visitors were waiting to see.

Last Sunday, I was there to visit an old friend, one Cleamon “Big Evil” Johnson. I first wrote in the Los Angeles Times about Johnson, who has been called the most violent gang member in the city by homicide detectives, back in 1997 when he was convicted of ordering a double and sentenced to the Row. (He spent over 14 years there before his conviction was overturned by the California Supreme Court and he awaits retrial here.)

I bring this all up because of what happened that last Sunday as I waited in the gloomiest room to see him.

I arrived just after 7 a.m. for my scheduled 8 a.m. visit and took a seat on a green metal bench in the “Hi-Power” visitors waiting area of the roughly 12,000 square foot, brightly-lit room. I sat facing the interior of the room, not toward the wall where television was mounted and playing something that – with just a quick glance – struck me as buffoonish.

Facing me in the row across from mine about four feet away were several people including a very solemn looking 40ish black guy, ‘bout 6-4, 250, wearing low top white Converse. Next to him was a grandmotherly looking tiny Mexican lady with a blue and grey scarf. And next to her, also wearing white low top Converse, was a late 20s woman telling a lengthy story in English and Spanish to a middle-aged Latino who was all ears. Behind them, facing me in the next row, was the only white lady here, a toothless meth-looking type with a three-year old kid in tow. There were close to 20 others nearby, but those folks caught my eye

I took out a few sheets of paper and started writing something. Less than a minute later, I heard a lady right behind me bust out with a short burst of laughter.  I didn’t pay it much mind and wrote on. But, maybe 30 seconds later, she laughed again, this time louder and longer. I looked up and tiny grandma is looking up at the TV behind me and smiling. So is storyteller girl. Even solemn big black looks like he is almost fighting off a grin.

I turn to look what’s on the TV and see a white family on a lake outing having difficulty in their boat. An oar goes flying off their boat and the visitors around me laugh louder.

I turn back just to watch the reaction to these people waiting to see their (allegedly) criminal loved ones. Instead of writing what I had planned, I start to take notes on these people. Something else happens and big black gives up and starts laughing. Story teller girl has abandoned her tale and is mesmerized on the plight of the white family. Even Miss Meth is chuckling in loud staccato bursts.

I take a quick look backward at the television. By now, the apparent father is running for his life away from a speeding truck. Of course, dad is running directly in front of the truck in a straight line down the center of the road, having clearly never seen a Gale Sayers highlight reel.

This brings gales of laughter.   Pryor and Carlin would love this crowd.   

Then, suddenly, there is silence as the truck driver gets out and is about to confront dad. He looks like he’s about to clobbered pops with a straight right hand, but instead he unfurls his hand to reveal a ring.

“My ring! He found my missing ring,” mom says. Back to the visitors. They are all smiling. Close call. Big black has a tender smile. So does grandma and the white girl, too.

A few seconds later, there’s another round of laughter. I have been to open mic comedy shows with less mirth.

I am reminded – as any film buff reading this might be – of that ending scene in Preston Sturgis’ 1941 classic “Sullivan’s Travels” when inmates are howling with laughter as they watch a clip of Walt Disney’s 1934 cartoon “Playful Pluto”.

On this Sunday, the mood suddenly reverts to reality when a deputy sheriff starts calling out names of inmates. The laughter stops. The smiles fade. Big black goes back to stern. He gets up when his inmate’s name is called.  

When "Johnson, Cleamon" name is called, I go to my assigned row (H-12) and have my visit. I tell him about the laughter in the waiting room. He says, “I guess they need a good laugh before coming to see us.”

When I got home, I checked the TBS website for their programming. It turns out we were watching “Vacation”, the 2015 remake of the 1983 Chevy Chase “National Lampoon Vacation”, starring someone named Ed Helms.  This version had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 26%, but for the crowd at CJ it might as well been “Some Like It Hot. “

I hope you never have to visit a loved one at CJ. But, if you do, let me give you some advice. Before you make your appointment, check the listings of TBS. If Vacation is playing, see if you can schedule your visit about an hour after it comes on.

And even if you don't ever go to Men's Central, - and I'm doubting that you will - you oughta still check out something funny, even if it's on the stupid side. Lotta people looking for a laugh these days, even if they ain't visiting someone on their way to Pelican Bay. 

You don't want to get the green light here.

You don't want to get the green light here.

Scorsese Blasts AFI For Ranking "Annie Hall" And "Megan's Shift" Above "Raging Bull"

While the media is focused on repugnant Hollywood sexual abuse scandals, those who actually make movies are embroiled in a completely different - and, in these times, welcomed - controversy; the latest ratings of the greatest American films of all time.

Saturday, storied director Martin Scorsese went on a social media tirade against the American Film Institute for dropping "Raging Bull", his greatest movie, two positions on the prestigious list of top 100 American films

Raging Bull, which had been ranked the 24th best American movie, was passed by "Annie Hall", Woody Allen's 1977 classic, and :"Megan's Shift", Zeke Farrow's harrowing 2017 ode to the working man's struggle and growth.

Though both films that moved into the top 25  - Annie into 22nd and Megan to 24th -  touch on important social issues, they are essentially comedies. This was a particular point of contention for Scorsese.

"I made a dramatic masterpiece, black and white, by the way,  that is often thought to be on of the 10 greatest works of cinema ever produced anywhere, not just America," said Scorsese via text message. "And what happens? I get topped by one movie whose most famous scene is chasing a lobster around a kitchen and another that begins with a recital list of ingredients in a Nancy Silverton salad. Absurd.  What's next? 'Cocktail' above 'Casablanca'?"

But, the voters who compile the AFI list clearly disagree.

"First of all, Raging Bull, while clearly a superb film, is hard to watch once, let alone  repeatedly,"  said Tess Neidermeyer, an actor and  prominent Lebanon sympathizer. "On the other hand, I've seen Megan's Shift at least 12 times, and Annie Hall probably six. Both Megan and Annie are films more relevant more than ever today as we need laughter and hope."

Another AFI member said too much has been made of Robert DeNrio gaining 30 or 40 or 80 pounds for his title role of middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta. 

"Yeah Bobby D ate a lot to change his body and that was sort of a landmark," said Daniel Day-Lewis, an actor. "But Arturo Ortiz? He didn't gain a pound and his screen presence was just as powerful as DeNiro."

(Arturo Ortiz, a former - and probably current - member of the Sinaloa Cartel, plays a key role in the beginning of Megan's Shift.)  

You judge. Annie Hall and Raging Bull are available on Amazon and probably Netflix. Megan's Shift, can be seen on Film Shortage. Here's the link -   http://filmshortage.com/dailyshortpicks/megans-shift/

For the record, the Megan the film's title refers to his based on the real life - and legendary - Pizzeria Mozza server Megan "Athena" Tropea.

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Silverton-Reichl Feud Results In Grilled Cheese Sandwich Competition And Benefit

The tentative truce between Nancy Silverton and Ruth Reichl over who makes the best grilled cheese sandwich unraveled this weekend and has morphed into the first annual Grilled Cheese Shoot-Out,(GCSO)  a benefit open to the public this coming week..

The GCSO will be held Monday and Tuesday from noon to 3 p.m. on the Melrose Avenue sidewalk in front of Mozza’s Chi Spacca. All proceeds of the competition will go for the funeral expenses of Pattie Porter, the mother of Hayley Porter, an Osteria Mozza line cook. The sandwiches  - with either a glass or lemonade or a cookie - are expected to be $12.

Silverton fled to Mexico early Saturday morning, but will participate in Tuesday’s  event. Reichl will not be on hand for either GCSO.  The storied duo’s most iconic versions of the grilled cheese sandwich will be prepared by Osteria Mozza executive chef Elizabeth “Go Go” Hongian and garde manger of the Mozzarella Bar, Anna “North Tower” Nguyen.

Go Go and North Tower said Ruth’s version - called in the contest "The Ruthie" - will be made by smearing the outside of the bread with mayonnaise – and a little grated cheese – rather than the traditional butter. In addition, the filling will be cheddar and bacon and - with a decidedly non Ruth touch - pickled jalapenos..

"The Nancy" will be the classic; bread, Gruyere, mustardand butter. However, by Sunday morning, rumors were running rampart that Nancy’s sandwich - with a supplemental - would deploy Rodolphe Le Meunier Beurre de Barrate, the butter often considered the best available in America.

“Yes, we took advantage of the spat between two beloved giants to help out a fellow cook in her darkest hour,” said North Tower Nguyen during a break on a typically busy Saturday night at the Mozza Corner. “Cooks, like Hayley, they don’t work for money. They work for the love of cooking. So, hopefully, the GCSO will raise enough money for her not to have to work for money and be able to take some time off and be with her family to grieve.”

Hongian, a Jewish Korean Armenian, used a more direct approach to raise funds.

"How much money do you have in your wallet?" she asked a man who walked into the Osteria kitchen.

"I have a fifty dollar bill.."

"Give it to me."

He did.

Pattie Porter, 53,  a special education teacher, passed away at her home Saturday.after a cancer attack. A Go Fund Me account has been set up for her by Osteria Mozza chef Nicolas "Never Tardy" Rodriguez. Here's the hyperlink -   https://www.gofundme.com/mozza-helps-hayley

It was just Friday evening that Reichl was the keynote speaker for an event at the Harold Lloyd estate in Beverly Hills honoring Silverton for her work with the No Kid Hungry campaign. (More than $300,000 was raised to help feed children across the nation.).  Reichl spoke with great admiration of Silverton, ending her speech with question she asks herself when confronted with charity requests; “What would Nancy do?”

Reichl was even staying at Silverton’s Windsor Square home, but apparently between the Friday night event and Reichl’s abrupt 5 a.m. Saturday morning departure, something went terrible awry.

Sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Silverton’s longtime boyfriend, crime reporter – and well-known instigator - Michael Krikorian, may have exasperated the tenuous peace between the two American food legends by, well, by instigating something.

Reached by telephone, Reichl said the competition was "rigged".

"I think this is a rigged contest!," she said. "I'm not there to defend my sandwich!"

The Goddesses in Paris in better times on a street named after legendary NYPD cop Denny Malone (Photo by Robin Green,  AFP)

The Goddesses in Paris in better times on a street named after legendary NYPD cop Denny Malone (Photo by Robin Green,  AFP)

Usage Of The Word "Dotard" Expected To Reach All Time High In U.S. This Weekend

An estimated 18 million Americans are expected to utter  the word "dotard" this weekend,  a term most of them have never spoke before learning this week that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, aka "Li'l Rocket Man", used it to describe President Don Trump.

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary a dotard is "a person in his or her dotage." Dotage is defined as ."a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness."

Li'l, apparently reacting to Don saying he would or could "totally destroy North Korea, was interpreted to have said  "I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue. I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.",. 

A lengthy put down indeed,  but it was the single word "dotard" that grabbed the headlines and seemed to almost to endear itself to a public that is eager to learn more refined disses.. 

The previous highest usage of dotard,  which meant "imbecile" when it was first used in the 14th century, was on May 1, 2003, when then-President George W. Bush, referring to the war in Iraq,  said "mission accomplished" on the USS Abraham Lincoln. aircraft carrier.  The "dotard" count that day was a mere 475,000, a paltry sum compared to the numbers expected both Saturday and Sunday. 

Here are some sentences with the word, most of them from the website www.wordsinasentnce.com 

"But, in the histories of the wars with his vassals he is often little more than a tyrannical dotard, who is made to submit to gross insult."

"When the dotard entered the political arena, very few people voted for the man due to his old age and lack of coherent explanations."

"Patience was needed by the young cashier as the 80-year old dotard was not comprehending what she was saying and seemed utterly confused about where he was."

"As the dotard slowly walked with a cane, he struggled with figuring out where the senior citizen center was located even though he had been there dozens of times."

After reading that last two examples, one is inclined to feel sorry - or even fondness - for a dotard.

Though many languages, including Swahili, German, Mandarin, Finnish and Portuguese, have no equivalent word, some do.. The French word for dotard is "radoteur".  The Spanish word for dotard is "viejo chocho" which also translates to "old pussy".

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Beauty Product Storm "Vanessa" Expect To Reach Category 5 Level By Wednesday Night

When the beauty product tropical storm “Vanessa” first appeared on Doppler Storm Search radar three weeks ago, experts predicted the typical fallout; overcrowded shelves, a slight wait for hot water, some minor, but not aggressive discussion about who gets to use the bathroom when.

But, yesterday the National Guest Watch upgraded Vanessa to a Category Five beauty product storm that could overload the guest bathroom at Nancy Silverton’s Windsor Square home, causing, not only severe to drastic overcrowding, but also fallen products, bitter arguments among the guests about who can shower first, and even a complete breakdown of the home’s hot water system.

“The last Cat 5 beauty product storm I know about was the 1956 wedding of Grace Kelly to Princess Rainer in Monte Carlo,” said Paul Mitchell, who company’s stock has soared over 100% this week. “That was a disaster. Audrey Hepburn couldn’t find her Ten Voss and Acqua Di Parma shampoos and Oribe conditioner and, in desperation, grabbed some Head ‘n Shoulders. Audrey reverted to Eliza Doolittle ( pre-Professor Higgins ) and talked shit all night to Sophia Loren, the suspected culprit.”

Silverton’s Van Ness household is already experiencing “moderate to serious” shelf hoarding in the guest bathroom by early arrival, the South African Yolande van Heerden. 

But, the full brunt of Vanessa is forecast to hit Windsor Square as early as Wednesday evening when it is expected to reach a Category 5 with the arrival of Ruth Reichl, Lissa Doumani and Hiro Sone, all in town for the weekend wedding of Silverton’s only known daughter, Vanessa,  to an unusually tall soccer player.

Doumani and Sone have already indicated they plan to place their adhesive-backed tooth brushes on the vanity mirror of the guest bathroom, a tactic that has annoyed others in the past.

“I don’t want to look at the mirror and see their goddamn tooth brushes hanging from it,” said Reichl in a phone interview as she crossed the border at Tijuana early Wednesday after a brief stay in the Baja wine country.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti offered his full support.  “Whatever we as a city can do for Nancy Silverton’s house, we will do,” the mayor said from the steps of City Hall. “This will be a tense weekend. That much we know for sure."  

However, across the country in Washington D. C. there was a completely different attitude.

Caught on a “hot Mic’ after leaving a senate intelligence briefing, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)) expressed shock and disgust about the concern for a Cat 5 beauty product storm

“This is fuckin’ absurd, “ McConnell told  a colleague. “You got a Lebanese, a  South African, a Japanese, and a Greenwich Village hippy coming to stay at a home where an Armenian lives. That spells ‘dirty bomb’ to me. The last thing I’m concerned is space for beauty products. We need to at the very least limit everyone to three and a half ounces of liquid.”

An aide of McConnell, speaking on the condition of anonymity. said that he expects a Delta squad to be in place no later than 0500 hours Thursday morning at the Go Get Em Tiger on Larchmont.

“We want Special Forces nearby,” the aide said. “It’s gonna get ugly.”

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Tow Truck Drivers; The Unsung First Responders Of Los Angeles

It’s midnight on Saturday, it’s Tuesday rush hour, it’s Sunday morning and, at long last, you see him on the horizon. Your knight in an imposing, lights-flashing, get-out-of-my-way chariot. The crowd parts. It’s the tow truck driver is coming to the rescue.  

The tow truck driver in modern-day Los Angeles is the equivalent of a knight in several tons of amour, the LAPD showing up when the drunk fool just rear-ended you, the Fire Department coming to get your cat off the hot tin roof.  But, tow truck drivers don’t get the respect they should. It's not a revered position in our car-crazed society.

But, the Tow truck driver, especially in our city, is one of the noble professions. They are – with cops, firemen and emergency service worker- our city's first responders.

Yet, they are just about taken for granted. They usually don’t get tipped. Well, maybe some of you do, but it’s not a given. The server who walks a plate of braised short ribs with polenta 25 feet from the kitchen to your table and asks if you like your red wine “light and fruity” or “something more full-bodied” gets at least 20 per cent on top of your check. Table for four, good place, that server likely to get 60 bucks. The tow truck driver who drags your broken  down Dodge or  Toyota across four lanes of the Harbor Freeway at 5:40 p.m.?  That dude is lucky to get a five spot.  

Some weeks back. on a Saturday, my girlfriend’s car got stuck in emergency brake mode.  The plastic brake handle had broken off and the car - a Porsche  - would not move. I was parked halfway in the crowded, back parking lot of her restaurant and half in the alley. I was blocking in  to-go customers and two delivery drivers.  Attempts to move the car by myself and the valets were fruitless. I called Triple A, explained the situation, but was told - on this busy night -  they were at least 90 minutes away. 

Next, I called (the supposedly vaunted ) Porsche Roadside Assistance.  The dispatcher was about to hang up after telling me to call  back on Monday, when she casually tossed out a tip;  "Maybe call Melrose Towing."  

I did and 15 minutes later, Louie arrived.

Within sixty seconds, Louie had fixed the problem.  With a screwdriver, he managed to release the brake, thus freeing the car. What a relief. I asked where he’s was from. Compton, but had moved to Culver City. I tell him I want to do a story about him. He’s says “Okay”, but then, just like that, Louie was gone, off to rescue someone else.

Three days later, the same thing happened with the emergency brake. I’m not sure how it did, but, I knew what to do. I called Louie. He had given me his cell phone the first time he rescued me. It was a Tuesday night and he was home watching his baby, but he walked me through what to do. I felt like a master mechanic from Stuttgart when the brake released.

I repeated that I wanted to do an article about him.   ‘Okay”.

During the next week, I called him four times and texted four.   He was too busy to talk. He said he would get back. I called again and again. Too busy. Probably if I had a broken car he would have not been too busy. The reporter in me was a little annoyed with him, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that Louie not being eager for recognition was cool

All this to say, next time you see a tow truck driver, even when you;re not in need of one, show 'em some respect.

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A Mom, A Son, A Public Defender, A Deputy D.A., Mark Twain and Barney Fife

About three weeks ago, while on vacation,  I received the following text; ‘My name is Lavedia Williams   Guys from Nickerson Gardens told me to contact you   I have a story”

I text back that I’d get with her when I return to L.A.  I did.  This is her story.

On July 18, 2017, her son, Devaughn James, 23, on parole since February after serving time for a residential burglary in Cerritos, is stopped near the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts for driving a car – his girlfriend’s - with expired tags.

(I guess it should be noted up top that James, who grew up in Pomona before coming to live in Watts with his mother at age 16, was not a member of the Bounty Hunters, the notorious Blood gang that rules the projects.)

“The sheriffs pulled us over at 113th and Bellhaven for expired tags,” says Lawren Huff, 24, James’ girlfriend of three years.  “It was my car and he had a valid license.”

During the stop, the deputy, a guy named Rothwick (who I didn’t reach), is, according to Huff, “very polite”.  

“He asked Devaughn if he was on parole and when Devaughn said ‘yes’, he asked ‘what for?’,” says Huff.

“A residential burglary,” James replies.

“Was it a bullshit charge or legit?” deputy Rothwick asks.

“No, it was legit. I did the crime,” answers James, who did the time, too, 17 months, much of it at a fire camp near Santa Clarita.

Rothwick - or his partner in the cruiser  - run the address James gave them as his current residence. Their in-car computer shows a gun is registered to that address which is his mother’s home located a few blocks away on 113th and Wadsworth Avenue.

They place James in the patrol car and drive to the address. They knock. Lavedia Williams answers the door. Deputy Rothwick explains the situation.

She invites him into her spotless four-bedroom home. She shows him the gun in her bedroom, which has a lock on the door. He calls in a sergeant. They video the scene. They take the gun and take her son to the sheriff’s station.

They explain to the mom they will get a hold of James’ parole officer and then he will be released.

But, they can’t reach his parole officer. Instead, he is charged as a felon with access to and in possession of a firearm.   He is sent to the county jail facility known as Wayside, near Magic Mountain.

And Devaughn James is facing seven years in prison for that gun.

By the time I get to Williams’ house. In late August. she’s a nervous wreck.

“This could ruin my son’s life,” she says, “I was honest with the sheriffs. I shoulda lied and or just not let them in the house.  But, I told them the truth. It was my gun. My mom gave it to me so many years ago. It’s an heirloom.  An old .32 revolver. It wasn’t even loaded. I only have two bullets and I keep them nearby, but not in the gun.”

Bam! And just like that. I have the lede for this story. This woman has twice the fire power of Barney Fife. I’ll get to that later.

Williams tells me about herself. She’s a former rabble-rouser from Nickerson Gardens who is tight with several guys I've known for decades.  I mean she knows Loaf, Kartoon, Big Hank, Big Donnie. She’s impressed I know all these guys. It vastly helps my credibility and her comfort level.  On the other hand, her knowing them lets me know I’m not dealing with Mary Poppins.

And just like that, she admits to being “in the life” back in the day. She fought. She dealt. She used. She represented. But, that was then. This is now. She’s been clean for 15 years. Now she’s a protective mother.

I take more notes. And vow to keep in touch. She gives me the next court date. I say I’ll try and make it. But, when that court date rolls around, I’m outta pocket.  

Nothing happens in court that day anyway and the case is postponed until Sept. 15.  This past Friday.

A week ago, I talk to Williams. She is more worried than ever. He son was at Wayside when a race riot breaks out. Two inmates are seriously injured. It’s an unsettling experience for James – 5’ 8’, 145 -  and probably more so for her. She says her son told her he was “surrounded by 30 Hispanics.” at one point.  This is not fire camp in Santa Clarita. Wayside don’t play.

Lavedia says again she hopes I can make it to court.  

So, Friday, I come to Compton Court. 10th Floor. High security. I have lot of memories here. Most of them bad.

But, I’m not thinking of the bad times here: my namesake, Michael Jr., being sentenced to a long prison term; me in the lockup downstairs twice; the many tearful testimonies of kin of the killed.

Instead, I am gratefully thinking of one glorious memory here, a moment as liberating as I’ve ever known. It was about 30 years ago and I’m facing several years for a bar room brawl that spiraled out of control. I didn’t start it, but I ended it. I had thirty times the firepower of Barney Fife and all of it loaded.

I’m hoping, praying I get a year, maybe two, when the lawyer my dad hired, one brilliant attorney named Paul Geregos, (father of Mark) tells me the deputy district attorney and the judge have agreed to cut me a ton of slack. Time served and a month at Men’s Central.

I’m deep into this grateful thought – partly thinking with dread about where I would have ended up if I got the years - when an attractive young woman asks me “Are you Mike? Mike the writer?’  It’s Devaughn James’ girlfriend, Lawren. We talk. She details that traffic stop. Then Lavedia shows up. And then Devaughn’s sister. Then Lavedia’s boyfriend, Anthony.

Lavedia is thinking the worst case. I try to calm her.

“You ever hear that line by Mark Twain about worries?” I ask.

No.

“Some of my biggest worries never happened,” I tell her, paraphrasing one of the great quotes.

She repeats it.  

Then James’ public defender, A. J. Bayne, exits another courtroom and speaks to the family. He seems surprised that a reporter is there. I explained I’m a former Times staffer, and Watts – and South Central -  was my beat and though I’m no longer on staff, I write an occasional op-ed for them. And I have this website.

“I know this isn’t a big front-page story,” I explain. “A triple murder or something. But, it’s a front-page story to this family.”

He seems to get that  Bayne is clearly a busy public defender.  He points to yet another courtroom and says he’s on a trial in there, too.  Maybe we can talk later. Before he rushes off,  he gives me a little on this case.

“This is not a strong case,” he says as he shuffles some papers, “I think if we go to trial, we will win.”

However, he says “the 459 (Burglary) conviction will taint him with some jurors, but at worst they would be a hung jury.”

He adds the value of the family being at the courtroom.  “It’s very important the family shows up,” Bayne says. “Plus, they have credibility. I believe the mother. And another good thing for Devaughn is the D.A..  She’s reasonable.”

We wait outside. Lavedia asks me to repeat that Mark Twain quote.

Then deputy district attorney. Linda Davis arrives. She’s seen it all. About 10 years in Compton Court. Countless cases based in or near Nickerson Gardens.

Presiding in the court room, Dept. F, is Judge H. Clay Jacke II.  Beside the court reporter, the Deputy D. A. , the P.D., it’s just the family on one side of the courtroom seats and me on the other. I’m closer to the attorneys and try to listen in one their whispers.

P.D. Bayne is showing deputy D.A. Davis a video his investigator took that shows the lock on Lavedia’s bedroom door. They speak too softly to eavesdrop. But, there are some nods.  

Then about four, five minutes later, A. J. Bayne walks over Lavedia and says, not too softly. “He’ll be home for dinner tonight.”

She briefly convulses in joy. The girlfriend drops some tears. The sister does, too. Anthony smiles. I think back 30 something  years.

Devaughn comes out and pleads, as agreed,  “no contest”, a version of guilty, but usually associated with a good deal. He is sentenced to four years in prison, but suspended.  Suspended means if you stay clean, don’t violate parole or probation, you don’t go to prison. The gun will be destroyed.

The family is thrilled, though Lavedia hopes to get it completely wiped off his record one day. The public defender is proud he got the guy a deal. Even the deputy D.A. is satisfied. She says that family showing up was important. And she got a gun destroyed.

The only person who was a little disappointed in the outcome was my crusty old editor Morty Goldstein, Jr., a curmudgeonly, nearly-fictional character.

He had hoped, after hearing about the two bullets laying near the gun, not even in the chambers, to use the following lede.

In the “Andy Griffith Show” of 1960s television. bumbling deputy sheriff Barney Fife was issued an unloaded Colt .38 caliber revolver.  Sheriff Andy Taylor allowed him a single bullet that was to be kept in his uniform’s pocket and- only in an emergency – loaded into the gun.

Lavedia Williams of Watts had double the fire power of Barney Fife. Lavedia had unloaded “heirloom”  .32. caliber revolver – a gift from her mother – stashed in the night stand of her usually-locked bedroom with two bullets laying nearby.

That old gun and those two bullets could cost her son seven years in prison.

But, even ‘ol Morty Goldstein is happy we don’t have to go with that lede.

“When that public defender,,, What's his name? A. J. Foyt?”

“A. J. Bayne.”

“Yeah. When A. J. tells the mom ‘He’ll be home for dinner tonight’, man, even I got a little misty.”

Coming from Morty Goldstein, Jr., that’s saying a lot.   So Devaughn James, stay outta trouble.

Lavedia

Lavedia Willaims at home.

WOP Shock; Francis Sebastian Wins the "Worker of the Party" Award at Alex's Lemonade Bash

Francis Sebastian, the Pizzeria Mozza assistant manager best known for knowing the future, shocked the workers of the world when he was selected Worker of the Party (WOP) for the exclusive Alex’s Lemonade Pre-Auction Bash at Nancy Silverton’s home in Los Angeles, California.

Sebastian, the first Filipino to win the award, was said to be speechless when he learned he had won. Sources, however, said that was not because he was overcome with emotion, but rather had consumed 27 cans of Santa Monica Brewery IPA during the party and was basically comatose.

But, those at the party, said the beers were deserved.  Francis worked tirelessly early in the set-up of the event, single-handedly carrying heavy tables, being the good soldier and doing whatever anyone told him to do, even Kate Green.

It was the actions of Green, in fact, that, though perhaps inadvertently, helped secure Sebastian’s win.  When an Armenian man, given the important task of checking the sound system, could not get the stereo system to even go on, Green order him to “Try harder!”.  He did, pulling out a tangle of wires, tracing the stereo to the power source.  No power.

“Try harder, goddamnit,” Green demanded. “We need music. It’s a fuckin’ party, not a funeral.”

The Armenian claimed the system was old and probably had simply burned itself out. “Kate, the power just won’t come on.”

Francis walked by.

“Francis, see if you can get the music going,” Kate said. “Clearly Middle Easterners know nothing about electronics.  Let’s bring in the Asian.”

Francis walked over, pushed a button and the stereo came on. “You were probably pushing the “standby” button.”

Kate stared at the Armenian man, but didn’t say a word. He walked away. Suddenly, there was music. The party was on.  

"Francis was great at the party," said Nancy Silverton. "Too bad he couldn't be that way at the Pizzeria."

News that a native son had won the WOP rocked the Philippines in both good and bad ways. In Manila’s historic center known as Intramuros, celebrations over news of Sebastian’s win quickly turned violent with cars sent ablaze, shop windows smashed and several lumpia carts vandalized.

Back in Los Angeles, there was mixed feelings.

“Are we talking about the same Francis Sebastian?” asked a stunned Chile Rico, who was Sebastian’s boss for over one year. “When he worked for me, and I use the term lightly, he was primarily talking about himself in unrealistically glowing terms.”

Others weren’t surprised.

“I don’t understand why everyone is stunned that Francis won the WOP at Nancy’s,” said noted anthropologist Kenneth “Duke” Feldmeier. “He told me he would win three years ago.”

(For his victory, Francis wins a burrito from Burrito La Palma.)

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Italia 2107 GOYA Shocker; 12-Year-Old Girl Beats out Ruth Reichl For Guest Of Year Award, Protests Filed

When it was officially announced  that Ruth Reichl would be coming to Panicale for “Italia 2017”  oddsmakers from Las Vegas to Monte Carlo took a collective shot of whiskey knowing their bonanza for the year was ruined.  The oddsmakers knew that betting against Reichl to win the coveted GOYA, (Guest of the Year) award would be akin to placing a wager against Secretariat in the ’73 Belmont. It just would not happen. 

“Ruth could stumble in, cigarette smoke trailing, ashes dropping on the 14th-Century carpet, gulp off a can of Moretti, belch, crush the can and toss it on his bed and Krikorian would still vote her the GOYA,” said Pierre Su-Sway, pit boss at the Grand Casino de Monte Carlo who was referring to Michael Krikorian, who, along with co-trip organizer Nancy Silverton, is an influential GOYA voter.. .

But, a funny thing happened on the way to the voting forum. A low turnout. While Ruth was her radiant self, her supporters were so confident she would run away with the GOYA that they didn’t bother to go to the polls.

The stunning result was Francesca Anne Krikorian, a 12-year-old Los Angeles girl with no Italy experience at all, swooped in like Seabiscuit in the War Admiral match race and captured the 2017 GOYA.

Francesca, showing up late in the trip with her father, Greg, and 16-year-old brother, Max, came on strong quickly with a striking series of bizarre quotes that caught Panicale regulars  off guard and enamored her to them.

For examples. When asked about Bob Dylan, Francesca asked “Is that the guy who jumps?”

Lead with a “Van who?” by her father - to answer who was singing “Brown-Eyed Girl” - she replied “Van Dyke”.

Her description of the taste of butter?  “Buttery”

Going on and on about one of her favorite people on Earth, an internet sensation , she said “I can’t think of her name right now.”

But, what garnered Francesca enough votes to eek out a GOYA victory over Reichl was her infectious joy, her smile, her laughter - even after repeated waterboardings by her brother Max - her curiosity and above all, her imagination. When Krikorian pretended to get a call requesting his "Delta Force" services to guard the cast of  Pretty Little Liars, (Francesca’s favorite show) she went along for the ride with a zeal that was invigorating.

So here’s to Francesca Anne Krikorian, the Italia 2017’s  Guest of the Year, For this, she is entitled to one free pizza, either at Mozza in Hancock Park. or Il Pellicano in Umbria.. 

As for Ruth Reichl, she said :"There’s always next year." 

Coming in third place was chef Elizabeth Falkner who scored strongly in the beginning of the Silverton/Krikorian Odyssey, getting high marks for revealing the first chapter of her book (a "hard R"), cooking superbly  and being an all around pleasant person. But, Falkner stumbled badly and lost several points when she texted Nancy several times during a Silverton/Krikorian lunch at the 3 Michelin-starred Piazza Duomo in Alba. 

"Why is she texting you so much? Tell her .we having lunch at Piazza Duomo," Krikorian told Silverton.

"She can't figure out how to turn on the oven."

Francesca Krikorian stayed away from the oven. 

It should be noted that nearly perennial second place finisher Susan Swan did not compete this season.

In the category of most pasta consumed, Georgie Harris dominated. Several attempts to get Georgie to comment were unsuccessful as her mouth was full of cacio y pepe.

NOTE - At press time, it was revealed that Francesca is Michael Krikorian's niece. Supporters of Reichl, led by a six-year old known as Linksy, filed a formal protest. 

Past GOYA Winners " 

2016 - Dario Cecchini

2015 - Leon Gold  

2014 - (TIE) Hourie Sahakian and Tiffany Fox

2013 - Liz "Go Go" Hong

2012 - Cast of "The Wire"

2011 - .The Berrettos (aka Oliver and his buddies) 

2010 - (TIE) Duke Feldmeier and Patsi Asanti

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To score GOYA points, it is always a good tactic to pour Nancy good red wine while she is in the roustabout in the pool. .