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‘Los Angeles’ Category

  1. For Ben

    March 31, 2015 by Kaitlin

    Ben at Huntington Gardens

    When I think about Ben, I think about joy. I think about laughing. And laughing and laughing. I think about the way he made me feel. Comfortable. Confident. Beautiful.

    I met Ben in college, spring semester my junior year and his freshman year, after I’d come back from a semester abroad in Prague, obnoxious in my newfound love of Eastern European cinema and disdain for domestic beers. I don’t know that I would have wanted to be friends with myself in January of 2006, god only knows why Ben did, but I’ll be the lifelong beneficiary of that trademark openness.

    The story we told everyone is that we met dancing on a table at a frat party after each complimenting the other on their outfit and in that moment declaring ourselves best friends. I doubt this is completely true, but I do know for sure that I heard about Benton Ferguson before I actually ever met him, or more likely sought him out.

    Senior year was a blast, mostly because of Ben. My other roommates in our apartment had boyfriends, but I had Ben and Ben brought the party…even when we weren’t around. I remember coming home one night and finding, compliments of Ben, half of that year’s dance ensemble cast and possibly some members of the visiting Royal Shakespeare Company in our living room singing along to the Scissor Sisters at the top of their lungs. There were lots of costumes, lots of cocktails and lots of questionable decisions made with zero fear of judgment or regret.

    Halloween 2006

    This whole time we were up to our ears in essays for our English major, but Ben could actually write his own creative content worth reading outside of some of obscure seminar. He also painted. And danced. And sang a cappella exceedingly well. When people say the entire campus was in love with Ben, they’re not exaggerating. My mom recently pointed out that she only met Ben once, and it was when I graduated and refused to leave campus without seeing him. And that when I finally found him it was the longest hug she had ever seen me give because growing up, I was never a hugger. Ben changed that.

    Later, Ben came to live with me and Sami Jarrah in Portland for a summer. That summer is, without question, the most fun, free, and generally celebratory of my life. Ben was writing and interning some, I was looking for jobs, and getting my yoga teacher’s certification. Let’s just say we had not really fully transitioned into adulthood and were in no hurry to get there.

    When he first landed in PDX, Ben texted to say he’d changed into skinny jeans in the airplane bathroom. We hosted a party at our apartment that night with the most ragtag group of Portlanders, then went out to a bar, or several bars and ended up eating breakfast at a 24 hour diner where Ben brought his new friend Cody. Cody was a dancer. An…exotic dancer? Ok, he was a stripper. But a stripper with a heart of gold, who loved to read and of course Ben had somehow figured this out. This was night one. The rest of the summer played out accordingly.

    We’d go to yoga and then immediately afterward go to happy hour at a bar that only served ridiculously flavored martinis. I once spilled an entire Nalgene of water on his laptop after one too many of said martinis. He didn’t get mad. He didn’t even flinch. He just laughed as if he wasn’t at risk of losing years worth of work and music and photos and blow dried his computer and took it to the Apple store the next day where they were miraculously able to revive it.

    I found an email from that summer where he pointed out that we won at bar trivia one night because the host had a crush on him and kept changing the topics to things like “Alabama,” “Southern Literature” and “Vive La France!” — all things Ben specialized in.

    Hats

    We went on an insane camping trip to Hart Mountain in Southern Oregon where Ben packed just skinny jeans, flip flops and a t-shirt screen printed with the name of our college’s literary journal.

    I went to see Ben last June while he was getting radiation treatment in Houston. Again, I was between jobs, this time only for a week. We cooked. We listened to music. We tried out different scarves and methods for head wraps. He had much more of a knack for it than I did. We did yoga, gentler now. We watched all of season 2 of Orange is The Black, only taking breaks to go to the hospital once a day, where he pointed out, “Hey, at least we get free valet parking.”

    We talked a lot about how he was feeling in the moment, we talked some about what he was thinking, but we avoided talking directly about the prognosis for his particular type of cancer, which we both knew was not good.

    The last night I was there, we watched a movie called Another Earth. Ben had already seen it, but said he wanted to watch it again. It’s not a perfect movie, mostly because it asks you to believe the beautiful Brit Marling would ever work as a janitor. More believably, it also asks you to consider the notion, that there is, somewhere, somehow another earth that’s exactly like the one we currently inhabit, with just one or two things slightly altered. In the movie, that one thing is that maybe Brit Marling didn’t cause a horrific car crash. As we watched, I couldn’t help but think that in my version, there’d be another earth where Ben didn’t have cancer, where Ben doesn’t die a day after his 28th birthday.

    And I still kind of think that. I’m not what you’d call a person of faith, and my rational brain can’t really wrap itself around the idea that Ben is gone. As I told a friend after I heard the news, who knows if I’ll ever get married, but when I think about my hypothetical dream wedding, the groom is a question mark, but Ben is there for sure, dancing the night away at the reception.

    Within 24 hours of Ben passing away, I’ve received texts and notes from high school friends, grad school friends, friends of ex-boyfriends, people I completely forgot would have ever even known or crossed paths with Ben. But so many of them have. Friends from home who visited Davidson and met Ben once have never forgotten him. Old roommates of mine post-college have gone on to have their own full and rich friendships with Ben.

    And that’s just within my tiny circle of acquaintances. Multiply that out, and there’s a reason the Google doc where people can share memories for Ben’s family is now in excess of 40 single-spaced pages.

    There are so many stories I’m leaving out, including the six months I lived in New York and Ben, who was once like my little brother, became my savior in the city. I lived in Williamsburg because Ben lived in Williamsburg. Hangovers were cured at Jimmy’s Diner in Greenpoint because Ben knew to take me there. An entire mini college reunion was organized around Ben’s birthday, almost two years ago to the day.

    I also recorded a short interview with Ben in New York. This was back when I was just getting into radio and had the shockingly original idea to start a podcast using subpar recording techniques. I only ever made three episodes, but naturally one of them was with Ben.

    At the time, of course, we couldn’t have known. We talk about the supernatural, we talk about death and life after death, we laugh at my misunderstanding of a song I thought was just about a road trip, but is clearly about a funeral. Ben sounds classic Ben. That is to say thoughtful, funny, and wise beyond his years.

    I held off re-listening to this conversation for a long time after Ben’s diagnosis for fear it would make me too sad, too angry. But I finally did, and felt better the instant I heard Ben’s laugh. That laugh that contains limiteless joy, that laugh that I leave as my radio legacy to the world. It’s the best thing I ever recorded.

    When he was speaking about the movie and the character Powder, Ben says, “He makes communication happen between things that normally wouldn’t be able to. And it’s really beautiful.”

    Time after time, Ben made communication happen with me when I was closed off to everyone and everything else. And I know I’m not alone in this experience. With Ben, every meeting was an opening, an opportunity, a chance to revel in life’s small wonders. We can carry that forward. And it really is beautiful.

    CRF_young friends_116

    If you’ve made it this far, and if you knew Ben, or even if you didn’t, please consider donating to Ben’s memorial at Davidson.


  2. Disembodied voices of the ancestors

    April 4, 2012 by Kaitlin

    So, I know it’s not really good blog etiquette to post promises of exciting stories, not deliver on those promises and instead drop in with reminiscences about a deceased grandparent, but that’s what happening.

    My paternal grandmother, Grandma Parker, died a year ago today, and I’ve thought a lot about her in recent weeks. She was always the grandparent I felt closest to. When I was younger, this closeness came from shared activities like reading and baking bread and everyone always telling me I got my blue eyes from her.

    A young Grandma Parker, sunning with her sisters at Lake Titus

    As I got older though, I came to realize we really were kindred spirits in a lot of ways. We both loved being outdoors and had a real curiosity about other countries and cultures. She always encouraged my writing and was quite the writer herself. We’d have lengthy email exchanges (she also LOVED technology and was rockin’ Apple computers and digital cameras way before they were cool) about our lives past and present.

    But it wasn’t just with me—she took a real interest in all her eight grandchildren’s lives. She was always emailing, Skyping, and in the later years, even Facebooking. She wanted to be up to date on our most recent achievements so she could brag to her bridge group. More than that though, she loved people and she loved being in contact and making connections with them.

    Looking back on one of those emails, sent shortly after I had moved to LA, I’m struck by what a forward-thinking, open-minded woman she was, especially given the time period and her surroundings. I don’t think she ever led any marches, but she lived her life in a way I really admire–a kind of quiet rebellion against the norm:

    When I hear about the experiences you have had and are having, I can’t help but contrast them with mine.  Born in 1922, I grew up in a town with about 6 Jewish families and no blacks.  When I was in high school our sponsor teacher resigned from our sorority because we invited Sara Cohen to join!!  When our Congregational church invited the Jubilee Singers to come to town, the local hotel wouldn’t put them up because they were black.  Church members took them into their homes.  I got through college without ever hearing the word “lesbian”, and gay meant we were happy.  I knew a couple of boys we called “sissies” but I never dreamed there was anything sexual about it.

    I was a part of the 60’s revolution when I went back to college for my Master’s and started working with disadvantaged children in the inner city, mostly black.  I started thinking for myself rather late in life and searched for a church that I could accept. I came to think that each person has to find his/her own spiritual path, and I believe now that the Universe (God) operates on basic principles that we have to discover. The law of gravity and laws of magnetism operate for everyone whether we believe in them or not!! I think there are many principles that we are discovering with our own bodies, even, and perhaps Yoga addresses some of these.  Now that I am facing the last years, months, days of my life, I will soon discover the answer to the final mystery.  I’m willing to take my chances thinking that I have lived a life full of love, have never knowingly done harm to anyone and strongly believe that my spirit will live on in some form.  If I’m wrong, so be it!!!  Sorry I can’t let you know!!

    There have been so many ups and downs in both Cape Town and London that I wish I could have shared with her. I had just started to really get into radio reporting before she died, and she’d always remind me to enunciate so her old ears would be able to understand. I think about her now, every time I step into a recording booth or struggle with some script writing: word it so Grandma Parker would get it.

    My time in London is drawing to a close, and I’m not sure what the next step will be, but whatever it is, my ultimate hope is that it will involve creating radio that will do justice to her spirit.

    It seemed fitting then, that during a Xhosa language lesson in Cape Town, we learned that when the Xhosa people first saw and heard radio, they called it “unomathotholo” or, roughly, “the disembodied voices of the ancestors.” In Xhosa culture, the spirits of one’s ancestors play an important role in daily life, so it makes sense that lacking any context, the voices coming from the radio could well be voices of their deceased relatives. In a way, they weren’t far off. There’s so much of what we do say and what we’re even allowed to say that’s owed to the voices of those who came before.


  3. Fernandomania and the Dog Whisperer

    September 16, 2011 by Kaitlin

    This morning I covered a special presentation at City Hall in connection with Latino Heritage Month. You can read the whole write-up over at Intersections.

    Mayor Villaraigosa gave awards to Sal Castro, Fernando Valenzuela and Cesar Millan.

    Three super cool dudes. No, really.

    For a quick reference, Castro was the teacher who helped lead the 1968 East LA walkouts. HBO made a movie about him and his students.

    Mayor Villaraigosa and Fernando Valenzuela

    Valenzuela is the only baseball player in Major League history to win Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award in the same year. I admit I didn’t know this until this morning, but several baseball fans have since confirmed that this is a big freakin’ deal. He started a craze called Fernandomania.

    And Millan is the Dog Whisperer. Duh. I’ve seen Councilman Bill Rosendahl speak at lots of events, but until today, I had never heard him address anyone by saying, “Cesar! Woof! Woof! That’s from my dog! He’s a German shepherd. He loves you! Woof, woof!” Later, I saw a man RUNNING up to Millan, holding two Chihuahuas, one wearing a mini Mexican flag like a cape and the other donning a sombrero.

    In some ways, it was a weird day. In other ways, it’s just LA.

    Thumbs up for calm-assertive energy

    As I was walking back to my car, a guy in a gray sweatsuit kinda jogged up to me and started chatting. He asked if I was from LA (nope) and how long I had lived here (just over a year). He said he was LA born and raised. Then he asked if I knew where the closest Wendy’s was. The look on my face must have betrayed my thoughts (if you’re the one who was born and raised here, why are you asking me where to get a Frosty?), and he explained. “I just got done doing time, and the Wendy’s I used to go isn’t there any more.”

    Suddenly the (county-issued) gray sweatsuit made sense. When he said just got done serving time, he really meant JUST GOT DONE. I felt bad that I didn’t know where a Wendy’s was. And I wasn’t even able to offer him a good alternative. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m not all that familiar with downtown.”

    “Me neither, anymore,” he said.

    For a moment, it felt very “Strangers in a Strange Land.” Then we made it to my car. I wished him well and got in, feeling kind of hollow, wishing that as one of the first people he interacted with post-incarceration, I had been able to offer him something more.

    But before shit got all depressing, I took some fun pictures at the Latino Heritage Month event. After the jump, you’ll see that I wasn’t lying about those Chihuahuas.

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  4. Signs and sprawl: Back in Los Angeles

    August 30, 2011 by Kaitlin

    Welp, a couple plane rides and a 1,400 mile road trip later, I’m back in LA. To prove it, here’s the Hollywood sign as seen (OK, there’s some zoom involved here) from our Echo Park porch. Granted, me saying I can see Hollywood is a little like Sarah Palin saying she can see Russia. Yeah, it’s there, but that realm of LA is pretty far-removed from where I function.

    Mmm, Hollywood and smog

    Reporting in LA, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on unique parts of the city, and every so often I’ll stumble across something in the periphery of working on a story that makes me think, “Now there’s a good insider tip!” But then I remember that knowing which kind of burrito to order from the Compton Courthouse cafeteria (one of them is actually good, I promise!) is not the kind of info most Angelinos or visitors seek. But I’m alright with that.

    I was reminded of the scope of LA sprawl and the diversity it creates while visiting former Cape Town roommate Mary Beth in Marina del Ray, 20 miles across town. Even with no traffic, it’s a bit of a trek. She lives in this great community right by the water that has this whole nautical resort theme going on—very different than the hipster/taco truck/discount store mash-up that pervades Echo Park. Funny that now that we’re back in the States but no longer living together, it feels like we’re functioning on separate continents.

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