Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Yuge Story: It's complicated

Few of us bother to vote in the Altadena Town Council elections, but then, from time-to-time in certain census tracts, no one bothers to run, either.

It's not that we're apathetic so much as pragmatic; everyone knows the council has no real power -- it and ergo we, are entirely at the mercy of The County Supervisor. Besides, we're the most contentious community I've ever met; we argue constantly, about everything. So most of us sit out the election and cross our fingers, hoping the Supe doesn't take a crazy pill one day and declare prohibition, or war on Sierra Madre.

All this to say, to lead up to, a quite amazing local development: A petition which has actually garnered 3,000 signatures. Three-thousand Altadenish agree on something? Anything? You could knock me down with a feather.

OK, here's the issue, I'm going to try to sum it up in one rambling mess of a paragraph: Members of the Japanese-American Yuge family lived (and will until next week, apparently) in a bungalow, built by a Yuge uncle, situated on the Scripps estate and owned by William Kellogg. The Yuge family fell victim to the US internment during WW2, left all they owned behind, lived in a concentration camp, were liberated years later, moved to Harbor City, were located through the efforts of Kellogg, and agreed to return to Altadena. Yuge and Kellogg entered into a gentleman's agreement, to whit: the Yuge family -- mother, father, daughters, could stay (rent-free, I believe) in the Yuge home on the estate for as long as the Yuge parents lived.

Got it? Because now it gets sticky, and I'm into a second paragraph. When William Kellogg got near his expiration date, unbeknownst to the rest of his family, he willed Scripps Hall not to his children, but to the owners of the Scripps Home for the Aged, a care-facility founded by his ancestors. And, with no strings attached, including the ultimate fate of the estate or the necessity to honor his agreement with the Yuge family.

OK, don't shoot me -- one more paragraph; two, max.

The Scripps Home put Scripps Hall up for sale, and developers gave it the once-over. Which would have meant losing the Hall, and likely, the Yuges losing their home. Instead, the Waldorf School bought the property, agreed to let the Yuge family stay in the Yuge home until both parents died. The mother died last year at age 100, which means the property reverts to the school, and results in the eviction of at least one Yuge daughter.

Waldorf School, just for some background, is a private school, offering classes for pre-schoolers to high school, and yearly tuition, depending on age, ranging from 11K to more than 20K. This has no bearing on the issue, except why some in town are rooting for the obvious underdog. But according to their website, Waldorf has an admirable mission statement. Their instruction (and I quote):

Nurtures the imagination while educating the intellect
Develops flexible thinking
Enhances children’s artistic as well as cognitive abilities
Honors children’s learning styles and temperaments
Provides a warm atmosphere that embraces the spiritual essence of the human being

Oh god, I'm so long-winded, will this ever stop? Yes, soon, soon.

When I was in elementary school in SoCal, 1960s, our tribe was Methodist, mainly, but also a good portion Lutheran, Catholic, and Jewish.

Our World and American history classes weren't relentlessly positive. We learned that a civilized society can be most uncivil indeed. As illustrations -- slavery, the Holocaust, treatment of the Native Americans. We even learned that "This Land is Your Land" wasn't an anthem at all, but an accusation, written during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression years.

But never mentioned, not ever, was what happened in our own state to the Japanese-Americans in the 1940s. Isn't that odd? We didn't hear about the concentration camps on our own soil, and how most citizens stood by and watched as their neighbors were forced to leave their homes and possessions behind.

Waldorf will likely construct new classrooms and perhaps a parking lot on the existing property. The Yuge family wants to save their house for posterity. And yes, I understand the Yuge family has no legal leg to stand on. Yet, I can't help but place myself on their side. If for no other reason than we've preserved just about nothing to remind us of the thriving Japanese-American community that lived in the Denas prior to WW2, or to remind us of what it was they lost, which was everything.

It seems to me we should preserve, acknowledge, whatever little still remains.

Which is why I support saving the Yuge home in Altadena. And I really don't see why we as a community can't come to the table with Waldorf, break bread, and work out some sort of compromise of benefit to us all. The home could house a permanent collection of Japanese-American memorabilia, and a portion of the garden could be returned to the glory it once enjoyed under Mr. Yuge's care.

At the very least, it's worth discussing. Before it's too late.

(Yes, these are three of the Yuge sisters. I barged in on them yesterday; Albert was my calling-card. Good move; they're dog-lovers.)

Here's the petition: https://www.change.org/p/carol-liu-judy-chu-adam-schiff-save-a-historic-japanese-american-home-gardens-and-endangered-torrey-pine-tree

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I sacrifice my loquats

to a higher being. Can you see him now?

The family is WESTERN TANAGER. Thanks to CP for the ID. Another species where Mom and Pop split parental duties, enjoy family vacations. Though perhaps Mom or Dad looked at the map upside down, took a hard right, thus missed their usual riparian holiday and ended up in Altadena.

"Oh honey, where are we?"

"Hell if I know. Just tell the kids it's Disneyland and they drained the pool. Eat some fruit; call Aunt Martha because we're flying to Ventura."

"In that case, better give me the map."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


I wonder in which decade the expression "I feel like a million bucks" lost its currency. Not the 70s. My mom used to say it all the time. Well, not all the time, but whenever her kids got good grades or hadn't been arrested. I suppose back then, a million bucks made people sit up and take notice; a million bucks threw some serious weight around.

Today, a million bucks means a mortgage and a migraine. Not that I'm speaking from experience. Except, I do have a mortgage, and sometimes my head hurts, but I'm just wondering -- what's the monetary simile for feel-good these days? Do we feel like $3.5 million, $4 million, or am I still low-balling this thing. In my middle-class way.

The longer I've lived, the more I've grown to disbelieve in Fitzgerald's "the rich are different from you and I." They're not, really, other than knowing which fork to use. (It's from the outside in, generally speaking, but not always. I learned that one the hard way. And the fork-thing is stupid, anyway; a fork is just a glorified spear, meant to transport food to its ultimate destination. But now I digress, only because I really fucked up on a fork series last week. To which, I say, take that pastry fork and stick it where the sun don't shine.)

Where was I? I've totally forgotten, because I'm still stuck on the pastry fork, and my gaffe.

OK, it was a dinner party. I don't even know why I was invited. But after I kind of figured out the salad fork (easy), and which one for the meat, and which one for the fish, when it came to the pastry, I got all confused. The cocktails, aperitifs, and wine were no help at all.

So the rich aren't different from you and I, it's just knowing how to handle a situation, gracefully. If you're confused as to which is the pastry fork, or at some point, can't with precision find any fork at all or even the top of the table with some degree of confidence, just pat your stomach, dab the napkin to your lips, and say, "Oh this was lovely, but if I eat another bite, I'll heave."

Works like a charm. And you'll get port. The good stuff.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

And not a drop to drink

I received a notice from my local water board today. All residents in my area are required to reduce water use by 20 percent.

But here's the thing: the drought is old news. I've been conserving water for the past three years. I ditched the lawn and shovel-pruned the tropicals. I recycle my grey water, and shower with friends. If water levels sink from worse to worst, which it appears they will, the only further contribution I can make is to hang out at Devil's Gate and spit in the aquifer.

There was a time when the California climate was such and water flowed so plentifully, we could pretend to live in England, or on the East Coast, or in the Mid-west -- really, pretend to live anywhere but California -- and plant and grow whatever we deemed aesthetically pleasing. Or, let's be honest here, whatever the whole rest of the world considers aesthetically pleasing. Back in the not too distant day, green wasn't a state of mind or a philosophy or a mandate, green was a color, the color of our Bermuda grass and Dichondra.

It hurts to wake up and leave the dream behind.

Sure, we can still grow things, twig-like plants that know how to shrivel without dying, and practice this trick for most of their lives.

I understand we should be good sports. We should heap praise on the twigs, or say something nice, at least. Like, "Would you call that brown-brown, brownish-beige, or taupe?" or "I'll just bet there's life in there, somewhere." But the difference between what we had and what we'll have is the difference between a Dickensian prime rib Christmas dinner and a sack lunch.

Still, what are you going to do? Either accept the new California reality, or move. I'm trying the former, because I'm not ready for the latter. Not yet.