Archive for February, 2014

Columbo’s In Eagle Rock

Monday, February 17th, 2014

February 17th, 2014
Columbo’s Restaurant in Eagle Rock
By Gary Crethers

I took my girlfriend out for a belated Valentines dinner to a restaurant she picked because it had crab cakes, her favorite appetizer and because it has live Jazz music. The prices seemed reasonable and most of the reviews on Yelp seemed positive, especially the ones saying it was old school Italian, dark and Godfatheresque, with red Naugahyde booths.
We got a 9 pm reservation, just before the music was set to start, and arrived at 8:40 after a not too harrowing drive up the I-110 from Torrance. We got through downtown, onto the I-5, and the Glendale Freeway without much trouble. With “Jamzilla” constantly being talked about on the news radio station, I was expecting a freeway holocaust. Instead we were there in less than 45 minutes, nothing for an LA drive.

Parking sucked, there was no space when we arrived, but I trusted in the magic of that blue disabled tag to find us a place in reasonable walking distance, and I did, next to a vegetarian Thai place a short block away. We walked in through the bar, narrow NYC style, neighborhood bar, standing room only. We shoved our way back to the restaurant where when we told them we had a reservation at 9, they told us we had 5 parties ahead of us. Over booking, or simply previous guests not leaving was not clarified. We sat in a well lit room, next to the door of the real entrance, not the bar entrance we used, on the side of the building. People were not leaving their tables. The hostess asked us if we wanted to sit outside, my girlfriend said no, she wanted to see the band. They offered us a space in the banquet room. Again that did not have access to the band, so we nixed that option. Finally they dragged a tiny table in from outside and offered us that. We reluctantly accepted after sitting around for over half an hour playing with cell phones. I tried to parse out exactly what a friend’s email about Heidegger meant. It was a long dry tale…. And if this were through the looking glass it would have been a rewarding experience.

Seated, at our cold and tiny table, at the back of the room, with the wind striking us full on every time the door was opened, needless to say I was not a happy camper. My girlfriend was doing her best to put a positive spin on it. I asked about a booth, the red Naugahyde kind. It was closer to the mini stage where the band was setting up and more significantly it was out of the doorway breeze. When I asked about it, since we were next on the list, some guy, manager I guess, said it was going to someone who had been waiting for an hour. Well that was what we had been waiting and I was told by the hostess that we were next in line. I was going from being mildly irritated, to pissed-off and about to go to my ready-to-make-a-scene, the-revolution-is-now stage of escalation. If I went there, it would not be a pretty sight. My girlfriend began to grimace and give me the look. A St. Valentine’s Day massacre was not what she was looking forward to. We ordered our crab cakes and drinks. I got a Bombay Sapphire. She got some peach female wine thing. I told the waiter we wanted to move. I went back to the hostess and asked her about the next booth being cleared, since the maître d’ or whatever he was had seated the other couple in ‘our’ booth. My booth, the one I coveted, claimed, was due!

The band “Erica Lake and The Angry Dolphins” began to play an old blues tune, did a moderately decent version of “do right woman do right man,” an old Aretha Franklin standard, but the singers voice was distorted at the end of the room and the sound hadn’t been adjusted by a drink from mediocre to tolerable at that point. The drinks came rapidly, the crab cakes not so much. But the cakes were decent, not too wet and not too hard, sort of just right, served in a bed of arugula with balsamic vinegar and oil. My gin and tonic was beginning to work, but then we had a long wait for the waiter to take our main course order. I spied the maître d’ and told him I was not happy with being passed over. This was not the lord taking our first born child. This was a crowded Italian place with crappy service. The waiter finally took our order. I pointedly asked hostess to give us the next booth, her boss hostess or perhaps the manager, came out and apologized, and made the excuse that because it was Valentines a lot of people were lingering.

I wasn’t having it, my girlfriend was beginning to get her things together for the exit stage left routine, but then a booth opened and the waiter, and head hostess whisked us off to the magical red Naugahyde promised-land. The meals arrived just as we made ourselves comfortable in our red plastic love nest. I got the Seafood Valentino special, scallops, jumbo shrimp and lobster in linguine and some kind of pink sauce. My girlfriend ordered Four Cheese Ravioli. The meal came with a soup or salad. I ordered a salad. It was nothing special, chopped iceberg lettuce, some tomato and creamy Italian dressing. I was trying to figure out what kind of wine to have with my pink concoction and settled on a Pinot Grenache that the waiter recommended. It was light and fruity, almost a brute in its effervescence. By now my gin and tonic had hit me and as I don’t drink much anymore, I was feeling good, the music got better, and I was satisfied that my playing the squeaky wheel paid off with a better seat.

I gave most of the lobster to my girlfriend, it was not particularly special. My shrimp and scallops were great. The sauce was bland. The baby carrots were uninspired but crisp. My girlfriend had desert some kind of brownie and vanilla ice cream made out like a slice of pie. It was tasty in a gooey intense chocolaty way. The band got better as the drinks took hold, and they did a very decent version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” They were not a jazz band, but a rock and blues cover band, although they did one of their own. We stayed for both sets. And it was pleasantly entertaining. The guitarists were decent and the singer was ok as long as she didn’t overreach, she didn’t have enough range to do a really good belting blues tune.

On the walls were a series of paintings of vaguely Italian scenes, with one decent portrait of a courtesan with a big hat and another of what looked like the artist’s girlfriend. The crowd was mostly in their forties and fifties, largish, Italianish, some with teenagers, a few thirty some-things and lots of Trader Joe’s looking flowered shirts wearing Sinatra hats. This was not an especially hip crowd, but a comfortable bunch of semi drunks and their foreign exchange adopted teens. The bar, as full as it was, did not seem to be in conflict with the general ambiance. In other words the whole place was noisy. People got up and danced between the tables later in the evening and best of all we got 50% off for our inconvenience. The entire meal was less than fifty bucks. I added a tip that would have covered the full hundred bucks it would have cost and we left reasonably happy. Happy enough to have decent sex when we got home and that is saying something. So I give the place a B, at least they tried.

Angels In America

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

From Angels In America

I went to a performance of Part One “Millennium Approaches” of Angels in America, at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, UC Irvine, Friday night Jan. 31. It was a credible production of the play, first performed in 1990, with the standout roles of Roy Cohn performed by Jacob Dresch and Louis Ironson played by Josh Odsess-Rubin, the only equity actor in the company. The rest of the performers gave decent performances with none that struck as being amateurish. The performance was longish, over three hours with two ten minute intermissions, but it was riveting throughout as the use of lighting and sound effects were put to good effect. Minimal staging, with only the final appearance of the Angel being of a truly fantastic nature, did not distract from the acting or the storyline.

The essence of the story being the tale of two couples one straight and Mormon in which the husband comes out as gay as he is being enticed by Roy Cohn, the infamous lawyer and former protege of Senator Joseph McCarthy (according to the play), to leave his estranged wife to take a Justice Dept. job in Washington, DC. The other a gay couple where one is diagnosed with AIDS. His partner can’t deal with it and abandons his partner, eventually winding up with the Mormon who eventually rejected Cohn’s offer because of the strings attached involving corrupt practices. The wife of Mormon, Harper Pitt acted by Bri McWhortor, is addicted to valium and has visions as does the drag queen partner in the gay couple Prior Walter played by Matt Koenig who, as the scion of a family that traces itself back to the 1066 Norman Invasion, has visitations from his ancestors, one who died from the Bubonic plague, another who was apparently gay and from some time after the Stuart Restoration, as well as an ominous voice warning of the coming of the Millennium.

Louis goes through agonies of guilt at his lack of constancy to his AIDS suffering boyfriend Prior. A former drag queen Belize performed by Anthony Simone, acts as a go between between Louis who has left Prior and Prior who is in the hospital through much of the play. Louis who represents the somewhat militant polemic leftist faction of the gay community, goes on a particularly insensitive rant about oppression in which he tries to explain that racism in the USA is political and not race based as he claims it is in Europe. This argument does not fly with Belize a black, gay person who experiences that racist oppression. This very clearly portrays the lack of relevance of much of the radical left in the mid eighties, as well as Louis’s own inability to commit to love.

There are various displays of psychotic/prophetic episodes that revolve around the seemingly end of the world presence of AIDS which emerged in the 1980’s in the Gay Community and was initially almost invariably fatal, much like the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages. The play’s author Tony Kushner, who wrote it in 1985 in the midst of the AIDS crisis, does an admirable job conveying the sense of despair, fear, and escapism of the period before ACT UP had appeared in 1987, demanding greater Government funding and research to cure the disease. There is something of a Poe like macabre quality to the play whose “The Masque of the Red Death” Kushner’s work evokes at times.

The carnival mask, which had its origins in the plague, perhaps analogized as the Drag Queen’s makeup both could be symbols hiding the presence of the immanent death inherent in these mass killers. What made AIDS particularly demonic was the seemingly specific type of victims, Gays, Intravenous Drug Users and Hemophiliacs, that inspired religious fundamentalists to revile its victims as suffering from the wrath of a deity. This is turned on its head by the author by focusing on Mormons, a fundamentalist religion that was also somewhat outcast, thus creating a duality. This duality the extremely conservative, no drug, no sex except for reproduction Mormons weighed against the pro-drug and promiscuous sex of the Gay community, creates an interesting set of straw men for Kushner to then demolish with his humanistic approach that defies the conventions of each community, offering a way for a deeper understanding of the human fallibility and commonality found with this.

Cohn is an interesting example, extreme right winger, hounded Judge Irving Kaufman in the Rosenberg Trial, according to the play, to execute the convicted Ethel Rosenberg, who could have been spared the death penalty but for Cohn’s efforts (according to subsequent evidence was only guilty of supporting her husband, not of espionage). Cohn was an assistant to United States Attorney Irving Saypol, successful prosecutor of Alger Hiss and prosecutor in the 1951 Rosenberg trial.

In the play Cohn is portrayed as a Machiavellian schemer and power broker who is at the end of his tether, sick with AIDS himself, although denying it to the end, even threatening to ruin his doctor if information was released. Yet he is portrayed with some sensitivity, a warped soul who turns to his young proteges for affection, and in turn promotes them to positions of power in the Republican establishment. He brags at one point of having Nancy Regan’s personal number. This is a commentary both on the dark side of the Gay community, and also on the corrupting influence of power. Cohn’s protege, the Mormon Joe Pitt, played by Adam Schroeder, although in the closet, is admirably able to distinguish between the ethical position of his office, as a low paid law clerk in New York, and the temptation to power and better pay in Washington, DC., working for Attorney General Ed Meese, but owing Cohn a favor, in this case to bury the investigation that would lead to Cohn’s disbarment.

Many issues are brought up in the play, subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” and I have only mentioned a few. Excellent well worth seeing. Last performance in Irvine is Feb. 2, 2014.

The account of the Rosenberg trial given by Doug Lindner can be found at this link:

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