Monday, February 28, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: The Lemon Lacerations

This is our latest entry in the Magpie Tales series.

When Tede Truxler's confrontational photo essay exhibit "The Lemon Lacerations" was unveiled at the San Gabriel Valley Art Association's Spring Solstice exhibit in Monrovia in April of 1962, it did far more than raise eyebrows. How could this Cal Tech junior and great grand daughter of one of the Valley's pioneers create such confrontational images that seemed to cut at the very core of the area's culture and history?

To understand, we must go back to 1879 when Trudy Truxler, a recently divorce young woman of 22 arrived in what was then known as La Cienega Mud Springs and would eventually become San Dimas and home of Sunkist and other iconic citrus brands.

But Trudy -- a tough cookie with a shot-gun, moxie and a dream -- was the first to package fruit and send it east, launching the Harmony Brand. Around 1883 she developed a not entirely cladenstine relationship with Glendale attorney Asa V. Jessup, a married father of six and deacon in the Missionary Baptist Church. When Trudy gave birth to her twins, Randall and Russell Truxler, she gave little mind to the gossip or the snickers of neighbor children who dubbed the boys the Romulus and Remus of La Cienega Mud Springs. Randall was tragically killed just after turning eight when caught in the rushing water of Putah Creek during the torrential rains of late January. Russell worked steadily in the lemon groves and would soon be running the business with Trudy who named him chief of operations on his 18th birthday.
By the turn of the Century, Harmony was one of the most successful citrus packagers in the west. Russell had married into Pasadena's most respected families, the Troxdales of the railroad and telegraph fortunes, and his first born, Tessie Claire, was the model for many of the Harmony brand labels. His wife, Lurelle, gave tea parties attended by the Valley's most prestigious women. Tea might not always include sugar and milk and dainty English biscuits, but wedges of lemon were always artfully displaying on the china service.

Trudy refused to conform to her expected role of the grand old lady of the valley and was known to spit tobacco into a small tin can she carried to the San Gabriel Valley Citrus Growers Association at the Hotel L'Orange on Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard. And the otherwise all male institution never voted her an officer though she was one of the most successful in their ranks and had a fortune that equaled their summed assets.

When Trudy died in 1911, all the Valley's aristocracy came out and praised her with platitudes they denied her during her life time. "An inspiration and model of Christian virtue," read one of the shallow, insincere tributes from one of the many citrus growers angling to buy up part of the Truxler groves.
Having no time to morn the loss of the visionary matriarch, Russell had the vision for a new outlet for Harmony, launching Lemonland in 1913, California's first true theme park that predated Disneyland by nearly half a century.

Though some of its exhibits and rides bordered on the bizarre -- such as the 40 foot citrus tikis at the entrance -- it drew crowds from as far away as Eugene and Boulder.

Between Lemonland and contracts with both Safeway and A&P, the Truxler fortunes only increased in the subsequent years, and they sailed through the depression without a care.

Their parties at the family mansion, Truxlerala, were legendary. Until Hearst Castle was built, it was the largest private home west of the Mississippi.

In the postwar years, Harmony continued strong but seemed to plateau and slowly saw operation costs rise as real estate development encroached the Valley and higher paying jobs took away cheap labor.

Yet LIFE magazine did a feature on the firm and Russell, modestly dressed in farm clothes in an article titled "The Lemon of His Eye". Russell's daughter Tessie Claire, one of the most successful realtors in the Valley, was quoted as saying "My father's dream is to build an opera house named after my grandmother." Tessie's brother Clement was shown with his baby daughter Tede, said to have the same brilliant violet eyes of her great grandmother and an equally independent spirit.

After Russell's death in 1957, Lemonland eventually closed, and the family introduced Truxlerite, a chemical substance that claimed to have "essence of lemon juice extract" but was mostly a chemical compound created in a lab at Cal Tech. By the time Eisenhower left the White House, most of their income from providing the all important citrus scent in dish soap, toilet bowl cleaners and other "lemon inspired" products.

It was around the same time that Tede's "independent spirit" at St. Gremadine Academy was blossoming into full rebellion. She excelled in no class but photographic arts and shocked the academy when she used remote control cameras to capture nuns unawares on their toilets and in their showers. The Eye of Creation Gallery in Santa Monica was the first to exhibit her show "Breaking Habits" that earned such scorn from the Diocese that even Bing Crosby wrote a scathing letter to the LA Times condemning it. "NOT Going My Way" the headline to his letter read.

So it was not a complete shock when Tede's exhibit of blood strewn citrus, of bananas performing vulgar acts on kiwis was unveiled. Yet a lone critic from Horizon arts quarterly praised it as a beacon amongst the hubris of the New Frontier. Soon the exhibit was praised from Venice Beach to the canals of Venice. Tede resettled in Buenos Aires until the military junta when she returned to Los Angeles, a city as changed as she was. Having exhausted her range in still photography, she had a brief career as a script doctor with American International Pictures and later Avco Embassy before working in television. From the late 1970s onward, she worked on a teleplay about her great-grandmother called "Lemon Lady" and had serious talks with Meredith Baxter Birney about playing the role of Trudy. Financing never came through, and Tede was so intent that she seriously considered selling the shopping mall in San Dimas where Lemonland once stood and whose property her family still owned.

Today Tede dedicates most of her time to collage, paintings of lemons and selling Beanie Babies on Ebay from her condo in Pomona. The Truxler legend may have lost its luster, but there are those who speculate that Tede still has one last act she has yet to unveil.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Try This Swinging Wig

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Monday, February 21, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: Along the Route

Another Monday, another Magpie Tale

Can you imagine a life beyond the fray, beyond the foes --
those imagined and those you have embedded,
your very soul pock-marked from so many
explosive anticipations that finally fizzled but left you scarred nonetheless.
You just want to go back to that safe place at the soda fountain
at Kress' beneath the stool where your mother had a limeaid and you
perused the tabloids of lives saucily sordid and you never dreamed that you
would someday come to live.
How far you've journeyed now from Tierra de Fuego and Ha Giang and
Catalonia and the far edge of Bellingham, Washington and back.
Your route is far from complete, but you snap a handy torch now
to glance back as far as the light will travel. There is much more back
there that is hiding in the shadows.
Try as you may, you can never put all the puzzle pieces back together
to retrace what brought you here. The crumbs you dropped along the way
were gobbled up decades ago. And now you can barely recognize these musty
volumes of your description of the path that brought you here.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Men Are Good for One Thing, and It's Not Taking Out the Trash

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Monday, February 14, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: The Last of the Mecklenburgs

Our entry for Mapgie 53

It is hard to believe that single item of crystal in auction block #349D is all in that remains of the Mecklenburgs in this town. No one seems to notice the small plaque on the wall outside Radverston Gardens with the Mecklenburg family crest and a small silhouette of Henri and Flora.It is hard to believe that the Mecklenburg estate, Fedelmeire, once stood on the shores of Craven Lake where today there is a Jiffy Lube, Krispy Kreme and Premium Factory Outlet Malls. In its heyday it hosted the crowned heads of Europe and Asia as well as Bernhardt and Caruso. By the early 1960s its top floors were rented out as SROs and the ballroom was converted for roller derby and the paddle boat rentals were handled out of the marble and mahogany adorned receiving room.

Henri's black marble bathtub with gold claw feet was long gone by then, and the portrait of him in his red smoking jacket was sold at the Presbyterian Church auction to fund the youth group's trip to Mount Rushmore that summer.

Everyone has a theory about when and how things went wrong. Some put the blame on Henri and Flora's daughter Claudine and her desperate attempts to ramp up the family's subdued sense of providence to town. When she auditioned and was turned down with the touring cast of the Floradora Girls in Detroit, she came back home and launched her own version of the show -- but on roller skates.

Claudine was not without her charms, but her voice had been compared to a cat, a raccoon and a hyena harmonizing while their tails were caught in bear traps. Her dancing abilities were even less accomplished, and when roller skates were added it was not just awkward, it filled the third and fourth floors of the French Hospital with the sprained ankles, bruises and three cracked jaws of her fellow dancers trying to avoid her rolling disaster.

"Hell on Wheels! Hell on the Eyes! Get the Hell out of Town, Claudine!" screamed the review of the show by J. Landis Fordham in the Tribune-Review.
Then there were Claudine's brothers, Rusty and Ralph. Both were fond of all forms of fireworks and gunpowder, toying with them at all times of year and at all times of night and increasingly combined with greater amounts of alcohol and other substances. Henri tried to lay down the law with the boys and put them on the right path.

Finally in 1923 he gave an ultimatum and $15,000 in cash to both. Rusty moved to Omaha and had a fairly decent run with his own Packard dealership. Ralph, as always, was not as stable. He invested his money in a poorly run lobster operation north of Portland, Maine, and then disappeared into the wilds of Quebec in 1925. Some claimed that he later opened a bar named Lucky Luc's in Montreal, but it could never be substantiated.

The end of the empire clearly came with Flora's gradual demise during World War II. She had not been seen out much since 1939, and when she passed in 1944, everything changed. The glorious banquets at Fedelmeire were never repeated. There was a certain shabbiness to Henri's usually dapper suits. He mourned Flora's loss deeply and then, in 1947 he returned from a trip to California with the new Mrs. Mecklenburg, the former Audry Babcock of Canoga Park.

The less said about her the better, but clearly this was the beginning to the end.

There were still parties, alright, out at Fedelmeire but nothing similar to the grandeur of Flora's era. By then Henri had fallen into dementia and died in the spring of 1951. The debauchery of Audrey's parties quickly descended with each weekend, sinking to the absolute depths the night of Henri's wake and the fire that brought Fedelmeire and the entire empire crashing into Craven Lake.

Whatever became of Audrey was never clear. And there are certainly plenty of Mecklenburgs still out there. Ralph alone is said to have had 43 great-grandchildren.

Each of us has likely crossed paths with at least one Mecklenburg. It's not just a sense of style but an air of whimsy. It's the cut of the coat, the tip of the hat. One doesn't ask if you are looking at a Mecklenburg. Their attire will tell you.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Junk Thief Parade of Homes 2011

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pearl, the Bird and the Little Brown Jug

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Great Opportunity

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Here is a cheerful little winter story for Mapgie #52

When visitors came to Elvin Corners during the winter and remarked how quaint it looked, Taryn Stockbridge, wife of the town moderator would snarl, "God's whitewashing. It will cover up the secrets for the season, but they'll all come out in the thaw."
Elvin Corners was a village filled with many secrets, some darker than others. Little Ralphie Dunagin was a good example. He may have looked harmless as his German Shepherd pulled his sled, but if his parents ever found those magazines he stole from behind the counter at the Rexall Drug, it would be a different story. And even worse, he had taken to cutting out the most graphic images of the female form from the magazine, pasting them on construction paper and writing notes on the order. "Hi, my name is Lulu. You may not remember that night in Hartford last June since you were so drunk. I thought this candid picture might help you remember. Leave me $100 in unmarked bills on the second to bottom shelf of the Poli-Sci stacks at the Westside Carnegie Library or I'll spill the beans to your wife and boss. No monkey business, mister. Just the dough."

Ralphie had bought himself two top of the line Schwinns before he finished fourth grade, and his parents even bought the fib that he had earned all the money from his paper route.
Then there was Herschel Hershberger. Everyone said there couldn't be a nicer guy in Elvin Corners than "Hersh", the night time and weekend pharmacist at the Rexall. Most folks in town were really cheap and hated to go to the doctor. On top of that, no one wanted to drive the 40 miles into Lowell to the nearest emergency room. So unless you had a severed hand or stroke, you went to see "Hersh" when anything came up. Always sporting a smile and free advice, he gained the reputation of being the philosophical pharmacist. He was also the most eligible bachelor in town, and the various war widows and spinsters wondered how this one got away. He always sat in the back of the Rialto and the boldest women would whisper "Maybe he doesn't like girls."

He didn't like girls, alright, and he didn't like boys or sick babies or whining old biddies. When business was slow, he'd write on his pad "I'm sick and tired of the sick and tired. I'm sick and tired of the sick and tired...."

It was Thanksgiving Day 1949 when he set his plan into motion. Angry about working on a holiday and having to hear so many stories about sore throats and joints, he swapped Mrs. Greenwood's heart pills with Mr. Norton's malaria prevention pills. Week by week, he continued his plan, most people not noticing that they now had a small oblong pill instead of a small round pill. Strange ailments started popping up. A third of the elderly population died in the spring of 1950, a perfectly warm flu free spring. When Clara Erville, only 28 years old, had a stroke at her daughter's first communion, the police started to piece the trail back to "Hersh" and the Rexall. He got wind of the cops heading his way and skipped town before sundown.

Word has it that he turned up working at a health clinic with German missionaries in Sierra Leone. That may have helped him turn his life around. He always hated the New England winters.
It was no surprise that Kyle Kuchar was a bit "off". He was the only survivor of Elvin Corners' only quadruplets. His oldest sister Kara died three days after birth in the hospital, and not too surprising since she weighed only four pounds, compared to Kyle at nine. (They were clearly fraternal not identical quads.) Then sister Kelly fell down a well in their back yard on her second birthday. Kyle was found screaming and crying when his mother rushed in horror to discover what had just happened. But he went silent the moment she arrived, clutching the Shirley Temple doll that was Kara's prized possession and that she never let him touch. Kyle and his brother Kelvin were inseparable and finished each others sentences. But when Kelvin disappeared on a hiking weekend in the Adirondacks in their junior year, Kyle seemed oddly untouched.

Though he graduated top of his class, Kyle had no ambition to go to university and worked as a stock boy at the A & P. Then he quit on his 23rd birthday. Retreating to his bungalow on Carson Avenue where the drapes were never open, the Christmas tree was up year round, and he wore his holiday sweaters well past Memorial Day and pulled them back out Labor Day weekend.

Again, no one ever knew that Kyle did anything really illegal, but they never felt comfortable around him.
L.V. and Wanda Napier were raising their grand-daughter La Rue with help from Wanda's spinster sister Verona who finally abandoned her dreams of being a Broadway chorus girl and returned to Elvin Corners. Verona had a small walk on role on in the Hartford production of "Out of This World" and was the second understudy to a dancer in "Charlie's Aunt" but lately had been working the glove counter at Stern's Department Store for $.75 an hour.

Wanda had many wrenching stories about Verona's early days and was fond of showing pictures of her from the 1930s "before the accident". Exactly what the accident was, no one fully understood. Rumor had it that she was hit by a bus while on a drunken pub crawl with a sailor from Topeka in Elizabeth, New Jersey. When Verona would come to the breakfast table in her tight fitting night gown, Wanda would turn to La Rue and say, "Baby, look across the table. That's why you should always do your exercises and never eat processed meat."

Surely there could not be anything that more embodied the innocence of childhood and the awe of winter than little Annadelle Axtell. That porcelain face, those fragile lashes, her golden locks.

She was a curious child and one who found great delight in play and pretend. Though only six, she was well aware that Mrs. Greenwood, three doors down, was suffering from dementia and had spent the past four decades mourning the loss of her husband Everett who died early in World War I and their lovely daughter Eva Belle whom Everett never lived to see but was the light of Mrs. Greenwood's life -- until that day in 1918 when her nightgown caught fire from the candles on the Christmas tree.

Mrs. Greenwood always blamed herself for both tragic losses. Late at night, Annadelle would tiptoe to the kitchen and cover her face in flour and then walk down Archer Avenue in her night gown and bare feet and entered Mrs. Greenwood's back porch through the screen door that was never locked. With the flashlight below her chin to give effective lighting, Annadelle would begin softly. "Mommy...Mommy..." And then she would tiptoe to Mrs. Greenwood's bedroom and scream "Why did you let me die!" and then would drop the flashlight and run back home, snug under the covers of her bed seconds later.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Rosemary's Bears

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Slightly Fabulous

"...the finest a sunth of Mondays."
- Herb Caen, San Francisco Chronicle

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Sunday Nun Fun

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Sittin' Around, Hangin Out, Doin' Our Thing


Weekends Were Made for Ponchos and Pork

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Friday Night Twirling on Valencia

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Bears Host Another Dinner Party

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: February Is Brick Literacy Month

The Junk Thief editorial team humbly submits its latest entry in the Magpie Tales.

While Dan Brown and The Di Vinci Code may have put masonry into a global and somewhat dubious spotlight, brick literacy in the industrialized world is frighteningly low. But first, let's be clear. We are not talking about the secret ceremonies and mumbo jumbo of Masonry but the plain old masonry of bricks and mortar. And what do you know about masonry and, more important, Brick Culture that goes back to the dawn of a civilization? This level of ignorance in the world of iPads and social networks shows the severe cultural imbalance afoot. Granted, a Xhosa peasant might not know how to write his name or count past twelve, but he can make a brick from mere dust, straw and scarce water that could endure for generations. How many Sorbonne or Exeter graduates can do that?

When and how did the "civilized" world so disastrously lose its way? Clearly bricks are still very much a part of our daily lives, but most of our youth graduate virtually brick illiterate despite humanity's rich brick cultural heritage and enormous body of brick literature and history. We know that the first bricks date back to at least 7500 B.C. in Tigris, and just a few years later in Xi'an, China, the first poems written were not about nature or love but bricks, the man-made discovery that even then they knew would last for generations. Important as the discovery of fire or the wheel (which were both fleeting inventions) may have been, it was the brick that first inspired humans to write about their own creations. The Song Dynasty's Yingzao Fashi 營造法式; 'Treatise on Architectural Methods' or 'State Building Standards' ) might be dismissed as a mere technical manual, but it was clear that the spiritual and poetic natures of bricks were central to this seminal Asian work.

The Vatican is mostly known for being ensconced in marble and frescos, but here too the sacred nature of bricks was praised in
La struttura del mattone di fronte al dio (The edifice of the brick in the face of God). The true author of this 12th Century work remains unknown, but it remains a crucial work in Christian architectural theory and poetry.
Until then, most of the revered architectural structures centered on Greek Ionic, Doric and Corinthian arches and corbels that the Vatican came to see as being too rooted in Zeus and pagan rites, and the brick came to be seen as the forth leg of the Trinity.
Though rarely recognized, Dickens, Trollope and Hardy incorporated subtle references to bricks in their work. As the Industrial Revolution swept Europe, there was something so reassuring about bricks as a calming contrast to factories, locomotives and the early wirelesses. Many scholarly treatises to the brick were written during this era in which it was argued that bricks were more quintessentially British than tea. "While our Oolongs and Earl Grays may be savored over pastries and civilized chatter, they were plucked from the barbaric lands of China and India while the humble brick walls of our gardens come from the earth of the Empire's Dover and Manchester," wrote Lord Philbin Braughton-Johns IV.
Though Walt Whitman may be thought of today as the great, epic American poet of the 19th Century, few realize that his books paled in comparison to sales of the works of Cornelia Weston- Barrington Northrupp, often called the "Bard of the Brick". While "Leaves of Grass" was considered too fleshly and raw for American schools of the late 19th and early 20th Century, her epic "Ode to a Brick" was in more U.S. classrooms than any of the works of Plato or Rumi well into the 1930s.

Feminist literary critics have always been conflicted about Weston-Barrington Northrupp's work. While they applauded a woman having such prominence in an era ruled by male authors, there was little debate over the simple fact: her verses were utter crap. A sample from "Ode to a Brick Wall":

Oh magnificent masonry/
Thine providence so providential/
Thine symmetry so symmetrical/
I, a mere article of Godly-made clay,/

Shudder before thee/

While man-made, thou art of/

Such elegant strength/
That I am like Lot's wife staring back/
With tears that the cattle shall lick with delight

From the late teens to early 1930s, Lillian Lushmore was the sweetheart of British operetta and music hall, performing Gilbert and Sullivan and the more sedate American Ragtime numbers from the Isle of Wight to Glasgow. Her creamy complexion, virginal reputation and light auburn hair delighted her audiences.

As the worldwide depression set in and her years of heavy drinking and a love child reputed to be sired by a member of the House of Lords took their toll, her style and repertoire changed. She began singing increasingly bawdy tunes and wore tighter costumes that exposed her ample bosom and gained her the reputation as the "lass who is built like a brick outhouse and has a potty mouth".

She went from singing "Sally of Our Alley" to her signature tune of the World War II years on to her enduring career that lasted until her death in 1967, "If You've Got the Mortar, I've Got a Busty Stack of Bricks". Banned by the prim BBC, it still managed to be the best selling 78 of 1946 through 1948 in the U.K., Jamaica, New Zealand and (for reasons never fully understood) Nagaland.
In the 1970s the Antwerp-based power pop group BRIQUE gained the reputation of being the "Belgian ABBA", a moniker they resented and that really wasn't fair to their unique sound and quirky vibe.
Virtually all of their concept albums were masonry themed. In 1972, they caught onto the hoopla surrounding "China mania" after the Nixon-Mao convergence in Beijing with the release of their four disc LP La Grande Muraille de Chine (The Great Wall of China). Its runaway hit single "Mao-Mao-Mao" with its simple, repetitive lyric sung with a cat-like whine took Europe, Japan and South America by storm but only charted at #387 on the U.S. album chart where they just couldn't bump Carole King or Grand Funk Railroad.
Their 1974 follow up Mur de Jéricho (The Wall of Jericho) garnered respectable reviews but modest sales and after two more releases with dismal sales and scathing reviews, they disbanded in 1978. In 1980, three of the original members regrouped as a trio named The Cobblestones that put out two folky English language LPs that were respected in certain circles, but many had trouble understanding their interpretations of Dylan lyrics a la "zee ahnsur mah freend ees blawink in zeee weehnd, zee ahnsur ees blawink in zee weehnd."

Little brick-related artistry could be found on the academic or popular fronts from the late 1970s onward. Some blame it on Reagan, others on the internet. Exactly what went wrong is still unknown, but simplistic as the three little pigs may have been, they knew that even the fiercest internet firewall would do them no good were the big bad wolf to huff and puff at their front door. When in doubt, always trust the brick over the latest software in vogue.

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