Just back from another trip to Southern California, this time with my daughter, Nancy Beth (just Nancy to her friends but Nancy Beth to us to avoid confusion), for the family/history tour and some art. First we went to Long Beach, staying Friday and Saturday night at the Westin Hotel on Ocean Boulevard between Long Beach Boulevard and Elm Street. My travel agent picked it out and the location turned out to be perfect, two blocks from the Passport Cafe, where Claudia and I had coffee when we went in February, and about five blocks from the building where my family had the naval tailor shop. We wanted to go to the Passport to get a bite to eat, but it was closed and the intersection cordoned off because CSI was filming an episode there. How Southern California! We watched, and walked around looking in the windows of galleries and antique and craft stores but too tired to go in. We found smoothies and then took a nap and I swam in the hotel’s heated outdoor pool. Nice.
After a good dinner at a nearby Italian deli full of police officers, we walked down to Pine Street to see where the store had been. There’s no store at all there now, just the blank wall of the lower level of the office building, where Pine Avenue slants down to what was the Pike (the amusement zone) and the beach.
 The shop was in the lower floor of this building, behind the torsos of the people crossing Ocean Boulevard.
The equally large building across the street, where I used to get boysenberry-orange juices at the juice stand in the beach side, is gone. Parking lot now. The beach itself is gone. Where it was, there’s a Border’s and a bunch of chain restaurants, the street ending at a sea wall but no sea—it’s part of the harbor now, and the water is still. It was hard to convey to Nancy Beth what it all looked like...the Rainbow Pier, gone, the Spit-and-Argue Club where my mother spoke on the news of the day, gone, the municipal auditorium where I saw ballet and operettas with my grandmother, gone, replaced by a convention center and a performing arts center.
Nancy Beth’s camera battery ran out before she could take a picture of the light standards in front of the convention center, so we went back the next night. I wanted a latte, so we went into Borders and there I found the Souvenir Picture Postcard Album of Long Beach, California, with black-and-white photographs of the beach and Pike and buildings of my childhood and earlier. Bless you, Mr. Kenneth Larkey. He published this little book from his own postcard collection and “from the archives of the Long Beach Heritage Museum” in 1997. I’ll have to look up that museum next time I go. Anyway, in the book Nancy Beth could see what I was having such a hard time describing.
Back to Friday night—walking back to the hotel on the ocean side of Ocean Boulevard about 9:00p.m., we saw marchers—maybe a hundred—coming toward us on the sidewalk on the other side. We crossed over and saw they were carrying “No on 8” signs and chanting “What do we want? Equal rights! When do we want ’em? Now!” We waved and cheered but didn’t think of joining them, we were walked out. Next morning we found the Long Beach Press-Telegram in the hall with its largest headline proclaiming “Nearly 2.000 march against Prop. 8 in L.B.” Seems we had seen one contingent continuing to march after the main rally. Big color photos, captioned “The crowd marched about three miles to denounce the passage Tuesday of the same-sex marriage ban.” Maybe the ones we saw were the “...100 stragglers who returned to the start of the route and blocked a street, drawing police in riot gear.” The whole thing was started by a guy text messaging his friends the afternoon before.
This was the big difference from the Long Beach of 1952. Not the new buildings  and streets or the hemmed-in water, but the large, vocal gay and lesbian population (whose business district, according to the paper, we had been walking through that afternoon). I remember my high school artist-poet-and-musician friend John Kelly using the word “homosexual” once but I can’t remember ever hearing the word “lesbian” in those days.
John Kelly was in French class with me, and he and Dawn Gardner and I were in the French teacher’s office one day during class supposedly practicing a skit, but we had found the menu of a French restaurant and were making up new dishes for it. John’s was the best: Blanched Fallopian Tubes.
Saturday morning we visited the old brown shingle house on Elm between 15th and 16th. We could see all of it because an alley runs alongside the house and the apartments behind it. We didn’t have a real back yard. The rotary clothesline was in full view of everybody. The older woman who lived in the front upstairs apartment admonished me to hang undergarments first, in the center, so the outer clothes would hide them. (Surfing from Orion Magazine, I found a whole site devoted to the joys and virtues of drying clothes on lines and racks. And they have a song! www. laundrylist.org )
We looked for sun block at the little store (now Mexican) a block away, and drove by Poly High School, two blocks away in the other direction. I was always late to school because it only took a minute to get there. My mother baked oatmeal cookies with all sorts of nourishing additives—rice polish, brewer’s yeast—so I could grab breakfast as I tore out the house.
We drove by my old junior high school about a mile east to find it’s now Long Beach City College (with added buildings). Then we drove back toward the water to the house on Third Street my grandparents were living in when they were raided by the Ku Klux Klan. We wandered around the neighborhood, Nancy Beth taking photographs of tropical plants to paint pictures from (she does watercolors, but is starting to learn oil painting). Then we headed for the bluffs overlooking the beach and the water. The art museum was just a block or so down Ocean from where we came out. The museum was started in 1951, the summer before the last year I was in high school, in an old mansion that had been a navy officers’ club during the war. Now there’s a new museum building and the old mansion is the museum cafe. We had a good lunch on the terrace, overlooking the water. Perfect weather. Then Nancy Beth took in the museum and the beach while I went back to the hotel for a nap.
Sunday we drove to Pacific Palisades to stay a couple of days with our cousins Mike and Mo (Mike’s parents, my mother’s brother and sister-in-law, were in the house that was raided, and I showed Nancy Beth the newspaper with photos of my mother and Aunt Lil at the trial of the Ku Kluxers). Nancy Beth hadn’t met these cousins before (if you’re coming in late here, I gave Nancy Beth up for adoption when she was a baby, and we found each other through a registry when she was 37). Nancy Beth told me that Claudia had said Mike and Mo really know how to make visitors feel welcome, and she found that to be true. We all celebrated Nancy Beth’s birthday a day early Monday with dinner out, and Tuesday she and I went to the Getty. We wandered around separately, then compared notes—we both liked the garden much better than the buildings. Friendly people, good lunch and good view in the restaurant. Yesterday she flew home to Seattle and I to Berkeley. Clear weather, so I got to see the show out the window.
      Pelicans circling off the end of the Santa Monica Pier. A couple of seaplanes did the same.
We didn’t see my friend Ginny Walter this time because she’s teaching for a month at a library school in Croatia. She’s blogging from there.
Next on the agenda: I’m performing Saturday morning (Nov. 15th) at 10:30 to 11 a.m. in the Saturday Sing Along Series for families at Tumble and Tea Cafe, 4120 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland. I’ll be singing and telling stories. The series is organized by yet another name-alike (except she spells it the other way), Nanci Armstrong-Temple, whom I met at the Educators for Non-Violence conference a few months ago.
©2008 by Nancy Schimmel
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Me in front of the house I lived in from 5th through 12th grade. The tree, the vine and the picket fence are new.