Column: ’29!’ sculpture punctuates artist’s pride in his town

Chuck Caplinger designed a piece of public art in Twentynine Palms: two numbers and a piece of punctuation, 7 feet high, that reads “29!” It’s become a much-photographed town icon. There’s talk now of moving “29!” to a better location. I talk with Caplinger about his inspiration and love of the desert for my Friday column.

Whew, I interviewed him in April while in the desert for a long weekend off, but didn’t really have a chance to write it until now. I’m relieved to have this (as well as columns on Cal Jam, Sam Maloof’s protege, the LA County Fair art exhibit and a few other holdover items) finally done and out in the world, just as I’m taking a break for vacation. I can return with an almost clean slate.

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Column: Stage Red (r)amps up for first concert

Fontana’s Stage Red Theater opens Saturday for a Beatles vs. Stones tribute concert, followed a week later by Sammy Hagar. I took a tour as construction continues. Also, former NYT and LAT executive editor Dean Baquet spoke Monday night in Redlands. I was in the audience. All this and a brIEfly make up my Wednesday column.

I’ll have a column on Friday, then my space will go dark until June 19 due to vacation.

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Reading Log: May 2024

Books acquired: “The Lonely Silver Rain” (Travis McGee No. 21), John D. MacDonald; “All That I’m Allowed,” Ellen Harper and Marguerite Millard

Books read: “Fundamental Disch,” Thomas M. Disch; “Free Fall in Crimson” (Travis McGee No. 19), John D. MacDonald; “The Green Eyes of Bast,” Sax Rohmer; “Have Space Suit — Will Travel,” Robert A. Heinlein

Where is the year going? I’m writing about my reading from the year’s fifth month, starting books for the sixth month and contemplating what might get read or held over for the seventh month.

My May was devoted to pocket paperbacks, all of them purchases from the pre-pandemic period. That means all four were among my oldest unread books — as well as among the smallest. All were fiction, another reason for me to like the month.

All were written in the 20th century: Two are science fiction, a third is a mystery and a fourth is a mystery of sorts, although with supernatural elements. Here’s the rundown:

“Fundamental Disch” (1980): The first half of this roughly chronological collection is interesting to great, the back half interesting to dull. I knew going in that Disch, so often chilly and cerebral, was not the writer for me, yet found myself impressed by some of these, including “Descending” and the short, thoroughly silly “Dangerous Flags.” It was telling that the midpoint story cited by Disch as the one in which he found his voice, “Angouleme,” is where he lost me. (Bought in 2013 at Goleta’s Paperback Alley.)

“Free Fall in Crimson” (1981): No. 19 in the Travis McGee series is as consistently good as the rest. McGee is hired to try to learn why a well-off businessman was beaten to death at a highway rest stop. What might the circumstances have to do with outlaw bikers and a movie production involving hot-air balloons? McGee’s personal timeline is fudged here, with the former Korean vet of his 1964 debut now in 1981 simply saying he served in a war we lost in Asia. But he’s aged enough (around age 40, give or take) to decide to call in backup for the big confrontation rather than go it alone. MacDonald’s writing remains sharp, vivid and funny. Of one opponent, McGee says: “He was in that peak of physical conditioning which would cause him to get winded by changing his socks.” (Bought in 2012 at North Hollywood’s Iliad Books.)

“Green Eyes of Bast” (1920): Sax Rohmer novels are usually exciting and fun, in a century-old antique way. This one — involving mysterious murders in London, a woman who might be part cat and a reclusive doctor on a crumbling estate — has its moments of atmosphere, interest and novelty. But the plot is murky and convoluted. I had to guffaw when one character exclaimed, as if commenting on the story: “Good God! It’s hardly credible!” Any novel that ends with 20 pages of explanatory monologue by the villain is not a model of sound construction. (Bought in 2017 at Pomona’s Magic Door Books.)

“Have Space Suit — Will Travel” (1958): This is the first of Heinlein’s “juveniles” that I’ve read, and it’s fantastic: smart, suspenseful, heartfelt, funny. The educational bits of science or math can get tedious, even with RAH’s colloquial language. But reflecting the slide-rule era, he makes those subjects, and education in general, seem like high callings. And the 10-year-old girl genius as supporting protagonist is a winner. (Bought in 2009 at St. Louis’ Dunaway Books.)

As is often the case, my reading choices were idiosyncratic and fusty. No one is coming to me to see what they should be reading right now, nor should they. “Have Space Suit” is the only one of the four I could recommend unreservedly. (And “Dangerous Flags.”) I listened to the Full Cast audiobook version of “Space Suit,” worthy of old-time radio.

I enjoyed the month. For another thing, it got me within striking distance of the end of the McGee series. I finally went on eBay to find the last book, the only one I didn’t own. In a decade of hunting used bookstores for the series, I’ve never once seen it in the 1990s edition to match the rest of my collection. It must have had a low print run.

For some context, I started the year with 20 pre-pandemic books. (It was 18, but then two that were in the “sell” box, both of them Heinlein juveniles, were retrieved before a trip to the bookstore.) I’ve read eight of the 20, four of them this month alone, and discarded a ninth (“The Big Book of Adventure Stories”). That leaves 11 — plus another 55 from the past five years. Can I read all 11 this year? It’s possible. I’m partway through two of them. But there are more recent purchases I want to read too, so we’ll see.

I’ll be reading a melange of books in June, with some nonfiction as well as a novel or two.

What did you read last month? Did your May flower? Let us know in the comments, pilgrims.

Next month: not one book on the Mission Inn, but two.

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Column: Exhibit brings Andy Warhol self-portrait to Riverside

In my latest column: Items about three current art shows in Riverside, an East LA restaurant named for artist Rufino Tamayo, more about Chinese restaurants in Rancho Cucamonga, a Claremont man’s appearance in National Geographic, a MoVal’s man ‘60s encounter with Karen Valentine, two corrections involving Palm Springs and Claremont, and a farewell to a Chino Hills character. All that is in my Friday desk-clearing (really, Google doc-clearing) column.

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Column: In Maloof studio, woodworker carries on his legacy

Mike Johnson carries on the legacy of woodworker Sam Maloof by reproducing chairs, tables and other furniture and restoring original pieces, all in Maloof’s former studio in Rancho Cucamonga. Maloof died 15 years ago this month. “Sam was kind of a mentor,” Johnson says. I visit with him for my Sunday column.

Also, enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!

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Column: Rufino Tamayo art exhibit makes impression

20th century Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo’s work is the subject of the LA County Fair’s art exhibition this year, the second to be programmed by LACMA. He was a big deal. Also, I admit to botching the Garden Railroad’s anniversary and speak by phone to a legend of the Home Arts contests. That makes up my all-fair Friday column. Remember, the fair ends Memorial Day!

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