Sunday, June 21, 2015

New Drought-Friendly Landscaping Attracts Friends Old and New

By Burton Cantara, Quilt staff.


Frederick “Fred” Pankow had long heard about the benefits of yard decimation, but it took him a while to warm up to the idea of having a complete frontal lawnectomy performed at his own home. 
Frederick Pankow
Photo: F. Pankow.

“Then my gardeners, Peppy Landscaping, raised their prices significantly to offset having lost a bunch of customers who’d already ripped out their lawns and no longer needed their services. I simply couldn’t afford them anymore," says Pankow.

Suddenly the idea of getting rid of water-thirsty grass and other unsightly greenery (“going brown” as it’s known among its proponents) became a no-brainer. “I could have really used that rebate money, so I started doing it myself but I threw my back out,” admits the 89-year-old retiree. “So I ended up calling one of those new lawn-removal companies.” 

Pankow was surprised at the familiar face who showed up.

Yard signs like this are becoming a familiar site here in LA
as more homeowners join the brown movement. Staff photo.

Desmond Churyk, the owner of Peppy Landscaping who tended Pankow’s lawn for years, had recently set up a new company, “Turf Removalers,” to assist residents in yanking out their lawns. “I saw which way the wind was blowing. I’d seen the ads, the billboards, watched all those 'alarming' news stories," Churyk admits with a chuckle. "It was time to diversify before I lost all my lawn-mowing customers.”

Subsidized by local- and state-offered incentives, including funds from a special Los Angeles DWP program that as of this writing, have not yet been embezzled, hidden or misappropriated, Churyk’s company offers completely free lawn destruction to local homeowners. They simply sign over their entire rebates to the grass-removal firm and pay only the cost for labor and materials as well as a garden gnome relocation fee recently approved by the LA City Council.

Turf Removalers’ professional team of turf removalers will then come in and carefully excise healthy grass — which is transplanted to needy Southern California golf courses, private country clubs and Malibu estates — and, finally, using a large dump truck, re-landscape the bare yard with drought-tolerant rocks, gravel and sand.

“This is important to our state,” says Jerry Brown, a governor with the State of California. “If everyone in Southern California simply ripped out their lawns and replaced them with more environmentally-friendly dirt, pebbles, or asphalt, we’d save enough water to turn hydroelectric turbines to create nearly .002% of the power needed for increased air conditioner usage induced by the overall warming of Los Angeles from all the reflective heat generated by the sun beating down mercilessly on magnificently grass-free yards, parks, and other public and private spaces."

How It's Done: Lush, unappealing carpet of grass, left, is delicately pried from yard and
carefully transported to a lawn-acceptance site such as the yard of a wealthier homeowner; a
rich, stark, brown expanse is left in its place. If pesky greenery should reappear, plant-killing
chemicals should be applied liberally, experts advise. Images: LA Dept. of Lawn Abatement.

As to the look of his new yard, Pankow is fine with it. “I’m nearly 90 years old, my wife’s dead, I don’t even really know any of the people around here anymore. My days of spending weekends getting the front yard ‘just-so’ are over,” he mentions. “Especially with this bad back. Hand me those pills, will you?”

California-friendly landscaping replaces water-dependent grasses and plant life with various rock and
sediment species native to the area — a win-win for both the environment and nature. Staff photo.

Others, however, note that Fred Pankow’s new landscaping has attracted some unexpected new friends. 

“Cats. Dozens of ‘em. Neighborhood cats, stray cats, feral cats — they all come here to crap in his yard now,” mentioned a nearby resident who declined to give his name.  

Pankow, a former payroll administrator with Rocketdyne but now largely a shut-in due to a recent sod-related back injury, says he doesn’t mind — but neighbors have complained of the smell. The widowed octogenarian goes out with a small shovel and a plastic bag once a day to pick up the abundant feces and ammonia-soaked clumps of sand, but admits he can’t keep up with it.

Fred Pankow has already enjoyed one surprising benefit of getting rid of his unsightly green lawn: the
appearance of countless neighborhood cats who are mysteriously drawn to the gravel and sand front yard
of the Blythe Street resident's cozy, mid-century home — as seen in this remarkable candid shot. Staff photo.
So despite being on a fixed income, when he discovered a flyer on his doorknob advertising a new service which, for a fee, would come by to clean up the mess, Pankow knew he had to call.

“Turd Removalers. Desmond speaking.”

Friday, June 5, 2015

'Breaking Bad' Star A No-Show At Canoga Park High School Graduation Ceremony For 7th Straight Year

By Burton Cantara, Quilt Staff


Despite high hopes for a surprise appearance, Bryan Cranston — the actor who earned four Emmys for playing meth kingpin Walter White in the critically-acclaimed TV series “Breaking Bad” — did not attend tonight’s ceremony and deliver the commencement address for Canoga Park High School’s 2015 graduating class, Dr. Inez Gibson, the school’s principal reports.
Canoga Park High School is one of the crown jewels in the LAUSD school system. File photo.
“We’ve invited Mr. Cranston every year since 2009,” Gibson says. “We were kind of hoping to get him when the show was still on the air, but we realize that was a busy time for him. So we thought maybe if his schedule’s opened up since then, he could swing by and say something to the kids at graduation.”
Staff photo.

Indeed, the student body believed “this was the year” and had high hopes to hear inspiring words from the erstwhile 'Heisenberg,' going so far as to have the school’s iconic electronic sign by the assembly hall intermittently flash “Wellcome Brian Cranstin” [sic] for the week leading up to tonight’s graduation ceremony, between the usual messages of school activities and up-to-the-minute lists of suspensions and expulsions.

“Shit, I was like totally f_ckeen expecting him to show up an’ shit, yo,” says Radek Murta, an unabashed ‘Breaking Bad’ fan and former Canoga Park High student who would have graduated in 2012 had he not “just kinda stopped going an’ shit” two years prior, but who returned as a spectator for the ceremony “and to, f_ckeen, see a couple of my baby-mamas like graduate an’ shit,” he tells the Quilt. “F_ckeen...I had a bet with my cousin an’ shit...? That he was going to come out an’ do that ‘Say my name’ thing! Aw, man! That woulda been the f_ckeen bomb, man. F_ckeen...maybe next year an’ shit!”

Bryan Cranston as a senior in
Headwaters '74, the Canoga
Park High School yearbook.
Cranston and Canoga Park High School enjoy something of a unique history together: While it's well-known that as an actor, he played a high school teacher, what surprises many is that in a rare twist of fate, before graduating in 1974, he attended classes here taught by high school teachers. He's maintained close ties with this, his beloved hometown, and most recently was thrilled to return to Canoga Park in November of last year to appear in an Esurance commercial at popular filming location / lunch counter De Soto Pharmacy on Roscoe and DeSoto Boulevards, in Canoga Park’s bustling RoscoSoto business district, although some suggest in return for doing so, he was paid an enormous sum of money.

With neither the celebrity nor his representatives responding to various haphazard attempts to reach him through a series of disorganized, disparate student-driven online petitions, Twitter hashtags, and twelve different Facebook campaigns, many of which addressed the actor solely by the name of his character as though Walter White is a real person, others which misspelled Cranston’s name, and at least two inexplicably directed at agricultural cooperative Ocean Spray, the faculty held out for as long as they could this evening.  

Finally, a last-minute decision was made to have the commencement address delivered instead by Joseph Halupka, a custodian with the school, wearing a "Breaking Bad"-esque yellow hazmat suit he routinely dons to retrieve errant athletic equipment from the concrete Los Angeles River channel that runs along side the north side of the school’s athletic fields. 
A stirring commencement speech, while not delivered by Bryan Cranston, still urged the Class of 2015
to "do their best" and used the headwaters of the nearby LA River as a metaphor to inspire. Staff photo.
“I am the one who knocks...wait for applause...myself out climbing down into the channel to get those soccer balls you kids are always kicking in there,” begins the visibly nervous janitorial engineer, reading hastily penned words off a small stack of index cards. A few isolated snickers are immediately drowned out by loud booing, angry foot-stomping and the frightened wails of many of the students’ babies. 

“Oh boy, they’re turning on him already,” the nervous principal worries. “Shit. We really should have started reaching out to what’s-his-name back when he was still doing ‘Malcolm.’ Oh, who am I kidding? Our chances of getting him flew out the window when he got that 1980s Preparation H commercial.”