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Hats: On Heads, Over Hearts, and in the Ring

By Frank Gruber

Congratulations to my editor, publishers and co-scriveners at The Lookout for making it three years.

My take on the closing of The Outlook is that the paper died because its owners -- the Copley family -- put their politics ahead of the bottom line.

After all, it takes talent to lose money publishing a paper in one of the wealthiest markets in the country. But the times they were a changin' and The Outlook sank like a stone

While it is true that much of the advertising in the L.A. Weekly is for services that a "family newspaper" would not find congenial, it is equally true that The Weekly waxed as The Outlook waned because it delivered the sophisticated political and arts coverage the beloved but provincial Outlook never quite put together.

It's interesting that the Orange County Register beat the pants off the L.A. Times by catering to the local interests and (conservative) politics of Orange County, but the conservatives who owned The Outlook couldn't bring themselves to do the same in the (liberal) Westside.

My unsolicited advice to all the publishers who want to succeed where the Copleys failed is to remember that the market they seek -- the big local one with money to spend on their advertisers' products -- is educated and sophisticated to a degree rarely found so concentrated.

* * *

I have now been writing this column for almost half the existence of the Lookout, and my tenure is now giving me the chance to revisit topics and events that roll around annually.

One event that I wrote about last year and which is worth at least part of another column is the opening ceremony of the Santa Monica Pony League at Los Amigos Park, which took place on Sunday. The reason these ceremonies deserve mention by me when I am not reporting on any other opening ceremonies is simple: my son plays at Los Amigos and my house overlooks the park.

How's that for provincial?

The ceremony is much the same each year. The teams are introduced and race onto the field and around the bases, various dignitaries throw out several "first balls," and a kid with a trumpet plays the Star Spangled Banner.

It's rare these days to be at an event where so many grown men have hats to doff and hold over their hearts.

Baseball: you have to love a sport where the players wear hats.

This year, instead of having a Cub Scout honor guard present a flag to look at during the playing of the National Anthem, everyone on the field and in the stands looked out over center field, towards a flag that has flown from the roof of an apartment building on Fifth Street since Sept. 11.

Last year I was struck by how well a solo trumpet version of the National Anthem induced patriotic feeling. I wrote, "[m]usic works in the mind at an abstract level, and what feeling should be more abstract than patriotism? The tune triggers all sorts of associations, and notwithstanding quibbles one may have about this or that historical calamity, one feels quite good about this country that has been a beacon of hope and all that for the tired, the poor, the tempest tossed, etc."

It's funny how the fairly routine, even glib, thoughts of one year look different the next, when patriotism is perhaps not so abstract a concept and being a "beacon of hope" means something different when two blue columns of light pierce the night sky over New York.

* * *

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown represented the City in the "first ball" department Sunday, and I am always pleased when I have an opportunity not to disagree with him. Kevin is nothing if not congenial, and it is no fun disagreeing with someone who seems truly disappointed that you do.

Apropos of congenial politicians, you may have read that Jerry Rubin hosted a press conference at his apartment on Monday to announce his candidacy for City Council. Due to a flat tire (on my bicycle, if you can believe it) I arrived late. I don't know how many other members of the press corps showed up prior to my arrival, but I got to sit around and eat avocado and bean sprout sandwiches and make the acquaintance of Rubin's wife, Marissa.

The main revelation of the afternoon was that Rubin and I both attended Central High School in Philadelphia, a fact that may explain a lot to a lot of people, but I hope not too much. Rubin is about ten years older than I am, so we did not come near overlapping, but as a testament to the importance of adolescent indoctrination, we were still able to serenade Marissa with a spirited rendition of "Dear High," Central's fight song (I'm sure Rubin, as a "peace activist," rejects calling it that).

Rubin and I can disagree about one issue or another, but he certainly is congenial and I don't know anyone in local politics better able to take himself less than seriously. While Rubin can annoy me by always wanting to speak first at a public hearing, what I like about him is that while so many people participate in public life only to show their displeasure, Rubin does not limit his public comments to what he's against.

A lot of people have a hard time taking Rubin seriously. He doesn't have a regular job, he wears shorts all the time, and then there is the fasting, the logic of which I have never understood. It's fair to describe Rubin as a gadfly -- in the best sense of the word to some, the worst to others.

In any case, having a regular job, wearing regular clothes, and eating regularly have not been requirements of serving on City Council -- not at least in recent years.

I don't know if I'll vote for Rubin -- depends on the competition -- but I'm happy he's thrown his hat in the ring. (I think he has a hat.)

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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