The Round Three Winner of Our Columnist Contest Is….

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12: Can’t Torch This — Mary Jean Tucker

What creative submissions! The readers thought so, too. Congrats to the other four finalists of Round Three. Keep writing!

Can’t Torch This will advance to the Final Round. Now on to Round Four!

This week we’re printing the next five of our finalists (from the earliest date of submission). Their columns will be numbered 16—20. Voting for Round Four will be the same. It begins Wednesday, April 25, and ends Tuesday, May 1, at 10 a.m. The winner of Round Four will be announced in our Wednesday, May 2, edition, and the last batch of five columnists will be printed for Round Five. The victors of each round will then go head-to-head in our Final Round to decide the new columnist of The Tolucan Times!

There are three ways you can vote for your favorite: by email, info@tolucantimes.com; by phone, (818) 762-2171; and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/TolucanTimes (be sure to “Like” us while you’re there). When voting, just notify which number (16—20) you think deserves a spot in our pages. If by email, put your choice in the subject line.

We’re getting close here … On to Round Four – it’s still your turn!

16: Frank Talk

By Frank Sheftel

I am a lifelong resident of the San Fernando Valley and a former L.A. City Council candidate. I own a small family business, The Candy Factory, in Valley Village and am also a landlord. I am on the board of directors of the Thalians charity with Debbie Reynolds and Ruta Lee. I co-host a weekly Internet radio show on LATalkRadio.com called “Live LA Saturday Nights.” This column, “Frank Talk,” will address local topics of interest and will attempt to answer any questions or concerns readers have about the community.

This week I want to comment on a reader’s question over the whole redistricting dilemma and what I thought about this process. To me it looks like we are getting shuffled around again like a deck of cards. Our communities dealt out like a round of poker to the players who already know ahead of time whether their hand holds a winner or a loser in a game of high stakes known as redistricting.

As a lifelong resident and business owner in L.A. in the San Fernando Valley, I have stood by and watched helplessly as not only my councilmember and district changed, but the name of my community changed as well. On paper at least I went from North Hollywood to Sherman Village to Valley Village and never even packed a bag. Never even had to change my address. It’s nice to see that my city is looking out for me. But I’d rather have my streets paved and trees trimmed, my sidewalks fixed, and the fire station kept open. I’d like to see my councilmember talk about lighting my dark street, not carving up my community like a turkey at Thanksgiving with the best parts going to the uncle that slipped grandma a little extra gravy.

It’s very telling to see who blinked and who bluffed when these cards were dealt out to this city council. Parks, Perry, and LaBonge spoke out in opposition of the proposed maps, upset that they would lose key communities in their districts, while Krekorian and Alarcon’s silence was deafening. In this high stakes game of redistricting it looks like the only loser are you and I, the little guys that just want to know that when we buy our homes or open our business in Toluca Lake or NoHo or Studio City, that in 10 years we don’t find ourselves in a whole different neighborhood without ever having moved.

Is it too much to ask that in this time of economic uncertainty that we don’t waste the energy and the money on a political reshuffle that no one wants or really needs? I think the city controller should audit what the cost of redistricting will be, including reprinting maps and directories, painting new signs, and changing websites. The cost is tremendous! In this high stakes game of poker called redistricting, I say deal me out!

Each week I hope that I can entertain, educate, and inform you. I hope that after you read “Frank Talk,” your day is a bit brighter. This column isn’t about “me,” it’s about “we.”

17: Throw Another Log on the Fire

By Myriah Daniels

… Snap, squeal … the mousetrap in my living room has been detonated by an innocent field mouse. Well, it’s not innocent; after all, it’s in my house. Oh, but he’s really cute. He keeps squealing. Darn, it’s still alive. Big brown eyes watch in fear as I approach and it tries to run. Picking the trap up from a corner where the captive’s teeth can’t reach my fingers, I take it to my neighbor’s front door and gently place it on the ground calling out to Mike to come help. He comes outside, looking like a man who’s been having a beer on the couch while watching TV at the end of a workday.

“Will you take care of this for me?” I thought he would release the little guy from the trap to return to the surrounding mountains and his mouse friends. So it freaks me out when he says nothing, shows no emotion, lifts his cowboy boot and stomps – hard — on the mouse’s head. I need a better mouse trap.

The first thing I find is a holistic mousetrap in a cardboard box at the front door of a grocery store. Oh, I could just die when I see baby kitties; tears come to my eyes. How do you choose which one when you want them all? The choice is made for me when the gray and white tabby runs right up, looks in my eyes, and smiles with that fuzzy look of surprise that baby kitties have. Tucking him into my shirt, he curls up and purrs to sleep as I go shopping….

Canned cat food is unnatural: When was the last time anyone saw a house cat hunt and take down a cow? Kitty crunchies (dry cat food) is good emergency foodstuffs for when it’s a cold, rainy day he doesn’t want to go out in…. Cats can catch game hens. Though cats don’t cook, raw fowl carries too many eebie jeebies, so we’ll bake one up for him. Concessions will have to be made to accommodate his unnaturally early departure from his mom.

Standing in the middle of a swarm of fruit flies as I decide which pineapple to pick, a little paw pokes out of my shirt to play with the flies…. A smiling produce man raises his eyebrows at the playful paw. Lifting a finger to my lips I simply go, “Shhh. Oh, by the way, we need a litter box. Do you have a small one in back?” Yea, the top that was cut off of the canned cat food will be perfect! Kitty pokes his face out to see what’s going on and the produce man pets him with adoration. The most special men in the world are the ones who like kitties.

Mousetrap stretches, bitty claws knead into me feeling safe, loved, wanted. Let’s go home!

Born, raised and harvested in Los Angeles, Myriah “Sunshine” Daniels is your story guide through white water rivers, cities and life; mountain WOmaneering, international perspectives — I’ll tackle any subject!

18: The Chameleon

By Joann Schueller Cooke

“… A new voice in the pages …” of The Tolucan Times.

How many years have I wished I could write a column for a neighborhood-type paper? I barely noticed this four-by-five ad. When I read it, I thought — Wow! — now’s my chance.

Every day, I sit at the computer and write. Every day. I love to write. How come, when I read that ad, my mind went blank? Besides being a good writer, I’m also a good thinker. So why couldn’t I think of anything to write for this contest?

My mother was born in Los Angeles 100 years ago, making me a second generation native Californian. I started writing poetry and stories when I was a young girl. I made my own neighborhood newspaper. As a grown-up (at least in age), I’ve written fiction and non-fiction for adults and children, nostalgia pieces about growing up in San Luis Obispo and Burbank, stories about raising my own family in Reseda, jokes and anecdotes — many of which have been published in newspapers, magazines, and books.

The Tolucan asks if people come to me for advice. Hmmm. Yes, frequently. They know I’m closely acquainted with children, family, older relatives, grieving, and addictions. They know me to be a good listener. I’ve been blessed with wisdom, compassion, a sense of humor, a shoulder to lean on, and a zipped up mouth. People trust me.

If you want a “let me help you” column, I could be your Dear Abby-type. If you are looking more for general interest, I could do that, as well. For example, I might write about the weather: Relatives back East put away their summer or winter clothes, while we, even in winter, can wear a tank top and shorts one day, and two days later, we need a jacket or coat and scarf. At least that’s the usual scenario. Over the weekend of March 17-18, however, it was 80 in Chicago and we were shivering in the low 50s under our umbrellas.

Or I could ask: “Whatever happened to ‘nice‘?” You know, letting someone go ahead of you in line or in traffic, sending a thank-you note, and similar examples of niceness and courtesy. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost that. We’ve lost being polite and replaced it with rudeness.

I guess you could say I’d be a versatile columnist. That’s me — JoAnn Schueller Cooke, the chameleon, fitting in with whatever your needs or desires might be.

It would be exciting to be considered for a spot on the Tolucan staff. If not, well, I send my congrats to the winner!

19: What’s Going On?

By Frank DeFelice

Is it too early to mourn the demise of customer service? Many have already written of the death of common sense. Others agree and foresee the inevitable passing of customer service. Certainly, there will be those who will continue to sing the praises of customer service, remembering her in her ostentatious panoply of yore. Refusing to acknowledge that the days of yore are no longer present, they will remember the milk man’s delivering milk and dairy products to the front door. The egg man delivered eggs to one’s door. Buying a pair of new shoes involved a real person showing you what was available and fitting you with what you chose. The insurance man collected premiums at your home. They will remember trips to the service station where the attendant not only filled the automobile’s tank with gasoline, but, also, without fail, cleaned the windshield and offered to check the oil. But, those days are gone.

Many culprits have contributed to customer service’s malady. Chief among those culprits must be automation. Vending machines are only the beginning (a story for another time). While automation indeed has given us an “easier” life, we have to wonder if this is progress. Yes, life is easier than it used to be, but in so many transactions the personal touch (customer service) is missing.

Require the customer to select his/her own wares, whether it be in a grocery store, a clothing store, or a “big box” store and customer service does its disappearing act.

Is it too much to expect a smile and/or a cheerful word from the customer service person?

The “ivory tower” boys (and girls) are quick to tell us that these “automated processes” give the customer more choices at lower prices — and isn’t that good or even better for the customer? Well….

Ever since Mr. Roboto replaced your friendly telephone operator, our poor friend customer service has taken another hit. For example, have you ever experienced this: “For English press one; espanol oprima el dos”? And this is just the beginning. One can easily spend seven or more minutes “responding” to Mr. Roboto. One can even be lulled into thinking that one is conducting a real conversation. My favorite is this: In response to a prompt I speak my account number into the telephone. Then, Mr. Roboto, as if he’s a real person (HE’S NOT!) “responds”: “Let’s see if I’ve got this right” and proceeds to repeat what I have just said. And, then, there are more buttons to push….

Customer service: Requiescat in pace. Descanse en paz.

If I am selected, the purpose of my weekly column would be to comment on current happenings and/or to wax nostalgic for your senior citizen readers and for those youngsters who would be interested in “how things used to be.”

20: Royal Rants from a Pink Rhinestoned Soapbox

By Sheila Allison King

Not long ago I fell asleep listening to Sinatra on my new high-fidelity system and awoke to Dr. Dre’s profanity, spurting sex, violence, and drugs on a ghetto blaster. Later, I fell asleep to the Beach Boys and awoke to the Beastie Boys. Recently I was jolted awake by a horror: A Gangsta DJ scratching my collector vinyl records backward and forward. If that wasn’t bad enough, before I could buy Ambien, an out-of-the blue attack occurred: Van Wrinkle’s Express sped through my space, stole an untold amount of my years and, with the nerve of the devil, did it in my own bed. I was only slightly defiant.

Twixt a blink and a yawn, with no asylum, nightly, Van Wrinkle and his riffraff sabotaged my youngness leaving in exchange crow’s feet, brow furrows, and enough pucker fissures to re-map California’s fault lines. And while I don’t recall exactly, I do know that when Van Wrinkle lunged across the line, added leg cramps and night sweats, and called the favor the hormonal magnificence of menopause, I considered it an unfair attack. Sadly, I knew his villains would keep coming until they finished me off. Now I’m defiant all the time.

Slow down I implored. I’m vibrant, smart, clever, and still creative. Don’t out me to younger rivals by hurling my dermas grooves into a deep unrepairable cavern. Frankly I’ve already had to resort to Preparation H under my eyes and concoct a few lies if only to make myself a few affairs younger.

Hard as I tried to put off waving goodbye to those years, you know, before my back arm flesh waved first, Van Wrinkle, like Uncle Sam, finger-pointed, saying “I want you.” Then, to augment his earlier damage he and his night rogues unfolded neck-crimps, thimble size jaw pouches, and warts in spots I’ll never discuss.

How these insidious rapscallion’s gain such extraordinary evolutionary power was a mystery, and try as I may to induce a temporary moratorium on the collision course with antiquity and reconfigure the balance of nature, it was impossible. Robustly working by moonlight they continued to infiltrate my prime-time, exile it into re-runs, turn microgrooves into deep crevices. Their goal: return until I yielded to the erosion of time.

It was really something to see. Every reflective surface, even the refrigerator door laid bare fragile remains of yesteryears, held hostage by not so Tender Mercenaries. I looked back, then forward in shock. My judicious observation questioned … Is there nothing more? Or is that all he wrote?

Sound familiar? I bet like me, you too still feel 30ish, even liken yourself to a mature Sex and the City gal, who can walk around the house in seven-inch Jimmy Choo shoes listening to Nine Inch Nails even though you deem it safer to cross your tightly stockinged legs and remain unmoving in a sturdy seat of power.

Let me introduce myself: I’m Sheila Allison King, a soapboxer. No, not the kind that packs Tide into cartons for shipment, but a self-appointed advocate of all sorts, that at times, while having been given a royal welcome, have, at other times, since I remain enthusiastically and fearlessly relevant to the truth, in an entertaining way, or sometimes not, been labeled….

“A ROYAL PAIN” … and not in the neck.

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