Nino Frediani: The world’s fastest, and most secretive, juggler

Frediani has performed for decades, entertaining crowds across the world with his skill and dexterity. But across those decades, he was hiding something from his audiences.While he hurled knives and torches with expert aim, no one watching knew one simple fact.

Frediani is legally blind.

Born with chronic dystrophy of the optic nerve, he cannot drive and follows a mnemonic system to recall the location of objects at home — a razor in the bathroom or the wine-opener in the kitchen — because things even a few feet from his face fade into a blur.

And so no one knew his secret, not his audience, not many partners or friends, until just a few years ago when he revealed it to the world:

"I never wanted to be treated as a handicapped person," he says. "I don’t act blind. It comes from my circus roots — we’re all pretty tough people. I wanted to be known as a fast juggler, not a blind one."

Read more of John M. Glionna’s story, and find out how Frediani became such a master of his craft, here.

Photos: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

After fifty years, an honest look back at the March on Washington

It’s said that hindsight is often 20/20, but it also tends to create generalizations as we sift through the events of the past. Martin Luther King Jr.’s now-legendary “I Have a Dream” speech wasn’t immediately lionized like it is now, and for many, the jobs part of the demonstration was the central cause.

In the words of Vernon Watkins, who attended the march back in 1963:

"I didn’t go for the reason most people might think," Watkins pointed out. "I wasn’t there to see King."

He was 24 then; young and angry and black. He lived in a segregated Detroit neighborhood. He had a wife and three children, and worked at a printing plant. Getting a good job had tested him. Prospects for his future were uncertain.

"I had one thing on my mind in those days, and that was jobs," he said. "With the way we were treated because of the color of our skin, how was I going to keep providing for my family?"

But once Watkins began to hear King speak, he was amazed.

"He just leaned into the moment," Watkins said. "Looked out at the crowd the way Baptist preachers do and gave them what they needed: that idea of the dream. You might have to wait, but if you fight for dignity, everything is going to be OK."

Read more on Watkins’ experiences, and his views on whether the goals of prosperity and equality espoused in 1963 have been met in the fifty years since.

Photos: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times, Associated Press

The ‘Crossing of Death’ in Syria

The Karaj al Hajez crossing that spans Aleppo’s Queiq River is a no man’s land where Syrian residents are picked off daily by a government sniper.

With that to set the scene, our own Raja Abdulrahim documents a bridge in the embattled city of Aleppo, Syria, where the sniper usually strikes at least a few citizens going about their daily lives from a perch in City Hall.

It used to be a main road connecting two neighborhoods. Now it’s a dangerous walkway, with the bridge in the middle.

Despite the risk of being shot on the bridge or detained at the checkpoint on the government side, thousands cross each day, attempting to navigate what remains of their old lives in the shadow of war: making their way to jobs, college, hospitals or just to buy groceries.

Read more in our latest Column One feature.

Photos: Los Angeles Times, Andoni Lubacki, Aleppo Media Center / Associated Press

Saving a life during L.A.’s shooting season

Between July and September, the medical staff at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center are mired in the so-called “shooting season,” with a shockingly high number of shooting victims being rushed regularly to the operating room.

The Times’ Thomas Curwen documented once such incident, with Dr. Brant Putnam leading the race to save the life of Leandrus Benton, whose decision to use an alleyway shortcut led to his being shot by an unknown assailant.

A resident slaps the boy. They need him conscious.

Putnam knows the surge of adrenaline that brought the boy this far is nearly spent. If his blood pressure crashes, his heart will stop. Putnam wonders if it is too late.

"Let’s go to the OR," he says, loud enough to get everyone’s attention.

Later in the surgery:

Putnam sets a clock running in his mind. Two hours is optimum. Three is the limit. Anything longer compounds the trauma with a phenomena known as physiologic exhaustion, whenthe body has worn itself out trying to compensate for the injury.

Putnam and Luu begin by separating the small intestine and colon from their ligaments. They notice a few holes in the bowel, but those repairs can come later.

Lifting the intestine out of the torso, they find a pool of blood the size of a football flooding the back of the abdomen. This explains why the entry wound was dry. The boy is losing more blood than they can give him. Putnam wonders again if they are too late.

Read more of Curwen’s riveting account here.

Photos: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Made-to-order poetry in Los Angeles

Jacqueline Suskin, a writer and former vegetable gardener, has taken to the Hollywood Farmers Market for her latest venture: The Poem Store.

Sitting with her typewriter, Suskin takes requests from curious passersby and regulars, taking requests for poems on back pain to making verse fit the title “Since Wednesday.”

As for the most popular request?

"Everyone is always asking for love poems," she says. "We are all obsessed with love."

But love, as a topic, is deeply unspecific. When someone asks her to write a poem about love, she responds by asking what kind of love. That usually leads to a story about a girlfriend living far away, or a person new to Los Angeles desperately missing her family, or the love a mother has for her new baby.

She thinks people ask for poems that help them understand their path or direction in life.

"They want hope, or confidence, or they just need someone to see who they are," she says. "Half the time I feel like I am a therapist or a psychic."

Read more of reporter Deborah Netburn’s story in our latest Column One feature.

Photos: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times

L.A. Times Past: I Was There: When Cassini entered Saturn's orbit

latimespast:

image

Today L.A. Times Past launches a series of occasional guest posts, written by people who have a connection to a historical event relevant to Southern California. We start with Julie Webster of JPL, seen above. In 2004 she was the flight director of the Cassini mission, which was about to…

test reblogged from latimespast

Finding hope and healing in a remote stretch of Alaska

Eleven-year-old James Weatherwax has Apert syndrome, an extremely rare condition which fused his bones in the wrong places, making everyday life a struggle, one that led his mother Kecia to bring her son to her ancestral home on Prince of Wales Island in far-off Alaska.

Our own Kim Murphy has been following James and his mother’s fight through everyday hardships and constant surgeries, but amid the difficulties, the two have found a loving home:

Most people here don’t seem to notice James’ appearance, or are sidetracked by his infectious good humor. Johnny Roberts says he got to know James the day he confronted some boys who were bullying him. “He came over and gave me a big hug, and we’ve been good friends ever since,” Johnny says.

As recounted by photographer Genaro Molina, who found it hard to maintain the “fly on the wall” mindset typical of photojournalists:

…on the day of the surgery, James’ tears were hard to hold back. While on the gurney in the operating room he tearfully shouted, “I want my grandfather!” Remembering his grandfather was back at home, James shouted, “I want Genaro!”  The medical personnel looked in my direction. My heart sank. I reassured James that I was one of the individuals in surgical attire and that I was there with him.

There comes a point in many stories where you make a certain connection with the subject, and it doesn’t get any more dramatic than this. How could I not root for this kid?

See all of Molina’s fantastic photos at Framework, or read Murphy’s heartwarming story here.

Photos: Genario Molina / Los Angeles Times

The Nate Silver of immigration reform?

Tom Wong, part statistician, part advocate for fixes to the nation’s immigration laws, is seen by many as the man with the crystal ball on the hot-button issue.

As is the case in legislatures across the country, various groups are vying for influence in Congress - either to pass broad immigration legislation, or to throw a monkey wrench into reform efforts.

Activists already have an idea of which lawmakers to target, but Wong gives them an extra edge. He can generate a custom analysis for, say, who might be receptive to an argument based on religious faith. With the House likely to consider separate measures rather than a comprehensive bill, Wong covers every permutation.

And Wong has a personal stake in the fight. He had no idea that he was been brought into the country illegally as a toddler until he was a teenager.

Unfortunately for Wong and his supporters, his models predict that unless there are significant changes, immigration reform will peter out in the House.

Read more in our latest Column One feature.

Photos: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

I never cheated a casino, never had a fight there. I’m just supposedly a notorious felon.
The incredible devotion of Douglas Kanai
What would you do to open your own temple? Ask a religious leader for permission? Go it on your own? How about enduring a 100 day trial to prove your fortitude and devotion to your faith?
Buddhist Douglas Kanai, seen above, is the first American to pass the 700-year old, and sometimes lethal, Nichiren test, and now has his own temple in Las Vegas.
His days began at 2:30 a.m., ended at 11:45 p.m. and consisted largely of kneeling and chanting for hours upon hours, with just rice gruel keeping him going.
From Kathie Quinn, who drove to L.A. to watch him recreate the ceremony:

"Only he knows the torture he endured, but it seems worse than any military boot camp. From what I understand, you need that kind of trauma to see what he saw — the good and the bad of his soul.”

Read more on Kanai and his faith here.
Photo: John M. Glionna / Los Angeles Times

The incredible devotion of Douglas Kanai

What would you do to open your own temple? Ask a religious leader for permission? Go it on your own? How about enduring a 100 day trial to prove your fortitude and devotion to your faith?

Buddhist Douglas Kanai, seen above, is the first American to pass the 700-year old, and sometimes lethal, Nichiren test, and now has his own temple in Las Vegas.

His days began at 2:30 a.m., ended at 11:45 p.m. and consisted largely of kneeling and chanting for hours upon hours, with just rice gruel keeping him going.

From Kathie Quinn, who drove to L.A. to watch him recreate the ceremony:

"Only he knows the torture he endured, but it seems worse than any military boot camp. From what I understand, you need that kind of trauma to see what he saw — the good and the bad of his soul.”

Read more on Kanai and his faith here.

Photo: John M. Glionna / Los Angeles Times

Mapping out the trajectory of a possible NBA star

How do you make a basketball legend? Ron Holmes, who played at UCLA but never made it to the professional leagues, has been wondering for years, spending his life trying to turn his son, highly-touted UCLA star Shabazz Muhammad, into NBA royalty.

From Ken Bensinger’s report:

As a student, Holmes said, he found himself fascinated by the careful breeding of thoroughbreds, the way that two fast, powerful horses could be crossed to create an even faster, more powerful colt.

Around that time he met Faye Paige, a point guard, sprinter and hurdler at Cal State Long Beach. Spotting her at a summer league game, Holmes recalled saying to a friend: “See that No. 10? She’s going to be my wife, and we’re going to make some All-Americans.”

Read the entire story, complete with a birth certificate discrepancy and the fate of Shabazz’s siblings, here.

Photos: Luis Sinco, Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Open hearts, and an open home to a child in need

Arefa, a six-year-old Afghan girl severely burned during the war in Afghanistan, was in desperate need of surgery - surgery only available outside of her home country. So she, with the aid of the humanitarian group Solace for the Children for medical treatment.

So two Los Angeles sisters opened their home to take care of Arefa, nursing her back to health prior to the complex procedure ahead of her, helping her adjust to life in the U.S., and forging an indelible bond.

From Times reporter Kurt Streeter’s powerful story:

Under the bright lights of a hospital room, the sisters sat next to a frightened little girl who barely acknowledged them. She kept her head down, eyes fixed to the floor. Arefa was 6. Much of her face and hands had been singed, and a cloth hid a head wound that had not healed since a fire raged through her family’s tent. She’d flown in the day before from Kabul without her parents.

Read the full story on Arefa’s struggle here, or watch Streeter as he talks about the heartwarming story, and Arefa’s courage.

Photos: Carolyn Cole, Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

A kinder, gentler Perez Hilton

The man who built up a reputation for mocking Hollywood stars, and pushing the boundaries of what a gossip blog could get away with (often at the expense of good taste), seems to have turned over a new leaf.

In Perez Hilton’s own words:

"I don’t have to give people nasty nicknames anymore. I don’t have to say people are stupid, or people are fat, or people are ugly. I don’t need to draw inappropriate things on photos or out people. I can still be sassy and fun and do my job."

Here’s to hoping he keeps it up. For the full story, check out columnist Robin Abcarian’s profile here.

Photos: Kirk McKoy/ Los Angeles Times

From high-school equivalency to undercover spy

Fernando Jara changed the course of his life with a single email. Post-9/11, he told the CIA that perhaps he, with a recent conversion to Islam and knowledge of Arabic, could get closer to extremists that they could.

And now, years later, he’s changed his life again - working to aid drug addicts and felons in California.

From humble beginnings, Jara founded a program to rehabilitate drug addicts and felons on a five-acre farm. He is completing a master’s degree at Claremont School of Theology and will soon begin work on a doctorate and a law degree…

It’s an impressive resume for a junior high school dropout — with one exception. Five years are unaccounted for, and few people here know why.

In 2001, Jara disappeared from public view. He went on a journey that took him across the Middle East into the undercover world of Islamic extremism.

Read more in Louis Sahagun’s report here.

Photos: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

One man runs marathons in marriage, combating illness and on his own two feet

The Los Angeles Marathon, set for Sunday, will have a participant running for two: John Creel, 77, will be taking part not just for himself, but for his wife Ingrid as well. After she was bound to a wheelchair by multiple sclerosis in 1995, John became her primary caretaker, and began running as a means of relief. Sunday’s marathon will be Creel’s 60th since then.

From columnist Bill Plaschke’s time with the Creels:

They still laugh about how they met in 1958 on a snowy night in a small town in Germany. She didn’t speak English, he barely spoke German, yet a year later they were married. At the time he was a member of the U.S. Army's Green Berets. Today he runs his marathons with the actual green beret atop his balding head. It reeks of sweat and has been tattered by moths, but, like his devotion, it is unmoving.

Photos: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times