Developing Stories, a photography series from Work in Progress, invites authors to carry a disposable camera and document whatever compels them—a reading, a walk in the woods, a tour of the writer’s hometown. Liska Jacobs, author of Catalina, showcased moments with family in and around her native Los Angeles, capturing the city’s unique enchantment.
I haven’t used a disposable camera in probably more than a decade. It felt weird just holding one. People stared when I used it to take a photo. But there’s something to the delayed satisfaction, the not knowing exactly what it was I had snapped. The image became more of an artifact this way. I’m glad to have these photos of Los Angeles, which seems to be changing at hyper speed. I used to live on the west side, near where I was born, but the influx of tech people pushed us farther east. Silicon Beach. I won’t get into the flood of expensive eateries and the ridiculous rents, but my husband still works on the west side so once a week I go for what I affectionately call a “west side goof.” This “west side goof” is particularly special because my twin sister flew in from Hawaii that afternoon.
I grew up hiking the Santa Monica Mountains. They have exotic sounding trail names—Mishe Mokwa, Temescal, Topanga, Latigo, Satwiwa. Inspiration Point is somewhat boring in comparison, but it’s the closest to the city.
The trail is an old dirt road, lined with huge eucalyptus trees. It’s usually very dry and blustery from the wind coming up from the bay. The canyons on either side are home to movie stars and music moguls. You can see into their backyards from the trail—nothing but infinity pools and stables and terraced vineyards.
A few years ago, during our big drought, there was hullabaloo over coyotes coming down from the mountains and attacking small pets and even children. Rattlesnakes were showing up more and more in neighborhood backyards. Mountain lions were getting hit trying to cross the 101 Freeway in search of water. I took this picture thinking of that, maybe because I was hiking alone.
My dad was the one who used to take us hiking when we were younger. He taught us about the rocks and fossils—that the formations created underwater sixteen million years ago are now at the top of ridgelines. He wanted us to know both the scientific and common names of all the plant life. Mimulus aurantiacus, or Monkey Flower, is still my favorite.
All of the eucalyptus trees were planted in the 1930s and ’40s, but because they have such shallow root systems, and the land experiences so much erosion, only a handful of the original trees remain. After every big rainstorm another gets chopped down. They often leave the stump.
This is the floor at my favorite health food store. A lot has changed in the neighborhood since they first opened (the store itself recently had a facelift), but there’s no hiding its early 1980s roots if you look down. My toes made it into this one by accident.
So I have a twin sister. We look nothing alike. I’m tall, she’s short. I’m dark with freckles and she’s alabaster white. But get us together and shit gets real. There’s no one else I’d rather party with. I mean, she’s just off the plane, we’re only on our first margarita, and—surprise! She’s newly engaged. This, of course, means we order a pitcher.
Our dad is fond of his Cadillac margarita and Negra Modelo combo. Bonus points for fresh tortillas, served with cold foil-wrapped cubes of butter. You’d think we’d have an aversion to dive Mexican joints from all the times we had to pick him up off the floor, but time is funny.
Traffic back to the east side is always a nightmare so we walked down to the beach to get another drink and wait it out. I know this bit of coastline so well I could close my eyes and draw it. Although this isn’t the original pier. That one blew into the ocean during a storm in the 1990s. It’s not even the original Ferris wheel, which was auctioned off in 2008. I think it’s in Oklahoma City now.
We didn’t go on any rides because the prices were hiked for Valentine’s Day. The Ferris wheel was $10 per person. There were couples everywhere. Someone was playing “Despacito” on an electric violin.
Oh, dear. We made it home but had a bottle of wine and started cutting hair. I somehow convinced her I could do an A-line bob.
The nice thing about sharing a car with your husband is the citywide tour you get driving him to work. I usually cut through the Inglewood Oil Field because it reminds me of noir Los Angeles and The Big Sleep. They’ve been pumping here since the 1920s, back when LA was mostly oil wells.
This mural is on the wall of a panaderia where we tried to cure our hangovers with pan dulce. Whenever my twin sister visits it’s usually a whirlwind of eating and drinking and figuring out what to do with our dad, who has MS and is always on a bender. Booze, pills, fasting—it doesn’t matter. It’s always something.
Our birthday is coming up—we’ll be thirty-five. She has more gray hair than me, but I already have arthritis. I’ve known her my whole life. We like to joke that the womb smelled like yams and feet.
It’s strange to stand on the edge of the Pacific and know that thousands of miles across it is your sister. It’s probably why I hike Inspiration Point so often. I like to sit at the top and look west. We didn’t accomplish nearly enough this trip. Dad is as stubborn as ever, but at least his house is clean, and we arranged someone to go by once a week to check on him. But she’ll be back—Los Angeles is her home, too.
Liska Jacobs holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Rumpus, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and The Hairpin, among other publications. Catalina is her first novel.