Talks with Tim is a weekly Q&A by Tim Grobaty, who has been a columnist in Long Beach for nearly 50 years. If you’d like to suggest an interesting or influential person in Long Beach for this (unconventional) interview, reach him at [email protected].

D.J. Waldie is an author and memoirist and former deputy city manager and public information officer for the city of Lakewood. He is best known for his 1995 book, “The Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir.” New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani wrote, “Moving back and forth effortlessly between the personal and the communal, between memories of his own childhood and statistics combed from public records, (Waldie) creates a moving portrait of his hometown, and in doing so he manages to give this faceless suburb, long held up as an archetype of suburban anonymity, a local habitation and a name.”

Tim Grobaty: Your terrific and thoughtful book about Lakewood, “The Holy Land,” came out in 1995. Have you continued to write?

D.J. Waldie: I am always writing. I believe in the dictum a writer always writes.

Q: That’s more or less what I’m always telling my editors when I’m sitting with my feet on the desk. “Part of writing is not writing.” Do you have an office in your home, or where do you do your writing?

A: I write almost everywhere. I can jot notes quickly on my smartphone. Most of my life has been spent on foot. I don’t have a driver’s license. The rhythm of walking enters into the rhythm of writing. When I hit the sidewalk, immediately sentences and phrases begin to unroll into my inner ear. I write because I walk.

Q: Translate that into Latin and you’ve got your motto. Do you get a lot of steps in? Do you have an Apple watch to keep track?

A: I have destinations; I don’t count steps. I walk the same routes very frequently. I used to walk an awful lot more. Getting older reduces the scope. But I try to get in an hour or 90 minutes a day.

Q: Do you have anyone to keep you company? Dogs, cats, any pets?

A: No pets. We always had dogs and cats when I was growing up. I had to put down the family dog after my dad died so that soured me on the idea of having pets.

Q: Putting down a pet is the worst experience. As soon as I get a puppy I start fretting about what’s coming in 10-12 years. You’ve lived in Lakewood all your life. Are you still in the house you grew up in?

A: Yes, a little house on Graywood Avenue. Family lore has it that my parents bought it for $10,000. They moved in 1946; they were lucky to get a house because so little had been built in the Depression and the war. They bought it in the Mayfair tract that was built in 1942-43 for housing at Douglas.

Q: So you really got to watch Lakewood being built.

A: I haven’t a strong recollection of Lakewood being built, but I have a strong recollection of Lakewood Center being built, sitting on my porch and watching it grow.

Q: When “Holy Land” was published it got great reception. There’s a great blurb by Joan Didion on the cover.

A: I’m astonished at how well it was covered at the time. It was early reviewed positively by Michiko Kakutani, who was probably the most respected critic during her tenure at the New York Times. She gave it a generally positive review with a general understanding of what I was trying to do. It was a positive review and I think that influenced the reviews of other critics who gave it positive reviews. It’s done relatively well over the decades some 25 years later. I think I’ve been incredibly lucky as the kind of writer that I am, that the book continues to be read by readers who discuss it, often in urban planning courses. Every year I meet at USC with students whose coursework includes reading “Holy Land.” It’s wonderful to talk with young people who have read the book, what it tends to mean to them and I hope to color their view of the suburbs that’s often demonized.

Q: How do you feel that Lakewood has changed, if it even has, over the years?

A: Lakewood is thoughtful about its past. It’s clear-eyed about what it’s lost, about what its past lacked. Today, there’s an understanding and sympathy about people of color and what it is today, where it has people of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

Q: Let’s get to the fun stuff. What are you reading?

A:  I wish I could say that light reading was my recreational activity, but actually it isn’t. I do research for what I write these days, though I do read about the evolution of the suburbs. Martin Dines has written about suburban evolution that’s pretty interesting. And I enjoyed a recent, kinda quirky book edited by David Kipen, an L.A.-based writer who did a book for the Modern Library called “Dear Los Angeles: A City in Diaries and Letters 1542-2018,” a collection of selections from hundreds and hundreds of diaries and letters from all walks of life.

Q: I guess binge-watching TV is out of the question.

A: I don’t watch much. Generally documentaries. History and related topics.

Q: Food? Where do you like to eat in Lakewood?

A: I don’t like to badmouth my community. There are places to get food outside of Lakewood. Long Beach has become a much more interesting town for different and very appealing restaurants.

Q: What about travel?

A: They say that some people are footloose, some are barnacles, I’m very much a barnacle. My idea of big travel is to take the bus to Pasadena. I’m deeply interested in ordinary things, seeing the depth and meaning to be found in everyday life. What it’s been about is looking closely and intensely at everyday things, particularly things in Southern California. Ordinariness is my subject matter.

Q: Is Lakewood still largely middle-class, at least the way it was in the 1950s, which was decidedly middle-class?

A: I’m very disturbed by politics and the economic forces that have made it much less possible for people like my parents to have a generous part of what is broadly thought to be middle class. That was true of all those people in Lakewood’s past who were able to acquire enough good things to enjoy a comfortable life. It’s much harder for people of that same background to do that today. All I can say is that an ordinary life today is far more expensive and difficult to achieve. I wouldn’t use upper or middle class, I just say ordinary, I focus on an ordinary life.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email, @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.