Davening, iPhone, Boulevard


When did this happen to us?  When did communing with the handheld device take the form of liturgical prayer?  How did we come to worship our devices in public with the same fervor we once gripped the wisdom of the Patriarchs, and without embarrassment?

No, that’s not quite right. Embarrassment requires an understanding, or perhaps a mere awareness of those sharing the space around us.  Gadgetry has obviated the membrane between the public and private sphere.

Our spines crumple forward in submission to our appetite for escape. Our necks droop like penguins in the zoo, staring down at a created Antarctica balanced on our webbed feet. Time travelers from the 1990′s would be puzzled by the sight of us.  They would wonder if all the Vitamin D had been removed from our diet in a diabolical plot.

I’m hardly one to comment.  Even perched upon the stern unforgiving yoga stool at which I labor, inevitably my posture sags, shell backed and slack-jawed, as I type.  Occasionally I catch flies in my mouth.

There is antidote for this,  in Van Nuys, where one can re-establish the plumb line from the back of the head to the heel.

MacLeod Ale.  Calvert Street. No screens. No gadgets. Just British Ales, peanuts and conversation.  Occasionally music.  Remarkable what a little fellowship conducted eye-to-eye, standing upright, glass in hand, can do for your spirit and your love for your fellow man.


Christmas, Light and Dark

Christian Mennonite singers, Broadway and Sixth St

Christian Mennonite carolers, Broadway and Sixth St


Meanwhile, not a block away, an angry group of men calling themselves the Black-Hebrew Israelites were milling about in robes, haranguing passerby and holding up signs like this one:



I have no idea what this portends…

They seem to, however

They seem to, however. It’s awfully specific.

Where’s Hay-zeus?


Maybe he went for a crawl. Maybe he was shoplifted by a passing caravan. Maybe he fell through a hole in the hay. Maybe the serpent happened by. Maybe he’s off smoking a cigar.  Maybe he’s communing with St. Francis.  Or Marilyn Manson. Maybe he went up in a whisp of smoke.   Maybe he was spirited off by the ACLU in an ecstasy of sanctimony. Maybe the ox inadvertently rolled over on him.  Maybe juvenile delinquents are defacing him with profanity. Maybe he’s about to be replaced by a pumpkin.  Maybe he’s answering an existential question with his absence. Maybe God has a sense of humor about these things. Maybe he’s coming back, in five minutes.


In deeply Catholic/Pentecostal Panorama City, the mystery which surround us all is enfolded in another veil of mystery, all its own.

Meanwhile, we’ll wait.

Van Nuys, Then and Now

Van Nuys 1970

Van Nuys 1970

Van Nuys 2014

Van Nuys Polleria, 2014

Since I posted about Busch Gardens last week, I’ve heard from a few of the elders, longtime Valley residents, who remember most fondly the ‘live bird shows’, including one in which a parrot pedaled across the stage on a tricycle.  Also remembered was the unrestrained quaffing of beer in the ‘pavilions’ by the adults, followed inevitably by fender bending mayhem in the parking lot afterward.   This was a different time, before Mothers Against Drunk Driving, air bags and shoulder seat belts, among many other institutional cautions of our modern world.  Before nut allergies and predator databases.  In the 1970′s, prudence meant filters on your Pall Malls.   Now prudence requires filters on the mobile phone to prevent XXX-rated content from streaming into the palm of your pre-teen’s hand.

Come see the parrots

Come see the parrots

Birds, killed fresh on site. Rabbits, too.

Come see the birds killed fresh on site. Rabbits, too.

Our sense of wonder was different then, and so too was our sense of caution.  The parameters of risk have shifted.  We thought nothing, as kids, of playing outside unattended for hours on end without a drop of sunscreen.   Now we slather on the SPF 50 and never let the kids leave the yard.  We know more than ever about the requirements of nutrition and exercise, yet are enormously fat.  We cling to gadgets only a short time ago were luxuries to the wealthiest among us, and yet are already hypnotically bored by them. We have no understanding of the technological magic behind the screen which makes it all go, but we take it for granted the next version will be better, faster, cheaper.

In the absence of wonder we are drawn to simplicity of the old country. Bring us that bird. I’ll take that one, there. Chop, chop. There’s dinner, kids.  Like our grandparents did it.


Ironic mural in the shadow of the Budweiser plant

Ironic mural in the shadow of the Budweiser plant

Unironic hookup just around the corner

Unironic hookup just around the corner

Went looking for the elusive but famous Budweiser parrots today.  They’ve been thought for years to be nesting along the railroad tracks adjacent to the beer plant, refugees from Busch Gardens of yore.  Didn’t see the birds but found nests of urban refugees being rousted from their perch along the 405 by the police.  A woman in yellow pants staggered out of a flooded and trash-strewn gully, pushed her way through a gap in a chain-link fence as casually as if she were emerging from a beaded curtain to her kitchen and asked me for a smoke and if my name was James. She seemed unaware of the official rousting going on just above her, in the shadows of the overpass.  My civic loyalties a bit divided, I helpfully told her the cops were about.  She pinwheeled in a disoriented circle, then continued walking alongside me as we, suddenly a couple, were observed by the LAPD.

Well, this will be interesting.  How am I going to explain this?

We walked side by side, sort of,  as I contemplated a plausible alibi for my impromptu assignation here in the hidden backside of the Valley.  I, conspicuous white man, was just looking for the parrots, officer.

A second man, perhaps whose name was James, emerged from a gap in another fence and she skipped ahead toward him eagerly.   Without preamble, they marched with purpose away from the tracks and disappeared into the shrubwork.  Her clothes looked slept in but she had a pretty decent weave going. No policemen followed them.


Busch Gardens in its heyday.  Seventeen acres of lagoons and exotic birds served by monorail and boat. Lots of wildlife tours for the kids and free beer for the adults at any one of five ‘hospitality houses’, like the Michelob Terrace.  Remarkably, this nearly perfectly designed childcare arrangement fell out of fashion in the 70′s and the park closed after a mere fourteen years.


Yes, we’re finishing it…

Can I have some?

Can I have some?

Today I paid five bucks for a cup of joe at a discreet and cool industrial-looking coffee house, down in the Arts District.   Not some soda-sized caramel macchiato whipped cream extravaganza from Starbucks, just a plain cup of coffee in the type of cup they used to set in front of you at Denny’s at 3AM in the middle of an all-nighter. Five bucks.

‘It’ll be six or seven minutes to prepare. We need to whip the almond milk.’

Oh, okay….

I’m in no position to pay that kind of money for anything which fits in the palm of my hand.  This is my second consecutive Christmas of ‘oh, let’s at least have a tree.’  I service my debts….and I do so honorably. Beyond that, my fiscal horizons are brutish and short.  It’s no way to be living at this point in my life. So on Small Business Saturday, if I’m not going to be able to afford to window shop, we can put some miles on the Skechers and take in the city a bit.   Start in Echo Park and work our way down east of Alameda.  My day began with a re-habbing jury-rigging of the kitchen door with mismatched brackets I had dug out of a box of old construction materials.  A shameless piece of hack work I didn’t even attempt to conceal with paint, which succeeded in keeping the stiles and rails connected and allowed for the door to swing shut for another winter.  We watched Searching for Sugarman last night, so I was both in a poetic and appreciative frame of mind.  I did what I usually do when I’m in that state:  I left the Valley.

So out came the coffee.  My almond-whipped, individually prepared, fair-trade, put my feet out after a long week and savor the moment premium cassis.




Imagine a rusty freighter hijacked by Somali pirates.  Now imagine a cast iron bucket at the bottom of the hold the hostages are forced to use as a piss pot during their captivity.  Then imagine that cast iron bucket being purchased on eBay by some fancypants collector of conflict memorabilia, which through a comedy of errors is mis-routed to Los Angeles where a hipster doofus decides to re-purpose it as a coffee pot. For authenticity’s sake.  Old camp stove coffee.  Almond-whipped.  And all those rich, brine-y flavors working their way into the foam….

Mrs. Upinthevalley, optimist.

Mrs. Upinthevalley, determined.

‘We’re finishing it,’ my wife announced, reading my mind, but setting down the cup with a grimace.

I went back inside for some sugar. A lot of sugar, which appeared to offend the staff behind the counter.

‘The cup is nice,’ she offered optimistically. ‘I like cupping a warm cup in my hands. It almost makes the coffee taste better. or would if it were better coffee.”

Maybe we just don’t have the proper palate, we decided. It can’t be as bad as it seems.

Until we sipped a little more.

We let Giles lick the foam off the spoon, which he did without complaint.   We considered the five bucks a sidewalk rental, and made the best of it. Slowly, steadily, working as a team, we drained the cup. Hell if we’re going to waste five bucks on anything.

On the walk back to the car, she posed for an album cover.  I thought: how could anyone look this good after 15 years of marriage?

Teacher as moody singer-songwriter

Schoolteacher as seraphic singer-songwriter

She can.   Yeah, we’re gonna finish this, too. I got all the sugar I need.