Little Doelger Boxes

The Sunset district in San Francisco is a quiet beach town 15 minutes from the urban core…

…and five minutes from miles and miles of off-leash sand. I have friends who live here and it’s always fun to visit. When I stay over I take their dog for a run in the morning mist.

Many of the houses were built in vast tracts over sand dunes by Henry Doelger, much in the same vein as Henry Kaiser built Panorama City.   They have a standard template: 2-3 bedrooms/one bath over a single car garage.  As the Sunset gradually slopes toward the ocean, the elevated configuration offers every house a water view.

They may look small from the outside but are actually quite substantial:  my friends have built two additional bedrooms and baths in the undeveloped downstairs space adjacent to the garage, fully within the footprint for the foundation.  Doelger houses may not wield the aesthetic pull of the Victorian but have stood up well over the years: old-growth timber, oak doors, coved ceilings, terrazzo steps rising from the street…

Doelger went on to develop the Westlake district in Daly City, immortalized in the song “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds, later by Pete Seeger, and covered by just about everybody.  Cultural condescension notwithstanding, the little boxes of ticky-tacky have become a $1.2 million proposition. Our California moment can be summarized thus: the mockery of the boomers is now the desideratum of Gen Xers, and the reason Millennials must move to Texas.

You may know the song from the TV show “Weeds”, which was about rather big boxes in the outer reaches of the San Fernando Valley  (Amazing how many pop reference points have a Valley tie-in).   Though it went off the air in 2012, the transgressive premise was a widow dealing marijuana in the suburbs to pay bills.   Sunday night, ganja in the cul de sac!   Now they sell it off of billboards next to the convenience store. You couldn’t make this show today.

I met a guy last month who works in a weed warehouse in North Hollywood producing 100 pounds a week, all the workers with W2s. One of three jobs he had. The other gigs were downtown, tending bar. His wife worked at the swank Nomad Hotel.  A hundred hours of labor a week between them.  They were from New York.

“If you get your hustle on, you can kill it in LA,” he told me. They had a dream. The dream was to afford a condo. If they had a condo, no one could stop them from having a dog.  They loved dogs.

A little box was beyond their expectations.

Thrifty No More

Impractical, gorgeous, Jet Age modern Van Nuys Savings and Loan, more recently operating as La Tapultecha mercado, has finally met the wrecking ball.   In the 1960s it paid 4% interest on savings accounts.   Trying finding that today. Banks offer 1%, maybe, less monthly fees.

Usury was illegal then. Usury, meaning 18% loans. Anything beyond that was in the hands of the mafia. Now credit cards frequently charge 30%. Payday loans can run to 400%.  They offer them up the block at PL$, 24 hours a day, from behind bulletproof glass.

It was a different world, reflected in the architecture.

To understand just how shocking the idea of 18% interest was not so long ago, here’s a clip from the original Fun With Dick and Jane, set in the San Fernando Valley of the late 70s. The protagonist couple, middle-class and overextended, visit a clip joint looking to borrow their way out of trouble. The scene is an earth-toned bridge between the aspirational world of mid-century thrift, with passbooks, and the quantitatively eased may a billion debtors bloom electronic currency casino we enjoy today.

Guess who’s living inside the old safe?  You can’t blame them. The door was open, and it’s quiet inside.

A Darker Valley

Wasco, Kern County: Almonds, opiates, unbuilt subdivisions, and the Merced-to-Bakersfield High-Speed Rail line, still under construction, soon to be…
a) a carcass, abandoned for lack of funds
b) a fully funded anachronism offering service between farm towns
c) history’s most expensive bike path
d) the most Instagrammable spot in the San Joaquin Valley
e) Caligula’s horse

Beatdown by the 405

A masked brigade of thugs descended on a Van Nuys homeless encampment Saturday and administered an indiscriminate, day-long beatdown on garbage.

Wielding shovels and white uniforms they laid waste to waste, detritus of all forms: syringes, month old sweet and sour pork, used batteries and piss jugs fattened by sunlight.

No one invited them.  Some brazenly wore MAGA hats, in defiance of local codes.

“I figured if I was ever going wear mine in LA, this would be the day”, said a woman from Santa Clarita.

Patrick, a self-described “red-pilled black man” drove from Loma Linda to get in on the action.

Looking at moments like a post-apocalyptic religious cult, they shamelessly swarmed the garbage field in plain view of its creators, the people of the tent favela a short distance away.

By afternoon,  eight tons of garbage were dispatched into two giant containers.  The field was scraped down to the gravel.

As their eco-system shrank by the minute, newly homeless rats burst from bags and scampered in circles in search of safety. Fresh dank dark places were in short supply.

Looming over the fascistic process of cleanliness was a mysterious leader named Scott who exerted a Svengali-like hold on the garbage beaters. “Thank you for helping out”,  he would tell them as they removed their hazmat suits.  “Thank you, Scott, for organizing this”, they would reply.

Then they touched elbows in lieu of shaking hands, as though speaking in code.

*before photo courtesy of Pacific Pundit

The Will to Bezos

This is what war to the death for market share looks like from inside my car when dropping off at LAX.    Free=$195/week lease rate.   Fair=Anyone with a license is eligible to drive for Uber. In California, legal status is irrelevant.   If you complete 125 rides/Eats deliveries in a week, the lease is paid by Uber.     That’s one way to take a $5 billion write-down in a single quarter and bleed veteran drivers at the same time.

Make no mistake, the rideshare model is ubiquitous and profitable in the major cities. No one is going back to buses and cabs.   The ancillary businesses: delivery, freight, scooters and bikes, overseas markets are fiscal sinkholes.  So are endless recruitment incentives.

If Uber can agree with Lyft how to divide the market, each could raise fares one dollar per ride,  use it to retain the current driver fleet and pad their bottom line.

But that’s not what they’re doing.  Los Angeles is shaping up as the Gettysburg of the gig economy.  We are in the bloodletting stage before Pickett’s Charge.  There will be one dominant market player at the end of the horsemeat.

In another century we had Will to Power. Now we have the Will to Bezos.

Two Hollywoods, One Wheel

He stole my phone when I was kissing him!
The guy in the pink tank top?
Bitch, I knew he was going to do that.
Why didn’t you say anything?
Would you have listened? You were too busy eating his mustache.  

True Sunday story, right here. One can’t say they weren’t warned. Signs over the bar warned of cell phone pickpockets like it was Dickensian London, but with glitter.  In WeHo, the young pretty things boldly exploit middle-aged longing, the middle-aged dangle free drinks to pretty young things doubled up in rooms in Van Nuys,  and there’s a great drag show to distract us from all the Darwinian undertow.

At the other end of CicLAvia, there’s this post-Dickensian tableau. Only one tourist bothers to look.  Others step around her like she was topiary and figure out where the restaurant is.  No literary genius will immortalize the addict in the sleeping bag.  She’s part of the shrubbery now.

The city will not allow you to use a plastic straw but will defend the right to camp on the sidewalk like it was God’s commandment.   Don’t Normalize Trump, we shriek, but oh how we’ve normalized this.

After a lovely CicLAvian day from Vermont to San Vicente and back, I biked back to the Valley, three cocktails deep and sweaty. Small civic detail: there is no bike lane in the Cahuenga Pass.  None.   So right at the point where Cahuenga becomes a freeway alternative and cars accelerate accordingly, one is shunted into the gutter.  A dozen rotations of the pedals later, I hear this fsssssss…. and being in a happy frame of mind decided, oh, this must be some feral creature, some urban fauna lurking in the shrubbery, warning me away from his domain.  I’m communing with nature. How loverly! It wouldn’t be a flat tire. Not in under a minute.  Not me. I did the right thing. I didn’t park in the city.  I’m one of the good ones! 

Guess who pushed his bike back over the Pass, cars nipping at his elbow the whole way?  You’d think there’d be a bike path by now. Didn’t we pass a sales tax? Twice?

You can pretend for an afternoon, but the First Law of the City remains unchallenged: the car is king.   To believe otherwise is one of the 23 Lies we tell ourselves about LA.

Gagandeep in Basura

Yesterday I found a series of flashcards in the Sepulveda Basin discarded by a person who refers to himself as Gagandeep. They endeavor to explain the fetishistic relation between People of the Favela and trash accumulation.

After this card, the print becomes too small to read.

Gagandeep is a fairly common Hindi name, but in this context perhaps more satisfying as onomatopoeia.

Web search unearths many Gagandeep Singh: a heroic Indian policeman who saved a Muslim from an angry mob,  another who was a murder victim in Idaho, and a whole lot of doctors, including one on Van Nuys Blvd.  It could be the case this spelunker of diamonds in the trash is one of his patients and has appropriated the name.

Amidst the crusader tents of Bull Creek, medieval disease has returned, ass to mouth, to Los Angeles.

Oh, would a pan piper offer to lead them away. Who would ask questions? For ten million dollars I will blow my flute and you will suffer them no more, sayeth the Piper.  You may not know where I’m taking them.  

GoFundMe would answer the call in a day.   For the price of two lottery tickets per Angeleno, probably in an hour.   Then what?

What if an asteroid hit Los Angeles at dawn while the Favela danced around a Maypole in the desert? Our comeuppance.

Or, in the Black Mirror version, we are forced to watch the Soylent Green-like fate to which we have delivered them, and are so guilt-stricken we offer ten times the ransom for their safe return.

Or, we never find out, never see them again, and peaceably adjust to a civic mystery.  Untroubled, we begin to look at our ailing, inconvenient grandparents in a whole new light.

The Floor Scrapers

“I take no joy in cleaning, none whatsoever,” says Mrs. U.  “But the state of cleanliness gives me calm. I’m very unhappy in clutter.”

I’m certain the men scraping the paint off the floor of Gustave Caillebotte’s studio by hand in 1875 took little joy in their labor either, but Monsieur Caillebotte, a man of leisure, found it rather erotic…and now they are immortalized in the Musée d’Orsay.

The bottle of wine on the floor fascinates me. Was this common among the Parisienne working class, or an indulgence he allowed them as compensation for modeling?

At 34, Gustave retired to the countryside to garden and be a patron of the arts. A strange choice in my book, for a man with at least one masterpiece to his name. He became a lotus-eater and grower of orchids.

He turns up later in The Luncheon of the Boating Party, seated lower right, his attention fixated on the other man in the straw boater and singlet, who as the proprietor’s son, is not exactly a member of the party himself nor dressed for it.   Renoir immortalizes Gustave a second time, in longing.

Wish as I might, there is no eroticizing the floor in Chez UpintheValley.  The robot does half the work.  Flickers of recognition pass before me…momentarily I feel like Degas with an iPhone admiring the washerwomen, and then …no, darling. Just no. I really hate this. And it’s leading up to nothing. Finish the outlet box in the ceiling. 

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

On the bus, two passengers said, the suspect would make people move out of his way when he moved about. At one point, they said, he pulled out a handgun and, unprovoked, shot another passenger.

“He was acting weird, he was trying to press on people,” said one of those passengers, Carlos Hurtado, 23. “He was trying to make people know he was a bad guy.”

Said the second of these passengers, Luis Rodriguez, 41: “It could have been anybody. I could have sat where (the victim) was sitting. It’s like he was going, ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.’ ” *

Imagine you’re on the Orange Line on a weekday afternoon and you see this guy acting out. He’s not physically imposing, just oddly aggressive.  If you were a nice middle-class lady on your daily commute from work, you might be inclined to express your disapproval at his behavior in a non-threatening way.  What reason would you have to think he was carrying a gun? You’re in the Valley.  Why would you think he killed his parents that morning in Canoga Park, killed two others at a gas station in North Hollywood, and was now riding the bus, waiting out the helicopter search?  You wouldn’t.  Your good manners would be your undoing.  You would be victim number 5.

I picked up two guys in Fairfax the other night, but only one got in the Uber.  Is your friend coming? I asked.  That wasn’t my friend, the rider replied. That was a homeless guy, bumming a smoke. I attract them. Recognizing their humanity is my weakness. They can sense I’m a listener.  I’m an easy mark. I’d rather be living in a tent on the street myself if the alternative was never talking to anyone.

This tender particularity of character is what makes it possible for 5 million people to share a single city. It also opens the transom for the deranged, the conniving, and the evil to elide the limbic danger detection systems under which we operate. You can share a smoke with a stranger, rarely will you be smoked.  But it happens.

We live in this tension between prudence and brotherhood. The urban reforms of the 90s: broken windows policing, determinate sentencing laws, civil anti-gang injunctions, were so complete in their victory over random street crime people under the age of 35 have no living memory of it.  I’m old enough to have lived through the tail end of urban decay, and even I have let my guard down.  I say whaddup to everyone, including people I probably shouldn’t.   My name is Eeny.  Someone else is going to be Mo.   Someone on the evening news.

That’s another of the 23 Lies We Tell About LA: we can empty the jails, abandon quality of life enforcement, vilify the police and the crime rate will remain unchanged.  Because Lake Balboa is safe today, it will be safe tomorrow.

*Photo credit, Leo Kaufmann, LA Daily News

Only Hillbillies Throw Trash in Creeks

As we say in the creative arts, everything is material.  Cast a wide net. Freewrite.  Be bold in the face of prohibitions. Daring in your approach.  Refine your choices later.

Down here, in the Narrows, where no one will bother you.  Where you can extract $1.99 of trade goods from two shopping carts of scrog and leave the remainder to the storm drains.

Number 22 in the 23 Lies We Tell About LA™:  Only hillbillies throw trash in creeks.  Hillbillies are deplorable people who know nobody and nobody knows.   They live way out Elsewhere, in the pill eating, strip mining, under-achieving, low information Heritage America.   Not like Us. We have a Green New Deal,  with pie charts and bar graphs and 2035 targets. We have Environmental Justice. We are beyond self-recrimination.