Windmills of Poo


We give them free phones.

We give them EBT cards.

We give them free health care.  Also the ability to use 911 as a hotel and car service.

We allow them unlimited shoplifting privileges up to $950 per incident. We provide them with pro bono legal representation.

We exempt them from civic laws relating to public safety and sanitation.

We allow them to pitch tents ten feet from people paying $3000 a month in mortgage, and we wonder why they stay.  Cyclically, we tell them to vacate a given location, but never to leave the City. Nor to assume self-responsibility and sobriety. There’s no grant money to be prized from that. What will Do-Gooders do for work?   So, the Favela rotates within neighborhoods like a seasonal crop. From the freeway to the Narrows, to the Wash, to Raymer Street and back again.

It is impermissible in the Los Angeles Times, or City Hall, to speak of human nature. Or moral hazard.  We subsidize the Favela endlessly, while nimbly managing to escape the inclusivity we preach. The people who staff the Caring Organizations, courtesy of the Los Angeles taxpayer, are unusually allergic to living here.   They live in South Pasadena. They live in Sierra Madre. Or Redondo. Or Moorpark, or any of the other small, orderly cities of 100,000 people that surround LA,  cities directly accountable to the voters and consequently intolerant of the Favela metastasizing within their borders.

Los Angeles has spent over a billion dollars in the last 30 years directly “combating” homelessness.   In that time, it has spread from Skid Row to Van Nuys and staked a claim to every weedy mite of ground in between.

Mayor Photo-Op intends to spend $1.87 billion (that’s billion with a B) in the next decade to cut the homeless population by …half.

The beauty of ten years from now accounting is Garcetti will no longer be Mayor when the ledgers are squared.  He intends to be President. The City Council will be termed out as well. The money will be burned in great hay bales in Grand Park. They will throw it on the pyre with pitchforks and dance around it, singing, like the Whos in Whoville. When the smoke clears, half of the 34,189 people on the street at last count will be re-housed.   The Mexican border will remain wide open if the City has anything to say about it, but the tents will diminish be replaced by pod villages in parking lots. Or something which squares personal self-destruction with virtue-signaling photo ops rounded out by civic baby talk. Public policy in LA is nothing if not a cargo cult.

In this most optimistic scenario we pay $109,548 for every Larry we remove from the streets, in addition to all the other freebies we already provide.  That’s a whole lot of kitchen remodeling in South Pas.

Alternately, we could purchase a house somewhere in the U.S. for every blue tarp refugee, then hand them the deed. Like this one, in Marlin, TX. Two bedrooms, $24,000.  Congratulations, you are now homeowners.  Here’s your bus ticket. Your sins have been cleansed from the books.

Too rural?  How about this 4-bedroom storybook traditional in Detroit? I found it in five seconds on Zillow. $37,000.  That’s less than ten grand a head for permanent housing.

One tenth what Garcetti proposes to spend on Guiding Principles™ and Liasons to Committees of Concerned Frowning, with some pods and motel rooms thrown in.

But but but but but….that’s crazy talk, Mr. UpintheValley.   You want to argue moral hazard? Anybody could just show up in LA, pitch a tent in the street and be given the deed to a house.  Where does it end?

To which I reply, what are we doing now?  We are about to spend ten times this amount to not house people, to provide them most of the necessities of life and some of the pleasures, plus a caseworker and a lawyer, but put no lasting roof over their head. We demand nothing in exchange and they return the favor.

Behind this Ikea shelf is a “bedroom” in North Hollywood.   The man who lives here is a Temple graduate. He has two day jobs. He also takes on side gigs in the Industry when opportunities arise.

In June his life upscales for the better, when a roommate shuffle will create a vacancy in one of the bedrooms.   He gets to move out from behind the TV set. This is the guy who pays the $1.87 billion to keep the Mayor in photo-ops and the salaries paid for Homeless Advocacy, Inc.

This is how we live in LA now.

Proclamation


This woman crossed Sepulveda Blvd…with great ceremony she removed a piece of paper from her purse…and began reading aloud….to the passing cars.  She could have been reciting poetry, she could have been reading a suicide note. I couldn’t hear a word over the traffic and neither could anyone else.

Van Nuys, always more interesting than you think.

When Hansen Dam Meant Boats and Bikinis

Wait. There was an actual lake there?  There was waterskiing? I can’t find it on Google Maps. When did that go away?

There were bathing beauties?  And trout fishing? Who took that way from us?

Nature.

Hansen Dam was erected in 1949 as a flood control mechanism.  By flood, it was intended to retain not only water, but sediment, giant boulders, chunks of trees, automobiles, houses, and everything else that came tumbling out of the mountains after a storm.

In layman terms it was built to be a giant garbage pail.  Slowly, inexorably, over the decades the pail filled in until the “lake” was reduced to a depth of several feet.

The original body of water, not unlike the Salton Sea, was an accident of construction, as burrow pits for obtaining gravel for the retaining wall filled with rainwater.  It was expected to last 50 years.

From the Los Angeles Times: “in 1969, Los Angeles County had some of the worst flooding in its history. Two bridges near the dam at Foothill Boulevard and Wentworth Street collapsed and seven homes in Big Tujunga Canyon were washed away….A forest fire and heavy rain in the winter of 1981 and the spring of 1982 brought 5 million to 10 million tons of sediment into the basin and the lake shrank to less than 30 acres, according to Corps documents. That summer the swimming beach was closed because the water had become stagnant and unhealthy.”

As so much of the post-war Valley, Hansen Lake was disposable, built to last a generation. Now it’s a dense thicket of shrubbery concealing horse trails and homeless encampments. Burrow into the depths and one loses all sense of geography and time, like a secret a passage to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. 

There was an attempt during the seminal year of 1994 to fund a dredging and restoration, but it met with local resistance wary of attracting “outsiders”.

Outsiders = dusky hordes of immigrants who don’t have swimming pools. So, no lake.  Short California history lesson: that didn’t stop the dusky hordes.

Today the picnic areas on Sunday are filled to capacity with competing banda troupes, horse dancing charros, smoking grills of barbacoa, and peasant women wandering through the grass picking wild chard.

The top of the dam itself is a popular jogging trail, which was not its original function, either.

Valley 2.0: all will be re-purposed.

Historical photos courtesy of CSUN archives

Eviction

Larry got booted from his mattress fort on the Pacoima Wash yesterday. Official personages from the City gave him 24 hours to vacate. I asked him where he was headed next. He said he didn’t know. He didn’t want to go to Raymer Street with the rest of them. He preferred his isolation. He asked me if I worked at Kaiser hospital.  I told him no. He was certain he recognized me from there.

“You look like a doctor I used to know.”

The white favela, I couldn’t help noticing, is becoming less white.

What is the Christian thing to do with someone who walks around with a crack pipe in his hand in the middle of the afternoon but is otherwise harmless and agreeable?

Dominion

King Ziggy moves slowly because he doesn’t have to move for anyone.  He watches and waits, fat and pleased with himself.

In related news, the most commercially successful artist at the Brewery Art Show yesterday may have been Pudge the Cat.

Pudge’s “work.” He sits inside of empty delivery boxes and nibbles them into “sculpture.”   His parents bring the carcasses to the gallery and affix price tags. No joke. They sold this box from West Elm for $1500. Allegedly.

His “leavings”, which they also sell.  Allegedly.  When I saw this I assumed it was all a put on, until two cat ladies entered the studio, greatly excited, and asked very furtively if Pudge was “up”.  He was napping, they were told, and left disappointed.

Ziggy’s work:  ridding the yard of vermin, and bringing the remains into the house as tribute.  We pay him in kibble. In Van Nuys, we call this the chain of nature.

What if we framed his kills in little plexiglass containers? Put them under spotlights atop plinths?   Titled it Rosemary’s Kitty: Cat Work and Intersectionality, (Re) Imagined.  Could we pay the mortgage?  Isn’t that the dream of talentless hacks across the city?

Would You Buy An Orange from This Clown?

Creepy commerce in pre-war, pre-ironic, pre-Stephen King Canoga Park.

How about this one? They’re  shooting for a rustic, vaquero-on -the-hacienda theme, but its very headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow to me.  The arched eyebrows say: eat me or suffer my wrath.

Or mirth. Taste me or suffer the whip, which is not exactly the meaning of mirth. Perhaps they mean submit to laughter while you taste.

We Almost Live Like This Now

Los Angeles, where you can have a 21 day dry aged Sonoma duck ($55) prepared by a Michelin-starred chef and delivered to your door by a Yemeni war refugee who gets his car serviced at Ochoa’s Mecanica by laborers of indeterminate provenance and murky paperwork. Everybody wins!

Charcoal Venice ages its meats in a glass case at the edge of the dining room and charges $20 for vegetable appetizers. I suspect they’ve yet to recieve their first delivery request to Van Nuys. Which makes me wonder what this billboard is doing up on Roscoe Blvd.

Here are the most ordered foods on GrubHub in 2017: Poke, chicken biranyi, bulgogi bibimbap, avocado toast, chips and queso, acai bowls, cobb salad, corn dogs, soft pretzels and burritos. A sublimely American amalgamation of comfort and pretense.

Maybe thats why Josiah Citrin is folding his arms pretentiously and sneering down at us from atop a muffler shop. We all want to eat at his house, but even though we can’t, we can pretend we’re nearly like the Venetians who do cause we’re ordering in. A little truffle oil on those fries and we can imagine we’re there.

Either way, Josiah gets paid.

Of Human Storage

Because we need facilities for all the stuff we can’t fit into our living spaces.  Because we don’t wish to part with old furniture if it has sentimental value, and also when it doesn’t.

We never know when vinyl records might come in handy again.  Or tchotchkes,  scrapbooks or old power tools…

…or Hamilton Beach blenders, washing machines, hair dryers and Atari game systems from 1986.    We keep our stuff…when we move…and when we don’t. Two-thirds of storage renters have houses.

We tell ourselves we never know when we might relocate. Then again, deep down we know we may already be sitting in the house we will die in.

Sometimes we like to visit our lockups to take inventory of a second life. An alternative future.  A possible past.

We keep totems to ward off mortality.   Our surplus is fecund. The alternative is the nakedness of austerity.  There is no lie you can tell yourself about a life unadorned.

Surplus people, on the other hand…we can tell ourselves all manner of lie about them folks.

Easter in the Narrows

Larry was cooking an onion and some chicken scraps he found in the dumpster behind Tasty Thai when we passed him tonight on our way back to the house. He was burning a shirt in a metal drawer as a heat source, but it was to the side of the pan, not beneath it, so there was very little cooking going on.  His crack pipe and torch were on his lap. His dog Zsa Zsa wiggled out of a backpack to say hello.

“I don’t have any power,” he announced cheerfully.  “I like cooking stuff I find.”

“Make sure you cook it all the way through.”

“What day is it?”

“Easter,” I said.

“I still don’t have any power.”

Impatience

On this day one year ago, thinking myself very resourceful, I felled the massive, perpetually dying elm tree in my front yard. It took weeks to break the rounds into free firewood, garden plinths, and green bin waste.    Then it was gone.

What to do with the newly created void in the yard?   Eager for more punishment, I thought: why not move the grapefruit tree there?  It’s too close to the house already and will triangulate spatially with the tangerine by the sidewalk and the lime by the driveway.  Our yard would have the stamp of design upon it, which it never has.    Chez UpintheValley is forever improv, paid for with donkey toil, followed by second thoughts.

So I dug up the grapefruit tree.  I cut the root ball down to the size of a large ottoman and rolled the whole thing across the yard, into a waiting hole.

Boy, was it ever unhappy. It shed leaves like the deathly sprig in Waiting for Godot. I told myself, give it a few months and it will put out fresh shoots. It knows I moved it for a reason.

The summer went by, no shoots. I nipped the branches, seeking proof of life.   It wasn’t dead. But that’s all I could say for it. Fall passed, then winter. Nothing. Not a solitary green leaf.  I watered it slavishly. I squatted in its arthritic shadow as confounded as Vladimir and Estragon.

How is it possible greenery can pop from asphalt in triple-digit heat,  without a drop of moisture? How can Tapia palms erupt from weep holes in the sidewalk and refuse to be eradicated, while my grapefruit tree failed to thrive under my care and feeding?

Clearly, that spot in the yard bore a curse. Nothing could thrive there. In a fit of whiny pique, I decided to kill the tree.  To teach nature a lesson, and to break the curse, I would offer a ritual sacrifice.

Then the rains came, forestalling my plans.  A few warm days and this happened. Hundreds of flowers. Hundreds…each putting forth a bulb of grapefruit.

In my impatience, I assumed the branches would emerge first, and from the branches the flowering of new fruit. But it’s the other way around. Moving the tree made me feel like I was running things, which I wasn’t.  I’m just the gardener.  Spring makes cosmic insignificance sort of delightful.