2020: Year of the Ostrich

We don’t know what we don’t want to know.

Half of us want to pretend we can have millions of loose ballots entering the system without a chain of custody, a point of origin, a signature match (in certain states), a valid postmark, or election day arrival (in certain states), and the result will be legitimate. Just like any other election.  Only unpersons who watch OANN would say otherwise.

The other half wants to pretend by pointing to implausible statistical anomalies, 4 am drop-offs of boxes of president-only ballots, fractional vote counting, disabled signature readers, count rooms without poll watchers…if we can just cleanse the outcome of its fraudulent elements, we will turn back time and un-ring the election.

Who or what is going to enforce this? The Pentagon won’t. The Supreme Court will only nibble at the periphery, on behalf of states to decide their own electors.  A state legislature can look at the evidence and decide to invalidate its own voters. Theoretically. Is this likely?  What would Lord Bezos say?

We are all ostriches now.

Fun fact: a hundred years ago, pre-Disneyland, you could rent an ostrich cart and take it for a spin on the streets of Los Angeles.  The collapse of feathered fashion in the Edwardian Era British Empire led to a repurposing of the flightless bird around the world.

Our relationship with animals was altogether different.  We were comfortable with intimate cruelty. Does it have legs? Tie off its beak and take a ride. And why not? Animals were living tools and locomotion.

Does it have feathers? Pluck them, make a scarf. Put them on a hat. Hungry? Put a sock on its head and grab a hatchet. I had an ostrich burger once, at Hamburger Mary’s in WeHo and it was delicious.  Ironically, it was a drag queen bingo benefit for a no-kill animal shelter.

Los Angeles once boasted ten ostrich farms, sourced from South Africa.  The largest of them, the Cawston Ostrich Farm, is now live-work lofts, of course. Because every structure formerly industrious shall now be a textured backdrop for an Instagrammable life.

Los Angeles also had an alligator farm.  A hundred years ago, this was us.  We had a different sense of safety. But also no factory farms.  We knew where our food came from.  We plucked our own chickens but we wouldn’t have understood Chicken McNuggets.  Unless one was rather well off, one ate meat once a week and gazed upon animals in the field and thought: protein. We didn’t think about writing a check to PETA.  Our diseases were of malnutrition. Now they are of gluttony.

One last irony. Ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand to hide from the facts of the world. The sand is where they keep their eggs.  They are checking up on things. They are engaged in self-preservation.

The British empire is with us no longer, but we can taste the memory of it in cask-conditioned ale at MacLeod.  A century ago when ostriches trod the streets of L.A., communism was ascendant, yet the Soviet empire is no longer.

American collapse is within our grasp.  Telling everyone to stay home while the government prints money is a good start.  Creating parallel voting systems, one for Detroit and Philly, another for the rest of the country, is the next step.

*top photo: climate change protest, Bondi Beach

Tribal Preparations

Twenty-four hours to go and America is flexing and muttering to herself, spraying curses, shuffle stepping, arguing with unseen foes, sweating, farting, contemplating ancient enmities, and making haste to the fight club basement on this Dia de Muertos.

Downtown smelled like Home Depot today. Every contractor the merchants could obtain was humping sheets off trucks, putting them up as fast as they could…lest Hurricane Trump make landfall tomorrow.

Left unmentioned is who exactly all these preparations are for, or why….the people who no one is allowed to criticize or raise a hand against, even in self-defense.   No one is willing to admit publically Trump might actually win, but so many of us behave as though he already has, not fearing the outcome as much as the refusal of others to accept it.

Welcome to Plywood City.

Autumn in Los Angeles

Suppose we were to have a civil war in L.A.  Suppose the breakaway provinces north of Mulholland Drive declared a sovereign city.  Suppose the armies assembled in the Sepulveda Basin for the first pitched battle, Blackwater vs. the Valley Militia. Suppose after sustaining heavy losses to sniper fire Mayor Garcetti called in a napalm strike from the air to give his Hessians cover to retreat.

My question is: would the result look different than what the homeless army has done to the Basin this summer?

If I want to camp in a state park, I have to purchase a space and obey a long list of prudential diktats.  Squatting in dry brush with a gas grill and a crack pipe would be at the top of the NO list.

The line between civilization and a state of nature is drawn with butane.
And unlimited EBT cards.
And the right to shit on the pavement forever.
And loot store shelves.
And break windows.
And step off a bus from Ohio with a heroin habit, a bedroll, and an incontestable claim to residency.
All this is de facto legal now.
In fact, it’s a billion-dollar-a-year business.
Want to guess the budget for the Valley Audubon Society?

Enough gloom. Let’s take a peek on the other side of the dam.  Something seems to be happening on the spillway.  Some kind of roller skating party. A clandestine meetup of photographers and models and dance troupes. That’s not allowed!  No one is supposed to be there.

Breaking the rules, all of them. Until the park police chase them away, it’s all spinning girls and illicit smiles and the possibility of the city reclaimed from those who stole it from us.

Trumpstock Comes to Woodley Park

Trump tribes gathered on Sunday, in deep-blue Los Angeles, for a road rally down the 405.  Lots of honking, lots of flags, lots of “Y.M.C.A”.  Note to grad students: there is a cultural anthroplogy dissertation waiting to be written about the Trump/Village People convergence.

Good turnout. Perhaps the Valley is more conservative than I think. The parade went on for a good ten minutes. No counter-protest.

Defibrillator Man, Gunshot Guy and Dr. Slick

Me: Can I take my appendix home with me?
Nurse: No, no. If it comes from the body, it goes to pathology.
Me: Did I creep you out by asking?
Nurse: I’ve heard it all and seen it all. I once had a patient covered with swastika tattoos tell me he didn’t want a nigger to touch him. I say to him: Would you prefer death?
Me: God commands us to be colorblind
Nurse: This is what I think. He doesn’t exist.  I am from Africa. There is no explanation for the suffering of children you see in the third world.  American people don’t understand suffering. We quarrel over the smallest things.

Then she wheeled me into the operating room.

Last Sunday I woke with tenderness and discomfort in my lower right abdomen which spread outward during the day and grew more painful to the touch.  My belly began to distend.  As someone who goes to the doctor about once every 25 years, my first instinct was to wait it out.  Then I remembered my friend Paul.

Back in the aughts, he went to an ER in Los Angeles presenting with abdominal pain.  After a few hours, they sent him home with antibiotics and some medication.  His pain worsened. In the morning he returned to the ER, jaundiced. Overnight his appendix had burst and peritonitis had set in. They intubated him. A comic writer and actor, he entertained everyone with jokes on a small whiteboard. Five hours after walking in under his own power he was dead. His fiance was 7 months pregnant.

Mrs. UpintheValley remembered Paul as well and insisted on driving me to Valley Presbyterian which is how I came to lay in a gurney at 2 am listening to Defibrillator Man on the other side of the curtain bellow at the nursing staff for more Oxy 30.  D-Man is what is known in the medical trade as a frequent flyer. The fire department wheeled him in, along with his garbage bags, complaining of heart palpitations and squeezings and whatnot.

“It’s my own faults for skipping dialysis this week.”  He smoked Newport 100s up until his first heart attack.  He’s had four. Now he wheels his own defibrillator with him in his wanderings around the Valley.  Prolonged litigation ensued with the nursing staff over which arm to put the saline drip.

“Not the left. That’s where all the hard veins are.  You’ll never get the needle in. You have to use this one over here. It still good.”
“That one won’t work, sir.”
“You telling me I don’t know my veins? I asked for my Oxy 30 an hour ago!”

It had been about five minutes. This argument recycled itself.  There was a wet splash on the linoleum and a satisfied groan from D-Man.

“I told you so.”

Against my nature and my politics, I sympathized with him more than I should.  Pain changes you.  So does addiction.   It was not my finest hour, nor his. We were two men of similar age but very different lives separated for the moment by a wisp of curtain.

The nurse poked his head in to give me the results of the CT scan: acute appendicitis, not yet burst.

“I’m going to give you some morphine now. How much would you like?
“As little as possible.”

As little as possible flattened me to the gurney. For a precarious moment, I was Ewan McGregor falling through the carpet in Trainspotting.  A flash of paranoia: in all the mishegas they must have given me Defibrillator Man’s dosage by mistake. Yes, I must be O.D.ing. This is what it feels like. I am about to be a cautionary tale at a local nursing school. “This is why Kevin is working retail now…”

But no, it was just morphine doing what it has done for centuries.

They brought me upstairs to a private room with 12-foot ceilings and a window facing south, protected from the sun by a run of trees. Quiet as a monastery. Pleasingly asymmetrical. I was on the second floor of one of the two original circular pod towers designed by William Pereira in 1958, a groundbreaking innovation at the time.  The charge nurse was astonished to hear me praise my accommodation.

“Usually I have to apologize for putting anyone here. People hate this room. It’s too small. They prefer the new annex building. The bathrooms there are about as big as this room.”

What can I say? It was bigger than my bedroom. There were no bright lights and annoying beeps, no moaning effluence two feet away.  I was in God’s Hotel.

Valley Pres at its booster-ish conception was the epitome of mid-century modern cool. It was also, like the freeway system and the water pipes, woefully inadequate in size and scope for the city it served. A street grid for over a million people had already been laid across the Valley, and everyone pretended a hospital of this size was sufficient. Permits were easy then, planning negligible.  A third tower, twice as tall, was added in 1966, then support buildings, parking structures, the annex. Today the original building is stripped of its iconic metal shutters that kept the sun off the windows, a forgotten starter home dwarfed by larger McMansions, barely visible from the street.

Gunshot Guy was on the gurney to my left as we waited for our turn in the operating bay.   He lay fetally on his side, his foot poking out from the blankets, wrapped in a rugby ball-sized swath of bandages.

“Are you on cocaine right now?  It’s okay we don’t judge.”
“How much cocaine did you take?”
“How much heroin are you using?”
“Is that daily? The anesthetist needs to know before we operate.”
“We can remove the bullet, and reset the bones, but you will have difficulty putting any weight on it for a long time.”
“We have a physical therapist to help you re-learn walking.”

Gunshot Guy mumbled his responses from underneath the blankets.   The double doors opened and they wheeled in an obese woman, who recited her list of surgeries to a captive audience of nurses as though a reality show film crew were in the hallway with us, recording her every word.  First had been her ankle, then her hip, then her back, and now her neck. The injustice of human frailty was ascending her body like a clan of mountaineering trolls.

“This is so unfair. I’m only 48 years old. I’m too young for this shit.”

At this juncture, the African nurse bent into view to tell me with perfect colonial grammar and a baroque accent she would be shaving my groin. I wondered if she would use a straight razor. I considered all the comedic possibilities of my testes and Murphy’s Law.  Her face was filled with exactly the compassion one seeks at such a moment, and it was here we had our lovely conversation about God and suffering.

I was in the best hands, she assured me. Dr. Slick would be attending to me.

LBJ and his gallbladder scar
The day after Dr. Slick

I had heard of Dr. Slick from the E.R. nurse the night before. Also from the floor nurse upstairs and the attending physician. How lucky I was to catch him!  They all said how fast he was, a virtuoso with a laparoscope.  My only association with speed and medicine was Dr. Nick Riviera from The Simpsons, and the creepy lobotomist in the film Frances, so it was a relief to be greeted by a guy who looked like an accountant but had a roll in his step like a professional athlete.  I was easily his most boring case of the day. He would be going through my belly button and a 5mm opening on my left side.

“Count backward from 100,” they said once I was situated on the table.  I decided to recite the Lord’s Prayer instead. I got as far as “our father, who art in…”

Al Fresco, Queens

My grandparents, walking home from the market with dinner, the 1940s. Sunnyside, Queens. Urban grocery shopping, the French way, daily, a short walk from the apartment.  This was how it was done in the icebox era.

They look okay for two people who never did a burpee or took a yoga class in their lives. He smoked unfiltered Camels for 65 years, drank martinis daily, and died at 85 with a full head of hair. She smoked Winstons and lived to 78.  They divorced in the 1960s, after their third kid.

Today America loads up the GMC Yukon like we’re preparing for the hundred-year storm every time we go to the market.  We have more condiments than we can fit on our shelves so we put them in the back of the lazy susan and forget about them. Years later we get around to that long-postponed deep cleaning and wonder why we have six bottles of red wine vinegar and pounds of expired wheat flour and rice.  Why does the freezer have so many opened bags of broccoli and frozen raspberries tied off with rubber bands?

Cause we can. We didn’t have to carry it up Sepulveda Blvd.

A Gloss for the Greater Good

Woke commerce, Abbot Kinney

To escape this heat without end, I took the bike to the beach yesterday.  After my ride, I topped myself off with a $20 kale smoothie on Abbot Kinney.

Twenty dollars! Strip club prices. Decadent. I’m sure I didn’t even spend that much on a premium cocktail at the posh Nomad Hotel last year but tis the season to do all we can to help small business.

The merchants of Venice are doing their utmost to bridge the distance between the necessities of commerce in a time of Wuhan, and paying obeisance to the woke mob, lest it erupt again in greater strength.

It’s a balancing act, meeting your monthly nut with limited customers while conducting socially performative capitalism.

Here’s the Abbot Kinney Straddle: make rich Wypipo as invisible as possible while marketing to said rich Wypipo.

Part of the gloss requires overlooking ironic facts…much of bungalow Venice was a black neighborhood not so long ago.  It was also single story. Here I shall invoke UpintheValley’s Second Law of the City: the further from the actual friction points of urban life, the louder the virtue signaling.

In a synthesis of the cognitive dissonance in summer 2020, someone converted a vintage Porsche into a planter as an artistic statement…of indeterminate meaning.   Guerilla marketing for a local garden store? Maybe.  The backdrop for a fashion shoot? People assumed it was some kind of pop-up Instagram and queued up to pose in front of it.

While not as badly hit as DTLA or Melrose, about a third of the stores have gone dark…

…which might explain this banner.  If the statement were true, though, would the banner be necessary?  I sense a whiff of desperation. I have a feeling things are about to get cheaper.

On other end of the economic spectrum, 72 years after being cut from citrus orchards as a whites-only landing pad for returning GIs, 50 years after man landed on the moon, 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, thirteen years after the iPhone, my neighborhood this morning finally enjoys the benefit of street lighting.

We’re 17 miles from Venice. Hard to believe it’s the same city.  There’s an upside to this. In the shakeout to come, we have a much shorter distance to fall.  Our neighborhood doesn’t depend on $20 smoothies and sales of $150 graphic tees.  We aren’t glossy.  We are anti-fragile.

Witness

Standing alone for the blue, Ventura and Sepulveda.

The Sherman Oaks BLM chapter has been busking in front of The Galleria for 113 consecutive afternoons. On Sundays, Benjamin stands on the opposite corner and witnesses for the police.  Sometimes the BLMers cross the intersection and do a walk by.  Compared to scenes from Portland the exchange, or lack thereof, was civilized.  Score one for the Valley.  He gets grief from passing drivers sometimes but doesn’t mind too much. He says he enjoys it.

American Rhymes

Gus Chinn/Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection
Washington Post

“When they crowded around my table and started demanding that I raise my fist, it was their insistence that I participate in something that I did not understand that led me to withhold my hand.”  -Lauren Victor, diner and reluctant fist-raiser.

Top photo:  Sit-in at the lunch counter of the Cherrydale Drugstore, Arlington, Virginia, 1960.

Apart from the historical irony, I can’t help wondering which of these tableaus is worse.   That I should be asking this question in 2020 says a lot about how far we have strayed from e Pluribus Unum and where we are inevitably headed.

If one can only be either fully woke or stand accused of being a white supremacist then our public space has become awfully small in a very short window of time. Most of us choose the path of least resistance, which precludes sitting alone on principle.  The intimidators are banking on this.

115° in The Nuys

Feral Cat 1, Sun 0.  Basking in a survivors’ victory at 7 pm…
I have no idea how they do it with a fur coat on. Nature is a genius.

The ficus didn’t do so well yesterday.  Watered it on Saturday. Less than 24 hours later, the top third of the hedge withered before my eyes as though God had sent down pestilence.

All things green shall by sundown be green no more, sayeth the Lord.

Spectrum News

Inevitably, there was another homeless encampment brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin, the second of the past month.  We have normalized this like summer weather.

Feral cats and meth heads are anti-fragile.  Los Angeles may fall into perdition in the next six months and they will make a slight adjustment and continue as before. The rest of us, in our green and ordered life, anchored by our need for safety and sustainability, scan the horizon line and wonder what It Portends.