Behold the plague of cheap disposable crap from China upon which we modern Americans rely. To which we live in service.
I go to the Depot and buy a weed whacker. Within months it stops holding the trimmer line. I gun the motor, and a coiled neon orange snake flies into my neighbors yard shredding everything in its path. As a tool, the whacker is no longer able to carry out its singular purpose. I unscrew the head assembly and find the trimmer line mechanism held in place by two plastic gears. The teeth, being plastic, have worn smooth.
Like a putz, I slink back to the Depot and buy another, more expensive one. It was my own fault, I tell myself, for buying the base model. For going cheap. I take solace in being a sensible, mid-range type of guy. A Van Nuys guy. You can guess what happened to Whacker #2. Yep, same problem.
Was there a Whacker #3? Dignity requires me to say I’ve learned to appreciate the manly virtues of the machete.
We buy a kitchen stove from Sears. Not the cheap one, the mid-range. I’m climbing a learning curve. I’m Mr. Sensible. For a couple years it works okay, and then poof, the oven won’t turn on. Just like that.
There are no moving parts to an oven. It’s an insulated box with some piping inside. That’s it. Stoves used to last the life of a house. Our parents grew up eating food cooked on ovens their parents inherited from their parents. The burners and flattop were made out of cast iron. A real classic like a Wedgewood might require matches for ignition. But, once lit….
So our oven is dead. Not working badly. Not working intermittently, but roused to action like Fonzie hitting the coke machine. Dead.
But for a shorted wire somewhere in the key pad over the stove top, a connection once soldered by a hunch-backed peasant in Chengdu working against a clock, the gas would by flowing to the burner and offering that reassuring whoosh-pop of ignition and the Proustian satisfaction of baked goods to come.
So tomorrow a tradesman will come to our house and for a sum which I expect will be half the purchase price of a new appliance he will -attempt- to fix this connection and we will both pretend the fix will last longer than the weed whackers, and I will have surrendered this particular battle with my wife. Just thinking about it puts me in a mood.
The three coffee makers. The five blenders and food processors we went through before we bought the Vitamix. The ice maker in the fridge which stopped making ice after the warranty expired. The two wall furnaces which died for want of a functioning pilot light. I could go on. The moody dishwasher. Printers. The VCR(s). The CD players that no longer optically read. The power drills.
The one with the bent rear wheel, and the split tire, and the punctured inner tube, that’s been sitting on the patio for months.
I take the wheel and walk down the railroad tracks to the Raymer St. Bridge to see Eduardo. He lives on the Pacoima Wash surrounded by plastic tarps and salvaged bike parts.
Eduardo spins the wheel, pronounces it worthless, and sets to work. He finds a new one, used, but straight and true. He selects a better tire from among the bike carcasses. He patches the tube. He works quickly, narrating in Spanish, requesting my approval of each component. It seems important to him I don’t feel cheated.
Another bicyclist translates for him. He’s known Eduardo for a long time, ‘back before he lost everything.’ When he was still living out of his truck on Cabrito Road and doing short hauls for the neighbors.
I told Eduardo to name his price for my new rear wheel.
A bike is a true thing.
Feeling poor is relational. You might have a plump little belly but hate your kitchen when you watch the Real Housewives of Orange County. You might hate the sight of your 1980’s dishwasher so much you tear it out and toss it in the garage even though it still kind of works in a grindy-wheezy sort of way. You’d rather have a gaping maw in the cabinetry and tell yourself you’re renovating than face the tackalicious squalor in which you reside.
“How long are you gonna leave that there?” asks your neighbor after half a year.
“Until I figure out a way to get rid of it.”
“What’s wrong with you? Put it on the sidewalk.”
“But that’s littering.”
“Put it on the sidewalk.”
Twenty minutes later, its gone. Whoosh. Just like that. Whisked away, by unseen hands.
That’s when I discovered the Great Los Angeles Disposal System.
Rusty pipes, moldy carpet underlayment, broken office chairs. Whisk. Whisk. Whisk. Plastic tarps. Broken Christmas tree stands. Mangled bicycles. Whisked. Taken to the scrapyard. Re-purposed. Repaired.
Gwyneth Paltrow unloads her designer unwanteds on Goop. The rest of us unload our stuff on Craigslist. You can trade brand label clothes at Buffalo Exchange. You can bag up the never worn birthday sweaters from the in-laws and leave them on the porch for Goodwill. But the true detritus which neither fits nor belongs in the garbage can, even that has a small army waiting for it.
Beneath Cratchit-ville, the shadow world of wildly overpriced illegal units tucked within the hedge work of ranch houses, there is yet another, lower, rung to the class structure of the Valley. Cabrito Road.
A small city of pallet and tarp houses, of broken down vehicles, a frisbee toss away from Smart and Final and Living Spaces. An English-language favela, where pets abound. Where you can order up a bike entirely from spare parts. Where people cook on camp stoves under the stars and watch TV on broken lawn furniture.
They leave you by yourself to guard the lot, fence line to fence line.
You’re a good soldier, all tightly coiled muscle and untapped energy. You’re a can of Red Bull in canine form.
No one enters the torched and abandoned beauty shop. The junk pile, the weeds…all your domain. Mr. Badass is on duty. You’re here to kick ass and take no names.
Then there are moments you see another dog and you tire of barking. You grow still. You remember the smell of the blanket, the taste of your mother’s teat, the snuggle-warmth of your pup siblings.
You run to the other side of the building and watch us pass by.
Because thugs everywhere deserve mockery.
Because a free press is the first freedom, the one which separates Western Civilization from the Muslim world.
Because my mother grew up speaking French, and her name is Ann Marie.
Because the French people were with us at the foundation.
Because it was a Frenchman, in a truly sublime act of physical courage and artistry, who described the space between the twin towers.
Because we call it cinema.
Because when one finds oneself at a table of good wine, ripe cheese, red meat and cigarettes, one is amongst friends.
In solidarity with our French cousins, I repost the Charlie Hedbo cover.
Lafayette, I am here. In Van Nuys.