A Narrative of Displacement

This was the first tableau I encountered in the Mission District after parking the car.  Tech people chatting amiably next to a mural decrying the displacement of renters by tech people.   The afternoon was off to a very meta start.

When we were younger and rather prettier Mrs. U and I once lived near Valencia street when it was known primarily for taquerias.   Now you can buy retro sci-fi themed tchotchkes for $3200.  Is there a viable business model for this?  Probably not, but doesn’t matter.  The people who start stores of this nature have already made their money in you-know-what and are doing it for fun, which would be an example of loose capital not displacing labor, rather sober capitalism itself, as historically understood.

For the hyper-aspirational parent,  Valencia St. is also home to Aldea Baby and Paxton Gate Kids. In a city which has largely displaced young families, it is difficult to believe the register would ring often enough to pay SF rent. In the new paradigm one need not chase sales volume to be in the black, rather the loose money of a few undiscriminating uberwealthy couples who want their wunderkind to design rocket ships.

Staffing is an obstacle.  As my friend Johnny explained it to me: “unless you pay $20/hr, no one shows up”.

So much muraling in the Mission celebrates matriarchal themes…ironic for a city in which matriarchal power, otherwise known as procreation, has been forsaken by the women who live there.

San Francisco is not entirely motherless. I was hosted by a mother of two, a dear friend who lives in a house which dropped on her head as a marital dowry.    Inherited property and trustafarian arrangements are one workaround to the Google problem (the other being a time machine to 1992), but mothers anchored to paychecks tend to find raising children in communal rentals difficult and decamp for the outer commuter rings, or further.

SF is white AF now  (and Asian), far more so than we lived there.  The Mission is Latino no longer.   Black people…? Well, there was once a lovely movie made about the disappearing black population in SF called Medicine for Melancholydirected by Barry Jenkins, who went on to win an Oscar for Moonlight. You can no longer stream it on Netflix,  which makes the memory piece of black SF also now a memory.

And yet…the nouveau riche, Chewish San Francisco loves its narratives of third world oppression.

As though to illustrate the point for tourists from LA, this woman, who appeared to be about 60, wearing designer clothes that mimicked what one might pull out of a dumpster, parked her Mercedes in front of Delfina restaurant, turned up rap music and began dancing ecstatically atop her seat. She shouted things about “black and white together” and held up a special issue of National Geographic.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved it there. There are bike lanes everywhere, including through the freeway exchanges.  I made full use of them.

Unlike LA, the bike is king!  Befitting royalty, cars yield to you.  Entire auto lanes have been displaced, to use the word of the day, in favor of pedal pushing.  This is Market Street. Can you imagine LA City Council saying yes to this on Wilshire Blvd.? I can imagine it, but I wouldn’t bet on it.   SF may be an unpleasant city for driving, but there is a tradeoff. It is much, much quieter, even the commercial districts, when cars move at slower speeds.  As I had no job to which to commute I was free to ignore the annoyance of others, and live with entitlement for a few days.

You can also let your dog run off leash at the beach, from the Marina to Pacifica. As fate would have it I ran into Danny Glover, one of the last black men in SF (the other being Willie Brown) twice, jogging by himself on Sunset Beach.

It’s when you try to leave San Francisco fully reveals itself.   This was me, 3pm, wasting 40 minutes trying to get on the Bay Bridge.  Once you get through Oakland, you think…

Only when you get to Castro Valley do you realize your commute is not opening up, it’s just starting.   Eight miles ahead of you, the Silicon Valley traffic from the 680 is funneling into the 580. You are one hour from Livermore.

After Livermore, clear sailing, right? No more on-ramps. Nothing but windmills and cows until Tracy.  Wrong. Five miles an hour over the pass.  Three hours from the city, limping into the Central Valley, one tired lion among many, extending to the horizon.

Here is San Francisco, you realize, not Valencia Street. The place you left is a theme park for the wealthy and for tourists. San Franciscans, to broaden the definition…live out here.

Define fragility: one roofing nail in the road.

More fragility: Millennium Tower, eighteen inches out of plumb already.  The foundation piles do not extend to bedrock.  They are held up by friction and they have begun to torque, twisting out of equilibrium.

Displacement.

Are we going to look back on this era of millionaires bicycling to dinner and retail workers driving home to Stockton as a harbinger of the future or an obvious signpost of folly?

Melancholia, Slight Return

If I had the gift of clairvoyance, would it manifest as manic depression, as it did for Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia?   

Seeing the row of lollipopped ficus trees in Runyon under a brooding sky evoked memories of the film and its distinct visual motif.

We are headed for some kind of Civil War II for no better reason than half of us desire it so badly.    One path is shorter, the other longer, but they both lead to the same destination.

It is as though another blue planet, previously hiding behind the sun, has quietly appeared, growing a little larger by the day, insensible to prayer.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

First thing we do, cone Roscoe Blvd. down to one lane. Road diet!  That got my attention.

So, what’s going here? Looks important…

Looks like they’re chipping up the sidewalks.  Hmmmm….

…and filling them back in again.   There must be some reason, right?  Why would they do that over and over again up and down the arterial to the 405 freeway?

Here’s a possibility. While you sit in single-lane traffic, you get to stare at this sign.  See, SB1 is doing nice things for you, like rebuilding California.  Not wasteful things, like chipping up the sidewalk and re-pouring it.

Well, don’t be coy. What is SB1?  It is known colloquially as the gas tax.  The gas tax is facing repeal in November.

So now the gas tax lobbies you for perpetual life with your own money.  It stops your commute cold to tell you it giveth and taketh away, both nurturing mother and stern father.  Be grateful for your parents.

Ride of the CicLAvians

In a moment of kitschy pathos we encountered the defiled star of Lillian Gish on Vine Street Sunday afternoon, at the CicLAvia in honor of the LA Philharmonic centennial.

Fitting perhaps for an actress known for her doll-like, waifish fragility. Her oeuvre was one of purity in danger, seduction and abandonment, flight from lecherous hands, and being set adrift on ice floes.

In her most famous screen appearance she threw herself off a cliff rather than submit to an amorous white actor in black face.

I was in a Ride of the Valkyries frame of mind as we pedaled downtown.  An afternoon of bike as king cranked dormant gears in my head, the ones which say why not?

Why can’t we always bike? Forget arriving to work in a timely manner. Think of the journey! Forget the supply chain, and the power grid. Practicalities are for sissies. This is how it should be! Yes yes!  New rules!  Clear the roadways! We all pedaling now.  Everyone must pedal! We should ride by torchlight!  Make way. A new age now begins!  Here in LA, where so many utopias were discarded and dystopias foretold.

Why must the essentials for a deliciously stylish life require a four level parking garage? Rethink it!

Every mile or so someone would hold up a foam finger and pull a piece of yellow tape across the road, and just like that, hundreds of people would submissively cooperate.  We were digital people in a digital age again, agreeable and rules oriented. My fever dream was bite-sized. My Lillian is sadly never in need of rescue.

With no blood and soil urgency at hand, I filed it away in a drawer in my head called Ironic Historical Feedback Loops. I kept the Wagner, but eliminated the KKK in my chain of association. See how easy that was? The mind is good at lying about what the heart knows to be true.

Friday Night Light

I’m very much not a fan of the NFL kneelers. Football was until very recently among the last domains in American life uninfected by the sepsis of politics.

When I saw this Sierra Canyon player crouched in the far end zone during the anthem Friday night with his back to his team, to the crowd, and to the flag, as much as I wanted to disapprove, his isolation was so complete I felt grudging sympathy for him.

For some reason he also made me think of Kavanaugh, which made the moment doubly political, which was the last thing I wanted. Yet, sympathy, from an unexpected direction.  It helps not to have the media reaching into the window of every moment, steering our reactions, picking the heroes and villains.

Whether his banishment was self-imposed or the result of carefully negotiated compromise with the coaching staff and the administration, I was unable to ascertain.

Drive 15 minutes from Van Nuys and you can be in West Hollywood. Drive 15 minutes in the other direction and you’re in Iowa, among parents cheering their kids as they play for the high school they attended when they were kids.

As vast as Los Angeles can be, even the Valley portion, its nice to see generational continuity. Not everyone came here ten years ago to be famous.  Some people came here 60 years ago to be famous, and now their great-grandchildren aspire to be cheerleaders for the family prep school.

Sierra Canyon, state champions in 2016, dispatched Crespi 60-14, which made the west bleachers rather happy. Crespi was scheduled as a sacrificial lamb on account of the homecoming game.

High School is never without a measure of cruelty.  There is continuity.

Something Happened To Us

Heavy Metal Parking Lot, 1986.  When I first saw this, years ago, I laughed at everyone.  I watched it again this week and was filled with affection for the joyful display of unrepentant testosterone.

In an era when no one except football players went to the gym, I didn’t see anyone wearing relaxed fit jeans or XXL shirts hanging below their member. I doubt more than a few of them had done a single crunch in their lives. Yet they had their shirts off.  They were in fantastic shape.

Today you couldn’t collect a random sample of 17 to 23-year-olds from any neighborhood in America, from any socio-economic class, who looked like this.

They had hair like girls, yet they were manlier.  They had confidence without portfolio.

Matt Dillon, It Boy of the 80’s.

Young man pulling go-kart, Staten Island, 1984. From a collection by photographer Christine Osinski.

Placing talent aside, the distance between the guy at the bottom of the social order drinking beer in the parking lot before a Judas Priest concert and the guy on the cover of Rolling Stone could be measured by a stylist and good lighting. Today it’s Zac Efron and Ryan Gosling at the top of the pyramid and millions of soft males languishing in their masturbatoriums, already defeated in their twenties.

Is it too much high fructose corn syrup? Endocrine disruptors? Soy? Electronics? Has social media socialized all the boyful instincts out of young men? Are the New Rules too ever-shifting and capricious?   Are there not enough older brothers of father figures to lead the way?

Maybe they feel unsure of their purpose and place in this world.   I think about this more than I want to.  I worry about where we are headed.

Sherman Oaks vs. Bridge Housing

Last night Notre Dame High School hosted a funhouse mirror version of the dialogue referred to in churches as call and response.

Councilman Ryu: I’m sure you want to hear what I have to say- Booooo! Recall! 

I asked the following organizations for advice- They don’t speak for us!

The Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council- You don’t live here! Put it in your backyard!

Let me be clear, no actual decisions have been made- Liar! The Council has already given its recommendation!

If I know Sherman Oaks- No, you don’t! Liar! Don’t put them next to our children! Go back to Koreatown! Liar!

After five minutes of abuse, the Councilman abandoned the microphone.   LAPD Officer Pitcher took a turn. The mob was not satiated.

Officer Pitcher: Tonight we have to be respectful- Enforce the law! There are only six patrol cars in Sherman Oaks! How are you going to manage once the shelters are built?

As a prelude to Mayor Garcetti’s run for president, we all have to endure his solutions to the encampments of drug addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill who have flocked to Los Angeles to enjoy its “$ervice$”.    The plan: more free stuff.  In this case, trailers set up on public property as bridge housing.  

Right here, on Sepulveda, between the Fire Station and the barracks.  Those who showed up for the open house to hear the pitch were not having it. No one believes the trailers will be temporary, and cynics have history on their side.  Also, Sherman Oaks doesn’t really have a homeless problem. Yet. Van Nuys has a homeless problem.  The Sepulveda Basin has extensive encampments.  The trailers would pull an undesirable population across the 405 freeway into the neighborhood proper.  Over a bridge, literally. Relocating a problem where it doesn’t yet exist.

To his credit, Ryu stuck around for an hour and took the heat.   How did a guy from K-town end up representing the Valley, you might wonder.  

This is how. Behold the perfidy of the District 4 map.  The quadrant in the upper left is Sherman Oaks.   Guess where the Bridge trailers are not going? Hancock Park. Silver Lake. The Hollywood Hills.  That’s why they draw maps this way.   So City Hall can impose its schemes with the toss of a dart. Contiguous districts, fully within the Valley proper, would reflect community consensus.   

Which explains, partially, the yelling. 

Lord of the Devil’s Asshole

Back in the heatwave of June, I told an acquaintance on the nightclub side of the hill where I lived.  Van Nuys is the Devil’s asshole, he announced without hesitation.  He was referring to the heat, but his tone suggested something more.

Every kingdom has its Lord, I replied, half-joking.

If not I, what shape would this lord take?  Who would be the definitive representation of our sun-splashed, slightly noirish Brigadoon? He might have a weapon protruding from underneath him, like a tail. He might have his fist around a bottle of Jack Daniels, crisp jeans and a gold watch. He would be rusticating in the middle of the day, which is how I found him after I dropped $1100 on maintenance for my trusty Honda CRV, which makes me very much an un-Lordly figure.

Ziggy, on the other hand…he knows who’s the boss.

Stoker has no sense of irony, and zero pity. If you want a portrait of dominion, look no further.

Lords, all of them.  I welcome submissions and nominations.

Trixie at 3 AM

She waits on the rooftop, scanning the horizon for my return.  She runs down the stairs, wiggles into your lap and you tell her things about the places you’ve been.

You tell her about the beautiful boy with perfect abs who was carried into the back of the Uber by the bartender and the bouncer at Revolver who told me how hard it was to find love in WeHo. How you dropped him off at a house that looked like SpongeBob, and how he walked through the gate mouth and waved, and when you passed the other way, he was sitting on the stairs with his head down, exquisitely miserable in youth and luxury.

You remember the woman with the bamboo stick, out walking late, who hid behind this tree in Cheviot Hills while you waited for your rider to emerge.

And you tell her about the giant donut.

You recall the girl who waited in the car across the street from Tao until the traffic built up behind us, and people began to honk, and then slowly crossed the street, stopping momentarily in the middle to adjust her dress.

The rest of the night is a blur of signposts and unironic conversation.

The rides run together when you think back on your evening, a glass of whiskey resting on your forehead, your bare toes wiggling over the edge of the couch, listening to the crickets.

But if you open your phone and look at the waybills, the route maps work like a pneumonic device. Trivial details sharpen into focus: faces, smells, glances, snatches of dialogue.  

It’s your memory palace. You’re the charon, taking people across the river.

The Church of No

Throw the bolts. Batten the hatches.  Spike the battlements.  The Pharisees shall not cross.

What might appear to passersby as hostile to the outside world could feel quite different to those inside the sacristy.   We have not caged ourselves, they might say. We are defending our tabernacle. This is our realm of safety, and for this we are grateful. The shell may be unattractive, but the kernel of Truth is safe within.

Two Sundays ago in Santa Barbara a young Catholic priest from Peru, Father Juan Carlos Gavancho, delivered a homily at Our Lady of Sorrows:

“This is not an abusive church. This is a holy church that has fallen into the hands of abusive, evil men, who are trying to destroy the Church from within…”

He called upon the laity to speak out and demand accountability from the bishops.

“Christ is in charge of the church. He is in charge. Sometimes on days like this, we may not see him. We may not feel him. And we may cry out like we did at the beginning of the mass, “Please, Lord, help us! Have mercy on us!” But he’s in charge, and he will bring justice.  These things I have told you are just the beginning. Many bad things are going to happen, and we need to be glad, because nothing is better than the truth.”

The parishioners applauded.

Two days later, Father Juan was summoned by his superior. He was to leave the rectory immediately.  His name was removed from the church directory. The parish would pay to store his belongings for one week. After that, he was on his own.

He reported to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for a new assignment, only to be told he had been stripped of his authority to say mass. He is in a hotel now, somewhere in LA, a homeless priest.

This is quite different from how the bishops handled the sodomizers of altar boys.   How quickly they lifted the drawbridge then, how indefatigably they manned the battlements against the encroachment of earthly justice.

How beautiful are Catholic Churches around the world, always with the open door, the stained glass, the flickering candle.  How worldly its corruption, Hieronymus Bosch and Brueghel lurking underneath the cassock.

It’s a delicate balance, being In The World, but Not Of It.  Defending centuries of tradition can pull you very far from the candle.  Perhaps the soul is cradled in a form of hydrostatic equilibrium.  If the sun were to burn out at this moment, it would take eight minutes for the darkness to reach us, even though the darkness was already present.

Maybe that’s where the Church is now. Eight minutes to go.