Friendship, $1 a minute

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This is where we’ve arrived in Los Angeles. Rich people hiring underemployed artists to impersonate friendship, and the artist eager to sell himself in this manner.

are you tired of social media and just want to be social?

do you need a sidekick to help you finish those 10k steps?

some company on the way to your destination? 

an attentive audience?

someone with whom to complain about the general state of things? 

a way to connect with the outdoors?

maybe you want to hear a story on a neighborhood stroll?  

we can talk about whatever you feel like talking about. we can walk however you like to walk.

The paid companion, or lady-in-waiting, has a deep tradition, going back to English court.  It allowed women of a certain class but lacking a dowry proximity to the wealthy and enhanced marriage prospects.  You might meet Maxim de Winter on a cliff in Monte Carlo, and he might make you his nameless second wife.  Then again you might gain the attention of the Earl of Essex and send Queen Elizabeth into such a paroxysm of jealousy she drags you bodily from court by your hair, and has you flogged.

In other words, woman’s work.

But what does woman’s work mean, in an iPhone economy?  Anybody with any sort of personal service to sell can do so formally with the insertion of a Square card reader.  If what you have to sell is empathy, why shouldn’t you?  And if it pays more than your creative endeavor, then you may have little choice.  Man’s work, as it was formerly known, doesn’t pay a dollar minute unless it involves plumbing or electricity or transmission repair.    Therein lies the paradox of higher education.  If there should be a warning label for anyone entering the liberal arts, it would look a whole lot like this flyer, posted by a Yale man.

What Happened?

Clinging to the dream, Mt. Washington

Clinging to the dream, Mt. Washington

The election made Miss Havishams of so many of us.  We keep the sign to stop the clocks in permanent November, so the leaves may never fall.

We rake our stairs in spinster land, eating spider cake.   We curse Vladimir.  He hid the state of Wisconsin inside a maytroshka doll, where she couldn’t find it.  We pre-order her memoir on Amazon.

It may be therapeutic, I’m not sure it is healthy.

I So Red Line Boogie

“Iso” jumped into our train last night at Universal City and told us all he was doing his show.  There was a slightly plaintive quality to the announcement, like he wished to assure he was offering quality and not some subway shakedown.

Then he fired up the boombox and subjected a captive audience to his energetic pastiche of karate moves and pole spinning.

As he was “dancing” I was thinking is it Iso or I So, as I so badass? Or is it “I? So…” Or, “I sow”? Or, “I sew”?  Any one of these might have worked.  If you told me he was going to take the two dollars he was given and run straight to a dealer, I wouldn’t be surprised.  Just as readily if I were to learn two bucks would prize him a pair of sparkly pants for his audition to be one of Rihanna’s back up dancers,  I would believe that as well.

The line between derelict and street performer is a narrow one. The line again between lifelong busker and employed artist is narrower still.

To this end, Jack Dishel, a Venice musician, hit upon the very inspired idea of a YouTube channel called :DRYVRS, wherein he has encounters with oddball rideshare drivers, played by celebrities. Ostensibly a comic short,  each episode serves as a stealth vehicle for promoting his music.

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Episode 1, starring Macaulay Culkin in a reprise of his Home Alone character went viral:  25,000,000 views.

Episode 2, starring Rosanna Arquette: 113,000 views.

Jack Dishel playing music on his channel, after being seen with Macauley Culkin : 4,000 views.  That would be a retention rate of .00016.  Or one out of every 6,250 viewers.

The series lasted two episodes.

“Iso” jumped off the train at Hollywood and Highland like he robbed a convenience store and disappeared into the crowd with his two dollars and his boombox.

At the Hollywood Bowl, Brian Setzer kicked off the show by telling us only 30 people came the first time the Orchestra played Sunset Boulevard, 25 years ago.

Since then he’s been perpetually touring, grinding it out with little variation to the set list, a hostage to his own success, dozens of families, musicians and crew, depending on the forever tour to pay the mortgage, the tuition, the grocery bill.

We were in the cheapest seats, by the upper terrace, and we swing danced as the music was meant for.  Our footwork was …let’s just say we were in no danger of anyone tipping us for our performance. In the shadows of the pepper trees, we almost looked like we knew what we were doing. Which is to say we had fun, fun being the operative verb of indestructible music, cheap wine and moonlight.

Dancing is exhausting. I so left the Bowl with a little more respect for…Iso.

I Harbor Freight

We won't be undersold

This is how the billionaire laughs

Harbor Freight Tools is cheap.  Ridiculously low prices, to quote the company masthead… there were tree pruners to be had for $15. They had a deluxe model with extending arms for those hard to reach branches, $19.95.   No cheapskate, me, I got the deluxe.  There were also 105 piece tool sets to be had to be had for $37.95, but I restrained myself.

The pruner, or lopper as it is sometimes known, is a fairly simple device, utilizing the torque of long handles to create force at the blade point. Useful for branches less than an inch in diameter.  I had a lopper from the Depot which lasted me about five years, until I left it out in the rain and the blades got dull.  There are no moving parts, just a hinge, and crucially, some sort of stay which keeps the handles from fully closing so you don’t smack your knuckles together.

My first clue this was not to be like my old pruners, the tensioner on one side gave out after I twisted on it a little vigorously, making one handle slide out twice as long as the other, unless it was pointed upward at all times. In under a month it joined my war chest of duct tape modified tools made in China.

So yesterday, I’m up on the roof,  dealing with the bougainvillea when -sh*tf**kc**kdamnwhore!- I went knuckle bone to knuckle bone, full force, snipping a branch.  The stay bolt preventing the handles from closing had refused to stay, fell out, to be accurate, and was now hibernating in a heap of feral cat feces and dried bougainvillea leaves fifteen feet below.  Pressing on, grunting, bruising my knuckles with Homer Simpson-esque alacrity, I marveled at how it was possible a tool could disintegrate in one’s hands while being used for the purpose it was made, when the handle, the good one,  disengaged from the shears. Just like that, I was holding a partial lopper in one hand, and a metal rod in the other like a prank victim on hidden camera.  I looked for a loose bolt, threads, anything, but no, the only thing attaching handle to blade was a plastic sleeve fitting.   $19.95, ladies and gentlemen of the jury! The grinning idiot’s price!

I did the manful and useful thing.  I flung it across the yard in a stream of profanity. As I did so, it occurred to me the open blades made the shape of a duck bill, and the duck was laughing at me as it flew into the back fence.  Somewhere in Chengdu the owners of Harmonious Factory of Disposable Goods for American Suckers #27, were enjoying Peking duck around a roaring fireplace, and weighing their money on truck scales, and they were laughing. The scale tenders, girls hand-selected from the villages, were pouring cognac and lighting cigars, and they, too, were laughing, giggling really, in short duck print dresses, while the men perused Beverly Hills property on Zillow.  Ah, ha, ha. Tee, hee, hee. Quack, quack, quack.

China 1, Slack Jawed Yokel 0.

Back in the kitchen… ruminating on the manufacture of craptastic things…I decided blaming the Chinese for being Chinese was a fool’s errand.   Craptastic on an industrial scale is what the Chinese do well.  The sin resides in foisting craptastic on an unsuspecting public.   Now who did that?

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This guy.  Eric Smidt, scion of Harbor Freight Tools, which his father began, I’m sorry to say, as a mail-order business in North Hollywood.  Back in the oughts, Smidt Jr, forced his father out in a palace coup and began Harbor’s viral expansion.    I’ll let Bloomberg News explain it:

“It’s like a money-printing machine,” said Lloyd Greif, founder and CEO of the investment bank Greif & Co. in Los Angeles that specializes in representing entrepreneurs and their companies. “He’s mastered the art of the dividend recap.”

“Smidt’s father, upset by management changes made to re-position Harbor Freight after the 2008 recession, criticized the practice of borrowing to take cash out of the business in a 2010 lawsuit, filed over a decade after he sold his interest to his son. Allan Smidt, who died last year, said Eric Smidt had “dramatically leveraged the company” and enriched himself at its expense. The suit cited a loan in excess of $500 million that “has had serious negative consequences, including inability to keep inventory on shelves.” Interest on the loan, the suit said, was at one point as high as 10 percent.  The elder Smidt accused his son of kicking him off the board of directors and looting Harbor Freight in part to buy the Knoll, a painting for $100 million and a Manhattan apartment for $20 million.”

Dividend recap is accountant-speak for taking cash out of a company today against future earnings. Borrowing from yourself.  If you can keep expanding fast enough you can get away with it.  Until you can’t.

Harbor Freight is opening a new store every three days.

In retrospect, all the clues were there.  The Sepulveda outlet was the equivalent of a pop-up restaurant, impermanent, unadorned, boxes piled on the floor with pricing information on laser printed sheets of paper taped hither and yon.

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His $100 million painting? It’s rumored to be Eight Elvises by Andy Warhol.  I would say artwork and buyer are neatly matched here. Indeed,  artist, subject and patron have achieved something like Chinese harmony.

I feel like a patron of the arts already.

Verisimilitude

There are no streetlights in Baywood.  No sidewalks. The only public light sources are the Alehouse, the Merrimaker and the laundromat.  Locals hear the surf crashing on the sand spit a mile away across the estuary and complain, the way one might complain about the freeway noise back in Los Angeles, where the over/under starts at $100,000 year.

Baywood is where you retreat when LA doesn’t work for you anymore but you want to stay in California. It’s where the life you wanted to have in Van Nuys or Echo Park is re-booted.

L.A. 2.0, on wheels...

L.A. 2.0, now on wheels…

It is where you park your RV in your friends driveway and figure out your next move.  And where you go when you close your bike shop, once named Best in the City by the LA Weekly, after 11 years.

Where you break out the wrenches and drill set, and turn the RV into a mobile bike base camp and solar-powered graphic design suite.   Where you simplify things by designing your own escape pod.

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LA being LA, the bike shop lives on as the filming location for a Netflix escapist fantasy called Flaked.  The show is set in Venice and centered on a guy named Chip who owns a store hawking hand crafted three legged stools of his own design, but has no apparent customers yet manages to stay afloat.  Chip also lives rent-free by the beach and dates women half his age, and spends much of the first season perambulating around Venice on his bicycle, unencumbered by adult responsibilities like a monthly nut, or a business plan.  Flaked, by objective measurement, is not a quality show. The verisimilitude problems are impossible to get beyond. But I binged on it as a secret vice, the way Mrs. U watches the housewife shows. Punching a clock in the Valley, who wouldn’t want to live the life of Chip?

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The world is smaller than we think it is.  Fate not long ago placed one of the Flaked co-stars not named Will Arnett in the backseat of my Uber and he would spend the ride home trying without success to court, Chip-like,  a much younger female passenger. After she exited the car without yielding a number,  he laughed about it with me.  He agreed with my assessment of the show.  The lie it was telling about Los Angeles was his livelihood. He couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious.

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The real life Chip is more more athletic and better looking.   Also un-entitled and self-effacing and responsible. As he packed up his store he found letters to his workers he never sent, some dated five years ago, listing all the reasons he could no longer keep it going. Owning a business is not like a regular job. You cant just flake. He employed 15 people and spent years working with the city to open up bike lanes and paths. Now he loads up on packets at the hamburger stand to take back to the RV as he waits to hear from unemployment. Ask him if he’s bitter and he says no.  He’s put in his time in LA. The only thing he misses about it is being faster than every car on the road when riding his bike.

The trail forward looks like this

The trail out of LA looks like this