A Tear in the Lovelock Bridge

Nine years...

Nine years…

Thirty-six years....old school

Thirty-six years….old school

Uh-oh

Uh-oh..wire cutters!

At what point in the whirlpool of a breakup — collecting the clothes, returning books, clearing out the accounts, screaming on the phone– does one remember, “oh hell, the lock on the bridge.  What did you do with the damn key?”

“What do you mean, me?  You were supposed to take care of it.”

For how long does one rummage the detritus of a relationship before one reaches for the wire cutters?  Is it a chore for the offended party alone?  If you’re angry enough to commit the sacrilege of cutting the fence, don’t you still care? What if the the key really isn’t lost, and one party to the breakup is withholding its whereabouts?  How many relationships have come back from the brink during the deeply symbolic search for the key?

Tearing a hole in the fence, that’s Full Bitter.  If I can’t be happy no one else should be, either.  

The living water of the LA River is unperturbed by the operatics on the bridge.  Nature has a way of upstaging all of us.

Oy, gevalt. Double never.

Bystanders, once more

Put a fork in ‘em

Admit it, you were beginning to feel tingles of excitement. This year, your vote was going to count, for the first time ever, perhaps.  Your inbox was filling with solicitations to donate, to volunteer. Snatches of political gossip fluttered about you like the flappings of moths, as you went about your day.

Trump this!  Sanders that! 

Be honest, these are the only two you heard anyone talking about.

California, on the verge of 1968 all over again.  Minus the assassination. (We hope)

All the old rules were in the wind.

Our two districts in the Valley were about to be hotly contested battlegrounds in which twelve precious delegates were to be dispersed, six for each party.  Twelve! Like a jury pool, we waited in attention, preparing for the deluge.  The fate of the country, down to us, on the final day of the primary season. One felt so enfranchised

Yesterday, Other People, ahead of us in line, settled it.   Boo!

Now we’re stuck with two candidates who are the subject of “#never” campaigns as the presumptive nominees.  If you vote for Trump are you voting for or against the Republican party?  It’s unclear. If you vote for Hillary you are voting for Wall Street. But she swears you’re not.  What if you’re a double never, and earlier vowed, rashly, to support neither? What now to do?

IMG_5621

You can put your palms together and come to center and bring a measure of order to the chaos of the world.

When the Freeway Killer came to Van Nuys

bonin005

bonin006

“Creepily and sadly one of my classmates who lived around the corner was lured and killed by the Freeway Killer while walking along the Pacoima wash to the 7/11 on Valerio/Van Nuys Blvd. That was the way we always rode our bikes…”  –Correspondence from a reader in Wellesley, Mass, who was raised on Lull St. in Van Nuys.

“Our neighbor had originally owned and farmed the land there.  Her husband had been “gassed” during WWI but I didn’t learn what that meant for many years. She had sold all but an acre of the original property and tract houses were put up.  She had retained a magnificent orchard–lemons, limes, tangerines, grapefruits, oranges, plums, peaches, pomegranates, and grew her own vegetables.  She let us have the run of her yard and we were too young to realize that it was full of black widow spiders.  Part of her original property was left undeveloped (a virtually empty field we called the dead end) except for a large old, empty house (the haunted house).  That was our playground….”

William Bonin killed 21 teenaged boys in the Los Angeles area between May 1979-June 1980. He accomplished this in the 1970’s fashion: by luring them into his Chevy van.  They were subdued, raped, then strangled, frequently with their own t-shirts.  The bodies were dropped off alongside freeways around Southern California.  Bonin had six prior convictions of sexual assault at the time of his murder spree, and had been deemed an “untreatable offender” by psychiatrists at Atascadero State Hospital.   Yet there he was, the Hurdy-Gurdy Man on parole, free to cruise Van Nuys Blvd when he found Victim #12, Ronald Gatlin.

Empty fields and fruit trees and free range to ride one’s bike unsupervised was the essence of Valley life for kids in the 1970’s. It was why families chose to live here rather than Venice. Van Nuys was thought of the way we think of Valencia now, a far away land, well removed from the chaos of the city.

Three Strikes laws and electronic dragnets have done away with the William Bonins of California. By any statistical measure, Los Angeles is far safer from random crime than it has ever been.    There are more shaded streets, more crosswalks and more speed bumps and safety helmets, but you don’t see kids wandering around, away from the reach of parents.

The Pacoima wash is fenced off now.  Once the playground is violated, it’s done.  Freedom can be a difficult thing to re-learn.

The MILF Hunters

IMG_5385

She was about 28, Latina, packed into a short dress. He was in his late 40’s, balding.  They were going to Manhattan Beach, ‘Milf hunting’, she announced, as they climbed into my Uber.

She had taken on the role of ringmaster for the evening, squirming in his lap as she explained the rules to him.

“Number one, Milfs like to be petted.”

“They do?  How exactly?”

“Two fingers. Stroke her hair.  They like to be touched. But not too hard.”

“Are three fingers too many?”

“Five are too many. That’s aggressive.  Rule Number Two: avoid anyone dressed in red. They’re batshit crazy.”

“What about bright colors?”

“Seriously, no. It’s nature’s way of warning you of danger. Number three, I’ll signal you.  If I go like this: (playing with necklace) that means you have ten minutes to close the deal.  If I go like this: (flips hair) it means yes. If I rub my belly, it means I’m ready to go home.  Basically, the lower I go, the crazier I think she is.”

“Got it.”

On the freeway, her phone rang.  She was not pleased. “Why are you calling?….none of your business….why are you going into my computer?…there’s nothing there for you….nothing….I’ll be there when I get there. Don’t call.”

Turning to her companion, she breathily told him, “he’s really obsessed with you.”

The phone call provided some kind of accelerant to the purpose of their evening. The conversation trailed off into wet, smacking kissing sounds for the remainder of the ride.  Who she was to him and who the caller was to her, and how the Milfs fit into it remained a mystery, but I was entertained.

It also occurred to me my marriage was distressingly stable and predictable.

On Sunday we went to Chibiscus for noodles. Obeying an impulse, I publicly violated the Two-Finger Rule with Mrs. UpintheValley.  Cupping her face in my palm, she responded with something tantalizingly akin to submissive purring.  Perhaps the Milf hunters were on to something.

“Darling, I’m so happy….my ramen is here.”

And on that note, two bowls appeared before us, and we commenced to supper.

Jakarta Twilight

Still life, with PTSD

Still life, with PTSD

I work the closing shift, which means I get to drive over the 405 in the middle of the afternoon, and return to the Valley at 10:30 pm. On a good day, Brentwood to Van Nuys in under 12 minutes, if I hit all the lights. I’m one of the few people in LA who loves his commute.  Like an idiot, I’ve tempted fate by saying this aloud.

Yesterday, I had to go to work early, which means I left early, which means I joined the tail end of the normal commuter flow, with everybody else.  How bad could it be?

Lets put it this way: at seven thirty, I was on Barrington,  four cars away from Sunset Blvd, looking out the window at this beautiful vintage gas station framed in milky twilight, and in a very civil mood. Off early! I could go to the gym!  Perhaps Mrs. UpintheValley was still awake and could be had for the price of a foot rub!  No tired lion, me. All possibilities were on the table.

At eight o’clock, darkness had fallen, and I was still next to the same gas station, on the Sunset side, and I was plotting revenge against everyone who ever wronged me.

The stoplight would cycle through, and nobody would move.  This didn’t dissuade anyone entering from side streets inserting the nose of their car into the scrum.  Unhappy honkings all around…random, pointless, like steer lowing in a slaughterhouse pen.

I thought of Joe Gillis evading the repo men in the opening sequence of Sunset Boulevard, and how comically unrealistic that would play now.  When much of LA was laid out, traffic signals looked like this:

Traffic_Signal_and_Streetlight

Westwood_Village_1939

Gas stations looked like movie palaces and Westwood Village looked like this.

Wilshire_Blvd_1928

K-Town looked like this. That’s Oasis Church on the right.  It is now one of the shorter buildings on Wilshire Blvd.  Add three million people to this picture and take away the Pacific Electric Red Car.  That’s where we find ourselves today, scurrying to rebuild the public transportation we once had.    A bus and rail line for the working poor, slumped over in their seats, ear buds on, locked into their own podcasts, dreaming of the day they’ll be able to afford a car of their own.  And a house in Van Nuys.

It took me an hour to reach the freeway. That’s .25 mph.  Point two-five! The full Jakarta…

IMG_5316

When I entered Macleod, they were playing traditional Irish songs and ballads.  iPads were used in place of sheet music,  I couldn’t help noticing. Here, two centuries were working to shared advantage.  I ordered a Better Days ale. Beer has rarely tasted so good.

The Once and Future Bento Box

IMG_3039

There’s a lot of this housing going up all over Los Angeles. Boxy, modular, poured concrete or stucco with some kind of horizontal wood feature set against a tiled entranceway.

This looked sharp and fresh half a dozen years ago but is entirely predictable now.  I’m not saying it doesn’t look good. I’m wondering how it will look 30 years hence. Will we look upon this housing stock the way we look at 70’s kitsch today? As an eyesore?

IMG_3009

Or will it fall into some oddball historical cul-de-sac like the once-modernist work of Richard Neutra, admired by preservationists, but neglected by owners?

Is Craftsman and Mission style architecture the only native California form which will stand the scrutiny of the ages? Which will be both loved and lived in?

Sully’s Empty Glass

Not empty, but gone to a happier place

Not empty, but gone to a happier place

You have to stand in line to get a beer at Macleod now, and what a beautiful inconvenience it is.

On a Monday, with the $4 pints, I get it. But Tuesday?   It’s a testimony to the eternal verities of hard work, creativity and persistence of Alastair and Jennifer.

And a new brewer. And a whole new menu of beers.

And guts. Expanding just when business seemed to be at a nadir.

In the very early going, there were discussions whether there should be television on the wall. An unknown amount of sports bar revenue was left on the table when it was decided flat screens were not the direction they were trying to go.

In retrospect, the wisest move Alistair and Jennifer made was the one which took the longest to pay off.  Macleod is nothing without talk, and television would have killed the conversation in the room. It would have led them away from the darts. And the gamers. And the knitters.  And the poets. And the artists.  When the brewery started I had fanciful ideas it would launch a reformation of Van Nuys.  It’s done more than that.  Macleod has pulled the Venn diagram of the Valley tighter. This week I encountered three separate groups of people in the dart room I’ve known from non-overlapping social circles elsewhere.  And by no overlap, I mean totally different castes and geographic zones.

I used to bitch to myself about the absence of proper muraling in Van Nuys.   Now I run into actual muralists bellying up to the bar. We bitch to each other about the indefensible absence of Nury Martinez on this issue. Progress, I say.  A glass of well-crafted beer can be democracy in liquid form. An ideal marriage of blue-collar craftsmanship, chemistry and white-collar marketing. In a toxically divided nation, it is our demilitarized zone. Our Pooh Corner. Our happy place.

The ales have come a long way.  Where once there were five, now there are twelve.  There seems to be a new offering every couple weeks. They keep getting better.

I may have found my ideal Macleod creation: the Sully.  Which is odd, for in general, I like my beer strong, with a bias toward imperial stouts. I enjoy a kick in the head.  Anyone can bitter up an IPA to the point its like chewing the bark off a pine tree, but underplaying a proper English bitter is a more delicate art.  In a market already crowded with Pineapple Sculpin and Boulevard Rye-on-Rye, its not easy to create a rich, memorable, deliciousness on a 5% malt that will call you back for an encore, but they’ve done it.

So I’m sitting there with Amy and Oscar and Andrew and Rebecca, in a state of contentment, when it occurs to me holy guacamole, my life may already be half over, but damn if this doesn’t taste good. Not that I made it myself, but I wished such a thing as Macleod to be in Van Nuys, and here it is, like a gift from Genesis. If I -sip-sip- count from the age of maturity, I might only be a third of the way to my grave. Not so bad. Now that I think about it, if I -sip-sip- if I start counting from the point when I actually got my sh*t together in life, I’m barely a teenager. Things are just getting interesting!  I may still be in debt, but I’m no longer drowning in it.  I may be stuck in Van Nuys, which is so un-cool, it’s actually cool to be here, except now that it may become hip will it become uncool to be here for this very reason?

Damn, Sully, my glass is empty.  I’ll have another.

The 12-year Houseguest

He carried the Cross, now he wears the Crown

He carried the Cross, now he wears the Crown

Jack came to us as a two week foster care arrangement. He was lodging in the Glendale animal shelter at the time, and being eternally hopeful, extended his paw into the adjoining cage to say hello to a much larger dog.  So his leg was in bandages and his head wrapped in a cone when he arrived at our door.

“He’s not staying,” I announced. “He doesn’t fit the color scheme of the house. Our other dogs are brown and rust colored.”

I was in my Aesthetic Fascist period then.

He trotted in this weird sideways canter, probably due to the injury, one paw crossing over the other, ears flopping up and down like antennae. He had terrible breath. He wasn’t very bright.  The first time I let him off leash, at Runyon Canyon, he skittered straight down the hill, out the front gate, down Vista Street, and kept running until a samaritan intercepted him wandering Hollywood Blvd, “looking confused”.

Despite his apparent dimness, he knew instinctively to place his head on Mrs. U’s bosom whenever I tried to initiate a discussion of What To Do About Jack.

And so a third dog bed was purchased and he took his place in the menagerie.  He was already down to only a few teeth at that point. I figured a year or two, at most.  It was 2004.

Dogs and cats came and went at Chez UpintheValley, but Jack, like some canine version of Dick Clark, refused to age.  He outlived them all, even Woody. He remained eternally hopeful.  He proved to be the lowest-maintenance house member we ever had. No vet bills but annuals and teeth cleaning, which did little to assuage his halitosis.  When we took him to my parents house, he rode in the car all the way to Mendocino County standing up, staring out the window.  He jumped into San Francisco Bay. He forded the Eel River.  The first time he saw snow, he pranced through it like a gazelle.

Two years ago the arthritis set in and he began clicking around the house like Nosferatu, at all hours.  But he always gobbled the kibble.

To our amazement, there were another 30,000 miles left on his tires. He made it around the block with the others on the morning walk.  More recently, when he no longer could, he still gimped his way to the front door when you came home.  He yipped indignantly if he got stuck in the back yard. Even to the last week, he roused himself for a pepperoni stick.  When he stopped eating, it was time.

We have no idea how old he was. Our best guess was 17.

I’m glad we kept him.

9063502109_1d447581c1_c