Atlas shrugged, Here

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Here, a short walk from the orchard that is now the Northridge mall, Ayn Rand wrote much of her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged.  There she is on the upper right,  Alisa Zinov’eyvna Rosenbaum of St. Petersburg, Russia, with her signature bobbed hair, holding court behind a moat designed by Richard Neutra.  That’s Tampa Blvd. in the background, lined with eucalyptus trees, the farmer’s windbreak of yore.

She acme to the Valley as a screenwriter for hire and an intellectual curiosity piece. She left with the manuscript of perhaps the most influential book of the 20th century, if reader’s polls are to be believed.   Among the eucalyptus and the koi and the orange trees and occasionally Barbara Stanwyck on horseback, Rand composed the epic of John Galt, and the philosophy of Objectivism, aided by dexedrine and a thousand packs of cigarettes.

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Serious People smoked then.  Without a cigarette, you were naked.  You lacked the baton by which you conduct the orchestra of your obsessions.

Rand returned to New York.  Following publication, people came to sit at her feet and touch the hem of her garment.  A chosen few were invited beneath the folds for further study.  She was the closest thing to an intellectual rock star you could be in this country -as a woman, that is- and she behaved accordingly.

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The house, built in 1935 for the film director Joseph Von Sternberg, was a modernist showcase of steel, concrete and glass…water-cooled by the moat. It was razed in 1971 to make room for, well, you can guess.

Walking to Target

First we saw two people in a bathtub

First there were two people a-frolic in a bathtub

Then this lady committed seppuku

Then this lady committed seppuku

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Then this girl appeared out on nowhere and asked if she could use my phone.  She ‘needed a ride’.

So I lent her the phone and she proceeded to talk for ten minutes about how Julio needed to come over right now and ‘smoke her out’. Cause she wasn’t gonna take Araceli’s b*******  anymore.  She was tired of it.  She was done with that, so done with that, you have no idea how loco and she needed to get high and she was tired of everybody’s stupid b******* and no one listened to her anyway.

She got down into a squat and rotated away from my gaze,  murmuring and gesticulating.  Finally I walked around into her field of vision, and she turned away from me, annoyed to have her privacy intruded upon.

‘I’m just going to be a minute.  Okay?  Jeez.’

She took another five.

She handed the phone back without thanks and started throwing rocks at a metal pole.

I see two lessons here.  Always take the railroad tracks instead of the street. Don’t lend your phone to strangers.

Up on Shady Oak Road

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Question: do you think you’re allowed to drive on this street?

Apparently not, right?   I mean, it’s…PRIVATE.   Clearly marked by signs.   In fact it’s so private, they had to tell us twice.

PRIVATE ROAD!

This means you, interloper.  All you little people from the grim wastes north of Ventura Blvd can turn around right now.  No trespassing, loitering or entry without permission.  Don’t make us call the police.

Why would anyone proceed any further?  What would compel such insubordination?

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Well, there’s this.  One of three trailheads into Fryman Canyon.  A public access point to a public park waiting at the end of a public street, paved with tax dollars.  And all the million dollar views beyond.

If you just tell people from Van Nuys they can’t drive there, they’ll never use it, right?  It will be privatized, effectively, for the benefit of the hillside gentry.   Like they did at Malibu, and Lake Hollywood, and Runyon.

There used to be something in America called a daily newspaper.   We even had one in Los Angeles.  I miss them.   They were staffed by middle class people, even working class guys occasionally, with a sense of civic pride and a keen moral barometer for public offense committed by the privileged. This is exactly the sort of petty outrage they used to feast on.  But that was a different country.

Portrait of working mothers on Sepulveda

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The Classy Lady was a valley institution for decades.  It would be difficult to imagine a sadder strip club.  There was no cover, which should tell you something right there.  There was no VIP room. You could buy a pitcher of Coors Light for $8.  Cheapskates would hang out by the pool table in the back, pretending to play while taking in the view free of charge.  Management didn’t seem to mind. The ladies would wander by with a tin cup and ask for money for the jukebox, and by money I mean coins.  They would clomp the two steps up to the pole and grind it out for a couple singles on the tip rail, or frequently nothing at all.    There were women working with fresh C-section scars and moonscapes of acne on their derriere.  The place was annexed to a gas station and a store which sold rims.  I can’t believe it’s actually a strip club, was the instinctive reaction.   Sort of like wandering in to your own private David Lynch film.  For the women it was not even a waystation on the road to perdition, but perdition itself, in which one panhandles naked without remuneration.

It shames me to say this, but a couple years ago, after regaling dinner guests with a description of The Classy Lady, they demanded to ‘see the ugly strippers’ for themselves.  Off we went. Only now the strippers were of an entirely different quality. They were thin. They were tone.  They had skills.   There was still no cover, and no one was putting money on the tip rail.  In the depth of the recession.

But you do what you have to do, when you’re a working mother.

Classing up the place

Classy no more

That’s all done with now. Sort of.  Classy has been gutted, expanded and replaced with Synn.  In keeping with Nury Martinez’s self-promoting ’45 day ban’ on adult business, all the strip clubs on the boulevard have renovated and enlarged, like the cup sizes no doubt, in the new, improved Synn Gentlemen’s Club.

Portrait of a working mother

He's so handsome, I can't speak properly

He’s so handsome, I can’t speak properly

Trivia question: How many working mothers were stuck on the Westside Thursday, the minutes passing like hours, waiting to get home to their kids? How many woman-hours were lost waiting for the 405 to clear?  How about all the working women trapped on Metro buses?   How many kids left at home to their own devices got into trouble while Gwyneth paced her Brentwood estate with a Marlboro Light and a glass of wine telling everyone to get their s*** together already because He Is Coming. He Is Almost Here, Bitches.

Yeah, the rich are different. They can make the entire city wait.

Yeah, the rich are different. They can make an entire city wait.

If you’re one of the swells who brought the city to a standstill for the 30th time in the Obama era perhaps it is easy to mistake the President for a Dictator-in-Waiting:  “It would be wonderful if we were able to give this man all of the power that he needs to pass the things that he needs to pass”.

Unfortunately for Gwyneth, (and Julia, and Ben and…) the power to pass things comes from the consent of the little people, the ones stuck in their cars on their way home to the Valley.  You can’t just write a check to banish their tacky, backward little majorities from the village square, as appealing as that might sound.  But I can understand how she might get confused. Having working mothers at your beck and call can do that to you.  

Formerly the Van Nuys Hotel

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Erected in 1896,  before the city was irrigated….one of the last vestiges of the old, old downtown, like the Farmer’s and Merchants Bank and the Bradbury Building.  Pre-Deco, pre-Moderne, pre-Mayan Theater.   Back when Los Angeles was a railway outpost and distant second fiddle to San Francisco.  Before oil. Before Chaplin.  Before the great swindle. Before Chandler, Lankershim, Whitley and Van Nuys, the Four Horsemen of the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company,  purchased Tract 1000.

What was Tract 1000?  Uh, let’s see….everything north of the Santa Monica Mountains and south of Roscoe Blvd, from Lankershim on the east….all  the way to basically Ventura County.

People lived and acted on a Noah Cross-like scale once upon a time.  It wasn’t just a movie.