Breaking Apples


Two years ago, UTLA went out on strike for a 6% pay increase and Vista Middle School was selected as one of the sites for a picket line. As a neighbor and husband of a teacher, I walked up there in an act of skeptical solidarity, to see how the shakedown of Los Angeles taxpayers was progressing.

What struck me at the time was the amount of honking support they received from passing cars in working-class Latino Van Nuys.

The outcome was preordained. The union banged the spoon and L.A. surrendered everything it wanted.   Plus seconds. And dessert. What followed was Soviet-era astroturfed propaganda from UTLA bathing in the adulation of a grateful public, paid for by…the same public, who had no say in the matter.

Fast forward to 2020, and to the Wuhan virus.  In a time of shared sacrifice and difficulty, guess who didn’t want to report to work and had the power not to do so and to be paid anyway?

Only 36% of students in L.A. Unified regularly engaged in distance learning, i.e. turned in homework and completed tests, i.e., received an education.  This is desertion in the face of the enemy.  It would be bad to do this to kids for a semester. For three semesters in a row, across two academic years?

Suffice to say, this is not what schools are doing in China. Or Korea. Or Europe. Or Texas.  This is not what is happening at the prep school where Mrs. UpintheValley teaches.

Getty Images

What if Wuhan isn’t killing people so much as breaking America as we once understood it? What if the pandemic is a political toxin in medical drag?

To judge it by its works, if you were told a year ago that one-third of small businesses would be put to death by government policy, would you have believed me?  What if I said the richest men in America would see their fortunes expand by 50%, also due to government policy? That the educational divide between public and private schools would become unbridgeable? That the tectonic plates between those who could telecommute and the service class who delivered their comforts would shift to the point they no longer touched? That the chief beneficiary of these changes would be China itself, which would exercise a veto over the discussion of pandemic origins by dangling the carrot of access to its markets? That the infrastructure of think tanks and academic departments which might serve as a bulwark of market critique would be revealed to be funded by China? That Zoom would become indispensable to our work life and TikTok embedded in our play and both would be Chinese owned? That teenagers in Wuhan would be throwing Lollapalooza-sized pool parties while Americans cowered in masks in the outdoors, fearing a scold of Karens. That bureaucrats would presume extra-constitutional powers. That the first amendment would become fully fungible to corporate diktats. That every cable network would maintain a death clock that magically disappeared with the departure of Trump, the first president to renegotiate trade agreements with China in terms more favorable to American workers, if only slightly.

A more fearless America, during the 1969 Swine flu

That’s a lot of damage for 12 months. We can’t do much about geopolitical arrangements, but we can do something about Vista Middle School.  We know a few things we didn’t know a year ago. Children are not at risk and are low vectors of transmission. Teachers are not retail workers.  They can temp check every child who enters the building. They can demand plexiglass barriers and daily disinfection of classrooms. They can also accept the reciprocal obligations of public service to the working-class Van Nuysians who supported them when they were banging the spoon for more money.

The Glamping Solution

Traditional Mongolian Yurt
Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait City
The Sibley Glamping Tent. Price: $1169. Note the wood platform.

With regard to homeless encampments, the City of Los Angeles pretends to be constrained by the Boise decision, and specifically its local variant, the Jones agreement,  from enforcing laws against sleeping on the street.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that as long as the homeless population exceeds the number of shelter beds available in a city, the ordinance cannot be enforced during sleeping hours.

But….what you are not told by the people and corporations feeding off Shantytown, Inc., Boise was limited in scope, and only applied to the night hours, specifically to sleeping.  It did not create a right to camp on the sidewalk and was very opaque about shelter.

In other words, if the City created enough shelter spaces, it could put an end to the encampments inside of a week.

What does Los Angeles have in abundance?  Space. Empty lots. Unused, undesirable slivers of ground, off the well-trod paths, under freeways, in the brownfields.   It also has ample funding, through Props H and HHH, for yurts, tents, geodesic domes, fifth-wheel trailers, and tiny houses on wheels.  The crucial elements being temporary and mobile.

We have soldiers and airmen billeted across the globe in these very spartan arrangements for months at a time. Years.  If it’s good enough for the military, it’s damn well good enough for crackheads. (hat tip, JayDee)

As long as there is running water on-site, access to sanitary facilities, both of which can be trucked in and out, it qualifies.  Small mobile solar panels can provide reading light and phone charging.

What isn’t required? Air conditioning. WiFi. Concrete footings. Sewer lines.

When we landed in Van Nuys our house had NO air-conditioning.
No attic ventilation.
No insulation.
No shade.
Single pane clear glass windows from the 1970s.
After we closed escrow, we had no money to do anything about it.
Not for the first summer.

We would take refuge at the mall, come home at 9 pm, open the door and step into a sauna. We actually camped in the yard during a prolonged heatwave.

Sort of like glamping, but in your own house.

Shantytown, Inc.

There is nothing quite so permanent as a temporary solution, to quote a friend of mine.

Ad hoc structures sprout like fungi across the cityscape, cobbled together by the People of the Favela from found materials. Kiewit/Shea and the Army Corps of Engineers have nothing on the 77th MethHead Mobile Assembly Brigade.  They get it done overnight.

These domiciles cost the public nothing except sanitation, aesthetics, fire safety, petty crime, our collective dignity and quality of life, i.e., property values.

So what would we pay to rid ourselves of eyesores?

Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News

How would you feel about $8,600? That’s the price of a two-person Pallet house in a Tiny Home Village. Considering the alternative: $700,000 “transitional housing” apartments with granite countertops and a ten-year horizon line, this a bargain.  Sounds good to me.

Fonda Rosing/Hope of the Valley

On Monday the first Tiny House hamlet in L.A. opened on Chandler Blvd in NoHo.  Forty 8×8 cabins, each with its own A/C unit and WiFi. Communal showers and support services for 75 people.  A second Village is due to open this spring, adjacent to the 170 freeway near Valley Plaza.

There are numerous publically-owned slivers of ground like this, many tucked in enticingly out of the way locations across the county.  The Pallet houses can be trucked in and carted away as needed, allowing for flexibility and, crucially, impermanence. Call it Ad Hoc Plus.

But…
You knew this was coming, right?
You’re living in Mayor Garbageciti’s City.
Where the public trough has no bottom.
Where Shantyown, Inc. is King.

The true price of these Pallet houses, to the taxpayer: $130,000.

Scratching your head on this one?  Let the Times summarize for us:

A breakdown provided by the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering shows that the contract provides $1.5 million just to prepare the site.

It also includes $122,000 for underground utilities, $253,000 for concrete pads (one for each shelter), $312,000 for an administrative office and staff restroom, $1.1 million for mechanical, electrical and fire alarms and $280,000 for permits and fees.

Additionally, the city has budgeted $651,000 to connect to the street sewer line and $546,000 in design, project management and inspection costs.

The key phrase is concrete pad. The houses were designed to be dropped off on pallets, or any manner of wooden support, and relocated when circumstances desired, much like a job site Porta-Potty. Impermanence is their nature.   Anchoring it to concrete is making a temporary solution an ever-lasting one.

I have the calculator out, running the numbers, and coming up with $73,446 per unit.  Into whose pocket is the other $56,554 going?  The Times is incurious on this point.

The City of Riverside erected an identical village in December, same manufacturer, for $21,ooo a house.  In Washington and Oregon, they’re getting them up for $12,000.

The journey from $12K to $130K is the distance between necessity and avarice, between a city that works and one that doesn’t.

Landlord, Miser, Tease

Enter, winter. Come, darling. How we have missed you.

Wash us down, we are parched.  A little Seattle goes a long way here.  Settle in. Make sport of us. We will roll on our back for you.  We will be your grateful rescue dog. Write a poem on our familiar streets.

Wait…is that sunlight in the distance?  But it’s only Day Two…

Enjoy it while we can.

And there it is. Spring bloom in January.  Our bittersweet three-day Los Angeles winter.

Bloodlands and Memory

Readers were wondering who the people were in this mural in an alley off Van Nuys Blvd.

Well…I have met the muralist, Arutyun Gozukuchikyan. The woman to the right is Kim Kardashian. The man to the left is Monte Melkonian, born in Fresno, martyr of the first war of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1993.  The work was commissioned by the owner of the No Limit Auto Body shop.  Their clasping of hands is intended to illustrate the unity of the Armenian people across time and space.

Melkonian traveled far from the raisin fields.  First to Berkeley, then Beirut via Oxford and Tehran, where he spent the 1980’s in Armenian liberation politics.  He was imprisoned in France for the attempted assassination of a Turkish diplomat, a biographical detail the muralist omitted. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, he made his way to the Shahumyan province of Azerbaijan to join the battle to liberate Artsakh, a tribal feud that re-erupted this summer and is unlikely to resolve in our lifetimes.

There’s a whole lot of Los Angeles in that story.  Here’s two more:

The North Koreans put you in an execution line, the bullet passes through you, missing your heart. You wake up in the snow, stagger back to your village and find your mother praying in a church. You come to L.A, open a deli. By the time you’re finished, you have three. You bequeath them to your Americanized daughters who have no interest in the family business and spend your emeritus years doing missionary work.

You get in a fender-bender in El Salvador and the other driver executes you on the spot because he’s a member of MS-13 and you’re nobody…so why not?  Your siblings flee to Van Nuys and start cleaning floors, marry, have kids, then discover their brother’s killer is here, in town, less than ten miles away, also living a new life in America, schlepping to work with a name tag. The extended family huddles. What to do? Hire a hitman?  They vote to leave it behind them, in the old country.

I know both of these families. The receding tide of the bloody conflict of the world lurks in nail salon windows, washes up in corner markets and repair shops all over the Valley.

But what happens when America stops being America? Not a refuge of the dispossessed, but a bloodland unto itself, with its own irreconcilable claims on memory?

One week ago Parler was the #1 most downloaded app in the world.  It was intended to be a safe space for dissident thinking. Apple and Google (through its PlayStore) suspended all downloads and any developer access to the site on Saturday.  On Sunday, Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, terminated Parler’s access to Amazon’s Web Services.

By Monday morning, Parler was gone.  Three days.

Let’s go back to say, 1969. Suppose J. Paul Getty and Howard Hughes conspired to cut the NY Times off from all access to newsprint and ink in retaliation for its coverage of the Vietnam War.

Would you feel the fundamental premises of the nation had been called into question? What would you do about it? What sacrifice would you be willing to make to set that right?

Getty and Hughes were pipsqueaks compared to the monopolists we are dealing with now.

The cake is pretty well baked here.  A handful of billionaires control the information flow in the United States and they have revealed a shared agenda, leftist and monopolist at the same time. Effectively we now have a social credit system in place.  Instant China, if you will.

Americans are not Chinese.   They keep and bear arms.

O, Little Town of Van Nuys

Our precarious present, where we invite people to light campfires under power poles.

Our near future, lifting her skirt.

We are an unfinished mural.

We are poised between decaying mid-century cool and someone else’s postponed development scheme.  We reveal unintentional beauty on a gust of wind.

But mostly we are too much of this.  For we are a ragged outpost of City Hall and Sacramento and Brentwood, mute, dependable and too disorganized to complain.

She won’t save us.   We can put the comic books down and save ourselves.  Merry Christmas, one and all.

Our House of Special Purpose

The sarcophagus of Czarist Russia
Christmas shopping, 2020

So I went to the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square mall last night thinking I would buy a little something-something for Mrs. UpintheValley only to be the last to learn Williams-Sonoma had shut its doors at that location. Moving on,  I tried to buy a different something-something at the home furnishings department at Macy’s and found myself in an empty register line for ten minutes waiting for the cashier to return from an errand. He never did and I left the mall -the mall!- empty-handed the week before Christmas.   Some day, twenty years from now, an archivist of late-stage capitalism will find me there in the security tapes, a box under each arm, muttering in confusion. Perhaps I will become a meme: 2020 Man.

There were no piped-in carols, no piano player, no sugary bread dough smells wafting up from Cinnabon on the ground floor to tickle my pleasure impulse feedback loop.  Fashion Square wasn’t closed entirely, that would be a bridge too far, a decision had been made, the line had been drawn…it just wasn’t very…open. The skeleton crews keeping the lights on were indifferent to my secular holiday desires. I could have walked the items out the front door without encountering an employee or fellow shopper.  Jennifer Connelly could have shown up on roller skates at any moment.  This was retail in a medically induced coma and I was molesting the patient.

As one not inclined to seasonal affective disorder, I’m discovering the absence of happy people in close proximity can be surreptitiously, accumulatively, depressing. It’s not a matter of seeking meaning in gift-giving or trying to re-create particular shared anticipations of years past.  Tis the creepy normalization of surrender all around us.

Ten minutes away, Hollywood Boulevard without people is like a scene from Vanilla Sky, deserted in a cinematic sort of way. Disorienting.  Foreboding.  Yet somehow there were enough weed shop derelicts loitering under the eaves, puffing away their EDD money, to make the entire street smell of cannabis from Vine to LaBrea.  I used to be pro-weed. Now it’s becoming synonymous with the failings of national character.

A depressing glimpse into the near future in which fewer of us work, more of us shall be high, most of us will be obedient to diktats from a nomenklatura which does not practice what it preaches.

How fearful, obedient, and self-jailing is America now.

Tangentially, I’ve binged The Last Czars, and find myself identifying more than I should with the Romanovs during their time in Yekaterinburg, at the House of Special Purpose, where they were taken in the final months before execution.

Nicholas the II was an incompetent head of state, presuming the throne by a divine right achieved via court inbreeding, a royal autocrat with one foot in the pre-modern world, and very likely Rasputin’s cuckold.

Like he, I am cooped up in a house for weeks on end on someone else’s orders. Beyond our gates, we sense the rules of the world, the operating presumptions, have changed. Nicholas and Alexandra were led to believe there would be a public tribunal.  They were strung along by a series of notes from guards pretending to be sympathizers, promising an imminent rescue.  Notes authored by Bolsheviks for the purpose of pacifying them. It will not be long, only a few more weeks…

The parents may have had an inkling of what was in store for them when they were asked to gather in the basement for a portrait photograph but didn’t think the children would be murdered in the same lot.  Shooting unarmed girls, even in the direct aftermath of WW I trench warfare and revolution, was the moral beyond.  Half the execution team couldn’t go through with their orders, which came directly from Moscow but had no author.  Lenin himself made certain his name was on no paperwork.

Yet it got done. The deep state blooms in the shadow of accountability. It took Russia seventy years to come back from this.

In a few months, er, sometime next year…the administrative state will declare permit the public to resume its normal freedoms of assembly and commerce. Only they won’t be freedoms anymore, but privileges revocable at any time.  Because we let them. It won’t be 2019, plus one year. We will be in a different “America” altogether, one in which freedom of speech is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Facebook and Alphabet, subject to deletion if determined to be misinformation by a Trust and Safety Council staffed in part by contract workers from India and China.  A Los Angeles ruled by selective prosecution, with permission slips for woke mobs to loot businesses and intimidate the public, with salutary beatdowns of dissenters pulled from their cars to serve as an example.  An “America” with unenforced borders, few reciprocal obligations of citizenship, and a whole lot of people as well as corporations seeking some version of free money.

I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to come back from this.  We’re still on the downslope. Something we can reflect on this Christmas, each of us quartered in his own house of special purpose.

A Love Story for Mayor Cancel Everything

She was on the upswing of happy drunk when they entered the Uber.   They had been Skyping for a week before braving a meet-up for drinks at the Venice Whaler. It was her first date since the beginning of Covid, and she had already made two decisions.

Her: We should totally disregard politics. We should do the kissing part and the sex part and the fun part first. Let’s wait a week or two to find out if we don’t like each other. Do you know what I mean? I’m just so glad you’re not 5’5”. I’m so glad you’re tall enough and I get to go to your house and meet your penis and we can have a good time together. Driver, what do you think?

I said there was wisdom in avoiding politics after 10 pm. We were rolling through downtown Santa Monica at night, a ghost town sealed in plywood.

Him: Is everything really out of business? Why are all these stores boarded up? The riots are not gonna happen, unless Trump comes back from the dead.  

Her: Don’t say anything more.  

Him: The media poisons everything.

Her: Yeah, but it also tells you things you didn’t know. You have to look for the silver lining. Like this is a weird analogy, but my best friend got black mold in her apartment and had to move out so now we get to live together. Or like breaking up with someone just before Covid and having to wait the rest of the year before going on a date. Then meeting you and Facetiming and praying to God you weren’t 5’5” and finding out you weren’t and you were really funny and now I get to meet your penis. We can wait a month to figure out if we hate each other. Or a couple of months. Or six months.  How does six months sound?

Yes, this conversation really happened.  When I left them they were standing in the street in front of his apartment building, holding hands. I choose to believe they made it up the stairs. I choose to believe they forgot all about the election. Someone should.

But this was two weeks ago when our collective pent-up need for touch was finding cautious release after eight months of Covidian restraints. The question then was: in our headlong rush to intimacy would we come to doubt our choices?

His right Lord Mayor of Thou Shall Be C*ckblocked has put an end to philosophical questions.  Thou shall not have dinner with friends. Thou shall not visit family.   Thou shall not go on dates.  Thou shall not have moments on the stairs.  A long hard winter is your lot, by proclamation.  Hunker down. All is canceled. Order a vibrator from Amazon, if you must.

“All persons living within the City of Los Angeles are hereby ordered to remain in their homes.”

Cancel everything is a rather advantageous arrangement for the richest man in the world and his armada of independent contractors in sprinter vans.  Pineapple Hill not so much:

What public health argument justifies this?

If someone said to you five years ago this surrender of sovereignty was not only possible in Los Angeles, but would be fully normalized in a matter of months, would you have believed them?

If someone said to you in March Jeff Bezos’ wealth would increase 56% before Christmas, while our national debt would increase by $4 trillion and we would behave as though this were the rightful order of things, would you have believed them?

More kissing, please.

2020: Year of the Ostrich

We don’t know what we don’t want to know.

Half of us want to pretend we can have millions of loose ballots entering the system without a chain of custody, a point of origin, a signature match (in certain states), a valid postmark, or election day arrival (in certain states), and the result will be legitimate. Just like any other election.  Only unpersons who watch OANN would say otherwise.

The other half wants to pretend by pointing to implausible statistical anomalies, 4 am drop-offs of boxes of president-only ballots, fractional vote counting, disabled signature readers, count rooms without poll watchers…if we can just cleanse the outcome of its fraudulent elements, we will turn back time and un-ring the election.

Who or what is going to enforce this? The Pentagon won’t. The Supreme Court will only nibble at the periphery, on behalf of states to decide their own electors.  A state legislature can look at the evidence and decide to invalidate its own voters. Theoretically. Is this likely?  What would Lord Bezos say?

We are all ostriches now.

Fun fact: a hundred years ago, pre-Disneyland, you could rent an ostrich cart and take it for a spin on the streets of Los Angeles.  The collapse of feathered fashion in the Edwardian Era British Empire led to a repurposing of the flightless bird around the world.

Our relationship with animals was altogether different.  We were comfortable with intimate cruelty. Does it have legs? Tie off its beak and take a ride. And why not? Animals were living tools and locomotion.

Does it have feathers? Pluck them, make a scarf. Put them on a hat. Hungry? Put a sock on its head and grab a hatchet. I had an ostrich burger once, at Hamburger Mary’s in WeHo and it was delicious.  Ironically, it was a drag queen bingo benefit for a no-kill animal shelter.

Los Angeles once boasted ten ostrich farms, sourced from South Africa.  The largest of them, the Cawston Ostrich Farm, is now live-work lofts, of course. Because every structure formerly industrious shall now be a textured backdrop for an Instagrammable life.

Los Angeles also had an alligator farm.  A hundred years ago, this was us.  We had a different sense of safety. But also no factory farms.  We knew where our food came from.  We plucked our own chickens but we wouldn’t have understood Chicken McNuggets.  Unless one was rather well off, one ate meat once a week and gazed upon animals in the field and thought: protein. We didn’t think about writing a check to PETA.  Our diseases were of malnutrition. Now they are of gluttony.

One last irony. Ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand to hide from the facts of the world. The sand is where they keep their eggs.  They are checking up on things. They are engaged in self-preservation.

The British empire is with us no longer, but we can taste the memory of it in cask-conditioned ale at MacLeod.  A century ago when ostriches trod the streets of L.A., communism was ascendant, yet the Soviet empire is no longer.

American collapse is within our grasp.  Telling everyone to stay home while the government prints money is a good start.  Creating parallel voting systems, one for Detroit and Philly, another for the rest of the country, is the next step.

*top photo: climate change protest, Bondi Beach

Tribal Preparations

Twenty-four hours to go and America is flexing and muttering to herself, spraying curses, shuffle stepping, arguing with unseen foes, sweating, farting, contemplating ancient enmities, and making haste to the fight club basement on this Dia de Muertos.

Downtown smelled like Home Depot today. Every contractor the merchants could obtain was humping sheets off trucks, putting them up as fast as they could…lest Hurricane Trump make landfall tomorrow.

Left unmentioned is who exactly all these preparations are for, or why….the people who no one is allowed to criticize or raise a hand against, even in self-defense.   No one is willing to admit publically Trump might actually win, but so many of us behave as though he already has, not fearing the outcome as much as the refusal of others to accept it.

Welcome to Plywood City.