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.

Three Versions of Storage

One man’s refuse is another man’s treasure, never more so than in the backyard, where the hoarder goblin is allowed to run off leash.

Here’s Van Nuys in a single frame. On the right side, 6537 Columbus Avenue, every inch of lot given over to vehicle storage.  Whose cars? For what purpose? Why boats? Mysteries. It’s been going on for years.  On the left, the footprint for 6530 Sepulveda, formerly the brothel known as the Voyager Inn, now known as SkyLA Tower, with 2 bedroom apartments leasing at $2750.

Two hundred people utilizing a lot proportional to the one next door housing dozens of used cars, while people are camping on the same street.  Perhaps a pretty good argument for eminent domain?

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t resolve the storage issue. In all three cases, someone is making a lot of money off things as they are.  Servicing the indigent is literally a billion dollar business now, in Los Angeles alone.  You could seize the car house,  put up a shelter over the anguished wailing of the KesterRidge Neighborhood Association and it wouldn’t make a dent in the tents on the street.  We pay them to be here. Until we stop doing so, the Laws of Entropy prevail.

City of Wuss

A young couple entered my Uber in Venice, heading for Hollywood.  They sat far apart in the back seat.   I soon heard what sounded like…sniffling, then the tell-tale exhale of deep sobs.   I started to reach into the console to offer her a tissue, then I realized she didn’t need one, he did.

And so it continued, all the way across town.

Who does this? Who weeps in front of a woman for 30 minutes?  Who weeps with another man in the car? Who can’t hold it together until the apartment?

But it didn’t end there.  He asked me, in a cracking voice, to please turn the radio up. To mask the sound of your shameful sissy tears, I thought to myself.  But no, he wanted to sing aloud to “Move Along” by The All-American Rejects, which he did with cathartic, pitchy elan.

What would Robert Mitchum think? He’d bitchslap both of us, me twice, for feeling guilty about judging. When I dropped them off, she marched away from him in silence while he followed, pleading his case in hand gestures.

Since I’m going to a shallow hell today, I’ll say it: she was not thin.

Colton Underwood cries (Courtesy of ABC)

What the hell happened to millennial men? Does no one police this?  Disney and Tinder seem to have done wonders for the women.    The men have gone a different direction.

In packs of four, they roll into the car, shouting into their phones: “Dude meet us at Harlowe. We’re swinging for the fences tonight.  If it’s not popping, we’re going to Lubitsch.”  Do you have an aux cord? I wanna play some fire.  Then they argue amongst themselves about what constitutes “fire”.  Forty minutes in West Hollywood traffic watching the lines in front of the clubs sucks the bravado right out of them.   They’re already talking about going for a taco run.

You pick them up at the end of the night, empty-handed, and they wrestle each other in the backseat. “I’m smashing Lisa. The countdown has begun. I got a number…..I’m calling Thursday.” “You’ll never do it.” “Friday, then.” “You’ll never do it.” They fall out of the car onto the sidewalk, punching each other in the gonads.

Two women take their place, as composed as swans gliding across a pond. “Hey driver, Jessica is turning 30-wonderful tonight. She’s feeling extra wonderful. What do you think about that?”

Here’s a depressing observation: I’ve had more women making out with each other in the back seat, than men with women. The last heterosexual makeout session unfolded like this:

She: Was this a date? He: What do you mean? She: Tonight. Drinks. Was this a date? He: I don’t know. Do you want it to be? She: Do you want a kiss? Say it was a date.

Then she cradled the back of his neck with her hand and pulled him toward her, the way you’d train a puppy.

I blame the phones, even though I shouldn’t.

The Runnymede Poultry Colony

Driving through the Valley using the Uber navigation app, I’ve noticed something called the Runnymede Poultry Colony popping up in the street grid of Reseda….in the middle of a subdivision.

Places that haven’t existed for decades, places with evocative names like Wingfoot, Broadmoor, Mission Acres, Wahoo…can be found on old maps, particularly those of the Pacific Electric streetcar lines.  Intriguingly, Google Maps utilizes a historical overlay, so when you zoom in, these unfamiliar names pop up in familiar places.  The White Favela, for example, sits atop a forgotten neighborhood called “Raymer”.  The navigation apps, including Uber, ride atop the Google platform and that brings us to the utopian community of Runnymede.

“Intensive little farms”, in the phrasing of its founder Charles Weeks, “bringing peace of mind, health of body and an abundant living to thousands bound in slavery by wage-earning and too much business.” It was located in the Winnetka neighborhood, not Reseda, named for the city in Illinois from which Weeks originated.

For $1500 in 1925,  pilgrims got a modest bungalow set back from the road on a deep narrow lot,  a poultry shed with 2000 hens, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, a bee box and a grape arbor. You’d leave the eggs by the road for the morning pickup. You’d wash your own clothes and make your own ice cream.  You’d do it all on one acre, as a family,  living self-sufficiently in the city of Los Angeles.  In case you thought you were still living somewhere in Iowa,  you could ride the Red Car down Sherman Way and over the hill into town and watch Rudolph Valentino.  But you didn’t do that because you were pious.  You also had 2000 chickens to attend to, and kids running around in burlap underwear.  You were keeping Gomorrah well-omletted.

It wasn’t a collective farm, exactly, because you owned your own land, but there was a trade association, a community center for weekly functions and a beach house in Santa Monica the 500 Runnymede families could avail for picnicking in the summer.

If the Valley had developed along the one-acre per family Weeks model, there could have been potentially 150,000 such farm/orchard/home businesses today.  Assuming the necessity of middle children (several, ideally) we would have a population under a million, but big enough to sustain a city, with trolley lines and bike paths everywhere.  Counterfactually speaking, this was possible.

But it foundered, as did so many things, during the Depression. Falling egg prices,  the inability to make loan payments. Weeks himself went bankrupt self-financing loans to the families.  By 1934 it was over.

Instead, the Valley developed as the owners of the land wished it to. Remarkably, there remains to this day intact solitary lots … stubborn holdouts against the street grid,  crazy spinster aunts clinging to life after all the relatives have passed on.

You can see how much they’ve done with the place. That’s the problem with cheap land. Seldom do we make good use of it.

Which reminded me of the house we almost bought before we came to Van Nuys.  This one right here. It wasn’t part of the Colony, but the lot was as long as a football field. The structure was worthless.. teardown condition, but oh, the two week fever dream I had!   Not that I had any experience in this regard, my rather vague, very rudimentary, very what the hell anyone can do this plan was to grow organic spices and produce specifically for local restaurants.  I would be Mr. Local Source. The land would pay for the house. Gentleman Farmer, me. Purveyor to the stars of cuisine.

Just like this mini-farm tucked behind The French Laundry, in Napa.  When you dine there, you’re grazing right off the yard.

One of the peculiarities of our present Downton Abbey on the Pacific is working class people double bunking in apartments, fattening up on caloric take-out, while the gentry drop half a year’s salary on authentic peasant food grown on the most expensive ground in California.

As it happened, the house with the ginormous lot was already in escrow, sparing me the inevitable folly of a Branch Davidian-like standoff with City officials over unpermitted agricultural output.

I would have made my bride a widow defending the soil like an Ulsterman.  I would not have lived to hear the wise counsel of my friend Johnny: we’re only leasing it from God. The crust of the earth can shake us off like fleas at any moment.