Made in Mexico*

IMG_7139A

Nothing gets done in this city without a Mexican, people are fond of saying by way of explanation Why Things Are.  By people, I mean those who who are on the vertical side of the capital/labor equation.

IMG_7099

People who live here, for example.   Why should they have to bend over and pick up their socks in the morning?   There are Mexicans* for that.  They’re everywhere. Abundant and cheap.

IMG_6367

They don white aprons and fetch things for us.  Who knows where they live?  We summon them, and they appear. Why shouldn’t it be this way? Wasn’t it always like this?

DSCN1595

Don’t they have houses in the Valley, or something?

IMG_4058

Or apartments, of some kind?  Seriously, I don’t see the issue. Americans don’t want to do these jobs.

IMG_3969

No, I don’t know what happened to the people who use to live in those apartments…I don’t know where they went.

IMG_4038

They probably went back to Oklahoma, or something.  It’s the natural order of things.

IMG_6443

Hey, have you been to the new Whole Foods 365 in Silver Lake?  Talk about abundance.  Unfortunately, there are really long lines…

An Artist’s Work

No ranch dressing needed

No ranch dressing required

I spent an inordinate amount of time last week meditating on our trip to P.F. Chang’s and why it outraged me so much.  On Friday at work, Bruce the Chef brought me a scotch egg.  I ate it standing up, on the loading dock, during my break.   It clarified a few things.

Peasant food, done right, can be the most satisfying meal you will ever know.

If the food is shiny on the plate, you’re in trouble.

If you can’t see the core ingredients in their original integrity, you are about to get ripped off.

Look… Mother Earth has been recreated in layers. A lightly breaded crust, a mantle of sausage meat, pinkish, not over-cooked, a core of egg white enfolding a bright sunflower of yolk, the molten core.  Each element in its proper portion, complementing the others. To add a dipping sauce of any kind would be a diminishment of the whole.

Free to me, four bucks to you at MacLeod.  All pleasure, no regret.  I had to remind myself it’s actually a fried product.  Bruce likes to mock himself as “a lunch lady at a grocery store”, but he knows enough to pick a quality egg, and honor the gift of the layer.

It made me feel bad, almost, for the grifters behind the grill at P.F. Chang’s. What goes through one’s mind, night after night, watching the stingily portioned shreds of bulk-issue beef shank from Restaurant Depot disappear into the breading, corn syrup, and branded “flavoring” in the giant wok, then fried until there’s nothing left of the source material but a memory? A dish that requires a picture on the menu to make the suckers at table 57 believe what they’re eating remotely matches the title.  Because their hypothalamuses are telling them otherwise.  You must have gone to cooking school of some kind. How do you live with yourself?

Cheap scotch. The kind they sell in half gallon plastic containers on the bottom shelf at BevMo.

Too harsh? Here’s a review:

"Food"

“Food”, $17.95

A chef's work. Made in Encino.

A chef’s work. 

Okay, I’m letting it go now.   Bruce’s pork pies and Scotch eggs will be at MacLeod on Sundays from time to time.

The Lesser Work of P.F. and Jane

IMG_6942

Riyadh and Los Angeles switched places overnight Monday, two months ahead of schedule. As is our wont during heat waves of this scale, Mrs. U and I fled the Valley, finding sanctuary in the air-conditioned pleasure palace of the ArcLight.  Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s early novel Lady Susan, awaited us.   I hadn’t heard of it either.  Who cares? It was 120 degrees by the dashboard gauge, and we had gift cards. There are fringe benefits to teaching in private school, and one of them is gift cards from parents at the end of the year.

We entered the Cinerama Dome to discover a gleaming lobby and no one behind any of the eight registers.   No ArcLight employees in sight.

IMG_6945

Finally a woman with a head set appeared and ordered us to “go to the kiosks”. Unfortunately, the kiosks didn’t take gift cards, nor cash, so we were shunted off to a nuisance line at the coffee bar. “He’s the only one who can help you.”  Oh, nice.

The ArcLight charges $16 a ticket, and we the public pay this $3-4 premium in exchange for full staffing: lots of registers open at the snack bar and the box office, short lines, plush seats, no soda and gum on the floor. I’ve even seen expediters standing behind the cashiers, doing nothing but filling popcorn tubs and soda orders.   In short, we pay Clipper class rates for a theater that won’t be run like the Regency or the AMC.  We pay for good service, at a price point that’ll keep the riff-raff out.

Yeah, I know we had gift cards.  But still…..it was my day off, it was friggin hot, and I was feeling a certain consumer entitlement coming on, like a flu.

We get upstairs to find one very harried guy running the snack bar.  One. Half the audience for Jane Austen is waiting in line.   The line is not moving.  It’s not moving because a woman has decided her coffee was too cold.  The Snack Bar Guy offered to brew her a fresh pot. This of course would take a couple minutes, and boy oh boy was that going to be a problem for her.  “My movie is starting in a few minutes,” she proclaimed, as though the rest of us weren’t going to the same movie. “Unacceptable.”  Flopsweating, he put out a distress call for the manager.   She then parked herself at the register in a manner which suggested no one else should be served until she received satisfaction.

Here was a moment which called for an Austen-tatious riposte from someone in line, but no one said anything.  Our world froze in suspended animation as the Kiosk Lady climbed the stairs, huffing, the weight of the world upon her underpaid shoulders, to issue a refund to the Coffee Bitch.  Did I mention this was the hottest day of the year?

There I was, an over-educated working-class guy, looking to redeem a freebie bestowed upon my middle-class wife by upper-class Westside families as a tip for guiding their precious Lacey one rung closer to the Ivy League, and here was this bizarre collision of personal selfishness and corporate stinginess impeding my escape from the furnace of the Valley, and yet I did not act.  Nor did I have a clever thing to say. Yesterday would prove to be one of my lesser works.

Love and Friendship would prove a lesser work as well. Made me feel sad for Whit Stillman, auteur of Barcelona and Last Days of Disco, the closest thing we have to Austen in contemporary film, a man whose creative output apparently peaked twenty years ago, and is now hanging by his fingernails at the cineplex, trading on Jane’s good name.  We stepped out into the merciless sun, unsatisfied. It was only 5 PM. Hotter than ever.  We took refuge at P.F. Chang’s.

"Food"

“Food”, in a manner of speaking

I hadn’t been in years.  I know it’s corporate and overpriced,  but my sense-memory placed it at the upper end of the middlebrow taste scale. Comfort food, well-slathered, packing some heat.  Perhaps a frou-frou drink to sip with a steady breeze of air-conditioning tickling the sweat hairs on the back of my neck. I’ve been living under self-imposed austerity measures for a long time.  We buy ingredients at the store, we prepare them at home, and we declare ourselves well-fed. Now I had a $50 credit to burn, and I was going to take my full share of consequence-free eating, like everybody else.   It felt like the American thing to do.

Then the Orange Peel Beef arrived.

Imagine a flank steak fell off the back of a truck. Then someone found it on a road, still in the cellophane wrapper, and brought it to a rendering facility, where it was re-processed as meat byproduct. Then it was sold to PFC, where it was dropped into a giant vat of breading and corn syrup and chili flavoring, and a button was pushed and the mixing blades churned and what emerged was plated, drizzled with yet more goo and sold for $17.95.

I know there was “beef” in there, somewhere, because the menu told me so.  It was just a wee bit…ellusive.  I kept shoveling it in my mouth, like cotton candy at the county fair, waiting in vain for the carnivore tickle spot that lives behind my pancreas to vibrate with joy.

It occurred to me the initials P. and F. could stand for anything, including Profit and Fool, and when you put them together and blow, you’re farting with your mouth.

Outside, it was still over a hundred degrees.   Hurry, sundown.

Leaving Echo Park

Marcus, in repose

Marcus, in repose

After 17 years in Mt. Washington, Atwater, and Echo Park, grinding out a living at the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s, enjoying the musical and culinary feast of the East Side,  biking every trail,  biking everywhere, owning the city by leg and pedal,  my golf and drinking buddy Marcus is decamping from Los Angeles.  He’s going to run a bread bakery in Baywood, on the central coast.  His beautiful Other, Allison, is going with him.  She’s said goodbye to a private school administrative job and its attendant stress and annoyances and soon Mrs. UpintheValley will have to make do without her.

Baywood,  rising at 3am, to shape the loaves.  Living over the bakery.  Running the store, working the farmer’s market.   No Sunset Beer Co. or Mohawk Bend just a few blocks away.  No commute, either.  No unceasing demands of entitled parents. Long, quiet hours as the master of one’s destiny.

Cheaper rent is an easy explanation for this, but it’s not about the money as much as it is about a change in the course of one’s life.

Then again, cheaper rent makes the change in vector possible.  Without it, you’re chained to your traffic slot on the 405 with the rest of us.

Next month a one-bedroom teacup bungalow on Allesandro St. will be going on the market for $2500/month.  There will be a stampede of applicants.  This is the way Los Angeles is now.

We all wished them well

We all wished them well

Call and Response

603f6c19-640x360

A song can own you for a window of time.  It can flutter in through the earhole, perch on a ledge in your subconscious. You play it again and again, obeying its wishes, until it gradually loses power over you. Then it joins the 40-year mixtape of memory.

As fate would have it, for the past week I’ve begun every morning listening to Drone Bomb Me by the transexual artist now known as Anonhi, which first hijacked my head while Ubering home at 2:30 in the morning on the 405.

Love, drone bomb me 

blow me from the mountains 

and into the sea

blow my head off

explode my crystal guts

lay my purple on the grass

I have a glint in my eye

I think I want to die

I want to die

I want to be the apple of your eye

my blood, my blood

choose me tonight

let me be the one

the one that you choose tonight

Anonhi claims this was written in sympathy with a 9-year-old Afghan girl, who lost her family to a drone strike and wishes to join them. Like all great pop anthems it works at the level of sexual desire and unrequited longing.

Yesterday an Afghan immigrant walked into a gay nightclub, proclaimed his fealty to ISIS and gunned down as many man-kissing men as ammunition permitted.  It was 2AM. In my imagination this is just the un-danceable anthem a thoughtful DJ would put on at last call as people begin to pair off for the night.

An inability to name the enemy when the enemy has named us has forced America to pay an enormous price in blood and treasure.  We craft poetry from nihilism and call it pop and banish the enemy’s demands from our consciousness. The enemy walks right in, crafts piety from bloodshed. By pretending his demands aren’t literal, we summon him.

Lay my purple on the grass…. 

Bernie Day is upon us

Denouement

Denouement

Last night I was Ubering and I got a ride request at the old landmark Johnnies Coffee Shop on Fairfax and Wilshire.  It was lit up like Christmas and surrounded with placard bearing Bernie people cheering at passing cars. The exterior had been Bernie-ified with hagiographic muraling and artwork.

2016-05-27T072521Z_2117952467_D1AETGKKLLAA_RTRMADP_3_USA-ELECTION

Enthusiasm was infectious.  My rider, a young man bedazzled in campaign togs and paraphernalia, reluctantly broke away from a group of friends plotting Election Day volunteer assignments. Door knocking? Yes! Phone banking?  We’ll do that too!

He needed to get home, to Beverly Hills, in time for curfew.  And by Beverly Hills, I mean all the way up, as Fat Joe would say, way up past the Hotel, past the reservoir where Jake Gittes lost the tip of his nose, up where the architectural showcases perch on the spines of the ridge tops looking down the city like glass box gargoyles.   He was 17.

“Tomorrow 8 PM, is going to be the most stressful day of my life, even more than the SAT.”

I asked him for a prediction.  Even though he was unable to cast a ballot, he didn’t want to jinx it.   As a backstop, there was always the hope of a Hillary indictment before July.  But he hoped they didn’t need it.

Tomorrow is now today and in a few hours, by the time most of you have read this, we will know the answer to the first question.

He talked on, cheerfully dogmatic, about the banks and the oil companies running the country, how they had to be stopped, and how that would help put an end to inequality. He was a Mini-Me Bernie, minus the Brooklyn accent, chattering away in the back seat, texting friends, making plans.  He was so sweet about it, one couldn’t mock him, even in the privacy of one’s thoughts.

If nothing else,  this primary election, the first to matter in my lifetime, found a way of gathering a critical mass of idealists to each side.   None were more positive and hopeful, in LA anyway, than the Bernie people. It speaks well of them.

When I got home I turned on the TV and saw that MSNBC had “called” the election for Hillary, before any ballots had been counted.

IMG_1078

A Drama Surrounding a Phenomenon

920x1240

Leave it to David Brooks of the New York Times to coin the perfect weasel phrase suitable for PBS viewers:  “…the fact that there is all this violence and all this drama surrounding the whole Trump phenomenon could be nervous-making and it could drive some people.”

Uh, which people? Drive them….to what?  What is the drama referenced here? Does it involve a woman being surrounded by a jeering mob and pelted with water bottles and eggs as she walks alone and undefended into a Trump event?

Liopez_Jose_NEWS_Trump-Rally-4

Does it involve cold-cocking someone on the way to the parking lot?

The media loves the passive voice, never more so when it discusses the Trump campaign. It is awfully coy, even now, months into it, as to just who is doing what to whom, and how.

SJM-SJTRUMP-0603

Let us try a simple thought experiment. Pretend the man in the picture is wearing an I’m With Hillary t-shirt.  Pretend the people in the crowd are conservative white males, hounding and obstructing his ingress to a Clinton rally.  Would this not be the lead story on cable news for weeks on end? Would this not be the touchstone for endless think pieces on the rise of literal, as opposed to hypothetical, fascism in the United States?

Take a good look at the expression on the man’s face. Would you trade places with him for a moment? Is his constitutional right to peaceably assemble to hear the candidate of his choosing being protected or abridged in this case?  By refusing to make this distinction is the press not, in effect, siding with the mob?

The media has been writing journalistic permission slips to rioters going back to Ferguson.  When convenience stores are looted, this is the fault of the police for over-reacting.  When thugs descend on a Trump event to assault and badger the attendees, if not shut the event down entirely, Trump’s rhetoric is blamed.

Piece by piece, the guardrails to the electoral process are being disassembled and removed.

usa-anti-trump-protesters-000-ba1ul

What’s with the Mexican flags?  What’s with the gang signs?  The death threats?

One can outsource the assassination gambit to an unnamed “cartel” to avoid the reach of the Secret Service, but to verbalize something, to put it in writing, is the first step toward action.  What begins in wish fulfillment ends as all Pygmalion-like creation myths do. Carve a woman from marble and your own feverish longing,  and you will fall in love with her.

The firecracker is coming.

Let’s hope it’s only that.

Once A Marine….

Rebecca, no longer White Eagle

Rebecca, no longer White Eagle

The first time I met White Eagle he was emerging from an abandoned warehouse with a shopping cart heaped with salvaged electrical wires.  He was wearing leather pants and earrings, and looked like he played guitar in a glam rock band. For a guy living on the street, which he claimed to be doing for 13 years, and down to his last five teeth, he was oddly, unexpectedly attractive.  He was on his way to the recycling center with his plunder, and his rapid-fire tweaker talk was so animated it arced across the space between us and I felt like I just did a bump myself.

After the murder in the favela last year, I kept an eye out for him, but he proved hard to find.

Tonight I finally met him again by the railroad, dragging a cart. He was wearing short-shorts and boots, and had an American flag hanging from his back pocket like a bandana.  From a distance, he looked like the hot chick he had been working toward becoming for some time. With great pins, as the cigar-chomping talent managers of yesteryear would say.  Give us a spin, darling…

We recognized each other right off. “White Eagle”, I called out. “How are you?”

“Rebecca”, she corrected me. “I don’t go by White Eagle anymore.”

On that note, I shift pro-nouns.

She told me she was from Rocky Boy, Montana and was half-Cheyenne, one quarter Lakota, one quarter Irish. She was married, to a woman, for 13 years.  She was in the Marine Corps for 16 years. How and why these chapters in her life overlapped, then ended, she didn’t elaborate, nor did I pry. For now, no longer was she living on the back side of the 405 or in the Narrows but down off Sherman Way on ‘a trail all to herself.’  There was a downside to operating outside the favela. People tried to steal her belongings all the time.

As we spoke, I wondered what Mapplethorpe would do with her face.  It was from the Civil War. It was from Studio 54. It strode the catwalk of history, yet spoke of the ravages of meth. It was carved from onyx.  Self-destruction and great genetics had fought here to a draw.  I longed for Andrew’s Fuji X camera, but had to make do with an iPhone.

She had some kind of falsies inserted into a bra under her shirt.  Trucks pull over for her all the time on Sepulveda.

“Get in,” they order her. She doesn’t do that, she assures me, but they insist.   Then she rolls up her sleeve and shows them her Marine tattoo.

IMG_6456

She doesn’t take money from people, she wanted me to know, and never handouts. She no longer gets checks from the VA, just medical, and earns $50/day off recycling.   She walks ten miles, pulling the cart.  It can be lonely.

As we parted,  I remembered it was Memorial Day. I thanked her for her service.

“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” she replied.