Can a generation raised entirely on positive feedback achieve greatness?
Can a generation raised entirely on positive feedback achieve greatness?

Amelia Earhart, as you may know,  lived in Toluca Lake. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo. The first person to fly from Hawaii to the United States. She did so in an era lacking radar beacons, with primitive radio,  before the F.A.A or the C.A.B. or any of the aviation support infrastructure pilots rely on today. It was a matter of pointing at a spot on the horizon and setting forth with a compass,  a sextant and a watch and seeing it through, even after cloud cover no longer allowed one a view of the earthly landmarks below.  Amelia disappeared over the South Pacific in 1937 attempting the first solo crossing.  When they lost contact with her she was in search of a speck on the ocean called Howland Island, a fuel depot the size of Lake Balboa, a thousand miles from anything, obscured by a fog bank.

Los Angeles has done right by her memory with a nice statue and a library branch on Tujunga. I thought of her today while reading an essay in Vanity Fair by Bret Easton Ellis called ‘Generation Wuss’.  The one-time infant terrible of my own Gen X, has taken to Twitter, naturally, to weigh in on the fragility and neediness of people today in their 20’s.  Raised in a bubble of positive reinforcement by helicopter parents “…who end up smothering their kids, inducing a kind of inadequate preparation in how to deal with the hardships of life and the real way the world works: people won’t like you, that person may not love you back, kids are really cruel, work sucks, it’s hard to be good at something, life is made up of failure and disappointment, you’re not talented, people suffer, people grow old, people die. And Generation Wuss responds by collapsing into sentimentality and creating victim narratives”.

In fact, not twenty yards from Amelia, beneath the portico of the building which bears her name, a young woman was doing this:


When she was this age Amelia worked as a volunteer nurse during the Spanish Influenza of 1918. Fifty million people, mostly in what is now known as the First World, experienced death-by-diarrhea.  In a single year. On Monday, you’d get a twinge of nausea, by Tuesday they’d mark your front door with chalk. Inside of a month, you may well have pooped your insides out and died of dehydration.  Oddly, if affected mostly young adults.   An environment which did not lend itself to self-pity or vanity. You live through that, contract the illness yourself and survive,  you just might say: I’m getting in the cockpit. I don’t care if they laugh at me.

Perhaps it is the uncertainties of the new economic paradigm, but at no time are millenials not texting, tweeting or self-ing.  They have plunged eagerly into an avatar life, where more waking hours are spent interacting with the world not as oneself, but as one’s on-line persona, or in Jungian terms,  Shadow Self.   If you’re a girl, your public face is not the face that greets you in the mirror, but the much-rehearsed, duck-lipped, side-angled selfie post on Instagram.  The Girl who is Always Having Fun and Doing Things and Going Somewhere and Trying On Something New Today.  If you’re a Boy (boyhood now being extended until 35) your public interactions with other young Boy-Men are conducted through game characters created by someone else. Your porn-to-real life sexual interaction ratio may easily run 100-1.  That’s normal now.

To the degree which parents have banished failure, given every kid a ribbon and a hug, then failure is no longer a waystation in the building of a fulfilling life, but a lurking demon, like the Spanish Flu, waiting to take all, and from which all must take refuge in the accoutrements of social media.    Narcissism becomes a rational defense mechanism.  A mantlepiece upon which one can safely deposit a decade of ones life,  along with a diploma, without shame.

As a corollary, cyber-bullying, the maligning of another’s on-line persona is now considered to be a terrible, terrible public crime. Like…cross-burning! It’s also presented in the media as a legitimate explantation for suicide.

Can such people navigate the course of their own lives without inflicting harm to the nation? How many little lord Chattertons can America absorb before the character of America as we have known it, is changed?

What will happen when it is their turn to run things?  I don’t know. Let’s Ask Lena Dunham:

Self-reverential moment on SNL referencing navel-gazing show on HBO
Un-ironic navel-gazing It Girl explains self-reverence for us. No privilege to see here.

Crossing Alameda

Darkness invisible, Arts District
La belle époque in the Arts District

Five years ago this summer 17-year-old Lily Burk stopped at the Southwestern School of Law to pick up some papers for her mother.  It was three o’clock in the afternoon.  As she approached her parked car on a side street off Wilshire, a career criminal and crack addict named Charlie Samuel, on a day pass from a nearby drug treatment facility, persuaded/intimidated/forced his way behind the wheel and drove off with her inside.  A half hour later they were at an ATM in Little Tokyo attempting to withdraw cash.  Surveillance cameras showed Lily standing mutely next to her abductor, surrounded by passerby.  She did not cry out or attempt to flee.  She called her father, a music journalist, then her mother, a law professor, asking for instructions in withdrawing cash using a credit card. Lily gave no indication she was in danger.  Only later when she did not return did they find the calls alarming. After walking her up to several ATM’s where she failed to retrieve cash,  Charlie returned with Lily to the car and he drove to an empty lot at 458 S. Alameda St.

On the other side of Alameda
The state of nature on the other side of Alameda

At 5 pm a mounted policeman encountered Charlie a short distance away in Skid Row, publicly intoxicated.   A search revealed a crack pipe, and the keys to Lily’s Volvo. He was taken into custody for possession.  No one knew he had any connection to Lily’s disappearance.  Or even that a girl named Lily had not come home. At this point even her parents hadn’t started making calls.

At dawn, following a night of agony for her mother and father in Los Feliz, Lily was found in the passenger seat of her car, throat slashed.  She bled out a short distance from passerby, in daylight hours, probably within minutes of her last ATM stop. She had dislocated her ankle in her final struggle with her murderer.

Why did she get back in the car has always been the tragic riddle in the middle of a tabloid horror show. How could she be so naive? Did the parents raise her that way?  Shame on us for even thinking that. The parents’ suffering is biblical. Who are we to second-guess? 

What did the killer have to gain?  He didn’t rape her.  She was unable to provide cash.  He possibly could have slunk safely away with an apology. Left unharmed, she might not even have called the police. Though she was in rehearsals to perform onstage at the Oakwood School in The Boston Marriage, she wasn’t given to histrionics, that much he could deduce. Lily could/might have chalked it up as a lesson learned and undertaken in the future a keener sense of self-preservation and a greater vigilance for creeps.

Charlie knew where to go. Fifth and Alameda, an industrial and lightly policed DMZ between the nouveau-monied world of Urban Radish and Wurstkuche and the blunt facts of the Union Rescue Mission. Venture a few blocks north and one is neck deep in sushi restaurants. A block east and one can purchase a pair of dungarees and a handmade batik blouse for $300. But turn left into the tent city east of downtown….and one enters a state of nature.

In a normal day in in Los Angeles, these worlds overlap only in the geographical margins. One can live in Los Feliz or Santa Monica and have only the most passing interaction with the small army of service economy workers who commute in from Panorama City to tend to your daily wants, nor know their names, nor understand their cosmology.  A particular worldly and artistically inclined teenager might maintain a wide circle of social acquaintances across the city, none of whom attend public school.  Or at least the sort of public school most Angelenos attend.  One can walk Wilshire Blvd, camera in hand, and admire the landmark Art Deco edifice that is the old Bullocks Department store and feel very much the urban explorer, and yet not push in half a block deeper to the SRO hotels, methadone clinics and four-to-a-room immigrant stash houses that lurk beyond.   One can be that Right Thinking Person who votes against the Three Strikes Law, or welfare reform, or border enforcement, or quality-of-life policing, and never know the consequences of the blight one piles up in someone else’s neighborhood.  Who feels categorical judgements about Good and Evil are for the unsophisticated. Right up until the day your neighbor’s daughter is snatched like Persephone and dragged down into the underworld on Hades chariot.

There they were in the car, Charlie and Lily, in a utilitarian No Man’s Land chosen by him where neither she nor he would be recognized.  What was said?  What was left unsaid?  We know only the denouement was not like its more famous cinematic analogue…which also took place on Alameda Street:

china 1

A walk with Matthew 7:12


All along the watchtower, neo-Gothic angels keep the view…

An inscription beneath reads: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

But few people look up and notice.  Fewer still know that before this magnificent edifice was the Park Plaza Hotel it was the Los Angeles headquarters of the Fraternal Order of Elks.   The Elks are one of those old school American organizations which require membership based on ‘good moral character’, belief in God and explicit rejection of the Communist Party.  The landmark Lodge 99 was designed in 1925 by Claud Beelman and hosted Olympic indoor swimming events.

The Elks sold the building due to shrinking attendance.  It’s now a hotel in name only that rents out for swanky weddings and film shoots.


Across the street, in Macarthur Park, is a monument to the Hungarian Uprising.  Few people know (and the plaque at the base of the memorial makes no mention of it) the Uprising was against a Communist regime, backed by Soviet Union.  Much of the resistance was undertaken by Christians and they were crushed without mercy.  The crackdown was supported here in America by the Worker’s World Party, which later supported the Chinese government suppression of democracy in Tiananmen Square. The WWP is known today as the ANSWER Coalition, organizer of many anti-War and Occupy Wall Street rallies and marches.

Some of which have been held in….Macarthur Park.

The Lightless portion is known as the Democratic People's Republic
The Lightless portion is known as the People’s Republic

Few today remember Douglas Macarthur was the Commander in Chief of the Pacific and would-be savior of North Korea.  Sixty years after he was relieved of command by President Truman,  North Koreans are still living in darkness, literally.  They’re three inches shorter than their brethren to the south, and possession of a Bible is punishable by hard labor. Life in a prison camp north of the 38th Parallel is….abridged, and that’s a mixed blessing.

After the war many Korean refugees came to Los Angeles and settled near Macarthur Park, namesake of their liberation.

This isn’t intended to be a political blog…but it’s remarkable how much history one can absorb in a single walk if you take pictures and read inscriptions.  In fact as I was doing so, a van promoting a North Korean rescue organization rolled past and I was reminded of my friend Henny. Specifically her father, who as a young boy was placed into an execution line by the Communists. He took a bullet to the chest, woke an hour later, gravely wounded but alive, and staggered back to his village and found his mother in the church where she had been praying continuously since he was taken. He went on to have three daughters and own several convenience stores in Downey.


Not far off, I encountered three street preachers, busking beneath the shade trees to a small audience of derelicts. They were undeterred, and I felt regret for missing mass this morning.

The only edifice which matters at the end, the one which lasts, is the Word we carry in our hearts. Even the magnificat of Notre Dame will slowly empty of the faithful and become a way station for tourists.  The Word endures, even when the material world is reduced to a prisoner and a guard standing together in a labor camp scratching a cross in the dust with a stick.  Time and tide will sweep the labor camp away, but as long as we continue to gather in his name, if only under a tree, the Word will reach the grandchildren.

A Ho Story

Daniele Watts, playing the Ho
Daniele Watts, playing a Ho

Media scenario: Up and coming starlet makes out has sex with boyfriend in a Mercedes with the door open on a busy street next to a studio in the entertainment capital of the world.  In the middle of the day.

Workers in adjacent office building suggest the couple get a room.  They don’t.

Someone calls the police to complain.

Police arrive, tell them their performance is interfering with business. Ask for ID’s.

Actress refuses to comply with the request. Police detain her.

I have a publicist, she warns.

The officer has encountered many people with publicists. They show ID when asked, he explains.

Boyfriend begins taping incident for Facebook.

‘I serve freedom and love, you serve detainment.’

Viral marketing ensues:

 The police presumed she was a prostitute because she was black! 

You won’t believe what the LAPD did this time!

They think black women are streetwalkers!

Django Unchained actress  arrested handcuffed in front of her workplace! For kissing while black! Authorities investigating…

From Buenos Aires to London, the pistons begin turning the great cam shaft of public outrage. Ferguson II! Or Trayvon III, if you prefer, but without the chalk outline on the sidewalk.  Even better, a sex angle.  A showbiz angle, too. The trifecta! Get this girl on the set!  We can all be outraged together, without guilt. No one has to take shelter in his ideological bunker.  A freebee. The promise of weeks of good cable TV, sexy B-roll footage, and pop culture Deep Think explaining What It All Means.

Grab your remote. Start clicking those links. Why not? It’s not like there’s an election going on. Or a war.  To be more precise, a resurrection of the Conflict Formerly Known as the War on Terror authorized by a Congressional Resolution denounced by the President before he was President, which will have war-like features but none dare call War.   No wonder we love the tabloids.

Daniele Watts being 'treated like a Ho'. Allegedly.
Daniele Watts, ‘presumed to be a Ho’.  Allegedly.

Here’s the bottom line: LAPD as a matter of departmental policy does not make prostitution stops off a black and white patrol car.   All interdiction is handled through vice, working undercover in unmarked vehicles.  Two overt acts are required to bring departmental action. Consequently, patrol cars roll past working hookers on Sepulveda every day, in full regalia, leaning into car windows…and don’t even give them a glance, much to the consternation of residents of Van Nuys. Which is to say, there is pretty much no chance uniformed LAPD officers rolled up on Ms. Watts in the teeming slum of Studio City, across the street from Trader Joes and Laurel Tavern and just up the block from CBS studios and said to themselves: ‘hmmm, black lady/white man having relations…if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck…cuff that b***h.’

But here’s what’s interesting.  In Django, Daniele works at a brothel called the Cleopatra Club which offers pretty young black women up to wealthy white men who first arouse themselves by watching gladiator-like death matches between black slaves.  At the coup de grace of one of the more brutal scenes of recent American cinema, she coquettishly spills her gumballs across the floor in a kind of sexual release, a moment worthy of an essay of its own.   Back into the pop culture ether went Daniele Watts, and now this sudden reappearance two years later, accusing Los Angeles of treating her like the character which launched her career. Which for the moment, has resurrected it.

Is she acting in one of these photographs or both of them?  I say it’s all performance art.

At the Galpin Auto Show


…the torch is passed to the next generation.

DSCN1054 (1)

…they argue the value of an original Shelby Cobra.  Which was apparently an argument over what criteria one should employ before deeming it an ‘original Shelby’.   These two were a million dollars apart in their estimations. The owner kept pointing to the sign on the windshield: “Yes, it’s real”. It was 105 degrees in the parking lot…what better venue to settle the issue?

Cholo Heaven
Cholo Heaven
Old white guys wiping the finish
…old white guys wipe the finish
The Scooby van, always a big hit with the ladies
…the Scooby van is always a big hit with the ladies
Funny car-inspired re-enactment
….and funny cars inspire re-enactments