Harbor Freight Tools is cheap. Ridiculously low prices, to quote the company masthead… there were tree pruners to be had for $15. They had a deluxe model with extending arms for those hard to reach branches, $19.95. No cheapskate, me, I got the deluxe. There were also 105 piece tool sets to be had to be had for $37.95, but I restrained myself.
The pruner, or lopper as it is sometimes known, is a fairly simple device, utilizing the torque of long handles to create force at the blade point. Useful for branches less than an inch in diameter. I had a lopper from the Depot which lasted me about five years, until I left it out in the rain and the blades got dull. There are no moving parts, just a hinge, and crucially, some sort of stay which keeps the handles from fully closing so you don’t smack your knuckles together.
My first clue this was not to be like my old pruners, the tensioner on one side gave out after I twisted on it a little vigorously, making one handle slide out twice as long as the other, unless it was pointed upward at all times. In under a month it joined my war chest of duct tape modified tools made in China.
So yesterday, I’m up on the roof, dealing with the bougainvillea when -sh*tf**kc**kdamnwhore!- I went knuckle bone to knuckle bone, full force, snipping a branch. The stay bolt preventing the handles from closing had refused to stay, fell out, to be accurate, and was now hibernating in a heap of feral cat feces and dried bougainvillea leaves fifteen feet below. Pressing on, grunting, bruising my knuckles with Homer Simpson-esque alacrity, I marveled at how it was possible a tool could disintegrate in one’s hands while being used for the purpose it was made, when the handle, the good one, disengaged from the shears. Just like that, I was holding a partial lopper in one hand, and a metal rod in the other like a prank victim on hidden camera. I looked for a loose bolt, threads, anything, but no, the only thing attaching handle to blade was a plastic sleeve fitting. $19.95, ladies and gentlemen of the jury! The grinning idiot’s price!
I did the manful and useful thing. I flung it across the yard in a stream of profanity. As I did so, it occurred to me the open blades made the shape of a duck bill, and the duck was laughing at me as it flew into the back fence. Somewhere in Chengdu the owners of Harmonious Factory of Disposable Goods for American Suckers #27, were enjoying Peking duck around a roaring fireplace, and weighing their money on truck scales, and they were laughing. The scale tenders, girls hand-selected from the villages, were pouring cognac and lighting cigars, and they, too, were laughing, giggling really, in short duck print dresses, while the men perused Beverly Hills property on Zillow. Ah, ha, ha. Tee, hee, hee. Quack, quack, quack.
China 1, Slack Jawed Yokel 0.
Back in the kitchen… ruminating on the manufacture of craptastic things…I decided blaming the Chinese for being Chinese was a fool’s errand. Craptastic on an industrial scale is what the Chinese do well. The sin resides in foisting craptastic on an unsuspecting public. Now who did that?
This guy. Eric Smidt, scion of Harbor Freight Tools, which his father began, I’m sorry to say, as a mail-order business in North Hollywood. Back in the oughts, Smidt Jr, forced his father out in a palace coup and began Harbor’s viral expansion. I’ll let Bloomberg News explain it:
“It’s like a money-printing machine,” said Lloyd Greif, founder and CEO of the investment bank Greif & Co. in Los Angeles that specializes in representing entrepreneurs and their companies. “He’s mastered the art of the dividend recap.”
“Smidt’s father, upset by management changes made to re-position Harbor Freight after the 2008 recession, criticized the practice of borrowing to take cash out of the business in a 2010 lawsuit, filed over a decade after he sold his interest to his son. Allan Smidt, who died last year, said Eric Smidt had “dramatically leveraged the company” and enriched himself at its expense. The suit cited a loan in excess of $500 million that “has had serious negative consequences, including inability to keep inventory on shelves.” Interest on the loan, the suit said, was at one point as high as 10 percent. The elder Smidt accused his son of kicking him off the board of directors and looting Harbor Freight in part to buy the Knoll, a painting for $100 million and a Manhattan apartment for $20 million.”
Dividend recap is accountant-speak for taking cash out of a company today against future earnings. Borrowing from yourself. If you can keep expanding fast enough you can get away with it. Until you can’t.
Harbor Freight is opening a new store every three days.
In retrospect, all the clues were there. The Sepulveda outlet was the equivalent of a pop-up restaurant, impermanent, unadorned, boxes piled on the floor with pricing information on laser printed sheets of paper taped hither and yon.
His $100 million painting? It’s rumored to be Eight Elvises by Andy Warhol. I would say artwork and buyer are neatly matched here. Indeed, artist, subject and patron have achieved something like Chinese harmony.
I feel like a patron of the arts already.
There are no streetlights in Baywood. No sidewalks. The only public light sources are the Alehouse, the Merrimaker and the laundromat. Locals hear the surf crashing on the sand spit a mile away across the estuary and complain, the way one might complain about the freeway noise back in Los Angeles, where the over/under starts at $100,000 year.
Baywood is where you retreat when LA doesn’t work for you anymore but you want to stay in California. It’s where the life you wanted to have in Van Nuys or Echo Park is re-booted.
It is where you park your RV in your friends driveway and figure out your next move. And where you go when you close your bike shop, once named Best in the City by the LA Weekly, after 11 years.
Where you break out the wrenches and drill set, and turn the RV into a mobile bike base camp and solar-powered graphic design suite. Where you simplify things by designing your own escape pod.
LA being LA, the bike shop lives on as the filming location for a Netflix escapist fantasy called Flaked. The show is set in Venice and centered on a guy named Chip who owns a store hawking hand crafted three legged stools of his own design, but has no apparent customers yet manages to stay afloat. Chip also lives rent-free by the beach and dates women half his age, and spends much of the first season perambulating around Venice on his bicycle, unencumbered by adult responsibilities like a monthly nut, or a business plan. Flaked, by objective measurement, is not a quality show. The verisimilitude problems are impossible to get beyond. But I binged on it as a secret vice, the way Mrs. U watches the housewife shows. Punching a clock in the Valley, who wouldn’t want to live the life of Chip?
The world is smaller than we think it is. Fate not long ago placed one of the Flaked co-stars not named Will Arnett in the backseat of my Uber and he would spend the ride home trying without success to court, Chip-like, a much younger female passenger. After she exited the car without yielding a number, he laughed about it with me. He agreed with my assessment of the show. The lie it was telling about Los Angeles was his livelihood. He couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious.
The real life Chip is more more athletic and better looking. Also un-entitled and self-effacing and responsible. As he packed up his store he found letters to his workers he never sent, some dated five years ago, listing all the reasons he could no longer keep it going. Owning a business is not like a regular job. You cant just flake. He employed 15 people and spent years working with the city to open up bike lanes and paths. Now he loads up on packets at the hamburger stand to take back to the RV as he waits to hear from unemployment. Ask him if he’s bitter and he says no. He’s put in his time in LA. The only thing he misses about it is being faster than every car on the road when riding his bike.
Before I got schooled, I assumed granite arrived from overseas as sheets, and only the fabricating was done here. But no, it’s quarried and shipped as giant blocks. Loaves, to use the industry term. They slice it up on this giant machine right here in the Valley.
The things you learn when doing the kitchen.
After my physical exertions, to anticapte the topping of the cake prized from the earth in such a brute manner gave me pleasure.
Here’s something else you learn.
Sniffing around a granite yard looking for a pattern known as green rose, I was confronted by a lugubrious man with a baroque Mediterranean accent who popped out from between two loaves of granite, like the Lorax.
Man: May I help you sir!
Man: How may I help you?
Me: I’m looking for a green rose pattern.
He marched me into the showroom and pointed to the slab you see here.
Man: Here is green.
I looked around like an idiot, thinking he must be pointing elsewhere.
Me: You’re saying this is green?
Man: Is green.
Man: IS green. Look around the room if you don’t believe me. You tell me which one is green.
I showed him a picture of what I was looking for on my phone.
Man: You’ll never find that, sir. No one has that. What I have is as close to what you’re looking for in the entire city, and I know all the inventory.
And that was the beginning of our quest through the stone yards of the Valley.
…Andrew brings them to MacLeod for photo shoots. Eric B., as unknown as unknown can be, two years ago, wearing the colors on Calvert St. Who would have thought he would go further than any black man in the history of The Bachelorette franchise? On Monday he’s bringing Rachel and a television crew to the hood-side of Baltimore to
conduct an anthropological study meet his family, feeding the idle voyeurism of millions.
But not before turning up in Andrew’s Flickr feed. We way ahead of the curve in The Nuys.
American children are seriously overweight, and the kids in my neighborhood are fatter than most.
In its wisdom the LAUSD has taken the position kids are not getting enough calories, and has summoned them back to school during summer vacation with standing offers of free lunch. No studying. No playtime. Just waddle in and chow down, courtesy of the government. You don’t even have to be a student, only a minor. Anyone will do. It’s free! From the magic bucket of stuff you didn’t ask for and which has no bottom, and no purpose but to grow the payroll downtown.
God help the politician who tries to put an end to this. Para ninos! Nino pequenos hambrientos! Muere, hombre malvado!
Apparently the feeding includes food trucks. This was not my lunch room experience as a kid. Okay, I went there.
I was feeling curmudgeonly about this as I walked into Macleod yesterday and availed myself of the free peanuts. Like a horse I ate, munching contentedly, scattering the shells around my stall. Chomp, chomp. Crack, crack. Glug, glug.
Well, they were free.…once I bought the beer.
It occurred to me, as I gazed upon Roderick’s peanut gallery, it was theoretically possible at this very moment an aspiring Matisse at Vista Middle School was working off her portion of carbs by etching dancing nudes on to the back of a styrofoam clamshell. If Roderick can create portraiture from peanut shells, perhaps the clamshell itself will become a new textural form. Perhaps the food, like the peanut, is beside the point. It’s the shell that matters. The vessel is the gesture.