The original Valley people*, when they were rusticating in quonset huts in Griffith Park, just about where the Autry Museum and the Zoo are today. The Village lasted from 1946 to 1954. Hat tip, longtime reader Chip Corbin.
Rodger Young, Medal of Honor recipient, was from Green Springs, Ohio. He stood 5’2 and weighed 125 lbs, was going deaf, and near-sighted. He slipped past the Army’s 4F screens by signing up for the National Guard in 1940, after dropping out of high school, because he was having difficulty following the lessons due to his hearing difficulty. He was killed in the Solomon Islands storming a Japanese machine gun nest, enabling his platoon to safely withdraw under fire. An ordinary man who became extraordinary in a fearless hour.
His gallantry was memorialized by the lyricist Frank Loesser:
Fellow Ohioan Robert Heinlein was also enamored of Young, baptizing the transport ship in Starship Troopers with his name. He also included his citation for bravery in an appendix to the novel.
*After the Tongva, the Franciscans, the Robber Barons, the Chinese, the Chandlers and Barbara Stanwyck. I refer here to the Valley in its bedroom community incarnation.
Nothing like martial virtue to inspire biblical relations between genders. When we slaughtered the Hun and subdued the Japanese Empire in four years and warplanes rolled off the assembly line every ten hours in Long Beach, King Priapus ruled the day.
During the Depression very little housing had been built, and during WWII, none at all, creating entire communities living in temporary housing: trailers, quonsets, Wingfoot huts, and repurposed tugboat cabins.
Our little working class brigadoon in Van Nuys was carved from Carnation creamery cow pasture in 1947 as something called Allied Gardens. A GI and his brood could have one for $10,400. That’s $119,000 in 2017 dollars. No landscaping. No frills. A three circuit Zinsco electrical panel, no insulation, no AC. Fittingly, it was developed by Louis Kelton, for whom Kelton Street in Brentwood was named, establishing at conception the master-servant dialectical between the two communities.
At those prices, who wouldn’t want one? The stucco box was a pleasure dome after the quonset hut. Colored veterans were excluded by covenant from buying. Colored people lived where colored people lived and the women tended the homes of rich people on the Westside, like Louis Kelton. White people manufactured things and saved up for a backyard pool. Service at the pleasure of others, specifically of a household or agricultural nature, was nigger work. White people didn’t do that.
For forty years this arrangement held while white people gradually decamped to Santa Clarita or Thousand Oaks, discarding neglected houses like beater cars. Black people moved to Riverside, or all the way to the Mississippi Delta. Latino/Asian/Armenian immigrants, stacked up in apartments, busily practicing biblical relations between genders, counted the bedrooms, and said “we’ll take this gone to hell stucco box. Where do we sign?” In they came and out went grumbling white people, trailing blight.
Along the way, California stopped making things and began designing them. China makes our things now, in vast factory campuses, where workers sleep in stacked bunkbeds like poultry in battery cages.
Nobody uses the phrase nigger work anymore. We’re too enlightened for that. We just have a vast army of surplus labor doubled up in rooms and secreted in trailers behind the hedge, rising at dawn to beat the traffic over the 405 to serveprovide for the grasping needs of Brentwood. People who question these arrangements are bigots.
Walking the dogs yesterday I encountered a new neighbor who crossed the street to pet Trixie but really to introduce himself. We chatted amiably about Van Nuys. He worked in a law firm. His wife was a special ed teacher. They had two luxury brand cars in the driveway. He outlined the improvements he had planned for his house and wanted to reassure me the tacky car shed over the driveway was going, and the yard was going to be re-done.
“This is going to be Echo Park in a couple years,” he pronounced, seeking my affirmation, which I gave, but secretly doubted. Highland Park, maybe, but who am I to prognosticate? When we moved here from Los Feliz in the oughts, I was certain there were 10,000 people hot on my heels. We were going to be trend setters! We were going to plant the flag of gentrification reap the benefits of being first. Who wouldn’t want to own a nice big yard for the price of rent on a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood? Yeah, it might have been a little kitschy, a little dated, a little Fast Times at Ridgemont High 20 years after, with bars on the windows, but it was have-able, and fifteen minutes from Town.
Oof. I was only off by a decade. Now I just subtract a few years from my biography and pretend to be half a genius.
Van Nuys is changing, though, and quickly. The 1200-square foot stucco box is back in vogue, by demographic necessity. Which raises a question: how long before the quonset hut returns as a housing option? It’s rather spacious when considered next to Tiny Houses.
It’s already undergoing a revival as repurposed office space for creative types.
And as an architectural motif for people very far removed from utilitarian necessity. Perhaps the trend lines will converge. Everything old can be new again.
As was inevitable, New Urbanism has come to Van Nuys. The granny flat on a trailer. Tidy. Well-ordered, aesthetic. Entry off the service alley, away from disapproving neighbors. A parallel Los Angeles blooming behind the ranch houses. An elf kingdom sliding rent checks under the door, and scurrying away, unseen. It may be small-ish, but there is nothing cold or dismal about it.
When Mrs. UpintheValley decides the end of the hallway is not far enough, she can have this. On second thought, I’ll make it my Man Cave.
Such Cratchitville arrangements are not new, and exist de facto all over the city, without rental income involved. We decry eyesores, but on what legal basis do we deny people the ability to park on an industrial street, set up a hibachi on the sidewalk, pull a lawn chair out of a dumpster and proclaim oneself at home? Provided they are not committing crime or polluting the neighborhood, what’s to argue? The embrace of backyard trailer houses by city government will make it more difficult, politically and morally, to draw a firm line against the Shabby RV People. The shrubbery of the San Fernando Valley is already well-watered with the urine of nephews living in the casita (read: HomeDepot toolshed) in the backyard.
If parking on someone’s property and paying rent is the basis of legitimacy, then the presence of wheels gives the City plausible deniability. We are not codifying this, Los Angeles tells itself, we are giving the public a workaround from zoning law. If there are problems, theoretically they can be rolled away. Of course, this means any pushcart can now be recognized as an ‘housing alternative’.
There are people pushing carts all over the Valley. Or towing non-functioning vehicles from one parking location to another. There seems to be a stark dividing line within the world of the dispossessed between those with wheeled shelter and those without. A beater car is preferable to a tent by the freeway. It means one retains aspirations of hanging on, however tenuously by his fingernails, to a place in the Social Contract.
After the wheels are gone, there is the tent. Once the tent goes there is…the makeshift crackhead fort.
After you are unable to cobble together a crackhead fort, you just roll yourself up like a burrito and imagine the passion of St. Francis under the stars.
Yes, it’s in water. We even added Purcell’s Tree Preservative. Oh, Christmas tree, stop dropping your needles. Ten days we’ve had you.
You’re not sad enough to be endearing, like the Charlie Brown tree which was green, at least. You’re just irritating. Ugly and overpriced. A harbinger of bad tidings. Up the chimney with you! Come grinch, help us put things aright.
I picked up Tha King in front of the Sofitel in West Hollywood. He was headed to Bare Elegance, down by LAX, with $4000 cash, ready to make it rain.
But first we had to wait for his pool rider.
He was wearing a hoodie, and had a voice like Tone Loc from away back in the 90’s, gravely and debauched. He reeked of weed. As an icebreaker, I asked him if the ladies liked his voice that way. All conversation flowed from this point. He was surprised I didn’t recognize him, cause he made beats for Future. Also, Young Thug. That’s why he wore a hoodie. He couldn’t take it off in LA, cause the ladies were all up on him as soon as they saw his distinctive array of tats. He also wanted me to know, for a second time, he had $4000 cash in his pocket for the club.
It occurred to me to ask why he didn’t just take his shirt off and save himself the money, but that wouldn’t be in the spirit of our conversation and I didn’t want to step on his flow.
Tha King was flowing. His beats were the bomb. The shit be blowing up because the world wants it. They were so good, everyone wanted to work with him and he couldn’t go back to Texas cause people were looking to shoot him, which was too bad because he had a purple Bentley in his garage. But he was tearing it up in LA. He owned this motherfucker. Besides, the Cowboys were having a terrible year, and he was ready to be a Rams fan.
Did I know The Illuminati chose hiphop as the musical force for taking over the world? Oh, yeah. They got that shit locked down. Also, they cloned Tupac, then they killed the clone to deceive everyone. The real Tupac was still alive and kicking it in tunnels somewhere, waiting for his instructions to return. All the name rappers out there couldn’t carry the message because they had made deals with Satan. The proof of this was while they said God, none of them could say the words Jesus Christ.
Listen to that shit, none of them say Gee-zus cries.
In any case, Jesus had already returned in the form of Tupac, and was chilling in the tunnels.
When I got home I couldn’t help myself, I searched for Tha King on YouTube. There he was, flashing his tats and spitting the hard shit. His video had been up for a year and had enjoyed a total of….437 views.There were two fan comments from a girl who claimed to be his daughter, and by her picture looked to be about ten years old:
hi there its arie love you daddy
come to winsconsen dad love you daddy love you love you
“The Over/Under in Monterey is $150,000”, announces Reese Witherspoon in Big Little Lies, while driving from her beachfront house to a school cleansed of non-white children. By Monterey, she means Carmel.
Nobody works in Big Little Lies, except for Laura Dern, who does something in finance. Axiomatically she is the villain. People manage to live without exertion in a world of wall-sized refrigerators, walk in closets with backlit three-tiered shoe racks, and terraced lots descending to the sand. Because, $150,000.
No, seriously. This is the number HBO inserted into the script for American consumption: see, this is how we live in California. P.S., everyone here is white. (Except for Zoe Kravitz, who is there to provide Otter Bay elementary with a single mixed race child and a deus ex machina plot device) Apparently Reese’s husband manages to support the immense architecture of her life doing digital piecework, part time, in the living room, I kid you not.
There is no class struggle on HBO. There is a single mother character, Jane, who is seen, briefly, soliciting bookkeeping work for a local coffee house (again, piecework) but we never discover whether she gets the gig. She’s altogether indifferent to money because she’s contending with issues from her past, which trumps any need to pay bills. We know she’s “poor” because she’s consigned to live in a Craftsman bungalow without landscaping.
Her parlous state does not prove inhibitive to friendships with women who could park her entire house inside their family room, and elicits not the slightest glimmer of envy of her part, (nor condescension on theirs) when she enters their lives.
So if no one is working, how does anything get done?
Hattie McDaniel, really? Oh c’mon, that’s not the world we’re living in any more. Too far.
No? Okay, how about her? This make you feel more comfortable?
Coastal California runs on Third World labor, full stop. For every canyon-tucked, cliffside household a small army of floor scrubbers, hedge-trimmers, diaper-changers, maintenance people and tradesmen emerge from their dingbat apartments, climb into their beater cars and make the long schlep from distant communities to Brentwood and Carmel. Miraculously, they leave no carbon footprint on anyone’s ledger, least of all Mamacita’s.
Not a single Latino appears in Big Little Lies, which is set in Monterey County, which is 55% Latino.
Look to any Bette Davis-era drawing room drama, and you see thankless Mammy/servant roles filling in the background, mute, but for demeaning dialogue, but nevertheless present in the frame. Old Hollywood in its most propagandistic depictions of American life was not so far gone it dared deny the existence of working class people and their place in the structure of things.
When you do a Google search for “maids, Monterey” you get images like this:
None dare call them servants. Our liberal self-conception precludes it. We’d rather think of them as animated pictograms or portrayed by white models than glimpse a truthful mirror which suggests California is moving closer to Jackson, Mississippi, 1964…
…but with none of the noblesse oblige of that earlier time.
Reciprocal obligations in millennial California take comical forms. Reese Witherspoon’s teenage daughter threatens to auction her virginity on the internet to raise money for exploited women around the world. Her parents counsel against this, but commend her for her social consciousness.