The Theater of Disappearance

Remember, we all must die.

Down at the Geffen Contemporary freezers run 24/7 preserving that which cannot be preserved… meat and driftwood and man’s creation, from birthday cakes to tennis shoes to bicycles, the vanity of earthly life arranged like bouquets…a memento mori for the anthropocene.    There is no heaven nor hell depicted by Adrian Villar Rojas, only the opulence of decay, and man’s fruitless quest for immortality. He is coy on the topic of the soul.  He places fish strategically, though perhaps ironically, throughout the exhibit, which is massive, 100 trucks of earthworks and salvaged pieces from prior exhibitions to form a stuffed timepiece, a man-made fossil. I suspect he doesn’t believe in divine judgment, though he trades on it.

What I really wonder is what Rojas would make of the Defenders of Boyle Heights. If they crossed the river to picket his installation, would he hand them bullhorns and cheer them on,  thereby defanging them?  Envaginating them, to employ a more proper metaphor, within his own work:

“Villar Rojas sees each project as an educational opportunity not only for those who visit the exhibition but equally so for himself. The institutions are given an opportunity, in turn, to reconsider the use of their own architectural assets, filtered or focused through the lens of Villar Rojas’s highly attuned sensitivities..this invasive dynamic allows Villar Rojas to develop an almost—in his own words—“parasitic relationship” with the institution; it is in this radical dialogue and exchange where both the artist-parasite and the institution-host explore the limits of what is possible and what is not, what is acceptable and what is not, what is negotiable and what is not. Ethics and politics, no less than agency and decision-making, are at stake in the project, opening a series of tough questions: When and where does a project actually begin?”

“Artist-parasite”…Adrian and the picketers are already speaking the same language, separated only by a million dollars in funding.

Remember, our disappearance will be theatrical.


Who we’re told to be, who we pretend to be, and who we are, framed within a frame within a frame.  Faking it, loving it, and not caring.

Be pretty, I command, always with encouragement.  Turn your head into the light. 

We abandon the Valley on Sundays and forage the city for new locales. Stand here,  I smell blog,  and she peeks from doorways for me and poses Instagramably atop boats and in front of murals and descends staircases and makes faces until she gets bored with it (which is soon) but there is a window, a golden mean in an afternoon before the misty glow of alcohol hardens into caloric grumpiness and the dread of the looming work week when she’s eager to muse.  I am Pygmalion. We defy time.  We create our own mythology. 

Go Away, Coffee…

All you Betabrand-wearing white folks from the other side of the river, begone. Begone, gentrifiers, and take your french press and chocolate lab  with you.  Shimmy off in your skinny jeans  and spend your money  elsewhere.     Shoo, flies. Shoo!  The arabica shall not cross Cesar Chavez Blvd.

Begone artists!  Begone patrons apologists! We shall not be art washed! Safe spaces do not gentrify.

Meanwhile, the city is building, at fantastic expense, a modernist bridge literally marrying Boyle Heights to the Arts District, in which no artists reside. 

Artist-filled Boyle Heights watches the money bridge approach each day, like manifest destiny…

..and in the advance, seeding the ground before it, the bungalow teardown trend going vertical…Venice East, in motion, and the answer that pops into the heads of the Defenders of Boyle Heights is…no coffee, dammit!    No hanging your work in galleries. Yeah. That’ll stop it.

Mystère Femmes Aux Pieds Nus

So it’s 2:30am, and you’re heading home from the beach towns on the 405, listening to The Cask of Amontillado on the radio, headlights piercing fog banks at 80 mph, when a ping comes over the Uber app.  An easy pickup, right off the freeway.

Easy pickups are the Uber driver’s fool’s gold, particularly when you’ve already called it a night. Convenience has a way of luring you in, then sending you all the way to West Covina just at the moment you’re ready for whiskey and a plump pillow, to punish you for wanting one more.

The GPS location is a bar. The bar is closed. No one is hanging out in front of the bar. Not a pedestrian in sight in either direction. So you wait, and listen to a chain-smoking actor from the 1940s melodramatically recite Fortunato’s visit to the wine cellar. At the five minute mark, a young woman emerges from a service alley behind the building: no shoes, no purse, short black dress, clutching an iPhone and looking like bees slept in her hair, or worse.

She skips to the car on the soles of her feet, shivering.  She smells of alcohol, but she’s upright and near as you can tell, compos mentis.  Though she looks exactly like the nameless victim in the opening scene of a slasher film,  no one is chasing her.  The destination is the Airport Hilton.

Nobody goes to a hotel, shoeless, at 2:30am for a good reason.  Who goes shoeless across the pavement of an American city for any reason? Shoelessness is crisis in motion.  Why no purse?  The only thing which distinguished her in vulnerability from a deer in the forest was the glowing phone in her hand, which vibrated loudly every ten seconds, bearing urgency which had no explanation.

Was she okay, you ask. Yeah, why, she replies dismissively. Due diligence complete, you take her to the Hilton as she has paid you to do. You purloin glimpses of her in the rear view mirror.

She dashes across the bright entryway on dirty feet, flashing a glimpse of butt cheek as she pushes through the spinning glass door. You linger a moment to see if someone is there to meet her, but there isn’t.  Is she arriving, or returning? Fleeing danger or diving headfirst into a whirlpool of foolishness? The elevator door closes on her, and with it any clear explanation.

On Friday, Mrs. UpintheValley is walking the dogs at her usual hour: 5am, i.e., total darkness.

Thwap Thwap Thwap she hears to the left of her.  A blur, running past porchlights.   She turns the corner, keeps walking. Two blocks later, the thwapping returns, and another blur runs past her, moving in the opposite direction.

Mrs. U bends down to retrieve dog poop, and suddenly there is a loud thump directly overhead.

A woman wearing only a bra top and a pair of leggings has jumped atop the roof of the car next to her. No shoes.  No purse. No phone.

The woman waves her hands hysterically in front of her face. She’s terrified of pitbulls, she says.  Meaning Trixie.  Also, she’s just been pepper-sprayed.

She was a stripper at Synn, up on Sepulveda.  There was a misunderstanding about money another stripper accused her of taking from a purse. She didn’t have her glasses on, she explained, and might have been mistaken in whose purse it was. But she didn’t take nobody’s money. Plus, she’d been drinking.

She had to drink because she hated stripping so much but she needed the money to pay for kinesiology school.  But that didn’t mean she was stealing.

She had a long-winded, barely believable, non-theiving explanation for how she came to be running barefoot through the neighborhood in the wee hours with nothing on but a bra top and leggings and Mrs. U listened to it patiently until the police arrived, shined a flashlight into her blinking face and administered the Three Questions.

My life is boring, I think, when I consider these two night couriers, these harbingers of drama.  How predictable I have grown. You can set a watch by my responsiblity.  I’m a guy who lives in the Valley and pays his bills. Banks love me. People call me sir.

Oh, to heed the siren call of barefooted women, and swagger into the Mystery Elevator, careless and eager.


Grappling with modernity
The Valley, 1915
The Valley, 1915
Petit Ranch, 1920
Petit Ranch, 1920
Cahuenga Pass, 1922
Cahuenga Pass, 1922, when the trolley was king
Cahuenga Pass, 1949
Cahuenga Pass, 1949
Cahuenga Pass, 1955, no rails
Cahuenga Pass, 1955, no more rails
Last trolley car to Van Nuys, 1952
Last trolley car to Van Nuys, 1952
Hollywood Freeway, 1972
Cahuenga Pass, 1972

When was the happiest ratio between car and rail in Los Angeles?  Probably when the population was one quarter of what it is today. Let Harold Lloyd show you in three minutes of awesomeness.

Trolley photos courtesy of the Ralph Cantos Collection

Coup d’Etat, By Churro


The churro of death! At least I think it’s a churro. Perhaps it’s an elote with spinning metal kernels, like a tunnel boring machine.


Once Trump is dispatched, urchins will breach the yet-to-be-built wall bearing Mexican flags.  This might be a case of being too truthful for one’s own good.


Like depicting a mournful pig contemplating mortality at the entrance of your carniceria.


Or portraying sex symbols as eight-nippled dispensers of milk.


Udder-ly unironic.

To Cairo, With Love


The elevated station at Sixth and Los Angeles streets, 1950.  The building on the left in bkgd is now the swanktastic PE Lofts. The building on the right contains the Santa Fe Lofts and other DTLA enticements.

One wonders which would be more surprising to the people riding the train that day: in the future there would be a swimming pool and day lounge atop an office building, or that people would eagerly proffer half their monthly income for a studio apartment there?  That people would urinate in the doorways without penalty, or that men would congregate flamboyantly with other men at a bar called the Redline?

6th and LA aeriel

The station was replaced with a three level parking lot. Contrary to popular lore, the automobile didn’t bring an end to the train in LA. They were phased out and replaced by a fleet of buses.


And what happened to the train cars? Many of them were taken to Terminal Island to be melted down at the Kaiser Steelworks. But the ones in the best condition were sold to the city of Cairo, where they were ridden until the wheels came off, literally.

The Prince of Stank


The first puker I had in my Uber was a teenaged girl who got ditched by her date.

“Make sure she gets home okay,” he declared nobly, before returning to the party.

“You’re not coming with me?” she asked in plaintive surprise. He kissed her through the window, then tapped the roof. I snapped the reins like a liveryman in Jane Austen and off to the Palisades we went, in unhappy silence.  Then muted sobs. Then chest heaving, behold-the-perfidy of-men-type sobs. Then a baby hiccup, followed a split-second later by a giant splash on the floor behind me.  No warnings.

Make sure s/he gets home okay is Uberspeak for I really want to have sex with someone else right now. Also, you have a ticking bomb in your car.

So….New Years Eve. Normandie Club.  A guy asleep on his feet by the entrance, propped up by a girl in a tiny black dress who couldn’t wait to scurry back to the action. Make sure he gets….. to Long Beach. At 5x surge pricing, I wasn’t about to refuse.

I thought if I made it to the freeway without incident, we would be okay and navigated the bumps and turns like Roy Schneider with the truck full of nitro-glycerine in Sorcerer.  We safely reached the 110, and then, as though sensing my relaxation, he roused himself from sleep,  leaned forward and filled the car with a floral bouquet of cheap scotch, guacamole dip and gastric acids.   The kind of thing that really gets deep, deep into the fabric and makes itself at home.  I have a picture, but it’s just too gross.

Mrs. UpintheValley contacted eight auto detailers Monday morning. Only one got back to us.  My new man crush, Arik from LA Mobile Detailing.   On a national holiday.

Four years ago Arik was making crowns and veneers for his uncle before he decided to go into business for himself. Uber and Lyft drivers were a natural market for eco-wash services. He left cards at the Greenlight stations, thinking he might get some conventional cleaning business.  Not quite.  Emergencies of bodily effluence were the order of the day.    He found himself taking puke calls with great regularity.   He hired his brother to help with the grossest stuff.  Most of the work is hand wash, enabling him to clean an entire car inside and out with two gallons of water.  His business expanded to boats, planes, RV’s.

If Woody Allen is right and 80% of life is showing up, then Arik would embody the principle. He came back not once, but twice, to do battle with stench el pukus, which had an unfair head start seeping into the fabric all the way to Long Beach. A natural businessman, he was un-resentful of the call backs, and business is prospering. His entire family works for him now.  His mother answers the phones.  An Israeli immigrant, he’s engaged to an Azerbaijani woman, who is taking conversion classes at AJU.   A very modern love story with old world trappings.

A pushcart + iPhone + Yelp = the New Economy. A pushcart – iPhone = Delancey Street, 1918. Technology may not improve human nature, but it will separate those who have their act together from those who are wanting. It will place rocket fuel to virtue and raise the cost of vice in equal measure.  In something as basic as car cleaning the scissors graph of the two narratives part ways.

Los Angeles is ground zero for the new American century. It’s an animal like no other.