There’s a new show on FX called Married. It’s set in the San Fernando Valley, and I must admit, rather entertaining. Look honey, I said the first time I saw a preview, that’s us! The mordant relationship humor, the quiet sexual desperation, the abundant use of familiar locales, a male lead who dresses like he looted my closet, it’s all a bit close to home, but in a well-written way. Just to set the record straight, Mrs. Upinthevalley is hotter than Judy Greer. I want to make that clear.
After watching Nat Faxon, the husband, wander through the first few episodes in cargo shorts and hoodies, I assumed he was unemployed. But no, oh no no, he’s a ‘freelance graphic designer’. She’s a stay at home mom. I know this because the plot lines of recent episodes have turned on this point. And they, a family of five, manage to live in a lovely house in what appears to be …Studio City or Valley Village…on his earnings from digital piecework. There’s another word for ‘freelance graphic designer': barista. Or stockboy at Trader Joes. Actually that’s not true. There are a great many freelancers in this city who would trade it in for a steady job at Trader Joes in a heartbeat. Apparently this is how TV writers, many of whom live in the Valley, think people in the Valley live.
Normally this wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me. Television shows frequently depict families living beyond what is feasible in the real world. Usually, however, the characters are at least portrayed as having a job. Maybe because Married is set in the Valley and maybe because we have frequented the locales used in the show (Oaks Tavern, Starlight Lounge) there’s a verisimilitude issue for me. No one lives south of Burbank Blvd by freelancing, part-time. Mrs. Upinthevalley and I live in Van Nuys. And by live, I mean we bought a tiny s**tbox with 1948 infrastructure we spent years fixing up. Our mortgage payment is $2500/month. That’s thirty grand a year, right off the top. Well, not exactly. First the government takes about twenty grand, money we never see. Then Wells Fargo takes its piece. Then we face the bills. We’ve never taken a vacation. We still use flip-phones. We have dial-up internet. We have one car. We use coupons. We have no savings. We’re extraordinarily fortunate to have survived the Great Foreclosure Flood of 2009. Barely. To not have to rely on roommates. There are ten people sharing a three bedroom house to the left of us. Six adults, all legal residents of the US, working in the service economy. Collectively, they can pay the mortgage, and make car payments and that’s pretty much it. There are seven people living in the house to the right of us. Three generations under one roof. That’s how it’s done. Unless you’ve lived here for twenty years, or inherited property or have a six figure income, this is the only way it is done.
We grind it out and grind it out, all of us, month after month, and hope the edifice of cantilevered credit by which we keep it all going does not collapse upon our heads. And that we don’t drive each other crazy.
We say a little prayer each evening and are grateful. Even as we slum it in that vast terra incognita north of Burbank. We, the invisible people.
Taking a picture on a public street is a touchy thing. Unless they pose or give consent, I make it a point not to point my camera in people’s faces. I do take a certain type of picture surreptitiously, usually a public tableau, where people appear in the background, at a distance, or from behind. Usually I’m not taking pictures of people, per se, but things: buildings, streetscapes, nature. There are have been moments when people have demanded to know what the hell I’m up to with a camera, who did I think I was, taking pictures of their store without permission. Until last night, no one has ever crossed a busy boulevard to confront me as Fouad did when I took a picture of his tire shop at dusk.
In answer to the why, I told him I was a photographer.
‘Oh,’ he replied, his mood lightening considerably, ‘I thought you were up to some funny business.’
Satisfied I wasn’t a private detective or insurance investigator, he invited me to cross the street and take a picture closer up. He even cheerfully posed:
Three photos, one intersection, 20 seconds apart. Thursday afternoon, 5:53 pm, while crossing Sepulveda on my bike.
Degradation, honor and hustling for dollars co-exist within one hundred feet of each other. The welfare state vs. the family. The working class surrounded by the products which will kill them early. A mid-Valley triptych.
‘Are you okay?’
‘Can I get you anything? Do you need help?’
‘My night is jerhgjerrr jerghjgawwwww….’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Mzzzzzzzzzz Jaaaaaane Doe! Ho ho ho ho……..’ (cough, cough, snot blow)
‘Okay. God bless you.’