The Blue Tarp Exodus

Moving Day

Moving Day, again…

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The white favela, having been forcibly dispersed from its redoubt along Cabrito Road two months ago,  re-established itself in small clusters around Van Nuys.   The largest of these was adjacent to the Smart and Final, which was, in a hat tip to the Law of Unintended Consequences, a mere hundred feet from the old favela, but ten times as visible from Van Nuys Blvd, or to anyone coming out the Home Depot parking lot.  I was there yesterday buying beer for my coolies my friend Marcus, who was helping me terrace the front yard with native succulents.  This is was what we saw when we pulled into the parking lot.  The cashier told us business had been off 30% in recent weeks. Smart and Final was suing the city and there was a hearing scheduled for the 29th.

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This morning we returned to the Depot for more soil, and lo, the blue tarps were gone. The street swept bare of all traces of the encampment.  A few police cars were parked at the end of the block. A city vehicle was collecting debris.  It was the 28th.

Gone, baby, gone.

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But not really. All over Van Nuys, the favela was on the move.

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Their barrows heaped with shoddy, temporarily abandoned here and there, while they went back for the rest.

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They will circumnavigate the un-policed areas of the Valley until they gather in such numbers as to be a recognized nuisance again. And by recognized, I mean the next time the City receives a notice of legal action on a corporate letterhead.

Winter is coming. They won’t be going North.

Goodbye, Freasy

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Well, this is a blow. Fresh and Easy is closing all 97 stores in California this week.  Liquidation of inventory has begun. Mrs. UpintheValley took advantage of the markdowns to clear out the bulk items at the Sepulveda store, which was always so conveniently situated right on the way home.

Soon it will be another empty husk in a strip mall. Maybe the Dollar King next door will expand into it like an invading ant army.  Maybe it will sit empty for half a year, while the landlord sits on the property, watching its value increase by the minute. In Los Angeles, the real estate casino always wins.

I suppose a sudden arrival of Trader Joes would be too much to hope for.

Not sure why the Freasy didn’t do better.  While it didn’t offer the vast inventory of Costco, or priced as cheap as SuperKing or the Mexican markets, it had an interesting product mix; plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, pre-packaged semi-gourmet meals for singles, ample parking, easy self-checkout.  Also, it was the only place in the Valley open 24 hours, which made for a welcome 3 am pit stop after a long night Ubering.  Andrew at HereinVanNuys described it as like grocery shopping at Ikea, which was not an inaccurate assessment.   It was a store that made perfect sense on paper, but never got the trade to come through the doors.

Seeing the going out of business signs made me think of a different strip mall, at Selma and Cahuenga.  A decade ago it was just another shitty corner in a tacky, at times crime-addled, part of Hollywood.  There was the inevitable liquor store/laundromat combo, the impossibly tight parking spaces, insufficient in number. Crackheads and winos, puttering about. Trash.  Garish signage. A forgettable eyesore.

Today there are three, count them, three, gastropubs, a Pinkberry, and a couple boutiques.  In one strip mall.

The corner of Sepulveda and Vanowen a decade ago had a Ralphs, a Baskin Robbins, high traffic and good visibility.  It was surrounded by quiet leafy neighborhoods of mid-century homes populated by middle class people with jobs.  Dated, certainly, but a solid business investment, one would think.  Apparently one would be wrong.

The divergent fates of these two corners say a lot about what’s happening to this City.

Allhallowtide

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Of all the rituals in the Valley, none, not even Christmas, commands our collective enthusiasm like Halloween.  We hang more skeletons in our yards than angels.  More cobwebs than reindeer.  More jack o’lanterns than Santa Clauses.

We do Christmas out of duty. Halloween we do altogether differently.

All Hallows Eve, before it went fully pagan, was once a Christian harvest festival not dissimilar to the Dia Los Muertos, a remembrance of the faithful departed.   Now it’s an orgy of joyful bloodletting and gluttony.  Not just witches and ghosts and Disney characters, but a happy parade of decapitated heads, chainsaws, machetes, serial killers and bodily entrails.

On the other side of our fragile world, Islamic militants are un-ironically hanging human heads on fence posts and rejoicing.   They’re separating the men from the women, devising elaborate public executions: by fire, by drowning, by explosive device -the more theatrical the better- then chaining up the daughters like pack animals and leading them away into un-ironic concubinage.

We don’t need Jason masks to symbolize the psychosis of evil. We have an actual army of Jasons afoot, advancing Westward by the day.

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Exit, Cat People

A leftover, one of many

The leftovers

After twelve years, the Cat Lady and her creepy husband have fled the block…leaving behind an untold number of disoriented and emaciated felines, waiting for a dinner that is not coming.

Their persistent wailings have summoned catered meals from Mrs. UpintheValley, who is more than a bit fretful as what to do about them.

I had practical suggestions, starting with letting nature take its course.  They already outnumber humans in Los Angeles, two to one. Darwin can be our friend, I offered.

Not a chance.

Says she: “I feel like I’m living in the Great Depression next to a soup kitchen that’s gone out of business and people are rattling tin cups against the gate.”

The cat people left a pile of ratty furniture sitting in the yard, covered in duct tape and pieces of cardboard, reeking of ammonia, and no forwarding address.

Curious what a cat house looks like on the inside? We were. Let’s take a stroll, shall we?

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This is as far as Mrs. U got.  The pungency of two decades of accumulated urine and glandular emission had metastasized the air inside the closed rooms to a kind of gassy soup. One staggered through as though underwater.  I felt myself getting a bit heavy headed, like I was huffing model airplane glue and simultaneously getting the flu.

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A rabbit warren of rooms, in which every trend of interior decorating of the past forty years was given an opportunity to do its thing, starting with shag carpeting.

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Drop asbestos ceiling with fluorescent light fixtures.

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Popcorn ceiling, black light painting, and the always practical duct tape and cardboard over the floor vent trick. How could you go wrong?

Did I mention people were living here last week?

Did I mention people were living here last week?

When in doubt, more cardboard...

When in doubt, more cardboard…

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Here comes Santa Claws!

Here comes Santa Claws!

Plenty more where she came from

Plenty more where she came from…

The Nearly New Pop Star to the Left Of Me

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Suppose you have a day job working at a premium grocery store.  You have a co-worker, young, who is in a band.  He doesn’t brag about it. You learn of it through other employees. Occasionally he snaps his fingers, bops his head and sings along with the piped in music on the store channel, not as a performer, but the way a fan would. Otherwise, you wouldn’t know of his ambitions unless you asked.  You don’t think much of it one way or another. Every third person in LA under 30 is in a band. Or in a play.  Or humping scripts around town. It’s the natural order of things.

Live in LA long enough, you meet a lot of people outside the glass walls of the industry, peering in. Hollywood can be a great big machine designed to take money away from people who want to be famous.

You have an actor friend who hasn’t booked a gig in eight years, but bought a house in Bronson Canyon with his earnings from teaching “acting for film” at a local for-profit arts school which charges Ivy League prices.  You have, or had, another friend who squandered a substantial inheritance on an autobiographical film which he wrote, directed and cast himself in the lead -despite the fact he had never acted before- a film which never saw the inside of a DVD player, let alone a theater, and for good reason.  You have, or had,  a writer friend who wrote an A-list film with Brad Pitt, which plays perpetually on cable, and hasn’t sold anything in over a decade, and now drinks.

These are the happy stories.  Most people don’t get that far.

In the Big Sort of talent, ambition and human frailty, the trend line leads to day work at Starbucks, and anonymity, and half-truths to friends and family back home. Months of rehearsals can lead to pay-to-play gigs with 15 people in the audience, ten of whom are friends you put on the list. A year of fruitless auditions can offer up a “break” in the form of a one-act play in a black box theater on Santa Monica with porous walls where the sound of passing buses drowns out the dialogue at crucial moments. Which is just as well cause the dialogue is nearly unspeakable, and the ten friends in the audience are weary of social obligation theater.   You tell your parents you can’t come home for Christmas because you have ‘a big gig booked for the holidays’. What you don’t tell them is it will be in a convalescent home in Chatsworth, for which you had to pay your accompanist $200, drawn from a credit card advance.  Better to labor through a rendition of ‘Evergreen’ to the cacophony of spoons banging against wheelchairs than to sit in an empty apartment facing another year gone and nothing to show for it.

You knew this woman who played the gig at the convalescent home. She lived downstairs in a courtyard apartment building in Los Feliz and was a classically trained vocalist.  Her life went into a spiral afterward. She stopped working so as to dedicate herself full time to her craft.  Total commitment did not yield further gigs. She began ducking the landlord. She became a recluse, coming out of her apartment only to borrow money from neighbors to get the electricity turned back on, and to expel mewling kittens her un-neutered feline managed to create every few months, like clockwork.  We spoke of her the way the neighbors probably spoke of Mrs. Havisham in the early years of her decline, before the cobwebs overran the house.

Then one day she announced with great excitement she was having a dinner party. Chris Douridas, of KCRW, was coming over, and we were all invited.

You weren’t sure what she was expecting would happen, but she managed to put together a lovely candlelit event, catered, much to the consternation of those she owed money.  Chris Douridas defied our cynical impulses and showed up, and was a gracious guest.  We all sipped good wine, and noshed on lovely comestibles, and after a respectful amount of industry-related conversation, he excused himself and departed, leaving her right where she started.  In the days that followed, she retreated into her dark apartment and her cigarettes and was seldom seen again until she was finally evicted.

You have no idea what happened to her. Maybe she went back to Texas.  You hope she didn’t end up downtown.

This is the long tail of memory you bring with you when you go to a co-worker’s gig.

So there you are at Club Bardot, all of you from the store. There’s Derek, a nice boy from Sacramento, up on stage. From the balcony you try to reconcile the quiet, bespectacled clerk from earlier in the day, anonymously dispensing charcuterie to rich housewives, and the pop star in front you now. The hair flipping, hip swiveling, belting pop star, and the adoring females lining the stage.  You think of Bruce Wayne and his Batman cape.  For pop music is a form of conjuring, a transformation of ordinary longing into art.  Read the lyrics of your favorite songs and you will be left non-plussed. Hear them sung in proper harmony, and they stay with you for days.  Music almost always sounds better live, and the interaction between performer and audience is part of the alchemical magic.

You remember something Derek mentioned before. They started out as a wedding band, specializing in Sinatra tunes, and they’ve been playing together for five years.  The Sinatra angle piqued your curiosity. It’s why you went to the gig. Now you realize you’re watching four people who have their shit together.    They can play their instruments and play them well. They understand song construction, and the importance of a hook.  The songs are catchy.  They’ve known each other since t-ball and they came down from Sacramento together.

Afterward you meet them all on the smokers balcony, amid the press of well-wishers. They’re nice boys, unpretentious and wholesome. You feel ten years younger just hanging out with them.

Who should re-appear at this very moment, like Banquo’s ghost, but none other than Chris Douridas.  He offers the bandmates friendly advice:  “Hold on to your land as long as you can.”

Driving back to the Valley, you remember a different bit of advice, attributed to Vince Lombardi:  “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence”.

You can hear their single here:

http://www.babetheband.com

Winnebago Art Gallery

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A smiling purse, a unicorn, a lighthouse in a storm…if you’re living out of your RV, what does it mean?  Out of all the detritus of middle-class life one might collect during one’s perambulations through the Valley, why these three items? Why are they facing the outside of the house? Is it a political statement? Are they semaphores for the state of mind of those living within?  Are they aspirational?

Perhaps they are offerings left in exchange for generosity to those living in tarp houses nearby.

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Like this one.

They’re everywhere. This is the new normal in Van Nuys. This is what Prop. 47 has wrought.

Here in Van Nuys

Andy banishes cobwebs

Andy banishes cobwebs

You know you have a problem with pet dander in your house when you invite a friend over for a craft beer tasting,  and after an hour or so, he grabs a broom and starts swatting at the rafters.  Memphis the cat sauntering up and down the countertops like he owns the place doesn’t help.

What can I say?  In Van Nuys, we comfortable with ourselves.