Sully’s Empty Glass

Not empty, but gone to a happier place

Not empty, but gone to a happier place

You have to stand in line to get a beer at Macleod now, and what a beautiful inconvenience it is.

On a Monday, with the $4 pints, I get it. But Tuesday?   It’s a testimony to the eternal verities of hard work, creativity and persistence of Alastair and Jennifer.

And a new brewer. And a whole new menu of beers.

And guts. Expanding just when business seemed to be at a nadir.

In the very early going, there were discussions whether there should be television on the wall. An unknown amount of sports bar revenue was left on the table when it was decided flat screens were not the direction they were trying to go.

In retrospect, the wisest move Alistair and Jennifer made was the one which took the longest to pay off.  Macleod is nothing without talk, and television would have killed the conversation in the room. It would have led them away from the darts. And the gamers. And the knitters.  And the poets. And the artists.  When the brewery started I had fanciful ideas it would launch a reformation of Van Nuys.  It’s done more than that.  Macleod has pulled the Venn diagram of the Valley tighter. This week I encountered three separate groups of people in the dart room I’ve known from non-overlapping social circles elsewhere.  And by no overlap, I mean totally different castes and geographic zones.

I used to bitch to myself about the absence of proper muraling in Van Nuys.   Now I run into actual muralists bellying up to the bar. We bitch to each other about the indefensible absence of Nury Martinez on this issue. Progress, I say.  A glass of well-crafted beer can be democracy in liquid form. An ideal marriage of blue-collar craftsmanship, chemistry and white-collar marketing. In a toxically divided nation, it is our demilitarized zone. Our Pooh Corner. Our happy place.

The ales have come a long way.  Where once there were five, now there are twelve.  There seems to be a new offering every couple weeks. They keep getting better.

I may have found my ideal Macleod creation: the Sully.  Which is odd, for in general, I like my beer strong, with a bias toward imperial stouts. I enjoy a kick in the head.  Anyone can bitter up an IPA to the point its like chewing the bark off a pine tree, but underplaying a proper English bitter is a more delicate art.  In a market already crowded with Pineapple Sculpin and Boulevard Rye-on-Rye, its not easy to create a rich, memorable, deliciousness on a 5% malt that will call you back for an encore, but they’ve done it.

So I’m sitting there with Amy and Oscar and Andrew and Rebecca, in a state of contentment, when it occurs to me holy guacamole, my life may already be half over, but damn if this doesn’t taste good. Not that I made it myself, but I wished such a thing as Macleod to be in Van Nuys, and here it is, like a gift from Genesis. If I -sip-sip- count from the age of maturity, I might only be a third of the way to my grave. Not so bad. Now that I think about it, if I -sip-sip- if I start counting from the point when I actually got my sh*t together in life, I’m barely a teenager. Things are just getting interesting!  I may still be in debt, but I’m no longer drowning in it.  I may be stuck in Van Nuys, which is so un-cool, it’s actually cool to be here, except now that it may become hip will it become uncool to be here for this very reason?

Damn, Sully, my glass is empty.  I’ll have another.

The 12-year Houseguest

He carried the Cross, now he wears the Crown

He carried the Cross, now he wears the Crown

Jack came to us as a two week foster care arrangement. He was lodging in the Glendale animal shelter at the time, and being eternally hopeful, extended his paw into the adjoining cage to say hello to a much larger dog.  So his leg was in bandages and his head wrapped in a cone when he arrived at our door.

“He’s not staying,” I announced. “He doesn’t fit the color scheme of the house. Our other dogs are brown and rust colored.”

I was in my Aesthetic Fascist period then.

He trotted in this weird sideways canter, probably due to the injury, one paw crossing over the other, ears flopping up and down like antennae. He had terrible breath. He wasn’t very bright.  The first time I let him off leash, at Runyon Canyon, he skittered straight down the hill, out the front gate, down Vista Street, and kept running until a samaritan intercepted him wandering Hollywood Blvd, “looking confused”.

Despite his apparent dimness, he knew instinctively to place his head on Mrs. U’s bosom whenever I tried to initiate a discussion of What To Do About Jack.

And so a third dog bed was purchased and he took his place in the menagerie.  He was already down to only a few teeth at that point. I figured a year or two, at most.  It was 2004.

Dogs and cats came and went at Chez UpintheValley, but Jack, like some canine version of Dick Clark, refused to age.  He outlived them all, even Woody. He remained eternally hopeful.  He proved to be the lowest-maintenance house member we ever had. No vet bills but annuals and teeth cleaning, which did little to assuage his halitosis.  When we took him to my parents house, he rode in the car all the way to Mendocino County standing up, staring out the window.  He jumped into San Francisco Bay. He forded the Eel River.  The first time he saw snow, he pranced through it like a gazelle.

Two years ago the arthritis set in and he began clicking around the house like Nosferatu, at all hours.  But he always gobbled the kibble.

To our amazement, there were another 30,000 miles left on his tires. He made it around the block with the others on the morning walk.  More recently, when he no longer could, he still gimped his way to the front door when you came home.  He yipped indignantly if he got stuck in the back yard. Even to the last week, he roused himself for a pepperoni stick.  When he stopped eating, it was time.

We have no idea how old he was. Our best guess was 17.

I’m glad we kept him.

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Van Nuys or Venice, 1948

The Choice, in 1948

Pick your scenery, in 1948

What is more remarkable here, that Van Nuys was once priced higher than Venice? Or realtors once offered “clothes poles” as an amenity?

Or Venice was a choice at all?

In case you were wondering, $9350 in inflation adjusted dollars would be $91,921 today.

You could own a house, freshly constructed, near the ocean in California for $368.95 a month at todays wages.

As you may have already observed, the fates of Venice and Van Nuys, as neighborhoods, have diverged.  In Piketty-ish terms, the family which chose the smaller lot by the beach, as opposed to the larger one in the suburbs would have realized an exponential rise in capital over labor.

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Here’s 6817 Matilija today, courtesy of Google Streetview.      Houses on this block are listed at $500,000.  And they’re selling!  Madness, right?  Until you consider the alternative.

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Here’s a house in Venice on the same block of Greenwood as the ad, listed on Zillow at $1.2 million. Two bedrooms, one bath.

Almost makes one nostalgic for clothes drying on a line in the sun.

Tippi Hedren at home, 1971

Tippi-Hedren

Deep shag, newsprint and a tiny TV set…Sherman Oaks in the 1970’s.

In The Kitchen With Neil The Lion

Okay, so she had a maid, but what strikes me about this interior is how….downmarket it appears by today’s standards of kitchen porn. Glue down linoleum tile floors, tchotchkes, a dependable four burner stove, and cheaply varnished wooden cabinet drawers which I suspect lacked rollers.  No granite, no glass tile, no stainless steel, no Kohler.

As domestic infrastructure goes, the distance between movie star and working class family in Van Nuys is measured here in feet rather than miles.

….wait, why are you disturbed by this photo?  

Is it the lion?

Oh please, people kept backyard lions all the time in the 70’s. Stop being so judgy.

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If you want to judge, look at baby-faced Melanie Griffith waking up in the morning.

After Life magazine published a photo essay documenting the …er, unique circumstances of the Hedren household, they were encouraged by the city of Los Angeles to decamp for the Antelope Valley, where she founded the Shambala Preserve, and has rescued and fostered big cats for four decades.

A Head Banger’s Story

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“If I have a seizure, I need you to hold my head, so I don’t bang against anything. They last really long, about five minutes. So you’re gonna need to pull over.”

On that note, he climbed into the backseat of my Uber. It was 1 AM in Glendale.

He looked like Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein.   Hulking, shambling, half-drunk, big shoes… an Armenian Peter Boyle, with sad eyes peering from deep orbs.  I could feel the driver’s seat headrest bend backwards as he gripped it with his meaty hand and lowered himself in, directly behind me.

“It’s been four hours since my medication, so I should be okay.”

We got on the freeway. He shifted around in his seat continually. With every twitch, I couldn’t help but think…good grief, is it starting already? …was that it? Will his arms swing wildly, knocking me unconscious before I can pull to the shoulder?  Why me?  Why tonight? 

I had not been so wired into a passenger’s movements since I picked up a gang banger in K-Town who never removed his hoodie, refused to enter an address into the app and muttered vague commands: turn here, go left, go straight, now go back until we ended up in some godforsaken alley south of downtown, with no witnesses, the perfect location for relieving me of my wallet, iPhone and car keys,  but which turned out to be an underground gay sex club instead.

“I’m sorry about the itching, but my histamine levels are really high. Cause of my medication.  I’ve had twenty seizures in the past year.”

“How long have you had seizures?”

“Since I got injured at work.”

He went on to detail his many medications, none which he prized more than Lunesta.   It was the only one which really put him to sleep.  They cost three dollars a pill, which he couldn’t afford since he wasn’t working anymore, but he couldn’t sleep without it.  He had to give up other pleasures.

“Shit. Something’s wrong…”

My heart fluttered, but he was looking at his phone.

I longed for animated green dragonflies to swim through the windshield, like they do in the Lunesta commercial, and woo him to sleep with the batting of their wings .

“Something’s wrong. I’m hungry. There’s an In-and-Out Burger at the next exit.”

I got off the freeway. Something was wrong,   Two cars had just collided at Harvey Drive, in front of the In-and-Out. Both airbags had blown.  Bumper parts and colored glass littered the intersection, bright grit twinkled under the sodium lights. One of the bags had shot straight past the driver seat, covering the windows in white silk, as though the god of chaos had drawn a curtain against an unpleasant sight. The door cracked open and after a long moment, a woman crawled out, dazed.

The other car was an Uber.

What were the odds? How close did I get to receiving his rider, or he mine?  How many sliding door moments do I have on a given night?

Everyone was ambulatory, which was a relief.   911 was dialed, and we continued into the burger parking lot.

“I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies,” announced my passenger.

“Were you in the armed forces?”

“I worked in a mortuary for eleven years. I’ve performed 20,000 enbalmings.   I don’t do that anymore, though. A casket lid fell on my head.  That’s why I have seizures. That’s why I can’t work anymore.”

He decided he was going to walk the rest of the way home from In-and-Out.  We parted with blessings for one another.   I turned the app off for the night and drove home to Van Nuys.

There, but for a casket lid….

CicLAvia comes to Pacoima

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This guy rode the entire course backwards

This guy rode the entire course backwards

Fat white lady crosses street, causes commotion

This lady waddled into the street, causing commotion

Speaking of white people....

Speaking of white people….

Today was my fifth CicLAvia, and the first in which I’ve seen the forum used for an organized protest.  Pacoima (90% Latino) is an odd location for White People (TM) to take their message of chastisement of Other White People.    Was the idea that few white people would be there to see, or be insufficient in number to reach critical mass and begin to jeer?    A message on their Facebook page exhorts people to show up at CicLAvia en masse to Stand Against White Terror.

White Terror! Right here in River City Pacoima!

As I took this picture a white woman rode past and called out to them in an encouraging, sing-song voice ‘to vote for Bernie’.

Otherwise, they were ignored.  A group of LAPD officers, the principal target of their ire, followed at a discreet distance, for their protection.   You know, from the aggrieved white supremacist contingent laying in wait in Pacoima.

This is the real Pacoima

This is the real Pacoima

...and this.

…and this.