Pray, Mantis

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I moved my grapefruit tree yesterday. Dug it out by the roots and dragged it across the yard. To create a space, I first needed to chop out the root ball of the elm tree I felled a few months ago.  With an axe and a pick. It took three days.

What do you mean, why?  Doesn’t everyone do it that way?

When I walked into the kitchen for my victory beer, I felt a tickle on my arm.  This little green guy was riding me into the house. I had destroyed his world, and now he was clinging to me like a branch in white water rapids.   We bonded over his new circumstances.

I say his, but I have no idea what the gender is here.  Female mantises are known to bite the heads off males at the apex of copulation. The death throes of the male provide a more vigorous delivery of sperm. Also, nutrition.

Meanwhile he’s been hanging out in the kitchen, making himself useful chewing through ceiling cobwebs.  I say he’s a harbinger of good tidings.

Biter, or bite-ee?

Head eater, or offerer? Better not to know

Last week, walking the dogs, I heard cries of distress from under a bush and found a 3-week-old kitten buried in bougainvillea leaves, eyes closed with goop.

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I took him home, put him on the couch and Trixie immediately licked him back to life, stimulating poop.  Then Trixie gobbled the poo.

Rinse, repeat

Rinse, repeat

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The kitty loves the interspecies tongue action and mewls for more. We’re all really comfortable with these new arrangements, this blurring of the natural order.

How soon before I turn into this guy?

How soon before I turn into this guy?

Armenian Zombie Market Walking

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

Dead store, walking

The Freasy, in its heyday

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The former Fresh & Easy in North Hollywood has undergone the Vons-to-Jons makeover, but without the makeover.  Designwise they’ve kept everything: the color scheme, the refrigerated shelves, even the signage. They just pulled the Easy off with a crane, dropped Royal in its place, and stocked the shelves with lots of Armenian product at Armenian prices.  There’s no stopping commerce zombies.

Patriot Way, Van Nuys

Stick a broom out the window, poke your neighbor while he shaves

Stick a broom out the window, scratch your neighbor on the shoulder

Garage intensive

As close to human interaction as you’ll get

Houses used to be oriented toward the street: front yard, then living room, then kitchen, then bedrooms. Implicitly your life was ordered in relation to the other people on the block.

Then for half a century, houses were turned around and oriented toward the back yard and the patio. As we re-order our family life yet again around the flat screen, and the mouse, new architecture dutifully reflects this.   Yards are dispensed with altogether.

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So is the street.  New housing is tucked behind hedgerows of landscaping which obscure solid barriers like concrete walls and metal bars. Private streets, off-limits to the public, are created within the enclosure and christened with aspirational virtues: Courage, Honor and Justice.  And Patriot.

Honey, I'm home

Honey, I’m home

Leaving the 405 Behind

Mario

Mario, heading south

You live in Northridge. Do you vary your commute, or are you a creature of habit?  Sometimes I take Sepulveda on the way home.  It’s longer, but more contemplative. Sometimes the moon is out and you can enjoy it. I love the grandeur of the lights twinkling.

Music in the car, or quiet? Music. I’ll listen to the same piece of music for about a week then change it up.   I ponder where I am in my life, but try not to think about it too much.  I am inclined toward depression, but I don’t take medications. I don’t believe in that.  I jog instead.

Religion? I was raised Buddhist.

Is there a caste system in LA?  Yes, but you can break through it.  Socially, women don’t like to hear you’re from the Valley. There’s a stigma. But I don’t lie about it.

Do you find driving over the hill to wait on wealthy people uncomfortable?  Not really.

You live with your parents, is there any tension over that?  No pressure from my parents. They don’t have a timetable for me.  They understand the cost of housing in LA. I put the pressure on myself.

You’re a jazz musician. I’ve been playing saxophone since I was a kid.  I also really like grappling.  I train at the Gracie Barra gym in Northridge.

What’s your favorite virtue?  Awareness.

What’s you idea of happiness?  I’m still trying to find my own happiness, so I don’t know how to answer that question.

What’s your idea of misery? Misery would be not fulfilling your life’s mission.

To that end, you’re leaving the store. What will you be doing? I’m going to be training a lot more.  In a couple months I’m going to go to Brazil, but I’m not going to fly. I’m going to take the bus through Central America.  I’m going to find my way there.

That’s a very long way from the 405.  That’s as far as you can get, and not get lost.

When Jesus Cruised Van Nuys Boulevard

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The Star of Bethlehem Parade, a Valley tradition until 1971, when it closed due to lack of interest. Or lack of volunteers willing to assemble Church floats. Or lack of an audience to watch the floats. Or lack of parents willing to drag children by the ear to participate.  Or parents willing to miss Mary Tyler Moore or Gunsmoke. In the mid-60’s, it drew crowds of 200,000. A few years later, no one.

It’s one of those eternal civic mysteries, like why did cruising end on the boulevard?  Everyone has their own answer, and none of them match.  It’s my single favorite question to ask lifelong Valley residents. My doggedly idiosyncratic polling and probing over the years has yielded zero clarity.  People are touchy on the subject, and I’m left feeling a bit like Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock,  stumbling toward an answer which concealed shame. People trail off into evasion, where two minutes before there was enthusiasm. But they’re adamant it has nothing to do with, you know… Mexicans.  

No one today wants to admit they refused to volunteer for the last Jesus float.    But the Holy Spirit, in keeping with 2,000 years of tradition, finds a way.  There may no longer be angels hanging from city lampposts, but there are storefront churches popping all over the Valley like kudzu, and megachurches where once there were empty lots.

The Mexicans have something to do with that. Also, the Guatemalans. And the Salvadoreans and Armenians and the Koreans….

All photos courtesy of Valley Times Collection