Verisimilitude

There are no streetlights in Baywood.  No sidewalks. The only public light sources are the Alehouse, the Merrimaker and the laundromat.  Locals hear the surf crashing on the sand spit a mile away across the estuary and complain, the way one might complain about the freeway noise back in Los Angeles, where the over/under starts at $100,000 year.

Baywood is where you retreat when LA doesn’t work for you anymore but you want to stay in California. It’s where the life you wanted to have in Van Nuys or Echo Park is re-booted.

L.A. 2.0, on wheels...

L.A. 2.0, now on wheels…

It is where you park your RV in your friends driveway and figure out your next move.  And where you go when you close your bike shop, once named Best in the City by the LA Weekly, after 11 years.

Where you break out the wrenches and drill set, and turn the RV into a mobile bike base camp and solar-powered graphic design suite.   Where you simplify things by designing your own escape pod.

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LA being LA, the bike shop lives on as the filming location for a Netflix escapist fantasy called Flaked.  The show is set in Venice and centered on a guy named Chip who owns a store hawking hand crafted three legged stools of his own design, but has no apparent customers yet manages to stay afloat.  Chip also lives rent-free by the beach and dates women half his age, and spends much of the first season perambulating around Venice on his bicycle, unencumbered by adult responsibilities like a monthly nut, or a business plan.  Flaked, by objective measurement, is not a quality show. The verisimilitude problems are impossible to get beyond. But I binged on it as a secret vice, the way Mrs. U watches the housewife shows. Punching a clock in the Valley, who wouldn’t want to live the life of Chip?

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The world is smaller than we think it is.  Fate not long ago placed one of the Flaked co-stars not named Will Arnett in the backseat of my Uber and he would spend the ride home trying without success to court, Chip-like,  a much younger female passenger. After she exited the car without yielding a number,  he laughed about it with me.  He agreed with my assessment of the show.  The lie it was telling about Los Angeles was his livelihood. He couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious.

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The real life Chip is more more athletic and better looking.   Also un-entitled and self-effacing and responsible. As he packed up his store he found letters to his workers he never sent, some dated five years ago, listing all the reasons he could no longer keep it going. Owning a business is not like a regular job. You cant just flake. He employed 15 people and spent years working with the city to open up bike lanes and paths. Now he loads up on packets at the hamburger stand to take back to the RV as he waits to hear from unemployment. Ask him if he’s bitter and he says no.  He’s put in his time in LA. The only thing he misses about it is being faster than every car on the road when riding his bike.

The trail forward looks like this

The trail out of LA looks like this

 

Cutting The Loaf

They slice it just like bread

Just like bread

Before I got schooled, I assumed granite arrived from overseas as sheets, and only the fabricating was done here.  But no, it’s quarried and shipped as giant blocks. Loaves, to use the industry term. They slice it up on this giant machine  right here in the Valley.
The things you learn when doing the kitchen.  

After my physical exertions, to anticapte the topping of the cake prized from the earth in such a brute manner gave me pleasure.

Here’s something else you learn.

Sniffing around a granite yard looking for a pattern known as green rose, I was confronted by a lugubrious man with a baroque Mediterranean accent who popped out from between two loaves of granite, like the Lorax.

Man:  May I help you sir!

Me: Aaah!  

Man:  How may I help you?

Me: I’m looking for a green rose pattern.

He marched me into the showroom and pointed to the slab you see here.

Man:  Here is green. 

I looked around like an idiot, thinking he must be pointing elsewhere.

Me:  You’re saying this is green?

Man:  Is green.

Me: This?

Man: IS green.  Look around the room if you don’t believe me.  You tell me which one is green.

I showed him a picture of what I was looking for on my phone.

Man:  You’ll never find that, sir.  No one has that. What I have is as close to what you’re looking for in the entire city, and I know all the inventory. 

And that was the beginning of our quest through the stone yards of the Valley.

Before Fame or Infamy…

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…Andrew brings them to MacLeod for photo shoots.  Eric B., as unknown as unknown can be, two years ago, wearing the colors on Calvert St.  Who would have thought he would go further than any black man in the history of The Bachelorette franchise? On Monday he’s bringing Rachel and a television crew to the hood-side of Baltimore to conduct an anthropological study meet his family, feeding the idle voyeurism of millions.

But not before turning up in Andrew’s Flickr feed. We way ahead of the curve in The Nuys.

No Hay Almuerzo Gratis

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American children are seriously overweight,  and the kids in my neighborhood are fatter than most.

In its wisdom the LAUSD has taken the position kids are not getting enough calories, and has summoned them back to school during summer vacation with standing offers of free lunch. No studying. No playtime. Just waddle in and chow down, courtesy of the government.  You don’t even have to be a student, only a minor. Anyone will do. It’s free!  From the magic bucket of stuff you didn’t ask for and which has no bottom,  and no purpose but to grow the payroll downtown.

God help the politician who tries to put an end to this.  Para ninos!   Nino pequenos hambrientos!  Muere, hombre malvado!

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Apparently the feeding includes food trucks.  This was not my lunch room experience as a kid.  Okay, I went there.

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I was feeling curmudgeonly about this as I walked into Macleod yesterday and availed myself of the free peanuts. Like a horse I ate, munching contentedly, scattering the shells around my stall.  Chomp, chomp. Crack, crack. Glug, glug.

Well, they were free.…once I bought the beer.

It occurred to me, as I gazed upon Roderick’s peanut gallery, it was theoretically possible at this very moment an aspiring Matisse at Vista Middle School was working off her portion of carbs by etching dancing nudes on to the back of a styrofoam clamshell.  If Roderick can create portraiture from peanut shells, perhaps the clamshell itself will become a new textural form. Perhaps the food, like the peanut, is beside the point. It’s the shell that matters. The vessel is the gesture.

Exit to Perdition

If you ran into this man at Dodger Stadium would you think for a moment he made his money holding a sign at the 405 off-ramp?

How about when you go to the store? Do you ever think the clerk who helped you pick out a bottle of wine lived in a garage? With a roommate?

People hanging on at the margins of the economy are beginning to occupy the spaces we traditionally understood to be the domain of derelicts.  Cratchit-ville and the Favela are merging.

Knockdown, Improve, Engulf and Devour

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When I park my car on Westgate, I walk past construction sites like these on my way to the store.  Every single storey house north of Montana is getting knocked down upon change of ownership.   Perpetual construction. Multiple job sites on a single block.

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A couple weeks ago I arrived at work to find I had become a reluctant, though inadvertent, villain.  Whole Foods was in the process of evicting the Brentwood newsstand, a neighborhood institution for 28 years, and I was compelled to walk past a picket line to enter the store.

Marck Sarfati, the owner, put on a full court press in the media, deploying celebrity petitioners, and a Holocaust survivor father, whose “survival” depended on the stand’s income.  About his expensive watch and luxury car, nothing was said.

Before it was a Whole Foods, the Brentwood store was once called Mrs. Gooch’s.   There were seven of them in Los Angeles when they were bought out by John Mackey in 1993.  The parking lot, that most prosaic of LA disputed zones, was shared by the store and the stand, and a perpetual sore point of overlapping demand.  Whole Foods had waited years for the lease to expire, and now they were getting the parking spaces back, and there wasn’t nothing Tommy Chong and Dustin Hoffman could do about it.

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So there the drama percolated for a few days, before we discovered Whole Foods had just been devoured, plank and nail, by Lex Luthor for $14 billion. The flagship of organic food and upper-middle class virtue-signaling consumption was now a subsidiary of the largest retail entity in the world. Amazon stock increased $18 billion in value on news of the merger, which meant Jeff Bezos had purchased 432 stores and 91,000 employees for the price of lifting a pinkie finger and cooing: because it’s my birthday Smeagol, and I wants it. 

Walmart killed Main Street (sort of) and now Amazon is killing Walmart. To avoid being overtaken in ten years by a more nimble start-up yet to rise from a Y Combinator confab, Bezos is buying up the premium real estate of retail.

American wealth is moving, inexorably, like metal shavings in a magnetic force field, toward the coasts. In the coastal areas, it is piling up into the canyons, and closer to the beaches, or to higher floors downtown. A winner take all economy concedes nothing to the middle.

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I don’t think Mr. Sarfati is going to be able to keep his newsstand. On the bright side, I have bitchin new Ikea cabinets, and one curious foundling black kitten.