Shots Fired From the Microcosmos

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Fire makes for a good action movie, loud and beautifully terrifying.  People struggling against fire are always heroic. The world as we know it is changed in a matter of hours. Three months after the Wildwood Canyon fire, Trixie and I scampered up the charred hillside…as though crossing a WW I battlefield or post nuclear Japan.  You could still smell the ash everywhere.

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And yet, already, green shoots sprout cheerful from the cinders, unperturbed by the ruckus, seemingly grateful for Nature’s chastisement: Thank you, ma’am, may I have another?

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You want to see nature’s real horror movie?   Consider the Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer, now eating the Sweetgum trees in my neighborhood.

The what?

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This guy. This monster, this Godzilla of the microcosmos, no bigger than a BB pellet, tunnels its way into the trunks of trees, sowing spores. Unlike termites, it doesn’t actually eat the wood, it sows eggs which create larvae, the larvae become a fungus. The fungus devours the tree from the inside. The tree isn’t food. The tree is a host, a womb for the evil grubs to squat in while they make more evil grubs, which apparently have no purpose on this earth but to sow more larvae.  Once inside the trunk, they are immune to pesticides. Apparently there is no stopping them. Parasite rex!

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Half the sweetgums in our neighborhood we lost this year. Half!   A magnificent colonnade rotting from within, branches dropping on cars, tipping like dominos.   They won’t be replaced in three months. It’ll take 30 years.

Try to make an action movie about that.

Swedish for Argument

In the labyrinth of decisions

In the labyrinth of decisions

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When first you arrive at the new Ikea, the escalator deposits you into the food court. Like a marooned astronaut on a foreign planet, you take your tray and step directly into a line for swedish meatballs.

Being herded in this way is oddly comforting. Though neither of you want to admit it, you know what’s coming.  Might as well do it on a contented stomach.

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Ikea knows what’s coming, too. Decades of careful study of consumer behavior has shown a well gravy-ed belly is a prophylactic against impulsive argumentation. To that end, they stack chocolate bars for you by the register.  Only 99 cents! Do you feel line having chocolate right now?  Not particularly.  Reason not the need.  At these prices, it would be unsportsmanlike to say no.   There is Mirkwood to cross and the Misty Mountains beyond. You’re fortfifying yourselves. So, lets get another, while we’re at it.  And a third one for the road.

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Into the living dioramas of the showrooms we went…to an Other Life, prettier, more well-ordered than one’s own.

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You stagger through them in wonder. Wonder begets desire. Desire begets recrimination.   You stand upon shores of beckoning kingdoms, a rebuke to the squalor of your own circumstances.

Here, you are not.  This, you have not. You are wanting.

Purchasing the tableau entire is never possible. So the question becomes what half Ikea, quarter Ikea, one tenth of an Ikea tableau could you go home with and not disagree with yourself?

Buying it all is easy. Picking the right three items to agree on is where the trouble starts.

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Kitchens were a particular hazard.

You know of one marriage that nearly came to an end with a screaming match at the Emeryville Ikea, with the wife announcing she was going back to China and taking the kids, while the Kitchen Dept. assistant averted her gaze, doodled nervously on her notepad, as though that sort of thing didn’t happen once a week.  The following day you were deputized to return to the scene of the crime and pick up their order for them as they were too ashamed to show their faces.

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As is her nature, Mrs. U  touched everything, opening drawers and sniffing candles as though trying on pairs of shoes.

“Our kitchen is too small,” you announce, breaking the spell.

“These kitchens don’t have walls, making them seem larger than they are. There’s nothing wrong with the size of our kitchen. It’s more than adequate.”

Adequate was the worse possible descriptor she could have chosen in that moment.

She did it on purpose, you decide. The afternoon takes a turn, and you both know it.

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She begins marching ahead of you.   With purpose.

TO BE CONTINUED….

To Provide and Provide Not

City of Burbank

City of Burbank

Consider this urban pastoral, this friendly Sunday afternoon soccer game under the power lines on Whitnall.   Inter-racial. Inter-gender. Inter-age group. Featuring accents of Latin America, Asia and the British Isles.   As I walked past, I thought: this looks like it was assembled by a casting director. Los Angeles doesn’t really work like this, except in commercials.

Then I realized I was in Burbank.

City of Los Angeles

City of Los Angeles

Now turn around, face north, across Burbank Blvd, into North Hollywood.  This is what LA did with the same patch of ground. Across the street.

How does a world-class city get away with this?

The People Who Run Things have an answer to that question. We’re broke!  Los Angeles is a pauper. A patch of grass, in North Hollywood?  What are we, made of money? We can’t even pay our bills around here!

Okay then, riddle me this:

Suddenly...cancer

Suddenly…”cancer”

The City is in the process of dismantling the Sixth Street Bridge, one of the iconic, indispensable structures, perhaps the most photographed location after the Hollywood sign, and replacing it, at a cost of half a billion dollars, with this:

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The purported reason for this insertion of Dubai-like aesthetics into the downtown landscape is concrete. The original structure (1932) has received a propitious diagnosis of Alkai Silica Reaction.  Earthquake vulnerability dictates the bridge must be replaced.  Or so we’re told.

There’s just one problem. Why is it, of the dozen similar bridges built downtown in the 1930’s, with the same concrete mixing process, the only one which has received this diagnosis of ‘concrete cancer’ is the one which goes directly to the Arts District?  Why does the urgency to do something about it correspond to the arrival of the Nabisco Lofts?  Why is it being replaced by a playground for people who buy groceries at Urban Radish?

If the city is too broke for a grassy field in North Hollywood, how is it managing to pay for this? Just asking.

Light and Dark in the banana republic of Los Angeles

Glendale has streetlights

Glendale has streetlights. How did they manage to do that?

Juan, a nice young man who works for a neighborhood advocacy organization approached me last week with a petition. ‘Sign here, and Nury’s office will ask for streetlights for the neighborhood.”

How wonderful.  Who could say no?  Sure I’ll sign…

Not so fast.  The streetlights are going to cost ‘only’ $6/month, per house. $72 a year, for life.

Juan was having difficulty collecting signatures.

Streetlights fall under the category of Things We Already Pay For.  That is, in the normal run of things in the wealthiest state in the country, from the vast pools of property tax revenue, income tax, sales taxes, utility taxes there are ample funds to light the streets.  Not so in the banana republic of Los Angeles, where we are now being asked to kiss the ring of jefa Nury, and pay a special assessment, to obtain what Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena,  even downmarket working class San Fernando already have by right of citizenship.  How soon before we are issued shovels and asked to fill in our own potholes?

In Van Nuys, $450,000 buys  moonlight

In Van Nuys, $500,000 buys moonlight

Hector Tobar, formerly of the Times, wrote recently the presence of a permanent caste of squatter communities is the signature characteristic of Third World cities. A life-long Angeleno, liberal, and son of Guatemalan immigrants, Tobar sees Los Angeles heading in this direction. This is true, but only half the story.  L.A. has its own twist on the formula: Swedish levels of taxation and Brazilian levels of service.    A two-tiered society with a narrow band of Beautiful People on the other side of the hill living in an urban playground of artisanal pleasures, and a vast workforce paying top dollar to live within commuting distance to serve them, then returning home to unlit streets.

All one has do is leave the city limits to see how different it can be.

A Town Called Nice

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There is a town, due east of North Hollywood, where police leave their patrol cars on Friday evening to assist elderly people, frail and disoriented,  across the street.

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Coincidentally, it also still retains stores from another era, like Battery Hut, and Al Summerfield’s Train Shop. How such establishments manage to stay open on a commercial boulevard in this day and age, I have no idea.  Well, actually I do.  I could insert a number of snarky things about the political climate of the City of Los Angeles right here, but I’d rather leave you with this:

God Bless America

God Bless this officer. God Bless America.