Escape from Van Nuys

The hidden village of Greenwood Square

Hey, let’s duck into the hidden village of Greenwood Square…

A European with cobblestone streets

…with cobblestone streets like Chestnut Lane.

And ersatz streetlights

And ersatz streetlights.

And structural beams made of wood chips and glue

And structural beams made of wood chips and glue.  

Wait, what?  Seriously?

Sssh. We didn’t see this.   Strike it from our memory.

It’s not like it’s illegal or anything.  They do this all the time now.  Movie set construction, for example.

We can rest on assurances from industry lobbyists, manufactured joists will last at least….thirty years. Assuming no one lets their bathtub overflow.  And nobody split the 1×3 bottom plate with a nail gun while nursing a hangover.

Look how well that mid-80’s housing stock has stood the test of time.

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Back to Van Nuys, and its dependable squalor of concrete blocks, old growth timber and strip malls…

and occasionally glorious marling

…and occasionally glorious muraling. 

Cult of Personality

The divinization of Nury has begun

The divinization of Nury has begun

Flattery of politicians through muraling is the hallmark of Third World governance.   Why are we doing it in Los Angeles?

Why are we allowing politicians to put their faces on public service billboards, campaign style, paid for with our tax dollars?

Why are we allowing Councilman Jose Huizar to use the marquee of the historic Los Angeles theater on Broadway as his personal bulletin board?

Why are we allowing Kevin De Leon to throw a party for himself at Disney Hall, complete with mariachi bands and banquet tables, to “celebrate” his selection to the revolving post of Senate Pro Tempore?

Just asking.

The Quickening Signposts

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For the people who purport to speak on behalf of the American Blue Half….this is the answer to all social ills.  If we could just raise the marginal rate to….wait, wait a minute, is that child walking away?

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Why is it I'm seeing more scenes like this?

Why is it I’m seeing more scenes like this?

And this?

And this?

District 6 is a Colony

Civic surrender on Roscoe

Nury surrenders the Bears

Once upon a time, along Roscoe Blvd, civic-minded people saw a concrete wall and imagined a mural.  So a mural was summoned forth.

For years afterward, if one stopped beneath the 405, waiting for traffic to clear, one was treated to a tableau of rusticating California golden bears. Bears rubbing their backs against trees. Bears spearing salmon from waterfalls.  Bears in mustard fields grappling one another in terpsichorean ecstasy. Bears watching enigmatically from their shrinking habitat, preparing for hibernation, while you sat in your car revving up for your day, or taking inventory of the ingredients needed for dinner, depending which direction the car was pointing.

It wasn’t Guernica, but it was an engaging piece of public art. A punctuation to your day, a yogic breath before the left turn to the on-ramp, where you could enter the forest for a moment and walk among the grizzlies.  And then the light would change.

Set beside the civic artwork of the other great cities of the world, the Bear Mural is but a widow’s mite. A Valley-esque exercise in middlebrow taste.

Twasn’t much, but it worked. And until this past year, it was ours.

Then the shopping carts began to appear. Then mattress and sleeping bags.

Then the city, in its ever-expanding need to fatten pensions wisdom, silently declared the mural and all its street frontage to be the responsibility of the state of California. Since it was ‘under the freeway’ it need no longer be policed by Los Angeles.

Nury surrenders Parthenia

Nury surrenders Parthenia

In short order, the carts and mattresses gave way to a fortress city of bagged crap which decanted urine in the middle of the day and bore menacing signs.  In keeping with Wilson’s Law of Broken Windows, all the murals under the 405 are disappearing under heavy tagging.

I can think of a place this wouldn’t be allowed to happen: Sherman Oaks.

I can think of another: the City of San Fernando.

When there are 5,000 people per councilperson, calls get returned. When there are 300,000 people per councilperson, she never has to shake your hand. So she doesn’t.

The City of Los Angeles has more tax revenue this year than last, more last year than the year before that. It’s going somewhere, just not to Van Nuys.

More houses have been renovated in my neighborhood, gut-renovated, from the foundation up, in the past four years than in the past 50 combined.  Move twenty feet off any boulevard and you’re standing in an urban Mayberry, self-sustaining, joyful, polite, and without crime.  An embodiment of our finest virtues: hard work, parsimony, kindness to others, faith and family. Virtues which are shared across the many dialects of our neighborhood.  Friends from other areas of LA doubt me on the crime part, but it’s true. I have no need to lock my house.

Step back on the boulevard and you’re looking at a slum mall with a PayDay lender, a dialysis clinic, and a convenience store feeding off EBT cards.  The man who owns the strip mall doesn’t live here, but he extracts a fat dollar from blight.  The city functionaries who dole out the EBT cards and Section 8 vouchers make a nice living doing so, but they don’t live here either.  People in the public sector are paid twice the salary the citizens they serve, but when I went to Nury Martinez’s office her field deputy didn’t know where Sepulveda Gulch was until I showed her on a map.

Blight is the end result of policy choices.  We’re having an election next week in CD 6, but if you do a little homework,  you’ll notice that 98% of the money spent on mailers and signs is coming from sources outside the district. People with business before the council.  People looking for Mayberry’s money.  Mayberry keeps grinding it out, reliably, and the taxation which sustains the City is nothing if not regressive.

The city budget is $8 billion a year, but good luck persuading Nury to install a few sprinklers to revive dead landscaping on the ugliest stretch of Sepulveda Blvd.   Or pay for a Levi Ponce mural.  What would be the point of that?  We’re a colony, after all.   They can just hand us shovels and tell us to fill in our own potholes.

On Tuesday, a few hundred people are going to spend an obscene sum of Mayberry’s money to persuade a few thousand people to give a 12-year sinecure and million-dollar pension to a woman who couldn’t say, when asked, what the City’s unfunded liability is.

How were 80,000 British soldiers able to maintain dominion over 200 million Hindus? By persuading them to internalize their own inferiority.  Burn all foreign dress, Gandhi advised. Don’t wear the white man’s colonial suit.  Your mind will follow.

Hooked

Ironic mural in the shadow of the Budweiser plant

Ironic mural in the shadow of the Budweiser plant

Unironic hookup just around the corner

Unironic hookup just around the corner

Went looking for the elusive but famous Budweiser parrots today.  They’ve been thought for years to be nesting along the railroad tracks adjacent to the beer plant, refugees from Busch Gardens of yore.  Didn’t see the birds but found nests of urban refugees being rousted from their perch along the 405 by the police.  A woman in yellow pants staggered out of a flooded and trash-strewn gully, pushed her way through a gap in a chain-link fence as casually as if she were emerging from a beaded curtain to her kitchen and asked me for a smoke and if my name was James. She seemed unaware of the official rousting going on just above her, in the shadows of the overpass.  My civic loyalties a bit divided, I helpfully told her the cops were about.  She pinwheeled in a disoriented circle, then continued walking alongside me as we, suddenly a couple, were observed by the LAPD.

Well, this will be interesting.  How am I going to explain this?

We walked side by side, sort of,  as I contemplated a plausible alibi for my impromptu assignation here in the hidden backside of the Valley.  I, conspicuous white man, was just looking for the parrots, officer.

A second man, perhaps whose name was James, emerged from a gap in another fence and she skipped ahead toward him eagerly.   Without preamble, they marched with purpose away from the tracks and disappeared into the shrubwork.  Her clothes looked slept in but she had a pretty decent weave going. No policemen followed them.

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Busch Gardens in its heyday.  Seventeen acres of lagoons and exotic birds served by monorail and boat. Lots of wildlife tours for the kids and free beer for the adults at any one of five ‘hospitality houses’, like the Michelob Terrace.  Remarkably, this nearly perfectly designed childcare arrangement fell out of fashion in the 70’s and the park closed after a mere fourteen years.

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Levi at work

Levi Ponce and Ernie Merlan

Levi Ponce and Ernie Merlan

Saturday, a sublime autumn afternoon. Driving homeward on Whitsett, I happened across a mural crew painting a concrete embankment, near Saticoy. You can see it from the 170, a cheerful and unexpected pastoral trapezoid of green and yellow popping from the industrial landscape.  I got out of the car to take a look. Who do I find hand-mixing a bucket of paint, but Levi Ponce, master muralist.

Me: ‘Hey, you’re Levi, aren’t you?

Levi: “Yeah, I am.’

Told him I was an admirer of his work, and was flattered to hear him say he reads this blog.  His hand was covered in paint so he offered his forearm for some kind of man-on-man elbow bump, but I clutched it like a groupie and asked him why I see his murals in Pacoima and Reseda and North Hollywood, but never in Van Nuys.  Ask Nury Martinez, he replied.  When he began the mural project several years ago, it was his intention to start in Pacoima and work his way down Van Nuys Blvd, all the way to Ventura.   The word from Nury’s office is there is no money to pay muralists in her district.

I can think of a great number of things on which we spend public funds in District 6 which could take a back seat to neighborhood beautification.

All civic improvement dies in Van Nuys.   Apparently it’s a commandment from the Old Testament, like the plagues of Egypt.

Working alongside Levi was a very nice guy named Ernie, a studio animator, who founded the Exceptional Minds Studio, a center for autistic young adults to learn multimedia and animation skills. He had some of them working the embankment project.  Councilman Paul Krekorian and the North Hollywood Neighborhood Council put up the money.

‘Paul wants to be the mural guy,’ said Ernie.

The city has tens of millions squirreled away in CRA accounts. It pays a small fortune for landscape designers to make minor decisions about foliage placement few people notice. But in Van Nuys, it won’t pay artists.

Here’s the way it’s supposed to work in the civilized world: You pay the artist for his work.

They did it in Ancient Rome, they did it during the Renaissance, the Restoration of Charles the II, the Spanish Conquest, the Russian Revolution, even the hermit kingdom of North Korea today ‘pays’ its artists, in a manner of speaking. Somehow, even in North Hollywood they manage to pay the artist.  With public funds, no less.

Think of that next time you’re stuck in traffic staring at a dreary tableau of sidewalk banners, mismatched signage and tagging.  It may be a colony we are living in, but it doesn’t have to be.

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Walking to Target

First we saw two people in a bathtub

First there were two people a-frolic in a bathtub

Then this lady committed seppuku

Then this lady committed seppuku

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Then this girl appeared out on nowhere and asked if she could use my phone.  She ‘needed a ride’.

So I lent her the phone and she proceeded to talk for ten minutes about how Julio needed to come over right now and ‘smoke her out’. Cause she wasn’t gonna take Araceli’s b*******  anymore.  She was tired of it.  She was done with that, so done with that, you have no idea how loco and she needed to get high and she was tired of everybody’s stupid b******* and no one listened to her anyway.

She got down into a squat and rotated away from my gaze,  murmuring and gesticulating.  Finally I walked around into her field of vision, and she turned away from me, annoyed to have her privacy intruded upon.

‘I’m just going to be a minute.  Okay?  Jeez.’

She took another five.

She handed the phone back without thanks and started throwing rocks at a metal pole.

I see two lessons here.  Always take the railroad tracks instead of the street. Don’t lend your phone to strangers.

Night Soliloquy

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Do not forsake this woman, whatever you do.

Forget cheating on her.

If you do, do not fall asleep with pruning shears in the house.

Don’t tell her she needs to lose weight.

When asked for the truth, tell her what she wants to hear.

If you’re becoming bored, feign delight.

Cause there is no way you are breaking up with her.

She will have something to say about that.

Like she did the last guy.