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.

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.

Ikea Hell Week

First, lets peek behind the walls

First, lets peek behind the walls

Blogging has been absent the past ten days. I’ve been giving my kitchen the Ikea makeover.

I budgeted two days for sorting out the 1948 wiring, and the highly dubious add-ons from the 1980’s.

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That was a tad optimistic.

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Trixie found a cubby hole in the bamboo at the very back of the yard, and spends her days there, as far from the crazed man as possible.

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?

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

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