Valley Grace

Last night I learned about Hallway Sex from Byron, a handsome young orphan from the South.   It’s when you pass your Other in the hallway of your apartment and she says “F-you” and you say “F-you” back, and that’s the sum of your intimacy for the week.

I picked him up at The Liquid Zoo, five drinks down and two months deep into the Hallway Sex Diet, on his way back to Culver City, where his Other had summoned him with an enraged texting finger.

She left me alone in the house for two days while she did her thing. I mean what did she expect? She knows how tempted I am to be an alcoholic.

When he first came to LA, before he became a model for skateboard wear, when he was still doing scut work, he lived around the corner on Sherman Way, and the Zoo was his hangout.  It was the one place in LA he felt comfortable with himself.  Three years on, after a bit of success and a move to the West side, the bouncer and bartender in Van Nuys remained his true friends.  They remembered his name and didn’t mind if he crept up on them out of the blue. Nobody stood in judgment of him in Van Nuys.

When she got pregnant, he gave up on the modeling and the vague gestures toward acting and enrolled in a welding certification program.  They were going to get married. He wanted to do right by God, and there was reliable money in it.

And then one day, after consulting with her mother, who has three kids by three different men who don’t support them,  she went off and got herself an abortion while I was taking my welding exam and things really fell off.

Hallway Sex.

I’m trying to not have hard feeling about it, but it hurts, man. I won’t lie. It hurts. I’ve been on this earth for 29 years, minus two years in jail, but this is worse.  Some days I’m half a Xanax from putting a shotgun in my mouth.

Byron’s unanswered phone vibrated angrily all the way to Culver. He exited the car apologizing for oversharing.

Only Fiction can provide the true conversation which then unfolded in the apartment, but Life can put another passenger in the Uber, heading back to Sherman Oaks.

Donna was five years younger than Byron and by her own admission stupidly happy to be moving in with her boyfriend and out of her parent’s house. But for college, she’d lived her whole life in the Valley. She attended Buckley.  All her friends went to Buckley, Curtis or Harvard-Westlake.  Her Los Angeles was a small pond. Everyone Donna knew, knew everyone else Donna might know.

We talked about the musical re-make of Valley Girl, which she knew all about it without ever having seen the original or having any familiarity with the soundtrack. She was rather more excited about the re-make of Clueless, which came out the year she was born but which every girl she knew watched during middle school sleepovers.  Who couldn’t relate to Cher Horowitz?

She didn’t like that her childhood home was now on a Waze street, thick with cars seeking a shortcut in the morning commute. Nor did she approve of second floors on ranch houses.

But those were trivial matters. Mostly Donna was really, really ready to move in with her boyfriend, who she thought she met at a party, but soon realized wasn’t the case. When they exchanged numbers they discovered they were already in each other’s contact list…from middle school.  Every phone either of them had ever owned simply sucked up the old numbers.

It would have been creepy in any other context, but in our case felt like destiny. Like we had been circling each other for twenty years and these, like, electronic cherubs were steering us.

In the movie version, Donna and Byron would have crossed paths and this blog post would have a very different ending.  In millennial Los Angeles, orphans remain orphans and children of the upper middle class have their destiny forged by middle school.

Behold the Whore

Looking at this, I think:  if they could get away with it, the Social Justice Warriors would like nothing better than to shave the heads of Trump voters in the public square.

How far away are we from this in America?

Les poules a bouches, they called them in 1944. Hens with mouths.  Because the problem couldn’t have been the collapse of the French Army in three weeks in 1940, the men whisked away to labor camps as prisoners of war. Or a third of the population being openly Fascist at the beginning of WW II. Or the southern portion of the country being ruled by Vichy.   The women of Paris, left to fend for themselves, made accommodations with the conqueror women have made always. We can’t have that, can we?

Behold the whores.

The Pathé archives are filled with documentation of the shaving of the collaborators horizontale, none I found with the dignity of the woman above, who somehow manages to maintain poise when those around her are losing theirs, enobling herself in the most adverse of circumstance.   Does grace under pressure indicate innocence or a facility with deception? Did she love her paramour, or was she feeding her family?

After her hair grew back, for how long did she bear the burden of being that woman?

We are fast approaching a moment in American civil life when we are either going to be She Who is Sitting in the chair, or the guy wielding the clippers.   We will be told to be one or the other.    We may wish to be publically reticent in certain matters, we may long for the pleasure of a pint unencumbered by public declarations of fealty to one side or the other, but in the end, the culture war will sniff us out. It will scratch at our door. We will be made to care.

We’ll look back with nostalgia on a simpler time when head shaving was an act of personal renewal.

How much dignity we maintain then will be up to us.

Two Walks

Morning bliss, along the Eel River…

Inevitably, the return to the Pacoima Wash…

And yet, here I remain, urbanized.
Looking at in pictures, this strikes me as self-destructive folly.
What am I thinking?
Deep down, I would be bored living in the country, that’s what I’m thinking.
Lovely in doses, but far from the shifting tectonic plates of the once and future Americas.
Away from history.
There it is.

A Narrative of Displacement

This was the first tableau I encountered in the Mission District after parking the car.  Tech people chatting amiably next to a mural decrying the displacement of renters by tech people.   The afternoon was off to a very meta start.

When we were younger and rather prettier Mrs. U and I once lived near Valencia street when it was known primarily for taquerias.   Now you can buy retro sci-fi themed tchotchkes for $3200.  Is there a viable business model for this?  Probably not, but doesn’t matter.  The people who start stores of this nature have already made their money in you-know-what and are doing it for fun, which would be an example of loose capital not displacing labor, rather sober capitalism itself, as historically understood.

For the hyper-aspirational parent,  Valencia St. is also home to Aldea Baby and Paxton Gate Kids. In a city which has largely displaced young families, it is difficult to believe the register would ring often enough to pay SF rent. In the new paradigm one need not chase sales volume to be in the black, rather the loose money of a few undiscriminating uberwealthy couples who want their wunderkind to design rocket ships.

Staffing is an obstacle.  As my friend Johnny explained it to me: “unless you pay $20/hr, no one shows up”.

So much muraling in the Mission celebrates matriarchal themes…ironic for a city in which matriarchal power, otherwise known as procreation, has been forsaken by the women who live there.

San Francisco is not entirely motherless. I was hosted by a mother of two, a dear friend who lives in a house which dropped on her head as a marital dowry.    Inherited property and trustafarian arrangements are one workaround to the Google problem (the other being a time machine to 1992), but mothers anchored to paychecks tend to find raising children in communal rentals difficult and decamp for the outer commuter rings, or further.

SF is white AF now  (and Asian), far more so than we lived there.  The Mission is Latino no longer.   Black people…? Well, there was once a lovely movie made about the disappearing black population in SF called Medicine for Melancholydirected by Barry Jenkins, who went on to win an Oscar for Moonlight. You can no longer stream it on Netflix,  which makes the memory piece of black SF also now a memory.

And yet…the nouveau riche, Chewish San Francisco loves its narratives of third world oppression.

As though to illustrate the point for tourists from LA, this woman, who appeared to be about 60, wearing designer clothes that mimicked what one might pull out of a dumpster, parked her Mercedes in front of Delfina restaurant, turned up rap music and began dancing ecstatically atop her seat. She shouted things about “black and white together” and held up a special issue of National Geographic.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved it there. There are bike lanes everywhere, including through the freeway exchanges.  I made full use of them.

Unlike LA, the bike is king!  Befitting royalty, cars yield to you.  Entire auto lanes have been displaced, to use the word of the day, in favor of pedal pushing.  This is Market Street. Can you imagine LA City Council saying yes to this on Wilshire Blvd.? I can imagine it, but I wouldn’t bet on it.   SF may be an unpleasant city for driving, but there is a tradeoff. It is much, much quieter, even the commercial districts, when cars move at slower speeds.  As I had no job to which to commute I was free to ignore the annoyance of others, and live with entitlement for a few days.

You can also let your dog run off leash at the beach, from the Marina to Pacifica. As fate would have it I ran into Danny Glover, one of the last black men in SF (the other being Willie Brown) twice, jogging by himself on Sunset Beach.

It’s when you try to leave San Francisco fully reveals itself.   This was me, 3pm, wasting 40 minutes trying to get on the Bay Bridge.  Once you get through Oakland, you think…

Only when you get to Castro Valley do you realize your commute is not opening up, it’s just starting.   Eight miles ahead of you, the Silicon Valley traffic from the 680 is funneling into the 580. You are one hour from Livermore.

After Livermore, clear sailing, right? No more on-ramps. Nothing but windmills and cows until Tracy.  Wrong. Five miles an hour over the pass.  Three hours from the city, limping into the Central Valley, one tired lion among many, extending to the horizon.

Here is San Francisco, you realize, not Valencia Street. The place you left is a theme park for the wealthy and for tourists. San Franciscans, to broaden the definition…live out here.

Define fragility: one roofing nail in the road.

More fragility: Millennium Tower, eighteen inches out of plumb already.  The foundation piles do not extend to bedrock.  They are held up by friction and they have begun to torque, twisting out of equilibrium.

Displacement.

Are we going to look back on this era of millionaires bicycling to dinner and retail workers driving home to Stockton as a harbinger of the future or an obvious signpost of folly?

Melancholia, Slight Return

If I had the gift of clairvoyance, would it manifest as manic depression, as it did for Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia?   

Seeing the row of lollipopped ficus trees in Runyon under a brooding sky evoked memories of the film and its distinct visual motif.

We are headed for some kind of Civil War II for no better reason than half of us desire it so badly.    One path is shorter, the other longer, but they both lead to the same destination.

It is as though another blue planet, previously hiding behind the sun, has quietly appeared, growing a little larger by the day, insensible to prayer.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

First thing we do, cone Roscoe Blvd. down to one lane. Road diet!  That got my attention.

So, what’s going here? Looks important…

Looks like they’re chipping up the sidewalks.  Hmmmm….

…and filling them back in again.   There must be some reason, right?  Why would they do that over and over again up and down the arterial to the 405 freeway?

Here’s a possibility. While you sit in single-lane traffic, you get to stare at this sign.  See, SB1 is doing nice things for you, like rebuilding California.  Not wasteful things, like chipping up the sidewalk and re-pouring it.

Well, don’t be coy. What is SB1?  It is known colloquially as the gas tax.  The gas tax is facing repeal in November.

So now the gas tax lobbies you for perpetual life with your own money.  It stops your commute cold to tell you it giveth and taketh away, both nurturing mother and stern father.  Be grateful for your parents.

Ride of the CicLAvians

In a moment of kitschy pathos we encountered the defiled star of Lillian Gish on Vine Street Sunday afternoon, at the CicLAvia in honor of the LA Philharmonic centennial.

Fitting perhaps for an actress known for her doll-like, waifish fragility. Her oeuvre was one of purity in danger, seduction and abandonment, flight from lecherous hands, and being set adrift on ice floes.

In her most famous screen appearance she threw herself off a cliff rather than submit to an amorous white actor in black face.

I was in a Ride of the Valkyries frame of mind as we pedaled downtown.  An afternoon of bike as king cranked dormant gears in my head, the ones which say why not?

Why can’t we always bike? Forget arriving to work in a timely manner. Think of the journey! Forget the supply chain, and the power grid. Practicalities are for sissies. This is how it should be! Yes yes!  New rules!  Clear the roadways! We all pedaling now.  Everyone must pedal! We should ride by torchlight!  Make way. A new age now begins!  Here in LA, where so many utopias were discarded and dystopias foretold.

Why must the essentials for a deliciously stylish life require a four level parking garage? Rethink it!

Every mile or so someone would hold up a foam finger and pull a piece of yellow tape across the road, and just like that, hundreds of people would submissively cooperate.  We were digital people in a digital age again, agreeable and rules oriented. My fever dream was bite-sized. My Lillian is sadly never in need of rescue.

With no blood and soil urgency at hand, I filed it away in a drawer in my head called Ironic Historical Feedback Loops. I kept the Wagner, but eliminated the KKK in my chain of association. See how easy that was? The mind is good at lying about what the heart knows to be true.

Friday Night Light

I’m very much not a fan of the NFL kneelers. Football was until very recently among the last domains in American life uninfected by the sepsis of politics.

When I saw this Sierra Canyon player crouched in the far end zone during the anthem Friday night with his back to his team, to the crowd, and to the flag, as much as I wanted to disapprove, his isolation was so complete I felt grudging sympathy for him.

For some reason he also made me think of Kavanaugh, which made the moment doubly political, which was the last thing I wanted. Yet, sympathy, from an unexpected direction.  It helps not to have the media reaching into the window of every moment, steering our reactions, picking the heroes and villains.

Whether his banishment was self-imposed or the result of carefully negotiated compromise with the coaching staff and the administration, I was unable to ascertain.

Drive 15 minutes from Van Nuys and you can be in West Hollywood. Drive 15 minutes in the other direction and you’re in Iowa, among parents cheering their kids as they play for the high school they attended when they were kids.

As vast as Los Angeles can be, even the Valley portion, its nice to see generational continuity. Not everyone came here ten years ago to be famous.  Some people came here 60 years ago to be famous, and now their great-grandchildren aspire to be cheerleaders for the family prep school.

Sierra Canyon, state champions in 2016, dispatched Crespi 60-14, which made the west bleachers rather happy. Crespi was scheduled as a sacrificial lamb on account of the homecoming game.

High School is never without a measure of cruelty.  There is continuity.

Something Happened To Us

Heavy Metal Parking Lot, 1986.  When I first saw this, years ago, I laughed at everyone.  I watched it again this week and was filled with affection for the joyful display of unrepentant testosterone.

In an era when no one except football players went to the gym, I didn’t see anyone wearing relaxed fit jeans or XXL shirts hanging below their member. I doubt more than a few of them had done a single crunch in their lives. Yet they had their shirts off.  They were in fantastic shape.

Today you couldn’t collect a random sample of 17 to 23-year-olds from any neighborhood in America, from any socio-economic class, who looked like this.

They had hair like girls, yet they were manlier.  They had confidence without portfolio.

Matt Dillon, It Boy of the 80’s.

Young man pulling go-kart, Staten Island, 1984. From a collection by photographer Christine Osinski.

Placing talent aside, the distance between the guy at the bottom of the social order drinking beer in the parking lot before a Judas Priest concert and the guy on the cover of Rolling Stone could be measured by a stylist and good lighting. Today it’s Zac Efron and Ryan Gosling at the top of the pyramid and millions of soft males languishing in their masturbatoriums, already defeated in their twenties.

Is it too much high fructose corn syrup? Endocrine disruptors? Soy? Electronics? Has social media socialized all the boyful instincts out of young men? Are the New Rules too ever-shifting and capricious?   Are there not enough older brothers of father figures to lead the way?

Maybe they feel unsure of their purpose and place in this world.   I think about this more than I want to.  I worry about where we are headed.