Yerevan West

So I encountered this…in North Hollywood, 2am… sprouting majestically from a neighborhood of sad, small houses with attached single car garages…. Trippy. Transcendent. A mothership of American aspiration.

I stopped the car and let it swagger all over me.  It was an appreciation.

Two generations of people lived in the Valley and let their houses crumble over their heads.   Houses for which they paid less than $100,000.

They let water seep into the floorboards while they complained about busing. They sprayed popcorn foam over cracks on the ceiling but let the termites chew their way through the framing.  They put bars over the windows, but kept the linoleum floors.   Home improvement meant shag carpeting and flourescent tube lighting.

They left their houses to their adult children who were estranged from hand tools. They let the shrubbery die and replaced it with gravel.   But boy did they ever expect to be paid off when it came to sell, and paid off they were. In time, preposterous sums.

California was once so abundant middle class people changed houses the way we change cars today, discarding small brightly colored ranch houses on big lots for larger split-levels on small lots in the exurbs of Ventura County, painted an HOA-defined gradient running from excrement to beige.

The Valley was Adam Carolla-ville. It was one of those places you left and told disparaging anecdotes about when you got to where you were really going.

The carcasses of Los Angeles were left for the dusky hordes and the urban hipsters foolish enough to put down roots and not move to Austin. People so determined to be here they sunk their assets into houses without good  bones. Without any bones. Stucco boxes without a redeeming virtue save the ground they sank into a quarter inch a year.

Mrs. UpintheValley and I are Carcass People.   We didn’t intend to be.  We were going to to park ourselves for a few years in Van Nuys, build some equity into the house and then….trade up in an orderly fashion.  Because the world of real estate was rational, if untidy, right?  This was to be but a waystation.   A five to ten year sentence in minimum security prison, then back to one’s pals in Glamorama, with earned street cred.

Who knew housing mobility in LA would prove to be as starkly defined as the British class structure? The Wealth Effect, when combined with tight land use restrictions, means even if you pay down your mortgage in 15 years,  even if you climb to the top quintile of the income ladder, there’s nothing you can afford to buy that would be an improvement over what you already have.  Absent a windfall of cash, there’s no trading up anymore.

Marginal differences in down payment ability in 2004 proscribe where and how you can live in LA today. One is obliged to bloom where one is planted.   This was a lesson I resisted learning.

So when I see a house built out to the property line, a second floor added, and marble laid into the entryway, lit up like Halloween, I realize I have greater kinship with a family from Yerevan that I do with the kids I grew up with in California. They either inherited property, or they left. All of them.

These are my people.

The Abolitionists

Public enemy No. 1….

No, literally…and while we’re at it, no prisons, says the privileged white girl.

How dare I presume she’s privileged.  Because she’s holding a sign proclaiming innocence of the predations of man’s nature.  An indulgence only a prosperous and secure nation can engender in its people.

Open borders and jail cells are a particular fetish of single college-educated white women.  Ever wonder why….?


This is the quickening, yes?  Let us dispense with any plausible deniability as to our intentions.

In the new dispensation, abolition will not be enough. We shall pluck the wings off the American Eagle one by one. We shall inflict pain. 

How long did it take people to go there?  Two weeks? The center, such as it was, is relegated to nostalgia.

This logo has been officially merchandised by the Democratic Socialists of America. You can purchase it as a t-shirt with all profits dedicated to Righteous Causes™.

This is their It Girl, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, incumbent slayer and presumptive Congressperson from New York-14, by way of Yorktown, Westchester County.

Oh, how the media love her. Begone Stormy. We have our Joan of Arc and she’s ready to take us full Venezuela.

Free college.
Free healthcare for all.
Guaranteed income for all.
Guaranteed housing for all.
Open borders.

You can have one or several of the above but you can’t have open borders at the same time.  The last demand cancels the first four entirely. Just like you can’t have a 100% renewable energy power grid by 2035, but declare nuclear off-limits. Or plant crops in sand.

Magical thinking, plus rage, is not a sound basis for governance.

In political terms, this is driving through 18 red lights in a row with an open bottle of vodka in one hand and a fist full of opiates in the other.

By comparison, Trump looks like the most reasonable man in the room and that’s no small accomplishment.  He has been blessed in his critics. The rest of us have to live within the ruin the Resistance has wrought on civic order.

America used to work like this.  Van Nuys in its own quiet way very much still does, I’m proud to say.

Then we’re left with the eternal philosophical question.

The Curse of Ed Asner’s Housekeeper

Everything about this picture is a lie. The frame, the context, the substance. The girl was not separated from her mother. Her mother separated herself from her three other children in an attempt to regain illegal entry after being deported in 2013. Yelena was taken from her father without his permission to be used as a ticket  to cross the border.

These children are not refugees, not in custody, and not confined to a dog kennel.  This tableau is political theater, staged for a pro-immigration rally.

This photo was taken during the Obama administration.

Suddenly the Media Class are virgins.  Until last week apparently no one knew how babies were made.

We now pretend we never had a Border Patrol.  We wail as though the tangled web of immigration enforcement hasn’t been operating like this for decades.  As though the particular wrinkle of separating minors from parents (the Flores agreement) wasn’t the consequence of ACLU litigation going back to Reagan.

In Brentwood no one wants to bend over and pick up their socks, but we are obsessed with detention centers.  We are in ecstasies of sanctimony about them.

Cable TV is now nothing but people exhausting synonyms for atrocity, clicking their soundbites of outrage like castanets.   Because the world began five minutes ago. Because Trump. Behold the horror™.

This is not a war over memory. This is a war over who gets to call whom an asshole.    For there are now two American populations: The Anointed, who have a very big megaphone, and their basket of Deplorables, i.e., the Rest of US, who get to vote every couple years.

Here, in my beloved Van Nuys, peasants are locked into storage containers without plumbing until their families settle with the coyotes.   Landlords exact tribute from women for the keys to a first apartment. Shift supervisors exact tribute from women as the gateway to a first paycheck.   Brokers troll the Home Depot parking lot soliciting cash kickbacks from day laborers in exchange for a place on the truck, in scenes straight out of On The Waterfront.  I have witnessed this.

Just behind the veneer of $600,000 single-family homes are second families living on the down low in converted garages without heat or ventilation.  Tool sheds are pressed into use as casitas where laborers sleep in shifts.  People sell their wares on the sidewalk.   This is our new normal.  Into these feral arrangements the Anointed propose to deposit a fresh stream of undocumented people of unlimited number.

In Marxist terms, who benefits? The people living in campers parked on Bessemer St.?

How about people living out of dumpsters?

Or utilizing baby strollers as pushcarts for can collecting?

Or the Off-Ramp Dispossessed?

On the other hand, how about the guy who owns the bungalow with a four unit add-on?

Or the local gentry?

Trump if nothing else has proven to be the Great Clarifier. In their zeal to denounce, people have revealed themselves.   To quote the activist mob who hounded the DHS secretary out of a restaurant: “No borders! No walls! No one is legal!” Okay, then.  Now we know.

We have on our hands a reverse election. The Anointed, having deemed les deplorables insensible to reason, has determined to dissolve the public and replace it with a fresh population. One which owes them.

All the Van Nuys pictures are true. They are taken within a mile of my house.

Except this one, from Boyle Heights, ground zero of the anti-gentrification movement.  Los Angeles contains ironies within ironies. It is an animal like no other.

Lights, Camera, Eat

Backstage at the the most ostentatious grocery store in the history of San Fernando Valley, opening Wednesday….

Ralphs started out as a local chain in Los Angeles. If you wrote a complaint to the manager for bad service, he would come to your house with a fruit basket.   Alpha-Beta started in Pomona, and it ran cheesy ads with low end brands emerging from a bottomless paper bag and actor Alan Hamel urging viewers to “tell a friend”.

It was a different world then. You could smoke in the aisles and fill your cart with Sugar Smacks and Jiffy, and give your kid a shiner if he was making too much noise.

Now Whole Foods and Pavilions and Gelson’s are taking no prisoners, sparing no expense in the war of luxury. Little zings of moral affirmation will be found on every shelf. Local this. Fair trade that. No preservatives, no hormones, no trans fats. The gentry will be satisfied!   The little people can f*** off to Costco.  (Or they can shop at Amazon. Win-win, Bezos.)

Whole Foods employees have been told they will be ticketed and towed if they park in the surrounding neighborhood.   But they are expressly instructed not to park in the garage. Those spaces are reserved for shoppers.   In a metropolis where every public land use decision pivots on parking space requirements, this is a remarkable oversight. Unless of course it isn’t.

A Kind of Hush

At twilight last night on Sepulveda the LAPD set up traffic cones, parting the cars like the Red Sea…and into the breach walked the parishioners of St. Genevieve parish, murmuring the Lord’s Prayer.

I don’t think any of the delayed drivers were expecting this.  I was out walking the dogs, and I didn’t expect it either.  A quiet vigil was met with respectful silence from the inconvenienced.

America is decidedly more pro-life than when I was younger.  But quietly so. Simultaneously, it is also loudly pro-gay marriage.  These are thought of as being in opposition. In a narrow political context, perhaps yes.  But they are more complementary than one would credit.  The politician willing to straddle the contradictions within us has an ungrateful nation waiting to tear him asunder.

I say come to Van Nuys. We ground zero for understanding.

1948, In Shards

This is the first sentinel we encountered on our way to the fancy tile emporium in NoHo.


The second sentinel, awaiting our return. He shuffled over to us as though he were about to deliver a handwritten letter.  One grows accustomed to panhandlers at the intersections, conniving or addicted, but not hunched with calcium loss.  I’d say he looked about 70, the same age as my bathroom.

The bathtub was forged in cast iron by the American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Co., then dropped into the framing by a road gang in 1948, with no thought given to later renovation, leaving only one exit route, via sledgehammer.

This was the American Radiator Building in New York City, gilded icon of the Jazz Age, all Gothic turrets and coal-inspired black brick.

It once had a showroom in the basement for its useful, class-neutral products: radiators, boilers and bathroom fixtures. Now it’s a Moroccan-themed cocktail lounge called Celon where one can order a Lavender Oasis martini for an undisclosed price.   The Radiator Building is now the Bryant Park Hotel.

Because one cannot over-improve for the neighborhood anymore, even in The Nuys.  Because we are all hostage to whatever 1948 house we landed upon in the somnolent years before The Restoration.  Because no one can trade up to Echo Park.    Because equity trumps the purchasing power of a paycheck, so we bloom where we’re planted.

Because a white tiled bathroom would make Mrs. UpintheValley so very, very sad.

That world is in shards, now.

The Trap House We Live In

I’m fond of oppositional hypotheticals: Would you give up X for Y, if….

It might be my most annoying trait.

Lately, I have been given to propositioning people: for what would you be willing to give up your phone?

Would you do it in exchange for a free house in LA?  Say, for one year. Would you disconnect from social media, from search, from Yelp and Uber and Grand Theft Auto and Netflix streaming in your hand and all the other divertissements and useful gadgetry threaded into modern life?

I don’t understand, reply my interlocutors. What are we, Amish? What would be the point?

Because you’re getting a free house, that’s why. In Los Angeles. And I, the Grand Proposer of this particular Eden say: eat not of this technology.   It’s like Frontier House, except your only going back to 2007.

But I can’t fap without a phone. I can’t last without fap. Actually I probably could. I can’t last without video games. I need to behead something once a day to stay sane.  

Do we have a landline?
You can have a landline.
I still don’t want to do it.
Are you crazy? Free rent! Los Angeles at your disposal.  Find yourself for a year…

I take pride in paying rent, says my friend paying $1200 for a cell without light in the Casa Royale on Sepulveda.

You’d think there would be a lot of takers. The de-coupling of housing costs in Los Angeles from the underlying wage structure have reached such a point of absurdity (or market clearing price), people would step back into the recent primitiveness of the Oughts with, if not eagerness, then hopeful curiosity.  As in, what could it hurt?  It might even bring on an uptick of cognitive function.

Only one person responded affirmatively, and he’s Canadian.

Look, I get it.  I fixed a broken dishwasher with a 95 cent hose clamp after a five minute diagnosis at YouTube University.  Instant hacks, the democratization of knowledge is gratifying and addicting. How do I get dog blood out of my mattress? Why is there a traffic jam up ahead?  For how long? When is the next yoga class?  What are the tasting notes on this wine bottle in my hand? What’s the correct German translation of “I’m afraid of bats in the dark?”

These are useful things, so we feel we have earned the right to be shallow in other realms: Facebook when lonely, Instagram when bloated,  listicles when bored.     When we feel pretty we want the world to know. We issue press releases for ourselves and call it sharing.

People would rather be chained to two jobs, plus commute, rather than bear the idea of being disconnected from “friends”:  I need for them to be able to reach me.  I need to know what is going on.  I need to be in communication.   In the course of a decade, this unease with being “alone”,  rather than inconvenienced, has become insurmountable. Enter the Samsung Family Hub…

So, you’re telling me I can surf the web from my refrigerator?
Yes, and it shows you who is at the front door while showing you how to cook a soufflé. 
Does it tell me when we’re out of milk? 
Actually it tells your phone. 

The Hub is a 21 inch touch screen in the fridge door,  which operates as a convenience fairy godmother;  streaming music, offering apps, taking lists, alerting you to intruders in the yard, and crucially, operating as a microphone recording every word spoken in your kitchen and relaying that information to a great Metadata Repository to never, ever be used for anything but Benign Purposes.

There are several Family Hub commercials, and the common theme is atomization: children and spouses interact not with each other but through the refrigerator screen even though they are in the same room. The Mothers are doing More Important Things, like heading off to design meetings.

The expression on the actor’s face is meant to convey wonder. Unintentionally, I think it reveals doubt.  As in, is this how I’m going to pay my rent this month, by encouraging people to talk to their refrigerator?

Let’s talk about what’s possible.™

Van Ice is Nice, and Will Suffice

…on a hot day when you need something cold.  A little thin for my taste, but an improvement over 329 Lager from Golden Road, which is what it was intended to displace. Sales are brisk. I worry this may prove their best selling release, on strength of shrewd marketing alone, thus tarnishing the brand.  But what do I know?

Don’t let the picture fool you. This woman knows what she’s doing.  She’s running the only pub north of downtown that has people lined up on weeknights.  When we go full Highland Park in about 2.3 years, you’ll know who to blame.

Anyone remember Andy Black?  Not a Van Nice type of guy, and I think there might be a lesson in that.  Jennifer and Alastair put the truth in the label, even while using it ironically.  They’ve married Dale Carnegie to hipster-ville.