Marisa told me her foot was infected from a spider bite. Shoeless, she gingerly picked her way through the debris. They had two dogs living with them.
Both sides of the freeway were cleared out only a few weeks ago, everyone pushed off of State of California property and onto the railroad tracks (the county’s problem) or onto a tiny patch of ground next to the Roscoe Blvd offramp, two feet from traffic (the City’s problem). They’ve slowly trickled back, in pairs. Nature abhors a vacuum.
In the chaos of moving day, there were lost connections.
Mrs. UpintheValley, who did not vote for Godzilla, has been obliged to avoid Facebook, the vitriol and emotive accusation has been so intense.
Now, in the name of tolerance, the call has gone out for the assassination of the non-President, the week after the election.
Bullet in the forehead, bleeding from his, wherever….
And I thought my apolitical blog was going to go back to being apolitical.
He hasn’t even taken the oath, people. Tell me how this movie ends.
Banksy has his own view. He of course has made millions doing something which is technically illegal, but clearly changes how things are perceived. Or tries to. Otherwise what would be the point?
What begins in wish fulfillment, ends as all Pygmalion-like creation myths do. Carve a woman from marble and your feverish longing, and you will fall in love with her. You will leave a bloody handprint.
Van Nuys is not on anyone’s list of urban pleasure walks, but you can see a lot in an hour. Freedom. Love. Trust. Help. I have no idea who Trusty is. I don’t know who is asking for help. I don’t know if the panhandler sign is trying to say pleaser or pleasure, or if the misspellings are a deliberate calculation. Or if the declaration of daddy love is ironic. They’re all messages from the parallel world of the dispossessed.
After a summer without a sighting, I found Rebecca tonight in the scrubland behind the 405.
A woman was sitting on the Metrolink tracks, lacing up her shoes, bellowing incoherently into the ailanthus: Whag-gle! Whah-gul! It took me a moment to realize she was trying to say “White Eagle”. I walked through the bushes in the direction the woman was shouting and found Rebecca dragging her cart across the dirt.
She’d lost a little weight since May. It hadn’t been going well. The Valley was pretty well picked for scrap. The battalions of the white favela had seen to that. A weeks work of scrapping net a little over 20 pounds of copper coil. A steady drop in metal prices meant the Raymer street yard was paying $1.60/lb. Her old man was drinking it away in front of the 7-11 at Roscoe and Sepulveda. They had been living on Orion for awhile but had recently gotten bounced by local merchants. Before that, The Narrows. Before that, Saticoy.
Someone had stolen her tent while she was at the recyclers. She had no money for a new one. She was on the move.
For the time being, they were sleeping behind Jack in the Box until they figured it out it.
Call me skeptical of curbside claims. Union man. Honest. Hungry. Looking for work. Ten seconds at a stoplight doesn’t give you a lot to work with. You do a quick read: sober or not? Do they look you in the eye or not? Does the supplicants appearance match the narrative on the cardboard sign?
Mrs. UpintheValley keeps singles in the console of her car and hands them out to anyone who approaches the window.
For years there was a guy who used to work the 405 offramp at Roscoe Blvd., waving an empty gas can. He was respectably attired, and would point to a nearby station, implying he was a stranded commuter with an empty fuel tank. He aggressively worked the red light, walking out into the lanes between cars, frowning and gesticulating at those who declined him.
I’ve seen crackhead mothers demand ‘food money’ for their children in front of restaurants, with their shell-shocked children in tow. I’ve seen people claiming ‘hunger’ spurning fresh food, not leftovers, purchased for them by passerby. I know a reformed heroin addict whose hustle was setting up a card table in front of Home Depot and fraudulently collecting for Hodgkins disease. Don’t get me started about claims of military service.
Alternately, I have another friend, who lives large in Bronson Canyon, who took a huge loss in the stock market, on margin, costing nearly his entire nest egg. He recovered, it took years, but in the aftermath he decided to always give to panhandlers. That a person had been reduced to the state of degradation where he would beg in the street, this in of itself was reason for giving.
I’m not so sure. My sense of social order requires a Virtuous Mendicant. So when I saw this guy last week, the sun hit his sign just right, and what caught my eye was Teamster Local 831. Here, perhaps, was someone dollar-worthy. Here’s the exception which proves the rule. So I reached in my pocket. As I did so, in tandem with my own movements, as though in response to my thought process, he began to pitch forward, slowly, folding from the neck down, one vertebrae at a time, to the waist.
He wasn’t doing yoga.
He sagged over until his knuckles hit the sidewalk. Then he raised his head slightly, but the effort was too much. His knees buckled and he hung there, in the arms of Morpheus, his face hidden behind a magnificent mane of homeless hair. He swayed back and forth to an internal ebb/flow only he could feel.
He had cookies stacked on the sidewalk. He had some bills clutched forgetfully in his right hand. There was nothing material I could offer he didn’t have already. But I took no pleasure in cynicism so swiftly affirmed. I would fail to give, and he would sin once more.
I work the closing shift, which means I get to drive over the 405 in the middle of the afternoon, and return to the Valley at 10:30 pm. On a good day, Brentwood to Van Nuys in under 12 minutes, if I hit all the lights. I’m one of the few people in LA who loves his commute. Like an idiot, I’ve tempted fate by saying this aloud.
Yesterday, I had to go to work early, which means I left early, which means I joined the tail end of the normal commuter flow, with everybody else. How bad could it be?
Lets put it this way: at seven thirty, I was on Barrington, four cars away from Sunset Blvd, looking out the window at this beautiful vintage gas station framed in milky twilight, and in a very civil mood. Off early! I could go to the gym! Perhaps Mrs. UpintheValley was still awake and could be had for the price of a foot rub! No tired lion, me. All possibilities were on the table.
At eight o’clock, darkness had fallen, and I was still next to the same gas station, on the Sunset side, and I was plotting revenge against everyone who ever wronged me.
The stoplight would cycle through, and nobody would move. This didn’t dissuade anyone entering from side streets inserting the nose of their car into the scrum. Unhappy honkings all around…random, pointless, like steer lowing in a slaughterhouse pen.
I thought of Joe Gillis evading the repo men in the opening sequence of Sunset Boulevard, and how comically unrealistic that would play now. When much of LA was laid out, traffic signals looked like this:
Gas stations looked like movie palaces and Westwood Village looked like this.
K-Town looked like this. That’s Oasis Church on the right. It is now one of the shorter buildings on Wilshire Blvd. Add three million people to this picture and take away the Pacific Electric Red Car. That’s where we find ourselves today, scurrying to rebuild the public transportation we once had. A bus and rail line for the working poor, slumped over in their seats, ear buds on, locked into their own podcasts, dreaming of the day they’ll be able to afford a car of their own. And a house in Van Nuys.
It took me an hour to reach the freeway. That’s .25 mph. Point two-five! The full Jakarta…
When I entered Macleod, they were playing traditional Irish songs and ballads. iPads were used in place of sheet music, I couldn’t help noticing. Here, two centuries were working to shared advantage. I ordered a Better Days ale. Beer has rarely tasted so good.
*An unfinished version of this post was published accidentally an hour ago. I apologize if it ended up in your inbox.
The first time I met White Eagle he was emerging from an abandoned warehouse with a shopping cart heaped with electrical wires. He was wearing leather pants and earrings, and looked like he played guitar in a glam rock band. For a guy living on the street, which he claimed to be doing for 13 years, and down to his last five teeth, he was oddly, unexpectedly attractive. He was on his way to the recycling center with his plunder, and his rapid-fire tweaker talk was so animated it arced across the space between us and I felt like I just did a bump myself.
From time to time I would see him while I was out walking the dogs, and there were these little nods of recognition, bum and homeowner. Usually he was coming or going from Raymer Street, bearing his loads of scrap and offered short, effervescent bursts of conversation which I politely nodded along with but could make no sense of a minute later as I replayed them in my head.
Once I found him in a reflective mood. I asked how he was doing. He professed loneliness.
“I’m homeless veteran and I’m gay. I’m a one-man leper colony out here.”
Four Mexicans had recently tried to beat him up, he said. For being a faggot. Even after he did them a solid by pointing pursuing police in the wrong direction. He put a stop to that quick. He wasn’t in the Navy Seals for 12 years for nothing. Or was it the Green Berets? His story evolved with different tellings. Sometimes he was on the street for 12 years, sometimes in the military. Sometimes both.
Earlier in the summer he was staying in The Narrows, a concrete channel behind Target. It was going to be dry down there for awhile, and they were going to make the most of it. They had tarp shade overhead and lights and a cookstove and a generator. The police told them they could stay as long as they didn’t make too much noise or bother the neighbors. Or so he said.
After the murder in the favela last week, I went looking for White Eagle, to see what I could learn. When I went to the Narrows, they professed no knowledge of him. When I went to the favela, they told he lived up at the 405.
“He never comes down here. That’s where he belongs.”
I went to the 405. Everyone was gone.
I mean everybody. Normally dozens of people live here. It was like the Rapture had come.
Next time you exit the 405 in the Valley and you wonder what’s going on down in the shrubbery, this is it. Urban hobbits have built a shire. Where they’ve gone now, and for how long, I don’t know. Maybe when I see White Eagle again, he’ll tell me.