Jeff Spicoli Lived Here

Fast Times at Ridgemont High was on TV the other day…I was drawn in by nostalgia but stayed for the spectacle of teenagers working after school.   I couldn’t get past it.

Every character in the movie had a job, including Phoebe Cates, the Megan Fox of her time, dutifully served the public while draped in a corporate issue smock so unflattering it would never make it past the wardrobe assistant today.

First, the oddity: when do we see this anymore?  Then the deep memory: we all did this when were young.  Then the recognition: how completely we’ve restructured things.  White teenagers working at the Galleria? That’s what an open border is for.

A job used to be the first step to adulthood and freedom from parental constraints, the children of professionals just as likely to be slinging pizza as those of an auto mechanic.  Almost everyone today not explicitly rich claims membership in the middle class.  It’s the conceit at the heart of the 1%/99% formulation. But in 1982 it was mostly true if you viewed it aspirationally rather than by income quintile.

1982 was faux wood paneling, Formica countertops, cheap linoleum, tchotchkes, and self-maintained yards.  This could be Sherman Oaks as easily as Arleta.  All rather downmarket by modern Dwell standards, but perfectly in keeping with the aesthetics of the time.

Anyone whose house looks like this today is, well, probably “poor” or elderly.  Escaping…this… prison of dreck is the great motivator of contemporary LA.

The first commandment of Valley 2.1: all ranch houses shall be gutted and made Zillow-ready.  Better yet, they shall be replaced with more units. Which brings me to the condemned house in the first picture, in the shadow of an IMT apartment block on Sepulveda. I have it on good authority Jeff Spicoli lived there. Now it’s going to be six McMansions.   If they have kids, they won’t be working after school.   They will intern.  Peasants from Chiapas will man the espresso machine and pull the weeds.

The global south is on the move. The Red State high achievers are on the move. Both are coming here. Ambition leaves Cleveland as quickly as honorable men flee Chapo’s brigades in Sinaloa.

Chinese yuan is in search of a safe harbor. The Federal Reserve is printing money and handing it out at no interest to banks: start funding things, anything, spin the dials of consumption. Come pension fund apparatchiks, say the banks, come ye Central Asian strongmen, ye Israeli billionaires and Gulf sheiks looking to elude the virtue police, build an apartment block in Van Nuys, start collecting rent and citizenship is yours. Hedge your bets here, in the former land of hedges.

Stacy and Brad, Damone and Spicoli, Linda and Ratner, they had no idea what was coming.

Widows Weeds

The Valley the zeitgeist forgot.    The remnants.  The lost backlot of the 1980s. No quarter given to the aesthetic demands of the age.  No fancy countertops. No solar panels.  No satellite dish. Landlines and linoleum.  Dry rot and mold. Five figure mortgages.

An Appalachia West, where the cars and the houses like married couples after many years begin to look alike…

…only to become landscaping when they cease to function as transportation.

The overlooked nooks and crannies of Arleta and Panorama…

…where they wear the station wagon in the driveway like widows weeds.

Fruits and Flowers

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For months now,  I have seen this same man and woman selling their wares at the corner of Paxton and Arleta, a no man’s land adjacent to the Pacoima Wash Spreading Grounds.  And I wonder, why here?  Why them?  Is it a franchise?  Do other fruit vendors vie for this location?  Is there a street vendor cartel which calls the shots and ameliorates disputes?  Is there a mordita? Are they making money? It is well off the beaten path. Are they being punished? One the plus side, at least there is shade.

90% of life is showing up

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For the past ten days the eastern San Fernando Valley became, overnight,  a swing county in Ohio in a presidential election.  Which is to say, we were under the full siege of the Cindy-Nury political telenovela: door knockers, door hangers, mailers, phone calls, yard signs, tweets and texts.  Amidst this cacophony of the democratic process I received a knock on the door from my neighbor Walter, a Montanez volunteer.  Would I like to meet Cindy? ‘She’s gonna be in the neighborhood’ today. Of course I would. He promised to bring her by ‘sometime after 4pm.’  We put some wine in the fridge to chill, cracked open the hummus, and called my friend Andy Hurvitz, of the HereinVanNuys blog. ‘Cindy Montanez is dropping by. You want to meet her?’  Certainly. At 4pm, there the three of us were, glasses of rose in hand, snack bowls on the credenza, cameras and questions at the ready….

Giles and Andy, being patient
Giles and Andy, being patient

4:30 rolls around, no Cindy.  I check in with Walter. ‘It’ll be another hour or so. She’s still at the office.’  The hour goes by, the bottle of wine empties out.   We begin to fool around with cameras. I fire up the grill.  I call a second time for an ETA.  ‘Andy is here’, I offer as an inducement, ‘and he’s ready to blog.’ ‘Let me get back to you.’  Ten minutes later he calls back with regrets. ‘Cindy won’t be able to make it tonight.’  We wander out into the evening air and take snaps along the Metrolink tracks.  We happened upon this lovely couple on the Bridge of Sighs, who were happy to pose:

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Three days later, returning from yoga, I get another message from Walter. Please call.  Cindy will be back in the neighborhood tonight. I’ll bring her by. When? Six to seven-ish.  Andy returns.  A bottle of gewürztraminer and garlic crackers are laid out. More hummus.  Seven o’clock, no Cindy. Eight o’clock, no Cindy.  Now, the drill here is pretty simple. The candidate knocks. We exchange pleasantries. She declines the wine, but takes a cracker.  Looks us in the eye and lies to us about how she’s going to clean up Sepulveda Blvd. Everyone shakes hands and she goes on her way. Five minutes and it’s done. She gets a promotional photo from Andy and maybe some good copy.  Of course we both have fever dreams of beautification schemes we want to pitch, and maybe after a long day, the gewürztraminer might bribe some additional face time with the candidate…..but only if the candidate shows up. On the her hand, if she chooses not to come, for a second time…..by 8:30, we’re in the car, heading to Angel City Brewery for a flight of IPA and then to Wurstkuche for some exotic sausage.  Downtown east of Alameda, an area not long ago as run-down as the east Valley is today, was positively en fuego with nightlife, cuisine, commerce.  Joyful young and not-so young people out and about, enjoying t-shirt weather after midnight.  Quite another city,  yet entirely within my own.  Up in the valley, we’re still working on the basics, like awnings for bus stops and getting the police to arrest hookers plying the trade in broad daylight in front of schoolchildren:

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Driving home to our colonial outpost in the Valley, I was in a bad humor. Mrs. Upinthevalley took a more generous view. It’s the middle of an election. Walter was simply over-promising.  Perhaps. But he wasn’t inventing. Cindy knew who we were and she knew we were waiting, and she….made other priorities.   An avalanche of mailers and five more canvassers would hit our house in the final days, including three on Tuesday afternoon, in a scrambling panic as the poll watchers reported the grim news: people weren’t showing up to vote.  Her margin of defeat would turn out to be smaller than the combined traffic of our two blogs.  Enough said.

Cindy spent in excess of $100 a vote.  Her signs and foot soldiers were ubiquitous in Van Nuys. Cindy herself was a no-show.  Nury Martinez walked Sun Valley and Arleta door-to-door, in person. As Woody Allen put it: ‘90% of life is showing up’.   In politics apparently, there’s no substitute for shaking someone’s hand and bullshitting them.

The future of CD 6?
The future of CD 6?