Railroad Portrait Mystery

On my pre-prandial constitutional through the Pacoima Wash I happened upon a painting displayed near the homeless encampment, prompting me to take a picture.

These two men hurried appeared out of the tarp houses, Roberto on the right, and his unnamed hype man, who insisted I purchase it for $20.

I asked Roberto if he was the artist. He shrugged, and stared at the work as though he were impersonating a museum patron. Paint he had not upon his hands.

Who was the portrait of?  Roberto mumbled and shrugged. “The Lady,” insisted the Hype Man. Which lady?  Gesturing toward the the storm channel: “Over there”.

It was a grunting, Spanglish-y conversation, more mannerism than truth.

Did Roberto have more paintings? Sure. Where are they? He didn’t know. I suggested he do a series of portraits, hang them on the fence to attract interest.

Hype Man, again: “Twenty dollar. You buy?”  “It looks unfinished,” I replied, by way of excuse.

As I walked home toward dinner, I couldn’t decide which would be the better story, a thwarted Van Gogh living under a tarp, or my unhoused neighbors leveling up from recycling bottles to recycling yard sale art.

The blurry unfinished look of the painting reminded me of the botched fresco restoration of Jesus in the Santuario de Misericodia in Borja, Spain. It’s probably what caught my eye in the first place. The woman who attempted the restoration was an amateur who meant well. Failure makes us more human and she failed so completely the crown of thorns was no longer visible.

She turned the fresco into something one might find at a yard sale. If it was unfinished before it was damn well finished now.  Ecce Homo.

Always take the railroad.  Never a dull moment.

O, Little Town of Van Nuys

Our precarious present, where we invite people to light campfires under power poles.

Our near future, lifting her skirt.

We are an unfinished mural.

We are poised between decaying mid-century cool and someone else’s postponed development scheme.  We reveal unintentional beauty on a gust of wind.

But mostly we are too much of this.  For we are a ragged outpost of City Hall and Sacramento and Brentwood, mute, dependable and too disorganized to complain.

She won’t save us.   We can put the comic books down and save ourselves.  Merry Christmas, one and all.

The Town Los Angeles Forgot

To walk the sidestreets of downtown Van Nuys on a weekend afternoon is to not understand what decade one is living in.

Part noirish, part Western, part mid-century time capsule, part zombie movie. I don’t understand why it hasn’t been put to cinematic service more often.

We don’t deal with weeds, but we’ll damn well tow your car. We don’t care what decade it is.

Barbed Wire, Bougainvillea and a Box of Bees

Van Nuys, simplified: Nature and utility at war.  Beauty is forever encroaching upon blight here.

Inscrutable dogs park their disembodied heads atop concrete block walls and stare at us as we walk past.

Funghi popcorns from tree bark to announce an early spring.

…and people leave their bees nests in a box by the sidewalk.

The bees don’t stay in the box, believe it or not.  They move five feet to the utility pole, and begin a new hive.  They wiggle furiously into the seams. Unless I’m mistaken, these are honey bees, a diminishing natural resource. Are they queen-less now? Will they survive to re-pollinate the neighborhood, or collapse?

In Van Nuys we say ‘meh’ to nature, and nature ignores our indifference in return.