Back in the heatwave of June, I told an acquaintance on the nightclub side of the hill where I lived. Van Nuys is the Devil’s asshole, he announced without hesitation. He was referring to the heat, but his tone suggested something more.
Every kingdom has its Lord, I replied, half-joking.
If not I, what shape would this lord take? Who would be the definitive representation of our sun-splashed, slightly noirish Brigadoon? He might have a weapon protruding from underneath him, like a tail. He might have his fist around a bottle of Jack Daniels, crisp jeans and a gold watch. He would be rusticating in the middle of the day, which is how I found him after I dropped $1100 on maintenance for my trusty Honda CRV, which makes me very much an un-Lordly figure.
Ziggy, on the other hand…he knows who’s the boss.
Stoker has no sense of irony, and zero pity. If you want a portrait of dominion, look no further.
Lords, all of them. I welcome submissions and nominations.
One man’s refuse is another man’s treasure, never more so than in the backyard, where the hoarder goblin is allowed to run off leash.
Here’s Van Nuys in a single frame. On the right side, 6537 Columbus Avenue, every inch of lot given over to vehicle storage. Whose cars? For what purpose? Why boats? Mysteries. It’s been going on for years. On the left, the footprint for 6530 Sepulveda, formerly the brothel known as the Voyager Inn, now known as SkyLA Tower, with 2 bedroom apartments leasing at $2750.
Two hundred people utilizing a lot proportional to the one next door housing dozens of used cars, while people are camping on the same street. Perhaps a pretty good argument for eminent domain?
Unfortunately, this wouldn’t resolve the storage issue. In all three cases, someone is making a lot of money off things as they are. Servicing the indigent is literally a billion dollar business now, in Los Angeles alone. You could seize the car house, put up a shelter over the anguished wailing of the KesterRidge Neighborhood Association and it wouldn’t make a dent in the tents on the street. We pay them to be here. Until we stop doing so, the Laws of Entropy prevail.
After twelve years, the Cat Lady and her creepy husband have fled the block…leaving behind an untold number of disoriented and emaciated felines, waiting for a dinner that is not coming.
Their persistent wailings have summoned catered meals from Mrs. UpintheValley, who is more than a bit fretful as what to do about them.
I had practical suggestions, starting with letting nature take its course. They already outnumber humans in Los Angeles, two to one. Darwin can be our friend, I offered.
Not a chance.
Says she: “I feel like I’m living in the Great Depression next to a soup kitchen that’s gone out of business and people are rattling tin cups against the gate.”
The cat people left a pile of ratty furniture sitting in the yard, covered in duct tape and pieces of cardboard, reeking of ammonia, and no forwarding address.
Curious what a cat house looks like on the inside? We were. Let’s take a stroll, shall we?
This is as far as Mrs. U got. The pungency of two decades of accumulated urine and glandular emission had metastasized the air inside the closed rooms to a kind of gassy soup. One staggered through as though underwater. I felt myself getting a bit heavy headed, like I was huffing model airplane glue and simultaneously getting the flu.
A rabbit warren of rooms, in which every trend of interior decorating of the past forty years was given an opportunity to do its thing, starting with shag carpeting.
Drop asbestos ceiling with fluorescent light fixtures.
Popcorn ceiling, black light painting, and the always practical duct tape and cardboard over the floor vent trick. How could you go wrong?
Even disposable plastic crap from China has a backstory. The story begins with petroleum.
It doesn’t end in the Pacoima Wash. This is but a waystation. The metal parts, the gears, the chain and spokes will eventually end up at the Raymer Street scrap yard, where they will be compacted, dropped into a container and trucked to Long Beach, then shipped back to China.
The Chinese will melt it down and make something new for us to buy.
Maybe, as Americans, we should make stuff for ourselves again. We’ve done it before. People who work with their hands tend to value what they make. They don’t so readily throw it in the creek.
Last week, in the run-up to the city council election, I posted of the ongoing problem of the crackhead encampment blocking the Bear Mural on Roscoe Blvd.
Two days later, the crackheads were gone.
Whisked away, as though by some kind of municipal rapture. Only tagging and little heaps of discarded clothing remained.
I’m not sure how I feel about this.
To have a cranky blog post turn the gears of the City machinery in a helpful direction is…satisfying on the one hand. On the other….really? Really? This has been going on for over a year. I tag Nury Martinez’s name on election eve and suddenly somebody who matters picks up the phone and calls Street Services?
Okay, I choose to be grateful. Full props to whoever made the call, whatever the motivation.
Once upon a time, along Roscoe Blvd, civic-minded people saw a concrete wall and imagined a mural. So a mural was summoned forth.
For years afterward, if one stopped beneath the 405, waiting for traffic to clear, one was treated to a tableau of rusticating California golden bears. Bears rubbing their backs against trees. Bears spearing salmon from waterfalls. Bears in mustard fields grappling one another in terpsichorean ecstasy. Bears watching enigmatically from their shrinking habitat, preparing for hibernation, while you sat in your car revving up for your day, or taking inventory of the ingredients needed for dinner, depending which direction the car was pointing.
It wasn’t Guernica, but it was an engaging piece of public art. A punctuation to your day, a yogic breath before the left turn to the on-ramp, where you could enter the forest for a moment and walk among the grizzlies. And then the light would change.
Set beside the civic artwork of the other great cities of the world, the Bear Mural is but a widow’s mite. A Valley-esque exercise in middlebrow taste.
Twasn’t much, but it worked. And until this past year, it was ours.
Then the shopping carts began to appear. Then mattress and sleeping bags.
Then the city, in its ever-expanding need to fatten pensions wisdom, silently declared the mural and all its street frontage to be the responsibility of the state of California. Since it was ‘under the freeway’ it need no longer be policed by Los Angeles.
In short order, the carts and mattresses gave way to a fortress city of bagged crap which decanted urine in the middle of the day and bore menacing signs. In keeping with Wilson’s Law of Broken Windows, all the murals under the 405 are disappearing under heavy tagging.
I can think of a place this wouldn’t be allowed to happen: Sherman Oaks.
I can think of another: the City of San Fernando.
When there are 5,000 people per councilperson, calls get returned. When there are 300,000 people per councilperson, she never has to shake your hand. So she doesn’t.
The City of Los Angeles has more tax revenue this year than last, more last year than the year before that. It’s going somewhere, just not to Van Nuys.
More houses have been renovated in my neighborhood, gut-renovated, from the foundation up, in the past four years than in the past 50 combined. Move twenty feet off any boulevard and you’re standing in an urban Mayberry, self-sustaining, joyful, polite, and without crime. An embodiment of our finest virtues: hard work, parsimony, kindness to others, faith and family. Virtues which are shared across the many dialects of our neighborhood. Friends from other areas of LA doubt me on the crime part, but it’s true. I have no need to lock my house.
Step back on the boulevard and you’re looking at a slum mall with a PayDay lender, a dialysis clinic, and a convenience store feeding off EBT cards. The man who owns the strip mall doesn’t live here, but he extracts a fat dollar from blight. The city functionaries who dole out the EBT cards and Section 8 vouchers make a nice living doing so, but they don’t live here either. People in the public sector are paid twice the salary the citizens they serve, but when I went to Nury Martinez’s office her field deputy didn’t know where Sepulveda Gulch was until I showed her on a map.
Blight is the end result of policy choices. We’re having an election next week in CD 6, but if you do a little homework, you’ll notice that 98% of the money spent on mailers and signs is coming from sources outside the district. People with business before the council. People looking for Mayberry’s money. Mayberry keeps grinding it out, reliably, and the taxation which sustains the City is nothing if not regressive.
The city budget is $8 billion a year, but good luck persuading Nury to install a few sprinklers to revive dead landscaping on the ugliest stretch of Sepulveda Blvd. Or pay for a Levi Ponce mural. What would be the point of that? We’re a colony, after all. They can just hand us shovels and tell us to fill in our own potholes.
On Tuesday, a few hundred people are going to spend an obscene sum of Mayberry’s money to persuade a few thousand people to give a 12-year sinecure and million-dollar pension to a woman who couldn’t say, when asked, what the City’s unfunded liability is.
How were 80,000 British soldiers able to maintain dominion over 200 million Hindus? By persuading them to internalize their own inferiority. Burn all foreign dress, Gandhi advised. Don’t wear the white man’s colonial suit. Your mind will follow.
Went looking for the elusive but famous Budweiser parrots today. They’ve been thought for years to be nesting along the railroad tracks adjacent to the beer plant, refugees from Busch Gardens of yore. Didn’t see the birds but found nests of urban refugees being rousted from their perch along the 405 by the police. A woman in yellow pants staggered out of a flooded and trash-strewn gully, pushed her way through a gap in a chain-link fence as casually as if she were emerging from a beaded curtain to her kitchen and asked me for a smoke and if my name was James. She seemed unaware of the official rousting going on just above her, in the shadows of the overpass. My civic loyalties a bit divided, I helpfully told her the cops were about. She pinwheeled in a disoriented circle, then continued walking alongside me as we, suddenly a couple, were observed by the LAPD.
Well, this will be interesting.How am I going to explain this?
We walked side by side, sort of, as I contemplated a plausible alibi for my impromptu assignation here in the hidden backside of the Valley. I, conspicuous white man, was just looking for the parrots, officer.
A second man, perhaps whose name was James, emerged from a gap in another fence and she skipped ahead toward him eagerly. Without preamble, they marched with purpose away from the tracks and disappeared into the shrubwork. Her clothes looked slept in but she had a pretty decent weave going. No policemen followed them.
Busch Gardens in its heyday. Seventeen acres of lagoons and exotic birds served by monorail and boat. Lots of wildlife tours for the kids and free beer for the adults at any one of five ‘hospitality houses’, like the Michelob Terrace. Remarkably, this nearly perfectly designed childcare arrangement fell out of fashion in the 70’s and the park closed after a mere fourteen years.