Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

On the bus, two passengers said, the suspect would make people move out of his way when he moved about. At one point, they said, he pulled out a handgun and, unprovoked, shot another passenger.

“He was acting weird, he was trying to press on people,” said one of those passengers, Carlos Hurtado, 23. “He was trying to make people know he was a bad guy.”

Said the second of these passengers, Luis Rodriguez, 41: “It could have been anybody. I could have sat where (the victim) was sitting. It’s like he was going, ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.’ ” *

Imagine you’re on the Orange Line on a weekday afternoon and you see this guy acting out. He’s not physically imposing, just oddly aggressive.  If you were a nice middle-class lady on your daily commute from work, you might be inclined to express your disapproval at his behavior in a non-threatening way.  What reason would you have to think he was carrying a gun? You’re in the Valley.  Why would you think he killed his parents that morning in Canoga Park, killed two others at a gas station in North Hollywood, and was now riding the bus, waiting out the helicopter search?  You wouldn’t.  Your good manners would be your undoing.  You would be victim number 5.

I picked up two guys in Fairfax the other night, but only one got in the Uber.  Is your friend coming? I asked.  That wasn’t my friend, the rider replied. That was a homeless guy, bumming a smoke. I attract them. Recognizing their humanity is my weakness. They can sense I’m a listener.  I’m an easy mark. I’d rather be living in a tent on the street myself if the alternative was never talking to anyone.

This tender particularity of character is what makes it possible for 5 million people to share a single city. It also opens the transom for the deranged, the conniving, and the evil to elide the limbic danger detection systems under which we operate. You can share a smoke with a stranger, rarely will you be smoked.  But it happens.

We live in this tension between prudence and brotherhood. The urban reforms of the 90s: broken windows policing, determinate sentencing laws, civil anti-gang injunctions, were so complete in their victory over random street crime people under the age of 35 have no living memory of it.  I’m old enough to have lived through the tail end of urban decay, and even I have let my guard down.  I say whaddup to everyone, including people I probably shouldn’t.   My name is Eeny.  Someone else is going to be Mo.   Someone on the evening news.

That’s another of the 23 Lies We Tell About LA: we can empty the jails, abandon quality of life enforcement, vilify the police and the crime rate will remain unchanged.  Because Lake Balboa is safe today, it will be safe tomorrow.

*Photo credit, Leo Kaufmann, LA Daily News

Would You Buy An Orange from This Clown?

Creepy commerce in pre-war, pre-ironic, pre-Stephen King Canoga Park.

How about this one? They’re  shooting for a rustic, vaquero-on -the-hacienda theme, but its very headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow to me.  The arched eyebrows say: eat me or suffer my wrath.

Or mirth. Taste me or suffer the whip, which is not exactly the meaning of mirth. Perhaps they mean submit to laughter while you taste.

You are not alone, except when you are

DSC_0197

If one finds oneself on the uppermost floor of the parking garage of the Topanga Mall, gazing north and east across the great plain of  the Valley, overwhelmed with melancholy, and entertaining the five-storey plunge to Canoga (or at this particular spot, the two-storey drop to the food court roof) and a not exactly instantaneous death ….there is a number you can call. As a friendly reminder for the fence-sitters, there is a sign like this about every thirty feet. Or, as an alternative, you can take the train:

DSC_0219-001

There are a number of street crossings like this at critical junctions in the Valley.  This ending is instantaneous.   You can feel the gravitational pull of the locomotion splitting the air, rattling femur and ribcage, even while tucked safely in your car at a legally mandated remove behind the crossing gates.  Imagine standing on the tracks, the distance between you and the Surfliner closing by the second.  Many people have. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, have taken this very route, and yet there are no signs anywhere, no numbers to call.  We find them in pieces scattered over the length of a  football field, goodbye notes folded into their backpacks.  Exactly one person has jumped from the top floor of the Topanga Mall. Make of it what you will.