Our Broken Window

Gene Raymond Townsley — Arrested in Church Theft

“Angry Pacoima Churchmen Nab Suspect – Irate church members armed with baseball bats, garden tools and lead pipes last night captured a former parishioner of the Mary Immaculate Church in Pacoima after the church poor box was robbed of $2.09.”

Two bucks. To the courthouse with the Jonathan Rhys-Meyers doppelganger. Pretty was no panacea.

The 1959 rules were:
Do not steal.
Doubly so from the church.
The poor box? Gimme that shovel.

This is what I saw on the way to Trader Joes yesterday.  Do you think everyone in Northridge decided one day this was going to be the new normal?  But there they are just the same.

When I worked on Lord Bezos’ Farm, in the gourmet department, street people would wander in and calmly load their backpacks with premium wine and liquor and walk out the door with impunity.  They made no attempt to conceal their theft.  If we caught them and the total value was under $950, which it always was (occasionally, daringly, it would kiss up to the prosecutorial red line) the shift manager would turn them loose to return another day.

This is not forgiveness but licentiousness.   No one voted for two sets of books, one for the law abiding and another for the Free State of Jones and its profiteers, but this is the mockery of compassion we now must endure.

If you think this benevolence extends to you, try being $100 in arrears to the city as a commuter and taxpayer.  Count the days before the late penalties turn into bench warrants.

You don’t know my name, said Jean Valjean. I’m a thief.
Of course I do, said the Bishop, your name is Brother.
You forgot your candlesticks. Use this silver to become an honest man.
God has raised you out of darkness, I have saved your soul for God.

The priest’s gesture was effective because he spared Jean from a return to prison for life.   Remove the gendarmerie from the equation and there is no grace, only pointless indulgence.   No redemption, no Marius, no Cosette, no wedding.

I wonder what became of Gene Raymond Townsley?

The Bishop of Digne painting by Darin Ashby

The Twilight of Tolerance?

(Photo credit MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Behold the good people of K-town,  marching down Wilshire, in protest….
Against climate change? No.
Trump? No.
Kim Jong-Un?
A homeless shelter on Vermont.

This is the point of frustration we have reached in Los Angeles.

Faced with the abnormal being made permanent, the city is in rebellion.

There’s just one catch. With one city councilperson per 300,000 residents, rebellions can be safely ignored.    The Koreatown shelter, mightily resisted in May, is quietly being moved downmarket to working-class linguistically divided Macarthur Park.

What are the odds Latinx Armenian Filipino Thai Middle Eastern White Hipster Van Nuys is going to escape a similar fate?

Lets put it this way, we are unable to get the palm weeds pulled in front of the Valley Government Center.    The weeds don’t pay anybody. They don’t have a lobby. But in The Nuys they own the sidewalk.   One can obtain Bitcoin at an ATM on Oxnard Blvd, then cross the street into a state of nature. Such are the contradictions we enjoy now.

Every time you see one of these guys understand there are people who do not live in your neighborhood making money off them.    Your blight is another person’s meal ticket, shuffling about in rags.  He has a power structure behind him. You do not.

Service providers with a stake in the outcome infiltrate public meetings with shills holding signs and nary a peep of contradiction do we hear from the Times.  The lobbying by interested parties and the coverage of same by local media has become a feedback loop of assumed agreement.

Among the unexamined assumptions are these:
Is there a right to hop a bus to LA, squat on the sidewalk and declare residency?
Are such people entitled to free housing and health care?
Can Angelenos demand sobriety and labor in return for public assistance?
Housing is cheap and abundant across the U.S. Why is LA the solution?

Mr. UpintheValley votes No, No, Yes and Good Question to the above.  My neighbors would as well. Which is why we do not hear the Issue of Issues debated in the city government.  We get warnings instead.  They will educate us about our misconceptions.

Who among us practices the inclusivity he preaches? Very few.  If there is a person in the power structure downtown who has opened his home to a crack addict he has been awfully discreet about it.

Our ability to live Christ’s example is daily impeded by the dark river of social ills policymakers have created.   The current is too strong to cast our nets as fishers of men, even in those off moments when we wish to.   City Hall is breaking the bonds of fellowship between citizens. It has made us all a little harder, something we’re beginning to recognize in ourselves and resent.

Almost everything about Van Nuys has changed dramatically for the better in the past decade.   Except for Shantytown, Inc.

As my friend Wise Andrew put it, we may be looking at the twilight of tolerance.

A Two-Hearted Billboard

Facing West…

…and facing East.

The trendlines of America are decidedly Eastward.    Only ten percent of Millennials mention faith when describing what provides them with a sense of meaning.  The desire for a betta butt™ is higher on the Maslow scale by an order of magnitude.

But in Catholic/Pentecostal Van Nuys, perhaps not so much.  Here is where desire for salvation and booty-molding denim overlap, frequently within the same woman.

Whether there was a conscious wit in mounting the two appeals on the same stick or happenstance, I was put in mind of the painting at the dramatic center of Six Degrees of Separation: 

“Oh, this is a Kandinsky!”
“A double – one painted on either side.”
“May I see?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Extraordinary.”
“What makes it exceptional is that Kandinsky painted on either side of the canvas in two radically different styles. One wild and vivid, the other somber and geometric.”
“My God!”
“We flip it around for variety.”
“Chaos, control. Chaos, control.”
“You like? You like?” 

The double-sided Kandinsky was an invention of the writer John Guare. In real life, the paintings exist as separate works. Putting them together was his own comment on the degradation of the arts into signifiers of social status, but also a reflection of the chaotic entry of the con-artist Paul into the Kittridge apartment.

What would the Apostle Paul make of the YMI sign?  If the Devil offered a proposition: “I will put a message of your choosing at every crossroads in the world, but in exchange…the other side of the sign will belong to me,”  would he accept the terms?

Valley Grace

Last night I learned about Hallway Sex from Byron, a handsome young orphan from the South.   It’s when you pass your Other in the hallway of your apartment and she says “F-you” and you say “F-you” back, and that’s the sum of your intimacy for the week.

I picked him up at The Liquid Zoo, five drinks down and two months deep into the Hallway Sex Diet, on his way back to Culver City, where his Other had summoned him with an enraged texting finger.

She left me alone in the house for two days while she did her thing. I mean what did she expect? She knows how tempted I am to be an alcoholic.

When he first came to LA, before he became a model for skateboard wear, when he was still doing scut work, he lived around the corner on Sherman Way, and the Zoo was his hangout.  It was the one place in LA he felt comfortable with himself.  Three years on, after a bit of success and a move to the West side, the bouncer and bartender in Van Nuys remained his true friends.  They remembered his name and didn’t mind if he crept up on them out of the blue. Nobody stood in judgment of him in Van Nuys.

When she got pregnant, he gave up on the modeling and the vague gestures toward acting and enrolled in a welding certification program.  They were going to get married. He wanted to do right by God, and there was reliable money in it.

And then one day, after consulting with her mother, who has three kids by three different men who don’t support them,  she went off and got herself an abortion while I was taking my welding exam and things really fell off.

Hallway Sex.

I’m trying to not have hard feeling about it, but it hurts, man. I won’t lie. It hurts. I’ve been on this earth for 29 years, minus two years in jail, but this is worse.  Some days I’m half a Xanax from putting a shotgun in my mouth.

Byron’s unanswered phone vibrated angrily all the way to Culver. He exited the car apologizing for oversharing.

Only Fiction can provide the true conversation which then unfolded in the apartment, but Life can put another passenger in the Uber, heading back to Sherman Oaks.

Donna was five years younger than Byron and by her own admission stupidly happy to be moving in with her boyfriend and out of her parent’s house. But for college, she’d lived her whole life in the Valley. She attended Buckley.  All her friends went to Buckley, Curtis or Harvard-Westlake.  Her Los Angeles was a small pond. Everyone Donna knew, knew everyone else Donna might know.

We talked about the musical re-make of Valley Girl, which she knew all about it without ever having seen the original or having any familiarity with the soundtrack. She was rather more excited about the re-make of Clueless, which came out the year she was born but which every girl she knew watched during middle school sleepovers.  Who couldn’t relate to Cher Horowitz?

She didn’t like that her childhood home was now on a Waze street, thick with cars seeking a shortcut in the morning commute. Nor did she approve of second floors on ranch houses.

But those were trivial matters. Mostly Donna was really, really ready to move in with her boyfriend, who she thought she met at a party, but soon realized wasn’t the case. When they exchanged numbers they discovered they were already in each other’s contact list…from middle school.  Every phone either of them had ever owned simply sucked up the old numbers.

It would have been creepy in any other context, but in our case felt like destiny. Like we had been circling each other for twenty years and these, like, electronic cherubs were steering us.

In the movie version, Donna and Byron would have crossed paths and this blog post would have a very different ending.  In millennial Los Angeles, orphans remain orphans and children of the upper middle class have their destiny forged by middle school.

Lord of the Devil’s Asshole

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.

The Church of No

Throw the bolts. Batten the hatches.  Spike the battlements.  The Pharisees shall not cross.

What might appear to passersby as hostile to the outside world could feel quite different to those inside the sacristy.   We have not caged ourselves, they might say. We are defending our tabernacle. This is our realm of safety, and for this we are grateful. The shell may be unattractive, but the kernel of Truth is safe within.

Two Sundays ago in Santa Barbara a young Catholic priest from Peru, Father Juan Carlos Gavancho, delivered a homily at Our Lady of Sorrows:

“This is not an abusive church. This is a holy church that has fallen into the hands of abusive, evil men, who are trying to destroy the Church from within…”

He called upon the laity to speak out and demand accountability from the bishops.

“Christ is in charge of the church. He is in charge. Sometimes on days like this, we may not see him. We may not feel him. And we may cry out like we did at the beginning of the mass, “Please, Lord, help us! Have mercy on us!” But he’s in charge, and he will bring justice.  These things I have told you are just the beginning. Many bad things are going to happen, and we need to be glad, because nothing is better than the truth.”

The parishioners applauded.

Two days later, Father Juan was summoned by his superior. He was to leave the rectory immediately.  His name was removed from the church directory. The parish would pay to store his belongings for one week. After that, he was on his own.

He reported to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for a new assignment, only to be told he had been stripped of his authority to say mass. He is in a hotel now, somewhere in LA, a homeless priest.

This is quite different from how the bishops handled the sodomizers of altar boys.   How quickly they lifted the drawbridge then, how indefatigably they manned the battlements against the encroachment of earthly justice.

How beautiful are Catholic Churches around the world, always with the open door, the stained glass, the flickering candle.  How worldly its corruption, Hieronymus Bosch and Brueghel lurking underneath the cassock.

It’s a delicate balance, being In The World, but Not Of It.  Defending centuries of tradition can pull you very far from the candle.  Perhaps the soul is cradled in a form of hydrostatic equilibrium.  If the sun were to burn out at this moment, it would take eight minutes for the darkness to reach us, even though the darkness was already present.

Maybe that’s where the Church is now. Eight minutes to go.

Eviction

Larry got booted from his mattress fort on the Pacoima Wash yesterday. Official personages from the City gave him 24 hours to vacate. I asked him where he was headed next. He said he didn’t know. He didn’t want to go to Raymer Street with the rest of them. He preferred his isolation. He asked me if I worked at Kaiser hospital.  I told him no. He was certain he recognized me from there.

“You look like a doctor I used to know.”

The white favela, I couldn’t help noticing, is becoming less white.

What is the Christian thing to do with someone who walks around with a crack pipe in his hand in the middle of the afternoon but is otherwise harmless and agreeable?

Easter in the Narrows

Larry was cooking an onion and some chicken scraps he found in the dumpster behind Tasty Thai when we passed him tonight on our way back to the house. He was burning a shirt in a metal drawer as a heat source, but it was to the side of the pan, not beneath it, so there was very little cooking going on.  His crack pipe and torch were on his lap. His dog Zsa Zsa wiggled out of a backpack to say hello.

“I don’t have any power,” he announced cheerfully.  “I like cooking stuff I find.”

“Make sure you cook it all the way through.”

“What day is it?”

“Easter,” I said.

“I still don’t have any power.”