Son of Carnage

There are no boundaries between them. She pushes him around the store in a stroller he’s two years too big for.    He grabs everything he can reach and throws it to the floor and she exclaims theatrically as though he hadn’t unveiled the same delighted gesture the day before.  She basks in the attention while brown-skinned people drop to their knees and attend to his mess.

She deputizes the floor cleaners into her circle of conversation as though they were a paying audience for her one-woman performance art show.  There are no class distinctions acknowledged in Brentwood, just people with nametags who can be pressed into service as loyal family servants but to whom there are no reciprocal obligations.

The boy shrieks and reaches for new things to topple, for levers to yank, for containers to spill.  He has worlds to conquer and a mother who needs drama.

“Look Nikolas, you’ve created an album cover.”

The Theater of Disappearance

Remember, we all must die.

Down at the Geffen Contemporary freezers run 24/7 preserving that which cannot be preserved… meat and driftwood and man’s creation, from birthday cakes to tennis shoes to bicycles, the vanity of earthly life arranged like bouquets…a memento mori for the anthropocene.    There is no heaven nor hell depicted by Adrian Villar Rojas, only the opulence of decay, and man’s fruitless quest for immortality. He is coy on the topic of the soul.  He places fish strategically, though perhaps ironically, throughout the exhibit, which is massive, 100 trucks of earthworks and salvaged pieces from prior exhibitions to form a stuffed timepiece, a man-made fossil. I suspect he doesn’t believe in divine judgment, though he trades on it.

What I really wonder is what Rojas would make of the Defenders of Boyle Heights. If they crossed the river to picket his installation, would he hand them bullhorns and cheer them on,  thereby defanging them?  Envaginating them, to employ a more proper metaphor, within his own work:

“Villar Rojas sees each project as an educational opportunity not only for those who visit the exhibition but equally so for himself. The institutions are given an opportunity, in turn, to reconsider the use of their own architectural assets, filtered or focused through the lens of Villar Rojas’s highly attuned sensitivities..this invasive dynamic allows Villar Rojas to develop an almost—in his own words—“parasitic relationship” with the institution; it is in this radical dialogue and exchange where both the artist-parasite and the institution-host explore the limits of what is possible and what is not, what is acceptable and what is not, what is negotiable and what is not. Ethics and politics, no less than agency and decision-making, are at stake in the project, opening a series of tough questions: When and where does a project actually begin?”

“Artist-parasite”…Adrian and the picketers are already speaking the same language, separated only by a million dollars in funding.

Remember, our disappearance will be theatrical.

O.G. Van Nuys was Rodger Young Village

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Photos courtesy of Housing Authority of Los Angeles
Photos courtesy of Housing Authority of Los Angeles

The original Valley people*, when they were rusticating in quonset huts in Griffith Park, just about where the Autry Museum and the Zoo are today. The Village lasted from 1946 to 1954.  Hat tip, longtime reader Chip Corbin.

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Rodger Young, Medal of Honor recipient, was from Green Springs, Ohio. He stood 5’2 and weighed 125 lbs, was going deaf, and near-sighted.  He slipped past the Army’s 4F screens by signing up for the National Guard in 1940, after dropping out of high school, because he was having difficulty following the lessons due to his hearing difficulty. He was killed in the Solomon Islands storming a Japanese machine gun nest, enabling his platoon to safely withdraw under fire. An ordinary man who became extraordinary in a fearless hour.

His gallantry was memorialized by the lyricist Frank Loesser:

Fellow Ohioan Robert Heinlein was also enamored of Young, baptizing the transport ship in Starship Troopers with his name. He also included his citation for bravery in an appendix to the novel.

*After the Tongva, the Franciscans, the Robber Barons, the Chinese, the Chandlers and Barbara Stanwyck. I refer here to the Valley in its bedroom community incarnation.

Back to the Quonset Hut?

Quonset housing, 1946
Quonset housing, 1947

Nothing like martial virtue to inspire biblical relations between genders. When we slaughtered the Hun and subdued the Japanese Empire in four years and warplanes rolled off the assembly line every ten hours in Long Beach, King Priapus ruled the day.

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Victory jizz, plus three years=Wingfoot housing

During the Depression very little housing had been built, and during WWII, none at all, creating entire communities living in temporary housing: trailers, quonsets, Wingfoot huts, and repurposed tugboat cabins.

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Tugboats

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Our little working class brigadoon in Van Nuys was carved from Carnation creamery cow pasture in 1947 as something called Allied Gardens.  A GI and his brood could have one for $10,400. That’s $119,000 in 2017 dollars. No landscaping. No frills. A three circuit Zinsco electrical panel, no insulation, no AC.   Fittingly, it was developed by Louis Kelton, for whom Kelton Street in Brentwood was named, establishing at conception the master-servant dialectical between the two communities.

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At those prices, who wouldn’t want one?  The stucco box was a pleasure dome after the quonset hut. Colored veterans were excluded by covenant from buying.  Colored people lived where colored people lived and the women tended the homes of rich people on the Westside, like Louis Kelton.   White people manufactured things and saved up for a backyard pool.  Service at the pleasure of others, specifically of a household or agricultural nature, was nigger work. White people didn’t do that.

For forty years this arrangement held while white people gradually decamped to Santa Clarita or Thousand Oaks, discarding neglected houses like beater cars.  Black people moved to Riverside, or all the way to the Mississippi Delta. Latino/Asian/Armenian immigrants, stacked up in apartments, busily practicing biblical relations between genders, counted the bedrooms, and said “we’ll take this gone to hell stucco box. Where do we sign?” In they came and out went grumbling white people, trailing blight.

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Along the way, California stopped making things and began designing them. China makes our things now, in vast factory campuses, where workers sleep in stacked bunkbeds like poultry in battery cages.

Nobody uses the phrase nigger work anymore. We’re too enlightened for that. We just have a vast army of surplus labor doubled up in rooms and secreted in trailers behind the hedge, rising at dawn to beat the traffic over the 405 to serve provide for the grasping needs of Brentwood.  People who question these arrangements are bigots.

Walking the dogs yesterday I encountered a new neighbor who crossed the street to pet Trixie but really to introduce himself.  We chatted amiably about Van Nuys.  He worked in a law firm. His wife was a special ed teacher. They had two luxury brand cars in the driveway. He outlined the improvements he had planned for his house and wanted to reassure me the tacky car shed over the driveway was going, and the yard was going to be re-done.

“This is going to be Echo Park in a couple years,”   he pronounced, seeking my affirmation, which I gave, but secretly doubted. Highland Park, maybe, but who am I to prognosticate? When we moved here from Los Feliz in the oughts, I was certain there were 10,000 people hot on my heels. We were going to be trend setters! We were going to plant the flag of gentrification reap the benefits of being first.   Who wouldn’t want to own a nice big yard for the price of rent on a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood?  Yeah, it might have been a little kitschy, a little dated, a little Fast Times at Ridgemont High 20 years after, with bars on the windows, but it was have-able, and fifteen minutes from Town.

Oof. I was only off by a decade.   Now I just subtract a few years from my biography and pretend to be half a genius.

Van Nuys is changing, though, and quickly. The 1200-square foot stucco box is back in vogue, by demographic necessity.   Which raises a question: how long before the quonset hut returns as a housing option? It’s rather spacious when considered next to Tiny Houses.

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It’s already undergoing a revival as repurposed office space for creative types.

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And as an architectural motif for people very far removed from utilitarian necessity. Perhaps the trend lines will converge. Everything old can be new again.

Cratchitville, on Wheels

The Affordable Solution
Affordable Housing, LA-style

As was inevitable, New Urbanism has come to Van Nuys.  The granny flat on a trailer.  Tidy. Well-ordered, aesthetic. Entry off the service alley, away from disapproving neighbors. A parallel Los Angeles blooming behind the ranch houses. An elf kingdom sliding rent checks under the door, and scurrying away, unseen.   It may be small-ish, but there is nothing cold or dismal about it.

When Mrs. UpintheValley decides the end of the hallway is not far enough, she can have this.    On second thought,  I’ll make it my Man Cave.

More Affordable
More Affordable

Such Cratchitville arrangements are not new, and exist de facto all over the city, without rental income involved.  We decry eyesores, but on what legal basis do we deny people the ability to park on an industrial street, set up a hibachi on the sidewalk, pull a lawn chair out of a dumpster and proclaim oneself at home? Provided they are not committing crime or polluting the neighborhood, what’s to argue?  The embrace of backyard trailer houses by city government will make it more difficult, politically and morally, to draw a firm line against the Shabby RV People.  The shrubbery of the San Fernando Valley is already well-watered with the urine of nephews living in the casita (read: HomeDepot toolshed) in the backyard.

Yes, someone fits inside here, nightly.
Yes, someone fits inside here, nightly.

If parking on someone’s property and paying rent is the basis of legitimacy, then the presence of wheels gives the City plausible deniability.  We are not codifying this, Los Angeles tells itself, we are giving the public a workaround from zoning law.   If there are problems, theoretically they can be rolled away.   Of course, this means any pushcart can now be recognized as an ‘housing alternative’.

There are people pushing carts all over the Valley. Or towing non-functioning vehicles from one parking location to another.  There seems to be a stark dividing line within the world of the dispossessed between those with wheeled shelter and those without. A beater car is preferable to a tent by the freeway. It means one retains aspirations of hanging on, however tenuously by his fingernails, to a place in the Social Contract.

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After the wheels are gone, there is the tent. Once the tent goes there is…the makeshift crackhead fort.

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After you are unable to cobble together a crackhead fort, you just roll yourself up like a burrito and imagine the passion of St. Francis under the stars.

A Team Without A City

First place team, in No. 2 market in America
First place team, in the No. 2 market in America

“I’m having difficulty staying a fan this year,” said Steeler Guy at Thanksgiving Dinner. “I can’t get past the CTE.   It’s a gladiator sport.  These guys are going to be putting guns in their mouths in 20 years time.”

He admitted it didn’t stop him from walking up to Hollywood Blvd at 10 am last week to catch the early game at a bar. He too, had tremendous difficulty finding a bar willing to put the volume on, even when there were less than a dozen customers in the room.  He ended up at Hooters, of all places, where the Pittsburgh fans had taken over.

We agreed we were fortunate not to have sons to agonize over come time for the AYSO/Pop Warner family discussion.  Our imaginary parenting could be flawless while we watched someone else’s son go helmet to chest plate at top speed.

2020
2020 is foresight wishful thinking

The mockups for the new Rams stadium in Inglewood depict three tiers of luxury boxes and every seat filled to capacity in 2020.  We’re not moving in that direction.   At $2.6 billion, it will be the most expensive sports stadium ever constructed. Personal Seat Licenses will range from $175,000-$225,000 for club seats.  That’s what you pay Stan Kroenke, billionaire, to obtain the rights to pay him another $350-400 per ticket to see the game live.

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Here was the tailgate scene before the Texans game.  Based on this tableau, I would say the median Rams fan is 45 years old, drinks beer, and works in the construction trade.   Hard to see six figure PSL’s coming out of anyone’s wallet here.   Somewhere in Los Angeles, the thinking goes, lurk 70,000 rich people who aren’t going to the games now when the Rams are both a prodigal returned and winning, but will nevertheless appear deus ex machina in three years time, checkbooks open.  Rich people in LA will not allow their kids to play football.  What makes anyone think they’ll pay a fortune to subsidize a game of which they disapprove?

The people who will keep the game alive in LA are the three guys from Arizona we ran into at Dick’s Sporting Goods who drove all night from Phoenix just to see them once.  And oddballs in the Valley who are determined to have a slice of sports fan ecstasy and civic harmony after 20 years of no team.

To quote RB Todd Gurley:  “Please come to our games”.

Rail Killer, Me

Eastbound and downtown, one hour before Rams game
Eastbound and downtown, one hour before Rams game

Here’s a bittersweet factoid: halfway through a massive buildout of the rail system,  Metro ridership is down 16% in the past three years. Transit ridership is down nationally, but nowhere more so than Los Angeles, which alone accounts for nearly a quarter of all rider losses in America, even as we’ve connected the San Gabriel Valley to the beach through the addition of the Gold and Expo Lines.  Anyone want to guess how many riders ended up in the back of my car?

This is a forbidden topic of conversation in policy circles, where 30-year plans continue apace, as though rideshare never happened.

On the gentrification corridor
A Hopper-esque tableau, along the gentrification corridor

On paper, transit oriented housing has much to offer.  If we build snazzy new apartment complexes adjacent to train stations, the thinking goes, we can whisk people to and from work without anyone having to get into their car. It’ll be clean and fast, and people can sip their coffee and look down on the gridlock below with bemusement and relief. Throw in a little music, and….here, why don’t I just let Cameron Crowe perform the honors:

If we gave them great coffee! And great music!   Such was the pre-Jobsian America before the iPhone, and the Cambrian explosion of apps.

Overlooked in the optimism is an inherent contradiction in transit-oriented development.  It ain’t cheap. The very people who pay $2400 for a very modern, desirable one-bedroom apartment, fully stocked with amenities, are the least likely to utilize public transportation.  The train ushers in the housing, the housing sets gentrification in motion, the transit-oriented demographic gets pushed further away from transit lines, where people can afford to live.   If they can swing it, they take UberPool home for maybe a buck or three more.

I drive a lot of people home from work.   As rideshare spreads, this is more and more of my clientele.  In 2014, Uber lowered the per mile rate in Los Angeles to 90 cents, an act greatly decried by the drivers. The Uber argument was: the cheaper the rate, the more the demand, and greater revenue overall for drivers.  Uber runs on metadata, and the data was correct. My hourly has risen significantly each reach year I’ve driven.

Los Angeles does not run on metadata, it runs on politics.  Metadata says you match shift workers with employment zones. Which is to say, you start the rail system in Van Nuys, and East LA and Torrance, and you work your way toward downtown.  Politics says you do the reverse.  You build trains in the whitest, wealthiestliberal precincts of the city, where there is 98% approval for public transportation…for other people.  Because, climate change.

Last Sunday, we rode the Expo Line from the Rams game to Bergamot. We whisked silently along the treetops,  peering down into pedestrian-free neighborhoods brightly jeweled with succulents.  Near the stations, giant excavations were being dug for parking garages atop which fresh Bento Box transit-oriented apartments would soon sit. It was the most civilized public transportation experience I have enjoyed since crossing Puget Sound in a ferry, way back in the ’90s.

I had two thoughts. First, if we cannibalized our not insignificant equity at Chez UpintheValley, a princely sum in the red states, if I could obtain every dollar of paper profit today, fat stacks of cash in my eager hands, there was nothing we could buy here, as far as the eye could see.  Secondly, where we build trains, the whiter it gets. The whiter it gets, the more money I make driving.

The MacLeod Incident

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(November 13, 2020) The City of Los Angeles celebrates this week the grand opening of the Valley Riverway, an inter-connected system of landscaped bike and walking paths along the tributaries of the LA River.  The 60-mile network descends from the the Chatsworth reservoir along Browns Creek, from Porter Ranch on the Aliso Canyon Wash, from Granada Hills on Bull Creek, and from Sylmar along the Tujunga and Pacoima washes.  An East-West corridor on the Metrolink right of way connects the northern tier of the Valley, completing what local bicyclists are referring to as “the hyper loop”.

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“It is now possible to pedal continuously from pretty much anywhere to anywhere else in under an hour, without having to stop at a light,” said District 6 Councilperson Andrew Hurvitz, who secured the $100 million project using Measure M funding. “We thought it might be a nice linear park. We didn’t realize the extent to which it would be adopted as an alternative transportation network connecting neighborhoods.”

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Construction of the East Valley light rail line has brought traffic to a standstill during commute hours, adding to the Riverway’s appeal. The troubled addition to the Metro system, originally budgeted at $2.7 billion, is now on its second contractor, with cost overruns expected to reach $4.6 billion when completed in 2024.

“At 2% of the rail budget, the Riverway was considered by the City to be exorbitantly priced. It was an orphan with birth defects.  Until the MacLeod incident, that is,” said Hurvitz, referring to a now infamous cell phone recording of a conversation at a local pub between representatives of Sheila Kuehl’s office and Kiewet/Shea, the first contractor on the rail line: “A hundred million? That’s a rounding error for us. $300 million got misplaced during the Expo Line build no one has been able to find. We know it’s floating around somewhere, but the auditors got bored and stopped looking for it.”

The conversation, punctuated by cackling, went viral on Twitter, inspiring the hashtag campaign #RoundMeUp.   

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In the wake of the MacLeod revelation, the blogger known as UpintheValley staged an insurrection at City Hall “in the spirit of Yukio Mishima”. Taking command of a balcony, he unfurled a banner outlining the Riverway project, and made an impassioned speech to an audience of derelicts and office workers on lunch break, some of whom thought they were watching live theater and left tips for the ‘performer’.   The blogger had repeatedly been ticketed by police for climbing fences into the Pacoima Wash and refused to pay the citations on principle, claiming all of the river watershed as a public right. Liens had been placed against his house by the City, which he also refused to pay, precipitating a personal and legal crisis.

“Let us rise from our stony sleep, brothers and take back the commons!”,  he proclaimed, after a rambling preamble that referenced Beauty, freedom of movement, the Golden Ratio, and the perfidy of hack politicians. Exhortation to occupy the Mayor’s office was met with a bemused reaction from onlookers, who, sensing an absence of irony, returned to their cubicles. 

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He retreated to a hallway and committed a partial hari kari, in which the stomach wall is opened, but not fatally.  He then began a two-day walk back to Van Nuys, holding his gut bag, smearing blood atop each gate denying river access.  

When he reached MacLeod Ale, there are conflicting accounts as to his final words, which were interpreted as either: “the circle is closed”, or “I’ll have that beer, now.”  A special IPA, the Dolorosa, was subsequently brewed in his memory.

The fallout from his martyrdom led to what locals now refer to as the Valley Spring.  Hurvitz wrested control of Nury Martinez’s seat on the City Council in a special election, setting the stage for the Riverway approval. 

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