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.
Our parallel worlds: Civility in the neighborhood, enforced by gentle pleas and social shaming; feral disorder on the boulevard.
A state of nature and an oasis of calm separated by a distance as short as a frisbee toss.
The blessings of freedom may be enshrined in the Constitution but are enjoyed differently, depending on how you feel about personal responsibility and whether you act on it.
Would a billboard which read: “Feel free to smoke crack elsewhere” have a salutary effect? How about “Smoke faster, get it over with”? Or “God loves you and wants you to be sober”?
Mark Zuckerberg has called for a universal basic income, welfare for all, offered unconditionally. The rise of artificial intelligence and robotics will, as a matter of technological determinism, eliminate many jobs currently held by Americans. A UBI would preserve the Social Contract. “So that we may have roles we find meaningful…and that everyone may have a cushion to try new ideas.”
Would it? If you were told you didnt need to go to work tomorrow because you were being replaced by a seven-armed anthropomorphic device wirelessly operated from a server farm, but not to worry, your paychecks will keep coming courtesy of the US government, unto death, what would you do with your time?
“I’d go surfing every day,” said my coworker, when I put the question to him. “I’d surf and I’d bake and I’d take pictures.” And why shouldn’t he? It would be free.
But for how long could this immunity from labor be sustained? Binge watching Netflix might not feel like freedom after awhile. One might begin to miss the leash. The UBI people may begin to envy the clock punchers. Jobs might be hoarded like property, to be passed on to heirs like a family estate. Because we’ll all be compelled to remove moral judgements about idleness (robotics!) anger will be misdirected everywhere.
We might drive up Sepulveda looking at the guys smoking heroin at the car wash and think….those aren’t derelicts, they’re Early Adopters.
Jack came to us as a two week foster care arrangement. He was lodging in the Glendale animal shelter at the time, and being eternally hopeful, extended his paw into the adjoining cage to say hello to a much larger dog. So his leg was in bandages and his head wrapped in a cone when he arrived at our door.
“He’s not staying,” I announced. “He doesn’t fit the color scheme of the house. Our other dogs are brown and rust colored.”
I was in my Aesthetic Fascist period then.
He trotted in this weird sideways canter, probably due to the injury, one paw crossing over the other, ears flopping up and down like antennae. He had terrible breath. He wasn’t very bright. The first time I let him off leash, at Runyon Canyon, he skittered straight down the hill, out the front gate, down Vista Street, and kept running until a samaritan intercepted him wandering Hollywood Blvd, “looking confused”.
Despite his apparent dimness, he knew instinctively to place his head on Mrs. U’s bosom whenever I tried to initiate a discussion of What To Do About Jack.
And so a third dog bed was purchased and he took his place in the menagerie. He was already down to only a few teeth at that point. I figured a year or two, at most. It was 2004.
Dogs and cats came and went at Chez UpintheValley, but Jack, like some canine version of Dick Clark, refused to age. He outlived them all, even Woody. He remained eternally hopeful. He proved to be the lowest-maintenance house member we ever had. No vet bills but annuals and teeth cleaning, which did little to assuage his halitosis. When we took him to my parents house, he rode in the car all the way to Mendocino County standing up, staring out the window. He jumped into San Francisco Bay. He forded the Eel River. The first time he saw snow, he pranced through it like a gazelle.
Two years ago the arthritis set in and he began clicking around the house like Nosferatu, at all hours. But he always gobbled the kibble.
To our amazement, there were another 30,000 miles left on his tires. He made it around the block with the others on the morning walk. More recently, when he no longer could, he still gimped his way to the front door when you came home. He yipped indignantly if he got stuck in the back yard. Even to the last week, he roused himself for a pepperoni stick. When he stopped eating, it was time.
We have no idea how old he was. Our best guess was 17.