Rwandan Radio

If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn the system down and replace it, alright?  –Hank Newsome, BLM New York chapter, on FoxNews…just in case you were hoping for ambiguities.

So I picked up a guy in Glendale last year, from a Spanish revival house up in the hills that easily could have been Barbara Stanwyck’s in Double Indemnity.  He was en route to a graduate program in Literature at Columbia University, and I asked him what he thought of James M. Cain.

Who?
You know, the author of Mildred Pierce. The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Never heard of those.
Really? You never saw the films?
Nope. Are they any good?

Glendale is James M. Cain-land. My rider had grown up in one of its historical neighborhoods, with literary ambitions, and had no knowledge of the man or his work. Now he was bound for the Ivy League, a certifiable cultural illiterate.  This amused me at the time, but no longer.  He was a harbinger of our frenzied anti-historical present.

Silence is not enough.

Last week I helped a friend in WeHo move his bed into storage. Driving up Melrose past miles of boarded-up storefronts he asked me what I thought about the Troubles. He’s a couch-surfing millennial and I figured I’d keep it friendly and meet him on safe ground. I told him I didn’t approve of looting. On that point at least we could agree, you’d think. My friend was having none of it.  The looting, the rioting, the assaults on police could not be separated from peaceful protesting.  They were on a continuum, merely left-handed and right-handed expressions of the same virtue, equally valid. It was not for us to question. He had contempt for the police:  “They were C students in high school.”

As we were talking we passed several dozen white people, mostly women, laying face down on the ground for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, under the instruction of black women. A month ago this tableau would have been shocking, but it already felt like just another afternoon in WeHo.

Now there’s this:

Raleigh News-Observer
Tony Webster, Flickr

Is there a limiting principle to statue-cide?  We went from toppling Robert E. Lee to Any Dead President Will Do in a matter of days. From there twas but a small step to Any White Man Will Do. Hans Christian Heg, who fought on the Union side and fell at Chickamauga.    Miguel de Cervantes, enslaved by Barbary pirates. Ulysses S. Grant, bulldozer of the Confederacy.  Inevitably, they now wish to topple Lincoln.

How the decapitators mimic the lynch mobs of yore! The chain around the neck, the sailor-like tugging, the great cheer as the bronze hits the concrete like a felled tree, the dragging and defiling of the corpse…this is the pleasure principle at work, an end unto itself.

Then, because it’s a day ending in Y, the Mayors thank the mob for its thirsts of anger.  White women in D.C. verbally degrade black police officers lined up to protect monuments. In Seattle, white volunteers unironically enforce a “Blacks Only” segregation zone in a public park.  America is now a perpetual Onion story but without the wry chuckle.  Nothing is funny anymore, especially the absurd.  Well, it is, but we are living in the time of You’re Not Allowed To Say So™.

How do we put the brakes on this thing?

Beneath the performative grief and the masochistic religious scenes of white contrition, a dark new normal is upon us: urban police are no longer handcuffing lawbreakers.  Gun crimes? Sure.  But anything short of that is an open question if you are proclaiming fealty to Team BLM. This is not intended to be a passing phase. This is a structural alteration.

What comes after statues?  Take a guess. Think of it as a dress rehearsal.

What is my Los Angeles breaking point?  What would drive me from my city? I don’t yet know.  Well, I sort of do. Kneeling, obviously, would be a red line. Self-denunciation I have pre-decided will not leave my lips.  But those things are easy to resist.  No, the tripwire will arrive sooner, and in a way I will not be prepared for.   What form will it take? This is something I wonder about.

I am blessed not to rely on the good political opinion of others for my income. Mrs. UpintheValley, on the other hand, can be fired at a moment’s notice merely at the insistence of someone tweeting.  I predict she will be asked in this coming school year to affirm the present madness.  One way or another, it will be demanded of her to assent to something she does not believe during a workplace struggle session designed for precisely that purpose. When she demurs, the clock will begin ticking on her employment and a chapter will close in a great teaching career.

The American media is now Radio Rwanda circa 1994: go forth and kill the Tutsis!  We are left with a question: am I a Hutu or a Tutsi?  To which BLM replies, choose wisely. To which social media adds, we can answer that for you.

A Head Banger’s Story

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“If I have a seizure, I need you to hold my head, so I don’t bang against anything. They last really long, about five minutes. So you’re gonna need to pull over.”

On that note, he climbed into the backseat of my Uber. It was 1 AM in Glendale.

He looked like Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein.   Hulking, shambling, half-drunk, big shoes… an Armenian Peter Boyle, with sad eyes peering from deep orbs.  I could feel the driver’s seat headrest bend backwards as he gripped it with his meaty hand and lowered himself in, directly behind me.

“It’s been four hours since my medication, so I should be okay.”

We got on the freeway. He shifted around in his seat continually. With every twitch, I couldn’t help but think…good grief, is it starting already? …was that it? Will his arms swing wildly, knocking me unconscious before I can pull to the shoulder?  Why me?  Why tonight? 

I had not been so wired into a passenger’s movements since I picked up a gang banger in K-Town who never removed his hoodie, refused to enter an address into the app and muttered vague commands: turn here, go left, go straight, now go back until we ended up in some godforsaken alley south of downtown, with no witnesses, the perfect location for relieving me of my wallet, iPhone and car keys,  but which turned out to be an underground gay sex club instead.

“I’m sorry about the itching, but my histamine levels are really high. Cause of my medication.  I’ve had twenty seizures in the past year.”

“How long have you had seizures?”

“Since I got injured at work.”

He went on to detail his many medications, none which he prized more than Lunesta.   It was the only one which really put him to sleep.  They cost three dollars a pill, which he couldn’t afford since he wasn’t working anymore, but he couldn’t sleep without it.  He had to give up other pleasures.

“Shit. Something’s wrong…”

My heart fluttered, but he was looking at his phone.

I longed for animated green dragonflies to swim through the windshield, like they do in the Lunesta commercial, and woo him to sleep with the batting of their wings .

“Something’s wrong. I’m hungry. There’s an In-and-Out Burger at the next exit.”

I got off the freeway. Something was wrong,   Two cars had just collided at Harvey Drive, in front of the In-and-Out. Both airbags had blown.  Bumper parts and colored glass littered the intersection, bright grit twinkled under the sodium lights. One of the bags had shot straight past the driver seat, covering the windows in white silk, as though the god of chaos had drawn a curtain against an unpleasant sight. The door cracked open and after a long moment, a woman crawled out, dazed.

The other car was an Uber.

What were the odds? How close did I get to receiving his rider, or he mine?  How many sliding door moments do I have on a given night?

Everyone was ambulatory, which was a relief.   911 was dialed, and we continued into the burger parking lot.

“I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies,” announced my passenger.

“Were you in the armed forces?”

“I worked in a mortuary for eleven years. I’ve performed 20,000 enbalmings.   I don’t do that anymore, though. A casket lid fell on my head.  That’s why I have seizures. That’s why I can’t work anymore.”

He decided he was going to walk the rest of the way home from In-and-Out.  We parted with blessings for one another.   I turned the app off for the night and drove home to Van Nuys.

There, but for a casket lid….

Not Joan of Arc

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Nor Our Lady of Cannabis, patron saint of pot shops, either. Though she’s been mistaken for both.

It’s Miss American Green Cross, forgotten saint of reforestation, icon of the eponymous Californian environmental organization no longer with us, but which left a statue behind in Brand Park in 1928.

What do you mean you’ve never heard of her?

Neither did we, until we happened upon her quite by accident today, after journeying to the delightful Kenneth Village neighborhood of Glendale, another Labor Day discovery, for vegan yogurt.

The American Green Cross is so defunct it doesn’t even muster a Wikipedia entry.

The statue was originally unveiled at Glendale High School.  At some point in the the Depression, she was spirited away and dumped in the foothills above Brand Park, where she moldered in obscurity for decades, vandalized and forgotten. In the early eighties she was hauled down the hill to the city maintenance yard where she languished for over a decade.  The Glendale Historical Society restored her, and now she stands with pride of place at the foot of the loop trail.

People mistook her for Joan of Arc due to the pile of firewood stacked at her feet.

Light and Dark in the banana republic of Los Angeles

Glendale has streetlights
Glendale has streetlights. How did they manage to do that?

Juan, a nice young man who works for a neighborhood advocacy organization approached me last week with a petition. ‘Sign here, and Nury’s office will ask for streetlights for the neighborhood.”

How wonderful.  Who could say no?  Sure I’ll sign…

Not so fast.  The streetlights are going to cost ‘only’ $6/month, per house. $72 a year, for life.

Juan was having difficulty collecting signatures.

Streetlights fall under the category of Things We Already Pay For.  That is, in the normal run of things in the wealthiest state in the country, from the vast pools of property tax revenue, income tax, sales taxes, utility taxes there are ample funds to light the streets.  Not so in the banana republic of Los Angeles, where we are now being asked to kiss the ring of jefa Nury, and pay a special assessment, to obtain what Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena,  even downmarket working class San Fernando already have by right of citizenship.  How soon before we are issued shovels and asked to fill in our own potholes?

In Van Nuys, $450,000 buys  moonlight
In Van Nuys, $500,000 buys moonlight

Hector Tobar, formerly of the Times, wrote recently the presence of a permanent caste of squatter communities is the signature characteristic of Third World cities. A life-long Angeleno, liberal, and son of Guatemalan immigrants, Tobar sees Los Angeles heading in this direction. This is true, but only half the story.  L.A. has its own twist on the formula: Swedish levels of taxation and Brazilian levels of service.    A two-tiered society with a narrow band of Beautiful People on the other side of the hill living in an urban playground of artisanal pleasures, and a vast workforce paying top dollar to live within commuting distance to serve them, then returning home to unlit streets.

All one has do is leave the city limits to see how different it can be.