Bloodlands and Memory

Readers were wondering who the people were in this mural in an alley off Van Nuys Blvd.

Well…I have met the muralist, Arutyun Gozukuchikyan. The woman to the right is Kim Kardashian. The man to the left is Monte Melkonian, born in Fresno, martyr of the first war of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1993.  The work was commissioned by the owner of the No Limit Auto Body shop.  Their clasping of hands is intended to illustrate the unity of the Armenian people across time and space.

Melkonian traveled far from the raisin fields.  First to Berkeley, then Beirut via Oxford and Tehran, where he spent the 1980’s in Armenian liberation politics.  He was imprisoned in France for the attempted assassination of a Turkish diplomat, a biographical detail the muralist omitted. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, he made his way to the Shahumyan province of Azerbaijan to join the battle to liberate Artsakh, a tribal feud that re-erupted this summer and is unlikely to resolve in our lifetimes.

There’s a whole lot of Los Angeles in that story.  Here’s two more:

The North Koreans put you in an execution line, the bullet passes through you, missing your heart. You wake up in the snow, stagger back to your village and find your mother praying in a church. You come to L.A, open a deli. By the time you’re finished, you have three. You bequeath them to your Americanized daughters who have no interest in the family business and spend your emeritus years doing missionary work.

You get in a fender-bender in El Salvador and the other driver executes you on the spot because he’s a member of MS-13 and you’re nobody…so why not?  Your siblings flee to Van Nuys and start cleaning floors, marry, have kids, then discover their brother’s killer is here, in town, less than ten miles away, also living a new life in America, schlepping to work with a name tag. The extended family huddles. What to do? Hire a hitman?  They vote to leave it behind them, in the old country.

I know both of these families. The receding tide of the bloody conflict of the world lurks in nail salon windows, washes up in corner markets and repair shops all over the Valley.

But what happens when America stops being America? Not a refuge of the dispossessed, but a bloodland unto itself, with its own irreconcilable claims on memory?

One week ago Parler was the #1 most downloaded app in the world.  It was intended to be a safe space for dissident thinking. Apple and Google (through its PlayStore) suspended all downloads and any developer access to the site on Saturday.  On Sunday, Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, terminated Parler’s access to Amazon’s Web Services.

By Monday morning, Parler was gone.  Three days.

Let’s go back to say, 1969. Suppose J. Paul Getty and Howard Hughes conspired to cut the NY Times off from all access to newsprint and ink in retaliation for its coverage of the Vietnam War.

Would you feel the fundamental premises of the nation had been called into question? What would you do about it? What sacrifice would you be willing to make to set that right?

Getty and Hughes were pipsqueaks compared to the monopolists we are dealing with now.

The cake is pretty well baked here.  A handful of billionaires control the information flow in the United States and they have revealed a shared agenda, leftist and monopolist at the same time. Effectively we now have a social credit system in place.  Instant China, if you will.

Americans are not Chinese.   They keep and bear arms.

A Love Story for Mayor Cancel Everything

She was on the upswing of happy drunk when they entered the Uber.   They had been Skyping for a week before braving a meet-up for drinks at the Venice Whaler. It was her first date since the beginning of Covid, and she had already made two decisions.

Her: We should totally disregard politics. We should do the kissing part and the sex part and the fun part first. Let’s wait a week or two to find out if we don’t like each other. Do you know what I mean? I’m just so glad you’re not 5’5”. I’m so glad you’re tall enough and I get to go to your house and meet your penis and we can have a good time together. Driver, what do you think?

I said there was wisdom in avoiding politics after 10 pm. We were rolling through downtown Santa Monica at night, a ghost town sealed in plywood.

Him: Is everything really out of business? Why are all these stores boarded up? The riots are not gonna happen, unless Trump comes back from the dead.  

Her: Don’t say anything more.  

Him: The media poisons everything.

Her: Yeah, but it also tells you things you didn’t know. You have to look for the silver lining. Like this is a weird analogy, but my best friend got black mold in her apartment and had to move out so now we get to live together. Or like breaking up with someone just before Covid and having to wait the rest of the year before going on a date. Then meeting you and Facetiming and praying to God you weren’t 5’5” and finding out you weren’t and you were really funny and now I get to meet your penis. We can wait a month to figure out if we hate each other. Or a couple of months. Or six months.  How does six months sound?

Yes, this conversation really happened.  When I left them they were standing in the street in front of his apartment building, holding hands. I choose to believe they made it up the stairs. I choose to believe they forgot all about the election. Someone should.

But this was two weeks ago when our collective pent-up need for touch was finding cautious release after eight months of Covidian restraints. The question then was: in our headlong rush to intimacy would we come to doubt our choices?

His right Lord Mayor of Thou Shall Be C*ckblocked has put an end to philosophical questions.  Thou shall not have dinner with friends. Thou shall not visit family.   Thou shall not go on dates.  Thou shall not have moments on the stairs.  A long hard winter is your lot, by proclamation.  Hunker down. All is canceled. Order a vibrator from Amazon, if you must.

“All persons living within the City of Los Angeles are hereby ordered to remain in their homes.”

Cancel everything is a rather advantageous arrangement for the richest man in the world and his armada of independent contractors in sprinter vans.  Pineapple Hill not so much:

What public health argument justifies this?

If someone said to you five years ago this surrender of sovereignty was not only possible in Los Angeles, but would be fully normalized in a matter of months, would you have believed them?

If someone said to you in March Jeff Bezos’ wealth would increase 56% before Christmas, while our national debt would increase by $4 trillion and we would behave as though this were the rightful order of things, would you have believed them?

More kissing, please.

The Will to Bezos

This is what war to the death for market share looks like from inside my car when dropping off at LAX.    Free=$195/week lease rate.   Fair=Anyone with a license is eligible to drive for Uber. In California, legal status is irrelevant.   If you complete 125 rides/Eats deliveries in a week, the lease is paid by Uber.     That’s one way to take a $5 billion write-down in a single quarter and bleed veteran drivers at the same time.

Make no mistake, the rideshare model is ubiquitous and profitable in the major cities. No one is going back to buses and cabs.   The ancillary businesses: delivery, freight, scooters and bikes, overseas markets are fiscal sinkholes.  So are endless recruitment incentives.

If Uber can agree with Lyft how to divide the market, each could raise fares one dollar per ride,  use it to retain the current driver fleet and pad their bottom line.

But that’s not what they’re doing.  Los Angeles is shaping up as the Gettysburg of the gig economy.  We are in the bloodletting stage before Pickett’s Charge.  There will be one dominant market player at the end of the horsemeat.

In another century we had Will to Power. Now we have the Will to Bezos.

Lights, Camera, Eat

Backstage at the the most ostentatious grocery store in the history of San Fernando Valley, opening Wednesday….

Ralphs started out as a local chain in Los Angeles. If you wrote a complaint to the manager for bad service, he would come to your house with a fruit basket.   Alpha-Beta started in Pomona, and it ran cheesy ads with low end brands emerging from a bottomless paper bag and actor Alan Hamel urging viewers to “tell a friend”.

It was a different world then. You could smoke in the aisles and fill your cart with Sugar Smacks and Jiffy, and give your kid a shiner if he was making too much noise.

Now Whole Foods and Pavilions and Gelson’s are taking no prisoners, sparing no expense in the war of luxury. Little zings of moral affirmation will be found on every shelf. Local this. Fair trade that. No preservatives, no hormones, no trans fats. The gentry will be satisfied!   The little people can f*** off to Costco.  (Or they can shop at Amazon. Win-win, Bezos.)

Whole Foods employees have been told they will be ticketed and towed if they park in the surrounding neighborhood.   But they are expressly instructed not to park in the garage. Those spaces are reserved for shoppers.   In a metropolis where every public land use decision pivots on parking space requirements, this is a remarkable oversight. Unless of course it isn’t.

Knockdown, Improve, Engulf and Devour

IMG_6918

When I park my car on Westgate, I walk past construction sites like these on my way to the store.  Every single storey house north of Montana is getting knocked down upon change of ownership.   Perpetual construction. Multiple job sites on a single block.

IMG_6459

A couple weeks ago I arrived at work to find I had become a reluctant, though inadvertent, villain.  Whole Foods was in the process of evicting the Brentwood newsstand, a neighborhood institution for 28 years, and I was compelled to walk past a picket line to enter the store.

Marck Sarfati, the owner, put on a full court press in the media, deploying celebrity petitioners, and a Holocaust survivor father, whose “survival” depended on the stand’s income.  About his expensive watch and luxury car, nothing was said.

Before it was a Whole Foods, the Brentwood store was once called Mrs. Gooch’s.   There were seven of them in Los Angeles when they were bought out by John Mackey in 1993.  The parking lot, that most prosaic of LA disputed zones, was shared by the store and the stand, and a perpetual sore point of overlapping demand.  Whole Foods had waited years for the lease to expire, and now they were getting the parking spaces back, and there wasn’t nothing Tommy Chong and Dustin Hoffman could do about it.

Jeff_Bezos001-780x519

So there the drama percolated for a few days, before we discovered Whole Foods had just been devoured, plank and nail, by Lex Luthor for $14 billion. The flagship of organic food and upper-middle class virtue-signaling consumption was now a subsidiary of the largest retail entity in the world. Amazon stock increased $18 billion in value on news of the merger, which meant Jeff Bezos had purchased 432 stores and 91,000 employees for the price of lifting a pinkie finger and cooing: because it’s my birthday Smeagol, and I wants it. 

Walmart killed Main Street (sort of) and now Amazon is killing Walmart. To avoid being overtaken in ten years by a more nimble start-up yet to rise from a Y Combinator confab, Bezos is buying up the premium real estate of retail.

American wealth is moving, inexorably, like metal shavings in a magnetic force field, toward the coasts. In the coastal areas, it is piling up into the canyons, and closer to the beaches, or to higher floors downtown. A winner take all economy concedes nothing to the middle.

IMG_6892

I don’t think Mr. Sarfati is going to be able to keep his newsstand. On the bright side, I have bitchin new Ikea cabinets, and one curious foundling black kitten.