Ride of the CicLAvians

In a moment of kitschy pathos we encountered the defiled star of Lillian Gish on Vine Street Sunday afternoon, at the CicLAvia in honor of the LA Philharmonic centennial.

Fitting perhaps for an actress known for her doll-like, waifish fragility. Her oeuvre was one of purity in danger, seduction and abandonment, flight from lecherous hands, and being set adrift on ice floes.

In her most famous screen appearance she threw herself off a cliff rather than submit to an amorous white actor in black face.

I was in a Ride of the Valkyries frame of mind as we pedaled downtown.  An afternoon of bike as king cranked dormant gears in my head, the ones which say why not?

Why can’t we always bike? Forget arriving to work in a timely manner. Think of the journey! Forget the supply chain, and the power grid. Practicalities are for sissies. This is how it should be! Yes yes!  New rules!  Clear the roadways! We all pedaling now.  Everyone must pedal! We should ride by torchlight!  Make way. A new age now begins!  Here in LA, where so many utopias were discarded and dystopias foretold.

Why must the essentials for a deliciously stylish life require a four level parking garage? Rethink it!

Every mile or so someone would hold up a foam finger and pull a piece of yellow tape across the road, and just like that, hundreds of people would submissively cooperate.  We were digital people in a digital age again, agreeable and rules oriented. My fever dream was bite-sized. My Lillian is sadly never in need of rescue.

With no blood and soil urgency at hand, I filed it away in a drawer in my head called Ironic Historical Feedback Loops. I kept the Wagner, but eliminated the KKK in my chain of association. See how easy that was? The mind is good at lying about what the heart knows to be true.

Yerevan West

So I encountered this…in North Hollywood, 2am… sprouting majestically from a neighborhood of sad, small houses with attached single car garages…. Trippy. Transcendent. A mothership of American aspiration.

I stopped the car and let it swagger all over me.  It was an appreciation.

Two generations of people lived in the Valley and let their houses crumble over their heads.   Houses for which they paid less than $100,000.

They let water seep into the floorboards while they complained about busing. They sprayed popcorn foam over cracks on the ceiling but let the termites chew their way through the framing.  They put bars over the windows, but kept the linoleum floors.   Home improvement meant shag carpeting and flourescent tube lighting.

They left their houses to their adult children who were estranged from hand tools. They let the shrubbery die and replaced it with gravel.   But boy did they ever expect to be paid off when it came to sell, and paid off they were. In time, preposterous sums.

California was once so abundant middle class people changed houses the way we change cars today, discarding small brightly colored ranch houses on big lots for larger split-levels on small lots in the exurbs of Ventura County, painted an HOA-defined gradient running from excrement to beige.

The Valley was Adam Carolla-ville. It was one of those places you left and told disparaging anecdotes about when you got to where you were really going.

The carcasses of Los Angeles were left for the dusky hordes and the urban hipsters foolish enough to put down roots and not move to Austin. People so determined to be here they sunk their assets into houses without good  bones. Without any bones. Stucco boxes without a redeeming virtue save the ground they sank into a quarter inch a year.

Mrs. UpintheValley and I are Carcass People.   We didn’t intend to be.  We were going to to park ourselves for a few years in Van Nuys, build some equity into the house and then….trade up in an orderly fashion.  Because the world of real estate was rational, if untidy, right?  This was to be but a waystation.   A five to ten year sentence in minimum security prison, then back to one’s pals in Glamorama, with earned street cred.

Who knew housing mobility in LA would prove to be as starkly defined as the British class structure? The Wealth Effect, when combined with tight land use restrictions, means even if you pay down your mortgage in 15 years,  even if you climb to the top quintile of the income ladder, there’s nothing you can afford to buy that would be an improvement over what you already have.  Absent a windfall of cash, there’s no trading up anymore.

Marginal differences in down payment ability in 2004 proscribe where and how you can live in LA today. One is obliged to bloom where one is planted.   This was a lesson I resisted learning.

So when I see a house built out to the property line, a second floor added, and marble laid into the entryway, lit up like Halloween, I realize I have greater kinship with a family from Yerevan that I do with the kids I grew up with in California. They either inherited property, or they left. All of them.

These are my people.

1948, In Shards

This is the first sentinel we encountered on our way to the fancy tile emporium in NoHo.


The second sentinel, awaiting our return. He shuffled over to us as though he were about to deliver a handwritten letter.  One grows accustomed to panhandlers at the intersections, conniving or addicted, but not hunched with calcium loss.  I’d say he looked about 70, the same age as my bathroom.

The bathtub was forged in cast iron by the American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Co., then dropped into the framing by a road gang in 1948, with no thought given to later renovation, leaving only one exit route, via sledgehammer.

This was the American Radiator Building in New York City, gilded icon of the Jazz Age, all Gothic turrets and coal-inspired black brick.

It once had a showroom in the basement for its useful, class-neutral products: radiators, boilers and bathroom fixtures. Now it’s a Moroccan-themed cocktail lounge called Celon where one can order a Lavender Oasis martini for an undisclosed price.   The Radiator Building is now the Bryant Park Hotel.

Because one cannot over-improve for the neighborhood anymore, even in The Nuys.  Because we are all hostage to whatever 1948 house we landed upon in the somnolent years before The Restoration.  Because no one can trade up to Echo Park.    Because equity trumps the purchasing power of a paycheck, so we bloom where we’re planted.

Because a white tiled bathroom would make Mrs. UpintheValley so very, very sad.

That world is in shards, now.

Birthday Girl

Mrs. U has resolved to start counting backward this year, lest our lives surreptitiously cross the halfway pole while we’re not looking.

I just tell people we got married at 16. Sixteen? Really? Wow….

Problem solved.  See how easy that was? Never underestimate the efficacy of discursive bullshit.

We met in college, so it’s only a wee bit of exaggeration.   She got a teaching credential and I got my MR. degree, to alter a joke, as she would prove to be the fateful encounter and our marriage the lasting achievement of those years from my end.

Would we have met in the Tinder era? In my canine greed, I might have swiped past her and bumblefucked my way into my thirties, insensible to cosmic error. Alternatively, had we both swiped right, would we have lasted, or passed through each other on our way to greater debauchery greener pastures?

Say this for the dial-up era, it demanded conversational skills.  Also the ability to share space quietly, without screens or stimuli.  The virtues of courtship may have fallen from favor, but longevity establishes a beachhead there.  I married for substance and got stuck with beauty.

A social determinist would note both our parents were married for fifty years, and credit our union as regression to the mean.  As clever and rebellious as we thought we were, the fix was in.  We were the marrying kind.

There are too many moving parts in the whirlwind for such easy explanation. You can believe in a doting fairy godmother, like Mrs. U, or you can give thanks to bigger hands.

American Novocaine

Mrs. U:  My day was incredibly frustrating.
Me: Do you want to talk about it?
Mrs. U: No. I just want to watch The Bachelor.
Me: I might have deleted it by mistake.
Mrs. U: Very funny. And most not forgivable. Does he send home Kendall? Don’t tell me. It’s Kendall, right? Don’t tell me.

Mrs. U: This makes no sense at all. Kendall is too good for him.  She won’t say yes. Tia loved him! What was he thinking? What was she thinking, telling him she loved him? Why was she wearing white? I hate Arie! Someone should beat him with a shoe.

Me: How’s your headache?
Mrs. U: Oh, I’m all better now.  I can’t wait to listen to the recap tomorrow.

Galatea

Who we’re told to be, who we pretend to be, and who we are, framed within a frame within a frame.  Faking it, loving it, and not caring.

Be pretty, I command, always with encouragement.  Turn your head into the light. 

We abandon the Valley on Sundays and forage the city for new locales. Stand here,  I smell blog,  and she peeks from doorways for me and poses Instagramably atop boats and in front of murals and descends staircases and makes faces until she gets bored with it (which is soon) but there is a window, a golden mean in an afternoon before the misty glow of alcohol hardens into caloric grumpiness and the dread of the looming work week when she’s eager to muse.  I am Pygmalion. We defy time.  We create our own mythology. 

Mystère Femmes Aux Pieds Nus

So it’s 2:30am, and you’re heading home from the beach towns on the 405, listening to The Cask of Amontillado on the radio, headlights piercing fog banks at 80 mph, when a ping comes over the Uber app.  An easy pickup, right off the freeway.

Easy pickups are the Uber driver’s fool’s gold, particularly when you’ve already called it a night. Convenience has a way of luring you in, then sending you all the way to West Covina just at the moment you’re ready for whiskey and a plump pillow, to punish you for wanting one more.

The GPS location is a bar. The bar is closed. No one is hanging out in front of the bar. Not a pedestrian in sight in either direction. So you wait, and listen to a chain-smoking actor from the 1940s melodramatically recite Fortunato’s visit to the wine cellar. At the five minute mark, a young woman emerges from a service alley behind the building: no shoes, no purse, short black dress, clutching an iPhone and looking like bees slept in her hair, or worse.

She skips to the car on the soles of her feet, shivering.  She smells of alcohol, but she’s upright and near as you can tell, compos mentis.  Though she looks exactly like the nameless victim in the opening scene of a slasher film,  no one is chasing her.  The destination is the Airport Hilton.

Nobody goes to a hotel, shoeless, at 2:30am for a good reason.  Who goes shoeless across the pavement of an American city for any reason? Shoelessness is crisis in motion.  Why no purse?  The only thing which distinguished her in vulnerability from a deer in the forest was the glowing phone in her hand, which vibrated loudly every ten seconds, bearing urgency which had no explanation.

Was she okay, you ask. Yeah, why, she replies dismissively. Due diligence complete, you take her to the Hilton as she has paid you to do. You purloin glimpses of her in the rear view mirror.

She dashes across the bright entryway on dirty feet, flashing a glimpse of butt cheek as she pushes through the spinning glass door. You linger a moment to see if someone is there to meet her, but there isn’t.  Is she arriving, or returning? Fleeing danger or diving headfirst into a whirlpool of foolishness? The elevator door closes on her, and with it any clear explanation.

On Friday, Mrs. UpintheValley is walking the dogs at her usual hour: 5am, i.e., total darkness.

Thwap Thwap Thwap she hears to the left of her.  A blur, running past porchlights.   She turns the corner, keeps walking. Two blocks later, the thwapping returns, and another blur runs past her, moving in the opposite direction.

Mrs. U bends down to retrieve dog poop, and suddenly there is a loud thump directly overhead.

A woman wearing only a bra top and a pair of leggings has jumped atop the roof of the car next to her. No shoes.  No purse. No phone.

The woman waves her hands hysterically in front of her face. She’s terrified of pitbulls, she says.  Meaning Trixie.  Also, she’s just been pepper-sprayed.

She was a stripper at Synn, up on Sepulveda.  There was a misunderstanding about money another stripper accused her of taking from a purse. She didn’t have her glasses on, she explained, and might have been mistaken in whose purse it was. But she didn’t take nobody’s money. Plus, she’d been drinking.

She had to drink because she hated stripping so much but she needed the money to pay for kinesiology school.  But that didn’t mean she was stealing.

She had a long-winded, barely believable, non-theiving explanation for how she came to be running barefoot through the neighborhood in the wee hours with nothing on but a bra top and leggings and Mrs. U listened to it patiently until the police arrived, shined a flashlight into her blinking face and administered the Three Questions.

My life is boring, I think, when I consider these two night couriers, these harbingers of drama.  How predictable I have grown. You can set a watch by my responsiblity.  I’m a guy who lives in the Valley and pays his bills. Banks love me. People call me sir.

Oh, to heed the siren call of barefooted women, and swagger into the Mystery Elevator, careless and eager.

Leave the Cat. Take the Chainsaw.

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Suppose late one night you’re aroused from uneasy dreams by an unfamiliar noise. Flames crackle outside your window. No Emergency Broadcast Signal, no wailing sirens, but the fire is loud. Deafening, as the trees which overhang your house spark up like 60 foot matches.  You have quick decisions to make.  Hold on. Let me find my glasses, first, jeez….  

No time for glasses.

Where are my good boots?
Forget the good boots! Let’s go!
It’s crazy out there. I’m not going anywhere without my good boots.

Pushed off the headlines by more telegenic fires south in Santa Rosa, rural Mendocino County endured a fire last week you may not have heard of.  It originated with a downed power line after midnight. The initial conflagration overtook rural neighborhoods before people could evacuate in an orderly manner.    Most were informed of the firestorm, if at all, by fleeing neighbors, and only then if their house was convenient to the road. Those who hesitated, even for minutes, perished.  Dozens of residents remain missing.

My parents had a ringside seat from just beyond the evacuation zone, and the good fortune to have several days to watch the smoke and perfect an escape plan, should the worse-case scenario occur. I asked them what would they put in their Go Bag.

Paintings. (Really? Yes.) A few framed photographs. The laptop. ID’s and financial papers, naturally.  A violin. And oh yeah, the chainsaw. 

Yes, the chainsaw!  You never know when you might come in handy.  It has served him well over the years.

They were leaving the cat, however. “Every time we’ve put him in the car, even to the vet, he’s made a run for it.”   In their defense, they’re in their 70’s, an age oriented toward shedding burdens.

Gaming out a list like this works to God’s amusement, and one can’t help but wonder at the speed the list would unravel should they be forced to yield the car to the flames and make a dash though the woods. My mother I suspect would cling to the violin, which she doesn’t play, as a matter of principle.  The better question would be: In the rush to flee would my father remember to fill the chainsaw with gas? Or Would he be running through the woods carrying a 50lb gun which had no bullets? Probably yes. Which would make the chainsaw vs. violin debate rather academic.  He’d make her get rid of the violin.

Mrs. UpintheValley, decidedly Not A Cat Abandoner, has made a pre-decision to shelter in place come hellfire or zombies, and to that end ran out and bought survival equipment.  The entire conversation as to who to take and who to leave is anathema to her.

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The obligations of love require me to perish by her side, so I’m doing the sensible thing.  I’m buying bullets.

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You, and Your Privilege…

Guess it’s a good thing we don’t live in Highland Park. We may have to take our own lives as penance.

Along our secret stair hike...
Things we saw on our secret stair hike…
The world before the return of white people
…the world before the return of white people

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We wondered if this was the offending act of gentrification. A traditional bodega putting on airs: gourmet coffee, a juice bar, vegan options, a wine list and spot lighting.

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Highland B0wl is pretty rustic on the outside. Unfortunately, the lanes were closed for a private event.  There was a doorman and a velvet rope.  There’s a clue.

With a little sleuthing we found a craft cocktail bar tucked away behind the bowling alley.   Enticingly, it offered a dog-friendly courtyard.

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We ordered something with fernet. It cost $15.  Frigging delicious.  Strike three. It’s official. We is gentrifying!

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I don’t know who this white lady is, but she seemed to be enjoying herself unrepentantly.  Shame!

Ikea Hell Week

First, lets peek behind the walls
First, lets peek behind the walls

Blogging has been absent the past ten days. I’ve been giving my kitchen the Ikea makeover.

I budgeted two days for sorting out the 1948 wiring, and the highly dubious add-ons from the 1980’s.

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That was a tad optimistic.

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Trixie found a cubby hole in the bamboo at the very back of the yard, and spends her days there, as far from the crazed man as possible.