Days of Wine and Slow DSL

When the sun returns we’ll feel differently, but for the moment it’s like we’ve fallen into the pages of someone else’s unfinished novel.   Our lovely week of rain has softened this unfamiliar oddity of mandatory hooky. We have new struggles, like remembering the Hulu passcode so we can watch Contagion.

We rediscover guilty pleasures and then realize our schedules overlap a bit too completely. I predict a spike in births around Christmas. Also divorce petitions.

Flowers will soon riot across the Valley, and our pent up cabin fever will shake us from this sheep-like submission to madness.

In the meantime, we teach To Kill A Mockingbird from the safety of the bedroom.

We expel all members from LA Fitness until April 1st. Effective in five minutes.

We flatten the curve in Echo Park.   Not so unreasonable. A happy middle ground.

Photo by John Sanphillippo

Thank goodness someone is flouting shelter in place orders in San Francisco.  Blessings be upon he who beta-tests.

From Wuhan, With Love

In January, when I reported for jury duty there were a number of older Asian women in the pool wearing masks, which I found a bit paranoid, though polite.  I chalked it up to cultural differences, but now you can’t buy one.  My nephew this week is in the desert winds of New Mexico wiring a cooling tower without a dust mask in violation of OSHA regulations. Masks are great for industrial particles. They don’t do squat against the pandemic, but he waits on Amazon to fill backorders.

On Saturday I picked up a woman in Marina Del Rey a bit miffed at developments. She owns a condo in Palm Springs which she AirBnBs for Coachella.  It’s certain to be canceled, she said, and soon she’ll have to refund the $5000 she’s already collected. Was she worried about taking an Uber, a natural vector for infection? Of course not. “No one under 60 needs to worry about COVID-19”. Is she right?  Yes…but there are caveats.

Mrs. UpintheValley went to Trader Joes yesterday to discover a run on canned goods.  She settled for pasta sauce.   She went to Target to double our reserves of toilet paper and tissue.  They were all out of bacterial wipes.  I went to the gym and had to stand in line to use the treadmill. The Zumba class was full. All the dumbells were in use, one sweaty hand after another trading off on the same damp bacteria encased grip.  Tame Impala played a sold-out show at the Forum last night.  Snctm, the $75,000/year Beverly Hills sex club, will be proceeding with its scheduled orgy this weekend.

We are free with our fluids in month two of the pandemic, then we reach for bacterial wipes and wonder about our neighbor’s cough. We go to the Laker game and then blame the President for not doing….well, something more.  He stopped flights from China in January and they called him racist. Tonight he embargoed flights from Europe for 30 days and the media is in an ecstasy of sanctimony: Too late! Our American Chernobyl is upon us!  Get the widow on the set!  Get me B roll of people on ventilators!

Except…its not happening. Yet. The seasonal flu kills 50-80,000 people every year, mostly the very elderly. Wuhan virus, we’re looking at hundreds.  So far, all elderly.   But…the vectors have been established. The bacteria has breached our shores, and if the epidemiologist math is correct, its spread should peak on March 21.  If there was a time to self-quarantine it was now. Naturally, I went out for a beer.

MacLeod was not wanting for business. Andrew was there and confessed to anxiousness.  We had entered a time of madness, but there was no way to wash your hands of it, he punned. On cue, the bartender brought me a ten-dollar bill I had mistakenly folded into a pile of singles I had given him.  It was a gesture of honesty, and I accepted it from his bare fingers, which had handled dirty sweaty cash all day, and then I put my hands into a bowl of peanuts and helped myself.  Everyone who came to MacLeod before 7 pm was now in my mouth.

I stopped at Target on the way home, just in case there were provisions for the siege not yet obtained and was greeted by an exodus of carts piled high with bleach, the wipes having sold out.  Alternatively, you could simply sing “Happy Birthday” twice as you washed your hands and achieve a better result.  I happen to be both a thorough hand-washer and at the same time an indiscriminate muncher of free grub from sneeze bowls. That is my particular dementia.

The last generic DayQuil in Van Nuys…for now

Get some DayQuil, Mrs. U advised, you never know.  I’m not entirely sure what good that would do in the event of respiratory illness but I scrounged the very last box in the store, forgotten on the bottom shelf.  When I got home she announced school was canceled for the rest of the month, all the private schools in LA,  and she would be undertaking “distance teaching”.  The NBA was suspending games until further notice.  Coachella was postponed to October.

I texted my nephew. The power was out in the mountains. He was assembling an automatic rifle by headlamp.   No cough medicine for him.  To each his own prep.

The Floor Scrapers

“I take no joy in cleaning, none whatsoever,” says Mrs. U.  “But the state of cleanliness gives me calm. I’m very unhappy in clutter.”

I’m certain the men scraping the paint off the floor of Gustave Caillebotte’s studio by hand in 1875 took little joy in their labor either, but Monsieur Caillebotte, a man of leisure, found it rather erotic…and now they are immortalized in the Musée d’Orsay.

The bottle of wine on the floor fascinates me. Was this common among the Parisienne working class, or an indulgence he allowed them as compensation for modeling?

At 34, Gustave retired to the countryside to garden and be a patron of the arts. A strange choice in my book, for a man with at least one masterpiece to his name. He became a lotus-eater and grower of orchids.

He turns up later in The Luncheon of the Boating Party, seated lower right, his attention fixated on the other man in the straw boater and singlet, who as the proprietor’s son, is not exactly a member of the party himself nor dressed for it.   Renoir immortalizes Gustave a second time, in longing.

Wish as I might, there is no eroticizing the floor in Chez UpintheValley.  The robot does half the work.  Flickers of recognition pass before me…momentarily I feel like Degas with an iPhone admiring the washerwomen, and then …no, darling. Just no. I really hate this. And it’s leading up to nothing. Finish the outlet box in the ceiling. 

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.