For Amber Waves of Grain…

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“…and Florida…we love Florida! And Tennessee! And Ohio, we’re beating the Governor there!  And Michigan, they love us there! The whole thing, it’s just….and we love Nevada! We won with the young! We won with the old!  We won with the highly educated. We won with the poorly educated. I love the poorly educated!  We’re the smartest people and we’re the most loyal people!  It’s going to be an amazing two months!  We might not need the two months!   We’re not going to be the people who are pushed around anymore…”

Yes. It’s happening.  With a greater ease and dispatch than anyone thought.  Trump is upon us, glad and big.

Mexico will build the wall. It’s gonna happen. They know it. You know it. We all know it. We have a trade deficit with Mexico. They will pay for it. We will be proud of our country again. We will Win Win Win.  We will love winning. 

Winning is a lovely sentiment. It would help a bit if the phrase hadn’t been trademarked by a guy with a straw permanently welded to his nostril and a call girl young enough to be his daughter under each arm.

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Maybe there’s just something about banging hot chicks that lends itself to joyous megalomania. One watches Trump addressing the arena and cant help but think prophetic literature has overtaken life and Willie Stark has, Pygmalion-like, been made flesh.

I have three observations:

a)  people want a functioning border wall to the United States.

b)  they hate the Establishment media in this country, and the prevailing ethos of political correctness which forecloses discussion of the above, among many, many other things.

c) people are hungry for an unapologetic American nationalism, and are willing to cheer for a very flawed man who is willing to stand up to (B) on behalf of (A).

All the old arguments and creeds have been snatched away by the gale force winds of these ignored truths.  Sometimes it’s just that simple.

This is an Altar Call for the Forgotten Man.

Mrs. UpintheValley and I were in West Hollywood last week, at uber-trendy Gracias Madre, and Trump was being discussed at the adjoining table in favorable terms. In WeHo!  The man’s female dinner companion remained skeptical.  “He’s gonna get something blown up somewhere, somehow, with that mouth of his…”

Mrs. U, reliably sensible in matters political, vows never to give her vote to a “blustering bully who speaks dismissively of other people”.   In absence of a champion for good manners, she hopes for a well-chosen running mate, followed by a fortuitous assassination.

Willie Stark, again.

I think I’ll have another beer.

Gie her a Haggis, sayeth Alastair

Bethanking the chieftains o' the puddin' race
Bethanking the chieftains o’ the puddin’ race

Yesterday was my day off and glorious weather indeed and Trixie and I circumnavigated Van Nuys by foot and paw until we ended up at MacLeod sharing a pint with Andrew as the sun went down. I was heading out the door when Alastair approached:

Would I care to judge the Haggis bake-off at the Burns Supper in a few hours time?

Why, Haggis! The wild game of Scotland?  Of course I would.  I pictured something porcine and cuddly, gamboling about in the Highland grasses toward the hunter’s snare, one leg shorter than the other, to accommodate the slopes.  Fatty, yet savory.

Oh, wait.

I could say it is a testimony to my affection for MacLeod Ale and for Alastair that I returned to the tavern. But the truth is the sheer grossness of sheeps pluck, cooked in an animal stomach lining, (or as they say in the British Isles, pudding) held a primal, forbidden appeal. The gastronomical equivalent of jumping off a railroad trestle at night into an icy river. It was a call to manhood. If men in skirts can do it, who am I to be a pussy?

So, girding my intestinal tract with a bit o’ Nutty Broon, I screwed my courage to the sticking place, and awaited the bagpipes under the blue and white bars of Scotland.  Alastair piped his way to the table, at which point the evening belonged to the Bard of Ayrshire:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my airm.

And onward for eight glorious stanzas.  Then, with no verse remaining to spare us our duty, we, the judges, approached the four Haggi.

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Haggis is….hard to describe. People will misdirect you with claims of ‘spicy oatmeal’.  They’re lying.  It’s a time machine, to a world centuries past when white men hunted with spears.   To eat sheep organs is to squat by a campfire in the rain and smell the funk of sizzling gristle slowly overtaking the funk of one’s unwashed asscrack, and think:  Aye, tis a blessing not to starve. Better this than the turnips again. To hell with Edward the Longshanks!  You can try to repurpose it for modern tastes as a tamale or a soufflé but in the end there is no way to disguise the primitive nature of the transaction. You are an animal, by necessity eating the entrails of a lesser animal. You are halfway on the evolutionary journey from the thatch hut to the airplane and it’s an open question whether you will survive to tell your grandchildren the tale.

The Haggi at MacLeod proved creative, prolific and in the end…surprisingly tasty.  A little peaty Scotch helps.  All the tickling of the primal impulses: the pipes, the grog, the slaughtered sheep, put me in an amorous frame of mind.

Arriving home, I addressed my bonnie lassie, Mrs. U, who ducked under the covers and was blunt:

“Kiss me not, with ye haggis mouth.”

“But mah lassie, I bring ye the drunken murmurings of Rabbie Burns upon me very lips”

“Kiss me NOT.”

“The very lips which proclaimed ye fair luv evrlastin”

“Hagg-isssss…”

And like a snake, she coiled out of reach.

It was worth it.

This is how the school year winds down

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Only ten more days of parents…and administrative meetings…and reading papers, then grading them….and reading more and grading still more….those end of the year papers…and dealing with -sip- parents…and correcting tests…and writing letters of recommendation for borderline cases and dealing with parental expectations…and did I mention -sip- the committee assignments I’ve agreed to for next year?

And did I mention Mrs. X and her list of demands?

Oh! You have something you wish to add, Giles?
Oh! You have something you wish to add, Giles?
Where was I? How was you day, darling?
Where was I? How was your day, darling?

Ma and Pa Kettle go to town, time travel with Nick Cave

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Every marriage is founded on at least one silent agreement, sometimes several of them simultaneously. A common variant of this phenomenon holds that when the man begins to lose his hair, the woman grows her ass in sympathy. You both lie to each other a little about how you prefer the comforts of this new fleshly arrangement to the old, competitive adolescent one.

Mrs. Upinthevalley however, refuses to enlarge her behind for any reason, including an impending 35th birthday lurking in the mists of a not too distant future.  Which leaves me stranded as the owner and caretaker of a hairline determined to make an ignominious retreat from Joel McHale to Jack Nicholson and a woman on my arm who every day looks more like a trophy wife than the college girlfriend I married, all grown up.

As long as I’m not confronted with photographic evidence to the contrary, I can live with this. Day to day I am content to enjoy a cultural time frame of my choosing.  The great jukebox in the sky called iTunes permits one to dive deeply into the mercurial spring of pop whimsy. Here one can live indefinitely in the era in which one’s tastes and wonder of the world were formed.  Or choose differently tomorrow.  As a man who can still -sort of- fit into skinny jeans,  I can sort of, almost, kind of, sustain this spiritual perpetual-adolescence on any given day….up to that moment I find myself crowded into one of the locales in LA where the skinny jean people congregate in great numbers and shame me with their pompadours and their Beiber-esque up-dos.

Going to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the timeless and glorious Shrine Auditorium was like attending a prom for the 40 year old hipster set. A chance to look and act our age and feel comfortable doing it, seeing all around me faces similar to mine in mileage, wit and wisdom. Nick, who is both older and younger than I am,  pranced about the stage like a latter-day medicine show pitchman as he worked through his deep repertoire of moody ballads and apocalyptic art-rock anthems.  It was a lovely evening for which time itself stood in abeyance.

On the way home, we stopped at Du-Pars in Studio City for some french fries, even though it was well past her bed time.  Which made it both a married couple and teenager-y thing to do.

An afternoon, a game of Scrabble, and Thou

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‘Let’s go for a drive’, says I. ‘Let us bid farewell to Van Nuys for a few hours.’  ‘Yes, Lex!’  replied Mrs. UpintheValley. Slip into her ModCloth dress she did and away we went.  Downtown!  Where she soon drew admirers…

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Giles is game for all outdoor adventuring, but Santee Alley was a bit chaotic and crowded for a small dog underfoot.  It’s a world of commerce in extremis. Men in slim-fit suits lurk next to the mannequins at the front of stalls whispering: ‘Fendi, Fendi, Valentino.’   Then you walk around to the service alley and there are Koreans in beat-up vans unloading garments in huge trash bags through the back doors of the stores.

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The contrasts are remarkable. Here we have another mixed-use industrial building being converted into high-end lofts….directly across the street, however:

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…there are poverty stores where the great unwashed are reminded not to wash their hands in the melted ice of the soda cooler.  The Brazilianization of California continues apace.

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After an hour or so, Mrs. UpintheValley had her fill of the garment district,  so we moseyed east of Alameda, to the Arts District.  This was more to her liking.

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There’s something about the arts district phenomenon, here and elsewhere, that fetishizes and celebrates the architecture of the manufacturing age. This is partly inevitable. Vacant buildings in a post-industrial landscape offer the dormant capacity needed for residential re-development. But that’s not the only reason. Even the most utilitarian structures from the golden age offer aesthetic delight and authenticity difficult to re-create today and this is part of the attraction. The workmen of the day (and it was men, working then) were frequently artisans, even in the construction trades.  As someone who has built and re-built a thing or two, let me bear witness to the staggering amount of craftsmanship and nearly flawless execution in this single brick wall.  Mark Zuckerberg himself couldn’t buy the people with the skill set to duplicate bespoke masonry at this level, at any price. The people who could do this sort of thing are no longer to be found in Los Angeles. What does it mean if the most enduring artistic achievements of the area prove to be the structures themselves?

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Just down the block from the swanky National Biscuit Company lofts we found this cafe tucked nicely in a narrow curved alley. Only after we walked around the corner did I realize beneath this brick patio was once a railroad siding that served the Nabisco loading docks. From this spot biscuits and crackers began their dispersal throughout the rail networks to the far corners of North America, once upon a time.  Now it’s a lifestyle playground.

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On the other side of this mural, we discovered the Urban Radish, uber-gourmet grocery.  I would be lying if I didn’t say we both lusted in the aisles of this store.  Artisanal cheese!  ($35 lb) Gourmet sausages! ($15 ea)  Dry-aged beef! (don’t ask)  Organic brickleberry flavored ice cream made from pastured cows! ($11/pint)  I would also be lying if I suggested if we could afford any of it.  Clearly, this is someone else’s lifestyle playground.

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But play, we did. We ended up at the ironically named Pour Haus, for happy hour and glasses of wine and a game of Scrabble.  At the moment of this photograph I had just laid down a seven-letter word to leap 60 points ahead. She is amused by any confidence on my part I will hang on to this lead.   ‘You have no chance of winning, my dear. None.’  The word was: Serious.

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She was almost gracious in victory.

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When we reached the limit of our $20 budget for the afternoon we returned to the car, and the trek back to the Valley and its particular cake of comfort and squalor.  On our way to the freeway we passed the American Apparel factory and its huge Legalize LA banners and the image seemed to encapsulate everything about our political and cultural moment in Los Angeles.  Here at the crossroads of the garment and arts districts, where the new economy embeds itself within the ruins of the old (Southern Pacific, no less), where the new fortunes are being made or blown…here, the poster child of DTLA proclaims to the world: ‘Pay Americans Less Money’.  Let there be no immigration law which would prevent millions of unskilled workers coming here to do battle in the labor marketplace with those already arrived and the native-born hanging on by their fingernails. May the devil take the hindmost.  They even sell Legalize LA t-shirts to the hipster kids who wear them in a celebration of ignorance of the laws of economics.   Van Nuys is boring. But it’s mostly honest. If you stick to a budget you can own a house there. For now.   I love my wife.