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

DSCN3671

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

DSC_0346

‘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…

DSC_0370

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.

DSC_0332

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

DSC_0366

…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.

DSC_0451

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.

DSC_0400 (1)

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?

DSC_0201 (1)

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.

DSC_0188 (1)

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.

DSC_0461

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.

DSC_0467

She was almost gracious in victory.

DSC_0478

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.