Fiefdoms

Midnight Mission, 1964
Charles and Brenda Van Enger, living out of van, 1984
Rally in support of AB 2579, a $10 million homeless initiative. First of many. 1984
Los Angeles in flames, 2021. Five years after Prop. HHH

If we build it, they will come. If we fund it, they will stay. If we tell them there shall be no rules about flammables, there will be five encampment fires a day.

We are four decades into abatement schemes and the more money we throw at the favela, the greater the number of tents we have, the larger the encampments.  We have multi-story structures now, cobbled out of scrap wood and plastic, kitted out with big screen TVs and slash pools, generators and barbecue grills. We spend a billion dollars a year now in LA County, not including police and fire, to service the unhoused.  Let’s call it what it is: a business, an industry, farming people like a crop.

Ugly metaphor? Perhaps. Inaccurate?  You tell me.

Here is the Raymer Street pedestrian bridge, an ADA compliant right-0f-way for students atttending Fulton Middle School.  This is what 11-year-olds have to walk through twice a day. At either end people smoke crack openly, within grabbing distance of passerby.  This state of nature has been in place, uninterrupted, for over a year.

Would you let you kid walk here? Probably not. This is known as adverse possession. A public conveyance now belongs to the favela,  managed by Homeless, Inc., the key participants whom feed off the giant tit known as the City of Los Angeles, then go home to sleep in the neat orderly satellite cities like Glendale, where no one is allowed to camp or park overnight.

Don’t look now, but change might be brewing in Los Angeles. In July the City Council quietly altered Municipal Code 41.18 as follows:

“The ordinance prohibits sitting, sleeping, and keeping belongings within ten feet of a driveway or loading dock, within two feet of a fire hydrant, or in a way that obstruct sidewalks or right-of-ways. It also gives council members the ability to flag encampments near sensitive sites in their districts—daycares, schools, parks, libraries, freeway underpasses and on ramps—without establishing a blanket ban on camping in those places. Enforcement in those locations can’t take place until the City Council has reviewed the location and voted to approve action being taken.”

A concern among homeless advocates is that the ordinance will be utilized differently by council members in various districts, creating “mini fiefdoms,” as Elizabeth Mitchell of the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights put it.

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the ordinance, says it gives he and his counterparts the freedom to “take action as deemed appropriate” when a problematic encampment has been identified in a sensitive area.

Yay, fiefdoms!  Mr. UpintheValley approves.

There are two interpretations of 41.18:  it’s either A) Kabuki theater, unenforceable by design.  What is the criteria for “obstruction”?  If its statutory, why should each eviction require a vote?  I see opportunity for the Council to masquerade as responding to public outrage while pretending their hands are tied by others.

Or B)  Leverage. 41.18 has usable teeth and each council member will now have the ability to establish how much chaos will be tolerated in his/her district, and act accordingly.   Nury Martinez, in theory, could turn Van Nuys into the Glendale of LA by enforcing anti-camping laws within her district. Mike Bonin can continue to hand over the beaches and parks to temporary™ housing solutions and answer to his voters.  Performance discrepancies between districts will no longer be off-loaded to “systemic complexities” of the issue.

Self-responsibility is not a burden I see the council taking on willingly.   So I suspect the answer was going to be A. Or would have until recently.

https://twitter.com/recallbonin2021/

Now there is a wrinkle.  A big one. The recall elections in District 4 and 11.  Don’t know about Nithya Raman, but Bonin might be toast. I work his district every weekend and hear the loud talk of people determined to speak freely  and to cast ballots in anger.

There are lots of angry homeowners in the Valley as well, but we are too busy subdividing amongst ourselves over Trump or BLM or personal grievances to organize. Besides, who would listen to us?  Venice eats up all the good press.

Tellingly, the last non-machine candidate elected to the City Council was also from Venice, Ruth Galanter in 1987.  Since then, the uniparty has gone approximately 120-0 in local races. With dominance comes disregard. The recalls might alter that calculus.

About thirty years ago a revolution took place in urban policing, beginning in New York.  Precinct captains were required to stand in full dress before their peers and answer for the crime stats in the neighborhoods under their watch.  No longer could one shrug: don’t blame me. It’s Snake Plissken country out there. 

It’s time for each Councilmember to be made the sheriff of his district.

The ADU Revolution in action

The most impactful structural changes come in under the radar.   Has anything done more to increase housing supply within the zoning footprint of LA without distorting residential neighborhoods than the ADU law? It has added to the tax base, put additional equity onto homeowners balance sheets and didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime.

If successful, the Recalls + 41.18 might, might, set in motion an era of accountability. What a delicious irony it would be if the first blow against the machine occurred as an expression of tribal solidarity by upscale white liberals.

*Historical photos courtesy of LA Herald-Examiner Collection

The Pushcart Permanent Assurance

So I arrived for my appointment at Firestone in downtown Van Nuys yesterday for a pair of replacement tires, and was told:  “We’re running a little behind. We can get to it in two hours.”  Of nine service bays, only two were operational.  They were short on manpower, a downstream consequence of America paying people to stay home and not work on the 493rd day of 15 Days to Slow The Spread.

I adjourned to MacLeod to enjoy a pint while I waited. On Erwin St. I encountered this remarkable example of bespoke mobile architecture.  Clean, uncluttered, and minimalist. A privacy compartment of salvaged doors rolling on a stolen Home Depot cart, topped by a bunkbed. If Marie Kondo took to the streets she might come up with something like this.

A sheet flapped in the breeze like a sail, sheltering the shirtless, tattooed man sleeping inside.  It made me think of sailors stacked in bunks and the domestic rituals of prison space.  A glorious workaround to the territorial disputes among People of the Favela.  In the event of flammables, one merely needs to roll around the corner.

Across the street a new five-story, 45 unit building is about to open its apartments to the rental market.  After the five low-income units are filled, the number of people sleeping on the sidewalk of Erwin St. will not change. Behold the Vertical Valley, in a single frame.

For we are living in an era of lawless improvisation.

Chava Sanchez/LAist

After 17 months of paying the poor and the working class to remain idle, the occupant of the White House has decreed through the office of the CDC paying rent is now optional.  Biden has about as much Constitutional predicate for this as I do to shit on the sidewalk, but who in my beloved Los Angeles is gonna stop me?

In case there was confusion the Supreme Court issued a friendly reminder, called a ruling, stating he has no authority to do this. Biden is doing it anyway. Who’s gonna stop him, the NY Times? The Republicans? Heh.

Rent will not be “cancelled”. It will be paid by the federal government printing money like a khat gobbling Zimbabwean warlord and giving it to those landlords willing to accept 80 cents on the dollar after extensive paperwork.  We are doing this while jobs go unfilled everywhere.  Like at Firestone, where after two hours no one could be found to crank a wrench for $60 labor cost per tire.

This morning I went to trusty Ivan, Peruvian immigrant, who got it done in an hour for a little over half the price. He has a lease on a stall and he’s got rent to pay.

Speaking of lawless improvisation:

People By the Freeway Cook With Gas

Thin orange line behind Orion Street

Biking home from the gym yesterday, great plumes of black smoke near the 405 announced another homeless fire, or the launch of encampment fire season, as we now know it in the Valley.

Technically this isn’t true, the season got off to a running start on Friday with a one acre burn in the Sepulveda Basin that was doused by helicopter.

But the Basin is always burning. At any hour of the day, butane is igniting. Meth pipes are roasting like s’mores. Cigarettes and blunts are sucked down to the nubby entrails and tossed to the winds. Ramen noodles boil over campstoves.  Disputes and debts are settled flammably.  It’s only a question of how much brush gets involved.

In this case the unhoused have squeezed into the narrow no mans land between the sound abatement wall of the 405 and the back fences of the people who live on Orion Street.   They don’t get away with that in Midvale Estates, but in the sweaty flatlands of working class Latino North Hills with its own portion of unpermitted backyard structures people are less inclined to go to the authorities.

When the only thing separating the feral from the domesticated is a kindling line of sun-scorched lacquered wood the tragedy of the commons is waiting. The flames licked their way across the fictional divide of public and private space to what LAFD delicately referred to in the incident report as “outbuildings”, destroying several before being extinguished. All credit to the Fire Dept. for saving the houses proper.

Not half a mile from here sits the former Panorama Motel, recently purchased by the City for conversion to interim housing for people sleeping within 500 feet of a freeway.  It is one of ten motel purchases under Project Homekey.  Cost: $105 million. Total served: 536. At $195,895 per head, it is more expensive than the $130K/unit Tiny Home Villages, but a bargain next to the perpetually-in-the-near-future $700K homeless condos downtown.

My question is this: in the fall, after the Panorama Motel is retrofitted transitional housing, will there be more people living by the 405, or less? Will I no longer see people clustered on the off-ramp?  If the number remains unchanged or worse, wouldn’t that be a refutation of the “housing first” policy?  This will be our acid test.

Maybe it will work. I hope it does.

Four years after passing Props. H and HHH, the homeless population has increased by a third.  The fires however, are daily. That’s a new wrinkle.

For dollar value may I suggest the very un-flammable quonset hut? It was good enough for Gomer Pyle…

I, For One, Welcome Our Corporate-Sponsored Overlords

Rich wypipo say, look at me

Would you be a cop today?  If you were a strapping young man or woman with a strong sense of civic duty, would you sign up for a career?  Would you encourage your child? If you were  already a cop, in say, Los Angeles, would you put in for a transfer to a rural jurisdiction or take early retirement? If you are mid-career and the rural departments are full up, and you’re stuck in LA waiting out your 20, how proactive are you going to be?  If theft under $1000, mugging and assault are now misdemeanors (provided no gun is used), how much effort are you going to exert chasing violators?

Police encounter uncooperative suspects in a state of acute drug intoxication every day.  There are protocols for this. Those protocols were followed in the case of George Floyd. Up until the last three minutes of the encounter, that is. The prosecution conceded as much at trial.  Now Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder. Not negligence. Not a failure to exercise caution. Murder, of a man with advanced arterio-sclerosis and a lethal level of fentanyl in his system. A man who had overdosed on fentanyl several months prior and for which he was hospitalized for five days. A man who left two chewed fentanyl tablets in the back seat of the police car with his DNA on them.  Nine minutes with a knee across the shoulder blades is not going to induce cardiac arrest in a healthy person. Don’t believe me? Try it at home.

Chauvin inspires little empathy from me. He was negligent. I worry about the badge, not the man. I worry about the thin blue line, forgive the cliche, separating civilization from barbarism.

What happens to police work now? For starters, physical contact with violent subjects will drop away to nothing.  Unless you’re charging at someone with a knife. Oh, wait…

Columbus, Ohio, the day the Chauvin verdict was read

After Chauvin, cops will no longer be proactive. They will drive by and wave. They will show up to take statements and file incident reports. Protection? Not so much. The broken-windows model, the one that transformed every shitty realm in LA, the policy which allowed the historical neighborhoods to rediscover their former glory, the policy that put equity into the hands of so many working class people, is now inoperative. We are entering the realm of No Handcuffs for Violent People.  How does this effect Van Nuys? Too early to tell.  How about the mortgage-holders in the neighborhoods in proximity to DTLA? Not good. Not good at all.

Mark Zuckerberg underwrites a private army worthy of Pablo Escobar. There are 6,000 security people on the Facebook payroll, $18 million per year dedicated to his detail alone. There is an escape chute in his office that goes to an underground garage and a waiting vehicle, staffed by ex-Secret Service and military people.  He maintains this posture of maximum deterrence while living in Palo Alto, the least diverse and safest city in California.  All while donating millions to the Racial Justice Accelerator Fund, which backs BLM, George Gascon, and various pro-crime initiatives, including the effort to de-felonize mugging and assault down here in L.A.  He’s not alone in this. Jack Dorsey, Laurene Powell Jobs, Mackenzie Scott, Dustin Moskowitz, Patty Quillan, all heavy donors to The Cause. (That’s Twitter, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Netflix, if you were wondering)

The widow Jobs, and one of her many homes

Lets unpack this.  The wealthiest cohort in California is funding political street violence and altering laws that allow a very diverse population -lesbian Wiccan schoolteachers to chain-smoking Armenian bodyshop owners- to amicably share space.  Truly remarkable, when you think about it, 17 million people speaking 43 different languages can share L.A. roads every morning, conduct commerce, work amongst one other despite incompatible and mutually exclusive understandings of the cosmos, socialize and dine, with a minimum of friction. This is possible due to agreed upon societal guardrails, developed over centuries.  Los Angeles is the anti-Lebanon, the living rebuke to the idea Diversity+Proximity=War.

What if Palo Alto decides: let’s burn it all down in the name of perfection. That couldn’t really happen, right? Only in dystopian fiction…

Well….a small sliver of the population provides most of the funding for left wing causes. A handful of editors and producers at the Times and the networks set the narrative of our news feed. A microscopic percentage of the people who work in the entertainment industry decide what programs and films are greenlit. A tiny subset of administrators and admissions officers can impose Critical Race Theory on the education system by fiat, determining who is allowed to ascend into the professional classes. Five people and their advisors control the platforms on which freedom of speech is exercised in America and practically speaking, speech itself.

What if the Wuhan virus was the second most impactful event of 2020? What if the big reveal is just how small The Clerisy is and how ruthlessly it intends to impose its will?

Hello, 2021. Ready for more?

The Chauvin verdict was made with a rioters standing ready outside the courthouse, and racially motivated looting and arson taking place in Minneapolis.  With our very own Maxine Waters on the ground (behind police protection) calling for “confrontation” should the jury return a verdict for less than murder.  One is obliged to forget a whole lot of American history to believe this ends well.

Apple has an ongoing crowdsourced billboard campaign promoting the capabilities of the iPhone. This year, in keeping with the moment, they chose black photographers utilizing black subjects. Fair enough.  Take a look at the photo at the top of the page. This is what greets you as you enter West Hollywood, our most heavily looted neighborhood of 2020. This is not happenstance. TBWA/MediaArtsLab chose this photo out of countless others, and chose to place it at Doheny and Santa Monica, on behalf of the world’s third largest corporation and its major shareholder, Laurene Powell Jobs. This man, it says, has license to punch you.  Little people, take it and like it.

The Glamping Solution

Traditional Mongolian Yurt
Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait City
The Sibley Glamping Tent. Price: $1169. Note the wood platform.

With regard to homeless encampments, the City of Los Angeles pretends to be constrained by the Boise decision, and specifically its local variant, the Jones agreement,  from enforcing laws against sleeping on the street.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that as long as the homeless population exceeds the number of shelter beds available in a city, the ordinance cannot be enforced during sleeping hours.

But….what you are not told by the people and corporations feeding off Shantytown, Inc., Boise was limited in scope, and only applied to the night hours, specifically to sleeping.  It did not create a right to camp on the sidewalk and was very opaque about shelter.

In other words, if the City created enough shelter spaces, it could put an end to the encampments inside of a week.

What does Los Angeles have in abundance?  Space. Empty lots. Unused, undesirable slivers of ground, off the well-trod paths, under freeways, in the brownfields.   It also has ample funding, through Props H and HHH, for yurts, tents, geodesic domes, fifth-wheel trailers, and tiny houses on wheels.  The crucial elements being temporary and mobile.

We have soldiers and airmen billeted across the globe in these very spartan arrangements for months at a time. Years.  If it’s good enough for the military, it’s damn well good enough for crackheads. (hat tip, JayDee)

As long as there is running water on-site, access to sanitary facilities, both of which can be trucked in and out, it qualifies.  Small mobile solar panels can provide reading light and phone charging.

What isn’t required? Air conditioning. WiFi. Concrete footings. Sewer lines.

When we landed in Van Nuys our house had NO air-conditioning.
No attic ventilation.
No insulation.
No shade.
Single pane clear glass windows from the 1970s.
After we closed escrow, we had no money to do anything about it.
Not for the first summer.

We would take refuge at the mall, come home at 9 pm, open the door and step into a sauna. We actually camped in the yard during a prolonged heatwave.

Sort of like glamping, but in your own house.

Shantytown, Inc.

There is nothing quite so permanent as a temporary solution, to quote a friend of mine.

Ad hoc structures sprout like fungi across the cityscape, cobbled together by the People of the Favela from found materials. Kiewit/Shea and the Army Corps of Engineers have nothing on the 77th MethHead Mobile Assembly Brigade.  They get it done overnight.

These domiciles cost the public nothing except sanitation, aesthetics, fire safety, petty crime, our collective dignity and quality of life, i.e., property values.

So what would we pay to rid ourselves of eyesores?

Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News

How would you feel about $8,600? That’s the price of a two-person Pallet house in a Tiny Home Village. Considering the alternative: $700,000 “transitional housing” apartments with granite countertops and a ten-year horizon line, this a bargain.  Sounds good to me.

Fonda Rosing/Hope of the Valley

On Monday the first Tiny House hamlet in L.A. opened on Chandler Blvd in NoHo.  Forty 8×8 cabins, each with its own A/C unit and WiFi. Communal showers and support services for 75 people.  A second Village is due to open this spring, adjacent to the 170 freeway near Valley Plaza.

There are numerous publically-owned slivers of ground like this, many tucked in enticingly out of the way locations across the county.  The Pallet houses can be trucked in and carted away as needed, allowing for flexibility and, crucially, impermanence. Call it Ad Hoc Plus.

But…
You knew this was coming, right?
You’re living in Mayor Garbageciti’s City.
Where the public trough has no bottom.
Where Shantyown, Inc. is King.

The true price of these Pallet houses, to the taxpayer: $130,000.

Scratching your head on this one?  Let the Times summarize for us:

A breakdown provided by the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering shows that the contract provides $1.5 million just to prepare the site.

It also includes $122,000 for underground utilities, $253,000 for concrete pads (one for each shelter), $312,000 for an administrative office and staff restroom, $1.1 million for mechanical, electrical and fire alarms and $280,000 for permits and fees.

Additionally, the city has budgeted $651,000 to connect to the street sewer line and $546,000 in design, project management and inspection costs.

The key phrase is concrete pad. The houses were designed to be dropped off on pallets, or any manner of wooden support, and relocated when circumstances desired, much like a job site Porta-Potty. Impermanence is their nature.   Anchoring it to concrete is making a temporary solution an ever-lasting one.

I have the calculator out, running the numbers, and coming up with $73,446 per unit.  Into whose pocket is the other $56,554 going?  The Times is incurious on this point.

The City of Riverside erected an identical village in December, same manufacturer, for $21,ooo a house.  In Washington and Oregon, they’re getting them up for $12,000.

The journey from $12K to $130K is the distance between necessity and avarice, between a city that works and one that doesn’t.

Autumn in Los Angeles

Suppose we were to have a civil war in L.A.  Suppose the breakaway provinces north of Mulholland Drive declared a sovereign city.  Suppose the armies assembled in the Sepulveda Basin for the first pitched battle, Blackwater vs. the Valley Militia. Suppose after sustaining heavy losses to sniper fire Mayor Garcetti called in a napalm strike from the air to give his Hessians cover to retreat.

My question is: would the result look different than what the homeless army has done to the Basin this summer?

If I want to camp in a state park, I have to purchase a space and obey a long list of prudential diktats.  Squatting in dry brush with a gas grill and a crack pipe would be at the top of the NO list.

The line between civilization and a state of nature is drawn with butane.
And unlimited EBT cards.
And the right to shit on the pavement forever.
And loot store shelves.
And break windows.
And step off a bus from Ohio with a heroin habit, a bedroll, and an incontestable claim to residency.
All this is de facto legal now.
In fact, it’s a billion-dollar-a-year business.
Want to guess the budget for the Valley Audubon Society?

Enough gloom. Let’s take a peek on the other side of the dam.  Something seems to be happening on the spillway.  Some kind of roller skating party. A clandestine meetup of photographers and models and dance troupes. That’s not allowed!  No one is supposed to be there.

Breaking the rules, all of them. Until the park police chase them away, it’s all spinning girls and illicit smiles and the possibility of the city reclaimed from those who stole it from us.

Defibrillator Man, Gunshot Guy and Dr. Slick

Me: Can I take my appendix home with me?
Nurse: No, no. If it comes from the body, it goes to pathology.
Me: Did I creep you out by asking?
Nurse: I’ve heard it all and seen it all. I once had a patient covered with swastika tattoos tell me he didn’t want a nigger to touch him. I say to him: Would you prefer death?
Me: God commands us to be colorblind
Nurse: This is what I think. He doesn’t exist.  I am from Africa. There is no explanation for the suffering of children you see in the third world.  American people don’t understand suffering. We quarrel over the smallest things.

Then she wheeled me into the operating room.

Last Sunday I woke with tenderness and discomfort in my lower right abdomen which spread outward during the day and grew more painful to the touch.  My belly began to distend.  As someone who goes to the doctor about once every 25 years, my first instinct was to wait it out.  Then I remembered my friend Paul.

Back in the aughts, he went to an ER in Los Angeles presenting with abdominal pain.  After a few hours, they sent him home with antibiotics and some medication.  His pain worsened. In the morning he returned to the ER, jaundiced. Overnight his appendix had burst and peritonitis had set in. They intubated him. A comic writer and actor, he entertained everyone with jokes on a small whiteboard. Five hours after walking in under his own power he was dead. His fiance was 7 months pregnant.

Mrs. UpintheValley remembered Paul as well and insisted on driving me to Valley Presbyterian which is how I came to lay in a gurney at 2 am listening to Defibrillator Man on the other side of the curtain bellow at the nursing staff for more Oxy 30.  D-Man is what is known in the medical trade as a frequent flyer. The fire department wheeled him in, along with his garbage bags, complaining of heart palpitations and squeezings and whatnot.

“It’s my own faults for skipping dialysis this week.”  He smoked Newport 100s up until his first heart attack.  He’s had four. Now he wheels his own defibrillator with him in his wanderings around the Valley.  Prolonged litigation ensued with the nursing staff over which arm to put the saline drip.

“Not the left. That’s where all the hard veins are.  You’ll never get the needle in. You have to use this one over here. It still good.”
“That one won’t work, sir.”
“You telling me I don’t know my veins? I asked for my Oxy 30 an hour ago!”

It had been about five minutes. This argument recycled itself.  There was a wet splash on the linoleum and a satisfied groan from D-Man.

“I told you so.”

Against my nature and my politics, I sympathized with him more than I should.  Pain changes you.  So does addiction.   It was not my finest hour, nor his. We were two men of similar age but very different lives separated for the moment by a wisp of curtain.

The nurse poked his head in to give me the results of the CT scan: acute appendicitis, not yet burst.

“I’m going to give you some morphine now. How much would you like?
“As little as possible.”

As little as possible flattened me to the gurney. For a precarious moment, I was Ewan McGregor falling through the carpet in Trainspotting.  A flash of paranoia: in all the mishegas they must have given me Defibrillator Man’s dosage by mistake. Yes, I must be O.D.ing. This is what it feels like. I am about to be a cautionary tale at a local nursing school. “This is why Kevin is working retail now…”

But no, it was just morphine doing what it has done for centuries.

They brought me upstairs to a private room with 12-foot ceilings and a window facing south, protected from the sun by a run of trees. Quiet as a monastery. Pleasingly asymmetrical. I was on the second floor of one of the two original circular pod towers designed by William Pereira in 1958, a groundbreaking innovation at the time.  The charge nurse was astonished to hear me praise my accommodation.

“Usually I have to apologize for putting anyone here. People hate this room. It’s too small. They prefer the new annex building. The bathrooms there are about as big as this room.”

What can I say? It was bigger than my bedroom. There were no bright lights and annoying beeps, no moaning effluence two feet away.  I was in God’s Hotel.

Valley Pres at its booster-ish conception was the epitome of mid-century modern cool. It was also, like the freeway system and the water pipes, woefully inadequate in size and scope for the city it served. A street grid for over a million people had already been laid across the Valley, and everyone pretended a hospital of this size was sufficient. Permits were easy then, planning negligible.  A third tower, twice as tall, was added in 1966, then support buildings, parking structures, the annex. Today the original building is stripped of its iconic metal shutters that kept the sun off the windows, a forgotten starter home dwarfed by larger McMansions, barely visible from the street.

Gunshot Guy was on the gurney to my left as we waited for our turn in the operating bay.   He lay fetally on his side, his foot poking out from the blankets, wrapped in a rugby ball-sized swath of bandages.

“Are you on cocaine right now?  It’s okay we don’t judge.”
“How much cocaine did you take?”
“How much heroin are you using?”
“Is that daily? The anesthetist needs to know before we operate.”
“We can remove the bullet, and reset the bones, but you will have difficulty putting any weight on it for a long time.”
“We have a physical therapist to help you re-learn walking.”

Gunshot Guy mumbled his responses from underneath the blankets.   The double doors opened and they wheeled in an obese woman, who recited her list of surgeries to a captive audience of nurses as though a reality show film crew were in the hallway with us, recording her every word.  First had been her ankle, then her hip, then her back, and now her neck. The injustice of human frailty was ascending her body like a clan of mountaineering trolls.

“This is so unfair. I’m only 48 years old. I’m too young for this shit.”

At this juncture, the African nurse bent into view to tell me with perfect colonial grammar and a baroque accent she would be shaving my groin. I wondered if she would use a straight razor. I considered all the comedic possibilities of my testes and Murphy’s Law.  Her face was filled with exactly the compassion one seeks at such a moment, and it was here we had our lovely conversation about God and suffering.

I was in the best hands, she assured me. Dr. Slick would be attending to me.

LBJ and his gallbladder scar
The day after Dr. Slick

I had heard of Dr. Slick from the E.R. nurse the night before. Also from the floor nurse upstairs and the attending physician. How lucky I was to catch him!  They all said how fast he was, a virtuoso with a laparoscope.  My only association with speed and medicine was Dr. Nick Riviera from The Simpsons, and the creepy lobotomist in the film Frances, so it was a relief to be greeted by a guy who looked like an accountant but had a roll in his step like a professional athlete.  I was easily his most boring case of the day. He would be going through my belly button and a 5mm opening on my left side.

“Count backward from 100,” they said once I was situated on the table.  I decided to recite the Lord’s Prayer instead. I got as far as “our father, who art in…”

115° in The Nuys

Feral Cat 1, Sun 0.  Basking in a survivors’ victory at 7 pm…
I have no idea how they do it with a fur coat on. Nature is a genius.

The ficus didn’t do so well yesterday.  Watered it on Saturday. Less than 24 hours later, the top third of the hedge withered before my eyes as though God had sent down pestilence.

All things green shall by sundown be green no more, sayeth the Lord.

Spectrum News

Inevitably, there was another homeless encampment brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin, the second of the past month.  We have normalized this like summer weather.

Feral cats and meth heads are anti-fragile.  Los Angeles may fall into perdition in the next six months and they will make a slight adjustment and continue as before. The rest of us, in our green and ordered life, anchored by our need for safety and sustainability, scan the horizon line and wonder what It Portends.

A Short Walk From Emily’s House

I encountered this guy around the corner yesterday. He had wandered into the neighborhood from Sepulveda, sweaty and disheveled, muttering on the curb as he loaded his crack pipe…unfettered by self-consciousness, so deep was he into the finger rituals of addiction.

Like my beloved Los Angeles, he was in a state of nervous prostration.  A herald of self-destruction. It made me think of our three-month bender of submission to safetyism and power-tripping bureaucrats.   So many of us remain insensible to reason. Hopeful data do not appease us. Hard facts of morbidity do not move us. We’re all Emily Dickinson now, cowering at the top of the stairs.  We hide behind our duty masks and wait for someone else to be the first to defy authority, lest we are ratted out on social media.

When we take the full measure of the economic damage inflicted upon ourselves and face with clear eyes our willingness to swallow propaganda from a garden hose we will look back on this time as one of madness. We will tell our children by way of explanation for the debt we hand them, forgive us, it was sort of like we were smoking crack. 

“I am growing handsome very fast indeed! I expect I shall be the belle of Amherst when I reach my 17th year. I don’t doubt that I will have crowds of admirers…”  When admirers failed to appear, roaring disappointment contracted Emily’s world. She ventured no further than the garden gate, then the sitting room, finally her bedroom, where she retreated for the remainder of her life.  Amherst became that terra incognita signified on ancient flat earth maps by sea dragons.

“A prison gets to be a friend,” Dickinson famously said.  As we emerge from the lockdown, will our pent up creative energies prevail,  will the animal spirits of commerce revive fully intact, or will we find ourselves diminished somehow? Marked by a limp?  Will we embrace a newly discovered weakness?