Eviction

Larry got booted from his mattress fort on the Pacoima Wash yesterday. Official personages from the City gave him 24 hours to vacate. I asked him where he was headed next. He said he didn’t know. He didn’t want to go to Raymer Street with the rest of them. He preferred his isolation. He asked me if I worked at Kaiser hospital.  I told him no. He was certain he recognized me from there.

“You look like a doctor I used to know.”

The white favela, I couldn’t help noticing, is becoming less white.

What is the Christian thing to do with someone who walks around with a crack pipe in his hand in the middle of the afternoon but is otherwise harmless and agreeable?

Dominion

King Ziggy moves slowly because he doesn’t have to move for anyone.  He watches and waits, fat and pleased with himself.

In related news, the most commercially successful artist at the Brewery Art Show yesterday may have been Pudge the Cat.

Pudge’s “work.” He sits inside of empty delivery boxes and nibbles them into “sculpture.”   His parents bring the carcasses to the gallery and affix price tags. No joke. They sold this box from West Elm for $1500. Allegedly.

His “leavings”, which they also sell.  Allegedly.  When I saw this I assumed it was all a put on, until two cat ladies entered the studio, greatly excited, and asked very furtively if Pudge was “up”.  He was napping, they were told, and left disappointed.

Ziggy’s work:  ridding the yard of vermin, and bringing the remains into the house as tribute.  We pay him in kibble. In Van Nuys, we call this the chain of nature.

What if we framed his kills in little plexiglass containers? Put them under spotlights atop plinths?   Titled it Rosemary’s Kitty: Cat Work and Intersectionality, (Re) Imagined.  Could we pay the mortgage?  Isn’t that the dream of talentless hacks across the city?

We Almost Live Like This Now

Los Angeles, where you can have a 21 day dry aged Sonoma duck ($55) prepared by a Michelin-starred chef and delivered to your door by a Yemeni war refugee who gets his car serviced at Ochoa’s Mecanica by laborers of indeterminate provenance and murky paperwork. Everybody wins!

Charcoal Venice ages its meats in a glass case at the edge of the dining room and charges $20 for vegetable appetizers. I suspect they’ve yet to recieve their first delivery request to Van Nuys. Which makes me wonder what this billboard is doing up on Roscoe Blvd.

Here are the most ordered foods on GrubHub in 2017: Poke, chicken biranyi, bulgogi bibimbap, avocado toast, chips and queso, acai bowls, cobb salad, corn dogs, soft pretzels and burritos. A sublimely American amalgamation of comfort and pretense.

Maybe thats why Josiah Citrin is folding his arms pretentiously and sneering down at us from atop a muffler shop. We all want to eat at his house, but even though we can’t, we can pretend we’re nearly like the Venetians who do cause we’re ordering in. A little truffle oil on those fries and we can imagine we’re there.

Either way, Josiah gets paid.

Of Human Storage

Because we need facilities for all the stuff we can’t fit into our living spaces.  Because we don’t wish to part with old furniture if it has sentimental value, and also when it doesn’t.

We never know when vinyl records might come in handy again.  Or tchotchkes,  scrapbooks or old power tools…

…or Hamilton Beach blenders, washing machines, hair dryers and Atari game systems from 1986.    We keep our stuff…when we move…and when we don’t. Two-thirds of storage renters have houses.

We tell ourselves we never know when we might relocate. Then again, deep down we know we may already be sitting in the house we will die in.

Sometimes we like to visit our lockups to take inventory of a second life. An alternative future.  A possible past.

We keep totems to ward off mortality.   Our surplus is fecund. The alternative is the nakedness of austerity.  There is no lie you can tell yourself about a life unadorned.

Surplus people, on the other hand…we can tell ourselves all manner of lie about them folks.

Easter in the Narrows

Larry was cooking an onion and some chicken scraps he found in the dumpster behind Tasty Thai when we passed him tonight on our way back to the house. He was burning a shirt in a metal drawer as a heat source, but it was to the side of the pan, not beneath it, so there was very little cooking going on.  His crack pipe and torch were on his lap. His dog Zsa Zsa wiggled out of a backpack to say hello.

“I don’t have any power,” he announced cheerfully.  “I like cooking stuff I find.”

“Make sure you cook it all the way through.”

“What day is it?”

“Easter,” I said.

“I still don’t have any power.”

Impatience

On this day one year ago, thinking myself very resourceful, I felled the massive, perpetually dying elm tree in my front yard. It took weeks to break the rounds into free firewood, garden plinths, and green bin waste.    Then it was gone.

What to do with the newly created void in the yard?   Eager for more punishment, I thought: why not move the grapefruit tree there?  It’s too close to the house already and will triangulate spatially with the tangerine by the sidewalk and the lime by the driveway.  Our yard would have the stamp of design upon it, which it never has.    Chez UpintheValley is forever improv, paid for with donkey toil, followed by second thoughts.

So I dug up the grapefruit tree.  I cut the root ball down to the size of a large ottoman and rolled the whole thing across the yard, into a waiting hole.

Boy, was it ever unhappy. It shed leaves like the deathly sprig in Waiting for Godot. I told myself, give it a few months and it will put out fresh shoots. It knows I moved it for a reason.

The summer went by, no shoots. I nipped the branches, seeking proof of life.   It wasn’t dead. But that’s all I could say for it. Fall passed, then winter. Nothing. Not a solitary green leaf.  I watered it slavishly. I squatted in its arthritic shadow as confounded as Vladimir and Estragon.

How is it possible greenery can pop from asphalt in triple-digit heat,  without a drop of moisture? How can Tapia palms erupt from weep holes in the sidewalk and refuse to be eradicated, while my grapefruit tree failed to thrive under my care and feeding?

Clearly, that spot in the yard bore a curse. Nothing could thrive there. In a fit of whiny pique, I decided to kill the tree.  To teach nature a lesson, and to break the curse, I would offer a ritual sacrifice.

Then the rains came, forestalling my plans.  A few warm days and this happened. Hundreds of flowers. Hundreds…each putting forth a bulb of grapefruit.

In my impatience, I assumed the branches would emerge first, and from the branches the flowering of new fruit. But it’s the other way around. Moving the tree made me feel like I was running things, which I wasn’t.  I’m just the gardener.  Spring makes cosmic insignificance sort of delightful.

Last Lobster at 99 Ranch

What is it like to be last crustacean in the tank on Sunday night?  Do you roll on your back, pincers tied, to feign death,  or has death already spared you, the redheaded stepchild of the batch, from the agony of the steam pot?

To prowl the fish market on an empty stomach is know the brutal beauty at the top of food chain, and enjoy it.  No scuttling beneath silent seas for me. I am Neptune and I get to pick my dinner tonight.

The 99 Ranch clientele skews heavily toward buyers of whole fish. They generally ignore the filet and chops under the glass.

This woman explained her criteria as she plucked through the pile, filling her pail.  One, you don’t want cloudy eyes on the fish.  Two, the scales shouldn’t flake when you scratch it with the tongs.

Three, the gills should be slightly bloody. I pried the operculum back to discover the entire oxygen transfer apparatus underneath.  The filament had a slightly greyish cast, but the concavity around it was pink. She shrugged, implying I could do better.

What a fantastic organ was this dense mustache of capillaries, one of Natures more clever miracles. To run my thumb across the lamellae was to touch the Pleistocene era and wish for a cleaver in the same breath.

I did the middle-class thing and bought a pre-packaged salmon filet and thought myself slightly noble for not reaching for the lobster.

The Joy of Parsimony

I don’t know when this peach-colored brick was born, but for decades it was pressed into service as a stone in a backyard grill in Santa Monica.  After the Northridge earthquake, it collapsed into a pile of bricks, where it sat for two decades.  Then the daughter of the man who built the grill heard of my Untitled Mosaic Brick Project and brought it to me in a box with a bunch of other nicely aged pieces.   The gnarled dark colored bricks were part of a geometrically impaired flower bed I wanted to put a sledgehammer to the minute we bought the house. It took a decade, but I got around to it.

Almost everything in this tableau is recycled. The bamboo came from a yard down the block.  They were in the process of poisoning it all, who knows why. I dug it up in clumps and wheelbarrowed it over.  The succulents were pullings from another neighbor.

Some of these concrete pieces came from a condemned gas station on Roscoe Blvd. Others from various buildings sites around the Valley.  All with the irresistible price point.

The wood in the gate and the trellising was plucked from a dumpster behind a granite yard on Raymer Street.

Dumpsters, really? Why? Cause Mr. UpintheValley was broke AF not so long ago.  These hardwoods, from Brazil and India, were once part of the crating for granite slabs. They had non-conforming sizing and a wonderful texture and cost nothing.  Even the latch on the other side of the door was made from leftover copper piping from when I re-plumbed the house.  Also the hinges, on closer observation, were once part of something else.

Perhaps the distance between myself and the Favela can be measured in a smack habit and a mortgage.   We cover a lot of the same ground.  We salvage and repurpose things.

Methinks the joy of saving money, no longer a necessity, is eclipsed by something more primal. Hunting and gathering. Squatting on my haunches in the sun, breaking and re-shaping things with hand tools. Creating something from spare parts that will be unique and has no other author.

The Narrow Margin

If it’s unclaimed ground, no matter how slight or uninviting, the protean Favela will put it to use, as surely as the sun rises in the East.

This feral world and the farmhouse behind it are separated by a mere chain link fence. A silent agreement. They pee on their pavement and not on our hydrangeas and we ignore their degradation. Who thinks twice about these arrangements any more? Mr. UpintheValley wonders how firm the civilizational lines are. Should the wet ass hour descend suddenly, without warning, if say the LAPD withdrew, how soon before we retreated to the armed safety of castle doctrine?

What would the wet ass hour consist of? What would precipitate it? Most Angelenos, myself included, operate so far removed from the maxims of prudence which have historically governed human relations on planet earth, the return to the Hobbesian default would come as a shock, then an affront, then self-chastizing horror as we retreated to safety. How could we have ignored the obvious?

Theft under $950 has been de facto legalized in Los Angeles.  As far as the city government is concerned, there are no borders. We issue free phones, debit cards, and health care to the indigent.  What is well-watered will grow.

If You Want To Be A Bird….

The Bird scooter, recently ubiquitous on the Westside.  You book one like an Uber, find it on your GPS, ride it to your destination, or until you get bored, or until the battery runs out, then you leave it on the sidewalk. Then the next rider hops on.  A lotus eaters version of the Russian Army in Stalingrad sharing the rifles.

The future of rideshare in Los Angeles?  I guess we’ll know Van Nuys has truly arrived when the Bird gets here.  Or we’ll know the Bird has truly arrived when it reaches Van Nuys.

Like, for example, the Barbie PowerWheels SUV with 12-volt motor, speakers, and faux leather seats.  This is the status and consumption marking kind of thing we love in girl-centric suburban America.

Until the older brother gets ahold of it and strips the drivetrain trying to spin donuts in the driveway.  Then he and his friends throw it into the Pacoima Wash to rid themselves of the evidence.

All  brightly colored plastic shiny things wind up in the Wash eventually, to be reclaimed and repurposed by the Favela.  Grab and go.  Leave it anywhere. Someone will be by soon enough.