Take the Copper, Leave the Drywall

Tweaker…picking the remains, Van Nuys.

The timbers, I notice, are well-preserved, straight-grained and true.  Old growth, probably. You can’t get it anymore, at any price.

Anything hockable has been stripped, hauled off in shopping carts and bartered at the scrapyard, then converted to crack cocaine and exhaled,  unsatiated, in a fit of tachycardia in a tent by the Orange Line.  The metals will journey onward via container to Long Beach, then China, which will melt it down and sell it back to us as a consumer good.

In a couple days, perhaps tomorrow, the carcass will be demolished along with the other homes and taken to the landfill, save the fireplace masonry, with will be salvaged by the specialist, and retailed for a buck a piece at Balboa Brick.


Bamboo flooring! Oh, the hopes someone once had for the place.

…and a swimming pool, even though the backyard abutted the 405. The concrete will be broken down into aggregate and live again, as some sort of structural underlayment, perhaps as a breakwater.

In six months the lots will be consolidated and a six story Bento Box apartment building will sprout in their place.

I think of the Moroccan tile we installed over the summer.    How satisfying it felt as the back butter grabbed the floor and the corners met precisely, within 1/32 an inch of tolerance.  How permanent.

Lord of the Devil’s Asshole

Back in the heatwave of June, I told an acquaintance on the nightclub side of the hill where I lived.  Van Nuys is the Devil’s asshole, he announced without hesitation.  He was referring to the heat, but his tone suggested something more.

Every kingdom has its Lord, I replied, half-joking.

If not I, what shape would this lord take?  Who would be the definitive representation of our sun-splashed, slightly noirish Brigadoon? He might have a weapon protruding from underneath him, like a tail. He might have his fist around a bottle of Jack Daniels, crisp jeans and a gold watch. He would be rusticating in the middle of the day, which is how I found him after I dropped $1100 on maintenance for my trusty Honda CRV, which makes me very much an un-Lordly figure.

Ziggy, on the other hand…he knows who’s the boss.

Stoker has no sense of irony, and zero pity. If you want a portrait of dominion, look no further.

Lords, all of them.  I welcome submissions and nominations.

Three Versions of Storage

One man’s refuse is another man’s treasure, never more so than in the backyard, where the hoarder goblin is allowed to run off leash.

Here’s Van Nuys in a single frame. On the right side, 6537 Columbus Avenue, every inch of lot given over to vehicle storage.  Whose cars? For what purpose? Why boats? Mysteries. It’s been going on for years.  On the left, the footprint for 6530 Sepulveda, formerly the brothel known as the Voyager Inn, now known as SkyLA Tower, with 2 bedroom apartments leasing at $2750.

Two hundred people utilizing a lot proportional to the one next door housing dozens of used cars, while people are camping on the same street.  Perhaps a pretty good argument for eminent domain?

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t resolve the storage issue. In all three cases, someone is making a lot of money off things as they are.  Servicing the indigent is literally a billion dollar business now, in Los Angeles alone.  You could seize the car house,  put up a shelter over the anguished wailing of the KesterRidge Neighborhood Association and it wouldn’t make a dent in the tents on the street.  We pay them to be here. Until we stop doing so, the Laws of Entropy prevail.

The Runnymede Poultry Colony

Driving through the Valley using the Uber navigation app, I’ve noticed something called the Runnymede Poultry Colony popping up in the street grid of Reseda….in the middle of a subdivision.

Places that haven’t existed for decades, places with evocative names like Wingfoot, Broadmoor, Mission Acres, Wahoo…can be found on old maps, particularly those of the Pacific Electric streetcar lines.  Intriguingly, Google Maps utilizes a historical overlay, so when you zoom in, these unfamiliar names pop up in familiar places.  The White Favela, for example, sits atop a forgotten neighborhood called “Raymer”.  The navigation apps, including Uber, ride atop the Google platform and that brings us to the utopian community of Runnymede.

“Intensive little farms”, in the phrasing of its founder Charles Weeks, “bringing peace of mind, health of body and an abundant living to thousands bound in slavery by wage-earning and too much business.” It was located in the Winnetka neighborhood, not Reseda, named for the city in Illinois from which Weeks originated.

For $1500 in 1925,  pilgrims got a modest bungalow set back from the road on a deep narrow lot,  a poultry shed with 2000 hens, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, a bee box and a grape arbor. You’d leave the eggs by the road for the morning pickup. You’d wash your own clothes and make your own ice cream.  You’d do it all on one acre, as a family,  living self-sufficiently in the city of Los Angeles.  In case you thought you were still living somewhere in Iowa,  you could ride the Red Car down Sherman Way and over the hill into town and watch Rudolph Valentino.  But you didn’t do that because you were pious.  You also had 2000 chickens to attend to, and kids running around in burlap underwear.  You were keeping Gomorrah well-omletted.

It wasn’t a collective farm, exactly, because you owned your own land, but there was a trade association, a community center for weekly functions and a beach house in Santa Monica the 500 Runnymede families could avail for picnicking in the summer.

If the Valley had developed along the one-acre per family Weeks model, there could have been potentially 150,000 such farm/orchard/home businesses today.  Assuming the necessity of middle children (several, ideally) we would have a population under a million, but big enough to sustain a city, with trolley lines and bike paths everywhere.  Counterfactually speaking, this was possible.

But it foundered, as did so many things, during the Depression. Falling egg prices,  the inability to make loan payments. Weeks himself went bankrupt self-financing loans to the families.  By 1934 it was over.

Instead, the Valley developed as the owners of the land wished it to. Remarkably, there remains to this day intact solitary lots … stubborn holdouts against the street grid,  crazy spinster aunts clinging to life after all the relatives have passed on.

You can see how much they’ve done with the place. That’s the problem with cheap land. Seldom do we make good use of it.

Which reminded me of the house we almost bought before we came to Van Nuys.  This one right here. It wasn’t part of the Colony, but the lot was as long as a football field. The structure was worthless.. teardown condition, but oh, the two week fever dream I had!   Not that I had any experience in this regard, my rather vague, very rudimentary, very what the hell anyone can do this plan was to grow organic spices and produce specifically for local restaurants.  I would be Mr. Local Source. The land would pay for the house. Gentleman Farmer, me. Purveyor to the stars of cuisine.

Just like this mini-farm tucked behind The French Laundry, in Napa.  When you dine there, you’re grazing right off the yard.

One of the peculiarities of our present Downton Abbey on the Pacific is working class people double bunking in apartments, fattening up on caloric take-out, while the gentry drop half a year’s salary on authentic peasant food grown on the most expensive ground in California.

As it happened, the house with the ginormous lot was already in escrow, sparing me the inevitable folly of a Branch Davidian-like standoff with City officials over unpermitted agricultural output.

I would have made my bride a widow defending the soil like an Ulsterman.  I would not have lived to hear the wise counsel of my friend Johnny: we’re only leasing it from God. The crust of the earth can shake us off like fleas at any moment.

Windmills of Poo


We give them free phones.

We give them EBT cards.

We give them free health care.  Also the ability to use 911 as a hotel and car service.

We allow them unlimited shoplifting privileges up to $950 per incident. We provide them with pro bono legal representation.

We exempt them from civic laws relating to public safety and sanitation.

We allow them to pitch tents ten feet from people paying $3000 a month in mortgage, and we wonder why they stay.  Cyclically, we tell them to vacate a given location, but never to leave the City. Nor to assume self-responsibility and sobriety. There’s no grant money to be prized from that. What will Do-Gooders do for work?   So, the Favela rotates within neighborhoods like a seasonal crop. From the freeway to the Narrows, to the Wash, to Raymer Street and back again.

It is impermissible in the Los Angeles Times, or City Hall, to speak of human nature. Or moral hazard.  We subsidize the Favela endlessly, while nimbly managing to escape the inclusivity we preach. The people who staff the Caring Organizations, courtesy of the Los Angeles taxpayer, are unusually allergic to living here.   They live in South Pasadena. They live in Sierra Madre. Or Redondo. Or Moorpark, or any of the other small, orderly cities of 100,000 people that surround LA,  cities directly accountable to the voters and consequently intolerant of the Favela metastasizing within their borders.

Los Angeles has spent over a billion dollars in the last 30 years directly “combating” homelessness.   In that time, it has spread from Skid Row to Van Nuys and staked a claim to every weedy mite of ground in between.

Mayor Photo-Op intends to spend $1.87 billion (that’s billion with a B) in the next decade to cut the homeless population by …half.

The beauty of ten years from now accounting is Garcetti will no longer be Mayor when the ledgers are squared.  He intends to be President. The City Council will be termed out as well. The money will be burned in great hay bales in Grand Park. They will throw it on the pyre with pitchforks and dance around it, singing, like the Whos in Whoville. When the smoke clears, half of the 34,189 people on the street at last count will be re-housed.   The Mexican border will remain wide open if the City has anything to say about it, but the tents will diminish be replaced by pod villages in parking lots. Or something which squares personal self-destruction with virtue-signaling photo ops rounded out by civic baby talk. Public policy in LA is nothing if not a cargo cult.

In this most optimistic scenario we pay $109,548 for every Larry we remove from the streets, in addition to all the other freebies we already provide.  That’s a whole lot of kitchen remodeling in South Pas.

Alternately, we could purchase a house somewhere in the U.S. for every blue tarp refugee, then hand them the deed. Like this one, in Marlin, TX. Two bedrooms, $24,000.  Congratulations, you are now homeowners.  Here’s your bus ticket. Your sins have been cleansed from the books.

Too rural?  How about this 4-bedroom storybook traditional in Detroit? I found it in five seconds on Zillow. $37,000.  That’s less than ten grand a head for permanent housing.

One tenth what Garcetti proposes to spend on Guiding Principles™ and Liasons to Committees of Concerned Frowning, with some pods and motel rooms thrown in.

But but but but but….that’s crazy talk, Mr. UpintheValley.   You want to argue moral hazard? Anybody could just show up in LA, pitch a tent in the street and be given the deed to a house.  Where does it end?

To which I reply, what are we doing now?  We are about to spend ten times this amount to not house people, to provide them most of the necessities of life and some of the pleasures, plus a caseworker and a lawyer, but put no lasting roof over their head. We demand nothing in exchange and they return the favor.

Behind this Ikea shelf is a “bedroom” in North Hollywood.   The man who lives here is a Temple graduate. He has two day jobs. He also takes on side gigs in the Industry when opportunities arise.

In June his life upscales for the better, when a roommate shuffle will create a vacancy in one of the bedrooms.   He gets to move out from behind the TV set. This is the guy who pays the $1.87 billion to keep the Mayor in photo-ops and the salaries paid for Homeless Advocacy, Inc.

This is how we live in LA now.

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?

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.”

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.