Denouement in D Minor

Last week I happened upon the personal effects of another man’s life…spilling from burst garbage bags, tossed at the Narrows…at the crossroads of three tent encampments…a window into the past, when packs of young white men swaggered across Los Angeles in boots and ripped jeans, hair bouncing in expectation of near fame, failing that, admiring glances from the ladies, failing that, self-affirmation in the mirror.

The first thing I noticed in the pile was this framed graduation photograph from Bonds-Wilson High School, Charleston, South Carolina, class of 1978.  This is quite an artifact to turn up in the Favela 40 years later.  Did he live in the neighborhood all this time? Why else would it be here?

He joined an 80s hair band called Warhead.  That’s him, second from the right.  Encylopaedia Mettalum lists two songs in their oeuvre: “Explosive Rock”, and “Tonight, We Rock”.

A few years later, the band left South Carolina in a bid for the big time, re-constituted in LA as Bad Influence. Westar Promotions, the promoter/manager, lists a Van Nuys phone number.  This may be as far as they got. I asked a wise veteran of the metal scene of that period if he had ever heard of them. He hadn’t, “but there were a literally a thousand bands.”

He wasn’t kidding. Also among the effects, a yellowed copy of Rock City News, the Sunset Strip free weekly ….pages and pages of bands remarkable only in their astounding similarity. A phone book of douche faces (and I say that with affection) attached to forgettable monickers: Terriff.  Tarrga. Thieves & Lovers.  One is reminded of Mick Mars’ dictum: if the band has a shitty name, it’s certain to be a shitty band.  That’s probably unfair to the people we see here whose skill level ranged from classically trained to hack, but there can only be one Motley Crue and a whole lot of earnest young men handing out flyers.  It’s the unforgiving animal we all ride.

There was a point in life when your hair was the most valuable thing you owned.  Or to express it differently, there was a point when you had hair. You cared for it, the fulcrum upon which tilted your destiny.

Then there is this. Who is she?  A girlfriend? A beloved sister? Was she the keeper of his memories?  Did she mourn him or tire of him? Is he alive? If so, is he in Los Angeles, still working a day job? Why would you keep this all these years, only to toss it on Raymer St, behind Target?

I like her better as a mystery.

The Craigslist Escape Chute

Why do so many dingbat apartments look like minimum security facilities?

What do you do in your confinement but lay on your stained mattress in your airless sweatbox at the Casa Royale and wishcast on Craigslist a whole other life for yourself?

You scroll listings you can’t afford, like young Lucas, my protege at Lord Bezos Farm.  You fantasize a rent-controlled studio for $900, three blocks from the beach, with no need for air conditioning. No commute over the hill to work.  You, and thousands of others living off the 405, sharing an opium dream of fog slipping through the open window while you sleep.

In a mockery of desire, the very life-changing rental you seek crops up…. and just to really make you feel extra bad, it’s $300 less than you’re paying in Van Nuys, and one block from the Promenade. You drag yourself the open house to buy your lottery ticket, but only because you can’t talk yourself out of it. You send unhappy texts to Mr. UpintheValley, anticipating defeat.

Dude, the line for that apartment is huge.
Nowhere to park. Think I may bounce.
Me: Stay and fill out the paperwork, at least.
There’s going to be hundreds of applicants.
God hates me. I won’t get it.
Me: God loves you. Fill out the paperwork.

So Lucas stayed for the paperwork and paid the $60 application fee for the Apartment No One Gets, and went home to the Casa Royale feeling like a sucker.  Two days later he gets a text. He, out of the audition line of supplicants has obtained the apartment.  Suddenly he is Charlie Bucket, holding the gold foiled Wonka bar.

Which left the small matter of the mattress, and its sweaty, unhappy residual memories,  better left in the Valley.  Lucas decided to dump recycle it at the Narrows, at the crossroads of three homeless encampments.  Over my objections, ladies and gentleman of the jury, as a homeowner and Mayor-Without-Portfolio of northern Van Nuys.

Dude, it’s going to be gone in an hour. Someone will sleep comfortable tonight.

Later that evening,  I walked the dogs up to the Narrows to reassure myself the mattress was …recycled.  It had.  In its place…amidst the festival of plastic garbage, I found the repository of another man’s history.  Someone’s else’s life in LA which closed out in D minor on Raymer Street. A moment of urban symmetry.

Three days later, on my way to the gym, I saw a mattress which looked suspiciously like his on Roscoe Blvd., over by the airport, two miles from where he left it.  I sent an accusing text.

“That’s not her.  My lady didn’t have those handles….”

And I thought of the dirty futons of my youth and wondered what became of them. I thought of the bed I chopped to pieces and set on fire in an act of marital cleansing and renewal, many years ago.   All the escape chutes I wished for that never came to fruition.  Suffering has brought me a different kind of happiness.

An Invasive Species

Mr. UpintheValley was weeding the yard this week … his exertions caused him to free-associate…and he was reminded of the strident opposition anti-gentrifiers have to art washing.  In Van Nuys, weeds are weeds, but if you’re defending Boyle Heights, art is weeds. Art on the walls begets pop-up stores, which in turn beget poke bowls, which beget Lime scooters, leading, inevitably, to the dreaded/welcomed Bento box apartment block and people posting to IG while crossing the intersection on scooters on their way to have dreaded/welcomed poke, all but daring the locals to tap their brakes a moment too late.  Abstract this, sidewall beardo guy…

It’s an invasive species, proclaim the nativists, this malediction/bloom of white hipsters. Murals are a semaphore for an invading force which should be resisted at all costs, by direct action if necessary… all are on a continuum…and a good example of how one can be correct on the facts but still get the politics wrong. Urban neighborhoods are nimble in their mutability, everchanging,  and in Los Angeles more than anywhere else we circle back to the origin along a genogram that often reads: Smith->Jefferson->Lopez->Chen->Smith.

After weeding,  I made my way to the Sepulveda Basin, where I frolicked in sheaves of wild mustard, shoulder high…such joy among the wild bunnies and predatory birds…only to read later at home I had been celebrating a pernicious weed siphoning resources away from native plants, encroaching on the habitat of local fauna.   Officials have a list of such plants..they call it The Evil 25.  And there I was…dancing like the demented villagers in The Wicker Man, exhausting synonyms for yellow, welcoming the invaders, abetting evil. Also, I like both gourmet coffee and pretentious ramen, making me trebly bad.

Invasive species can be defined as alien to the local ecosystem and whose introduction causes economic or environmental harm to human health.  They compete with natives for limited resources. They alter the habitat they enter.  They are difficult to eradicate.  Encountering no natural predators or environmental restraints, they multiply rapidly and set up colonies.

We note the obvious in the privacy of our cars on the drive home but speak it aloud at our peril.   If this is okay, why can’t I park on the freeway and take a nap on my way home when I get tired of driving?  Why can’t I throw my trash in the Pacoima Wash? Why can’t I join the Free State of Jones when the whimsy strikes me?  Why don’t we call things by their rightful name? How did we come to surrender so much common sense in the course of a decade?  Why do we genuflect before obvious lies in the hope of dodging condemnation?

In short, shouldn’t we be viewing bad policy decisions as weeds?

Perhaps this fruit of local government should be added to the invasive species list.

Like usury, which makes a gain from money itself, not through the means of exchange it was intended for, but by replicating endlessly through interest, Los Angeles government is self-breeding.   Its offspring is more government.  Rather than being a conduit of public will, it manufactures consent for bad policy through patronage. It funds advocacy groups which petition the city “do something” about the issues from which those same groups stand to profit…in a feedback loop of gluttonous virtue.

2007 advocacy: Stop enforcing the law. Let them camp in the street.
2019 advocacy: Camping in the street is shameful.  This crisis demands a permanent flow of money.  For us.

For $500 million, we could purchase housing in less expensive regions of the country for every street person in LA.  Here’s the deed. Here’s your bus ticket.  Done.  Prop HHH raises $355 million per year. How many are we housing with that, and why are we doing it here?

When everyone in the picture is applauding themselves, without irony,  it’s time for Los Angeles to do what New York did in the ’90s: get back to first principles.

Our Broken Window

Gene Raymond Townsley — Arrested in Church Theft

“Angry Pacoima Churchmen Nab Suspect – Irate church members armed with baseball bats, garden tools and lead pipes last night captured a former parishioner of the Mary Immaculate Church in Pacoima after the church poor box was robbed of $2.09.”

Two bucks. To the courthouse with the Jonathan Rhys-Meyers doppelganger. Pretty was no panacea.

The 1959 rules were:
Do not steal.
Doubly so from the church.
The poor box? Gimme that shovel.

This is what I saw on the way to Trader Joes yesterday.  Do you think everyone in Northridge decided one day this was going to be the new normal?  But there they are just the same.

When I worked on Lord Bezos’ Farm, in the gourmet department, street people would wander in and calmly load their backpacks with premium wine and liquor and walk out the door with impunity.  They made no attempt to conceal their theft.  If we caught them and the total value was under $950, which it always was (occasionally, daringly, it would kiss up to the prosecutorial red line) the shift manager would turn them loose to return another day.

This is not forgiveness but licentiousness.   No one voted for two sets of books, one for the law abiding and another for the Free State of Jones and its profiteers, but this is the mockery of compassion we now must endure.

If you think this benevolence extends to you, try being $100 in arrears to the city as a commuter and taxpayer.  Count the days before the late penalties turn into bench warrants.

You don’t know my name, said Jean Valjean. I’m a thief.
Of course I do, said the Bishop, your name is Brother.
You forgot your candlesticks. Use this silver to become an honest man.
God has raised you out of darkness, I have saved your soul for God.

The priest’s gesture was effective because he spared Jean from a return to prison for life.   Remove the gendarmerie from the equation and there is no grace, only pointless indulgence.   No redemption, no Marius, no Cosette, no wedding.

I wonder what became of Gene Raymond Townsley?

The Bishop of Digne painting by Darin Ashby

The Twilight of Tolerance?

(Photo credit MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Behold the good people of K-town,  marching down Wilshire, in protest….
Against climate change? No.
Trump? No.
Kim Jong-Un?
A homeless shelter on Vermont.

This is the point of frustration we have reached in Los Angeles.

Faced with the abnormal being made permanent, the city is in rebellion.

There’s just one catch. With one city councilperson per 300,000 residents, rebellions can be safely ignored.    The Koreatown shelter, mightily resisted in May, is quietly being moved downmarket to working-class linguistically divided Macarthur Park.

What are the odds Latinx Armenian Filipino Thai Middle Eastern White Hipster Van Nuys is going to escape a similar fate?

Lets put it this way, we are unable to get the palm weeds pulled in front of the Valley Government Center.    The weeds don’t pay anybody. They don’t have a lobby. But in The Nuys they own the sidewalk.   One can obtain Bitcoin at an ATM on Oxnard Blvd, then cross the street into a state of nature. Such are the contradictions we enjoy now.

Every time you see one of these guys understand there are people who do not live in your neighborhood making money off them.    Your blight is another person’s meal ticket, shuffling about in rags.  He has a power structure behind him. You do not.

Service providers with a stake in the outcome infiltrate public meetings with shills holding signs and nary a peep of contradiction do we hear from the Times.  The lobbying by interested parties and the coverage of same by local media has become a feedback loop of assumed agreement.

Among the unexamined assumptions are these:
Is there a right to hop a bus to LA, squat on the sidewalk and declare residency?
Are such people entitled to free housing and health care?
Can Angelenos demand sobriety and labor in return for public assistance?
Housing is cheap and abundant across the U.S. Why is LA the solution?

Mr. UpintheValley votes No, No, Yes and Good Question to the above.  My neighbors would as well. Which is why we do not hear the Issue of Issues debated in the city government.  We get warnings instead.  They will educate us about our misconceptions.

Who among us practices the inclusivity he preaches? Very few.  If there is a person in the power structure downtown who has opened his home to a crack addict he has been awfully discreet about it.

Our ability to live Christ’s example is daily impeded by the dark river of social ills policymakers have created.   The current is too strong to cast our nets as fishers of men, even in those off moments when we wish to.   City Hall is breaking the bonds of fellowship between citizens. It has made us all a little harder, something we’re beginning to recognize in ourselves and resent.

Almost everything about Van Nuys has changed dramatically for the better in the past decade.   Except for Shantytown, Inc.

As my friend Wise Andrew put it, we may be looking at the twilight of tolerance.

Free State of Jones

The Tenderloin, San Francisco, last week.

The Valley, yesterday.

You’re looking at two cities moving in opposing directions in dealing with derelicts.

I include the top photo in the name of thoroughness. It’s misleading.  There are few people pitching tents on the street in San Francisco.  Very few.  This I can report after a thorough walking tour of the problem areas of the City.  I didn’t see encampments. Nor blue tarp pallet houses, surrounded by whirlpools of plastic garbage.    No wagon trains of ramshackle vehicles converted to housing lining the streets.   There is nothing like Skid Row, not even under the freeway.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: the City has a stumbling army of drug addicts in the Tenderloin/Mid-Market Street area, a smaller battalion in the inner Mission, and this is a highly visible problem, at times loud and threatening. But it is localized.   Walk five blocks and you’re well out of it. I lived in and around SF for a decade, and the Tenderloin has always been like this.

Spending a few days up north was a shock to the system. San Francisco in my memory was the gold standard of street craziness and civic permissiveness.  Compared to the shitstorm Los Angeles has inflicted on itself in the past decade it might as well be Canada.

There are structural reasons why things are the way they are and at the top of the list is the Jones agreement between Los Angeles and the ACLU permitting sidewalk camping in the wake of a 9th Circuit Court ruling in 2007.

We give them free phones.
We give them EBT cards.
We provide gold-plated healthcare, unavailable to rate-paying citizens.
We allow the 911 system to be used as a taxi service.
We allow shoplifting under $950.
We have issued a hall pass for all infractions from jaywalking to defecation.

But the granddaddy of broken windows, the original sin, is camping on the street. Offer up Los Angeles at a cost basis of zero, pay them to stay, place no limit to their number, then watch the Law of Incentives go to work.

William Bratton, then Chief of Police, wanted to appeal the Jones decision and had law and precedence in his favor. The Ninth Circuit held that addiction/alcoholism was an involuntary status, like cancer, and could not be criminalized. Sleeping on the street was involuntary conduct, protected by the eighth amendment. To say either of these floodgate opening premises would be viewed differently by a higher court would be an understatement. The City of LA was happy to take the opening the lower court offered to do what it wanted in the first place: pretend its hands were tied and create a sanctuary. Bratton was replaced with Charlie Beck, a careerist eager to parrot fashionable schemes.

The original injunction was limited in scope to Skid Row, and only to times when shelter beds were unavailable. In practice, it was applied citywide without discretion.  Now it’s a billion dollar business, protected by a militia of interested parties. Since the passing of Props. H, and HHH, Los Angeles has hired over 1,000 additional employees at every level of homeless services.

Just try pulling the plug on those jobs and service grants. Why would you? The quarter-cent sales tax is with us now and the money will find a pocket to land in, and that pocket will go home to South Pasadena, where they have “No camping” signs at the city limits.

No other municipality in the Southland does this, not even Santa Monica anymore.

We have two populations sharing the same real estate: one based in civic responsibility and bound by the obligations of paying bills, living at the mercy of City Hall…the other feral, Free State of Jones.

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.

Sherman Oaks vs. Bridge Housing

Last night Notre Dame High School hosted a funhouse mirror version of the dialogue referred to in churches as call and response.

Councilman Ryu: I’m sure you want to hear what I have to say- Booooo! Recall!

I asked the following organizations for advice- They don’t speak for us!

The Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council- You don’t live here! Put it in your backyard!

Let me be clear, no actual decisions have been made- Liar! The Council has already given its recommendation!

If I know Sherman Oaks- No, you don’t! Liar! Go back to Koreatown! Liar!

After five minutes of abuse, the Councilman abandoned the microphone.   LAPD Officer Pitcher took a turn. The mob was not satiated.

Officer Pitcher: Tonight we have to be respectful- Enforce the law! There are only six patrol cars in Sherman Oaks! How are you going to manage once the shelters are built?

As a prelude to Mayor Garcetti’s run for president, we all have to endure his solutions to the encampments of drug addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill who have flocked to Los Angeles to enjoy its services.    The plan: more free stuff.  In this case, trailers set up on public property as bridge housing.

Right here, on Sepulveda, between the fire station and the barracks.  Those who showed up for the open house to hear the pitch were not having it. No one believes the trailers will be temporary, and cynics have history on their side.  Also, Sherman Oaks doesn’t really have a homeless problem. Yet. Van Nuys has a homeless problem.  The Sepulveda Basin has extensive encampments.  The trailers would pull an undesirable population across the 405 freeway into the neighborhood proper.  Over a bridge, literally. Relocating a problem where it doesn’t yet exist.

To his credit, Ryu stuck around for an hour and took the heat.   How did a guy from K-town end up representing the Valley, you might wonder.

This is how. Behold the perfidy of the District 4 map.  The quadrant in the upper left is Sherman Oaks.   Guess where the Bridge trailers are not going? Hancock Park. Silver Lake. The Hollywood Hills.  That’s why they draw maps this way.   So City Hall can impose its schemes with the toss of a dart. Contiguous districts, fully within the Valley proper, would reflect community consensus.

Which explains, partially, the yelling.

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.