Who were you? Where did you begin, that you would end so far from home, bearing detritus like water from the well? Did you find the magic dirt you were looking for? What wide-eyed, greedy baby replaces you come Sunday?
If only we could recycle years like plastic bottles.
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…
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)
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?
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.
He was a bottom feeder, a man without talent. He plied the tourists on Hollywood boulevard for tips. When I crossed paths with him five years ago, his costume was visibly grungy, like he’d slept in it for days. He hassled me for money for taking his picture. I hadn’t been. He just happened to walk through the frame as I photographed a mural. He was missing teeth. He looked exactly like what he was, a meth-head impersonating his former self impersonating a comic book hero, badly.
Earlier in his two decades on the boulevard, Christopher Dennis looked the part. He had the length of bone, the jawline, an aquiline nose topped off with dyed black hair to evoke a reasonable facsimile of the DC comics version of the Man of Steel. Padding filled out the suit. By the end, he looked like Superman down to his last 50 T-cells.
During the descent, he managed to wrangle appearances on Late With Jimmy Kimmel and the Morgan Spurlock documentary Confessions of a Superhero.
He claimed to have lost his costume and his front teeth in a mugging. Crowdfunding appeals raised money for him to get his cape back and fund a web series about his life, neither of which materialized. He told different stories to different people to explain his circumstances. Sometimes he would be slumped in the street, in a fugue state, babbling to himself, drawing in his notebook. His decline was covered with uncritical sympathy by local media, heavy on the passive voice, always with appeals for assistance, as though his schtick was worthy of the character he was feeding off. His life became a meta-hustle of the public for the means to return to hustling the tourists for drug money.
Naturally, he ended up in Van Nuys, on Nury Martinez’s Skid Row North™.
Last week his body was discovered in a Goodwill collection bin. He had climbed inside seeking to pilfer donated clothes. This is his last known photograph, from the website People Helping People LA.
If you’re not sensing much sympathy for a dead man, I’ll tell you a story. I picked up a stand-up comic at the Orange Line station not long ago, on his way home from a gig in NoHo. I’ll call him Doug. He’d been working out new material, he said. After much trial and error, he found a way to make it click. He killed his set, and now he was treating himself to an Uber ride home. Not that Doug had been paid anything for his work on stage. Normally he would walk the two miles up Van Nuys Blvd. to his garage apartment off Saticoy. But tonight, on such a high, to navigate Nury’s Living Room for the walking dead, that would be asking too much of himself. It would call into question his entire life in LA.
Doug was avoiding Christopher Dennis, whose superpower was self-indulgence. I turned the app off and gave him a ride the rest of the way home for free. It was the least I could do.
Los Angeles runs on guys like Doug, who keep the cocktails flowing and the cash register ringing to pay the headliner. It takes balls of steel to get onstage and do original material. You can’t hide behind a cape. Even modestly successful road comics end their careers unmourned and little remembered.
That’s Sandy Baron second from left in a still from Broadway Danny Rose, Woody Allen’s sweetest work and a tribute to those on the fringes of show business. Sandy started in the Borscht Belt, and would have faded from pop culture right about here, in a cameo role at the Carnegie Deli, and probably died broke, were it not for this:
His turn as Jack Klompus was so successful Seinfeld brought the character back in five episodes, and Sandy got to spend his final years in notoriety, with some extra money in his pocket. He passed in 2001 in a nursing home in, where else, Van Nuys.
For that price, it better be Instagram about to happen. And it is. The long-vacant Panorama Tower has, after 25 years, adaptively re-purposed and will open for leasing next week, Blade Runner views in all directions.
Infrastructure is minimal, in keeping with the live/work loft fiction. At 600 sqft, units are generously sized for a studio, but there is no getting around the one room problem. Two people who aren’t sleeping with each other are going to have trouble sharing it.
Clearly the developer wants white people to move here though I anticipate few will arrive with children. The Era of the Vertical Valley has begun.
Behold the good people of K-town, marching down Wilshire, in protest….
Against climate change? No.
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.
Sunday morning I woke from melatonin dreams about a very specific black and white photograph I had once seen of a street urchin sitting in front of a gas station on Van Nuys Blvd in 1972. Why that photo? No idea. Perhaps it was the meaning I projected on to it, but who understands the muddy river of the subconscious?
Later, in the afternoon, we took the dogs to Mt. Washington for a hike of the secret staircases. Descending a canyon, we ran into Michael doing concrete work in front of his bungalow, which was cantilevered into the hillside, obscured by shrubbery which enclosed it like a kindling pile.
Much of Mt. Washington is Small House Maximalist. As the terrain limits expansion of existing bungalows an ethos of idiosyncratic beautification prevails in favor of square footage. (*not Michael’s house)
In this spirit, Michael was engaged in his decades long labor of love, turning his parcel into as he put it, the Watts Towers of Landscaping.
Like Simon Rodia, he used only found materials. His work spilled down into the recesses of the hillside, embedded within the shrubbery, out of view, making any public recognition a bit of a long shot.
He bought his house in 1968, for $16,000. He was 22.
In the fifty years of his residency he’d had three wives. On Saturday he walked his daughter down the aisle to Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, an anthem of the year of her birth.
There was a message he wished to convey. He asked us if our parents were “still in their bodies”. They are. He wanted us to call them immediately to thank them for sharing that moment in space and time when they created us, without which neither of us would be here to grace Michael’s day.
He wanted us to know our meeting was a Buddhist gift.
Michael was a product of a high trust society: 50 years perched in the same canyon amongst the artistic set, a delightful aerie obtained with little effort, had given him a benevolent disposition toward his fellow man.
Also, he and his neighbors were but a careless tiki torch and a Santa Ana breeze from disaster.
This was the photo I remembered. In my dream the boy in the picture, with the Sears catalog pants and sack of belongings at his feet, came to a fatherless and unfortunate end.
I hope his life turned out like Michael’s. My Sunday wish was he didn’t fall through the seams.
The Star of Bethlehem Parade, a Valley tradition until 1971, when it closed due to lack of interest. Or lack of volunteers willing to assemble Church floats. Or lack of an audience to watch the floats. Or lack of parents willing to drag children by the ear to participate. Or parents willing to miss Mary Tyler Moore or Gunsmoke. In the mid-60’s, it drew crowds of 200,000. A few years later, no one.
It’s one of those eternal civic mysteries, like why did cruising end on the boulevard? Everyone has their own answer, and none of them match. It’s my single favorite question to ask lifelong Valley residents. My doggedly idiosyncratic polling and probing over the years has yielded zero clarity. People are touchy on the subject, and I’m left feeling a bit like Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock, stumbling toward an answer which concealed shame. People trail off into evasion, where two minutes before there was enthusiasm. But they’re adamant it has nothing to do with, you know… Mexicans.
No one today wants to admit they refused to volunteer for the last Jesus float. But the Holy Spirit, in keeping with 2,000 years of tradition, finds a way. There may no longer be angels hanging from city lampposts, but there are storefront churches popping all over the Valley like kudzu, and megachurches where once there were empty lots.
The Mexicans have something to do with that. Also, the Guatemalans. And the Salvadoreans and Armenians and the Koreans….
We think of the term today as antiquated. An othering expression. But this was the politically neutral, dispassionate term used widely in the media, and not in uncomplimentary way, to describe participants in the civil rights movement.
Consequently Pacoima was once the hotbed of political activity in the Valley. Face it, the hotbed was never going to be Sherman Oaks.
We think of Pacoima today as the home of Richie Valens and Danny Trejo, and the muralist Levi Ponce. We don’t think of black people. But it was one of the few places in the Valley which rented to them.
Housing segregation was enforced by an honor code among real estate agents. As a remedy the state legislature passed the 1963 Rumford Housing Act, which challenged restrictive practices. The first challenge of the law took place in San Fernando, where landlords were holding the line against any bleed through from the black population of nearby….Pacoima.
In response, the following year the California realtor lobby put Proposition 14 on the ballot:
Neither the State nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.
It passed overwhelmingly. By two thirds in Los Angeles County. Three years later, Prop. 14 would be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Reitman v. Mulkey.
By then, the Watts riots had happened.
After Watts, Negroes were Black. The beatific and patient visage of Georgia Taylor, local NAACP, was no longer the face of progress.
In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed, the Dodgers won the World Series, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek met at UCLA. Of lesser note, but more lasting consequence for Los Angeles, was the quiet passage of the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act. Nominally it abolished the quota system on national origins in place since 1924. In practice Latinos and Asians flooded into California, first as a trickle, then in a tidal wave by the mid-1980’s, rendering the feud in the courts and the ballot box between whites and blacks academic.
In the 1970’s Pacoima would produce USC All-American tailback Anthony Davis and Heisman Trophy winner Charles White. The city was three-quarters black. By 1990, it was 70% Latino, and no longer produced NFL draft choices.
Today, you can enjoy the cuisine of three continents in a single strip mall, cheaply. It’s part of what makes Los Angeles special. When you step outside, the kids roll by in their cars, windows down, hip-hop thumping: nigger this and nigger that and bitches and hos and money and guns. If there is any lingering social discomfort over this, it remains tucked within an ironic framework people have grown used to.
I guess that’s progress. Just not the kind Georgia Taylor was thinking of.
(All photos courtesy of the Valley Times Collection)