Crime Scene on Sepulveda

Look at her. In her defense, she was fated on the drafting table to be one of the Valley’s Ten Ugliest. 7101 Sepulveda, a brutalist concrete filing cabinet, a Robert Moses-esque excretion dropped in 1962, no quarter given to public taste. Someone may have endeavored to pass it off as in the then-voguish International style, but certain buildings just say No. This one says it with gun placement window slots. Your eyeballs, like the Pharisees, shall not cross.

This is the building to which the Stasi brought people for questioning who were never heard from again.

As foreshadowing it sat too close to the curb, shrinking the sidewalk to less than three feet at the corner and around the utility pole to allow more room for parking in the back.

The early sixties were a time of Great Progress in California. The freeway system, the Universities, the aqueduct. Pat Brown. Clark Kerr. Buildings, even churches, were stripped to their utilitarian essentials. Gone were cornices and patterned brickwork and decorative overhangs and bas relief.  In the name of modernity crap like this was erected all over the state, particularly college campuses. Modernity was defined by two words: air conditioning.  But also parking.  Parking has preordained most civic decisions since.

Tax Protestors, 1964. Valley Times Collection

For the first five years of its life 7101 Sepulveda served as a branch office of the Internal Revenue Service, an example of form matching function.

From 1967 to 1995 it housed Merit College, an early for-profit school training court reporters and paralegals.

In 1995 Merit College closed its doors without notice, leaving 900 students in the lurch.

Since 1995 it has been vacant, defying the economic laws of scarcity, immune to adaptive re-use. A monument to bad planning, but also a certain species of absentee landlordism.  The kind who waits for others to develop the neighborhood while they collect royalties off the cell phone towers on the roof.

Inevitably it was occupied as a crackhead Delta House and in 2019 gutted by fire.

You would think the City would make this eyesore a municipal issue. Twenty-eight years of public blight should be enough. You would be wrong. Government may have grown glandularly since 1962, it has not become wiser or more responsive, nor more effective in countering monetary interests. Arguably, less so.

Ed Ruscha

There’s an aesthetic sidebar to this. In 1967 the artist Ed Ruscha rented a plane and took a series of aerial photographs of Van Nuys parking lots, several of which hang in the Tate Gallery London. A signed print of 7101 Sepulveda was offered at auction for $8500.

I have mixed feeling about this. Normally I begrudge no man his hustle, but Lazy Art is annoying, more so if it’s making serious bank off my neighborhood without engaging it. Suffice to say this conceptual perspective now hangs un-ironically in the homes of people who couldn’t find Van Nuys on a map.

In 2020, CBRE sent up a drone and took this photo to lure potential buyers. Unlike the Ruscha print, it is available for download without charge.

The exoskeleton and parking lot can now be yours for $8.7 million.

So, if you’re keeping score, 7101 Sepulveda has been vacant and unproductive for nearly as many years as it was occupied, despite occupying prime frontage in the hottest real estate market in the country.  How hot? There are two ranch houses for sale in the neighborhood, a 3Br for $1.35 million and a 2BR for $900K.

$900K also happens to be the 1998 assessed value of 7101 Sepulveda, which means the person who buys this house on LeMay will have the same property tax liability. This might explain, in part, why the owners have managed to leave it vacant for so long.  It’s an argument for a split roll adjustment to Prop. 13.  Also for a mandatory development clause on commercial property located on a transit corridor. Three years to file a building permit or you must sell. Can’t believe I’m writing this but here my baseline free market libertarianism collides with civic pride.

Mr. UpintheValley’s prevailing Cancer Theory of Los Angeles posits not overdevelopment but its opposite: deep pocketed speculators who sit on strategic corners for decades waiting for others to buy them out.

Up on Roscoe Blvd the owners of the old Montgomery Wards site have been teasing redevelopment plans since…1995, while leasing the massive asphalt lake that surrounds it to film companies and for Covid testing.

In 2018 a mock-up of The Icon at Panorama, a long promised 600 unit mixed-use retail island, was draped over the old Wards sign, offering the promise of an imminent Culver City-ization.  As the months and years ticked away without breaking ground the mock up slowly disintegrated in the sun, nature declaring a verdict on the unrealized transition from 1964 Asphalt Heaven to Los Angeles 2.0.

Where’s Rick Caruso when you need him? Running for Mayor, promising to expedite the building of homeless shelters. More. Bigger. Faster.

The Valley needs it own Caruso. A street fighter-on-a-budget Armenian Caruso. Mr. UpintheValley is feeling politically homeless about now.

Mrs. U’s Victory Garden

About 20 years ago I was at a wedding, talking with an old guy who grew up in L.A. in the 1930s. He graduated from Manual Arts High School. I told him how envious I was he got to live in the city before freeways and strip malls and straight pipe mufflers and tagging and homeless encampments.

He looked at me like I was stupid. “1934 was horrible. I was hungry.”

Yeah, yeah. But one third the population. The Red Car. Craftsman bungalows everywhere. No smog. Jake Gittes.

Like a putz, I began embellishing with film references. The man grew noticeably upset. Indignant.

“You don’t understand. I was hungry. Understand? I waited in line with my mother for flour to make bread.”

We have not had shortages of basic goods since the 1970s. We haven’t had hunger since the Great Depression.

Ours has been a world of ever cheaper calories, of YouTube testimonials of retail ‘hauls’ –look at everything I got at Aldi for $100!- of gout-ridden families waddling through Target, their carts piled with pizzas and cereal and impulse buys. Long supply chains and just-in-time inventory work really well until there is a bump in fertilizer costs. Or a lost shipping corridor. Or the price of fuel per tractor/day goes from $68 to $128. Or the price of barley feed from $295 to $470/ton.  That’s just in America.

Potash and urea have quadrupled on the international markets. The Ukraine spring planting (25% of the global wheat) has been curtailed for obvious reasons.

Cheap food, like cheap fuel, may no longer be possible for the foreseeable future.  Some of us may have to relearn the lived experience of our great grandparents, the people who saved their bacon grease and kept their money in mattresses.

Fortuitously and wholly unrelated to global events,  Mrs.UpintheValley decided this was the year she would garden in earnest. Back in January we put together some containers, thinking it might be pleasant, not realizing it was like buying BitCoin in 2017.

I built four of these for her. Each four feet by eight, 18 inches deep. Materials were about $100 per. Half the lumber was recycled. She filled the bottom with free chips, followed by one third compost, free from the city, about half bagged soil, and then a layer of mulch on top, also free. Looking left to right you can see the stages of filling, and the string line grid.

If you’re a salad freak like us, it’s a bowl of Eden every day, courtesy of Mother Earth.

If you plot it correctly, you can pack a lot of food in a small space. The fourth box is strictly for tomatoes, though they are all babies now.

New York Times

With government mandated food rationing in effect during WW II, gardens flourished across Los Angeles. In 1942, roughly 15 million families planted home crops; by 1944, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced roughly 8 million tons of food—40 percent of all the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States.

Believe it or not, she used it all

Good times make for weak men. Weak men make for hard times. Hard times make for stronger women. Strong women bring back tolerable times.

Messengers of Chaos

Instagram: Street People of Los Angeles

The universe keeps sending messengers. Runners. Heralds.

I picked up a young man from a house party Saturday night.  He had two brand new MacBooks tucked under his shirt. He spent the entire ride bragging to a friend on the phone how he had just stolen them from his unsuspecting hosts.

He was from Chicago, on a weekend furlough from the Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms.  He got himself a motel room in Hollywood, hit the bars, met some girls, accepted an invitation to a house party, saw two laptops in an empty room and couldn’t think of any good reason to just leave them there and now couldn’t wait to tell people, and didn’t mind my overhearing every word.  A Marine, no less.

How much of this do we attribute to a particular morality he carried with him from Chicago and how much to a cultural understanding Los Angeles has become a City Without Handcuffs? There’s no way to know.

We are coasting on the assumptions of a high-trust society when the basis for that trust has eroded and may no longer be present.  We are behaving as though America 2019 was still operative.

Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, “On The Town” 1949

On Friday a group of West Point cadets on spring break in Florida decided to do some blow. And why not? I would have. In fact, I did, many times, in an era of safety before the Russian roulette of drug consumption brought about by Fentanyl. Four cadets overdosed on the spot. Two more overdosed through secondary transmission while administering CPR. Six dead in the yard of the rental house, a seventh now on a ventilator.

America has lost nearly 200,00o people to drugs since the passing of George Floyd. The majority of those deaths were Fentanyl-related.  Unlike opium, which is produced around the world, the precursor chemicals are solely from China.  The distribution networks run through Mexico.

It’s almost like…a military invasion.  But no one is allowed to call it that.

If you want to sap the will of your opponents, send in a pestilence.  Like Lenin to St. Petersburg on a sealed train in April 1917, courtesy of the German Army.  By October Russia abandoned the front, and he was in the Winter Palace establishing his “dictatorship of the proletariat”.

Vladimir arrives at the Finland Station

America will take more than five months to collapse. But it won’t take twenty years either.  She is undergoing a Great Unwinding from a constitutional republic to an oligarchy run out of San Francisco and New York.  She has no enforced borders and no guaranteed rights not subject to revision by corporate managers. She has “elections” nullified by the administrative state.  Her citizens no longer possess local control of schools or zoning or bodily autonomy. The only monopoly on violence is held in trust by the media who licenses its use to preferred groups.

She is transitioning…into something of which Buffalo Bill and Davos might approve.

Counterintintuitively, Van Nuys may fare better than the rest of the country.   Most of the shitty things have happened here already. It’s baked into the cake.

Railroad Portrait Mystery

On my pre-prandial constitutional through the Pacoima Wash I happened upon a painting displayed near the homeless encampment, prompting me to take a picture.

These two men hurried appeared out of the tarp houses, Roberto on the right, and his unnamed hype man, who insisted I purchase it for $20.

I asked Roberto if he was the artist. He shrugged, and stared at the work as though he were impersonating a museum patron. Paint he had not upon his hands.

Who was the portrait of?  Roberto mumbled and shrugged. “The Lady,” insisted the Hype Man. Which lady?  Gesturing toward the the storm channel: “Over there”.

It was a grunting, Spanglish-y conversation, more mannerism than truth.

Did Roberto have more paintings? Sure. Where are they? He didn’t know. I suggested he do a series of portraits, hang them on the fence to attract interest.

Hype Man, again: “Twenty dollar. You buy?”  “It looks unfinished,” I replied, by way of excuse.

As I walked home toward dinner, I couldn’t decide which would be the better story, a thwarted Van Gogh living under a tarp, or my unhoused neighbors leveling up from recycling bottles to recycling yard sale art.

The blurry unfinished look of the painting reminded me of the botched fresco restoration of Jesus in the Santuario de Misericodia in Borja, Spain. It’s probably what caught my eye in the first place. The woman who attempted the restoration was an amateur who meant well. Failure makes us more human and she failed so completely the crown of thorns was no longer visible.

She turned the fresco into something one might find at a yard sale. If it was unfinished before it was damn well finished now.  Ecce Homo.

Always take the railroad.  Never a dull moment.

Valley of Ghosts

The writing is on the wall, say the people who have left L.A., people now safely ensconced in the bluest dot available in a red state, the people to whom I listen on podcasts while walking the dogs in the early darkness that comes at 5pm now.

My Valley is haunted by the ghosts of those who have left but also those who have retreated indoors where a certain kind of life can be cultivated through the meticulous curation of deferred dreams and a supporting cast of delivery people.

But outside…the city we know and love is going away, piece by piece. First the reciprocal bonds of citizenship, then guardrails of safety, now tolerance and civility.

I step around people like this man multiple times a day, and no longer marvel at how much money swirls the drain, how many six figure salaries are paid out in Los Angeles to service ghosts.

Instead I wonder what ghosts dream of when they reach for the sidewalk.    What have they discarded in their crawl to perdition?

People used to arrive in the Valley with ambitions as basic as an affordable apartment or as grandiose as YouTube stardom. Now they come to colonize public spaces in a medicated permanent twilight.

This is not the worst urban malady, only the most visible one.  De-policing, vax mandate-related layoffs and the institutionalized hypocrisy of the elites will inflict greater long-term harm.

Who with influence over public policy practices the inclusivity he preaches? I shouldn’t use the categorical, but yeah, basically no one.

The Alexan, NoHo West

And yet…while all this is unfolding, construction continues apace. The pre-2020 fever dreams of an urbanized, vertical Valley remain in a state of forward momentum. For now.   Like a freighter coasting to port on a dead propeller.

As these urban villages go online, what happens if there are few takers for the new units?    I can think of two recently completed buildings in Van Nuys at around 25% capacity, going by all the unlit windows.  With hundreds more units completing in the next six months we’ll learn just how viable Los Angeles remains.

We’re poised between two fates. Boarded up storefronts and lifestyle emporiums on the same block.  We cling to the memory of 2019 in the expectation a course correction is due any day, because…because it has to, right? Things are not as bad as 1992, not yet, and we came back from that, right?

America of 1992 had very different demographics, a shared narrative, and wasn’t living in a state of permanent gaslighting.  It didn’t have depraved billionaires funding political street violence and installing prosecutors who refuse to enforce laws.

The recall of D.A. George Gascon, an easy sell ten years ago, failed twice to gather enough signatures.  Los Angeles 3.0 will have to find a way to transcend our historic political paradigm if its going to work.

For now I am obliged to place my faith (and hard won equity) in working-class Latinos, Armenian and Korean merchants to practice a California version of Irish Democracy.  I hope for a golden mean between the chaos unleashed by the Clerisy and the self-interest of honest people who don’t have Laptop Jobs and the luxury of partaking in the urban exodus, people who will fight, if not for the city as a whole, then at least for the block they live on.

That’s the ghost I cling to.  Sometimes I am, to paraphrase a dear friend, my own worst enemy.

Ogdenville, North Haverbrook…Van Nuys

Coming in 2033, or 2057. Or maybe not at all.

Lyle Lanley stopped by. He has a monorail to offer us.

It’s official. Two consortiums have been hired to submit plans to LA Metro for the decades-in-discussion Sepulveda Pass Project.  Numinous configurations have been proposed over the years but the finalists are:

Sepulveda at Weddington

1) A $6 billion monorail above ground from the Expo Line in West LA to the Van Nuys Amtrak station, splitting the 405, or:

The Bechtel version
The Bechtel Map

2) A $10 billion heavy rail line (think NYC) running underground from UCLA to Sherman Oaks, coming up for air just south of Valley Vista, then becoming an aerial over Sepulveda Blvd.

Stranded in traffic, we are to weep in envy as it zips over our heads.

Both plans terminate at the yet-to-break ground East Valley Metro line on Van Nuys Blvd. Both hang a hard right at Raymer Street and claim to reach the Bundy Expo Line station in 20 minutes.

All that infrastructure headed right for Mr. UpintheValley’s backyard.  Who knew?  I would feel like a rather cunning real estate buyer if I didn’t know how long this will take.

It would be the biggest public works project in California since…High-Speed Rail from Bakersfield to Modesto. The 405 in the Sepulveda Pass is the most congested stretch of freeway in the United States. In a reasonable and rational world we would have built this instead, built it 20 years ago, or at least during the four years we spent widening the roadway, but here we are.

The terminus

The Raymer Street angle fascinates me, having walked through this low rise industrial neighborhood for years: granite yards, supply houses and weed shops.  The Favela sprouting at the edges.  The two rail lines need to intersect somewhere and the Amtrak/Metrolink station would make it a 3-for-1.  But there is no getting around the fact the train would be going to a location which for now lacks housing.

To make it pencil out, the area will have to be rezoned mixed-use residential.  What am I saying? Nothing has to pencil out. We are in the uncanny valley of architectural renderings and near-futurism.  Wait till the Sherman Oaks and Bel Air Homeowners associations get into the mix.

As an opium dream its frigging awesome.

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:

Prisoners

A Zoom neighborhood, at rush hour

We have reached the one year anniversary of 15 Days to Flatten the Curve.    Which, let’s be honest, has been a nationwide exercise in poor people delivering pleasures to the wealthy and privileged. Indefinitely.

A year of “journalists” berating the little people on behalf of billionaires and government workers and the professional classes.

A year of dhimmitude and mask theater and gaslighting.

A year of Karen screaming at people going about their business, outdoors, bothering no one.

Having surrendered sovereignty to unaccountable and hypocritical actors, how does one bloom in the new Post-Constitutional America™?

I think about this when I encounter trees growing in confined spaces.  Some species do better than others. They reach deeper into the soil. They break the concrete around them. Consider this liberty in action. Reach deeper. Don’t ask permission.

The alternative looks like this.

Be anti-fragile.  Bloom from the weephole in the scorching concrete.  Don’t ask permission.  Stop submitting.  Don’t be a prisoner.  Reach for the light. Take your mask off.

Like this guy.

Breaking Apples


Two years ago, UTLA went out on strike for a 6% pay increase and Vista Middle School was selected as one of the sites for a picket line. As a neighbor and husband of a teacher, I walked up there in an act of skeptical solidarity, to see how the shakedown of Los Angeles taxpayers was progressing.

What struck me at the time was the amount of honking support they received from passing cars in working-class Latino Van Nuys.

The outcome was preordained. The union banged the spoon and L.A. surrendered everything it wanted.   Plus seconds. And dessert. What followed was Soviet-era astroturfed propaganda from UTLA bathing in the adulation of a grateful public, paid for by…the same public, who had no say in the matter.

Fast forward to 2020, and to the Wuhan virus.  In a time of shared sacrifice and difficulty, guess who didn’t want to report to work and had the power not to do so and to be paid anyway?

Only 36% of students in L.A. Unified regularly engaged in distance learning, i.e. turned in homework and completed tests, i.e., received an education.  This is desertion in the face of the enemy.  It would be bad to do this to kids for a semester. For three semesters in a row, across two academic years?

Suffice to say, this is not what schools are doing in China. Or Korea. Or Europe. Or Texas.  This is not what is happening at the prep school where Mrs. UpintheValley teaches.

Getty Images

What if Wuhan isn’t killing people so much as breaking America as we once understood it? What if the pandemic is a political toxin in medical drag?

To judge it by its works, if you were told a year ago that one-third of small businesses would be put to death by government policy, would you have believed me?  What if I said the richest men in America would see their fortunes expand by 50%, also due to government policy? That the educational divide between public and private schools would become unbridgeable? That the tectonic plates between those who could telecommute and the service class who delivered their comforts would shift to the point they no longer touched? That the chief beneficiary of these changes would be China itself, which would exercise a veto over the discussion of pandemic origins by dangling the carrot of access to its markets? That the infrastructure of think tanks and academic departments which might serve as a bulwark of market critique would be revealed to be funded by China? That Zoom would become indispensable to our work life and TikTok embedded in our play and both would be Chinese owned? That teenagers in Wuhan would be throwing Lollapalooza-sized pool parties while Americans cowered in masks in the outdoors, fearing a scold of Karens. That bureaucrats would presume extra-constitutional powers. That the first amendment would become fully fungible to corporate diktats. That every cable network would maintain a death clock that magically disappeared with the departure of Trump, the first president to renegotiate trade agreements with China in terms more favorable to American workers, if only slightly.

A more fearless America, during the 1969 Swine flu

That’s a lot of damage for 12 months. We can’t do much about geopolitical arrangements, but we can do something about Vista Middle School.  We know a few things we didn’t know a year ago. Children are not at risk and are low vectors of transmission. Teachers are not retail workers.  They can temp check every child who enters the building. They can demand plexiglass barriers and daily disinfection of classrooms. They can also accept the reciprocal obligations of public service to the working-class Van Nuysians who supported them when they were banging the spoon for more money.