This is what came into my in-box today from my subscribed “Van Nuys” Google Alert:
Yesterday, I was at my mother’s bedside, as I have been many Sundays since January.
My 10-year-old niece Ava was there too, propped up in front of my mom on the rented hospital bed, her violet eyes shaded by a straw hat. And my sister-in-law Pri sat nearby in a white leather chair, resplendent in white crochet shorts, and a fitted denim shirt covering her fit and polished body.
Outside the windows, whose northern view stretches from Hollywood to Santa Monica, the Marina sky blew weird and malformed haze and clouds, the type that indicates rain in any normal city but whose presence in the Southland is always ignored.
We were talking about mean girls, and then we were talking about kitchen renovations, moving a refrigerator to the other side of the door. We were talking about a new couch in the Living Room. And I was invited to do my imitation of my brother at work, which evoked laughter from his daughter.
And then there was a thunderous boom. Followed minutes later by the sirens and the fire trucks speeding down Admiralty Way.
I went onto Twitter and checked Venice 311. I learned lightning had struck 7 people. Every few minutes I looked. Until The Tweats said a body was floating near the shore.
And then they confirmed a man was killed by what we had heard, electrocuted in the Pacific Ocean near Washington Boulevard.
He went into the water and entered eternity on an 8 million to one chance.
Later on, as it always does in Los Angeles, the sun came out. We lifted my mother out of her bed, into her wheelchair, and pushed her along Washington Blvd. past skateboarders, bikers, and runners.
On the beach, near the sand, were parked the trucks from KCAL and KABC and cars from LAPD. Above us helicopters hovered in the sky.
These were the only clues that something tragic and meaningless had recently come out of the sky, weather that blew fast, dark and deathly over the water, taking away 20-year-old Nick Fagnano, a student swimming on a Sunday, a young man loved by family and friends.
I stopped by MacLeod Ale in Van Nuys last night.
The mood was low-key. Scottish music played. People sat on stools in the cool air-conditioning. The servers were jokey.
Brewer Andy Black, serious and studious as usual, was in back testing his brew for sugar content.
At the new wood tables up front, people sat, drank beer and ate pizzas and truck food from Haute Burger.
This good looking couple came all the way from Haskell Street in Lake Balboa.
And outside the brewery, as night closed in, the dented cars and steel fences stood motionless as another long, hot day on Calvert Street went dark.
Yesterday, near downtown Santa Monica, on a strangely cloudy and drizzly summer morning, I drove west, unintentionally, into blocked roads, past barriers and bulldozers.
Men were tearing down buildings, punching holes in plate glass windows and digging trenches.
The long winding humanitarian project known as the Expo Line had made its way from central Los Angeles, sweeping through Culver City, catapulting by bridge and track into West Los Angeles and finding itself and its destination next to the Pacific.
The empty shell of Midas, a beautiful Spanish Revival structure, lay in ruins, a stomach full of bricks and wood, its ornate ornament ready for obliteration.
50 years ago, the novelist Alison Lurie wrote a novel, “The Nowhere City” set in some places along the soon-to-be-demolished houses in the path of the Santa Monica Freeway.
Yesterday, near downtown Santa Monica, I saw the sequel to that book.
After half a century, the Nowhere City Goes Somewhere: on foot and bike and rail.
Edward Ruscha [roo-SHAY] (b. 1937) has had a long career in Los Angeles making poetry out of banality. His photographs of Los Angeles apartment buildings, gas stations and other drive-by scenery was ground breaking art in the 1960s.
“26 Gas Stations” (1962) ,with its now widely available Rockwell Standard Font, has been copied so much it has turned Rusha into cliché.
I found these fascinating studies of parking lots seen from above that Ruscha made in 1967. They show Van Nuys (and North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks) paved over and baked in sun. Patterns of suburban development, diagonal lines and box stores, trailer parks and shopping centers, become cubist abstractions from Ruscha’s bird’s eye view.
These are all in the collections of the UK Tate Gallery. They sell for many thousands of dollars, are collected by wealthy people, and hang on the walls of large homes from East Hampton to Knightsbridge.
When you are sober, remember: some very important people in the art world consider aerial photographs of Van Nuys’ parking lots as collectible art.
Officiating at a beauty contest: actor William Demarest who became “Uncle Charlie” on TV’s My Three Sons (1960-72)
“Hi Neighbor” queen candidates at Valley Municipal Building in Van Nuys, CA, May 4, 1951.
Actor William Demarest, Marlene Morrison, Janet Samprenant, Marine Sergeant Bob Fowler.
(Photo: USC Digital Archives)
At the corner of 15856 Sherman Way , Van Nuys, 1926.
Wagner-Thoreson appears to be a real estate broker and they are offering one property, a 3-bedroom house at $2350 and another sign advertises 7.5% terms with $1,050 down.
This area today is west of the 405, and just east of Van Nuys Airport.
Photo: USC Digital Archives/ Dick Whittington Collection
Cancer, homecare, medicines, hospice, chemo, wheelchair, bone cancer, lung cancer, cough syrup, Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Remeron, Sinemet, Morphine, adult diapers, sponge baths, bowel movements, stool softeners, rehab, oncologist, nurse, radiation, constipation, oxygen, Stage Four, terminal, incurable, cremation.
For seven months I’ve swum in a whirlpool of ugly words.
Yesterday, again, I went down to see my mom at her apartment. One homecare worker was leaving, another arriving. I came in with four bags of groceries and went back to the bedroom.
She was in bed.
The TV was on. I think it was “The View”.
I sat down on the carpet in front of her bed, the only way she can see me, straight ahead.
Bertha came in with matzo ball soup. I ate two bowls. She fed my mom a few bites.
In the afternoon, I took my mom for a “walk” in her wheelchair.
I picked her up, limp and frail, and moved her from the horizontal position on the bed into her chair. Seated now, I put the pedals on, guiding her weak legs and purple feet into position over the pads.
I squeezed a pillow behind her curved back, and pulled her arms up into a zippered sweatshirt. I draped and folded a blue terry cloth blanket across her lap. Sunglasses went over her eyes, a hoodie atop her head.
I pushed the steel chair and the woman in it out of the bedroom, past the front door of the apartment, into the elevator riding down, through the dark parking garage. And out into the brilliant sun, out into the fresh and salty wind.
A key opened the locked steel gate along the long dock where cruisers, sailboats and yachts were docked. Between the boats and the buildings, that’s where we went.
The hi-rise, swinging sixties apartments along the Marina, with their curved balconies, they were made for tanned stewardesses, white shirted pilots, Irish-American boat captains, cocktails on the sea, cigarettes and sex, lovemaking and laughter.
Architects and developers back then, like now, were drunk on youth, novelty and modernity.
Nobody was supposed to get old. Nobody was meant to come here disabled, wrapped in blankets, pushed along the harbor watching other people have fun. Wheels were the Red’68 Bonneville Convertible- not the walker and the wheelchair.
We walked past Killer Shrimp and crossed the asphalt to the other side where they were renting paddleboats and paddle boards. I pushed my mother to the end of a dock inside the lakelike Mother’s Beach.
On the dock, my mother in her chair, me pushing her almost to the edge, a sinister thought entered my mind.
I thought of Technicolor Gene Tierney in “Leave Her to Heaven”(1944) where she let a crippled boy, her husband’s brother, drown in a cold lake.
If I had the evil gene of Gene I might act on hard and cruel impulse and push mom into the water, an act of mercy perhaps, saving her from the eventuality of dying in bed from fluid in her lungs or some other unforeseen killer.
Instead, I pulled back and fastened her brakes. I took out my phone and photographed my living mother motionless on the ocean dock.
Hours later I was at the Whole Foods bar with Travis, drinking a Scotch Ale, listening to a ravishing real estate agent, talk about her teen son’s abusing father, and her fight to cure her child.
Pretty, like the actress Susan Lucci, she grew up in Venice and talked as if she had sold many millions of dollars of houses in the new rich bohemia.
My buddy, much younger, broader-shouldered, deeper-voiced and all man, listened to her as she massaged him with her eyes.
She showed us pin-up shots of her on the Samsung screen, sexy images that made me ask, intoxicated as I was, what exactly she was selling.
Around us in Whole Foods, was the whirlpool of beauty and freaks that swirls in the aisles among the organic fruits and vegetables: tall women, muscular men, old women in running shorts; beards, tattoos and pegged pants, rolled cuffs, razor cuts, canvas bags, kale and 90% cocoa chocolate bars.
Travis and the real estate agent left, going their separate ways, but I stayed longer, waiting for the beer to wear off. I amused myself by photographing the green-eyed young clerk Joey.
I am not an alcoholic, but I now can see, with ease, the attraction of numbing pain, blocking sadness, loosening tension. I will willingly submit to its temporal benefits and consoling pleasures.
As I did last night for a few hours after dusk.
One day soon, I will come down here to Venice and Marina Del Ray.
And my mother will be gone.
And I will think of these months, the ones that came about in 2014, where sickness and impending death arrived without warning.
And I will remember the endless summer of insipid profundity, the strange and incongruous times of illness and fun, the months on watch seeing her decline in Marina Del Rey.
Who dares to die in a place where pleasure pushes along unimpeded on bike, in swimming pools, on jogging paths, on tennis courts, at volleyball games?
The parking lot at Wendy’s (6181 Sepulveda at Erwin) is full of trash. It has been that way for many months.
The scene: shopping baskets full of garbage, discarded clothes, fast food containers, and all the litter that a Wendy’s can produce.
Conversations with the man who cleans the parking lot at Wendy’s, along with a visit to an employee at Wendy’s has produced no results. They tell me that the responsibility for cleaning belongs to LA Fitness Van Nuys, even though the towing signs along the cinderblock are all “Wendy’s”.
LA Fitness takes care of everything in their newly paved area, but Wendy’s takes care of nothing except what is directly around the sidewalks on their building perimeter.
Why is this tolerated?
Sheer laziness and neglect and the refusal to take responsibility and pride: that is Wendy’s doing.
The victims are anyone who lives in Van Nuys and the surrounding community.
I was in Santa Monica yesterday afternoon. I parked near Pico and Ocean to capture the waning light of day on camera.
The entire “Civic Center” area, surrounding the toxically secretive Rand Corporation, is undergoing massive redevelopment. There is a new park, a new subway line (arriving 2015), new condos and “affordable housing”, plus promised shops, restaurants and hotels.
The City of Santa Monica has a website describing the project.
“The three-acre site is an urban mix of 160 affordable rental residences and 158 luxury condominiums, 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, and walkable plazas and gardens. A walk street was created as a central spine through the site, providing pedestrians with a connection from Main Street to Ocean Avenue through landscaped plazas lined with retail, restaurants and outdoor dining, and public art.”
I went into the walk street yesterday and explored part of the new development.
At 6pm I was the only one.
I walked through angles and shadows past empty balconies shaded in darkness. Trapezoids and bands of glass, rectangles and vertical piers jutted out and sliced in, a silent symphony of architecture performing to an empty house. On Main Street, near a guard station, a sign ominously informed:
THIS AREA UNDER VIDEO SURVEILLANCE
A little while later, I wandered back into an old neighborhood of crummy and cute houses south of Pico, and stopped at the corner of Third at Bicknell.
Atop the hilly street stood a strange, red-domed apartment, The Baron’s Castle. Piled above blocky stucco boxes, the exotic building of unknown origins held my eye. Its finial pointed up: leading, concluding, summarizing.
No great architect built this mess. But it felt honest, uncontrived, alive, accidental, human and organic.
With its cars parked under the first floor overhang, its ridiculously flimsy arched balconies, it was a reminder of how good bad architecture sometimes feels.
I was glad to end my walk here, staring up into spiritually redolent kitsch, irreverent and improvised. It reminded me of the people who live here, in exile, in rented costume, temporarily young, broken-hearted, dreaming, intoxicated, high, sober, scraping by, entertained; seduced by sea and sun.
How many tanned generations fucked and broke up and got together inside the many boxes under the red-tiled dome? What accidents of existence brought people here? And how fitting that they settled into a place imperfect and incomplete.
The great architects who did not build The Baron’s Castle were employed on other places where perfection of form never quite ignited human passion.
Yesterday, I had walked through one perfection of form, a lavishly funded and now completed architectural plan, vetted by the government of Santa Monica, tended to by teams of architects, engineers, landscapers, designers and lawyers.
And found myself hungry.
More is less. Too much is much less.