In North Hills, at Plummer, west of Sepulveda, the old and new San Fernando Valley sit side-by-side, stretched out on hot flat roads baking in sun.
North of Plummer, along asphalt and stone paved Orion Avenue, remnants of large properties sit in dry decay, pits of impoverished ranches behind dumps of rusted old cars, tarp covered boats, obese RVs, piles of wood, barking dogs, torn up sofas and iron gates. Un-watered and un-loved, once young and lush, now mangled and vandalized, blocks of withering draught, many acres of empty ruin, sit neglected and forgotten beside the roaring 405.
Rural delivery mailboxes, elderly Aloe Vera clumped and planted along the road, sawed stumps of logs, green Valley Oaks on yellow grasses, tall and proud wooden utility poles, cyclone fences; the San Fernando Valley of 1945 awaits its final pronouncement of death on this stretch of Orion.
And then there is a border crossing at Plummer.
South of here, the streets are crowded, full of cars, pick-ups, street food, apartments, children, fat women in black spandex, tagged walls. The hum of traffic and the sound of Spanish, the ringing bells of ice cream on wheels, the smoke and smells of taco trucks, the improvised milk crates set up al fresco in a church parking lot for cheap and exhausted dining, the young fathers and mothers pushing strollers and herding children along, the food signs for pollo, jarritos, sodas, asada; in the churches, on the faces, behind the apartment doors: the presence of Jesus in every corner. Selling food, fixing cars, repairing tires: industrious, solicitous, hard-working people find a way to earn a dollar in myriad ways.
A poor barrio of exiles pushes its agonies and joys along, making new babies, holding onto life in the dust and noise, a small vital, gritty corner of the San Fernando Valley, feared and despised, loved and appreciated, rejected and courted, here for good.
Motto For a City
I was driving west on Hollywood Blvd last week. Stopped at a light, right near the 101, I saw this poster in the window of a small shop.
Applicable to many who migrated here, it sets in words, the struggles and dreams, both won and lost, of men and women, defeated and determined, working and surviving, to transform their lives into something more significant.
I found the words poignant and sacramental, holy and human, a unifying testament of we the people, a city of angels: fallen and sinful, redeemed and reborn, for all time.
At the bottom of the print is the word cyrcle, a link to the art community that created the poster.
At LA’s first art book show at the Geffen in Little Tokyo yesterday, all the skinny people known to exist in the city of Los Angeles, all 2,000 of them, were gathered inside a large hall of ramps and rooms, to inspect and gather and pose, amongst the Instagrams, hundreds of homemade and craft printed ephemera, posters, books and many penis pictures provided by the coffee cupping community of handsome and intelligentsia.
Let the word go forth that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans–born after Dynasty went off the air, tempered by texts, disciplined by hard drives, proud of their smoky perfumes, determined to create and propagate nihilism.
Within eye and hand reach, the brilliance and magnificence of our artistic world, the modern culture of Los Angeles, here it stood proudly, the Van Goghs, Picassos and Michaelangelos of our era gathered in one room.
There was JIMMY, self-described as “An LA based queer zine with beard appeal…published in the hills of Silver Lake and the heart of Hollywood, inspired by the classic fag mag format…”
Aaron Krach, based in NY, was “an artist and writer who collects stuff and gives stuff away.”
Little Joe, from the UK, was about queers and cinema.
The Austrians were represented, not by Maria Von Trapp or Adolf Hitler, but lower case springerin, a quarterly magazine “which addresses a public that perceives cultural phenomena as socially and politically determined.”
And Susan Mills’ books “reflect an interest in language that is not written for publication” and she asserts, blankly and clearly, that she is “drawn to a tabula rasa quality”.
Finally, there was Strange Attractors.
It explores investigations in non-humanoid extraterrestrial sexuality.
We know that there may be life on other planets. But fantastically the possibility exists that it may not come from a vagina and penis. The orgasm may be fired by ray gun. Zero gravity and floating upside down might assist oral copulation. One-eyed cyborgs, reptilian monsters and their love life inspires these romantic artists, filmmakers and visionaries.
If that cums to pass, and sexually obscure visitors from another universe descend upon the City of Angels, humans may learn that a penis may not represent all possibility and potential. And the art world as it exists in Los Angeles will be doomed.
I first become aware of this mutant word amazing spreading over the land, in 1989, when I started work at Ralph Lauren in NYC.
The store manager, red-haired, tailored up to his ears in custom shirt, knotted tie, and dunked in half a gallon of Diptyque’s Olene, would take his hands and adjust our collars or necktie before releasing us onto the sales floor to insure we properly emitted the aura of Polo to the public.
We were only let go when he said: “You look a-mazing”.
Twenty-four years later, amazing has our tongues in a vize grip. Reality TV, HGTV, make-overs, cooking shows, tweats and texts, all of it is infected with amazing.
It isn’t hard to find. It comes out of Andy Cohen, Michael Kors, and any 13-year-old girl on Facebook.
Its usage fits in with the penchant for American exaggeration and hype, to create a super-sized sales pitch for ordinary events and mundane things: Amazing omelette, amazing frying pan, amazing kid, amazing coffee, amazing Mom, amazing day, amazing walk, amazing sun, amazing beer, amazing toilet paper.
Amazing was once was reserved for a spectacular and rare event, such as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which President Rutherford B. Hayes pronounced, “All surprisingly beautiful, amazing, unequalled…”
How noble and spectacular that World’s Fair was and how fittingly it was spoken of.
Once it bequeathed and anointed a World’s Fair. Now it is used in salad dressings and baked potatoes.
Here are some comments, chosen randomly, from the food blog White on Rice:
I love Cristina’s potatoes, they are amazing!
It’s amazing what can happen in a garden over a few summer days. Last week we headed up to Park City, UT for the amazing Evo Conference.
You’re photos are amazing and now I want to go visit Boulder CO!
We could see and smell the amazing flavors that a slow roasted fig could become.
When we asked all you amazing readers for tomato recipes, you all inspired us tremendously … Thank you for all that, you amazing people!
What you see before you are some truly luscious, silky, delicious and amazing blood orange bars.
That is all I have to say. I am off to go take an amazing dump…..
We were walking in Santa Monica and came across something gross and disturbing. It was called “Restoration Hardware Baby & Child“. Inside this store, there are $1200 cribs, a $1600 “children’s sofa”, fur bedspreads, fur sleeping bags for pre-schoolers, and a $1300 Versailles chair for a child. We ask ourselves (rightfully) about the gun culture in America, yet some of our non-violent spending values and domestic priorities are completely askew.
Something to think about during the Christmas Season.
The following post has nothing to do with Van Nuys….
Looking back on events and news stories that once excited or amused Southern California, I came across this odd story found in the USC Digital Archives Collection.
It seems that in 1960, a group of San Fernando Valley women wanted to attend a meeting of the San Gabriel Humane Society. And they were excluded, which caused a ruckus, requiring a cop to come and restore order.
At the center of one photo, an old disabled woman, sitting in a wheelchair, covered in a plaid blanket, wears a fur hat, and is attended to by a young actress in a fur stole, Lily Fontaine.
The whole scene is very Hitchcockian, infused with a newsreel documentary feel, but somehow feels other worldly, very Twilight Zone. The women, stocky, frumpy, self-assured, are dressed in the workaday woolen dresses and coats of that time, and had gone somewhere out of their comfort zone, deep into the San Gabriel Valley, for humanitarian reasons. The motorcycle cop is like the mirrored sunglasses cop in Psycho (1960) who pulls up behind Marion Crane asleep in her parked car and knocks her awake.
Old photos show old fashions, clothing that was meant to cover up and to theatricalize. Ordinary events: car crashes, people eating lunch, women standing around, look interesting to us. They are interesting because the participants are in costumes: they are on a stage, they are emoting with sartorial gestures. Women in capes, women in furs, women in hats, women in earrings, women in heels; these are special and ornamented and enriching.
Most likely this photo depicts an utterly banal and boring event. But it looks like something fun because of the formality of the wearers.
What mission they were on, we cannot know. But they were stopped from completing it, and left outdoors, to commiserate and to contemplate, one day, 52 years ago.
“Photographer: Swaim. Date: 1960-01-21. Reporter: Swaim. Assignment: Humane hassle. 37/38: Group of woman [sic] (part of the 30) who were excluded from meeting of San Gabriel Valley Humane Society. They claim to be members. In wheelchair in center is Mrs. Elizabeth Cummer of Studio City. Stooping to talk to her is Lily Fontaine, Encino actress. 25: Shot from outside fence, showing San Gabriel officer who was sent to keep order.
Once or twice, I’ve implied, on this blog, about the deep conservatism of the car show crowd.
I stand by my intuition and observation, as shown by this Romney bumper sticker incongruously and sloppily stuck on the back of a 1956 Ford at Bob’s in Burbank last Friday evening.
Car people are particular. Engines are buffed, vacuumed and wiped flawless with glass cleaner. A piece of dust under a foot pedal is upsetting. So it must be quite a matter of some significance to deface an exquisitely perfect 1956 Ford bumper with a taped on Romney sticker.
Car shows are also about nostalgia. They represent what we imagine and love about the past, a past that never ages or grows old, whose icons and places, Elvis and Ike, Van Nuys Boulevard and the Hollywood Freeway were once young, promising and fresh.
The machines of 50 or 60 years ago had style, they were adventurous in design and innovation, capable of exciting and seducing us, in a way that new cars do not. They ran fast, they took us to drive-in movies, to midnight picnics on the beach, up the road to hide and make out in the moonlit orange groves in the back of a convertible.
In the car show fantasy, nobody ever sat in traffic on a freeway and commuted to a dull job as an actuary in an insurance company. Everyone had a permanent erection and a pretty young thing next to them. And every night was Friday night.
Now the car show crowd is hot and heavy, excited and worked up over the next new marketing invention, Willard Mitt Romney.
31 years after Ronald Reagan took office, the car show crowd is again hoping that a reassuring old model will be inaugurated, a model whose exterior charms and surface good looks represent the best of what America can be, a model male whose wealth, beautiful children and blonde wife stand as proof of the veracity of our nation’s promise, a leader whose banal aphorisms and smooth clichés may soothe our rotted souls and whose lies and reversals masquerade as moderatism.
Like a new car, the new president promises good times, advertising his suitability for any family, his practical experience on the road, his durability, his proven assets, all dramatized in commercials, on stage, in front of an audience of millions. He is shiny, buffed and prosperous.
But there is one deep, dark pothole, on the road to Romney, which may cause him to lose his political goal.
If, by the intervention of Satan, Obama is re-elected, the car show crowd will grumble and groan. The old, red-nosed, white-haired men with their fold-out, blue, big cup chairs and plastic flags will still gather at Bob’s; but the talk, of taxes and debt, war and health care, the big issues, those will once again go underground in hibernation, for four more years, and the focus will shift back to 1955, 1962, 1969, 1972, a past that never dies, a young and eternal past which the old haunt like a prospector panning for gold in a dried up stream bed.
It’s a strange place, down there, along the Pacific, in Laguna, Newport Beach and Irvine.
On Saturday I went there, escaping Van Nuys, escaping anomie and suffocating heat, breezing down the 405, past LAX and Long Beach. And then into the clean, protected, and planned campus development at UC Irvine where my friend lives on a new spaghetti tangled street, a stucco housing project locatable only on GPS.
He is a professor and his tan house sits on a breezy Eucalyptus hill, alongside hundreds of other tan and brown houses and glass walled gardens that overlook a windy panorama of mega-churches, green parkways, community centers and gated communities.
Trees, windows, lampposts, paint colors, plants, every element of exterior has been plotted and chosen and codified into law so no house differs too much from any other.
My friend, gay and Vietnamese born, assured me that there was great diversity on the street, behind the vinyl windows and just blown driveways, a diversity of color, religion and gender.
We went out to lunch and drove down lushly planted Newport Coast Drive, a dizzying speedway descending to the Pacific, surrounded by gated mansionette communities of red-tiled Mediterranean styles, Reaganesque in conception, reeking of aspiration and asphyxiation, synthetic and grandiose; so many high-altitude houses packed on terraced hillsides perfumed by sprays of fog.
Two neo-classical archways stood on each side of Newport Coast Drive at Pacific Coast Highway, pretentious and plastic Arc de Triomphe models. The grandeur of the Pacific was enough for the old Newport Beach, which built modest cottages and let nature rule man. But new Newport must announce itself, as it did along this resort roadway. It must assert and announce, loudly, copious liquidity and cosmetic identity, even when it’s as false and phony as an Octogenarian’s botoxed forehead.
We parked in an outdoor mall, also landscaped with many trees and flowers, a shopping center under the arches and scented vines, where $109,000 hybrid automobiles were parked under the chandeliers, and whose lavishness was incongruously displayed next to Trader Joes and the Gap.
We came here, not to shop, but to park, illegally, and sneak down to Crystal Cove where the beach is still free and anyone in the water is equal under the eyes of God.
On the beach it was beautiful, as it always is on a day off work, with rocks and sand and gentle cliffs, waves and little tidal formations of lichen, mussels, and barnacles. It was a child’s paradise too, a natural world of salt water and aqua hues, a visual respite from video.
I was at peace on Saturday, in the present, out of my normal frame of mind darkly churning in the past or frozen in fear of the future.
I was in a good mood that day, and I was content.
I have to remember to come to the beach more often. It’s really the best part of the Golden State.
Everything bad and disturbing in California, as well as all well-meaning plans and proposals of this state, all of it is swallowed up in the tide. Nothing compares to the eternal waves and endless crash of what comes in and what goes out, around the clock. And what remains of sand, water and rock.
Photo by Andy Hurvitz
I just came back from two weeks in Malaysia, coinciding with the celebrations for the arrival of the Year of the Dragon.
I stayed with friends who are really family, and their extended group, which included some from Switzerland.
I had not been to Malaysia since 1997, a time that now seems so far in the past, before the smart phone or digital cameras or 9/11.
In Malaysia, in the old, historic, packed and thriving city of Melaka, we ate Chicken Rice and Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai, Fish Ball Soup, oranges and tiny bananas, shrimp sambal and fried noodles with chili and soy sauce, oysters and scrambled eggs, fish head curry and Rojak Buah Nyonya (Fruits and vegetable in peanut sauce).
The streets are full of bicycles, cars, scooters, trucks- and none of them will stop for pedestrians. When the rains come, as they do every afternoon, the sudden torrent of showers forces the bike riders to pull over and wait under bridges for the storm to pass.
The Malay women wear a colorful, printed Baju Kurung, the knee-length blouse over a long skirt, filling drab alleys and rundown streets with brightness and hue. In accordance with tradition and Islam, the women have a tropical gorgeousness that is unique to Malaysia.
We visited friends for the Chinese New Year, going to houses where people offered cookies and bowls of oranges and orange drinks, where people wore red shirts and red dresses and hung red lanterns and red curtains.
We went to the temple and brought food for spirits and lit incense sticks and burned paper money and threw it into an ash pit.
At night, every night, for many nights, the skies were smoky and lit up with fireworks and firecrackers and the festivities lasted well into the early morning.
And I was invited to the neighbors’ ear splitting, noisy dragon dance where a dozen young men put on costumes, banged drums, clashed symbols and danced around the marble floors while spectators fed them oranges.
Every house had a shrine, and on every street I walked in Malaysia, there was evidence of the Divine. The Mosque, the Chinese Temple, the many Christian churches, the Hindu temple; they are on every street and in every kampong, and in the morning, while it is still dark, one hears, before the birds chirp, the low melodic singing prayer of the adhān أَذَان, the Mosque calling the faithful.
What impressed me most was not the food or the architecture or the exoticism of Malaysia, it was the family who hosted us. They cooked for us, and took our laundered clothes and hung them out to dry, and they planned daily festive meals. Every member of the family came over every day and joined in the fun. And the children who came from Switzerland with their parents, they stayed with their aunts and cousins and slept on the floor and played games and charmed and amused everyone.
I saw not the bitchy and divisive melodramas that characterize family gatherings in America. Nobody stormed out or got drunk or ripped into their relatives. There was an elusive and seductive harmony and grace exhibited by all the family members who showed respect and care and genuine love for one another.
There is a lot more to say, but I need time to ingest it all, and hope that what I saw in Asia and felt over there, the good feelings, can last a bit longer.
Victor Davis Hanson lays out a compelling and logical argument why illegal immigration is immoral in the National Review.
Last week, mid-week, it rained. A storm started the way storms do in Southern California, by announcing its front three days before arrival.
It came down slowly, from the north, and the skies darkened, ever so perceptibly, on Sunday, and by Tuesday the rains poured.
When the storm blew out, on Wednesday, the air was clean and refreshed. And doughy white clouds marched across blue skies.
Three small trees, all oaks, arrived from the city, ready to plant. There was room for only one on our property: a Coast Live Oak, which will look quite magnificent on my 100th birthday.
I went down to my brother and sister-in-law’s house on Saturday and took photos and videos upon the arrival of their new brindle boxer puppy.
These are videos that will show a 2012 Prius on the driveway, and these are videos of my 7-year-old niece and my 5-year-old nephew and a two-month-old puppy.
In five years or ten or twenty years, people will watch these and marvel at unwrinkled and smiling faces of youth, beauty and innocence; days we all have and days we spend in childhood never knowing how ephemeral and passing and short it all is.
I left the Marina and drove east across Culver City on Saturday, along Washington, and turned north on Robertson and went east on Pico and ended up on La Brea at Blair Lucio’s store General Quarters.
Mr. Lucio, on his own, without partners, has opened a concrete floored, iron and corrugated steel men’s shop decorated with black and white photographs of motorcycles, Steve McQueen, and images of postwar life in Southern California.
He is a young, well-groomed man with impeccable taste and good manners who favors plain front khakis, single needle cotton dress shirts, worn leather and canvas knapsacks and pure pine athletic soap.
He worked at Nordstrom’s and that retailer’s high standards of etiquette and service seem to have been branded with a burning iron into Mr. Lucio’s character.
If I had more cash I would spend it here because everything is high quality, classic and well edited.
LACMA has installed a show, Living in a Modern Way, devoted to the same place and era that Mr. Lucio adores: the post-WWII years, when California innovated in the arts, home furnishings, architecture, textiles, graphic design, automobiles and industrial products.
The exhibit has a full-scale reproduction of Ray and Charles Case Study House No. 8 in Pacific Palisades as well as an Airstream trailer and Avanti car.
Most interesting are the people who attend these events. They have artful, creative, charmed and haunting faces and they don’t look anything like the rest of the people who live in Los Angeles.
I went to see Luke Gibson’s architectural photography exhibit on the 8th Floor of the Wiltern on Saturday night.
It was dusk and the sun was setting and you could look north and see the Hollywood sign; and in the east the hills and houses were bathed in a sweet and gentle melon light.
The steel casement windows were open and I sat on an indoor ledge and looked down at a revitalized and busy Koreatown intersection with its new glass tower across the street and crowds pouring out of the Western/Wilshire Metro station; walking, using the city as a city should be used, on foot; with vigor, purpose and joy.
Luke’s aunt, an older and beautiful blond woman, came up to me and introduced herself. She was carrying an Ipad and remarked how proud her family was of their photographer nephew.
She had come up from Lake Forest in Orange County that evening, along with her daughter, son-in-law and two very tall young ladies, her granddaughters.
I told her that I lived in Van Nuys and she said she had graduated from Van Nuys High School. Her father had come from North Dakota and the family had lived on Ventura Canyon in Sherman Oaks.
We spoke about the mythical and magical days of yore, the California that really existed but really exists no more: orange groves and walnut groves; clean streets and unlimited opportunity for all. It was all gone now, except on DVDs and in our minds. And she was sweet and smart and savvy and even at seven decades, the ideal California girl.
And she knew how to how work that Ipad and had uploaded online Scrabble and Yelp.
I had some work to do on Sunday and I went to meet someone at the Marriott across from the Burbank Airport, but before our meeting, I walked around Fry’s Electronics where the most advanced and latest technology is sold to the least educated and most obese.
Outside Fry’s, in the parking lot, the sun was brilliant, the heat was dry, the mountains were radiant, and the planes flew across the sky and down into airport, gliding into an atmosphere of calm, glistening, radiant, and intense light.
There was hardly any traffic on sun-bleached, treeless Empire Avenue, the service road that runs between the south side of the airport and the railroad tracks.
I thought of Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh and all of the lesser-known war workers who once assembled planes here under a fake city blackout cover. Times past of productivity and progress.
After my meeting, I drove on that road, and over to Van Owen and down Vineland.
I was unaware that a few hours earlier, a distraught man, despondent over his finances, brandished a bb gun, called the police and told him he was armed. The cops came and asked him to disarm and when he refused, they shot him dead in front of his family.
Hours later, I went to Ralphs on Vineland/Ventura to do some Sunday grocery shopping and got on the 101 at Tujunga, traveling west, back to my home here in Van Nuys.
I was in my Mazda 3, with my friend Danny, watching the road, navigating the heavy traffic, and preparing to exit the 101 near Sepulveda.
I wasn’t going fast or slow, just driving defensively, cautiously, courteously, speedily, not excessively, within reason, as one does when approaching an exit ramp.
And then the dissolve, the madwoman in the rear view mirror…
A wildly gesticulating female driver, in her white SUV, held up her two fingers in a double fuck you to me from her driver’s seat.
Her hands were making digit signs, signs that she emitted in a mad, contorted, deliberate, accelerating, irrational, insulting spastic performance. I watched her gesture fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you again from her car as we got off the ramp at Sepulveda.
And then I pulled up next to her. Again she pulled up her hands to signal numbers, fives and ones, supposing that I would know that she alone knew how fast I was going and it was not fast enough for her. And how angry, enraged and beyond reason she was. She was unashamed, unembarrassed, unhinged.
And tragically, she is what is called average or normal these days. An insane and out-of-control driver, furious when her 90-mile-an-hour motoring is temporarily impeded by another auto.
We waited at the light next to her. We yelled at her and my friend said she was “cuckoo” and then the light changed. And I turned right and she turned left onto Sepulveda, but I would not be lying if I said at that very moment I too was enraged. I was ready to assault or kill this woman who had destroyed my peaceful Sunday afternoon with her madness on the 101.
It has happened to me several times before when I was the target of a woman, always a woman, always white, always showing their fingers and their fuck-you on the road, behind the wheel, when I, obeying the law and doing absolutely nothing wrong, was just driving and being courteous.
I am not a person, I believe, who goes around with a vast arsenal of fury inside of me. I talk things out. I listen to Chopin and Bach and I exercise and run and drink wine and beer and laugh a lot.
But this is California these days. There are no rules for how to behave in public. The Grossest Generation: that is what this generation is.
She is the reason that I also sometimes hate Los Angeles and wonder if all of the nostalgia for the greatness of our past can make up for the uncivil awfulness that passes for civil society in the Golden State.
Well, at least we can remember how golden the Golden State once was.
It was a delightful weekend until I got on the 101.
I recently came across these 50-year-old photographs by Allan Grant that were published in the November 23, 1962 Life Magazine.
They show a brand new supermarket, Piggly Wiggly,that had recently opened at 15821 Ventura Blvd. in Encino. The structure is now gone, replaced by a long, white office building.
What surprised me most was seeing the blend of modernity and kitsch, an architectural and marketing precursor to present day Gelson’s.
There is a view of the exterior, decorative concrete canopies, very 1962. But in front are also 19th Century street lamps, an old wagon, and even trees.
Signs are in decorative fonts.
Inside there is the astonishing sight of butchers in straw hats and bow ties; in another photo is a large sign: “Foods of the World”; and in one image… diagonally stacked shelves of barware: highball, martini and wine glasses, ice buckets, long tapered candles and ash-trays.
Female clerks, done up in beehive hairdos and made up faces, sell cosmetics beside a Victorian wood turret front display case. Lady shoppers (were there any other kind?) could stop off here, pick up a bottle of Shalimar and run home to take a dip in the backyard pool, then broil some lamb chops, and have the table set before Leonard or Irv pulled up in the driveway.
And behind a glass counter, a behatted chef shows off pots of soups to women in pearls and old retired gentlemen peering over.
A lineup of cashiers, stand in formation under the watchful eyes of their male bosses, next to carriage lamp lit checkout lanes. The girls wear puffy shouldered, black and white dresses with their names embroidered on lace.
These photos are fine testament that they had perfected, half a century ago, the California ideal, blending kitsch fantasy with cold, hard business acumen.
Not far from my house in Van Nuys, there is an unimproved street without gutters or sewers, where the blacktop was probably laid down 80 years ago, past large parcels where grew walnuts, oranges and figs.
On Columbus Avenue, there are perhaps five properties of 20-30,000 square feet each. Most of the houses are rented, ramshackle places with overgrown weeds, dry grasses, cyclone fences, trucks parked on the meridian, and slanted roof cottages housing lawful people and unindicted felons who hide behind tall lumber and cinder block and eek out a living as gardeners, actors, piano tuners and truckers.
Up until the last wave of prosperity crashed into itself, speculators had bought up some of these places, intending to tear them down and stack together stucco developments.
Some of these places, which nobody can sell, might be worth $300,000. But a few years ago they were asking $700,000 and now the owners are defaulting and trying to unload their gambles.
I rode my bike last week and passed a man who I see once a year at my neighbor’s Christmas party and he invited me into his compound where I met dozens of cats, picked figs off the trees, and walked into a Depression Era scene that might have come out of Bonnie and Clyde.
While we talked, another man, a younger man, carrying a Canon DSLR, walked up the very long driveway, and joined us. He was a location scout interested in photographing the place.
There is a lot of filming in our area. A show called “Workaholics” is shooting here now, on a street where many people are jobless but where some young post-collegiate comedians posted a Youtube video and sold a show to Comedy Central.
One might drive past the Workaholics House and see a horse and carriage, or a rowboat tacked up on the roof, and on other occasions I may have seen an elephant hosing down a car, and some old lady with a broom chasing straw hatted kids on skateboards.
Every other week, dozens of trucks and hundreds of crew- members come here, and film a fiction about life in Van Nuys, using our real world as a cheap and ironic backdrop for the callow humorlessness of modern hip Hollywood.
My idea of funny is still “The Dick Van Dyke Show” or “All in the Family” just as my idea of a film is “The Best Years of Our Lives” and my favorite singer is Frank Sinatra and I don’t think any house built after 1945 is attractive.
So I live in the past and I run from the present and wander through this city with a camera and a laptop computer. And hope that someone will anoint me with gold dust.
And escapism, and the ability to dream and imagine, and produce and prosper, that is only for a lucky few in Van Nuys.
The rest are holdouts, living in rented places, or hanging onto places they own but will never own and may lose before they die.
The birth of the LA Art Scene, 1945-1980, is the focus of PACIFIC STANDARD TIME and will involve 60 cultural institutions across the Southland.
Exhibitions and events begin October 1st.
The LA Times has an interesting story about an artist, Alex Schaefer, who had set up his easel on the corner of Sylvan and Van Nuys Blvd., in front of Chase Bank, and was creating a painting of the bank in flames. The cops questioned him and the next day, detectives showed up at his home to interview him and ask if he intended to torch his subject matter.
I am reminded of an incident that happened to me several years ago in this same area.
In 2007, I had walked around the corner from this area, and was shooting daylight images of the historic 1933 Valley Municipal Building. As I was doing this, a woman came out of the building screaming, “He’s taking photos! He’s taking photos!” She later drove her car down the street and followed me as I walked westward down Sylvan St. and then she stopped and demanded to know what I was doing. I told her I was a photographer.
Painting and photography are two acts that may get you in trouble with the law. That’s America in the 21st Century.
The chrome, metal, motor and wheels crowd gathered at Bob’s Big Boy, as they do every Friday night, to partake of a parking lot full of old restored cars.
One old man had an old crank shaft Model T and was showing a crowd how to turn the engine on.
There was a very long purple Cadillac, and more than the usual collection of mid 1960s Chevys.
Fifty-two Fridays a year, vintage autos and their lovers gather here; even as we fall deeper into the 21st Century, our hearts are stuck in place in a country and century that no longer exists.
Only $325 for a 1967 pair of Levi Jeans. At What Comes Around Goes Around.
La Mer Moisturizing Cream at Nordstrom’s and Bergdorf Goodman. $1,650
$930,000, 3-bedroom house with one car garage in Culver City, CA. Redfin.
Down payment (20% or $186,000 and $3600 a month mortgage payment)
For a long time, it seemed that the phrase “no problem” was an expression used to defuse a conflict.
Someone was angry. To make that person less angry, you would, in the midst of an escalating confrontation, put both your palms up, facing the enraged man, and say, “no problem”. You hoped that “its cool” or “no problem” would defuse the madness.
But walking around Westfield Topanga, yesterday afternoon, I found a new expression replacing “you’re welcome”.
I bought a small cup of ice cream at LA Creamery. “Thank you”, I said to the clerk. She replied, “No problem”.
At CSUN, later in the afternoon, I handed a CD to a young assistant to the Director of Marketing. “No problem”, he said.
This morning, picking up my dental x-ray in Van Nuys, I thanked the assistant. “No problem” she answered.
I called Netflix customer service yesterday to request a DVD. The interaction was courteous and efficient. I thanked the rep. “No problem”, he answered.
I know courtesy is under assault these days. But why is the very simple you’re welcome, an expression of gratitude, humility and niceness, less used?
If you can supply me with an answer, I’d greatly appreciate it.
It seems that I am the last American to discover this linguistic development.
Up on White Oak Place last night: a party for a magazine launch.
The winds were blowing. Buzzing flocks of valet parkers ran to grab cars as partygoers arrived.
A for-sale mansion had been rented, an ornate and preposterously rococo place, elaborate and overdone; sunk under the weight of marble, chandeliers, heavy furniture and cartoon grandeur.
The event celebrated a new publication that will cater to the top one percent of income in the San Fernando Valley and those whose world stretches along Ventura Boulevard and up into these hills.
A Casa de Cadillac Cadillac in red was parked on the driveway. Young and sexy girls in leggy dresses, bartenders carrying trays of wine, and opulent tables of food from various restaurants in the Valley, were sprinkled around the backyard pool.
At one cheese table, I was instructed to eat ginger with a stinky Italian and to place honeycombs atop a goat, and consume silver painted chocolate.
Another table was full of thimble-sized pies whose ingredients were too small for my middle aged eyes to discern.
Big poster boards printed with San Fernando Valley photographs and graphics kept blowing over as the gusts blew across the panoramic backyard and pool.
After my second or third glass of wine, my tongue was unhitched from head, and anything that came to mind I spoke.
An ad salesman told me that his typical reader lived in a mansion “just like this” and that his Facebook page already had “4,000 fans without any publicity”.
I talked with a sharp Italian born professor who teaches languages at CSUN. Tragically, she was imported from Milan to Porter Ranch where she has lived for half a century.
I went back into the house, detective and decorator, attempting to relate to the exotic style of furnishing inside.
In the dining room, a wide and tall glass fronted cabinet was filled and packed-like a rush-hour Tokyo subway- with Judaica: silver menorahs and tea sets, picture frames, glasses, engraved plates, silver Etrog holders, Kiddush cups, wine goblets. Three enormous black chandeliers danced satanically along the ceiling above onyx tinted granite countertops.
Near the center hallway, a heavy carved wooden desk presented the owner’s business cards for inspection, as if it were a hotel concierge conducting business. Multiple mezuzahs bedecked every interior door, bestowing blessings on bathrooms and bedrooms.
An enormous bathtub was surrounded by plastic bottles of Lubiderm which opened, without shame, to a stadium-sized bedroom where a leonine carved king-sized bed sat under a photographic portrait of a white-bearded Lubovitcher rebbe.
The house swung crazily between devoutness and decadence, minyan and orgy. Sadaam Hussein, Khaddafi, LL Cool J, Angelyne, Donald Trump: if they had collectively hired an architect, this is how it might have looked.
A small red room in the front was crammed full of more gold painted velvet baroque couches and chairs, pushed against the walls-like a Syrian police interrogation room- with a ghastly autographed, NBA orange basketball placed atop a pedestal for admiration….. or possibly worship.
The long wagon train of Jewish history had made its stops in Jerusalem, Tashkent, Tehran, Warsaw, Vienna, Tel Aviv; and finally stopped and unloaded 2,000 years of wares here on White Oak Place in Encino.
Back in the backyard, I struck up a conversation with a quiet tanned gentleman dressed in an exquisitely tailored Italian blazer.
He had removed himself from the crowd, and sat alone on a lower level of the patio, where he and his wine surveyed the San Fernando Valley.
He told me he had just purchased the jacket that day, in a Goodwill store in Sherman Oaks. He worked as a caregiver to his 93-year-old mother and in his spare time took photos. One of his nighttime photographs of Ventura Boulevard was published in the premiere issue.
I knew then and there that he was like me, a real person in a fake environment, an honest loser at a party celebrating winners, an unemployed man, like many, who had lived in California his whole life and dreamed of escape from the Golden State.
I challenged him to arm wrestle but he said he wouldn’t because he might beat me. He warned me about driving intoxicated. And then he got up and said good-bye.
I waited and sat alone, around the floodlit pool, as sobriety slowly returned. Below me were miles of twinkling lights. And the wind was strong, the air bracing and refreshing. And I was lost in my thoughts, cleansed, relaxed and free of worry, somewhere atop White Oak Place.
For four years, my mother begged me to watch a dramatic series on ABC. But I never did.
But now, for more than two months, I have been Netflixing DVDs of that show. The DVD arrives, I watch it, mail it back, and a new one comes in a few days.
The show concerns a large family in a large house surrounded by conversations, secrets, parties, and glowing rooms full of fireplaces, flowers, and piping hot mugs of coffee that the characters pass to each other.
It takes place primarily in Pasadena, and Los Angeles, and sometimes Ojai. This is my Southland, a place without poverty, where everyone is on their way up, forever getting promoted to CFO, President, Senator’s Wife, and Head Chef. You can bid on a mansion and win it and then hand it over to your mom. You can inherit two million dollars even after you find out that your father is not really your father. People on this show leave jobs and get job offers; they sleep with beautiful people who are never fat, Armenian, Latino or Asian. They jump into pools wearing clothes, jump into bed unclothed; beat addiction and beat themselves up. But they always persevere and move on.
And almost every male character is covered in facial stubble. It looks great on them, because it imparts an aura of earthiness and honesty, realness and virility. I need to stop shaving, just for one day, but I admit that the lure of warm cream and sharp razor, lather and rinsing is just too hard to resist.
They walk uninvited into offices or homes, driving, for example, from Bakersfield to Pasadena, without calling first. Or they drive from LA to Arizona on a whim. I will have to try this one day when I am bored in Van Nuys and get an urge to go to Portland.
And they drink. And drink. And drink. There are bubbles of champagne and big glasses of red wine, passed, of course, from character to character. When people fight, they pour a drink. When they celebrate, they pour a drink. When they are happy, they drink.
And they eat. A lot. Their enormous flower, appliance and armoire-filled kitchen is the size of a three-car garage and they have a special white porcelain sink that seems to be illuminated from within, radiating a glow that hits every character who takes a dish to the sink. There are plates of appetizers, bowls of salads, steaming roasts, and buckets of ice cream. The characters like to eat ice cream out of the bucket, but nobody, of course, has a waist wider than 3o inches.
The characters wear clothes color coordinated to the décor. Women in white go into red and blue spaces, while brown walls call for deep blue sweaters. And there are usually twinkling lights on any nighttime bush or tree.
Inexplicably, the very detailed set designers have put a panorama of NYC’s Madison Avenue into the steel framed window of the downtown LA office where a food exporting company is located. Perhaps the backdrops come from the same stagers who put a 1975 skyscraper into the 1962 office of “Mad Men’s” Roger Sterling.
But fantasy stories about real places are seductive. The viewer must ignore unreal views and keep his eye on the interior actors. They keep you watching and you become a believer in a clan better than the one you were born into.
I have driven around LA, and passed through Van Nuys, Reseda, Northridge and the Inland Empire. I have gone through Vernon and Bell, Pacoima and Pomona, El Monte and East Los Angeles, Compton, Carson, Downey, Huntington Park and Temple City.
And in these far flung and inhospitable and banal cities, where the air is as toxic as poison gas, and the sun shines through brown tinted clouds, I have not found anything that looks as good as the vision of California on Bubbles and Stubble.
There are lucky people who live a world where family members confide in each other, where illegitimate and cheating people inherit jobs, money, love, security and acceptance; where happenstance brings romance to the lonely, jobs to the unemployed; and no character wants for anything that his writer can provide.
I need to find this place, of community and brotherly love, but the guards at the studio will not let me in.
It is strange that we somehow think it normal, in 2011, that spending over $800 a year for a very small selection of TV, sprinkled with cooking shows, bad news programs and commercials should somehow entitle us to good customer service. That was my mistake when I called Direct TV, yesterday, for advice on how to program my remote control.
An impatient voice seemed baffled that I would call and ask for technical help in programming my remote control. “Sir, you can go online and find the information,” Direct TV told me. But my computer is in my kitchen, and my TV is in my living room, so that wouldn’t work.
“Go to your menu, sir and then go to TV and then to remote,” she said with a tired and angry air in her voice. “Press the code and then press ENTER and MUTE,” she said.
It still was not working. So, unbeknownst to me, she decided to have some fun by deliberately misdirecting me.
“You should NOT point the remote at the TV. Turn it AWAY from the TV and then follow the directions on-screen,” she said. So I pointed the remote, that I was trying to program, at my fireplace, awkwardly positioned, with head turned right, arms stretched straight ahead towards chimney, eyes reading the directions on-screen. Nothing happened.
“Can I speak to your supervisor?” I asked.
“Supervisor? What are they going to tell you that I can’t?” she said.
I could hear her puffing, and breathing and typing and imagined her, somewhere, a young African-American woman working at a job she hated, where idiots phoned up all day and asked how to program their remotes.
Finally, I just hung up. I called back Direct TV and a polite woman answered. “I can’t understand why she would tell you to point it AWAY from the TV but I will do my best to help you,” she said.
Within minutes, the remote and the TV were synced. The device worked. Niceness and helpfulness won out.
Elegant and technological, environmental and innovative, the new Valley Performing Arts Center at CSUN is a $125 Million Dollar concert hall that also provides space for an adjoining lecture hall and student radio station.
Designed by Kara Hill, a Minneapolis architect practicing with HGA Architects and Engineers, the theatre is a glassy and rhythmically lively sweep of undulating ceiling panels indirectly lit by energy efficient illumination. Subtle, understated and soft, VPAC brings a cool Scandinavian sensibility to hot Southern California.
173 new trees shade and protect 30,000 square feet of glass covering the 1,700 seat, multi-purpose performance hall. The landscape architect is Stephen Billings of the Santa Monica firm Pamela Burton & Co whose water saving innovations will save money and provide another place to hide from the monstrous sun that will soon bake the San Fernando Valley as Spring approaches.
The only disappointment upon leaving the rarified grounds of the VPAC, is driving back into the sprawling grossness of Northridge with its brown air and miles of asphalt, traffic, and speeding drivers.