West of the 405, on Victory and on Vanowen, the vast spaces of Van Nuys open up to parks, golf courses, airport runways, and planes taking off and coming down. The skies are bigger, the vistas wider, the winds windier. And the potential for escape and discovery beckons on foot or bike.
Once this area was the domain of the Joe Jue Clan, a Chinese-American family whose large asparagus farm, near Vanowen and White Oak, flourished from the 1920s-50s. Surrounded by tennis courts, the old family barn still stands.
Driving east near Woodley last week, I passed 15931 Vanowen, three mid-century semi-detached houses with horizontally paned windows. Lined up like planes in a hangar, the sharp, upward, angled pitched roofs pointed, like arrows, towards nearby Van Nuys Airport.
Curious, I returned last night, near dusk, with Andreas Samson, and explored the teeming urban apartments and semi-rural side streets along Vanowen, Gloria and Gaviota. And we stopped to investigate 15931. (built 1947)
Van Nuys, or Lake Balboa, as this area prefers to call itself, is deceptive. Along the main streets, the apartments are packed, full of working Latino families, the backbone of California. Last night we bumped into an old friend from the gym, a Guatemalan guy on Gaviota who owns a restaurant on Sepulveda and was returning home, in his pickup, exhausted.
Along the side streets, an old world still co-exists with the newer slum dwellers. There are large, deep, expansive properties, many planted with citrus trees, up and behind fences and gates, behind iron. Armenians, Latinos, and Asians bought up these fortified compounds, built up houses and rental units, or let the dry grasses and dirt take over.
Contrasts are everywhere: the picturesque Spanish casa from the 1920s next to the peeling frame shack, the lushly watered front yard of native flowers and the concrete paved SUV car lot. Guns and roses, skateboarders and speeding cars, a man hitting golf balls on his front lawn.
On Kittridge at Gloria, ferocious pit bulls kept by a friendly, toothless woman behind a broken-down dirt yard sit next to an Armenian owned limousine company, a home business behind lion bedecked gates and stucco pediment and columns.
Rich or poor, native-born or naturalized, the predominant domestic style is violence deterrence. Gates, alarms, barking dogs, steel, concrete, cinderblock, “no trespassing” signs. Each property, born sweet, evolves, like an enlisted soldier, into battle-hardened, tactical, offensive, lethal toughness.
At 6652 Gaviota, one unfortified mirage appeared: a sweet, middle-aged woman on her front lawn in a house-dress, watering a large tree with a garden hose.
We stopped to talk to her, startled by her openness and friendliness, her casual banter (“I was born and raised around here. I have been renting this particular house for 32 years”), intrigued by her whole retro setting and persona: white frame house with porch, tree swing, steel awning windows and asphalt driveway, and her manner of attire, mid-century Kansas farm wife. An American flag on a pole stood off in the distance, a skinny rail of a young man came down the driveway to fetch mail from the mailbox.
We took some photos of her, and continued our walk, ending up, as all walks in Van Nuys must, in the presence of the Holy Trinity: La Iglesia, La Lavanderia, and El Licor. (Allan’s Liquors).
Another nail in the coffin of commerce on Van Nuys Blvd: the 63-year-old Van Nuys Army & Navy Store, Inc. at 6179 will close down in a few weeks.
Standing on the SW corner of Delano Street, the distinctive store with its red, white and blue lettering was one of the last remaining outposts of the old Van Nuys, a loner amidst pot shops and bail bondsmen.
The Army and Navy store, opened in 1950, held its ground against blank faced government buildings, retail white flight, and another human invasion from sub-Americana that dare not speak its name.
Inside the store were stacks of Levi 501s, military dress pants for $5.00, dark wool pea coats, special forces and 82nd Airborne caps on shelves, munitions and camouflage vests, rubber boots, Anti-American Confederate and Pro-Communist Che Guevara Flags for those of exotic political tastes; Vietnam era bumper stickers still silently yelling hostility and anger 45 years later, ammunition cans and olive drab parachutes, scratchy wool blankets in plastic, cotton Marine t-shirts, and survival kits for backyard campers or overseas fighters.
This was a store where friendly faces sold goods once used to fight enemies. It was a democratic place where the solemn savagery of war was put on sale for anybody to buy at rock-bottom prices.
It was a piece of Van Nuys when this boulevard bustled. Now it’s another dying locale on a street were even the litter is moving on.
It was voting day today, and like many Americans, I walked over to cast my ballot at the Voyager Motor Inn, joining men and women from my community, including unrentable females not normally seen on Sepulveda.
My neighbors up the street were coming out of the motel, and warned me that one door was green and the other red, and you did not have to wait in line for green but nobody would tell you.
I didn’t know what the hell that meant, but I walked into the crowded smelly motel and tehraned myself to the front of the line, walking past others waiting, and into the room where I handed my ballot to a volunteer at a table.
My name and address were clearly printed on back…. so the young lady asked for my name and address.
I signed my name into the book and was handed a long, skinny ballot which I then placed into a voting booth whose poster board walls would blow down if I sneezed.
Misinformed, manipulated, misguided, prejudiced, biased, open-minded, incisive and ignorant, I had already made up my mind about the propositions and what they really meant.
Two of the measures would provide funding for all children in California schools, 50% of whom are here by way of undocumented parents. There are 7 billion people on Earth and I wonder what would happen if any one country could just settle all its citizens here?
But I better not start that argument.
Another measure promised to stop union contributions and seemed backed by the Republicans who only believe that large corporations and CEOs should have a voice.
Mercury Insurance sponsored another ballot.
Warren Buffet’s partner’s daughter poured $100 million into Prop. 38 funding early childhood education. And I wondered why she could not have spent $100 million to redesign our voting ballot to make it graphically clear and readable.
Prop. 36 made the three strikes law only applicable if the last crime was violent. That made sense to me as my neighbor was almost imprisoned for life after he had two non-violent strikes and one DUI.
I almost voted to overturn the Death Penalty (Prop. 34), which I know does not deter crime, and is barbaric, but then I realized that we are quite a barbaric state, with people who tag church walls and murder congregants who step outside and confront. I think death is deserved for some, even if it is not logically warranted.
And I did not think it enforceable to require condoms on set for adult performers. (B) And I voted yes to accelerate public transportation because it is both a job creator and a civic necessity, bringing cleaner air and better development to Los Angeles (J).
Finally, or to begin with, I voted for the Presidental candidate who killed Osama Bin Laden, extracted us from Iraq and will do so in Afghanistan, saved the auto industry, and tried and partially succeeded in reforming our health care system which is so unfair, expensive and monstrously geared to the 1%.
I am all over the place, a liberal and a conservative, tolerant and racist, traditional and progressive.
I guess I am just a Californian.
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.
The new community growing up around Lankershim and Magnolia is a place of right angles. Lofts and windows, rooflines and balconies: all are straight and horizontal, crisp and clean.
I walked around here today, mid-day, in the white sun, along Chandler, McCormick, Blakeslee and Magnolia, in-between new apartment rental offices, new hair salons, new trees, into new pie and new beer restaurants. UPS and Federal Express trucks, moving trucks, street sweepers, security guards and parking violation officials swarmed everywhere, bringing goods and dropping fines.
It was déjà vu for me, remembering my daytime walks in New York City around Tribeca, Soho and Noho in 1988, selling advertising for the brand new New York Press. The west side of Tribeca was just developing, and people were opening yoga salons, restaurants, and bars and looking at their reflections in the glass, just as they do today. I was in an urban frontier, tamed, not by the lasso and rifle, but Robert DeNiro and JFK, Jr.
Frenetic, and fast, promiscuous and pretentious, I was full of energy and youth, dressing well, working out, caught up in an endless chase for sex and security and a way up. I ate in every good restaurant on my $15,000 a year salary and ended up with anyone who I laid my eyes on.
And I saw that urge today, as I walked past guys pouring out of the gym, and sexy girls on their cellphones, and the eternal sunshine of the spotless streets, a corporate paradise rented out and made up like a real city, but really just another atomized blot on the desert.
A “friend” of mine, who moonlights as an escort and personal trainer, rented an apartment in one of the large complexes near the Red Line and told me many sex workers inhabited his building. But in the bright sun, under the bright signs, on the well-swept sidewalks, all is clean and happy and progressive. And one must remember that one of the largest sex toy companies in the world, Doc Johnson, earning millions and employing hundreds, is headquartered nearby.
Anyone who comes to LA and says he is not a whore is also a liar. And anyone who attempts to make an honest living here will surely fail.
Los Angeles does not often impress in civic infrastructure, but this corner and pocket NE of Universal City comes close.
Of all the places in the San Fernando Valley, this one has taken off the most, in self-creation and self-realization, in the last five years. It has done it by refuting and rebelling against the old car-centered model of Los Angeles.
You don’t need it here. You can get around on your bike, on foot, via subway, and go see an art movie, drink a craft beer, live in a loft, and attend live theater. You can work out with elliptical trainers, free weights, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and step and dance classes. Live comedy and live readings of short stories are performed at The Federal. You can go to school, study and earn a degree at the Art Institute of Hollywood.
It’s a young place again, a dense, digital and creative section remade in the style of the early 21st Century. A place where hanging out on a coffee shop sofa is sometimes industrious, and working in an office cubicle is often useless.
Everything in Los Angeles starts as an experiment, and has its day in the sun, so to speak. Westwood, the Miracle Mile, Van Nuys, Panorama City, Canoga Park, all were started in a blaze of optimistic boosterism , like a Presidential campaigner, promising a lot and then sputtering and stalling and sometimes falling to pieces.
Along the edges of North Hollywood, the old decay and weedy lots sit, like determined and patient killers, ready to strike back and take down life. And with a deathly silence the ancient Verdugo Mountains, back there in the distance, watch the silly activities and wait…..
Excerpt from “Somebodies and Nobodies”my new short story about a poor athlete, fatherless and street smart, who escapes the California desert and comes to Santa Monica in search of glory and finds himself mixed up between a divorced couple whose failures and successes echo his own life.
“He imagined and wondered, trying to understand his blood-bursting passions. Who was buried deep within his DNA? Who came before him? Whose genes were his?
Sometimes he imagined himself descended from a warrior, other times: a convict, a poet, a dancer; a fighter, a general, a killer, a composer, an explorer, a ship captain, a priest.
He was born poor in the low desert east of Palm Springs, near the saguaro and sagebrush, to Tania Santos, a 19-year-old Mexican housekeeper from Durango, and El Paso born Grayson Waypole, a black man, a 22-year-old cook and expert marksman, dishonorably discharged from the Marines, who was said to be father to 30 children stretching from Indio to 29 Palms.
After Colton’s birth, Waypole went wayward.
Tania was migrant and undocumented. She dragged Colton up and down to all the stifling desert towns where the air is hot and life is hard.
She took a job with the Coachella Valley High School and worked as a cook in the school cafeteria, dumping vats of potato salad, franks and beans into steel trays.
Mother and son lived in a flat, pebble-roofed house on dusty Bagdad Avenue, a place where people parked their pickup trucks in dirt-covered front yards.”
Last year, Money Magazine, in its annual Best Places to Live issue, reported some interesting facts about Beverly Hills, CA, population 33,974.
The median (average) family income was $142,180 and the average home price was $1.5 million.
By reputation, many would imagine that there are far wealthier people living within Beverly Hills’ borders, people who earn in the tens of millions and live in houses worth $5 million or more.
Whatever the case, this wealthy town once allowed children to attend school here even when those children came from outside the town borders. Part of the costs were subsidized by the state of California.
In 2010, when California was in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression, and towns across the state were struggling to pay bills, and others were going bankrupt, Beverly Hills tax revenues surpassed state funding. So California no longer needed to send money to Beverly Hills.
Out of 4,600 students in Beverly Hills, 430 or less than 10% live outside of the city. And the school board is voting to expel the outsiders.
Some part-time city employees in Beverly Hills, people who clean the streets, collect garbage and polish parking meters, these people with children also benefited and sometimes enrolled their kids into Beverly Hills schools.
According to KPCC radio writer Tami Abdollah, Beverly Hills Board member Lisa Korbatov was incensed that as many as eight families of part-time workers were enrolled in the district. She said, “This is not charity. This is a school district. We are dealing with taxpayer money. I don’t feel sorry for you. This is not kids on chemotherapy.”
The MTA has been in a contentious battle with Beverly Hills as well, because a proposed subway tunnel would slice right under the vaunted halls of Beverly Hills High School. Signs all over Beverly Hills express opposition to digging under the school.
The idea that civil engineers, scientists, transportation planners and other experts see no danger in digging beneath the ground to build a subway (as has been done safely for over 150 years) is not satisfying to the protective parents of Beverly Hills. They are much more soothed by having their kids walk across the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevard, which was named as one of the ten most dangerous intersections in the whole United States.
Subway and school sound ominous when paired. As do: pregnant woman/high voltage power lines or dog park/fresh water reservoir.
Imagination and irrationality, selfishness and self-centeredness, provincialism and pompousness, these dark behaviors are parading across the sunny landscape of Beverly Hills these days, a town of humungous vulgarity and high-class criminality, where fake faces and pretend psychoses afflict a large portion of the pharmasized population and danger lurks behind every hoodie.
In terms of a progressive agenda, one that includes educating the lesser privileged, and building infrastructure to move Angelenos across the Southland, Beverly Hills stands blindly and obstinately, blocking the rest of the region from reaching a brighter sunset.
‘After the Party….’ On Black
The cold front, pounding rain and dark clouds that swept through Los Angeles this past weekend painted the sky with intense color. And a rare, invigorating chill gripped the Southland; quite appropriate for the end of daylight savings time.
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.
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.
Steven Curtis is a Hollywood based photographer and Vietnam War veteran. I met him a few years ago and spent an afternoon touring his house, inspecting his vintage camera collection, and learning about his experience as a soldier and shooter (pun intended) in that long ago, but never forgotten conflict.
His photographs can be found here.
Days of clouds, rain and chilly winds; the last few months in Los Angeles rendered this externally driven city of outward brightness and sunny exuberance into a reserved and subjective place where thought and contemplation drifted, like a cool fog, into the mountains and valleys….and mind.
We, formerly tanned, t-shirted and flip-flopped; opened up old plastic containers under our beds and in our closets and dug up thermal shirts, wool sweaters, down jackets and knit caps.
We drank dark malty beers; ate beef stew and consumed glasses of red wine. We ran from our cars into our houses and curled up on the couch under layers of wool. We felt like we were back in Chicago, on winter break, imagining icy sidewalks and slush filled gutters under the El train.
Sundays on the beach, playing volleyball or biking, swimming or running….. Replaced now by gloved and hatted hikers, and fireside Christmas parties under rain-soaked skies.
The snow came to Stevenson Ranch and even Palm Springs shivered. There was lethargy in our limbs. We caught colds. We lay in bed under an electric blanket. And drank hot tea.
There must have been some compensation by nature or God to account for our inclement weather. Maybe that higher authority, HE who sends the rains across the planet, HE decided to wash the City of Angels in something baptismal and cleansing.
We needed to save money, on water and air-conditioning, and we now have no reason to turn on our outdoor sprinklers. We are devoted to our lawns, but by our prayers they now are damp and fertile.
But mostly we needed the clouds and rains to contemplate, so much, because we have lived in stress and excess, in violence and rhetoric, in bankruptcy and foreclosure, in a strange land of exaggeration and drama, both online and offline, personal and political, where events have spiraled out of control.
Cloudy days and rain, cool weather and bracing winds, these are some of the tranquilizers that spill out of the sky, cooling our burned nerves and returning us to some semblance of spiritual and emotional balance.
It is Christmas on Califonia Terrace today in Pasadena near the Arroyo Seco.
On a slope, under the very large homes along Grand Avenue, the smaller, intimate, picturesque and cosseted grounds of California Terrace contain a collection of domestic dreaminess.
There are picket fence colonials, like the ones on Martha’s Vineyard, but bathed in warm December sunshine.
A ranch house, borrows from Norman France, with a tapered roof of wooden shingles, copper gutters, casement windows and rows of shutters.
In front of a one house are mission lights with hand-painted glass, gnarled oak trees, golden sycamore leaves, landscaped beds of succulents; herbs, lime, lemon, tangerine and orange trees.
A happy, clean-cut gang of young athletes, dressed in soccer uniforms, pours out of a house. They are laughing and pushing, jumping and running and piling into waiting cars.
This is winter in Pasadena because it is Christmas.
This is spring in Pasadena because there is rain in the air and there are green buds on the bushes, daisies, roses, lavender and rosemary.
This is summer– the brilliant blue sky and warm light tell me so.
This is fall because the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves on the ground and the there is much to rake up.
I must be in California because it is all happening at once and none of it is real. Yet I stand here in reality; alive and merry on Christmas Day.
Coming down in sheets, in cycles, ad nauseum.
Sheets of soaking wet weather slicing across the Valley.
I drove down to Studio City.
By the time I got to Whitsett and Magnolia it was dry.
I parked near Fulton and the LA River and shot some photos.
I went to Peet’s Coffee and met some friends.
I ordered a double espresso..
Then the sky darkened and the palms along Ventura blew and the rains came.
The rain abated and I ran to my car and drove home.
At my home computer, I sat and waited for the next cycle of storm to begin.
Then my mother called from the Marina and said she saw a fabulous rainbow.
Often I, as do others, think of Van Nuys as some sort of dystopian jungle, full of illegal and unsavory human behavior.
It is an impression easily made after driving along the wide ugly boulevards packed with stucco slums, billboards, wooden power lines, discarded couches, and mini-malls. Cars speed through red lights. Whores walk smiling down Sepulveda. Undocumented workers hang out as if they were breaking no law.
But to walk down side streets, with curiosity and a camera, as I did a few weeks ago, reveals neighborhoods that still have ethical moorings and architectural promise.
One such area is just east of Van Nuys Boulevard and north of Victory. Along Hamlin and Gilmore are a number of low-slung buildings, built 50, 60, 70 or more years ago, all within walking distance of churches, schools, drug stores and family run restaurants.
There is grace, integrity, artistry, and civility in places where the people of Van Nuys worshipped , learned math, had their teeth cleaned, or once filled a prescription.
But something massive and dysfunctional came along, a force of economics, social change and governmental malfeasance. It utterly destroyed the normality of Van Nuys, distorting cordial and friendly interaction, the bedrock of any community.
We live now in a shattered and terrifying environment of anonymity and aggressiveness where a knock on the front door, a strange car parked in front of our house, and the sirens in the distance unnerve and disturb our private safety and public freedom.
Van Nuys will be 100 years old in 2011. But there is no sense of civic celebration. We have no town square to gather in. No “oldest house in Van Nuys” to bear witness. The activity here that engages the largest amount of people at one time is being awakened at night by the LAPD helicopters.
Who will marshal brain and bulldozer, money and manpower, power and politic to transform this area into something better? One man named Van Nuys did more a century ago than thousands of us do today.
Walk along the old streets of Van Nuys, as I did a few weeks ago, and see the architectural ghosts of our dearly departed community.
There is a world of old houses on winding streets that wends its way behind Franklin up in Hollywood. I was there yesterday to assist a photographer in styling a shoot with a male model.
I am a photographer myself, but have worked in the fashion industry and love clothing. So my photographer friend and I went shopping on Saturday, down at the Beverly Center, and pulled together handsome wool sweaters, tight plaid pants, exquisitely tailored dress shirts, artful caps, and patterned scarves.
The location was his home: a 1925 Spanish style house with high ceilings, wood beams, and a warren of rooms, balconies, green tiled bathroom; art deco, sunlit and ornate, overlooking the south-facing brightness of Hollywood.
The photographer possessed a fine and expensive array of lights, various strobes, reflectors, electrical voltage devices, screens, flashes, lenses. Expensive illumination I could only dream of.
Around 10am, a young, tall, lean, polite blond man with close-cropped hair showed up. He reminded me of Brad Pitt. He had a slight twang. I asked him where he was from and he said, “Springfield, MO, Sir.” And it turned out he was from Pitt’s same town. “My mom and Brad went to high school together,” he said.
The model talked, as many do, about his busy life.
Suddenly, he was actor, not just a model, and getting parts in various shows. No college for him. He just got in his car and drove to LA and stuff started happenin’. He had a girl, also a model, and she was makin’ lots of money. Good stuff.
We two men, photographer and stylist: bruised, jaded, wiser, middle-aged; heard it from him and hoped it was true. The trajectory of success, the dream of making it, the hope of security, the lure of fame, the imagined life ahead: anything can happen at 23.
I had laid out the various looks and set about getting him into the clothes.
There is only one moment in our lives when we are young, and we do our best to rush through it, blithely unaware and carelessly ignorant of its temporal nature.
So with my admiration and envy, the tall, thin, agile man with the smooth face, metal dog tag, shaved chest and icy blue eyes, slipped into a spread-collared Tattersall shirt, wool tie, blue cardigan, driving cap, brown cords. And then he stepped in front of the camera, while 100 flashes of strobe and lens captured his every microsecond of movement.
He feigned facial expressions of aggression, longing, innocence, passion, anger. He danced around a white-walled backdrop: arms flaying, knees bending, chest puffing.
What followed were his transformations into Klub Kid, English School Boy, American Prep Student, and something that looked like gay Berlin with black combat boots and a high-waisted, tummy tucking, black spandex underwear get-up.
A few hours later, I left the house.
It was a Sunday: cool, clear, crisp, with rain-washed air.
High, white, puffy cumulus clouds floated over red-tiled roofs and magenta tinted Bougainvillea.
I had been working in a Bruce Weber/Paul Jasmin photographic fantasy inside the house. And now I was living one outside. (contd.)
Years ago, Paul Jasmin shot some gorgeous photos inside the home of designer Kevin Haley. As I remember it, the house was somewhere in this same neighborhood. A book, Lost Angels, showed a young man on a white rug in the Haley home. There were other photographs in a room of Chinese painted wallpaper, and romanticized young men and women in front of bamboo gardens.
And I had wanted, so badly, to get inside that house, the same way I had imagined that walking up to 1164 Morning Glory Circle might lead me into the Darrin Stephen’s home and into Samantha’s kitchen.
But those are fantasies, illusions– idiotic tricks—which our media and movie saturated minds play on visitors and residents of Los Angeles.
I think I had once sent a card, the kind with a postage stamp, delivered by a postman to a mailbox, addressed to the famed designer on Pinehurst Road. I wrote him that I admired his work. I had hoped to be invited inside. But he never responded.
“Open House, Sunday 1-4” read the sign at the bottom of Pinehurst Road.
Could this be the Haley House? I walked up the road.
And like some wonderful moment from “Miracle on 34th Street”, the one where Chris Kringle left his cane inside a Cape Cod house destined to be the future home of a young Natalie Wood, the cane was left at my door and the Haley House was for sale ($999,000), and the front gate was open.
I walked up the stairs. On my left, the same shaded garden with the bamboo.
There were two levels to the house, and on the lower level, rentable apartments with old-fashioned casement windows, 1940 stoves, painted in bright colors. I walked in and said, “Hello” but nobody answered.
And then I realized that there was a second floor, and up I walked, and entered into the house where a realtor sat, glumly, looking at his laptop and muttering a tired hello to someone who didn’t matter to him.
But I didn’t care. Because there, in front of me, was the dining room with turquoise painted Chinese wallpaper and the blue woodwork. Just like the photograph! The white, fluffy area rug sat in the middle of the living room, just as it had in Paul Jasmin’s picture, absent the shirtless young man.
On the second floor: exotically painted and intriguingly wallpapered bedrooms, in deep, dark, saturated colors set off with various Oriental lamps, black and white photographs and casually strewn pillows on tufted sofas.
I had, maddeningly, left my own camera in the trunk of my car, not knowing that I would soon walk inside a photograph and tour a fantasy that existed for me only inside a book.
It was only one Sunday in Los Angeles, somewhere in Hollywood, up in the hills, but I saw enough beauty yesterday to keep me awake, long into the night.
Pulling into my favorite falafel restaurant’s parking lot in Studio City today, I noticed that a corner store had been converted in a medical marijuana dispensary.
The storefront had frosted glass windows, a white cross inside a green square sign and a reassuring slogan: “healing the community since 1996.”
With every new dispensary and with every sign that marijuana is being normalized I feel sad.
I voted for the recently defeated Proposition 19, which would have made some possession of marijuana legal and under state jurisdiction. I did it because prosecution and enforcement of marijuana is truly a waste of time and money.
But Marijuana is still a grand waster of humans, nonetheless.
I grew up in 1970s, when smoking pot was a badge of coolness for many a non-student, non-jock. Around 8th Grade, many unpopular, un-athletic, un-achieving kids gathered in friend’s basements or along the railroad tracks and smoked reefer. Perhaps that is a grand stereotype, but smoking pot was the anti-hero way of gaining admission to a bad club.
Many of my friends smoked, and I occasionally got high. And in those days of high metabolism when I could eat anything and still have a six-pack, the brownies, potato chips, ice cream and Oreos were consumed guiltlessly and eaten ravenously.
One winter break, I flew from NJ to Southern California and visited a friend who kept a bong in his bedroom. While his parents watched TV out in the Living Room, we took hits inside his room.
Suddenly, I felt like I was out of my body. My heartbeat shot up. My head was flush. I was dizzy and I was terrified. I walked out of the bedroom and into the other room and told his parents what we had been doing. I collapsed onto the couch and started screaming and demanded they call the paramedics.
The next day, I recovered and slept. But for years afterward, I had a visceral fear and hatred of pot. I thought that the drug had caused my panic attack, but my panic actually was induced by my own mind.
Marijuana doesn’t endanger lives. But it degrades them. Daily smoking erases the sharp outlines of a personality and softens and stupefies language, laughter and alertness. There is a dull and amorphous sound in a pot smoker’s voice after he is high. The half-open eyes, the dragging feet, the slouching posture come as naturally to a pothead as broad shoulders do to gymnasts.
And pot smokers ignore how the harsh smoke might poison lungs, or contribute to lung cancer. They deny the bad and the ill effects because their pro-pot ideology demands a religious adherence to pro-drug dogma. Yet, we need to be on honest terms with pot because it is here to stay.
The worst part of the medicalization of marijuana is the hypocrisy of pretending that the clinics are a type of pharmacy. 98% of the people who go there are not sick. They want to get high. So why pretend that a doctor needs to write a prescription for it? Why continue with the quackery that marijuana is medical? It is a recreational substance that coincidentally helps some sick people feel better.
The sad feeling that comes over me when I see a marijuana store is the triumph of a lie. Why can’t we just use it and admit it and just be done with it?
We don’t need smoke and mirrors. We just need honesty.
A statewide bill, authored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, could make California the first state in the US to ban plastic bags in grocery, drug and many convenience stores.
On this blog, back in February, I took a trip over to Woodley Park and walked along the LA River where I found a sea of plastic bags hanging on trees, floating along the river bank, and covering the ground.
One of the most prominent bag labels belonged to the Ranch Market, an Asian supermarket with a local store on Sepulveda and Victory. On many shopping trips there, I have been shocked at the amount of plastic bags that are used by the store. If a shopper buys six items, the store will often use six bags to package the goods.
Of course, a ban on plastic bags is opposed by oil companies, Republicans and anybody connected to the petroleum and plastic industries. In the San Jose Mercury News, this quote: “The governor has signaled he’s interested in signing a bill like this,” said Tim Shestek of the American Chemistry Council, a coalition of plastic manufacturers and corporations including Chevron, Dow and ExxonMobil. “So our focus right now is on the Senate and hoping common sense prevails and the bill does not reach the governor.”
The council estimates the ban will threaten 1,000 state manufacturing jobs due to decreased demand. And Shestek said grocery costs will grow “because people are going to have to pay for grocery bags they currently receive for free.”
The council’s ad campaign — dubbed “Stop the Bag Police!” — features a baton-wielding officer and warns the bill “is equivalent to an estimated $1 billion tax increase.”“
But any common sense person who sees the environmental damage of plastic bags, would understand that there must be a better and more environmentally safe way to wrap a carton of eggs, a can of deodorant, and a pound of ground beef.
HOW TO HELP
Call food pantries for hours and other information on how to donate.
Lutheran Social Services: 6425 Tyrone Ave., Van Nuys; 818-901-9480; http://www.lsssc.org
Valley Interfaith Food Pantry: 11076 Norris Ave., Pacoima; 818-718-6460; http://www.vic-la.org
Meet Each Need with Dignity: 10641 N. San Fernando Road, Pacoima; 818-897-2443; http://www.mendpoverty.org
FISH of West Valley: 20440 Lassen St., Chatsworth. 818-882-3474.
SOVA: 16439 Vanowen St., Van Nuys. 818-988-7682; http://www.jfsla.org.
North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry: 4930 Colfax Ave.; 818-980-1657.
Guadalupe Community Center: 21600 Hart St., Canoga Park; 818-340-2050.
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church: 8520 Winnetka Ave., Winnetka; 818-341-3460.
West Valley Food Pantry: Prince of Peace Church, 5700 Rudnick Ave., Woodland Hills; 818-346-5554.
First Methodist Church of Reseda: 18120 Saticoy St., Reseda; 818-344-7135; http://www.fumcreseda.org.
Rescate at Canoga Park Community Church: 22103 Vanowen St.; 818-884-7587; http://www.rescatefamilycenter.org.
The NY Times speculates that speculation in housing today may not produce future gains, such as those enjoyed by our parents and ourselves over the last 40 years.
In Los Angeles, housing is extremely overpriced in a few areas of the city, mostly near the beach. And there are factors that will keep some areas very affordable for many years, undesirable facts that include: bad schools, unsafe streets, illegal immigration, hot weather, bad air and sparse public transportation.
If the economy was healthy, and unemployment was lower (it is now 12.5%, third highest in the US), the housing market might be OK.
But real estate reflects an unethical past. Loans were handed out regardless of income. Lying was built into the system. A fake, subsidized increase in values, brought on by mortgage-backed securities, produced a bubble.
And now we are living in the morning after.
From the fantastic archives of CSUN’s Oviatt Library Digital Archives are two color photographs, by Bob Copsey, of Hidden Hills, under development, in 1957.
The exclusive horse and ranch-oriented neighborhood, west of Woodland Hills, was offering home sites from $7950 to $12,500 and 3-4 bedroom homes from $27,500-$47,500.
Today, homes in this gated area have sold for $1.6-$5.7 millions.
Adjusted for inflation, $30,000 in 1957 would be worth $226,000 today.
$226,000 is probably what some homeowners in Hidden Hills have spent to remodel their kitchen.