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.
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.
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.
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.
Across the street from where I live, over the past few years, a succession of health care workers have taken care of an older Guatemalan born man and his wife.
When we first moved here, I would see the old, white-haired, squinting man come out of the cyclone fence gate, and pull up weeds or pick up litter in front of a narrow strip of lawn that bordered a lush garden of banana trees, cacti, grapefruit and Birds of Paradise.
The pink stucco house with the old red tile roof and its inhabitants entered the driveway in a large van from which emerged people on crutches, and on canes, carrying shopping bags and sometimes waving to me.
Then there were strange faces, workers, behind the gate, sweeping the driveway, watering the pots of geraniums, staring across at me, as if I lived beyond their imprisonment, in a free world of orange trees, athleticism, sunshine and youth.
I thought that perhaps some of the men who looked over were looking at me, cruising, or maybe trying to ascertain if I were gay.
The old man and his wife, and his family who used to come outside, have gone away, and now I only see Filipino faces entering the house; and I wonder often if the old man is sick or dead and what has happened to the wife who once kindly brought me a bag of backyard grapefruits.
The weather was ambiguous and tentative today, opening up to sunshine and clouds, wind and stillness; so I went outside and took a long, wooden citrus picker and harvested some of my oranges on the tree.
A white Honda pulled into the old man’s driveway. And two men, a young man, and a woman got out. The woman went into the house, and the three males walked out of the shadows, into the sun, and suddenly appeared on my driveway.
Short, smiling, in sweats and baseball caps, they introduced themselves: a father, his brother, and a 20-year-old son.
The young one asked me about my house. He wanted to know how long I lived here, what the neighborhood was like and who I lived with.
He said that he and his family lived near Beverly and Normandie. He worked downtown, in a restaurant, on the 54th floor of the Wells Fargo Building.
The father took a bite of the orange and said it was sweet.
I told the son about my Filipino connections, the friends I know who come from there and visit there. My ignorance of the Philippines is immense. There is simply nothing I really know about the people, food, language or culture; yet somehow I retain a great admiration for them.
“Do you live here with your wife and children?” the son asked.
“No,” I said. “I live here with my partner. And sometimes we have a roommate. But that doesn’t usually work out.”
“You have a really beautiful place. We want to buy a house. Maybe get everyone together and chip in. It’s so loud where we live and it’s so quiet and peaceful here,” the son said.
He admiringly looked at my modest blue Mazda 3, sitting in the garage. “I’ve seen you driving that car. So that’s what you drive.” In his earnest search for life knowledge and practical know-how he seemed to have found me and imagined that I had answers.
I had gone for a run that morning, and then showered and put on an old, gray Pringle cashmere inherited from my late father. To the family from the Philippines, the ones who came over today and look after the old sick ones across the street, I was blessed. My clothes and my house and my face and my education, designations of class and wealth and privilege, they all worked like a stage show in front of these visitors’ eyes.
But the truth is that my situation seems as tenuous and fragile as the dried out branches on the orange tree.
Last night, it was time for that yearly meeting with the accountant who laid out, in numbers and boxes, ominous red digits and impending taxes. Like a heart patient who visits the cardiologist, an unemployed man dreads April 15th. Despite the withdrawing of pension money, the borrowing of money, and maternal cash infusions, the balance sheet is indeed awful. How long we might live here is anyone’s guess.
But today, there were smiles and handshakes and humanity under the California cumulus. The Pinoy brought a gift to me today. They showed me again what it means to have been born lucky, even when you think you are not.
I rode the train down to Hollywood and Highland the other day, my way to enter the city that is part protest and part convenience.
Los Angeles is fast becoming a city. It is true that millions live here on mountain and plain extending from Palm Springs to the Pacific, but to disembark from a Hollywood subway and walk up into a dense conglomeration of bars, restaurants, stores, apartments, and theaters; that has eluded the City of Angels which prefers to offer up asphalt and sunshine and days spent inside looking at the TV in air-conditioned isolation. But things are changing.
Near Hollywood and Whitley, there was police action. A Mexican bicyclist had accidentally clipped off the side mirror of a Bentley and the owners, two black men, beat and bloodied his face. The bruised Latino sat on the sidewalk, while several cops filed reports and dozens of witnesses watched.
Across the street, another young man on a bike, Derrick, told me that he just came here from San Antonio, TX and was staying at the Roosevelt but had been robbed and had nowhere to stay so he just rode around the city all day. He had come to LA to get away from bad people in Texas and now he was living the dream here.
Hollywood Boulevard, incidentally, has some of the ugliest clothes in LA seen north of Melrose. Everything tacky from five years ago: graphic t-shirts, baggy jeans, garish jackets, they all are presented with vast indifference by smoking shopkeepers. The sidewalks outside of the store smell like urine. The north side is baked in sun and smog, and the south side in perpetual darkness and shade.
I was down here on one of my “jobs”, photographing a model who, in his demeanor and looks, emits privilege, elegance, health and happiness. And on his Twitter stream, asks for dog-sitting jobs, begs for car rides to Silver Lake, and tweets of eviction, depression, exhaustion, sinus infections, flu and seeing Jennifer Anniston on the street.
You want to warn young hopefuls not to be, to advise them to get out of here before they get old and fat and move to Woodland Hills to work for Anthem, but it is futile when you have a mouth full of white teeth on an unlined face and your body fat is only 3 percent.
On the train back to North Hollywood, there was a bicyclist, holding his new thin-tired machine evocative of Italy and leanness. He told me how he rides from Van Nuys to Hollywood and got hit by a car last year. He was sanguine and not-at-all bitter about his injury, and seemed to be a genuine chipper urbanite of the new, denser Los Angeles who looks beyond his car, engaging the urban life with feet and rapid heart beat.
Later that night, we went to my favorite cheap sushi restaurant in Valley Village. As I sat eating, a young man walked by the window. He had greasy long blond hair and sad eyes. He looked, not with lust but in need, directly at me.
After we left the restaurant and got into the car the haunted young man walked up to my window and asked me if I had any change to spare.
And I didn’t have the kindness, I admit, to give him anything.
So I was back in the Los Angeles, not in Hollywood, not in the train, but in the land where nobody has money but people with money.
And sometimes, on Sunday morning, after the gym, I go to the Farmer’s Market on Ventura Place, in Studio City, where I eat a Blue Corn Tamale with Salsa, walk around, and observe and pronounce judgment on strangers who look familiar but whom I’ve never met.
At the eastern end, near Radford, animals and children’s amusements are crowded into the street, under the mirrored façade of an office building reflecting light onto juvenile encampments of goats, chickens, rabbits and ponies. A large, inflated trampoline hums with laughter and an electric generator. A little Choo-Choo train carries parents and their popcorn-munching progeny around an improvised track.
There are fathers and mothers of all ages, and they all seem to have children between 1-5 years of age. Observing these parents, one sees education and ambition on lined faces, framed in semi-silver hair, who once came young to Hollywood, in search of work that could be prosperous and creative but found instead: exhaustion, humiliation, and defeat.
These are not the round bellied, 40-year-old men in suburban Chicago or Houston. They are basically trim, stubble faced, capped in baseball and wearing the team hats of the TV shows they once worked on five years ago. There is not a 40-year-old who dresses older than 25, and for that matter, there are barely any real 25-year-olds here. Perhaps they are sleeping off hangovers.
These aging crowds, in a street performance which could be entitled, “Facade of Youth” are like plastic and paper, to be constantly remade in the liberal precincts of Los Angeles. Their careers and lives, ever recyclable, will be trashed or used again depending on the whim of employer or lover.
I would like to come here to take pictures, holding my new Nikon d3100 DSLR with the interchangeable lens, but I dare not. A real camera is a real threat to this crowd. It is legal to photograph anyone, including a minor, in a public place, but the new custom, adopted by those whose individual lives might turn up 8,000 entries a piece on Google, is to deplore photographers.
Once, 30 or more years ago, an unlisted telephone number was enough to insure privacy. But today, Zabasearch and BlockShopper would probably uncover the age and home addresses of most anyone walking down Ventura Place with their environmentally correct canvas bag full of organic mushrooms and Meyer Lemons.
There is communal kindness and sartorial casualness on parade at the Studio City Farmer’s Market. It seems that people run into each other and exchange stories about what day care or diet their children are on. With sunlight and warmth bathing the fruits and vegetables, sellers and buyers, one feels marinated in the ideal recipe of life in the Golden State; a cornucopia of the imagined happy life….
But later on today, the market folds, the crowds disperse and the stands go away.
And the cars–speeding, honking and texting– will return and another week of busy unemployment will consume the lives of those who walked and shopped here on Sunday morning.
James Howard Kunstler writes provocative critiques about the decline of America, interpreted through the aesthetic ugliness of our strip malls, billboards, and vacuous suburban environment. He speculates about why young men, facing meaningless work and oppressive debt, might go mad in a nihilistic nation that has destroyed its own character and integrity:
“The rewards of entering the realm beyond college are paltry-to-miserable. Solitary cab rides to the mall. A burrito and a Big Gulp. Later, back home, an hour in the virtual company of the Kardashian sisters via the E-Network on your parents’ cable TV. Where are the initiations into manhood? (Try the channelized dry-wash, courtesy of the Barrio Blue Moon boyz.) I’m convinced that the reason video games and movies aimed at young males in America are devoted almost solely to fantasies about super-heroes and supernatural power (especially the power to kill) is because adolescent boys feel so impotent, so powerless, so unlike real men. The adults in this culture do not furnish any meaningful alternative scripts. That’s the market’s job, I guess.”
Cloudy Morning: Van Nuys
Under the cover of clouds, I walked along Kester, Sylvan, Van Nuys Blvd., Aetna, and Oxnard streets this morning.
Kester is well-known as perhaps the filthiest street in Van Nuys, with trash-filled curbs, wrecked vehicles, and yards full of debris and neglect. Slumlord owners and indifferent managers create much of the property abuse. The tenants, amazingly, do not. It is not the fault of a renter if a building fails to repair a damaged roof, or if a mini-mall cannot sweep its curb daily.
Sylvan, between Kester and Van Nuys Blvd., is a mixture of older homes, 1950s and 60s apartments, and new construction. Some of the buildings are quite neat and tidy, while others have couches, garbage cans, and discards strewn about.
Van Nuys Blvd. is neither broken down or upscale. It is just simply unpleasant. There is nowhere good to eat; nothing fashionable to buy. Cars speed by, on a six-lane street, under the daytime burning sun and nighttime orange glow of the cobra lamps.
Most of the stores are for bail, legal services, pot dispensaries and do-it-yourself salvation/damnation churches.
A very red-hot dog stand is a bright note on Erwin and VNB right across from the Mall. An apron clad, Asian woman working there, seeing my camera, came outside and motioned me to not photograph the building. Business must be very good there to turn away free publicity.
Aetna and Bessemer, two streets that parallel the Busway, are industrial and contain machine shops, car repair and other functions involving grinding, grease and garbage.
On Aetna at Vesper, there is an elegant, two-story, Art Deco, 1930s structure that must have served some governmental function seven decades ago. It stands amidst the vast asphalt car lots and waiting braceros.
All that is missing from this environment is a plan and the money to remake it. Kandahar, Islamabad and Baghdad stand in front of the line, ahead of Van Nuys, at Uncle Sam’s bank.
Reader Boyd Kelly sent me a link where one can find many old time images of Burbank.
They show an all-white, all-American town, baked in sunshine; a place of boys and men in close-cropped hair, girls in braids, and women in dresses. Magnolia, Hollywood Way, Victory, Olive, Alameda, San Fernando Road: all the storied and exciting locations, sprinkled with cops, firemen, government officials, soda jerks, grease monkeys and the common folk. Lives lived out alongside the train tracks, or inside the studio grounds, saluting the flag, and kneeling in front of the cross.
Aviators and movie makers, weapons makers and homemakers, ball players and ice-cream eaters, swimmers and parade goers, Nixon rallies and Nazi gatherings….yes, this is Burbank as it was….and perhaps Burbank as it still is.