Boulevard of Blankness.


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According to City Data, the area of Van Nuys bounded by Roscoe Boulevard on the North, Woodman Avenue on the East,Burbank Boulevard to the South, and the 405 on the West, an area of 7.2 square miles, contains some 100,000 people at a population density of 13,271 per square mile. The LA Times claims 110,000 lived here as of 2008.

Heart of this district is a blank-walled canyon of bleakness, Van Nuys Boulevard. It was once a thriving commercial street, full of fine looking Mid-Century Modern banks, small stores, and family run businesses where the windows were washed and the sidewalks swept daily.

In the 1950s through the 1980s it was a cruising area, taken over by young people and cool cars.

And now it is a dump.


 

It seems that this blog, for over 8 years, has reported ad nauseum on this wasteland of shuttered shops, littered parking lots, and vast expanses of asphalt surrounded by decay.

And yet, two blocks from Van Nuys Boulevard, there are some lovely and historic streets, well maintained houses, people and their properties who are trying to keep neatness and bourgeois respectability evident in their front yards.

The bottom line is the bottom line. There is not a plan, nor a large scale investment, nor a vision for Van Nuys Boulevard. There are piecemeal and weak proposals put forth by well-meaning people to make it “bicycle friendly” or “pedestrian friendly”. But who the hell wants to spend time in the 100-degree heat, soaking up the smell of urine in doorways, stepping over dog shit, as the smoke of illegal food vendors blows over the parked cars and idle trucks who have flunked their smog inspections?

The current environment is a hellish place, one whose continuing demoralizing existence blights the whole community of Van Nuys.

One hundred thousand people who live here deserve better.

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Sunday Afternoon on Kittridge St.


It was late Sunday afternoon in December, here in Van Nuys.

The air was brisk, the sun was low, a pork butt simmered in the slow cooker.

This is the time of the year when you can see the mountains beyond the orange trees.

Days are brief and what gets done gets done quickly. The Christmas season is sewn in living threads joyous and melancholy, lonely and familial; aching, sad, reverent and intoxicating.

Football, films, electronics envy; shopping, eating, packing presents; drinking orange beer under red lights where the smell of pine, vanilla and chocolate is pervasive, these are some of the elements placed here annually.

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I walked yesterday, in waning light, along Kittridge, a neat and well-kept street of homes between Columbus and Van Nuys Boulevard.

West of Kester, Kittridge is a ranch house neighborhood entirely built up after World War Two. Within living memory of some, this area was once entirely agricultural. What lay west of Van Nuys High School was the vast beyond of walnut and orange trees, ranch lands and open spaces. Within 15 frantic years it was developed or destroyed, depending on your viewpoint. And by 1960, it was the Valley we know today, structurally, not demographically, of course.

The homes here are solid, the lawns (mostly) cut. The flat streets and sidewalks recall a Chicago suburb, a place where American flags are flown, and bad news and bad behavior is kept quietly behind drawn drapes.

Van Nuys, CA 91405

Two friendly eccentrics were outside yesterday: a man who looked like Fidel Castro with an engraved “RICK” metal belt buckle, and his beer mug holding friend. They stood on the corner of Kittridge and Lemona as workmen re-sodded Rick’s lawn.

I spoke to them briefly, repeating my infernal line. “I write a blog about Van Nuys called Here in Van Nuys.”

“Here in what?” asked the beer mugger.

Here in Van Nuys,” I said.

“You work for the government?” he asked.

“No. Let me take your photo,” I said.

“No. You got a card?” he asked.

I handed him my printed business card.

“So you write what?” he asked.

“A blog, called Here in Van Nuys,” I said.

The older man with the Fidel Castro beard knew exactly what a blog was. He also complimented my camera and my quilted jacket.

I moved on after that, and crossed to the east side of Kittridge.

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On the east side of Kittridge, north of Van Nuys High School, the street is grounded in civic and religious solidity by the presence of St. Elisabeth’s Catholic Church and the enormous VNHS.

Rod Serling might have come here to film an episode of The Twilight Zone, so awash in normalcy and Americanism that one could be dropped here and think that nothing had changed in Van Nuys since the Eisenhower administration.

Notably eccentric and interesting collections of houses line the street, ranging from neat bungalows to sprawling pre-war ranches. They are placed on long, narrow lots, going back far, into deep yards, but they seem to have been immunized from the decline into squalor infecting some older streets in Van Nuys.

I stopped and stood in the parking of St. Elisabeth’s across from a tall white spire bathing in the remaining daylight. People were gathered, under umbrellas, for an event involving food and prayer.

And the second part story of my Sunday walk will continue in another essay….

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Young Asia.


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They were young when we boarded Singapore Airlines at LAX, bound for Tokyo. 22 men and women, flight attendants, smooth skinned, well mannered, and slim, women with hair pulled back wearing Sarong Kebaya. Graceful, smiling, polite, they maneuvered in and out of the aisles, pushing carts, pouring tea.

The flight left on time and touched down in Tokyo as silently and softly as a Kleenex falling on a pillow.

The airports were dazzling, slick, architectural and inviting: Tokyo Narita, Singapore Changi, and KLIA.  Customs officials in every nation were polite, well-spoken, welcoming. Everything they are not in Los Angeles.

The skyscrapers were young, newly built, tall, dropped into every corner of Kuala Lumpur: Icon Mount Kiara, Charigali Tower, 60 floors tall, St. Regis Hotel, 80 stories tall, Menara Tradewinds, Warisan Merdeka (118 Floors Tall!), KL Tower (Menara Kuala Lumpur) 1,381 feet tall, Ilham Baru Tower (62 floors).  They were clearing out jungles, paving over valleys, erecting vast suburban housing and vertical towers in Cyberjaya, Shah Alam, Bangsar, Petaling Jaya. Soon, a high-speed train will connect Singapore, KL and Bangkok.

The land was young, landfill on the west side of Melaka, thousands of acres of new commercial buildings lined up like soldiers in a future army of retail, uninhabited infants.  Old classical mansions that once stood on the shore were abandoned and empty, their contents stolen, their memories wiped clean.

The KL malls were new, full of shoppers, hordes of black haired boys and girls in bright scarves and long dresses, eyes glued in their smart phones, moving through vast air-conditioned, bright spaces. The Pavilion! KLCC Suria! Star Hill Gallery!

The Malaysian highways were new, and along the new landscaped lanes, billboards shouted advertising with smiling faces, multi-cultural Malay and Chinese faces beaming in Samsung, Jasmine Rice, Panasonic, Thai Airways, Telekom Malaysia, Air Asia, Hyundai.

The Malaysian born bride was young, effervescent, intelligent, ambitious, and well connected. She owned a condo, a house (under remodel) worked for a bank and travelled to Singapore, Bali, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and Melbourne. She had a lot of friends, a lot of family, a lot of generosity and much love around her. She was the future, for just this moment, of a region where education and money are exploding exponentially.

And the trains in Tokyo, the intersections of Shibuya, Shimokitazawa, Ginza, Shinjuku, they were young, overwhelmingly so, populated with hundreds of thousands of post 1985 human beings pouring off the modern perfectly run trains, into stores and shops and cafes, hurrying everywhere, acquiring purses, shoes, makeup, perfume, suits, electronics.

Inside the endless shops of Tokyo Station, the bowing and the smiling, the serving and the selling, a furious, unabated, exhausting and exhilarating controlled carnival of commerce, this was Japan.

And everywhere, in every corner, the spirit, the energy, the optimism, the faith in tomorrow and the future, a region poised to take over the world, relentless in its work, socialized to harmonize, grouped en masse into money-making and modernism, this was young Asia.

I went here on holiday, for three weeks, to attend a wedding in Kuala Lumpur, to vacation in Phuket, Thailand and stop off in Tokyo for four days.

I came back to Los Angeles in culture shock. For what I saw back there made the Golden State seem dyspeptic, backward, self-congratulatory– without merit.  Our new international airport had dirty windows; the customs people were fat and shouted angrily at passport holders. The bus was late and the driver made jokes (“This bus isn’t going to Van Nuys. Long Beach! Just kidding!”) that delayed our trip.

And the news was that the government was shut down. I thought of that on the 405 bus ride home, having just seen, 10 hours earlier, postal workers at work at Tokyo Station, on Sunday afternoon.

America is no longer young, in outlook or output, and I wonder if we even have any dreams left in our national imagination.

Border Crossing.


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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.

9000 Orion Ave

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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.

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Azteca Tires

On Rayen St.

Books and Poseurs.


tumblr_mc60lu1Li51r12aa1o12_1280At 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.

The Puppy, the Lobster and the Mad Woman


California Lobster two-piece swimsuit, swim trunks, and man’s shirt Mary Ann DeWeese 1949 LACMA

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.

The Puppy

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.

General Quarters

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

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.

Wilshire Corridor

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.

Sunday

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.

The Madwoman

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.

No Problem.


Electric Ct., originally uploaded by Here in Van Nuys.

No Problem

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.