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).
It was blustery, cold, and windy. The skies were full of fast moving malevolence and I was speeding east on Vanowen, coming from lunch at Evergreen on Sherman Way, burning off fuel and the last evaporated remnants of Soju which also means “burned liquor” in Korean. I was sober, but I was sad, just my nature, brought into more vivid clarity after I saw an old friend for lunch who now lives in Boston and will not be returning to LA.
I was in my car, in my head, listening to Sylvia, David Raksin’s 1965 movie soundtrack about a mystery woman from back east investigated by a new lover in Los Angeles.
A blue open house sign on the corner of Louise and Vanowen advertised “Andy and Autumn”, two realtors. Alliterative and suggestive, it took my name, suggested a short story or film noir (“Susan and God”?) and reflected the weather: gray, moody, autumnal.
I drove up one of those gross cul-de-sacs packed in with remodeled ranch houses, where architects had gone shopping like some go to Ross or Marshalls, and had come out with bags full of bargain facades, cheap and badly made, in English, Spanish and Persian Colonial, slapped onto one-story houses crammed all together with big garages, big cars and big people.
Here live successful and normal people doing well in life.
Come look at them.
They live behind the smoked glass, the shutters, the awnings, the iron gates. They live inside air-conditioning ten months a year. They get their news from Fox News and their feelings from Facebook.
Andy and Autumn’s open house (at 6606 Lasaine Ave. in Lake Balboa) had an open door, opening into a dark, high ceilinged entrance. I knew, before I stepped in, that I was back in Barry and Helene/Frances and Paul territory, my relatives in Woodland Hills and West Hills. I was in their kind of home, built in the 1970s, covered in wall-to-wall brown carpets, beamed ceilings, red vinyl kitchen tile and dark brown cabinets with de-luxe garbage compactor and overhead florescent light fixture.
The only authenticity missing was a large boiling pot of chicken soup with onions, carrots and celery cooking on a July afternoon in the San Fernando Valley and a red-haired, nasal-voiced woman yelling, “Herman! Your sister is on the phone!”
There was a second floor, up a flight of brown-carpeted stairs, and four or five small bedrooms with brown carpet, and three bathrooms also in brown carpet.
Other buyers walked through the house, young couples and old couples, one looked Jewish and one was definitely Muslim in her head covering. The world may be exploding and angry, but here in the San Fernando Valley we are all Americans, dreaming of ugly houses we cannot afford and hoping for deliverance from unavoidable debt and unintended celibacy.
I spoke briefly to the realtors standing in the dark 1970s living room, a dark space from a dark decade where light rarely entered a house except from television.
I told them I was a writer and a photographer and gave them a card. And then I walked out, down a sidewalk, past the other pleasant and plastic monstrosities, architectural travesties, brutes in vinyl , gruesome and deformed; proudly and pitifully unaware of their unimaginable homeliness.
One beastly residence had two octagonal porthole windows, crooked vinyl panes, a Spanish tile roof and a pipe railed 1980s balcony clashing violently with a five-armed ornate lamppost, all elements fighting a generational war of ornament.
A few minutes on some streets in Lake Balboa, CA can induce vomiting.
I drove off, in my car, and went south down Louise, made a left on Victory and ended up inside a two-car garage in another pocket of the San Fernando Valley where my battles continued online and alone.
Along the pretty streets in the lush neighborhood north of Victory, west of Sepulveda, on Peach, Orion, Firmament, and Lemay Streets, there are numerous roses at the peak of bloom.
The flowers sit on properties with big lawns, round driveways, mature trees, picket fences; all-American looking estates, many dating from the 1940s.
Most still retain an open appearance, but on Peach, especially, the iron walls of garish and hostile security fences have broken up the grand openness and quaint neighborliness that once marked this district.
You think you know Van Nuys.
And then some small remnant of old property appears. And you are pulled back into a long lost world: unguarded, spacious, verdant, shaded, open and expansive.
It happened a few days ago, when I was traveling on Sherman Way and turned up Katherine Avenue, west of Hazeltine, to avoid late afternoon traffic.
As I approached Valerio, I saw the old San Fernando Valley in an apparition: a few large parcels of land, shaded by large trees, a ranch house set back from the street, unenclosed by fences, iron, brick, or barking dogs.
I returned last night with Andreas from Up in the Valley to explore the neighborhood.
At 14203 Valerio, we found a long driveway, headed with a sign of a family name: “The Schaefers”, and beyond, in the distance, many rose bushes, the long exterior eaved porch; all the indicators of normalcy and domestic tranquility that once presented itself in abundance around these parts.
I was surprised that some industrious Armenian had not bought up the land, torn down the houses and erected a cul-de-sac of concrete and columns, but there it was, a lone sweet house, a place that seemed welcoming, not hostile, unafraid and hopeful, a residence of grace and generosity, without violent defenses, grotesque proportions and malingering meanness.
There were no large SUVs, pit bulls, cinderblock or steel window bars. This was Van Nuys as it once was, up until perhaps 1975, a lovely place to live.
There was a large unpicked grapefruit tree in the yard, an old tree, another symbol of the post WWII days when organic was the only type of eating, and unselfconscious Californians ate well in their own backyards.
This house and this land will probably not survive in its present incarnation much longer. If there were a Van Nuys Historical Society it might honor this home with a citation. But for now only the camera can capture what was and what still is.
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.
The Los Angeles Fire Department has a collection of vintage fire company photos.
In the LAFD archives, I found images related to Van Nuys’ Engine Company #39 which has occupied a building or two at 14415 Sylvan St. since 1919.
Curiously, it seems that present structure, dating to 1939, is merely an Art Deco remodeling of the original neo-classical structure. I could be wrong, but comparing the two buildings, which are in exactly the same location, seems to indicate this.
In the midst of the Great Depression, a grand and completely modern structure was erected or refashioned for a little over $4 a square foot.
Statistics from 1939:
July 25, 1939
Sq.Ft. Main Bld
Main Bld. 15,004
Garage & Storage 1,256
Hand Ball Ct. 1,122
Sq.Ft. Site 100×140
Number of Poles: 3
Los Angeles is not, by nature, an introverted, bundled up, snuggly, gray, rainy city.
But this year, the rains came early.
And we have had several weeks of storms, cold nights, blustery evenings.
And sparkling days with intermittent showers and drizzles, puddles and frost.
Nearby, up in the mountains, the nights are much colder and snow has fallen, snow that is visible way down here in the San Fernando Valley.
These few days, between Christmas and New Year’s, transformed and tamed the City of Angels into a Portlandia: wool sweaters, hot green tea in gloved hands, dog walkers and hikers encased in down jackets and flannel shirts, Icelandic wool caps and long scarves.
In Studio City, at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, Laurel Tavern was filled with down-vested drinkers.
In Van Nuys, there were hardly any barking dogs left outside at night.
Only the occasional swoop of the helicopter…
I went up to the rocky, steep and trampled dirt of Runyon Canyon a few days ago. From that high altitude, I climbed higher to a mountain overlook, a physical cliff, where the streets spread out below in every direction and I could see for miles from downtown to Catalina Island.
This is where you come with your parents when they visit from out of town.
And you can sometimes convince them of this city’s virtues, because they meet its bright views absent its shady people.
And again today I went up into Wilacre Park above Studio City to capture something as brief and beautiful as a child walking for the first time: a sun and smog cursed city magnificently and somberly draped in dark and gray clouds, chilled, sobered and intellectualized by the absence of suffocating heat and blinding light.
A meteorological delusion. This is not Los Angeles. But the camera captured it. It must be real.
Refreshed and purified, swept clean for the New Year, the city and the region, ready to welcome 2013, another year, which will once again dump its toxins of illness, worry, debt, violence, deceit, sadness and broken hearts into our lingering days.
I could live here happily if it just looked sadder a few more months of the year.
Phil DePauk, who now lives in Virginia, has been a follower of this blog for a few years
and he graciously sent me some new (old) photos from his family archives. He is the young boy in these photos.
Phil DePauk and his extended family lived in Van Nuys in the 1940s and 50s and operated a well-known local photo studio located at Gilmore and Van Nuys Bl. It closed in the early 1960s.
One of the other addresses that pops up is: 14204 Haynes St. a block located just west of Hazeltine. Phil either lived or spent time here.
A recent Google Maps view shows that the neighborhood is still single-family residential, but now many of the once plain and friendly houses are sheathed in ironwork and other embellishments of modern paranoia.
There are many cars in these photos. Phil’s father worked at Wray Brothers Ford which was located near the intersection of Calvert and VNB, two blocks n. of Oxnard.
I wrote to Phil this morning to clarify some family facts and here are his words:
“My Dad worked as a mechanic at Wray Brothers Ford from 1948 to 1958.
After Ford, my Dad worked at Pacific Tire and Battery Co. on Sylvan St. across from the old library.
My Uncle Ed (now age 83, sharp as a tack and living in Canoga Park) started working at California Bank (Sylvan and VN Blvd) after his discharge from the Army.
He subsequently worked at numerous other banks before retiring as a Vice President. My Uncle Dan was the manager of the McMahans used furniture store before his transfer to Marysville. My Uncle Bill started his own photo studio in North Hollywood. My Uncle Ed lives in Canoga Park and always enjoys reliving memories and making new friends if you have an interest.”
Some interesting early 1970s photos of the San Fernando Valley, by John Divola,
are up at Americansuburbx.com
Terry Guy has an excellent collection of photos on his Flickr page chronicling North Hollywood and the old Southern Pacific line which ran along today’s Metro Orange Line Busway.
Photo above (near Valley College) is the intersection now converted into a landscaped bike/bus transit line.
Life has improved (sporadically and unevenly) in parts of Los Angeles, due in large part to investment in public transportation, which has lead to greater vitality and revitalization in formerly neglected parts of the city. One can see evidence of that in Mr. Guy’s historic North Hollywood images.
Sometimes it seems, driving at dusk, on Reseda and Saticoy Boulevards, there is a liquor store at every corner.
When the heat has broken, people come out of their cramped homes and walk the street in waning daylight.
They are the faces of the world: Latinos, Armenians, Blacks, Koreans, women in hijab pushing baby strollers.
Reseda at dusk is a crummy beautiful place, a land of liquor stores and Dodger billboards, tacos and lotto, Corona and Cerveza, check cashing, bottled water, Marlboro and ice and Western Union moneygram.
America on TV is a white family in a white house with a white picket fence.
But here in Reseda, packed into thousands of apartments and houses, are the teeming people who work all day and take a little walk at nightfall.
There is a virtual place online where middle-aged mourners can gather to express their memories of a locale where towheaded youngsters, Brycreamed dads, and aproned moms drove in $4,000 Caddies along spotless streets and empty freeways and sent their kids to brand-new schools and inexpensive colleges, swam in sunny swimming pools, consumed burgers in drive-thrus, and went to happy factories in Van Nuys where cars popped off the assembly line like cookies in a bakery.
Valley Relics was started by Burbank native Tommy Gelinas and, in his words, “is a personal collection of rare photos, yearbooks, documents, postcards, toys, photo negatives, vintage signs, books, antiques, and artifacts from the 1800′s to present, from the San Fernando Valley.”
His Facebook page mirrors the website with daily updates and photos and comments on long gone places that once dotted the San Fernando Valley.
One of their most recent additions is from Gregg and Davida Symonds of Agoura. Gregg’s father, Bob Symonds, owned Sunset Farms in Sylmar and was the developer of Valley Plaza in North Hollywood.
Valley Relics seems to be enormously successful with 27,185 likes on FB.
It preserves the past and shows us what the San Fernando Valley looked like at one point in time.
A street in Sun Valley, where flooding once occurred, and polluted rain water carried toxic waste, garbage and chemicals down to the Ocean, has been rebuilt to incorporate green landscaping, flood control, and solar power lighting. Courtesy of Tree People, the Metropolitan Water District and the LA County Department of Public Works.
West of the 405, the vista opens up.
The skies are big and the mountains vast.
This is the land of beer and jets, trucks and steel; gasoline, fire and the burning sun.
This is the Van Nuys Airport, the Flyaway, the Anheuser-Busch Plant, many warehouses, and an enormous sod farm.
Here men and women are working, a necessary condition.
And the horizon of the San Fernando Valley, the blue skies and the straight wide streets, the planes taking off, the delivery trucks speeding across Van Nuys, and a commuter train blowing its horn; this is work and we are in need of work and we live and work; and hope that work returns to our nation as it did in times past.
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.
One of the most persistent and ugly trends of the past few years are the appearance of mobile advertising signs, usually attached as trailers, on the back of pick-up trucks, parked along streets in Los Angeles.
On Burbank Boulevard, near Van Nuys Boulevard, this sign jumps across each side of the street every few days. The parking signs clearly state “One Hour” but this truck and its attached sign spend days and nights here camping out. This sign blocks traffic, creates a roadside hazard, slows down drivers and demoralizes our aesthetics.
Back in January, the Daily News reported a “Crackdown on Mobile Signs” . But like healthcare reform, job creation, and real estate activity, the corpse of public policy does not move.
If you were to bullet point Mike Hewson’s biography, the list would sound sad:
• Grew up gay in the 1950s
• Drafted into Vietnam as a medic
• Returned to Los Angeles and worked in a hospital
• Cared for his mother during her 4-year ordeal and death from cancer
• Watched his good friends, all young men, die from AIDS.
But it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” He might have been speaking about Mike, who was born on July 18, 1945, and moved to 16724 Morrison St. in Encino five years later.
He had an ideal childhood, with a stay-at-home mother and a father who worked as printing company salesman, and a younger sister, Deawn.
In those days, Encino was like a small town, with block parties and vast ranches and newly built houses. The 101 and 405 didn’t come through the Valley until the early 1960s.
He went to Encino Elementary and Birmingham High School. His family lineage, including many veterans of many wars, stretched back some 200 years.
He attended Valley and Pierce Colleges for two years and then studied to become an Operating Room Technician.
In 1967, he went into the Navy and later joined the Marines and went off to Vietnam for 27 Months. His nickname was “Flash”.
In his field hospital, 30 miles outside of Dan Nang, near China Beach, he assisted in neurological operations on wounded soldiers. Blood, suffering, the horrors of war, death and truncated and destroyed young men: all of these violent and horrific human tragedies marched before his young eyes.
He got down in the trenches and did anything he needed to do to help his fellow Marines. He was “Doc” but he was GI Joe too, never allowing his higher position to interfere in lending a helping hand.
He told me that everyone knew he was gay, but that he never heard one hateful remark. He believed that a lot of homosexuality went on in the armed forces, but that it was not an issue because survival and fighting mattered most.
Only politicians make an issue of it.
When he came back to the San Fernando Valley, in 1971, he was overjoyed to be back in the USA. He was still only 26 years old, and he went to work at Encino Hospital and lived as a single gay man in the Brady Bunch era.
Active in the Metropolitan Community Church, he also hung out with a group of friends who all died from AIDS. He and another buddy survived the lethal scourge of the 1980s.
Unlike many people who remember so fondly the San Fernando Valley and talk badly about its present condition, he finds that some things have gotten better. He misses the horse farms and orange groves, but he loves all the trees and greenery that has come up in the last 60 years. He remembers the view of the mountains that was so clear in the early 1950s, and now those views are returning as cars burn cleaner.
His last job was at Barnes and Noble in Encino, and he does regret the loss of the store, which was closed by greedy billionaire owner Rick Caruso and will be replaced with another CVS.
Mike is retiring to Puerto Vallarta. And at age 65, he will take his optimism down to Mexico, which is also a place where people have hard lives but smile frequently.
Spread out on lawns and along the sidewalks: blankets and sheets. They are covered with old clothes, boxes of CDs, vacuum cleaners, pots, pans, glassware, chairs, hats, scarves, underwear, socks, and baby clothes.
Since the Depression laid its dollar-killing hands around the neck of Los Angeles, two years ago, junk sales have blossomed and proliferated and spread like dandelions. Jobless, insecure, fearful, angry; the people are throwing their vast array of crap onto the public sidewalks and private lawns of LA hoping to get $40 or $60.
Jack and his Mom
Outside a neat, small apartment in Sherman Oaks’ Posoville district, my friend Jack’s mom sells stuff every weekend. They live together in a three-room, vinyl-floored unit whose walls are decorated with carved crucifixes and many paintings.
White-haired, dressed in sweats, speaking in an accent that originated somewhere east of the East River, she gave me a hearty welcome. “Go to Unit #13 and see my son,” she ordered.
I walked through the gate, past the jellybean shaped swimming pool and knocked on the door. Italian, single, straight, 45, delivery service driver; Jack answered and gave me a hug.
He was watching the game, (whatever game that was I do not know), next to a bigger lug named Caesar, a large, oversized, crotch-picking co-worker in an AC/DC t-shirt and cargo shorts whose pockets held two freshly rolled joints.
Caesar, grinning ever so proudly, told me he had walked out on his wife of 14 years last week. She lived down the street with his two kids, 10 and 14. He had just come back from Las Vegas with Nikki. “I like to eat pussy,” he explained. His wife didn’t know where he was, which was fine with him.
Jack, though, has had some bad health problems lately. He can’t keep food down. He went to several doctors and has had a colonoscopy. He lost weight. He lost his appetite. He thinks he might be allergic to gluten.
The talk, as it does often these days, turned to “who caused the economy to crash”. I waited for the roulette wheel of scapegoats to spin and this time it landed on a surprise group.
Jack blamed “immigrants” who bought more house than they could afford and then crowded all their relatives in. These relations were all non-workers and non-citizens but they collected government benefits like disability, food stamps and unemployment. Their housing speculation (not Wall Street or the Federal Reserve or banks), he explained, had driven the whole economy into the ground.
Jack also talked about “who owns Beverly Hills” and how he found a website that named all the names of the property owners in every house and “none of them are Americans”.
Unloved and Unneeded
There are many garage sales in Los Angeles now. They are set up anywhere by anyone. You don’t even need a garage anymore.
All along the wide, sunny, indistinguishable arteries of Kester, Balboa, Roscoe, Vanowen, Tujunga, Riverside, Burbank, Magnolia, Woodman, Moorpark, Venice, National, Sepulveda, and Pico; a city is emptying its closets and cleaning out its drawers and dumping its used, unloved and unneeded detritus; hoping to sell for pennies what was once purchased for dollars.
These are the red-flag days in California’s economy and in its social order. We Angelenos, we Americans are becoming more like our garage sales. Put out on the street to be had for next-to-nothing. Cheapened, starving, and needy. Down to our last nickel. And perhaps ready to be ignited by someone who will gain power from the powerless.
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 Santa Monica Mountains cross the southern part of the Valley. They are often green, hydrated by Pacific mists, and shielded from sunlight along their northern flank.
But up in Chatsworth, one can still occasionally find a brown, rocky, and barren land where horses, ranches, hay bales, and fences predominate. Here, far from the ocean, there is hardly any fog, and the south-facing mountains bake year round in blistering sun.
Near Canoga Avenue and Chatsworth Street, there is a surviving remnant of equine ruralism. I drove here, quite accidentally, on a search for open land beyond the last cul-de-sac in Los Angeles.
In mid-morning heat, pushing 98 degrees, an old man was walking his white dog near a working horse stable. A Metrolink train passed by. In the distance were those dry, mysterious mountains.
Along Canoga, behind a row of olive trees, stood some old, tired wood-frame shacks; weather-beaten, paint-peeling, weed-covered. Only a satellite dish atop a roof gave some clue of present day life.