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 exciting developments in San Fernando Valley urban planning is nearing completion in North Hollywood near the Red Line Terminus. Walkville is a 5,000 unit housing development which is entirely green. Landscaped bike and walking trails wend their way alongside apartment buildings where children, seniors and families live. The goal is to encourage walking, which explains the wonderful name: evocative of health, fresh air and friendliness.
Locally-produced and sustainable materials, from Burbank, Sylmar and Pasadena were given priority during sustainable housing construction; roofs are commonly equipped with solar and photovoltaic panels, and make Walkville one of the largest home solar energy districts in Southern California. To encourage carbon reduction, a program supports tree conversation and planting. As far as water is concerned, a system for rainwater infiltration into the ground covers 80% of the residential area. A new ecological sewage system has been invented too, that reuses organic household waste and generates energy. The LADWP offers Walkville residents a 35% discount on their water and electric rates.
Councilman Tony Cardenas, builder Eli Broad, architect Frank Gehry as well as architecture supporters Brad Pitt, Robert Redford (who grew up in Van Nuys and feels a strong connection to the town), Nancy Reagan, Michael Eisner, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Anniston (who grew up in Sherman Oaks), Comedian Jay Leno (“If it’s made in Burbank I’m for it!”) and Maria Shriver all contributed both financial and public support to the $250 million dollar undertaking.
A five-acre orange grove, the first such agricultural planting in the San Fernando Valley since 1939, will produce over 500,000 oranges a year. Herbs, walnuts, organic milk and free-range chickens may be introduced to produce locally grown foods for consumption and sale. 1300 Valley Oak trees, native to Southern California, will shade the development. Small stores, selling everything from coffee to groceries to housewares, are planned on the Vineland Avenue side. The best news is that 70% of the people who have moved to Walkville have given up their cars. They will ride the Red Line train to Hollywood, downtown LA and Pasadena and take the Orange Line bus to Woodland Hills.
The article you have just read is a satire. None of it is true, at least for the City of Angels.
Minus the celebrities, it actually and accurately describes a real town, called Vauban, in Southern Germany.
Here is the way things really are in LA, a city where the NIMBY needs of Brentwood and Beverly Hills outweigh the greater good for all.
Gosh Darn it, I Know How to Solve Our Problems
“If nobody in government does something than somebody else will”
My buddy, Jay Rock, who works in the Pentagon, and knows folks at the IMF, is frustrated. Because our country is oil dependent. Because our nation is increasingly worried about President Obama and the fiancial meltdown and the convergence of crises around the globe from Australia to New Zealand. Because the Middle East cannot wait another day. Oil, terrorism, poison gas, death, weapons of mass destruction. It’s time to get serious and if I were in the Oval Office I would just shake President Obama by the collar and say, “Hey, Mr. President! Listen to me! I’m Tom Friedman and I know what is going on!”
We knew what was happening when President Kennedy was assassinated. The US was respected and the world respected US. Then came Vietnam, Watergate, Three Mile Island, Dynasty, Dallas, Knots Landing and the Clintons. Monica Lewinsky and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston and the BP Oil Spill. I went online in 2002 and saw the writing on the screen and knew the interconnected dictatorships whose Islamic radicalism was no match for the seemingly confounding intervention in the Balkans. If we didn’t know then what we know now, how could we citizens, the greatest citizens in the world, crawl out of this crisis and get our handle on global warming?
We need to pass an immigration bill. We need to pass a global warming bill. We need to pass a solar energy bill. We need to pass a Wall Street regulatory bill. We need to pass a tax on all carbon emitting cows.
I was having lunch with a good friend who runs Congress. We were sitting in a fine restaurant in Bethesda, MD. He looked at me and I looked at him and we burst out laughing. Because you cannot solve all the problems in the world by writing a column that you can solve all the problems in the world by writing a column.
The oil spill gets worse everyday and yet we sit and fiddle and do not get moving on the number one issue that may drive our nation into poverty, obscurity, powerlessness and pettiness. The mean-spirited, overly-cautious, under-invested, top-rated, and low-ball estimates of trying to change. Change is here. Change is now. And we have to change or change will change us.
This unedited column was written in 20 minutes, while sitting on the toilet.
Photo credits : Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly. Mosaic: by HIVN.
The other day, emerging into the sunlight, at the LA Fitness parking lot, in Universal City, I was confronted with the painful sight of five cars with out-of-state license plates: Ohio, Wyoming, Virginia, Tennessee and Iowa.
These are the new immigrants to California. They are mostly young, white, tattooed and illiterate, post-collegiate settlers.
I see them hogging up the freeway, and texting while driving. Many of them are sub-intelligent, and speak in grunts and groans: “Yeh” or “Hey” or “What’s up?”
Compared to the well-groomed and nicely mannered young people who immigrated to California 50 years ago, this bunch seems to have no manners.
They are taking some of the best jobs in California and some of the worst ones too. Real Californians are now almost completely shut out of the job market. Waiters, receptionists, valet parking, graduate students, personal trainers, bank tellers, retail sales—every once viable occupation is now taken over by people under 25.
Many of these recent immigrants live like pigs. One young woman I met, a native of Massachusetts, kept moldy French fries under her bed for months. She smokes pot and actually made one of her male roommates into her boyfriend. She has a backyard full of dog shit. These are the type of people that are now crowding the Golden State.
Their blank faces and gleaming white smiles cannot hide the devious truth that they are almost all out to get married, get rich, get famous and find happiness. They greedily eye real estate, hoping to buy houses that rightfully should be occupied by real Californians.
And many of these lazy young people sit for hours in coffee bars and cafes, talking about idle gossip, surfing the Internet and sometimes even asking their parents for financial help. Most of them lack health insurance, while many will get sick and then depend on health insurance to pay their medical bills! Others are addicted to such exotic and useless hobbies as video games, yoga, running, drinking liquor, music downloading, and chin-ups.
It’s time that the people of California followed the example of Arizona and made immigration a top priority for law enforcement. The social fabric of our state is decaying, and California will no doubt become just a repository for the young and the useless, the confused and the ambitious, the intelligent and the stupid….in short just a magnet for young Americans who contribute too much and too little to the problems of this state.