A tailgate prayer and Thanksgiving feast was brought to the parking lot of Dunn-Edwards on Sepulveda this morning. Attending the event, sponsored by the Iglesia Mision Divina, were the very few day worker/painters who normally congregate at the paint store when it is open for business.
Mr. John Hendry, resident of Van Nuys and board member of the VNCC, sent me an email alerting me to the impending demolition of two old houses on Victory east of Kester.
14827—33, one a stucco house with pillars, the other a Spanish style (1936) with an arched entrance, stand on the windswept wasteland of six-lane wide Victory Boulevard. Few who speed past here, munching frosted donuts in black spandex, bother to look at the two architecturally historic properties that soon will be bulldozed for a 9-unit apartment.
It turns out I had photographed the Spanish house a few years back. But more strangely, I realized that Mr. Hendry’s homes were not the soon-to-be-demolished ones on Victory I drove past a few days earlier.
I had seen two others with ropes and signs up the street.
At 14242, east of Tyrone, on the south side of Victory, was built in 1923, and is a unique looking structure with an arched center door entrance flanked by two symmetrically placed windows framed with decorative metal hoods and lattice work.
Sentimental, pinkish, feminine, lovely: it is also on Death Row. Next to the frilly lady is a plain blue and white frame house that looks like Dorothy Gale’s Kansas cottage. It shares the same fate as its neighbor.
92 years ago, Victory was a semi-rural street, narrow and flanked by pepper trees. It was a verdant and new settlement convenient to nearby government, post office, library, school and church. Streetcars made it possible to get to Hollywood or downtown.
In 2015, Van Nuys, willfully ignorant and wantonly wasteful, pursuant of profit and devoid of imagination, will sweep away even more of its history so that ugliness and plasticity can triumph.
We know what ISIS did to the ruins of Palmyra, Syria. And we rightly condemn it as the work of ignorant savages.
But what are we doing to our own history by our own actions or inactions?
A few months ago, I walked into a Santa Monica dry spice store that my friend and I had dismissed a few years earlier.
It seemed ridiculous to us, that people, in the farm-fresh and organic era, would buy dried spices and spice blends at premium prices, and also waste money inside a store where the edibles sat in glass bottles in the burning Western window sun, becoming milder, less fragrant and more tasteless by the day.
Yet the business lived on, as culinary mediocrity often does in Los Angeles, eventually thriving in its insipid rendition of gourmet flavoring for chef lite hacks.
But then I came back into the spice store a few weeks back. I gave it another try. Maybe I was wrong.
I bought something called Northwoods Spice: salt, black pepper, paprika, thyme, rosemary and garlic, which the company describes as perfect for chicken or fish.
It cost about $13 for seven ounces. And I used it once or twice with no noticeable or discernible improvement in my food. In fact, the food had come out worse with the addition of the Northwoods Spices, giving baked chicken the flavor of something my mom might have cooked in 1975 Lincolnwood, IL served with Uncle Ben’s rice and creamed corn.
Equality’s Front Lines
Today, that company sent out an email with an entirely different agenda. They were giving away either a magnet or a cookbook called LOVE PEOPLE with any $10 purchase.
Further down the email, the owner and alleged author of the email, Bill, talked up his support for “people on the front lines of the continuing struggle for equality.”
Who, really, are the “people on the front lines of equality?”
To some they are students screaming to take down President Woodrow Wilson’s name at Princeton University. To others, like me, equality is often accomplished in a quiet or modulated voice: teaching, reading, praying, thinking, writing, to postulate ideas and reform minds, and argue, through logic and insight, for the reform of certain societal inequities such as equal pay for women and men.
The mob, screaming and tearing up for You-Tube, is the curse of our time. The Arab Spring, so liberating online, has burned up in the Saharan sands and splattered blood from Jerusalem to Paris to Mali. Millions protest. But not one speaks freely.
But, here in America, The Spice Man speaks freely.
He tied in the struggle for equal rights to the strange events in Ferguson, MO, where, in 2014, Darren Wilson, a police officer, shot to death Michael Brown, a black man who had just robbed a store and roughed up its owner.
A grand jury later decided not to prosecute Officer Wilson. And rioting followed after this legal decision.
So why bring this tragic event into a way of advertising your spices? The killing was an epic event, a turn of racial history, an explosion of anger, an invocation for rioting, an example of passion gone amok. To employ this police/pigmentation tale of violence to market spices reduces its enormity to triviality, and grounds it down into mere cocoa powder.
The seller of garlic powder, turmeric and thyme, whose exposure to worldwide aromatics evidently endows him with insight into all senses of the human condition, then compared police reform to Catholic priesthood reform, linking the two institutions, which have no relation or logical connection, but obsequiously praising The Catholics and The Cops for “coming a long way from protecting their own no matter what, to understanding that not everyone has what it takes to do the job.” Perhaps The Spice Man and his unessential oils belong in the latter category.
A scandal about police brutality, a scandal about child abuse, and now (to my mind) a scandal of a salt salesman using the most controversial and unsettled issues of our time to push his product.
Bill’s presumptuousness, his wise ignorance of imagining that his clientele shares his views on the proper role of police, on racial profiling, on police tactics, on law enforcement-all of it- sickened me because it used sensitive and philosophically critical issues in the service of selling spices.
In this strange marketing email, he also praised the Milwaukee police department for “an incredible forward-thinking outreach to our city’s homeless community.” In old America, before the 1980s, the police arrested people sleeping on the streets, not only because it was illegal, but also because it was unsanitary and unsafe. And gutters, park benches, alleys and dumpsters were deemed not fit for human habitation.
Strangely, there are still people, (like me) who think that there should be a law against allowing people to set up home on the sidewalk. Tolerance of it allows it to grow and become a movement of its own, normalizing the cruelty and barbarism of it, and giving a free pass to liberals to walk from their Range Rover with the handicap sticker on it, right into Studio City Lululemon on Ventura Boulevard, past the old lady who has slept on the metro bench for six months.
So now the police, as cited in Milwaukee, are expected to be the ambassadors of graciousness to the mentally ill, and to people made mentally ill by living outdoors in urban filth.
But back to The Spice Man.
He thinks he knows his customers. He thinks he knows them because sells them political opinions, set out in marketing blasts, better kept to himself.
He ought to make a better product before he jumps ahead to planetary reform.
Spices, kept out for too long, lose their potency, like old bromides.
First there was youth and young people, fresh faces, and smiles. There was festivity and the night, wine and laughter, the scent of exotic perfumes, the smell of jasmine, vanilla, sandalwood, tuberose and citrus, the flirtations and sensuality of life, the swing of partiers having fun. Music and entertainment and the dark, gathered inside a red Chinese concert hall built in the 1860s, some place historic, cultural, significant, simultaneously frivolous and majestic.
And there was the stadium, and players and the cheering crowds, the fast game, the movement up and down the field, the lines and the rules laid down, with everyone playing fair, and the adjudication of sport overseen by referees, players, spectators and cameras.
November in Paris, a Friday night, and the restaurants were full, and diners were devouring mushrooms in wine sauce, risotto, saffron flavored rices, rare beef, sautéed spinach and roasted garlic; red wine, sparkling wines and many glasses of beer and whiskey.
There were lights, and people holding hands, and lovers kissing, and boats sailing down the Seine, and the monuments lit up and illuminated and beloved.
And anger was nowhere to be seen because it was extinguished in warm fragrant showers, in grassy burning candles, or under blankets where people made love in bedrooms where the windows were swung open and the drapes swayed in the breeze.
Chocolate cake and buttered bread, hot coffee and cream, soft cheeses; and women with red lips and tousled hair and cashmere scarfs tied around their necks, and young bearded men with long hair and a long life ahead of them.
Children only yesterday, born after 1990, so young and so unaware of the temporal and the fatal; and perhaps they died as they lived, in a spasm of ecstasy, with no foreshadowing or fear of the barbarism that would end their brief lives within seconds.
Why, why, why, why, why, why?
Why, why, why, why, why, why?
One of the first lessons new arrivals to Hollywood learn is that you make friends with people who can do something for you.
It’s a secret that is out in the open, one that many imagine they alone own.
I was as guilty of it as anyone else when I moved here in 1994 and thought a 15 year friendship with a television producer would lead to work and connections. Instead it just ended in bad words and we never spoke again.
Poisonous as it is, the tendency to believe that high connections produce happiness and fulfillment leads people into dead ends. And the idea that every single new friend should have some mechanical use is part of the reason people here have so many friends, and hardly any good friend.
This was one of the weeks I was back at work turning people I hardly knew into friends. Because I have written a webseries. And I want people to work on it. And I’m pitching it around and thinking that I’m getting somewhere by speaking personally to those whose skills or interests might correlate to mine.
You own a studio and you build sets?
You went to film school and you’ve shot video?
You are funny and you act?
You’ve never acted and you want to?
You’re a producer because you call yourself one?
I’m going to be your next friend.
This is the time of year when the weather turns colder and leaves turn golden and I think of those times I would cook Thanksgiving dinner with my mother and father in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, and she would rip out the entire food section of the New York Times and we would try and create something artistic like Creole Oyster Wild Rice Stuffing that would later be eaten and despised by my father and brother.
And when my parents were here in California, on a holiday visit, or living here, we would all gather at a relative’s house. And my mother and I would drink many glasses of wine and eat several helpings of turkey and stuffing, potatoes and pie, and wander around, not talking to anyone, but just enjoying a stuffed stupor, while outside Christmas lights twinkled and cold winds blew. And life was bracing and lovely and numbingly satisfying.
Those occasions were times I had to testify to my mother on plans and ideas and money-making schemes I had dreamed up. “I think I might work on a new documentary in January Mom. Nobody is hiring in December. The whole city is dead.” Some of those Thanksgivings, especially in the 1980s and 90s, involved a blonde woman named Carmel on my arm, and a message handed out by matriarchal authority that I was only welcomed home as a heterosexual.
Everything is gone now, the house, my youth, my Ralph Lauren tweed jackets and wool pants, my mother and father. My brother and his family escape to luxury in San Francisco and eat burritos and sushi in the Mission District while I stay back and think about which friends or family are really true and who are not.
Thanksgiving (like Halloween, Christmas, Hanukah, Easter and the Fourth of July) is not thought of too highly by my Malaysian born partner, but he is willing to eat everything provided it is drenched in maple syrup.
This year we were invited to several places but we will cook at home. It sounds cozy and dull. But I should be thankful I think.
Some friends from out-of-town, people whom I know from years back, may visit Los Angeles and I will see their photos on Facebook but they will never call. They will be busy, they will be showing off their children, their production photos, their visits to Disneyland. And I will still call them my friends.
One poetic and articulate friend is now an executive producer rebranded as an authentic Southern voice and storyteller. He was one of the quality people I met when I moved here. If I live here 20 more years I will probably encounter others of great self-importance.
Living in Hollywood for twenty years I still have idea how to quantify or recognize authenticity.
On Facebook (of course) there is a group called “Westwood Village in the 70s and 80s.”
Photos used in this post come from that page and are duly credited.
I wasn’t there back then, so I cannot attest to the apparent excitement, vibrancy, energy and entertainment that existed in that district forty years ago. All I know is that many say Westwood is in decline.
Los Angeles is a faddish city. Nobody in the 1970s would have thought Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Atwater Village, Downtown Los Angeles or Third Street Santa Monica to be cool. They were dead places back then, not yet discovered or annointed as the haven for young consumerism.
And remember Melrose and its heyday in the 1980s? That street has largely been forgotten, its stores a seedy and tacky collection of crap.
But Westwood, and its empty stores, its empty sidewalks, is more of a mystery since it is surrounded by afffluence, and set in a historic, climate- controlled pleasantness with a veneer of historic architecture. One would think that walkable Westwood would still draw in the crowds.
Will the new subway along Wilshire help? Transit and new development have revitalized Hollywood, brought it up from its fifty year slump, and turned it into a crowded destination again. Who, even twenty years ago, would have imagined Hollywood as it is today with gleaming tall buildings, many restaurants, clubs, bars and packed with crowds day and night?
The cyclical nature of Los Angeles, its glib and shifting tastes and shallow urbanism is also a reason for hope. What is down and out today can become the new destination of up and coming tomorrow.
Van Nuys anybody?
The Los Angeles Public Library has a collection of city directories dating back to the late 19th Century and these are now mostly available online.
Of course, I turned to browse at the 1939/40 San Fernando Valley City Directory, all 674 pages of it, with its detailed listings of every single person, property and business in the entire valley at that moment in time.
Van Nuys is described as a “model suburban homes community of Los Angeles City; strategic and important business center. Municipal administration headquarters for Los Angeles in the annexex area of San Fernando Valley.” Population 35,000. (Population in 2015 is estimated at 140,000)
The Valley, on the eve of WWII, was about to undergo changes unforseen and unprecedented. It was a unique conglomeration of modern convenience and the dusty rustic.
It was a time when men and women wore hats and dressed up to go out. And people spoke in hushed terms about health concerns and family secrets. Nobody said fuck in public, and the fat tattooed lady was only found in the circus.
While people were private about private matters, they were at ease having their names, addresses and professions printed on a publically distributed platform.
It was a folksy time when business owners adopted nicknames for themselves. “Bran” and “Dee” Funkhouser, for example, owned the Bran-Dee Brass Rail and Cafe at 6308 Van Nuys Boulevard. Their menu emphasized alcohol: beer, cocktails, wine, lunches and sandwiches.
California was at its most golden moment, still basking in its abilities to welcome [white] newcomers, while radiating an image of wholesome enterprise, carefree recreation, opportunity for all. It stood confident and inspired envy for its education, innovation and technology. It was the home of the movie stars, cattlemen, aviators, oil men and just plain happy folks who swam in pools and ate oranges off the tree.
From the ocean to the mountains, tired people came here to strike fortune, escape gloom, pursue health and happiness, and emerge energized and reborn.