Charm’s End.

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If one were seeking calmness, emptiness, and quiet, a strange but real place to find it might be found on Victory Boulevard, north of Alameda in Burbank.

Here, after 6pm, on a Friday evening, between the close of business and the setting of the sun, I walked, with a friend and a camera, along this stretch.

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Back here, in the shadow of the mountains, somewhere east of the Golden State Freeway, the old Burbank hangs on, consistent in its ethos of cleanliness, orderliness, workaday business and enterprise, un-self conscious, without irony, quietly fixing cars; selling donuts, batteries, oil and lube jobs.

One-story buildings are occasionally broken up by 1970s English style castles and 1990s glass block offices. But the silent majority of style remains firmly in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s hands. There is no litter, no graffiti, no people selling things on the sidewalk, no people laying on the sidewalk or sleeping on benches, no dog shit on the grass.

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But some people are suffering behind the tidiness.

At the very beginning of our walk, a middle-aged man was smoking a cigarette outside of a motel near Frank’s Restaurant. He told us he was an animator and had two sons, ages 13 and 15. He had lost his job, and later his home, and was evicted and now living in temporary housing room with his kids. He was white, and perhaps a little younger than me, friendly and well-spoken.

Yet, he too embodied something old and old time in his friendliness, as if he had stepped out of the Great Depression and into one of Dorothea Lange’s photographs.

I didn’t take his picture but his words are seared into me.

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Tom Ford’s Style Makeover


Last night I was trying to make use of the lamentable offerings on Roku and found myself on the Conde Nast Channel.

Offerings included a snappy series of style makeover videos hosted by Tom Ford, a handsome fashion designer who once ran Gucci.

In each short, Mr. Ford and a middle-aged editor at GQ appraised a guy who needed stylizing.

An array of schmucks, always under 35, with nice hair and nice jobs, stood in front of a white studio backdrop.

Mr. Ford, tanned, expensive and exfoliated; large glasses, fingers on his chin, looked them up and down.

“You are quite handsome, do you know that? But your eyes have crow feet,” he said to one man.

“You have premature gray hair,” he said to another 30-year-old, “Your eyebrows need trimming. The eyebrows are the architecture of the face.”

Onto these men went layers of Tom Ford clothing: oversized wool turtlenecks, tight jeans, high boots, suede jackets, and strangling scarves.

And upon completion, he would render his verdict based on the men’s new clothes and grooming.

“Now you look like a successful restaurant owner!”

“Now you are ready to be the CEO of the company!”

“If you want to be President in five years this is how you have to dress!”

He delivered his opinions with the confidence of a scientist and the reliability of a psychic.

Who would argue with Mr. Tom Ford, a man of large ego and white teeth, who rode into fame’s frontier pushing brands and image, marketing and makeover, money and manliness?

Perhaps I would.

Well-knotted neckties and well-tailored suits, polished dress shoes and good hair might count for something.

And many live thinking that if I only knew what I wanted to do in five years I could figure it out.

Mr. Ford, no disrespect intended.

But please fuck off. People like you bring us down when you bring us up.

The only expert we need is our own conscience.
Perfectionism demoralizes.

A Winter’s Tale

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A man was moving out of his English cottage, and I was walking by, and he invited me in, to see it before he left for good, on a Toluca Lake street (where I’ve set my next short story), into a home, emptied of content, yet still full of emotion; an ideal cottage in the low millions, outfitted with dark wood floors, marble bathrooms, and discreetly elegant paneling; electric sconces, French doors, and striped awnings hung on black spears. And a subtly vaulted living room where cool winter light streamed through little steel windows splashing in blue light a brown, stained, scuffed floor.

He had lived here for seven years, placed in Los Angeles by a now bankrupt mortgage company who had conceivably compensated him well enough, but left him to hang out to dry when they collapsed. He became that very tragic figure: the enviable executive who lives in a beautifully decorated house where Roman shades, silent burger alarms, wi-fi, and built-in cabinetry mask financial illness.

He showed me photos from a glossy real estate brochure, of symmetrical rooms where couches and chairs mingled politely and toilet tanks stood erect in upright, polished splendor. He spoke wistfully of his 84 months here, 2,555 days of certain sunshine and uncertain liquidity.

I wondered if he had contemplated suicide, as I had many times, up awake at 3am, convinced I would never find work, angry at myself and my life choices, in fear of not paying my mortgage or getting the money for property taxes, medical bills and AT&T. Did the lush aesthetics of this house, with its fountains and sunlit corners, soothe the frightened beast inside of us all, the frail human alone as his nation commits economic genocide? Did hunger ever enter the confines of the redone kitchen? Did tears pour out of his eyes as he stood near the pivoting water spigot over the chef’s stove?

I did not ask.

A Jaguar, packed with plastic mattress covers and suitcases, sat on the driveway, and the backyard was full of rose bushes and two lounge chairs set on the green lawn. We walked through cerebral, reserved, tranquilizing rooms painted in healing greens and mournful blues from those cursed years after 9/11.

Every corner was well crafted and exquisite, from the ornate iron registers to the crown molding, to the high hat recessed lights, to the 50-year slate/asphalt roof, copper gutters, matte celadon backsplash tile, stone patio, Tuscan fountain and hi-efficiency heating.

White haired and kind voiced, with an intonation I remembered from New York, the man spoke with optimism and hope about losing the house profitably. He would soon set up his life somewhere in Sherman Oaks, holding a wet finger into the wind on Beverly Glen, hoping that this sale might release another California dream to carry him into future love and security.

Holiday Inn Express, North Hollywood.

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Holiday Inn

One of the strangest juxtapositions of new development and old crap can be seen in the San Fernando Valley east of Lankershim on Burbank.

A new six-story Holiday Inn Express is going up on the south side of Burbank Blvd. within view of the “arts district” yet firmly within the auto zone of muffler, tire, transmission, oil change, lawnmower and auto sales dealers.

Imagine you are a naïve guest, perhaps from Iowa, who is coming to Los Angeles for the first time and you see this modernistic, multi-colored Mondrianlike building on Trip Advisor. You might be excused for believing that you had lucked into a real fine deal, a lovely, clean hotel with good rates right in the heart of North Hollywood.

Upon checking in, you drive up Lankershim, past Sunrise Ford with its bright red painted “Diesel Truck Repair Center”.



You go up to your room and look out and see V.A.S Auto Repair and John’s Lawn Mower with its garages full of grease monkeys changing oil, servicing radiators, and loading up pick up trucks with power equipment and lawn mowers.


If you are getting hungry, after walking through all the paint and gasoline fumes, and breathing in the smell of diesel, you can pick up something to drink at N. Hollywood Liquor where they accept EBT and can also cash your check for a fee.

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Smoke Shop

For a stroll you might stop by for a bite to eat at Tacos Manzano where Taco’s Tuesday is only $1. Or go directly next door to the Smoke Shop or Harry’s Auto Repair where the smog experts work behind cinderblock murals of Marlboro cigarettes and hookah. Pick up some pot at any of the medicinal pharmacies along the way. Marijuana is to modern Los Angeles what rice is to China.

Los Burritos

Quick Lane

If you don’t want burritos on the cheap you can have a more expensive burrito at Los Burritos or go across the street and get an American style burrito burger at Denny’s. If you crave nightlife you can go to El Zorro nightclub right next door to the Quick Lane Tire and Auto Center.

In another 50 years, a new generation of vaca negras will waddle past here, orange drinks in hand, and wonder if that bad old motel with prostitutes and vagrants will ever be torn down.

Border Crossing.




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.

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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.


Azteca Tires

On Rayen St.

We Left Our Families

We Left Our Families by Here in Van Nuys
We Left Our Families, a photo by Here in Van Nuys on Flickr.

Motto For a City

I was driving west on Hollywood Blvd last week. Stopped at a light, right near the 101, I saw this poster in the window of a small shop.

Applicable to many who migrated here, it sets in words, the struggles and dreams, both won and lost, of men and women, defeated and determined, working and surviving, to transform their lives into something more significant.

I found the words poignant and sacramental, holy and human, a unifying testament of we the people, a city of angels: fallen and sinful, redeemed and reborn, for all time.

At the bottom of the print is the word cyrcle, a link to the art community that created the poster.