The Getty: Light, Line and Texture.

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The Getty Museum is one of those destinations in Los Angeles tourists come to see. I played a tourist yesterday and went there.

I entered into the parking lot via a new automated system where one pays at the end of the visit and no interaction with a human is necessary. It cost $15.

A tram transports you to the top. You ride up in it, like a European, secure in its cleanliness, safety and recorded instructions.

The plazas and the sculptures and the architecture are still here, but the water had been turned off, in deference to the drought.

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There were two exhibitions going on which I walked through quickly. One was full of drawings and paintings from the studio of Andrea del Sarto who lived in early 1500s Florence. Exquisitely wrought chalk portraits reminded me of what my father, who studied at the Art Institute in Chicago, used to aspire to.

“Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography” was an exhibition of various experimental, often abstract, tactile printed photographs from dozens of artists. Blotches on one print read, “chromogenic print soaked in Rainbow Lake water.” Another showed concentric circles, still another was shadows, and another drops of black splotches.

These were selected by experts, curated by intelligentsia, and worked in their incomprehensible oddity to expel me quickly.

The rooms where the prints hung were crowded and hot. Suffocation soon got the better of me and I ran out into the light and air as I always do when I visit the Getty.


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Better to me than seeing French tapestries in dark rooms is to walk outside and observe the light, line and textures of the Getty buildings and grounds.

The Getty design is now more than 20 years old, and just as a 1955 design looked old to 1975 eyes, so the architecture, with its squared and rectangular lines, seems dated in our present biomorphic era of computer generated forms and origami like skins.

Perched on top of the Sepulveda Pass in arrogant modesty, the buildings transformed the rural aura of the pass into something of a gaudy parade of wealth, equaled by the Skirball and its cold, pink, granite towers.

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Students from Brazil.
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David Cu

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The $1.3 billion dollar Getty, whose funds might have worked to transform a gritty neighborhood in South Central into something better, was also used to plant thousands of oak trees along the hillsides. The lands around the museum are now verdant and shaded.

$1.3 billion was spent on the museum. And twenty years later people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles. But art is safe, secure and protected.

Such are our priorities.

But that is another discussion.

There are still, to the photographic eye, many lines and textures and shadows dancing all over the buildings and grounds of the Getty.

These are some I captured.

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Alessandro Borsani, Student, Visting from Milan.

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Elliott Kai-Kee, Educator

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A Quiet Enclave


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There’s a little area of Glendale or east Burbank or whatever you want to call it, a quiet neighborhood nestled into the confluence of Griffith Park, Victory Blvd, and Riverside Drive.

Old, snug, shaded, smelling of horse and hay, hit with the low, dull roar of the nearby 134, its winding houses and cottages are silent, eccentric, redolent of the old Western town, and completely out of tune with the flash, bang and sprawl city of Los Angeles.

I’m drawn back here. Especially on days like yesterday when the skies were dark, and gray clouds spread over the San Gabriels in a convincing display of more ominous meteorological conditions.

It was cool and autumnal when I turned up Winchester Avenue and parked near Riverside.

Hidden in the crook, under large trees, I found a sprawling, two-story high, hacienda apartment with a red tiled roof, white painted brick and a lush green lawn obliviously and joyfully unworried by drought. Adirondack chairs, twig chairs, plastic chairs, and a barbecue threw off an impression of eternal leisure and life without worry. A 1965 Turquoise Chevy Chevelle sat on the driveway: as if yesterday was still today and what was old was still young.

California, up until about 1960, built apartments that looked like well-to-do homes. You might live here poor, work as a waiter, scrape by on next-to-nothing, but you were surrounded and intoxicated with hope and dreams and a stage set of domestic happiness. Your aspirations were given to you the moment you arrived at Union Station. Only later did you realize they would be taken away.

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The streets are clean in Burbank and Glendale, often spotless.

Coming from Van Nuys, which gives a social excuse to every ill around us, it is remarkable that Burbank and Glendale are run so seemingly well, with a presentable public face that is simultaneously progressive and traditional.

Streets are swept. Windows are washed. Alleys are paved. Walls have no tags or markings. There are no shopping carts of clothes tied to trees. There are no tent cities of the dispossessed under the overhangs of buildings.

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And there are many small motels here. But I didn’t see prostitutes and pimps and hookers and johns and the sex community walking along Victory in Glendale.

Maybe the laws are tougher here. Maybe the police and the courts and the residents work together. Whatever they are doing here they are not doing on Sepulveda Boulevard.

At a public safety meeting last week in Van Nuys, held jointly by Councilwoman Nury Martinez and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, the issue of homelessness came up. Ms. Martinez spoke to a resident complaining that public sidewalks are now taken up with the private possessions of individuals. The Councilwoman said the courts had sided with the people who tie their shopping carts to trees and put up tents in the alley. “You can’t haul away their belongings.”

Legally, the illegal is legal.

And that is the way the new world works. What would have been unimaginable in 1945, 1955 or 1965 is tolerable today because everyone knows that toleration—not the law—is the highest principle liberalism can aspire to.

The inhumanity and injustice of allowing people to live on sidewalks and eat trash and set up tents anywhere, that must be tolerated because “we are understanding.”

Maybe it would be inconvenient for him, but Mayor Garcetti should allot some time in his schedule to drive way out to Glendale from LA City Hall and contemplate what they are doing that provides some space for civilization and contemplation that is missing in much of the San Fernando Valley and greater Los Angeles.

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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


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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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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”.

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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.

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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

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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.