Yesterday in Burbank.

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Yesterday in Burbank, the sky was clear, clouds sat high and moved fast, the sun sparkled, dust blew, and people rode horses on dirt trails.

On this day, a film student from Canada put on a thermal shirt, petted a horse, picked up a shovel, tried on a jean jacket, and impersonated a life without quite really actually believing in it.

Near the stables, roosters crowed and horses neighed. And the student carried a black bag out of a red barn and walked diagonally past the camera.

The muscular, tattooed man stood timidly next to a white horse in leather blinders. He said he was from the city and had never touched that animal.

In the equestrian district, the air smelled like hay and horse, horse shit and horse sweat.

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Later, along Victory, drops of rain fell and then stopped.

Under the concrete pillars holding up the Golden State, behind a steel fence, illuminated in the mellow end-of-day light, the student stood in mock incarceration, a dark skinned reminder of others who sit in prison, or move beyond borders to chase freedom in other lands.

He later stood shirtless next to a street sign, not unlike the thousands who stand on the streets of Los Angeles waiting for customers, or others who live on the streets because they have no home.

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Processed with VSCOcam with j4 presetAll of it was pretend, and all of it was about capturing light, and setting a mood, an imitation of life.

Yesterday in Burbank was make-believe.

But the light was real and the buildings threw off a gentle and enveloping glow, mitigating the harshness of the city, and offering an alternative imaginary story for jaded urbanites.

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The Local Sweeties and Public Safety.


Courtesy of a community minded neighbor, we folks gathered tonight in a computer lab inside Casa Loma College on Kester to hear Senior Lead Officer Erica Kirk, Gang Officer DeLeon and a man from the Los Angeles Department of Building Safety speak about property crimes, prostitution and gangs.

The people were mostly older, largely white, and on friendly terms with one another. Before the speakers began, two chatted up about church, “I don’t hear the bells ringing any more!” and on grandchildren, “My granddaughter still works in Woodland Hills for a sod broker!”

Around the building, within spitting distance, ghetto apartments were sprayed with gang signs, prostitutes walked freely, speeding cars plowed through red lights, and old refrigerators and couches were dumped alongside the road.

But inside the room, reassuring voices of authority, festooned with badge and pistol, spoke of laws and arrests, patrols and progress against criminal activity.

Abandoned houses, trashy front yards, barking dogs at 3am, explosions, gunfire, helicopters, stolen cars, discarded marijuana containers, dumping, ubiquitous sex trade, stinky winds that blow sewage smells into the bedroom, none of these facts of life in Van Nuys would soon disappear, but some attendees were damn angry and determined to speak up and put a stop to the madness.

“Why don’t you arrest these prostitutes and ship them up to Nevada where it’s legal!” one man yelled. “They’ve been at it for forty years on Sepulveda.” And I pictured a sad whore, walking in the sun since 1975, wrinkled, abused and hated by local homeowners.

Another new arrival to Orion came with his pretty wife and spoke about his accounting of the used condoms found on streets around his beautiful estate.

“Since August 1st I’ve counted 33 condoms on Blucher, 44 on Langdon, 53 on Peach Avenue and 27 on Blucher!” he announced. My mind, always visual, imagined a sticky, gooey condom near a peach. For his wife, inviting the grandchildren into the front yard while a sex act was going on in front of the roses and white picket fence was quite appalling.


Some gentle people seemed innocent as to the fact that they lived amongst violence and anarchy. “The Mexican Mafia? What’s that?” a woman asked.

Another older woman spoke of her son coming home at 3am and passing three young men tagging a stop sign near Valley Presbyterian Hospital. “He stopped his car and rolled down his window and asked them why they were doing that,” she said. Officer DeLeon advised that it was, perhaps suggestible, not to confront three taggers at 3am in Van Nuys.

If Donna Reed and her family were transported to tonight’s meeting they would fit right in. That old time Angeleno, who came of age after WWII, whose life was formed in a sea of childish televised wonderment , made an appearance tonight, as delightful and improbable as Walt Disney meeting the Devil.

The local sweeties who came for this meeting were the nice ones who make up the silent and invisible and powerless backbone of Van Nuys. They cannot compare, in numbers or influence, these citizens, to the 180,000 who are in Van Nuys illegally, and whose presence regularly is spoken of in terms reverential and pandering, as when immigration reform comes up, as if we as a nation are commanded to do something to break the system further and destroy national sovereignty in the name of political correctness.

These people who gathered here tonight are regularly told there is not enough money for law and order, but when I spoke up and asked the crowd if they would pay fifty cents a gallon tax on gasoline to double the size of the (13,000) LAPD and bolster it, nobody raised their hand. “Why don’t you tax cigarettes?” a female cancer patient asked.

There will no doubt be more community meetings in the future, but the prospect for improvement in Van Nuys is dim. Without leadership, even the best intentioned community group, even the best cops on the beat, cannot hope to overcome the nonsensical and insane carnival of crime that dances all around us day and night. IMG_9557 IMG_9552



History Online


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In the public record, and available online, are millions of building records, in The Department of Building and Safety, encompassing a large part of the history of the city of Los Angeles.

I discovered this great trove of fascinating information during a recent employment incarceration at a Sherman Oaks realty agency.

When we received a listing, we went online and pulled up permit records related to a particular property. This was part of my duties, along with stuffing plastic fingers and plastic spiders into hundreds of orange and black Halloween bags destined to hang on doorways south of Ventura Boulevard.


My neighbor’s home at 15139 Hamlin went on sale yesterday.

I pulled up a 1933 building permit for the property.

These records are available for anyone to view. And are not confidential, private or top-secret. They are part of the public record of building safety in our city.

15139 Hamlin was built by Fred J. Hanks who lived down the street at 15015 Hamlin (since demolished). Mr. Hanks estimated the total construction cost of the home at $2,000.

Incidentally, I plugged $2,000 into the US Inflation Calculator and found that amount to equate to $36,606.92 in 2015 dollars.

Mr. Hanks built a two-bedroom house with one bathroom and a kitchen, living room and dining room on a 50’ x 137’ lot with garage for about thirty-six thousand 2015 dollars.

The current values for housing properties in Los Angeles are truly insane. They are fed by a frenzy of speculation and collusion by appraisers, property owners, banks and realtors and seem to reflect no sane relation to either income or reality.

Van Nuys, between Kester and Sepulveda, above Victory, is stuck in a strange rut. The houses here are expensive enough (over $500,000) but are mostly unaffordable for new home buyers. But there are few that sell for over $650,000 so developers have no interest in purchasing old or dilapidated houses, pouring $100,000 into them, only to find that their $600,000 investment cannot sell for over that amount.

As a result our area has quite a number of empty houses, and others that sit on large parcels of land that could be developed for more housing. People sleep on benches, and on the street, or spend $3000 a month for renting an apartment and they all could be owning a house if only the economics of our times permitted.

Perhaps someone sensitive and aesthetic, with modern tastes and an artistic eye will purchase 15139 Hamlin. Or, as seems more likely these days, the house will be obliterated by concrete driveways, 30 cheap exterior lantern lights sitting on stucco walls or iron gates, vinyl windows and Roman columns, and five Hummers parked in front with four on the street.

People once had little money but could build cheaply and practically and pleasantly. Now they have little money, but they build as if they have millions, and the result is a vandalizing of our communities producing pimped-up houses that will again go vacant and unsold when the next downturn hits.

They knew something in that Great Depression year of 1933 we need to learn all over again.



The Sun Came Up Slowly Above Sepulveda.

15200 Victory Blvd. 2 15200 Victory Blvd.Under dark, glassy, reflective, translucent, stormy, gray, inky blue clouds Van Nuys awoke today.

The hot sun and its aggression were held back. And the light came up slowly. The workers sat in their cars along Victory waiting for the red light to turn green.

Humidity, and the hint of rain, the blessed promise of water, hung in the air.

The Barn (in back)


Bulldozers carried pieces of broken-up pavement in the Wendy’s parking lot as mechanical jackhammers tore into old asphalt. Construction workers attacked the building, skillfully peeling and nailing glossy, modern effects.

West down Erwin, old cars and overgrown bushes flank houses where age and decay cannot hide. The past and its four-wheeled rusty remainders sit on driveways.

Erwin Near Langdon  Victory, where quiet houses sit next to six lanes of traffic.

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Back on the corner of Sepulveda and Victory, right where the police shot a man to death after he broke their window with a beer bottle, the empty parking lots and bank buildings are mute, without feeling, marooned in a landscape of cheap indifference.

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There is no civic center, no park, no church, no place to sit. The frenzy of cars and donut shops, office supplies and Jiffy Lube, this is one of the many centers of Van Nuys. But the center cannot hold. The consensus of American life is scattered here, as it is all over the land. Somewhere in the shadows, thousands of homeless are waking up in alleys, in their cars, behind buildings. The normality of life seems normal but things are awry.

When the traffic eases, people will speed past here, and some will run across the intersection to board buses, and the day and its distractions will obliterate the early morning calm.

Afternoon with the Commander.


He is 94-years-old and lives alone in a stucco home in the West SFV he bought for $53,000 in 1974. His wife died three years ago and he tells me he thinks of her as gone on a long vacation. He can get up from the couch without a cane or walker. He drives a car. He goes to his granddaughter’s ball games. He shops, he laughs, he has no outward disabilities. And he came home 70 years ago, from Mindanao and the Battle of Midway, settled on the South Side of Chicago with his wife Frances, and they both had four children, three of whom died before they were three years old.

He is my Uncle Paul Cohen, who is now in his 13th year (not consecutive) as Commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the San Fernando Valley. They meet once a month on Sundays and are now down to 175 members, from their high of 350 more than ten years ago.

I sat with him in Woodland Hills last Saturday in those brown-carpeted, brown paneled rooms full of family photos and too many tchotkes. He had his plastic card table set up in the den, a place where he holds informal board meetings with the other veterans.

His son and daughter-in-law live close by. They eat dinner at Chili’s with Paul almost every night. Their children also live nearby, and there are two grandchildren less than 10 minutes away.

How has Paul lived so long? He ate meat often, loved grilled steaks. He wouldn’t know an organic vegetable from a conventional one, and his skin, remarkably free from wrinkles, is healthy but unguarded by sun-screen. When he was young, his Chicago was filled with unfiltered cigarettes, black chimneys, coal, stockyards, asbestos, lead paints, freight trains and steel mills. He lived through the most brutal battles of war, and came back to the grit and grime of the Windy City.

When he was young he almost played professional baseball and was in a semi-pro league that travelled around in buses. His dream was to get on the field and get paid for it. Instead he became a lifelong skilled handyman who could plumb and electrify, saw and build. He drove a truck but he really dreamed of driving in home runs. His passion for baseball was passed down to his entire family. And to this day his weekends are spent going to watch his granddaughters play ball.

Though he dropped out of high school to support his family, and never made it to college, he possesses that sagacious and practical wisdom mixing realism with optimism, and accepting human nature as it is.

“Mind your own business Andrew B.” he said. “That’s how you stay happy. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t butt into their affairs. Let them be.”

He had no gossip about the family, but still had an intense curiosity and memory about every person who we knew in common: cousins, friends, young and old.

We spoke about why he never worked with my other Uncle, his brother-in-law, who owned a successful heating and air-conditioning contracting company in Chicago.

“I’ll tell you what. I went to work for him one day. I had to disassemble and demolish a coal-fired boiler in the basement of an apartment building in Chicago. All the soot and the dust could only be removed through a small basement window. I shoveled all the coal and the dust up through the hole. Then I went up to my truck and loaded all of it into the vehicle. I was covered head to toe in black soot. I went to a lumberyard. I bought 2 x 4s and brought them back to the basement. I built up the wood and called a cement company to come out. They poured the cement into the form and we built a platform for a new boiler. I did the work of not only the demolition but the reconstruction. Then I got home at midnight.

The next week, your Uncle’s partner Vito (?) said they had fired two guys in the company because I was doing their work. They were ready to give me a twenty-five cent an hour raise because I was doing the work of three men. Vito said he wanted to give me a two-dollar an hour increase but “your brother-in-law” said only twenty-five cents.

That’s why I never worked for your Uncle,” he said.

There was no bitterness in Paul. Recounting his tale of how he had, essentially, been screwed out of a good, solid living by his wife’s brother did not irk him.

These are his versions of events. The people he names are long dead and the stories cannot be investigated or proven. But his recounting of something unfair was expressed magnanimously and justly, without rancor or anger.

He was satisfied with his life. He told me he was going to turn on the air-conditioning and said to help myself to some cold water in the refrigerator out in the garage.

I remarked that you never know your own strength until you are tested by some life event.

“What choice do you have Andrew B.?” he asked.

Silent Split.

She had come and lived here, in our house, ten years ago, a shy, thin, smart and curious girl of 20.

She lived in the front bedroom and seemed to spend her days studying, sitting on the bed, hunched over her laptop, emerging at night to sit down and eat dinner with us, and then going back in her room to study more.

On Monday morning, she began her week early and walked to the new Orange Line bus and went to classes at Valley College. She earned money tutoring and working in the computer lab. She made friends with other immigrant students, a girl and boy from Russia, a nursing student from Thailand.

Our tenant never complained about school, or money or fatigue.

After two years at Valley College, she walked in the house one day, and said, almost imperceptibly, that she had been awarded a full scholarship to UCLA, one that would eventually pay for graduate school, should she choose to go.

She graduated, with honors, in microbiology. But unsure of her next move, she worked at a software company in Westwood, where she eventually rose to oversee the marketing department, again spending her long days quietly concentrating on the computer, and focusing her fast brain on the logistics of statistics.

Outside of work, she was dating another graduate from UCLA, whom she eventually moved in with. He applied to graduate school, and they both moved to Boston so he could study there. But her LA company kept her on, and she regularly commuted back and forth from her Westwood office back to her Brighton apartment near Boston University.

He graduated and the couple moved back to Santa Monica. She applied to graduate school at UCLA and was accepted to an MBA program. He began work at Cedars-Sinai Hospital and at a private clinic near their apartment.


And yesterday afternoon, the first cool, cloudy day in several months, we met only the young lady in Westwood and later drove to Koreatown for lunch. And after we finished our meal, we got back in the car. She sat in the back seat and announced quietly she had broken up with her boyfriend of seven years.

She recounted her version of the story in cool, calm, measured tones. Emotion rationed and mostly banished, she had already moved out of her apartment and into new student housing near UCLA.

And so we pulled up to her new home in the gated complex. And she got out, thin and stylish, in a short white lacy dress, and walked into the dark courtyard, a single woman.

Something in me hurt as I watched her go inside, something that went back many years to Chicago where my grandmother lived alone in her apartment in West Rogers Park and I had felt compassion and sorrow for that lone woman in her own room.

The young woman in 2015, going back into her apartment alone, and my grandmother in 1975, were not the same.

It was only my mind- emotional and dark and contemplative and perceptive and interpretive- mixing past and present.

Here was another immigrant making their way in life, in a strange country, and succeeding, in education and work; a person who had less advantages than me, but one who possessed courage and hardihood.

I felt protective again as I did when she first came here in 2005. And I thought, driving home under the gray clouds through the Sepulveda Pass, that Louise Hurvitz, now in heaven, might want to hear this news.

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Building the Self-Esteem of Properties.


A recent run of work inside a Ventura Boulevard real estate office brought me into the world of those listings, words and photos, meant to build the self-esteem of homes.

I speak of the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and its breathless descriptions of current residences offered for sale.

Awkward, ill-proportioned, ungainly, ostentatious, oversized, outdated, gaudy, trendy, remodeled, modernized, updated, whatever their individual personality characteristics and physical appearance, once they had undergone descriptive transformations via agency wizardry, they each emerged as self-confident houses ready to graduate into acceptance of offer and transfer of title.

As anyone who spends time in Studio City or Sherman Oaks knows, there once existed a lovely pair of communities where tree-lined streets and charming cottages co-existed with larger and wealthier hillside homes. But lately, the obliteration and demolishing of sweet little places and the replacement of small and human with enormous and robotic, has become a frenetic, greedy and exhausting activity.

6 bedroom, 7 bath, 5,000 sf houses on 7,000 sf lots, and every single one of these places as indistinguishable as pennies in a piggy bank.

Their owners are an exotic lot of ethnicities whose names are unpronounceable but mostly sound like San Fernando Valley streets spelled backwards.

4533 Casa Grotesqua was purchased in July 2014 for $795,000 by Kraproom Namdoow and Sordec Notluf. And after a $60,000 kitchen upgrade was sold for $2.1 million to Edisrevir Yrotciv, an attorney.

 14432 Moonshine Drive, Studio City is an outstanding 2 bedroom, 1 bath house with walking closets, a two-die for pool, expansive windows overlooking bustling, sophisticated Ventura Boulevard. It was completely remodeled in 2014 by designer Enitlezah Agneuhac and features stone ground fountains, heated toilets and high security children’s playrooms monitored by close circuit cameras. It is now offered for sale at $2.1 million.

The real listings on the MLS are too grammatically mangled to reprint here. If they were homework assignments handed in to English teachers in any 7th grade class, they would all be graded F.

But why bother proof reading listings for houses selling for one, two or three million dollars?

When your mortgage is $9,000 a month, there is very little time left over for reading or writing.