The Incarcerated City.


 

_ABH2013 On these winter days, when the streets are emptied of cars, and the skies are filling with rain clouds, our neighborhood of Van Nuys cools down and empties out, revealing a strange amalgam of enormous parking lots; as well as businesses and homes surrounded by iron gates and fences.

In its entirety, these fortifications evoke prison: a high security, patrolled, guarded, and fearsome place where criminals and children are kept back by a fortress of steel and iron.

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For sixteen years I’ve lived here, always imagining that every New Year will bring an imaginative, humane and socially comprehensive new architecture into Van Nuys.

I fantasize that the parking lots will be torn up and rows of orange trees replanted in the soil. I think someone will see the enormous plots of land, now taken up with blight and decay, and see this as the new place to construct walkable communities with native plants and organic gardens surrounding little residential communes.

That is the dream, shared by some of my neighbors.

Reality is something else.

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On Sepulveda, between Archwood and Lemay, the hellish Ridge Motel is on Death Row, surrounded by fencing and covered with graffiti and garbage. It had long outlived its usefulness and functioned only as a prostitution and drug outlet, blighting its surroundings and neighbors.

Across Sepulveda, Fresh and Easy has closed, taking with it moldy produce and difficult checkouts. But sometimes I’d come here, and liked its convenience, its weird combination of English, Indian, Spanish and Asian foods, its overpriced milk, eggs and breads. And I miss that friendly manager who always smiled and helped me.

One Thanksgiving, about 2012, we bought our entire meal here and ate it back home with my mother, a pre-made, plastic topped collection of containers with sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and turkey. My father had recently died, and my mother was to die two years later, and the holiday meal had a morose sadness intensified by the microwaved artificiality of our victuals.

Fresh and Easy is gone, but what remains are those walls and gates around it, and that big parking lot in front, and a reminder that even when there is no business, or no people, we will still live in an incarcerated city, a place where entrances and exits are controlled, and guarded from either imagined or real, chaos and crime.

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And those vast spaces of nothingness that are spread all over, those too are outdoor jail yards of lifelessness, neither urban or rural, human or natural.

These are the prisons that keep us captive and hold our imaginations and our existence hostage.

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Jesus at Dunn Edwards.


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.

There was something spiritual and signficant, human, kind and touching here this morning.  IMG_9820 IMG_9821 Jesus.jpg

The Local Sweeties and Public Safety.


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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

 

 

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)

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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.

Verdad y Vida


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Near the corner of Saticoy and Sepulveda actors in Verdad y Vida (truth and life) washed cars, stood outside the Tangiers Motel, rode to the D&K Liquor store on bike, and dramatically flashed police car lights to pull over, frisk and handcuff a suspect and his large bag.

And a little man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth confronted me as I photographed.

“Why you take picture of motel and police? Why you do this? Why you take picture of me near motel? What you doing? You not supposed to take picture!”

I showed him the back of my camera, the digital review of images just shot.

There were signs and more signs and no close ups of people.

He was not in my camera.

“You not supposed to take picture!” he said.

 

 

Hart Street, Firmament Avenue, Sherman Way and Sepulveda.


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Yesterday, between the rains, after the air had been washed, the skies were radiant. And enormous cumulus clouds towered above, bottoms gray, tops white. The sun came and went. Streets of dark shadows ended in blinding light.

I walked in the wind up Sepulveda, north of Vanowen, and went left along Hart Street.

This is a neat neighborhood of mostly well-kept houses on generous lots. It is not rich here, but the general feeling seems contented. There are no sidewalks but lots of walkers.

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Near Sepulveda, at 15322 Hart, there is a burned-out house with a lovely second floor balcony and no trespassing signs on a gate; secluded and romantic, it awaits rebirth from ruin.

At 15439 Hart, someone is selling a 1970 (?) Yellow Ford pickup truck.

15521 Hart (built 1952) is a white house with blue awnings. Though it faces south, into the hot sun, there are no shades trees in front.

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Firmament Avenue is the last street in this neighborhood east of the 405 freeway. Large houses and empty lots, well kept estates, battered weed infested places, townhouses and bungalows, all are found on the block between Hart and Sherman Way.

These are the kind of typically Californian streets that make people from other states uneasy. They mix danger with intoxicating beauty, ruin next to richness. Is this a good or a bad place? In this area an old lady might come outside and offer you apple pie… or aim a gun at your head.

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7110 Firmament could be a location in a 1940s Van Nuys movie with its roadside mailbox, cyclone fence, picket gate and wood houses set way back behind mature trees and overgrown ivy.


Next door, at 7128 Firmament, a brown stucco house with a red tile roof and white balustrade bedecked wall is carefree and liberal with its architectural elements. They are seemingly picked out of air and dropped onto a large lot hidden behind black screened fences and decorative lanterns. A Nury Martinez election placard is planted near the driveway.

Up at 15549 Sherman Way, Helen Towers (built 1972) is a large, 93-unit apartment building with a pool and lots of parking set on an acre and a half property right next to the on-ramp for the Northbound 405. Strangely bucolic, it seems well kept, if a bit dated.

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At the Starbucks (15355 Sherman Way) a man ignited himself in burning flames last week and later died. I stopped off there for iced green tea. There were no signs of death, only life, and frozen faces glued to phone and screen.

My walk back home took me past the Royal [6920] Sepulveda Apartments, a “K” shaped, two-story complex frivolous in design, far from royal. Built in 1961, the 92-unit complex seems sex-soaked and secretive, untethered from anything around it, a floating, decadent motel of licentious and libidinous acts. Surrounded by parking, for quick escapes and quick arrivals, behind its closed drapes lie transient guests.

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