Spread out on lawns and along the sidewalks: blankets and sheets. They are covered with old clothes, boxes of CDs, vacuum cleaners, pots, pans, glassware, chairs, hats, scarves, underwear, socks, and baby clothes.
Since the Depression laid its dollar-killing hands around the neck of Los Angeles, two years ago, junk sales have blossomed and proliferated and spread like dandelions. Jobless, insecure, fearful, angry; the people are throwing their vast array of crap onto the public sidewalks and private lawns of LA hoping to get $40 or $60.
Jack and his Mom
Outside a neat, small apartment in Sherman Oaks’ Posoville district, my friend Jack’s mom sells stuff every weekend. They live together in a three-room, vinyl-floored unit whose walls are decorated with carved crucifixes and many paintings.
White-haired, dressed in sweats, speaking in an accent that originated somewhere east of the East River, she gave me a hearty welcome. “Go to Unit #13 and see my son,” she ordered.
I walked through the gate, past the jellybean shaped swimming pool and knocked on the door. Italian, single, straight, 45, delivery service driver; Jack answered and gave me a hug.
He was watching the game, (whatever game that was I do not know), next to a bigger lug named Caesar, a large, oversized, crotch-picking co-worker in an AC/DC t-shirt and cargo shorts whose pockets held two freshly rolled joints.
Caesar, grinning ever so proudly, told me he had walked out on his wife of 14 years last week. She lived down the street with his two kids, 10 and 14. He had just come back from Las Vegas with Nikki. “I like to eat pussy,” he explained. His wife didn’t know where he was, which was fine with him.
Jack, though, has had some bad health problems lately. He can’t keep food down. He went to several doctors and has had a colonoscopy. He lost weight. He lost his appetite. He thinks he might be allergic to gluten.
The talk, as it does often these days, turned to “who caused the economy to crash”. I waited for the roulette wheel of scapegoats to spin and this time it landed on a surprise group.
Jack blamed “immigrants” who bought more house than they could afford and then crowded all their relatives in. These relations were all non-workers and non-citizens but they collected government benefits like disability, food stamps and unemployment. Their housing speculation (not Wall Street or the Federal Reserve or banks), he explained, had driven the whole economy into the ground.
Jack also talked about “who owns Beverly Hills” and how he found a website that named all the names of the property owners in every house and “none of them are Americans”.
Unloved and Unneeded
There are many garage sales in Los Angeles now. They are set up anywhere by anyone. You don’t even need a garage anymore.
All along the wide, sunny, indistinguishable arteries of Kester, Balboa, Roscoe, Vanowen, Tujunga, Riverside, Burbank, Magnolia, Woodman, Moorpark, Venice, National, Sepulveda, and Pico; a city is emptying its closets and cleaning out its drawers and dumping its used, unloved and unneeded detritus; hoping to sell for pennies what was once purchased for dollars.
These are the red-flag days in California’s economy and in its social order. We Angelenos, we Americans are becoming more like our garage sales. Put out on the street to be had for next-to-nothing. Cheapened, starving, and needy. Down to our last nickel. And perhaps ready to be ignited by someone who will gain power from the powerless.