The Model is Not Your Friend


Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 10.12.27 AM

I just published my latest short story, “The Model is Not Your Friend.”

The plot:  two sober living men intoxicated by young beauties get drunk on self-deception.

I mulled this idea around in my head since the beginning of the year, choosing the title early on.

Originally it was about a man chasing a woman and chasing his youth while she turned his life upside down. Boring and banal.

I wrote pages of that story and then destroyed it, something I never have done.

Then I went back to something a playwright named JRB once told me. He said he tears a photo out of a magazine and begins to write from it.

I used that concept, of seeing something visual and then building a tale from that. It happened that I have a friend who is a painter, and I like his work, and he lives nearby, so his art propelled me to write.

Maybe this is all boring. I happen to hate those NPR radio shows where some producer or director or actor or songwriter talks about what inspired them.

So fuck all that and just read the story.  Please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intoxicated Minds


So I have been on a month long hiatus from most alcohol including beer and wine. I wanted to see how staying away from drinking made me feel and so far it’s been good. My pants fit easier and I don’t wake up in the morning with a headache of regret.

But I still went to the 3rd Anniversary Party at MacLeod Ale. Which, as I said for a few years now, is the best thing to happen in Van Nuys since maybe 1960.

Friends and near friends were there. I went back and hung out with some people and we drank and laughed and everything was fun.

There was one eccentric, older woman with red hair. I decided in my intoxication that she should join our group and I pulled her over.

She immediately asked everyone where “they were from.” She didn’t mean Reseda or Santa Monica, she was inquiring about the ethnicities of all the people.

And the usual bragging rights afforded to the mediocre came out. “I’m from old Norwegian stock and on my mom’s side her father was a ship captain from Ireland and we also have some pirates who we trace back to Crete, and then on my grandmother’s side she had a distant relative who was a first cousin with the Rockefellers.”

When her finger pointed to me, I knew what was in store so I dodged the bullet. When you are around drunk people you don’t say your last name is Jewish. You say Russian. So I did. That seemed to satisfy her, and she related my background to something noble that helped elect her leader who was making America great again.

Around the hops the discussions continued. This time the drunken brother of a regular customer was making fun of another person who he said was “a fake boyfriend of my sister and definitely gay.” The chuckles and the chortles of the regular dudes continued and they made fun of the man they pegged as gay.

It reminded me, in a strange way, of those days, long ago, in Lincolnwood, IL when I was friends with the Clarke Family and good old Pete, Dave’s older brother would greet me at the front door with “Hello Fruit!” or “The Fruit is here!” There was always a laugh on that one, the calling out of that which is not normal or regular.

I think I was 10 at the time so I didn’t understand what he was saying. But my father, schooled in Chicago manliness, honed on the ball field, said, “My son is not a fruit!” and so I learned I better not ever be one.

It is now 2017 but you wonder if those sober vows of tolerance are really just ready to burst especially when the intoxicated gather. There is public tolerance for almost everything that once set teeth on edge: gay people, pot smokers and growers and sellers, mixed race couples, trans people, obese people with tattoos, homeless people. We think it’s OK for people to walk around mentally ill and sleep in the street, and we are quite “cool” also with two dads for Sarah, and if Sarah wants to become Sam, that is “cool” too.

Everything that once made us uptight is “cool” just as everything else is “amazing.”

And maybe when we are sober, and rational, we decry the hate speech, but get a few beers in us, and we revert to our old ethnicities, our old tribal thinking, or old dumbness, really.

And somewhere there are little kids playing well together and everyone gets along great until one little kid learns he is a Unitarian, or a Ukranian or a Uruguayan and then the trouble starts.

Talkin’ Bout Van Nuys!


Gonna Sing ya a little song,

Bout a town that’s gone wrong,

Excuse me if sound upset,

But I lost me a lifelong bet!
You see I’m not an angry guy,

My feet are surely on the ground,

But funny when I do look around,

My eyes spin round and round!
And I’m talkin’ bout Van Nuys!

Where the smart folks got unwise

Livin’ in garbage, crime and flies

Under copters in the skies!
Pushin’ carts down the streets,

Pickin’ trash for tasty eats,

Sleepin’ in cars, drinkin’ in bars

Smokin’ at school, stealin’ them tools
And I’m talkin’ bout Van Nuys!

Where the smart folks got unwise

Runnin’ from houses, jumpin’ over mouses

Sprayin them tags, stealing’ them mags, wheels that is.
And I’m talking bout Van Nuys!

Where the smart folks got unwise

And no job needs a tie

Cause they hire any guy

If you stand near the cars drivin’ by.
Workin’ hard in the early morn,

Hustlin’ whores on the corn,

Makin’ moves for the porn,

Soberin’ up the forlorn,
See I’m talkin’ bout Van Nuys!

Where the smart folks got unwise!

All the Great Plans…


Yesterday afternoon, we were gathered at MacLeod Ale to celebrate Quirino’s birthday. We sat along a wooden table in the back, near the bags of hops. People were playing darts. The front door was closed, the air conditioning was on, we ate BBQ tri-tip beef (marinated in MacLeod). And we were discussing Van Nuys over warm and cold beer.

A young guy named Daniel sat across from me. He had worked under Former Councilman (Congressman!) Tony Cardenas and is now in the city planning department. Andreas asked him if he thought Van Nuys might be the new Highland Park.

“Not now, maybe not ever,” Daniel said.

15900528579_abeca9a14b_o
“Highland Park Market” Photo by Lance Leong / Flickr

Daniel was versed, in the somnambulistic and arcane zoning laws of Los Angeles, the kind that mandate how much parking is needed and what height a building can be, if additional units of housing can go up if some rents come down. And how many feet away from a school is permissible for a liquor store? And who can put up a 1200 sf granny flat in their backyard (the answer is you).

His generalized, and probably correct assertion is that Highland Park has an active and engaged group of residents and Van Nuys does not. The same is true of more affluent and contentious areas like Studio City or Woodland Hills. In those places, where planters and trees now line the boulevards, bike lanes are carved out, and revitalized shops, apartments, housing are going in. Much of the credit goes to the people who live there.

Van Nuys complains. But it never unites to fight for its betterment. Much easier to bicker on the Next Door app.

ucla_freeway_construction
Construction of the Santa Monica Freeway 1961. (USC)

Also at our table was white-haired, impassioned, articulate Howard who is on the VNNC. He is smart, accomplished, a lifelong resident of Los Angeles who grew up near Venice and Fairfax and watched the demolition of housing during the construction of the Santa Monica Freeway in the early 1960s. At that time, thousands of old houses, many architecturally notable, were bulldozed.

Howard recalled the dirt berm that extended for fifteen miles after the houses came down. “At night you could hear the rats, there were millions of them, and they ran and scurried and made noise.”

The Santa Monica Freeway was part of the big plan for Los Angeles. As was the Van Nuys Civic Center, Dodger Stadium, Bunker Hill, and the Federal Building in Westwood. In all these cases the results were less than stellar. Walkable, vibrant, historic, human scaled places were obliterated. And what remains today are acres of baked asphalt and mute modernism.

DSCF0031

Howard said that the planned redevelopment of Van Nuys Boulevard, to make it a transit hub, to put a light rail down the center, to install bike lanes, to increase the allowable height of apartments, all of these progressive ideas, pushed by everyone from New Urbanists to developers and transit advocates, would be a “disaster for Van Nuys.” Many small businesses would close and the area would turn into something worse than even the hellish condition it currently is in.

So simultaneously, he decried the automobile oriented era of the Santa Monica Freeway and mimicked the impending one of density and pedestrian oriented development.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”- F. Scott Fitzgerald

And yet his views do make sense if you consider that every time big ideas come to Los Angeles, they are somehow, like a good-looking wannabe actor/model from the hinterlands, deflated and defeated by this city.

DSCF0014

 


Renderings by Gensler Courtesy of Psomas
Renderings by Gensler Courtesy of Psomas

The daily assassination of youthful idealism is the oldest tradition in our city.

In the built environment there is also something here that abhors a unifying concept of planning and harmony. If a building can be built to stick out and look freaky and out-of-place it is deserving of praise.

In architecture, as in politics and entertainment, the bigger the carnival and the louder the wreck, the more applause, the more profits. That’s what we are aiming to create.

When we do get together under some banner like Mayor Villaraigosa’s “Million Trees” or Mayor Garcetti’s “Great Streets” the gods start to laugh at us. We are best at half-hearted, half-completed projects.

And perhaps that negative is a good thing. One must give Los Angeles credit, not only for attempting to build massive public works, but for making sure that once the great works go up, small indignities, like homeless encampments along the Orange Line Bike Path, will sober up dreamers and urban fantasists.

All the Great Plans are like those coffee-house conferences with laptops, planning to produce and cast and finance something, someday….


la-1463068477-snap-photo
The Agence Ter plan. (Pershing Square Renew)

la-1463064134-snap-photo

On the drawing board now is a new park in Pershing Square.

Two years ago, I went with a group of photographers to shoot the city on a Sunday afternoon and was told I could not put my camera on a tripod. This was in the same park where mattresses were laid out and people sprawled down stairs drunk and asleep.

A public park where public photography is regulated by private security.

What you should be able to do in public you cannot, and what you should NOT do, is allowable.


And then there is MacLeod Ale, a private venture, started by two people over 50, using family money and retirement funds to make great beer.

That one small incubator of beer seems to produce more ideas for the betterment of Van Nuys than any political slogan coming out of City Hall.

Throw out all the great plans for Van Nuys.

Start small, dream big, pursue your own venture. Maybe that is the key to change.

 

 

We Put Up With A Lot in Van Nuys


 

DSCF0026dscf2676img_3143

6224 Cedros Avenue
Van Nuys, CA 90401 Built: 1929 Owners: Shraga Agam, Shulamit Agam

DSCF2645DSCF2529DSCF2568

Last year, there was a large estate for sale on a very nice block of Orion St. north of Victory. The house was on half an acre. It had a pool, a guest house, gates, a security system, c.c cameras, a new kitchen, four bedrooms, three bathrooms and about 4,500 s.f. of space. The asking price was about $1.2 million.

I went to an open house and met the realtor. He told me the owner had bought the place only 9 months earlier, but had decided to sell after he realized his street was in a prostitution area.

The home stayed on the market for some six months and then was taken off. I don’t believe it was ever sold.

There are conditions all around Van Nuys right now that we are asked to be compassionate about.

Our beautiful and verdant Orange Line bike path, built and landscaped in 2005, is now home to some 20-30 homeless people who set up tents and temporary housing in the bushes, under the trees, between Sepulveda and Kester.  Nury Martinez’s office summoned cleaners, trucks, men and machines last Friday morning at 10:30am to clean up the mess. And by 1pm the stragglers were back setting up their encampment.

The same situation exists in Woodley Park where the bird sanctuary, the hiking trails and the thick woods are now carved out with garbage, make shift trailers, old cars, tents and debris.

Why is this allowed! Why?

There once was a lovely, large, gorgeous park where you went to hike, bike, walk, run, fly model airplanes and play golf. Now you are trespassing on a halfway house for people between beds, whose bad luck and bad life you must make exception for. You once picked flowers here. Now you pick up needles.

Illegal dumping. Grass uncut for five years. Sober living opening next door. Prostitution in broad daylight. Cars running red lights. Burglaries, robberies, kids drinking beer in the car and throwing their cans on the street. Kids getting high and dropping their marijuana containers on the curb. Sticky condoms on the street.

You ask why a homeless man can move into an empty house on Kittridge and Columbus and live there for a year, using the entire property as his outdoor storage unit, with household debris covering the back and front yards and up and down the driveway. And it takes a year to get him out. 50 emails were needed. Countless letters, phone calls.

And across the street, an unsold property on Columbus is now used as a storage lot for old dilapidated cars. There are some 40-50 sitting in the backyard, their oil leaking into the ground, their gasoline tanks ready to be ignited so that an explosion might happen any day in the heat and the wind.

Another property owner buys a single family house zoned for one house and builds another, rents them both out, and even has two addresses on one single family lot. And he gets away with it.

All the aforementioned were told to Nury, told to the LAPD, discussed on Next Door, written about on this blog, Tweated, Facebooked and officially complained of by residents here.


We put up with a lot in Van Nuys.

And sometimes we are told that calling out what we see- by what it is- makes us insensitive or callous.

On Next Door, I was told that I used a “vile word” when I described whores walking on Sepulveda. The most searched term on this blog is “whores on Sepulveda” and has been for eleven years. There is some connection between Van Nuys, Sepulveda, and prostitution. The entire city knows it. Why deny it? Why is “whore” suddenly a forbidden word? Didn’t Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds star in a movie musical called “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?”

images

And now we are told to have a heart for the new euphemism, “Human Trafficking.”

But who has the heart for the homeowner stuck with a white elephant house he cannot sell because he lives in the Paid Pleasure Person’s district?

Who cares about hundreds of thousands of dollars shaved off home values for people in Van Nuys, always pushed into compassion for every life except their own?

And who makes the law and who enforces it and why is it that the law nowadays is interpreted so gently, so liberally, so ridiculously against common sense and the common good that it has the strength of a wet Kleenex held up to deflect a nuclear missile?

We put up with a lot in Van Nuys.

 

Filling in the Blanks


As everyone doesn’t know, the Second Largest City in the United States, Los Angeles (pop. 3,972,000) has a lack of housing. Even people who own homes admit, privately, that not everyone should be forced to live on bus benches and sleep alongside the Orange Line Busway.

So at last night’s Planning and Land Use Meeting of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, several apartment projects were presented, which will, collectively, add some 250 apartments to an area, now occupied by 180,000 people, renting for an average of $2,000 a month.

Housing is coming to Van Nuys, again.

And the board was saying yes, every time.

For the millions starved for housing, some crumbs are being dropped from the sky.

IMG_5169IMG_5165

Giant apartment builder IMT plans to erect a 6-story-apartment at 6500 N. Sepulveda Bl. north of Victory Bl. 160-units will have 275 parking spaces on site. The building, architecturally, has a pleasing look of rhythmic, stripped down modernism. Renderings, of course, show it with spotlights, at sundown, without whores, discarded mattresses and homeless people pushing carts on the sidewalk.

On Thursday, April 27th, at 6pm there will be a community meeting with 6500 Sepulveda developer reps at the Van Nuys Library. So far, 3 people (out of 2,000) in our neighborhood, adjacent to the proposed apartment, have replied that they will attend.

At 14530 Erwin Street, west of Van Nuys Blvd, a 48-unit, 5-story apartment building is planned on the site of some auto repair shops. Again the proposed structure is attractive, with a modern look.

My first reaction was to applaud the addition of upgraded housing within walking distance of the Van Nuys government buildings. One could imagine future residents biking, walking, taking the bus, shopping for groceries. The effect of having new housing on a street now occupied by empty parking lots and gruesome auto shops was uplifting.

However, one of the board members (whom I like a lot) asked, “why would you build on such a crappy street?” I wanted to bang my head against the table. Self-sabotage is such a running theme within the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council. Yes, why bring good development into a bad area? For that matter, why bring a shelter dog into a loving family?

The presenter, politely, replied that land is cheaper in Van Nuys than other areas of Los Angeles. That makes its development more feasible. Sometimes the economics lessons spoken here seem self-evident.

Other projects presented last night included AYCE Gogi, a Korean BBQ restaurant at 7128 Van Nuys Bl. They want to add 20 pinball machines to serve with the garlic beef, bulgogi, pork belly and brisket and beer.

At 14831 Burbank Bl. just east of Kester, a new “Brother’s Pizza” is proposed where Napoli Pizza Kitchen used to be. This strip building will have Crème Caramel LA, Brother’s Pizza, My Fish Stop and The Oaks Express Laundry, a very fine laundromat.

Finally, 7745 Sepulveda, (near Western Bagel) where AVIO Coach Craft asked for permission to add six spray painting booths expressly for Tesla automobiles. The fine automaker, and rigorously environmental company, will oversee the process of applying paint to its vehicles. And AVIO has the exclusive contract under Tesla, a business that will paint 300-400 cars a month.

Apartments, pinball machines and auto body painting. Van Nuys is making progress into the future.