Fighting Smut in Van Nuys, 1959


When fighting smut, 58 years ago, it was required to first visit the hairdresser, put on a string of pearls, some earrings and dark lipstick, and select a nice dress with a flattering collar. Only then would your observational and judicial powers come alive to fight that moral blight which arrived in a plain brown envelope.

Source: Valley Times/ LAPL.


October 21, 1959 reads, “Officers of Sierra Cahuenga District Junior Clubwomen read reports by postal authorities on mail-order pornography problem in United States and pledge their organization to help fight ruthless racket. From left are Mmes. I. M. Kenoffel, district president; Edwin Flues, president of Van Nuys Alpha Juniors, and Paul H. Parker, district youth committee chairman.”

(Two of the women are incorrectly identified as “Edwin” and “Paul.)

 

The Model is Not Your Friend


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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.

Heaven in Hell.


On May 31, 2017 it was announced that homelessness in Los Angeles had increased by 23% in the past year, a figure true to anyone who drives down boulevards packed with old RVs, or passes many bus stop benches hosting overnight guests.

60,000 or more are sleeping outdoors, and many more are arriving daily from cold cities and small towns, around the world, to camp out here. Others fought and suffered in our long running theaters of international conflict, and still more lost their jobs, their health insurance, and their families.

But sixty-four human beings are no longer homeless because they now live at the Crest Apartments on Sherman Way, a glistening, five-story tall tower built by the Skid Row Housing Trust which provides permanent supportive housing for people afflicted with poverty, poor health, disabilities, mental illness or addiction.

Or all of the above.

Yesterday, there was a grand opening at Crest, attended by architect Michael Maltzan, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Congressman Tony Cardenas, and District #2 City Councilman Paul Krekorian, CEO Mike Alvidrez of SRHT, and other workers from agencies, private funding groups, banks and the blogosphere.

Little trays of pretty little food were laid out. Smart looking people with downtown clothing and uptown education mingled amongst the residents. The air smelled of refinement called into service for a national emergency.

Two sartorial standouts, a tall man and a tall woman, radiated chicness in oversized collars and skinny, pegged black pants. They said nothing but perused the on-site finishes. I walked up the stairs with them in silence. They must have come here on their way to LACMA.

As the dignitaries spoke, a cold, foggy wind blew across the seats, chilling dieting women and putting men like me into a stupor. Yet, perhaps because we live in chilling times, with an international ignoramus in the White House, the words emanating from the dais seemed charged with eloquence and urgency, rousing us from our jadedness.

“Get active not angry!” thundered Representative Tony Cardenas, the former City Councilman whose previous epoch in Van Nuys made everyone angry and inactive.

Sheila Kuehl told a metaphorical story about three women saving drowning babies in the river. One rescued the babies, one taught them how to swim, the other lady wanted to know who was throwing the babies into the water. Sadly for Sheila, the nearest river was the LA one, so it was hard to imagine it flowing.

A Vietnam Vet, disabled, now living here, spoke of his previously unraveling life that left him without a place to put his “NAM” cap. He had been chosen, like a lucky lottery winner, to move into Crest Apartments.

We were all gathered here to celebrate something that is uncommon in Los Angeles: An exquisite piece of architecture, run by a non-profit, financed by private and public funding, dedicated to the proposition that all humans deserve a chance to live in dignity, cleanliness and even artfulness, while rebuilding their broken lives into something moral, fulfilling and contributory.

The Architect

Michael Maltzan, the architect, has become the go-to guy for homeless housing perhaps because he quietly designs top-notch, low-budget, stripped-down minimalism.

Here, at the Crest, he contrasted a white facade with some bright colors and brought in light. The breezy, gentle, undulating landscaping includes organic gardens, and flowering trees softening his straight lined, laconic forms.

Maltzan is unlike many of his bedazzling contemporaries in Los Angeles. He is a shy reformer, like Irving Gill, or RM Schindler, an architect who builds without fancy materials, but plays with light, inserting windows and openings to create a rhythm.

Walking down the spare halls of Crest yesterday, there was a penitential severity in its white walls and concrete floors, but then you would turn a corner and stumble upon freedom: a bright, open-air lookout, painted in green or yellow or blue.

CEO Mike Alvidrez of SRHT and Architect Michael Maltzan

From the street, the Crest Apartments is like a sting of pearls left in a dumpster.

Smoky, chemical fumed Sherman Way is up there on the list of the ugliest and most inhuman streets in Los Angeles, a road where civilized life was extinguished long ago, hosting a violent deluge of speeding drivers, fuming trucks, asphalt parking lots, Thai restaurants, mini-malls, baklava outlets, tattoo shops, marijuana clinics, car washes, discount marble, gentleman’s clubs, unlicensed medical clinics and an air of impending menace and blazing desperation.

Yet, this degradation is also where you stumble upon one of the gentlest and best-intentioned small projects erected in contemporary Los Angeles.

Now we only need 100,000 more Crests.

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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….


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The Agence Ter plan. (Pershing Square Renew)

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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.