This is a pre-blog really, and the title says it all. For the next three days I shall be touring Robert King, ex Black Panther and one of the Angola 3, around Southern California in a cherry red mustang. It’s rented, they had nothing else left. So look for us on LA and San Diego streets near you…hopefully you won’t see us chatting to any cops.
Tonight the City of Los Angeles held a scoping meeting for the Environmental Impact Report on the South L.A. and Southeast L.A. Community Plan. Exciting, right? You’re on the edge of your seats…
Usually there are a handful of people at these meetings. Some men and women in suits. Maybe a handful of people in the community with the time and the money and the training to look into the issues and show up. They represent an incredibly small slice of the community interest, and generally a conservative one.
Tonight was different though. First, a lot of people showed up. A lot. People not usually at this sort of bureaucratically mind-boggling morass of legal and environmental jargon, why would they be here? It is designed to preserve the facade of participation while keeping people out, to ensure planning is left to the experts who can then do whatever they want to do. These experts spent decades removing almost all services and cutting funding to everything left; tearing down homes to build factories; permitting liquor stores, hourly motels, and strip clubs to march side by side with schools, parks, churches. They used planning to devastate the neighborhood with one hand, and withheld any sort of aid to struggling organizations with the other. The war zone that breaks my heart every day has been the result. And in spite of them, in spite of an absence of jobs and hope, in spite of the crack explosion of an earlier decade and the constant battle of drugs and turf that claims our youth, in spite of high rents for slum housing so overcrowded that people sleep in bathtubs and their beds in shifts, in spite of all this we have created some things that are beautiful. And the goal seems to be to plunk down a lot of high end retail and luxury housing on top of that, pushing people from one slum where they have managed to build networks and community to another that is unknown. At least, that’s what has been happening to date with the city bending over in its eagerness to facilitate it.
So people stood up tonight to reclaim the place of the public in a public meeting. To demand that the city recognize decades of racism, greed and neglect that have resulted in a devastated community. To reclaim their right to continue to live in that community even as they fight to improve it. And to reclaim the word environment…when was it reduced to spotted owls, air quality, density, parking and green space? It is all of these things and they are all important, but how can it not also include the buildings, the people who live within them, and the conditions in which they live?
So it was a meeting of righteous anger, of stories that could make you cry, of great applause for all of the community speakers. And comedy of course. You’d really think that planners would be overjoyed at this break in a life of regulated tedium! Monic gave a ringing list of all the groups and organizations present at the meeting and over 60 of us stood in a show of strength, so the Planning Department’s enforcer got snippy and said we had to “keep the agitation down.” I don’t think he knows what that word means precisely, but Jesus, who spoke next, promised to be gentle. Though perhaps you have to know Jesus to appreciate how funny that was. And then there was someone from the neighborhood council, one of those privileged people who always challenge my belief in the efficacy of direct democracy due to their terrifying ubiquity in all community institutions (I’ll let you imagine the kind of annoying person I mean to escape any libel charges). At any rate, she said she lived in a district that had been recommended for a historical preservation zone as the “18th Street HPOZ”…and then she continued (in shock horror) that she couldn’t BELIEVE that the city had called them that and she OF COURSE would never…ha! 18th street is, of course, one of the biggest L.A. gangs, so it’s just funny all the way around, but the thought of her identifying as 18th street had me rolling. And I wonder if the city planner actually had a sense of humor. No one actually laying down the law in an HPOZ (what colors you can paint your house, how high your fence can be, what windows can be used etc) has ever had one in my experience.
At any rate, it was a good and dare I say enjoyable evening that really shed some light on some of the structural inequality within our city, and perhaps will make a difference.
For folks who need details, LA’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) threshold guidelines actually do state that displacement and housing are environmental issues; that’s just been conveniently ignored even though I believe we have pointed it out before. They also look at overcrowding and excessive rent burden (sections C, D and J.2 for all you communities under fire).
For more information or to get involved in an amazing effort you can contact the Unidad/ Unity campaign, email@example.com. You can also check out www.saje.net, or do some reading on the work of the Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice.
McHughville consists of over 150 buildings spread throughout Los Angeles, all of them with leaking pipes, peeling paint, lack of ventilation, rat holes and etc. He paints the outsides of them, however, so from far away they look decent. The population is about 8,000 tenants, and at least a million roaches, chinches, fleas. There are also a large quantity of mice and rats, I know in one building I went to, the tenants hung all of their food from nails in the wall so that the wildlife couldn’t get at it. And it’s never pleasant to think that the fleas attacking you when you walk in the door have just left a rodent of some description.
So for Halloween, SAJE got a bus and took a load of families down to Marina del Rey to try and talk with the owner (again), convince him to do the right thing and fix his buildings. Since he didn’t open the door, we flyered the neighborhood and talked to his neighbors. We also left him a lage invoice on his doorstep with a conservative estimate of how much rent he owes his tenants, as no one should have to pay to live in a hellhole. The kids mostly dressed as mice, they were cuter than the real thing of course
The press was there as well,look for it on KTLA
so I imagine that Frank McHugh is not a happy camper this morning.
Nor am I, I must admit. Celine and I dressed up as the absolutely fabulous Eddie and Patsy, I really love dressing up. Over dinner and margaritas, however, we came to the conclusion that our costumes weren’t the best, and that Celine looked more like the character from suddenly seeking susan, and I looked rather like a hooker from Elfquest. I blame the wig really because the short leather skirt really was perfect. Somehow we emerged from the evening without pictures of the two of us, but here’s a bit of Celine and the big star of the night, John, the Dance Dance Revolutionary.
And so after dinner we headed over to Guatelinda and Very Be Careful, where we found skirts that made mine look a trifle long, a waitress wandering about in a rather plump state of near nudity, and a fair sprinkling of drunk assholes, but who cared if VBC was playing? And so Pats/hooker elf danced to rocking cumbias the way she has undoubtedly never danced before. And the bartender rather fancied me I think (he said I looked like a painter, I don’t know what that means exactly but is vaguely flattering), so the drinks were obscenely strong, and hence life rather painful today, I always forget that alcohol is actually poison. It didn’t help that after another house party and getting to bed at 4:30 am, I had to be up just after 8 to get pictures from the trick or treat action to Bev…
And now…I am packing. Off to Boston tonight after maybe hitting Dia de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever Cemetary. That was the definite plan this morning, but it is raining!
That article I’m supposed to be writing right now? This is sort of part of it, so enjoy the preview.
Today I was invited to a party to celebrate the victory in a court case over a building that I started organizing just before I left SAJE, and it’s sent me remembering the crazed stress and anger of the days when the owner ripped the outside off of the building while the tenants were still inside it. Lead, asbestos, he didn’t care. The city came out when we called and put a stop work order on the building. The owner ignored it. So the city came out when we called and put another stop work order. And the owner ignored that too, and he did it over the weekend when the city rests and relaxes, so he was able to do quite a lot of ignoring in the form of strewing asbestos and lead paint all over the sidewalks. So the city came out again when we called and put a third stop work order. The owner kept on stripping the siding off the building until you could see the sun shining through the walls while sitting on your toilet,
You could feel the strong winds through the window from which all glass had been removed while showering. Someone from the state environmental agency came and put a fourth stop work order on the building because children from the school across the street had to walk past the building and over the asbestos on the sidewalk, but they took the extra step of wrapping the building in yellow danger! do-not-cross ribbon. The tenants had to duck under it to get home…at least the adults did, their kids were just fine of course. The yellow tape didn’t last so long…
But none of these agencies could physically stop the owner from working if he decided to ignore them (as he did), and punitive measures? A possible lawsuit months down the line long after the tenants had been forced to leave. Then the city inspectors came and ruled that the bathrooms were unsafe as the owner had also started to remove some of the foundational supports from the first floor, they used more caution tape (red this time, for extra danger) to prevent the tenants from using the toilets. We didn’t know whether to cry, or buy shotguns and keep everyone the hell away from the place.
And this reminds me of another story.
In California, tenant organizers have the right under civil code to visit any tenant who invites them into their apartment. In the Morrison Hotel, the tenants brave enough to invite us in had their electricity turned off, were physically threatened, were faced with eviction, and were thereafter prevented from having any visitors at all. After the first two, there were no more volunteers. And all to no avail as we were not allowed in, but were physically kept outside by first the managers and their pit bull, then by armed security guards hired especially for us. While the fire-arms and attack dog flattered our organizing super-powers, they were also quite annoyingly effective. The managers also called the police. The police surprisingly enough, did not really seem to care about civil code. They told us (and I quote) they were there to protect property rights, and so if we tried to enter we would be arrested for trespassing. And as we fought to enforce our civil right to get in the building, the owners steadily and illegally emptied 70 apartments through a combination of threats, illegal evictions, harassment and bribery. They boarded up the empty rooms, many of them filled to overflowing with trash (and rats), and for the remaining 30 families who lived in the building and fought for their homes for another year and a half. It looked like this:
What these two stories have in common is the way that they expose the ugly reality that property rights take precedence over everything else in the US. Buy me a drink and I will tell you many more, or perhaps you can buy me one not to, especially the one about the building that collapsed in Echo Park, killing one of the tenants. Law and law enforcement exist to protect the owner’s right to do anything he chooses to his building.
And so what better place for radical struggle? In these stories lie not only grave injustice, but also what we would call a teachable moment, a place where people can break down for themselves the powerful American mythology of private property. What happened in these two buildings (among so many others), exposes the essence of capitalism and its human cost, and demands an alternative vision for our society.
Without grasping this moment, critically analyzing it, adding theory, folding it into a greater movement, these stories are nothing more than stories, a struggle with a beginning and an end that makes little difference in the world as it currently exists or the hearts and minds of those who fought.
So theory, I had my theories of course, but I have to say I was never particularly rigorous about them and I still feel a level of pragmatism is key…Still, I’ve decided to take the task in hand, and I’ve mapped out radical thought and thinkers on my walls before doing it on paper. I have read many of them (but isolatedly over the years), heard of many of others, and I discovered many that I did not know…but I wanted to see how they all fit together and where my community and our stories fit within that. And maybe even create a tool for people to see their past and ideas for a future and learn from it.
This is what it looks like right now, it feels massive when you’re looking at it though my room is tiny so the photo’s not the best. It’s still only a skeleton, and I’ve made sure you can’t really read it because I’m not quite ready for the onslought of criticism over my simplifications of theory and events that will probably be entirely justified.
In blue are thinkers, in red major theories, in orange organizations based on theories. And seems like Marx and Engels nailed most of the essentials of capitalism and its discontents. And the “communalist anarchists” nailed the vision of a society where local communities define their own needs and govern themselves through direct democracy, and federate together to take care of those needs that each cannot provide on their own. And even after (or better said because of) years of organizing I believe like they did, that building such collective organization and direct democracy in the now is the way to a successful revolution and a new world, though I know that’s where the radical world divides and sets to work killing each other. Ah, the glory days when Marx and Bakunin were still talking. And of course, there has been much important work done since to expand theory and understanding to take into account race and gender, imperialism, globalization, the environment etc. And exciting things have happened as people have adapted theory to their own countries and culture and put it into practice to build large-scale movement. Still. Seems like we had a lot of the answers 150 years ago. That’s when I get rather sad. And then I look at Latin America and get a bit more optimistic. And then I remember kids able to look through the walls of their building and having their blood drawn to test for lead poisoning, and I am so filled with rage I don’t really care about the odds. I’ll just fight. We need something better than a world where people pay rent for a building falling down around them so that their landlord can make more money. And organizers and tenants need to be able to understand what exactly they are working against, they need to look up and see what exactly they are working for.
Luckily, the theory wall is full of humor as well, though I believe that precious few of the bastards were able to laugh at themselves, that’s really why I’m here I suppose…But who knew (apart from Hugo Chavez) that Bolivar’s full name was:
Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar Palacios y Blanco?
And that Augusto Sandino was a member of the Magnetic-Spiritualist School of the Universal Commune founded in Buenos Aires by some Basque guy, and it blended anarchism with zoroastrianism, kabbalah and spiritism? And google Bogdanov and Fourier, they will make you smile.
Actually, I wish I had the key to writing a good article…I have to write 40 pages of tight prose this week, which represents a melding of intellect and practice, a synthesis of years of work and struggle, and it will be good, don’t get me wrong. Still, I figured I needed a break after sitting all day and aside from dealing with some difficult phonecalls about money and respect which always frustrate, consisted of me staring at a screen, writing a bit, and then essentially doing the equivalent of balling up the piece of paper I’ve been writing on and throwing it away. It’s not as satisfactory of course, when you’re sitting at a computer, you cut and paste it into another document which you title fragments and hope that something is worth salvaging. Since it’s essentially an angry and bitter rant at the left it’s probably best that no one but me read the thing ever. The left in this country already spends enough time deconstructing and self analysing itself and why it is utterly useless, it doesn’t really need my help.
So I figured going to get a couple of beers at the Red Lion with Celine was a good idea. And it was. I now know what I am dressing up as for Halloween! And I can’t say I’m entirely sober at this point, but I have a feeling that the article will just write itself, I’m feeling I could write all 40 pages. Instead I am writing a rather boring self-involved blog, I recognize the inconsistency, but I’m just relaxing gently into the writerly flow and trying to sober up a wee bit. Without losing the happy drunken sense of self sufficiency, I do hope that the deep seated emotional knee jerk response to all my musings of the past week will become something a bit deeper than, in the immortal words of Jon Stewart, fuck all y’all. It makes me feel good to say that but I imagine it won’t accomplish much. And they wouldn’t print it. And I’ve been trying to think of how to say it without actually using profanity and as an exercise it has really amused me, fuck all y’all in scholarly terms really is quite amusing. Still, I hate writing anything that doesn’t have a point, a means where people touched by it can take action. I am, after all, a woman of action, and I measure the value of anything to do with politics or movement in terms of utility. So I can’t let myself down, however tricky that is proving to be.
Ah well, I’m back in L.A.! Back to the city I love and hate, still torn deciding if I want to stay here or go back to the UK or be incredibly responsible and move to Arizona. Sometimes I hate reality, I rage against it however calm I may appear. And I don’t know how to manage inner fulfillment with class struggle and familial duty, it is utterly beyond me. And I really hate people who don’t have to face up to that question sometimes, especially after I’ve had a few beers. Probably just because I have to face it and as I say, it is beyond me…it’s hard even writing that anything is beyond me. I suspect that I shall just have to struggle until wisdom comes and everything sorts itself out, but patience is not at all one of my strong points. Still, who would I be if I didn’t have to struggle with it?
The wind bites like fall, the buses throw up whirls and swirls of dead leaves reaching above me as they pass in the street, my black wool coat is warm and my scarf snug about my neck. I forgot how much I love fall. How I love the chill of it, the change and trembling in the air, the tingle in my cheeks, and the feel of snuggling under the warm cloud of a down comforter. I got into Toronto last night and met up with Dawn after her writing class, we went to eat and then walked the long way back to the streetcar, through Kensington market which was lovely…empty but lovely. And great graffiti, which is always enough to warm my heart if narrow streets, cool pubs, tiny little neighborhood stores, coffee houses and such were not enough.
I spent the night feeling like a small woodland creature curled up in a little nest between the radiator and some shelves, an old mattress bundled with extra blankets and a sleeping bag on top for softness, with a sheet on top of it all, and then me, and then…I said it already I think, a warm cloud of downy warmth. And I slept deliciously, glad that I am too long for the couch.
Woke up late…for Toronto. Early for L.A. Spent the morning chatting over coffee and omelet with Dawn into early afternoon, and then headed out into the fall…I had a bit of work to do, a bit of wandering to do, so I mixed both and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I still have to take some good city photographs, but here is one from outside the Royal Ontario Museum which is where I ended up.
I used another friend’s card to sneak in…the woman asked me for id and I said I didn’t have any (!), she looked at me funny, I thought I’d probably have to cut and run, but then she said she could look me up. I was imagining my friend’s picture coming up and seriously thought of cutting and running. Then she asked my address and I confidently gave it to her, I suppose the right street allayed her fears? She said oh dear we have the address wrong, upon which I pulled the little card where I had it written down out of my back pocket and confirmed that no, I was the one who had it wrong. Upon which she handed me an entrance ticket. She was beautiful. Because I don’t think I really pulled it off, but i am staring incipient poverty in the face and that ticket was golden.
And I didn’t even know it, but they have the most marvelous collection of dinosaur skeletons I’ve seen in ages, bits of originals, some casts, but all around extraordinary. They had a 90 foot Barosaurus, one of only two in the world, it has a hugely long razor thin tail that some believe they cracked like a whip. I believe it, I think that makes them much more interesting:
They had an original triceratops skull, a stegasauros, a tiny little compsognathus in a glass case…my dad used to tell us stories about compsognathi when I was little, one day you’ll be reading about them too in the adventures of Osa and Aggie (and me, Michael, Daniel and Tristram. And some of it is even true). They had this enormous fish thing with sharp pointy teeth
and this amazing knobble headed dinosaur that I tragically did not record the sumptuous latin name of:
It’s perhaps my favourite photo of the day. And possibly my favourite dinosaur. And I don’t even know his name. But they also had a rare type of hadrosaur…this one is crested and looks like it pranced about rather joyously and is called a parasuarolophus walkeri. The name rolls of the tongue. and looked very cool
And finally the stuff of nightmares…highly recognizable and always strikes fear into the very heart of me, the one, the only, Tyrannasaurus Rex
But pictures can’t do him justice really. He towers over you, his teeth are huge, even the bare bones of him are big and ravenously hulking. I’ve actually had family discussions about whether T-Rex or Allosaurus was scarier…some say allosaurus was smarter. As if we know. Still, this is the one that scares me.
Other things that scare me are lifesize painted representations of people and animals…like the mechanical cartoon figures at Chuck E Cheese and Disneyland’s Splash Mountain, and apparently Chinese wooden temple statues beginning from the 13th century. Fear is too strong a word perhaps, I’d prefer to think of it simply as a deep unease. But one of them had real human hair as his long beard. Painted statues are really popular in Catholic Churches as well, and the blood is never skimped on, and in fact I remember the crypt of a church in Bahia with mummified bishops still wearing their sacramental robes sat upright and staring down at you. Fear is not to strong a word for that experience, I suppose this “deep unease” has been building for some time. There was also a large section of stuffed birds…creepy, definitely creepy. I really wonder who first thought it was a good idea to kill something alive and beautiful and stuff it.
Anyway, that’s enough proof of my nerdiness for one evening. After the museum I had dinner with dawn and then we went out and did some more work and had some quiet drinking with a tasty piece of Canadian apple crumble which apparently includes dates and raisins and is a wee bit chocolatey…I wasn’t complaining, it was deliciously unexpected. And now I am headed back for the nest after kicking Ozzie the giant half husky sort of dog out of my room. She snores.
Every now and then people ask me what I do for fun…I enjoy life quite thoroughly and I could knock out a long list, but today I’ll just look at one…riding my bike through the garbage-filled alleys of downtown L.A. and taking pictures. And writing about it. I believe I am allllmost alone in this, which is why Jose is one of my favourite friends.
Riding through this sort of place is not so fun on your own. I don’t mind the smells, or the rats of course (though I do sometimes worry about the bubonic plague, people still die of it every year in Arizona)…the east side of downtown is industrial, it holds the remnants of skid row and sweatshops. Its alleys are the city’s margins where everything is swept to keep it out of sight and out of mind, to me they are a strange beauty curled around a dangerous sliver, they are all that is fucked under urban capitalism and the bright face of rebellion against it. They are full of rats, syringes, deals, desperation, drunkenness, art like you’ve never seen it before.
Don’t get me wrong, I like nature too. But there is something about it here…
We went down an alley alongside a burned out garment factory, stark brick and charcoal against the sky
As I was taking pictures two men came up to us, one white and one black, the same hollowed cheeks, dull eyes, brittle frames. They were arguing, voices rasp-edged and angry. They came closer, voices smoothing into friendly calm, they said that the fire had started in the blanket warehouse and spread, an electrical problem. They said they did not beg, they would sing. And they did. And it was beautiful, perfect harmony, perfect rhythm, clearly the fruit of long practice. We gave them some money, Jose mocked me for enjoying it too obviously, and then we passed them again on our way out, their voices rough with edges anew.
We passed rottng fruit, and a shrine to la virgen in a triangular parking garage hung with last years Christmas decorations, we passed shops full of cheap clothes, vendors selling hotdogs wrapped in bacon and tiny live turtles. We passed people hurrying home. We passed a sweatshop awning for a label once called Affluence…but the Affluence had been scraped off and it’s ghost painted over with Shanna K. Beside it was the label Felicity and the alley in front strewn with trash. We passed L.A. Babe…
We passed the extraordinary row of shops that sell everything you could possibly need for a Mexican fiesta
There are fashions in pinatas, superheroes come in and out of style, barbie is replaced by bratz, seasonal variations mean Frankentein and green faced witches are followed by santa claus, there are usually huge corona bottles that can only be for adults…I would admit I would have a great deal of fun swinging blindfolded at a pinata once again.
We found an alley guarded by its own figurehead, or screaming a warning
I suppose if Jose hadn’t been there this just might have scared me a very little bit. From here we reached a couple alleys full of the most extraordinary graffitti art I’ve seen in some time, worth stepping into rotting garbage with my flipflopped foot, and fending off the advances of a very drunk Indian (see what I mean about the importance of traveling companions!).
And it got darker and darker and so we went faster and faster. We passed more solitary walkers in the dusk, more working girls, we passed this place
There are some dive bars even I won’t go into, and this is right up there with el Chubasco. We ended up at Olvera Street and hung out and looked around and ate, and then back home. I made Jose come back through the Terminator tunnel because I wanted to take pictures of that, but all of the damn lights were working! I don’t believe I have ever seen that. Ever. Perhaps that alone was worth taking a picture. But I love it when all the lights are off, when the tiles shine with the reflections from the white of headlights, the red of brakelights, the green of the semaforos. But not tonight. So we rode past the long line of homeless folks already sleeping.
And two last images to finish, this of amazing skill and art and terror
A face of suffering or sleep or resignation somehow emerging unbidden from a painted-over, tagged-up street sign. This world is full of such awful, terrible, beautiful things.
There are two liquor stores on my street. The one at the top of the hill is owned by Koreans, it is the barest liquor store I have ever seen. The products are lined up single file along dusty white metal shelves…two cans of refried black beans next to five cans of refried pintos above a couple cans of soup. There is little to no selection and no fresh anything. It’s on two barely distinct levels of concrete painted dark red floor, with a couple of steps and a ramp leading between them, the upper level has household goods, extra storage, an ancient glass fronted refrigerated unit with rows of 40s, a couple 6 and 12 packs and cases of cheap beer, a couple of Smirnoff ices. There is no juice, just tampico, and a little bit of milk. The owners sit behind bullet-proof glass. Rationally it seems as if they must be going out of business or getting into business, yet at the same time it feels quite thoroughly as though it has always been this way.
The one at the bottom of the hill is owned by Mexicans. You have to walk past a tiny botanica, a 98 cent store and some other place I haven’t figured out what exactly it is yet to get to it. It is crammed full of canned and bottled food, Mexican food, in any and all order. As you walk in you see an old and dusty glass case that probably used to be full of meat when this was also a carniceria…now it’s just full of odds and ends and broken things and the half empty bottles of milk and crema that the old man minding the shop probably used for breakfast. He lit up when he found out I spoke Spanish. There is no juice, just tampico. There is a lot of milk in all sizes (no half and half which is what I really hoped for, for my coffee), but it is stuck in the same refrigerator with the 40s of cobra and miller high life and really dusty cases of tecate and corona, on the middle shelf too, it is surrounded. There are some vegetables that were once fresh, but aren’t any longer. The cholula hot sauce costs twice as much as tapatio, is that true everywhere? There is no bullet-proof glass.
Near the bottom is my apartment, it’s quite all right now I’ve decorated and made it mine. The woman upstairs likes to play reggaeton and bachata incredibly loudly, but I prefer that to the domestic disputing next door. There are a handful of half grown cats that live out of the bin in the back, they are wild and hiss if you come near them. They look miserable and sick, and make me sad. As you walk up the street to the Korean’s or the bus, there are small and old Victorian and craftsman houses, one is abandoned, with the steps crumbled into a ramp of dirt and weeds. It is a dirty dingy white, barley visible, taken over by the massive rubber tree and the ivy curling around it. But it doesn’t look broken into, the windows look intact, so I wonder whether someone might actually live there. And who they could be. And if they’re human.
There are no gentrifiers on this block yet, though they’ve arrived on the next one. Ours is pure raza, yards full of dogs, a nice vegetable garden, bright colored paint beside others with all the paint peeling off. A beautiful little wood house right next to the Koreans also stands abandoned, intricate wood decorations, a screened porch, lovely big windows and you can tell the ceilings are high. No yard at all. No one working on it. It deserves a lot more, I’d love to be let loose on it. I love bringing order to chaos (but not too much order) and making what was once beautiful, beautiful again (but not too beautiful), I even sometimes like cleaning what is truly dirty (but not making it too clean). And then sometimes I just like chaos, ugliness, dirt.
I went to the farmers market in Chinatown today given the absence of edible veg in either store. It was smaller then it used to be, and I didn’t recognize over half of what they were selling…I knew okra, persimmons, green beans…but the plethora of strange squashes and gourds and spiky things baffled me though I enjoyed looking at them. I wasn’t so sure I’d enjoy eating them, I didn’t know how to cook them, and I’m a bit broke. So I prevented myself from buying them just to possess strange fruit with spikes, and walked to my favourite Chinese market, equally full of things that baffle me, equally enjoyable, but with enough pictures that I can fulfill my needs. And the most stupendous invented curry resulted, with thick homestyle noodles (a bit starchier than expected) and Beech mushrooms (a first) and snowpeas and red bell pepper and a bit of potato and tofu and green onion. And all cooked up with a new and incredibly hot chili oil that I was not prepared for, luckily I tasted the thing before adding peppers.
It’s a great neighborhood.
Ahhh, a night out on the town with Larry Fondation, and it might not be that late but the drinks were certainly flowing this evening. So it feels late. And if anyone felt like arguing the point I might even argue given my current state, but I suppose hard facts would dictate that indeed it is rather early. And I am a sucker for lost causes perhaps, the Irish in me for sure, but I couldn’t in all conscience argue this one. If I were with my brother T at this moment, we’d be in the kitchen making beans on toast with grated cheddar on top and possibly hot sauce, but I’m in America now, and on my own, and the baked beans just don’t taste the same here. So I’m writing instead, and then to bed.
We watched the presidential debate, the dodgers reigned supreme in most downtown bars, it was a bit of a quest, but the bar at the Sheraton turned out to be golden, so we watched it there. My Jack and coke was mostly Jack, so consider yourselves warned. And they were both good in the way that all politicians are good, they spin like little tops and tell you what they want to hear, and it’s only your critical thought and deeper knowledge that separates the two. And given my own critical thought, McCain was incredibly infuriating in his hypocrisy, but he hit the right notes for the American public…less government, I agree. Hope, I agree. Less spending, I agree. If we stopped killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan and escalating our military presence in the rest of the world, well! We could spend half as much, but put it into health care that works and if you scrapped no child left behind and channeled money into education, and housing, well, if you actually funded HUD fully and cut the corruption, what could we not do? Halve our spending while providing proper health care, education, housing…billions on the war machine could be much better spent elsewhere. Of course, that’s not what he’s saying. I don’t know where he plans to cut spending, but it’s not the war, it will be on the backs of working folks of course. And I don’t know how he can say we need a change when it’s his party in office, or that they stand for less government when it’s his government that brought us the patriot act and no child left behind, they’ve invaded two countries and called up every army reserve, hired hundreds of people to tap our phones, and have planned out what every teacher should be teaching for every minute of every day, and they say they’re for less government?
And so I do believe Obama is better…I have a more complex analysis of course, but it’s…er…late. Don’t make me argue. It hurts but I think voting for him is important, because I don’t think he’ll manage to do what should be done, but the alternatives frighten me. Some folks on the left argue that things should be allowed to go to hell and then the people will rise…the ones who argue that are always the ones who know they will not be sleeping in the streets, waiting in lines at the unemployment offices, struggling to feed their kids, I rather dislike those people. I think I’m united with most of the country on this, which is why the left has been so useless for so many years. If the revolution comes you know they’ll end up on the wrong side protecting their interests because they all have money, they’ll deserve what happens to them. I don’t think fascism is that far away, and they won’t be the ones getting strung up.
That’s a digression though. I actually enjoyed it when McCain claimed that Colombia is our number one ally in South America and we must sign a free trade agreement with them, and Barak riposted that the Colombian government has been busy assassinating labor leaders (and so many others, how on earth could anyone consider them our greatest ally? An utterly corrupt government that employs death squads, torture, assassination and grows richer and richer every day? That’s my own comment, not the candidates). Not many politicians would do that, I must admit. Or promise to insert enforceable labor laws and protections into international trade treaties. I don’t know if he’ll do it, it’s doubtful he’d succeed even if he tried given the machine that is congress, but even introducing that into mainstream debate is good. Ha, makes you reassess your belief in what is good. We should be asking so much more, but a corrupt two party system lowers your expectations.
So. To conclude this rather ranting piece of writing, I think the republicans will be happy with McCain and the democrats happy with Obama, the rest of us rather unhappy with both. Hopefully the rest of us are leaning leftwards, there are a number quite enthused actually. My cynical self, well, don’t get me started on elections, but I rather like watching such enthusiasm. I’m like the jaded star of a good noir novel, sometimes I feel like the femme fatal but I’m probably the poor john…er…johnette. I’m not manipulative so that leaves femme fatal right out, and as I say, I’m a sucker for lost causes. Not that Obama is a lost cause, he’s got a great shot and I think he will likely win. It’s real change and real equality and real distribution of wealth is the lost cause, though I’ll argue it’s not lost any day of the week…life would be hard if I believed it were utterly impossible. People have to take power for real change to happen though (what politician will give the people what they ran for office to get?), and the questions remains, will they?
We didn’t talk about that question the rest of the night really. We talked about bar fights and Boston and hooligans and Flannery O’Conner, I believe my plan to remake LA as the center of the new noir is well on its way, I couldn’t ask for more from a night really. We went to Casey’s Irish Bar and Grill and it was alright, and then a bar on 7th…a hundred class whiskeys on the menu from $7 to $140 a glass, plaid carpeting, dead deer heads on the wall, two pool tables that were being played by amateurs, a crowd we couldn’t quite figure, live jazz, a beautiful bouncer with handcuffs prominently displayed on his belt…I enjoyed it. Not obviously hipster, there was even a guy there with longish blond hair and a white polo shirt tucked into his khakis. Where the hell did he come from? A good mix as far as race went, it was good. And home early, to write a blog and then fall fast asleep…
I wanted mariachis and they came. I have been wanting mariachis for days, life has been too sad and difficult and desperate to hardly think about seems like. Deep currents of tragedy overlaid by swift singing ripples of minor stress…and so even small stupid things lately have felt umanageable and I haven’t managed them, they knock me endways as much as…just today I found out about another death, another family tragedy, another person I love destroyed by grief and…and if I were a little weaker, I should undoubtedly have never left my bed at all for some time now.
So to be drunk and singing
Por tu maldito amor,
No puedo terminar con tanta penas
Quisiera reventarme hasta las venas
Por tu maldito amor, por tu maldito amor
Along with other drunk people, thank fuck the gold room is not yet completely gentrified and there are still plenty of people there who know the words, and even though you’re singing about a cursed love and how you’d like to cut your own wrists, or perhaps because of it, it makes you happy…its own brand of happiness, bitter-sweet, shared pain pouring out of you with the melody and you know everyone else singing along and calling out their heartwringing ah-ha-ha-has during the instrumentals has scraped this bottom along with you.
And funny how in spite of the depths and the bottom I am scraping, I can still manage to enjoy myself. When I stop thinking. L.A. is amazing. Last night I saw the first half of Reds over at Charles’ place, how have I never seen the Hollywood movie that features (though briefly) Emma Goldman, the Wobblies, the Russian revolution? Warren Beatty’s labour of loved filmed, I believe, in 1979. Jack Nicholson, Beatty, Diane Keaton, a young Kevin Spacey…no wait, he was in hear no evil see no evil with Richard Prior and Gene Wilder that I saw earlier in the day while babysitting, also a great movie. I raced back for Reds from Norwalk and baby Jones (and the biggest diaper of shite it has ever been my misfortune to change), But Reds…I’m loving it, I’m even loving the very Hollywoodness of it, as I think that makes the events actually accessible to the American public, it’s very clever. And then meeting up with the Oaxacan folks staying over to promote their book that we are publishing (check it out at https://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=47), we all went down to a Fandango in Whittier and the music was still going at 2 am when we left, and every time I hear those folks they sound better. An event today…and then drinks and dinner and drinks and more drinks and open mike night at the Shortstop and then the taco truck then more drinks. I met a Black guy who works in fashion and sings exactly like Morrisey, I met a white guy who was convinced Obama would win in a landslide and wanted to explain exactly how he knew in excruciating depth, and I met an old guy who was in the Wild Ones with Marlon Brando and carries around a photo of the two of them, along with a printout showing the grammy winners for I do not know what year…the year he won that grammy for best instrumental. He did stand up at the open mike, old style quick delivery memorized jokes, you know the one where the three guys walk into a bar…and they were all wildly inappropriate, and most of them quite funny as well, though they made people nervous. He himself was wildly inappropriate and he made me slightly nervous…we didn’t talk about why I am not turned on by porn, or what does turn me on apart from music and good conversation…he said we had both. Luckily the lesbian who had gone on and on about the feel of someone else’s fingers on her thighs walked by and he seemed to like her much better. I did find out that the prostitutes at the Roosevelt hotel in Hollywood are the very best…
The other highlights were just the immense courage of everyone who could get up in a bar and perform in front of everyone else, they were all good enough to be quite enjoyable. And the three guys singing Van Morrison with the amazing hair, old school western hipsterized outfits…my fav was the one in the skinny red jeans and white pointy cowboy boots…he had the hip mullet going on. I know it seems like an oxymoron and it really is, but it’s not your red-neck mullet or your lesbian mullet, it’s a new feature in an old familiar style.
But conversation sparkled and I laughed as I haven’t laughed for some time…it was a great evening. And we ended up at the gold room singing por tu maldito amor and I was happy.