Tag Archives: Los Angeles

Los Angeles River, part 1

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful river delta.

And now it is LA. The river flooded its (natural) banks and mocked the mighty city for the last time in 1938. The flood killed good citizens (must have been white and wealthy given the kerfuffle that followed) and led to the recall of a corrupt mayor (I have to look into that story a bit more, sounds like a good one…). Many would say that building a massive city in the middle of a flood plain is just not a good idea. But the army corps of engineers decided to take the river on, and I do believe they won.

It is now a long line of cement wells, a giant drainage ditch running from the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro. And it is still beautiful, but a different sort of beauty. There are remnants of natural beauty of course, birds still abound here, there are islands of trees and long grasses. But it is all full of garbage, and the beauty rather heartbreaking in its proximity to ugliness.

heron

Still, it’s a nice place to sit, relax, think about what once was, with all the comfort of home.

chair

And the graffiti, the graffiti is incredible. It’s enough to make you love concrete and wide open fucked up spaces…And I do love this place

On Sunday we headed west from Frogtown, down towards the zoo and Burbank. Above are the old pylons that carried the red cars, another memory of LA’s catastrophic environmental policies…we scrapped them all in return for freeways. Who needs good public transportation anyway? Or a river. Still, the youth have reclaimed them and turned them into something very cool and particularly their own. And while I don’t care much for clowns, these two were pretty spectacular.

And I suppose biking down a path that runs directly beside a very busy freeway isn’t the best possible thing for your lungs, but the views are pretty sweet…

We biked, and hauled our bikes under the bridges when we had too, some of the most interesting stuff is down there anyway, I love this one

And I also love the fact that someone has a sense of humor

The “heroin addicts can’t spell” definitely made me laugh, as did “what if my parents saw me?” just to the left of it. And I love stencils, especially ones that make you pause for a minute and think…I love this one:

The bridges are a riot of color underneath, a mix of art and gang graffiti and tags and stupid shit, all on top of each other. Everything is covered. Here’s a taste of it, along with a glimpse of our hot rides…

But it’s also the dark side of LA, the place where people live who have nowhere else to go. Sets me raging of course, that we live in one of the wealthiest cities in the world and yet cannot take care of our people. Ah capitalism… In fact, for all of our bridges, we don’t have enough of them to serve as shelters for the 70,000+ homeless in LA County. Though they are the shelter that exists, especially when it rains. The number of available beds does not even cover a fraction of the need. People live on the islands in the middle in blanket forts like the ones I made when I was a kid, and here…and what they leave behind them is always tragic, makes this sort of adventure smell much worse than it should, and is sometimes humorous. Often all of them at the same time.

A belt, a pair of boxers, and…er…it really pays not to look too closely at these things.

Love and hate, I love and hate this place as always. I would recommend you take a look, but definitely not alone.

The OTHER Hollywood, all around the Oscars

It is the Hollywood I love…The Oscars? All fake glam and glitter, and while I have a severe weakness for beautiful dresses, I hate the posing and I really hate false smiles. But the scene surrounding the Oscars was truly phenomenal, partly in its everyday madness and cheap sexual thrills, and partly in the crowds that thronged the sidewalks, the cops, the snipers.

Absolutely. Snipers.

I’m fairly certain…There was also the rather frightening suv with the protected hole in the window that I originally assumed was for drive-bys, can’t take the ghetto out of the girl I guess, but it is much more likely to be a paparazzi vehicle.

It really is an extraordinary scene really, from on the ground, and from the outside.

Hollywood…I still remember the first time I went there years ago, and how shockingly cheap and tawdry it was. I love it of course, the way I love dive bars and eccentrics, but it has nothing to do with the image projected out into the wide world, though the city has been trying to push all the poor, the junkies, the sexy out into the far-flung regions, preferably LA County. But here you can still fulfill all of your stripper and fantasy needs, and for pure entertainment value very little can beat it

 

There was also the official celebration of twenty five years of all-American pornography

And of course, strippers don’t just come here to shop… though it appears The Cave with its Girls Girls Girls is soon going out of business, and everything is on sale

Yeah, the above just makes it all quite sad really, and clearly crosses the line for me between capitalist exploitation of sex and women, and an enjoyable eroticism. But Hollywood crosses all kinds of lines.

Here’s Sponge Bob crossing another line

Pretty priceless shot if I do say so myself! This sort of thing inspires a whole cadre of folks who believe the world desperately needs saving, they are as entertaining as anything else really

And my favourite…and least judgment oriented

I’m a bit gutted that this turned out so blurry…But was very happy to see the son of god present and accounted for. And tolerant. Because it’s the people really, that make Hollywood shine

V, fighting a righteous cause. The Scientologists were out in force, as this is their heartland.

While the above was taken on the fly and therefore free, the below did cost me a dollar. Well, turned out I didn’t have any change so it cost Jose a dollar…he’s a good sport

But the best shots are free

Twin goth girls, a pimp with sky blue shoes, Cat Woman AND Barney, though you can’t really see him. Who could ask for more than this? Live music? We had that too:

with crazy style too…there is almost more style here then you can handle

and you go from absurdity to absurdity, I really could not ask for more from a day then this.

King George? Who? The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd are all dead, so I’m in a bit of a puzzle to know exactly what he’s talking about…and who exactly will be entering the face-off with Snoop Dog, Tori Spelling, Adam Sandler, and David Hasslehoff. But the mental images that evokes are quite delightful really, I think we should have them face-off each other. And then have Sarah Ferguson take on the winner.

It was an amazing Sunday. Not least because we mingled, wandered into the Cat and the Fiddle, mingled, spent some time in the Frolic Room (where I lost all respect for Hugh Jackman as he pranced around singing silly songs, that was a bit tragic), headed back to the reminders of LA’s even darker side and what lies behind all the wealth and glitz of the Oscars

And then back home in downtown

The most phenomenal basket collection I have ever seen in my entire life. And its owner in purple velour robe and slippers. And from here to the whiskey bar at 7th and Grand, though we didn’t drink whiskey. We did play pool. I am phenomenally bad. But I won the last game after two perfect shots, and the high from that was pretty astounding. And then we walked to Tacos Mexico, found the Broadway Bar closed, so then we went home. And I laughed too loudly and the man with the crazy bugged-out eyes who had been weaving around the bus and swatting at people as they passed him stood up, walked over to us, and asked Jose (being a gentleman I spose) “what the fuck are you laughing at mother fucker, you laughing at me?” But luckily that was our stop, the bus driver was calming the guy down, Jose didn’t back down nor did he provoke, and so he didn’t get whipped around the head with the guys heavy “gold” chain that was missing a link and he’d been trying to…er…fix, the whole ride. Ah, the excitement of the 4 after 11 pm. Or any time.

Much as I hate L.A., I love it. I love the pulsing vibrant non-cosmetic beauty and life and heartbreak of it.  I always wonder why you would chose the other.

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Downtown Los Angeles at night

I suppose this could be the title of a number of posts…

It’s the end of January. The night was cool but not cold, I rolled up the sleeves of my sweatshirt and felt the air sweet against my naked skin. The streets between Mals bar and home are my streets. Along Olive I rode through the darkness, glad I didn’t go home with the car salesman. I turned on Pico, passed the corner where I always used to find Mark, before we lost the Morrison, before he lost his home, before he died.  He’s been on my mind a lot, his county issue wheelchair sits empty at Saje now, right by the back door. I see it and think of him, feel a little of the despair and loss and…I don’t even know what you feel about someone you love who died an alcoholic on the streets. And I passed the Morrison and it’s still boarded up, Hope has never been well lit there. Hope. I don’t want to hope any more, I want to see my way to winning.

I headed towards the convention center, all brightly lit, welcoming people with degrees like mine to network and shmooze and score business deals. It offers shit jobs and shit treatment to all those I work with, stand beside. I belong to neither world, though I look to be part of one, and have chosen to stand in the other. For my job, I became part of the first for a couple of days earlier this year. It made me feel split into two people, uncomfortable in my skin as I walked down carpeted corridors and flashed my badge and talked books. And wished I were chatting to the janitors instead. I felt traitorous. And lonely. I wanted to know someone who understands these things.

Down Figueroa I passed the Staples Center and the new L.A. Live, it is like another city. The other day I was biking down Olympic and suddenly didn’t recognize where I was. I can’t tell you how strange it is to feel that way about a section of street you have worked off and on for 8 years. The Baker Building is gone, all of the families I knew there gone. A skyscraping hotel rises to the left unfinished beneath its giant crane. The cold clean unwelcoming space of LA Live bristles alongside it, over 200 families used to live there in 1998. They tore the buildings down to turn the land into parking lots. And now they have created something that Narnia’s Ice Queen might have built. Though she probably didn’t know enough about surveillance cameras. It’s yet another of LA’s quasi-public spaces, easily controlled for the right kind of people, easily managed with its up-scale chains that represent conspicuous consumption without taste or orginality. Figueroa was crawling with cop cars as the great searchlights proclaimed it the place to be against the night sky. Superficial glitz and implicit violence dominate this city.

I biked through downtown, Orishas on my i-pod, every traffic light against me. Office buildings towered into the sky, their patchwork of lights replacing the stars. The spatial inequalities of this city, the pain and displacement, the contrast between ultimate wealth and ultimate poverty, all of these things carved into my heart. I like biking through the darkness, even though it hurts. It is time and space to think, a way of experiencing LA like no other, a physical release of stress and memory. And it is nice to come home at the end of it. To write.

News in L.A.

Is horrifying, almost always, but today seems particularly bad…to sum up the L.A. Times California section’s dose of death and violence:

1. The son of Fabian Nunez, former California Assembly speaker and our own dear representative, was arrested in the fatal stabbing of a student in San Diego. Apparently he identified as part of the Hazard Crew…good old East Los gang, though maybe they’re operating in Sacramento?

2. A security guard shot and killed a man wielding samurai swords at the Hollywood Scientology building…this story is not without humour of course, the man was a former scientologist himself, and apparently talked of revenge. This only reinforces my theories about scientology…the actual article is on the fact that the guard will not face charges.

3. A Swedish hip-hop artist (!) by the name of David Jassy punched, kicked, and then ran over a pedestrian, after the pedestrian was rude enough to get hit by his SUV while in the crosswalk. The irony as acknowledged by Jassy is that the man, John Osnes, was a fellow musician, and deeper investigation reveals that he was of Norwegian parentage… the reporter seems to think that makes it all doubly ironic…

4. A mummified body was found in North Hollywood, the house was so stuffed with garbage that firefighters had to “hoist” the body out of window. It was of a woman who apparently lived with her 48 year old son, and died at least a year ago. It’s Psycho but with more trash. And no beautiful blonde. I do wonder about the theme music…

5. A woman is at trial for the 1969 murder of her toddler, she is charged with covering up the murder and burying the body. Her jury is deadlocked over her guilt.  I think I saw this case on some unsolved mysteries program at my parents house…

6. The coroner released the report today on the body of the train engineer responsable for the crash in Chatsworth killing 25 people. He was not drunk or high.

7. A Japanese businesman hanged himself with his T-shirt after being extradited to an LA jail to stad trial for killing his wife in 1981. Or so the LAPD says. His lawyer, however, states that the injuries are more consistent with choking or beating.

8.  An off-duty officer (in Central California, not LA) was convicted of felony battery for grabbing a man by his throat and the back of his shirt and throwing him down the concrete stairs of the Angel’s baseball stadium in Anaheim. What touched it off? He was tapped on the head by an INFLATABLE THUNDER STICK!

9. And then of course, we have the news from the Bay…so i don’t know if it counts, but it’s about the teenager that escaped from his home and collapsed in a parking lot bruised and beaten, with a three foot chain padlocked to his leg.

What a beautiful world we live in…and this is just the death and violence juicy enough to print.

Alleys of East downtown Los Angeles

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 this

and this

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

and this:

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.

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The two liquor stores on my street

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.

Back in LA

My train hit someone today, the blue line at Vernon Station. The train hit someone. No one felt it, what is the measure of a human being against a hulking monster of iron and steel? We stopped and the conductor came on telling everyone to remain calm. Telling himself to remain calm. Two lives changed forever, and most people restless and angry only at the delay. Death today, or something close to it.

Welcome home to LA. I sat this morning, wondering how in fuck we have been reduced to this. Every time I come home I feel this, I see it clearly. How we have been reduced to this. Public spaces, angry faces, hard and drawn and bitterness carved. People take them off only when they get home. The world rolls past me, contained, when you’re in it no other world can exist. Homeless encampments along the train line, clothes and belongings scattered by police raids. They terrorize the most vulnerable. They stride along metro platforms, sunglassed, booted, guns pushed forward, large dogs beside them. Fundraisers for the city, reminders of who rules this place, and even in my anger I fear them. And here they are everywhere. I see hints of rebellion spray-painted in brilliance across gray walls, but around me there are simply people who survive. Survival is grim, it terrifies, it reduces life to a splinter working its way inwards. It kills senses, kills thought, kills compassion, kills joy. Life reduced to this. We live within the bones of capitalism, the structures of society, forces of history and economics that demand poverty, and place it here. And we yield with hardly a murmur, people getting on, making do. I understand riots, I do not understand why they are rare. I do not know what it will take to bring the structures down, and if they came down now I fear so much that we are too used to preying on each other. We do not look up but down when we inflict violence. We kill each other, we kill ourselves, we allow ourselves to be killed. I mourn my dead, in other worlds no one understands the number of dead, and I rage at this world with its invisible walls.  I wonder just what it is we have that we are so afraid to lose. I wonder how we can beat ourselves against walls without ever seeing them, without ever tearing them down. If we do not do it, no one will. Everyone on the other side is too afraid of us. Us I say…I grew up without choices but claimed them and I choose to stand here, it is a luxury of mine. I belong nowhere now, so I can chose which side I fight on. And I will always fight.

Tomorrow I will believe again in the possibility of building something better. I dream that it could grow large enough to bring the walls down with its tremendous swelling, I do not know another way to completely destroy them, and a breach has never proven to be enough. Tomorrow I will see again the strength and beauty that is here. But not today.

And you know, for all I write, the soundtrack of today said it so much better, The Roots, Bread and Butter, all of our cities are flooding and it never makes the news. All the levees are broken.

A child is born, his mother is gone
He in the middle of it literally, tusslin strong
For his life, the tide high
In the eye of the storm a mannish boy arrive
And the riot is on
Wit no spare time to try to respond
Or prepare times it’s hard not becomin a headline
Or prayin in the night when it’s bedtime
Or layin ya head down
Cuz you already know what it is now
You know a lot of leaders ain’t honest
And they can’t keep a promise
And I hate to speak about it but it’s all freakanomics
Cramped and proud of it, you amped and you rowdy
Treadin water tryina lift up ya head without drownin
This type of shit can make ya heart stop from poundin
Butchu pushin for the top too scared to stop
Now it gets deep, bodies are floatin around in the streets
Lotta people who won’t even be around in a week
Man get the operation gone
Whatch’all waitin on?
We been patient, y’all mo’fuckas takin long
The television gettin all the information wrong
Doin how they do it gettin they miseducation on
They already late
Somebody been was ‘posed to regulate
Instead of wait before they let the levee break
You try runnin from the truth but it’s givin chase
I got to ask myself yo, is any nigga safe?

[Chorus:]
A loaf of bread, milk and eggs, stick of butter man
Somebody mother lies dead in the gutter
Sheriff down by them that’s talkin that gutter
Tell the kids don’t look under those covers, mayne

Living well in L.A.

You doubt it no? Disbelievers…L.A. can sometimes be one of the best cities in the world, and I say that because of everything I have ever written about it, both heartbreaking and heartlifting, who would want only one or the other in their life? You’d cut your wrists with the first and stare at the world through the translucent walls of your bubble in the second without ever truly living. This weekend I remembered once again why I love it so much…again full of writing and struggle and dancing and art and friends and dragon boats and…I can’t even tell you how much fit into this weekend.

Political truth (my own truth with a little ‘t’ though I think it might deserve capitalization): every community should have a central place to gather, to laugh, to eat, to dance…it is the distance between us that makes control so easy, that makes poverty such a burden, that allows each of us to suffer believing that we are alone…the more we come together the stronger we will be, and the better we can plan.

Personal truth: happiness could easily be as simple as live music every weekend, surrounded by friends that are family, and a little bit of dancing, preferably under the sky. And if the music be a mix of jarocho and cumbias and zapoteada and some old mariachi favourites to belt along with…well, so much the better.

Combine those two and you end up with my Saturday between 11 and 2 in the neighborhood I have worked in for years upon years and where we had established the Displacement Free Zone, saje and the land trust threw a little block party and it was small but lovely and we danced, first to jarocho with it’s amazing politics and message and it was a joy

and then to…se me olvide agarrar su tarjeta, I shall have to find out who they were…to the backdrop of Henry’s market. You can buy pretty much anything at Henry’s, and I mean anything. The Harpy’s feel pretty strongly that their tag needs to be covering that clear green wall, which is why it is white down below. I’d like to suggest they add a red stripe and an eagle, there’s no other excuse for such a shade of green…

and here is one of the women I most admire in the world, who danced the entire time and knows how to zapotear like no one, and has more heart and courage and knowledge than almost anyone I know…beauty along with it:

Monic dancing…

So I wasn’t sure the weekend could get much better…but I went over to Bev’s after. The fact I had destroyed my bike’s innertube first thing in the morning made this a bit slower, and it made me a bit sad, but I overcame. And then I was stung by a wasp on the walk over…how many years has it been since that happened? Took me back to the old desert days, I have been stung by almost everything but I shall tell those stories later. Or never. People who didn’t grow up in glorious yet hostile environments where everything can hurt you rarely seem to enjoy those stories. So I hung out happily sorry for myself with some ice in a towel pressed against my shoulder. Wasps hurt a wee bit more than I remember.

Through a strange and complicated turn of events Bev and Samantha were going to be rowing in the Dragon boat races at the lotus festival in Echo Park and had come back from practice, so we all headed over to a BBQ at one of their new team-mates’ houses. Turns out that everyone else rowing had worked for Mayor Bradley back in the day (and I mean back in the day), so the BBQ that we (well, I) had crashed turned out to be a more formal sort of dinner with the most amazing food. And then council member Wendy Gruel turned up with her family. Now this may not seem so exciting to most, but you have probably not done as many delegations to city council members where you sought to speak to them in vain about important issues, or carried out long power analyses where Gruel was invariably one of those that should be on our side but could always go the other way…at any rate, the irony was delicious, as was the wine. Also turns out that the following day’s race was to be a race to the death against Gloria Molina’s office, and in fact Michael (enthusistic team head), had flown in from DC just to paddle in this race and destroy the Molinistas in this rematch (after 15 years or so)…turns out me and those with me were all too young to remember Bradley but a few of us also had some serious beef with Molina (the rest could care less), so we joined together in a toast to the county supervisor’s bitter and inglorious defeat…

You’ll have to wait a bit for the outcome of that, first because I want to see the effect on my readership (cliffhangers seem to work for the networks after all), second because I’m tried, but most importantly because we then had to go see Luke in his play/sketch comedy “Touched in the Head” in a tiny theatre on Santa Monica, and we laughed…there was a fabulous sketch about the horrors of cat rape, and the victims were Tony the Tiger and Garfield and Tom and the Cat in the Hat…every male cat you can imagine in fact. My other favourite was a pyromaniac chola who comes to give a motivational speech to 1st graders about all the things they should set on fire when people talk shit to them. If it hadn’t been the last night I would have recommended it highly!

Still not done, cos it’s almost Laura’s birthday, so it was off to Highland Park to celebrate it with her and a ton of other people…there were cumbias playing in the front room, old soul playing on the back patio, watermelon soaked in vodka and negro modelo and rum mixed with lots of other things, there were friends and family, people I knew and people I didn’t know at all, all of them the kind of people you’d like to know. We left just after midnight, I was tired and Bev was paddling for glory and Jose just went along with it…

A brilliant day yesterday. Today was brilliant too. Maybe I’ll get to it tomorrow…

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The Los Angeles Blue Line

I love them I know, and I also know I write about them a lot. I don’t know why the rest of my day doesn’t inspire me the way the ride home does.

I had a lovely evening, spent with friends that I haven’t seen in ages and haven’t really talked to for years, we met up at Masa in Echo Park and then they kicked us out for a hipster wedding party and I damned gentrification and we walked a couple of blocks to Barragan’s. Masa’s used to be called Carmelos, it was a brilliant cuban place that had been there for decades with pink booths and a counter the old men used to sit at and drink their cafe con leche, and they sold magical pasteles de guayava y queso, and platanos and all things nice. Now it’s dark and candlelit with brown booths and tatooed waitstaff and really good microbrews on tap and the food is nice too…it’s just all twice as expensive.

And we drank and told stories of course, and it was just what my heart needed…such evenings are rare in L.A. because they require so much coordination…Almost everyone I love most is here and I feel like I never see them enough. The people I see are on the train. I wanted to write a novel once about the train, how it was a portal to some other place, to some much better place where everything was flipped around and the poor were rich and the sad happy, and the crazy were sane…that the woman in the floor-length faux-fur leopard skin coat was the key, or the old guy passed out in his seat. I never wrote it, the raw reality of the train itself defeated me, this world we have created…

There was a crazy guy playing porter today along the blue line, he was frighteningly crazy, with his lips pulled back and jagged teeth and no touch of awareness in his gaze, he could not speak only yell words barely recognizeable. At each stop he got out and held the door and shouted what might have been all aboard, and ushered the people in who were brave enough to choose his door…we lost him at firestone station as the people poured in and filled the car completely, he continued to hold the door as the warning bells chimed again and again and sacraficed his place so the last family could jump on. It was his moment, and as he watched the train leave he was shining.

My friend with the glasses bearing white 50 cent flags stuck on each side and selling candy with a smooth fast sales pitch that makes everyone smile was on the train today, he had almost sold everything.

A man younger then me sat quietly on the bottom of the steps leading up to the green line, he held a forty in a brown paper bag and threw up to one side casually as though he were just spitting. Once, and again, and once again. The smell of it was sickly, and it mingled with the sour stink of beer to fill the air.

An old guy told me he loved me. He was too drunk to really speak and drink had marked his face as it’s own and I was too sad to do more then smile. He might have meant to say something else, maybe he didn’t love me after all. But his eyes never left my face and when he followed me onto the green line I realized he walked only with great difficulty and a congenital limp…and the fact remained he was frighteningly drunk and therefore unpredictable and I hate to be stared at and I was glad when he got off at the first stop.

My friend from a few weeks ago was on the train as well, the one who had a crush on Hillary Clinton…he had lost the one sock he had, but had acquired shoes that did not fit his swollen feet. He had a large black book with a red logo, and on it he beat an irregular rhythm and sang a song to himself in a language that probably only he could understand. The smell of him was terrible, and his clothes were falling off of him and he was doing far worse then when I saw him last.

I saw everyone with ghetto hard faces, the kind that say don’t fuck with me, I could hurt you. You have to wear it to wall out the overpowering need of others, to protect yourself, to create your own distance from what is around you. If you don’t live here you never see those faces transformed, masks melted away where it is safe, and people return to the way they ought to be. I lost my mask in Scotland, but I feel it creeping into the set of my lips sometimes…when I think about it I do not want it back, but there is a price to pay for that. Unconsciously your face hardens.

I biked home through the darkness and the smell of flowers, and laid out on the grass for a while to search for stars. If I could have any power at all, any gift, I do believe I would sacrifice my lifelong dream of flying for the ability to heal people. There are layers upon layers of what is broken and I know the scale of it…but it is the brokenness of my people on the train one by one that breaks my heart.

The next blog shall be funny, I solemnly swear.

MacArthur Park

MacArthur Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, shimmering green against shade and sun, palm trees and the dirty blue of the lake. It was full of families, there were even some people fishing. It was also full of people sleeping, forms stretched out in every patch of shade and lost to the world, lost to themselves. On the corner of 7th and Alvarado you can still buy anything, but there are fewer people selling then 10 years ago. Their faces are different, but the look is the same. Lean, hungry, watchful. They look me up and down; in a segregated Los Angeles where race almost always equals class and people stick to their own in both company and geography, I clearly do not belong. Usually I am happy that there is nowhere and nothing I belong too, it frees me to move between worlds, spending time in each with the people I love.

A small fat preacher was shouting into a megaphone, hurling words in Spanish of love and belonging, a yellow banner stretched between two trees, 25 folding chairs set up on the grass, a ragged crew of people clustered around him. Most slept on of course. “Quizas la proxima semana…” the preacher yelled, “perhaps next week you will stop smoking, perhaps next week you will pick up the phone and call your mother or your daughter, perhaps next week…” And the people listened, he called them up in revival style, “Tu hermanita, tu, necesitas salavacion, venga…” There is such desperate need for belonging, need for hope, the people came.

At the other end of the park another small fat preacher was screaming into a megaphone, suited and tied, his words were entirely of hell and the book of revelation. Everyone slept on, walked past as though he were not there. One of his associates blew a long animal horn of grey that curled upon itself, it sounded deep and echoed off the palm trees and no one listened. I myself dream that people will take responsibility for themselves and for the world, that people will cease to look for salvation as a gift and demand a better life as their right, that people will work to change what is broken…and what is not broken? My faith is that this is possible. I almost stole the megaphone but reflected that shouting at people in the street was hardly exemplary of my vision. Perhaps next week I will come back and smite it.

I walked past MacArthur Park because we had a reunion today, of everyone that had ever worked at CARECEN though I am sad to say not everyone was there…enough to make it enjoyable though. My friend Ruel made it quite enjoyable in fact, we met first at our old Winchell’s and had donuts and coffee. Winchell’s, with its perennial sign stating they have been “fresh and warm since 1948,” and an even better sign saying “CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN! 14 donuts!” It’s like an alternate universe really, that has been making me smile for 8 years now. I missed Don Tonito though, he used to sell artesanias and Salvadoran books on revolution and revolt. He lent me old tapes of boleros and home videos of when the FMLN marched back into San Salvador to sign the accords. He used to tell me stories about the guerrilla, like the time he was hiding with a companera in the end house of a long set of row houses. The military came searching house by house along the ground and there were more of them walking along the roofs so that no one could escape and he believed he was dead, when the roof of the house right beside theirs fell in under the weight of the soldier on top (good old poverty), and the soldier broke his leg. And that was enough to stop the search and save my friends’ life. Funny that most of the stories I know from El Salvador are tragic and brutal and still haunt me, it is only the stories of the fighters that have humour and hope in them. I wish I’d stayed in touch with him. But I’m back in touch with some other old friends though, and that is always a beautiful thing