Not far from my house in Van Nuys, there is an unimproved street without gutters or sewers, where the blacktop was probably laid down 80 years ago, past large parcels where grew walnuts, oranges and figs.
On Columbus Avenue, there are perhaps five properties of 20-30,000 square feet each. Most of the houses are rented, ramshackle places with overgrown weeds, dry grasses, cyclone fences, trucks parked on the meridian, and slanted roof cottages housing lawful people and unindicted felons who hide behind tall lumber and cinder block and eek out a living as gardeners, actors, piano tuners and truckers.
Up until the last wave of prosperity crashed into itself, speculators had bought up some of these places, intending to tear them down and stack together stucco developments.
Some of these places, which nobody can sell, might be worth $300,000. But a few years ago they were asking $700,000 and now the owners are defaulting and trying to unload their gambles.
I rode my bike last week and passed a man who I see once a year at my neighbor’s Christmas party and he invited me into his compound where I met dozens of cats, picked figs off the trees, and walked into a Depression Era scene that might have come out of Bonnie and Clyde.
While we talked, another man, a younger man, carrying a Canon DSLR, walked up the very long driveway, and joined us. He was a location scout interested in photographing the place.
There is a lot of filming in our area. A show called “Workaholics” is shooting here now, on a street where many people are jobless but where some young post-collegiate comedians posted a Youtube video and sold a show to Comedy Central.
One might drive past the Workaholics House and see a horse and carriage, or a rowboat tacked up on the roof, and on other occasions I may have seen an elephant hosing down a car, and some old lady with a broom chasing straw hatted kids on skateboards.
Every other week, dozens of trucks and hundreds of crew- members come here, and film a fiction about life in Van Nuys, using our real world as a cheap and ironic backdrop for the callow humorlessness of modern hip Hollywood.
My idea of funny is still “The Dick Van Dyke Show” or “All in the Family” just as my idea of a film is “The Best Years of Our Lives” and my favorite singer is Frank Sinatra and I don’t think any house built after 1945 is attractive.
So I live in the past and I run from the present and wander through this city with a camera and a laptop computer. And hope that someone will anoint me with gold dust.
And escapism, and the ability to dream and imagine, and produce and prosper, that is only for a lucky few in Van Nuys.
The rest are holdouts, living in rented places, or hanging onto places they own but will never own and may lose before they die.