Not often is Van Nuys convinced it is a community, but last night, about 40 of us pretended it was, and gathered in the Columbus Avenue School to hear LAPD’s Senior Lead Office Vince DiMauro talk about the crimes that are a trademark of our district: prostitution, gangs, tagging, noise, and vacant properties.
We were in a well-ordered academic hall, which I had last seen at my elementary school, Lincoln Hall in Lincolnwood, IL some four decades ago.
An upright piano, lunch tables stacked into the walls like Murphy beds, a state and a national flag on either side of the stage, a cop speaking kindly to attentive citizens, present among us were these venerable elements of American civic life and values.
And then Donna from the Mary Magdalene Foundation got up to present her plea for the prostitute as victim, which set off some incendiary cerebral explosion in one of the candidates, who found her characterization of whore as human indefensible. His outburst provoked some other outbursts, but the uproar lasted only briefly, and back into good manners we went.
Middle-aged and older women provided, as they usually do, the moral backbone of the meeting. Voices, articulate, erudite, educated, spoke of grating and gross indecencies in the hood: thumping boom-box music parties, tagging, pot smoking derelicts, trash, litter, burglaries. Looking around at the room, at some of the carefully lip-sticked pale faces, nice tailored burgundy jackets and lovely little pink cardigans, one temporarily forgot that outside these school doors life was grosser, poorer and coarser.
Some of the attendees last night came out and admitted to being long-time residents of Van Nuys. One man moved here in 1958, others had been here since 1965, 1973, 1979. They had stayed here, lived and loved it, every bit as much as Sandra Tsing-Loh hated it. And it was those lovers of Van Nuys who go to community meetings. And dare to imagine that life can lawful and orderly, clean and respectful, decent and courageous.
Optimism, inserted into despondency, can be revolutionary.