The Pandemic Changed Everything.


Since the pandemic began every single one of my relationships were tested. Some failed, some succeeded, some ended.

Sitting at home, mostly in the room with my computer, I scrolled catastrophic headlines.

Outside the world got quieter as people stopped working.

There was one month, April 2020, where it seemed that there was no longer any traffic noise from the freeway, and no planes flew in the sky, and nobody went past my house, except for the few, the lone, the masked.

In the backyard garden, hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies flew around purple flowered plants, oblivious to Covid-19. The wind blew, the air was clean, the sky sparkled, it was the glorious, refreshing epoch of days without cars.

My partner started working from home. We ordered groceries from Instacart. Then, a few months into the pandemic, he went out in N95 mask to buy groceries. And spent three hours washing them down.


An old friend from Chicago, who I stopped speaking to a few years earlier, contacted me on Facebook. “I miss you. And with this pandemic going on, I want to reconnect,” she said.

We talked on the phone. She told me about her catastrophic illness, a brain infection that almost killed her, her hospitalization, her loss of balance, partial eyesight, and the emotional pain of applying to the State of Illinois for disability funds.

Back and forth we texted. Until the texts were too numerous, hurling into the middle of my day, as I was sitting in my house, writing or reading. Did I have to answer them? Did I need to say I liked her choice of basement décor? Did I have to text back when she sent a photo of a pie her daughter made?  Did I have to thumbs up for that Benjamin Moore paint chip?

Somehow, I no longer wanted to be involved with her. Was it the pandemic? Was it the emotions she provoked? I don’t know. I just wanted to be left alone.

And she tried to keep it going, bringing nostalgia into it, reminiscing about old friends, telling me she loved to watch re-runs of Bewitched. The more she reached out the less I wanted to engage. Was it the pandemic? Me?


Aunt Millie was not allowed to leave her room at Lincolnwood (IL) Place. The 96-year-old had to stay inside her assisted living apartment for a year.  We would talk every few weeks. The conversation and facts repeated.

“Are you writing Andy?” she asked.

“Yes. I’m finishing my novel, Exiles Under the Bridge, about two families in 1980s Pasadena,” I answered.

“You’re writing a novel? I didn’t know that. You’re a very talented writer. You should keep writing,” she said.

We would talk again in two weeks. I would tell her I was writing a novel. She would tell me how talented I was. And she would tell me she could not leave her room.  

“Millie! Stay in your room! That’s what they yell at me,” she said.


The months dragged on. The months flew past.

George Floyd was killed, the rioters sacked the cities, the protestors protested masks, business closures, or police violence; others ran red lights, shot guns, launched fireworks, got into fights in grocery stores, yelled about the most corrupt election ever, invaded the Capital as the electoral college was being certified.

The American Flag was weaponized, partitioned, and privatized, held like a spear to fight for liberty in battles against imaginary enemies .

Our world of beautiful wickedness is melting, melting, melting.


I did chin-ups, got to five. I got my bike fixed and pedaled west into the sun. I wrote short stories, finished my novel, sent out my novel, got 130 rejections.

The parks went up in flames, the homeless set fires along the freeways, the windows of the shops were boarded up, the hospitals were full of sick and dying people, and nobody was allowed to swim in the ocean.

The former president pleaded for rage and misunderstanding.

At five o’clock, every single day, Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke; clean shaven, untouched by fervency, updating us on his city’s response to the pandemic.

Some weeks businesses were essential and they were open. Other weeks businesses were non-essential and they were closed. Some wore masks and some did not, some stayed apart and some got together, certainly all were uncertain, guided by magic and intuition.

And I bought a mixer to make smoothies with bananas, ice, blueberries, milk and protein powder.

My best friend invited me to a Christmas party when nobody was vaccinated. I declined. He didn’t believe Covid was that big. In the beginning of the pandemic, he urged people to cough on each other to get us up to herd immunity.

I used to drink beer at the local brewery a few times a month. Now I don’t go. Have I stopped liking beer? Have I stopped liking people? I don’t know. I stay at home and mix up a Negroni or pour a glass of whisky over ice, in the kitchen, alone.

We got our vaccines in January, courtesy of the connected relative who works with a health clinic in South Los Angeles.

We went down there, lining up, in another very poor neighborhood, next to the homeless in their RVs. We stood in line, awaiting vaccinations, as other Hollywood friends and acquaintances of the relative arrived in their Teslas and Mercedes: the thin women with blond hair and $300 sweat pants, the ass hole boomer executives with their 25-year-old girlfriends.

We were the first to get our shots. Hollywood was vaccinated. “The Bachelor” could go back into production.

On February 1st I was fully vaccinated. Only one percent were at that time. I felt guilty. Had I stepped in line before the truly needy?

Now vaccines are available for everyone, but some choose not to avail themselves.

Like my friend Bajoda in New York.

A schoolteacher, a scoliotic, a smoker; 56-years-old, a vaccine skeptic. With a chain-smoking boyfriend who believes that Covid is no worse than a head cold. She was scared. She heard the vaccine could damage your liver.

I yelled at her. Stupid, ignorant, self-destructive, risking your life! She texted the next day and said her daughter made an appointment for her to get vaccinated.

We made up. I told her I only yelled because I care. She texted me a red valentine. If my cruelty and ugly words induced her to get the vaccine maybe it was worth it.

I texted her to find out how the second shot went. I texted again. But she didn’t answer. And I left a message but no answer. And I texted again but no response.

Since the pandemic began every single one of my relationships were tested. Some failed, some succeeded, some ended.


Sometime in early September, Uncle Paul, veteran of Leyte Island and Iwo Jima; widow, father, grandfather, great-grandfather; will celebrate his 100th Birthday. And his son Barry is already planning a backyard blowout in Woodland Hills. Many of the guests will be over 65, 75, 85, or 95.

They are expecting at least 100 or 150 guests. Who wouldn’t want to honor him? Who wouldn’t go to celebrate his birthday? Who would fear the Delta variant in a packed house of old people?


Since the pandemic began, two babies were born in our family: Edwina’s Zoe in Diamond Bar, Jacinda’s Julia in Singapore. Penny is grandmother to both. She lives in Malaysia and cannot enter next-door Singapore. Penny has never met her two new granddaughters.

But later this month, vaccinated Penny and Jacinda, and baby Julia will fly from Singapore to Los Angeles to meet the Americans.

And the joy of seeing them reunited is tempered by the fear of the unknown. How do we overcome it? How will we move on when we suspect and fear closeness to the ones we love the most?

The Pandemic Changed Everything.

Sentries of the Past.


There are ten houses along the west side of the 6600 block of Norwich in Van Nuys.

They are all ranches, built in the early 1950s, solid and compact.

Unusual for Los Angeles, the houses are all original. There are no tear downs. There aren’t any protective fences, walls or gates on any of the properties if I recall correctly. The front lawns are still grass. Not concrete, not RV, not Hummer.

Yesterday, I walked down the street, which has a real sidewalk, and on both sides of the block, two rows of identical tall trees, species unknown, currently bare of leaves, chopped up by Cortadores de árboles.

There is something midwestern about this street: sedate, well-tended and reserved. The only person I know who lived on Norwich was a blond-haired man who came from Ohio, married a woman, divorced, and moved back to Ohio. 

Norwich Ave. reminds me of Lincolnwood, IL where I grew up. Especially one thing….

Each of the ten houses has a lamppost in front. 

You can stand on the end of the block, on the south, at Kittridge, and on the north at Lemay, and look straight down and see the lights lined up, like sentries, in front of each property.

These exterior lights belong to mid-20th Century suburbia. They functioned, in their time, as gracious servants who lit up sidewalk paths for evening guests, paths planted with geraniums, petunias or marigolds; illuminated walkways for the wintertime mailman, dad coming home from work, and junior on his Schwinn thrown down, rushing in for his dinner of fish sticks, tater tots and Kool-Aid.

Some of the posts have address numbers attached.

Like every other block, people see what their neighbors are doing to their homes and they copy it. 

The lamppost is a survivor from a domestic time seven decades passed. It has no real security value, and when it’s turned on during the day it indicates that nobody is home, thus negating its magical protection.

But walking past these homes and their lights, brings you back to the old days of bourgeois Van Nuys, when this district was neat, safe, and proud. And citizens thought that men in suits and uniforms, serving under sky god and nation flag, were looking over them and protecting their lives and family, fulfilling oaths sacred and lawful.

When the people, who always paid taxes and sometimes voted, discovered that nobody was in charge, that security was your own problem, that only wealth bought law and justice, the decorative lamppost went out of fashion.

And here we are today, in the new dark ages, monitored and terrified.

MacLeod Ale and Points East.


Yesterday, late afternoon, there were clouds in the sky and the temperature was notably cooler.

On Calvert Street, outside MacLeod Ale, I was waiting outside for a friend when it began to rain. A few drops fell and then it moved on.

My friend arrived and parked in one of the few spots reserved in front of the brewery. 

We had a few beers, including Cut and Dry, an Irish stout; Deal with the Devil, my favorite IPA; and The King’s Taxes, a mild warmish ale from the first days of MacLeod.

We ordered a mushroom and sage pizza. 

There were people sitting next to us with two dogs, one sitting on a lap, the other, a Rottweiler, lying on the floor.

Then we paid for our food and drink and walked down Calvert Street, east, to shoot some photos.

In what some might consider the better parts of Van Nuys the people walk or jog past you and don’t say a word. They walk their dogs past my house, they pull a wagon with triplets, they push a stroller, and nobody even looks at you or smiles.

But on this part of Calvert Street, a poor place, just steps from a large homeless encampment, the working people were outside sitting, talking, laughing, skateboarding, coming home from work and selling food from the back of a truck.  

Densmore and Stagg, N. of Saticoy.


Drive west on Saticoy St., past the 405 and turn right/north, onto Densmore Avenue. 

You are still, according to Google Maps, in Van Nuys. (all apologies to Lake Balboa, which seems to have some fourteen boundariesaround its neighborhood.)

On Densmore, near Stagg, you’ll find, as I did, a neat, monotonous, hard-working district of small companies; mostly hidden behind bricks and barred windows.

Creative Age Productions at 7628 Densmore is there. They publish beauty magazines. Nailpro, Eyelash and Dayspa are some of their best-known publications. These titles are often competing with mirrors for customer attention.

They are neighbors with: Superior Shipping Supplies, New Rule Productions, Regency Fire Protection; and Kedem Properties, 7752 Densmore, which sounds like a Kosher wine but is actually a commercial property company. 

Black Sheep Enterprises, at 15745 Stagg, manufactures theatrical and stage drapery, a specialty one cannot buy off the shelves of Target.

The Katsu-Ya Group at 15819 Stagg owns nine sushi restaurants around the Southland. They are incongruously housed in a white and brown brick Mexican style building with arched designs.

Katsu-Ya Headquarters at 15819 Stagg St.

And the American Rubber and Supply Co. at 15849 Stagg St. has been in business since 1947 and is a supplier of industrial rubber products. Your car mat, your yoga mat, and your kitchen mat, next to the kitchen sink, might have all come from here.

New Rule FX at 7751 Densmore makes special effects props and supplies for movies, TV and theater. If you need piles of fake US currency, realistic cheeseburgers in rubber, or a room full of exploding balsa wood furniture , then this is the place to shop.  Their free-floating, fantastical, imaginative fantasies are constructed behind a dismal, prisonlike façade of white cinderblocks and steel bars.

Where Stagg St. bisects Densmore Ave is Mission Industrial Park, announced by a two-posted, two-fisted, old Western kind of sign with raised letters on a wide wooden board hung 20’ high over the street.  It welcomes you to a white-walled alley of various buildings presumably under one owner who felt compelled to establish an identity for her vastly unremarkable assemblage.

Mission Industrial Park.

We went all around here, on public sidewalks, a few days ago, to shoot some photos for a mens’ fashion brand called Magill Los Angeles.  

James and Carter were the models.

Along Densmore Av. Carter (L) and James.

James was 19 and had long blonde hair and said he was born in South Los Angeles but had moved with his father to North Dakota. He was now living in New York City and visiting Hollywood to strike up a modeling career. He had the dazed and confused 70s aura from juvenile and stoned Reseda. He works at McDonalds now but may well be famous in 2029.

Carter, actor, came from North Carolina and was well-read, articulate and sensitive to both words and pollen.

James

The day was sunny, the wind was blowing, the boys were happy and we went to eat tacos later at Tacos Hell Yeah which they said was their best ever meal in LA.

Tacos Hell Yeah
7607 White Oak Ave, Reseda, CA 91335

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Those industrial compounds, like the Stagg/Densmore District, are the hidden places in the San Fernando Valley that nobody knows about. 

Tidy, productive, industrious, they are the old lifeblood of Los Angeles, where your late Uncle Bernie, with the cigar in his mouth and the bad gallbladder, set up shop after the war and bought a three bedroom, rock-roofed ranch up on Zelzah Avenue with a delightful kidney-shaped pool.

He had little patience for tears, or men who didn’t know the difference between a wrench or a pliers, having served up ice cream at Montgomery Ward until he enlisted in ’42 and saw action at Guadalcanal. He was never bored, because he was always busy, and you vowed you would never become Uncle Bernie but you’ve done quite worse, haven’t you? He had work and a family, and a company, and a paid for house and you made fun of it, but now life laughs at you.

Aside from the work that goes on inside these shops, there is nothing to do in this area for someone in search of stimulation. Densmore and Stagg and parts around here are boring, without street life. Yet men and women in these enterprises are engaged in work, absorbed in inventions, and creating products that are, in many respects, quite interesting.

Along Stagg St.

Magill: Target/N. Van Nuys
(Not near the Densmore/Stagg/ Mission Industrial District)
James on the Raymer St. Bridge, Van Nuys, CA.

Looking East For Ideas.


 

Bessemer St. Van Nuys, CA near the Orange Line.

On these torrid July days, when the temperature is 105 degrees, and a walk down Van Nuys Boulevard near the Orange Line Metro stop brings you face-to-face with people sprawled out on the sidewalk, living in tents, sleeping on dirt, it is instructive and bracing to think of other civilizations, such as Japan, where human beings live under more benevolent and intelligent rulers.

Instead of parking lots furnished with the shopping baskets of homeless people, instead of garbage piles on the sidewalk, instead of empty streets filled with only the cries of mentally ill men and women, Japan offers low-rise, modern houses where children are cared for, and people work together to make contributions to society.

Every day we live amongst a remarkable level of filth, violence and rampant barbarity in Los Angeles; thinking it normal that a Trader Joes manager is shot dead walking to her store entrance to see what the commotion is; or that a camping father with his family is murdered, randomly, in Malibu State Park; or accepting as “normal” the idea that 100,000 people sleep on sidewalks, and RVs and cars, and live in tents in the city of the Kardashians, the Cruises, the Broads, the Carusos and the Spielbergs.

How can so much money, so much power, so much fame do so little for their city? How obscene it all is.

Near Cedros and Calvert, Van Nuys, CA.

Empty Buildings on Delano near VNB.

Slum Housing on Cedros.   Owners: Shraga Agam, Shulamit Agam 

 

 

 


There are places where guns don’t kill people every single day, and children live in clean, well-cared for apartments and houses next to spotless streets, where the trains run on time and people stand in line to wait for the next one to arrive.

We can’t completely transform what Los Angeles is, but we ought to engage our imagination to other places where they do a far better job of taking care of people and emulate those finer qualities of faraway lands.

 

Architects: HIBINOSEKKEI

Location: Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan Project Year: 2017

Photographs: Studio Bauhaus / Kenjiro Yoshimi

Source: ArchDaily

Van Nuys.

The Van Nuys State Office Building


6150 Van Nuys Bl.

The Van Nuys State Office Building is that 4-story, yellow and green building on the east side of Van Nuys Boulevard right on the corner of Calvert.

It has strips of windows, and a long, blank wall that fronts Van Nuys Boulevard, ensuring that no retail activity will ever enliven its frontage.

What is the State of Van Nuys you may ask? Is that not a ridiculous name? Was it named that to confound and confuse and further alienate us from government?

How about: “The State of California Building in Van Nuys”?

It cost $15 million dollars 34 years ago and was dedicated on February 8, 1985. It was considered a marvelous way to save taxpayer money because it consolidated all state agencies under one, open-air, courtyard roof.

I walked, for the first time, inside the courtyard today, and was surprised to feel a cool, calming, restful place, shielded from the harsh sun and torrid humidity exhausting our city in recent days.

A directory lists such agencies as the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, The Department of General Services, The Department of Industrial Relations, and The Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Senator Robert M. Hertzberg has an office here as does Assemblyman of the 45th District, Democrat Jesse Gabriel of Encino who is not to be confused with the Assemblyman of the 46thDistrict, Adrin Nazarian who also has an office here but is not listed on the directory.

The architecture is of the 1980s with lots of diagonal lines, a virtue signaler from that era of advancement beyond the Bauhaus Box.

Walk up the diagonal stairs and look down on a paved brick courtyard planted with Ficus trees and rectangular streetlights a year or two away from hipster respect and admiration.

Most striking in this building complex is the steel and canvas roof with its stadium like effect, a trellis covering that keeps out rain and direct light, but provides, from upper floors, views out to the Valley in every direction.

At the top of the building, one can survey all the grandiose emptiness of civic Van Nuys with its vacant post office, its courthouse buildings and its enormous presence of government that seems to blanket and stifle the old town under a bureaucratic dead weight of concrete, windows and open plazas.

Never have so much accomplished so little for so few.

From 40 feet in the air Van Nuys still wears a costume of respectable commerce and responsive government.

But back down on the street, the crazies are in control: homeless, addicted, angry and desperate. We are expected to always step aside and allow schizophrenic, unwashed, lost and marginal people to camp out everywhere, to doze off at Starbucks, to sleep outside of the LAPD, to vomit and defecate on bus benches.  They live on the sidewalk and then if you photograph them on public property they scream, “You don’t have my fuckin’ permission to take pictures ass hole!”

Road rage is also in evidence, as seen in this video where an angry driver followed my neighbor home from this area in Van Nuys and threw a rock at her car.

Homeless Tents Near Busway and Van Nuys Bl.

This is an emergency that requires a military like mobilization to set up tent cities and wood houses and barracks on land to house people who cannot house themselves. Who does not understand this?

Nobody, not one person, should be allowed to live on the street. At all.

A registry of homeless people should be set up. 12,000 spaces for homeless who will receive housing, food and sanitation and in return will clean garbage, paint houses, sweep sidewalks and be paid $12 an hour and work six hours a day with one hour for lunch. It is humane and reasonable.

We live in a topsy-turvy city that prioritizes the rights of the insane, the criminal, and the alien over all. It is a sanctuary state where July 4thfelt like the middle of Syria during a bombing.  We come here, liberal and open-minded, and then we are asked to excuse everything that is wrong and against the law and understand that the dysfunction of the city is merely an expression of the highest humanitarian values of compassion and tolerance.

Van Nuys is failing because it exemplifies everything in the preceding paragraph.

 

 

 

 

 

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