The Streets Were Spotless


On Sunday I went to Burbank to take photos of a 25-year-old actor. 

We met at Chili John’s, a “World Famous” landmark, now out-of-business, a spot of streamline slickness with a neon sign, all of its recent Covid signs still intact. Somewhere I had read that preservationists were fighting developers on this site but could not pull up any stories to verify.

It was Burbank so there were no people around, just an empty parking lot, spotless, without litter, tagging or anything vandalized. The rains had washed the skies. In the distance, past Glendale, sharp and clear, stood the eternal San Gabriel Mountains. 

I got there before he did, and I walked along Burbank Boulevard where the cherry trees bloomed, and one specialty liquor store was open for contactless delivery. Through the window, I saw a $24 bottle of Riesling and moved on.

On Sundays, in Burbank, there are always old, spotless cars driving around. I saw a VW Beetle turn right. 

After that notable vehicle sighting, the actor from Springfield, MO appeared. 

He had just taken a Zoom acting class. He had long pandemic locks and beard and was quite chippy and happy with himself as he ran his hand through his hair and made goofy expressions with his face. He took out a guitar, which he doesn’t play, and he soulfully strummed it for our shoot. 

He had a backpack, a wool driving cap, zip up boots, tight pants, overcoat, trim denim shirt. We shot some photos of him along the long white wall where its red painted parking in rear. He talked about his end days Christian friends from Missouri and trimming his chest hair and how he comes from the same town as Brad Pitt.

He said he was happy in Hollywood, happy to meet cool people, happy for people who were signing him up and taking him to Peru for work. I think.

He told me he had access to a super high resolution Blackmagic Production 4k Camera, and if I wanted to use it on some other day I could. 

He left his stuff in the back, behind the store, and we walked up front to the sidewalk. I had no fear any of it would be stolen. But he went back to retrieve it and then rejoined me on the sidewalk where I directed him to slump down into the doorway and look down the street as if he were a tired, exhausted traveler.

We had free reign, with nobody nearby.

There was also no trash, no litter, no fast-food wrappers, no condoms, no homeless, no shopping carts; just an empty place all around, with store windows and shuttered businesses. After two hours, one masked pedestrian walked by.

That Sunday, Burbank was the Los Angeles that once existed, the hygienic wonderland of donuts and burgers and whimsical cars, chlorinated swimming pools, empty sidewalks and freshly washed streets.  It was dead but it was a delight, and somewhere nearby I imagined a crew-cut kid with blonde hair and plaid shirt riding his Schwinn.

When I was done, I drove through North Hollywood and crossed back into chaos, filth and disorder, past an invisible wall between dreams and reality, past and present, Los Angeles and Burbank. 

Letter From a Homeless Man


From the LA Times article, “Garcetti’s A Bridge Home Homeless Problem Has Mixed Results.”

A formerly homeless addict refutes all the tolerant and feel-good ideas that are bandied about by Garcetti and other enablers. Here is what WEHO LIBERAL said in a letter to the LAT:

“I’m someone who once was homeless multiple times, but always stayed in shelters no matter what. NEVER, ever camp outside! It’s a dead end and that behavior is only for people with serious behavioral problems, alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness. If you lose your housing? You do NOT camp outside. Period.

I’ve posted multiple times about homelessness on LAT over the years. The last time I did, Nita Lilyveld (not sure if I spelled her name right) wrote about 2 young homeless people in their early twenties that I reached out to offering support and even to take them to dinner. After 2 or 3 texts between one of them where they kept saying they’d follow up with me, they flaked. No more texts. They didn’t follow up or stay in touch.

I am done with this nonsense. And I say that as a liberal Democrat who supported all of these shelters being built. Enough is enough. My mother was mentally ill her entire life and constantly refused treatment.  Even when I was struggling with my own addiction, I ALWAYS made sure I had shelter.

I live in Hollywood.  You see these people every day.  I see them sitting or lying around their campsites when I leave for work. I come home from work and they’re still there, doing nothing but eating, urinating, defecating, some listening to the radio or watching TV on their phones. But they are always there and they make zero effort to change their lives or better their situation.

They ask me for cigarettes, they ask me for money. Their laziness and refusal to change infuriates me. I was homeless, multiple times. I’m sick and tired of LAT columnists like Steve Lopez and Nita Lilyveld pleading to help people who simply do not want to help themselves–or in the case of Lopez, only interested in finding a charity case that they can champion in press and on TV for his own ego.  No, I do not care to hear about how hard Nathanial Ayers’ life is when he refuses to take his medication that would help save his life and better his living situation. My own mother refused treatment for years so I have zero sympathy for people like him who literally are victims of their own refusal to simply do what could get them housed and improve their lives.

Look, being homeless and living in either a shelter or housing provided by local government was no picnic and no fun. I was miserable. My addiction was my responsibility and I deal with it and take responsibility for it. But Lopez, Lilyveld and others like them have their own faults and shortcomings, too.  It’s morally right to have compassion for others, absolutely.  But people who refuse to help themselves even when others try to help them and move Heaven & Earth to do it are not worthy or deserving of compassion.  They are not money pits; they are emotional black holes who will drain the time, energy and resource of everyone around them because they refuse to do what they need to do.

I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck. Yes, I’ve been lucky and yes, I have white male privilege. But as an incest survivor and an HIV+ positive drug addict in recovery, I no longer buy what Lopez, Lilyveld, LAHSA and others like them keep preaching. It is infuriating and it’s becoming obscene. I tried to help 2 homeless young people less than half my age last year after reading about them here.  For God sakes, I offered to feed them more than once. They kept making excuses and then just stopped reaching out to me.

I am done with supporting this policy and their behavior. We all need help sometimes. God knows I spent years exhausting people and it took me a long time to get my act together. But sooner or later, you have to reach deep down inside yourself, confront your problems and change your behavior as much as possible to save your own life.

I am not perfect and all of my problems are not solved. But as someone who sees homeless people every day who sit around all day doing nothing, my compassion for all but a select few is pretty much drained and gone.”

Speaking of Ruins: The Hollywood Advisor


“The remains of burnt down homes and vechicles resulting from the Woolsey Fire are seen on Busch Drive in Malibu, California on November 13, 2018. – At least 44 deaths have been reported so far from the late-season wildfires and with hundreds of people unaccounted for the toll is likely to rise, as thousands of weary firefighters waged a pitched battle against the deadliest infernos in California’s history. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)”


“The fire was roaring down the canyon. We had already stocked the car with our papers, our family photos.  Carla was so good, so organized, getting the kids into the car. And it was 3:30AM and we were ready to get the hell out in our 2018 Range Rover. The smoke was thick, of course. Then over the hill we saw flames.  Carlos, Esmerelda and Arturo ran up to the car.  Carla begged them to leave, mandatory evacuation, but they said they were staying. They would take garden hoses and buckets and fight the fire. So they did. They saved our house. The garage, where they lived, burned, but the main house, thank God, is still standing.”

Jason, The Hollywood Advisor, was sitting on a deck overlooking the ocean, talking to me, weeks after the deadly and horrific fire that consumed Malibu. We were alone, drinking wine. He wore strange little sunglasses shaped like Forever Stamps, rectangular and beady; he wore them even after the sun dropped below the horizon. I guessed to hide his tired, sad eyes.

Carla and the kids, Samantha, 13 and Igor, 11 were in Montserrat waiting out the reconstruction, and Jason was staying in Malibu, at a $6,000 a week AIRBNB, to attend to the repair of his semi-destroyed rustic cabin, worth millions.

The fire was only the latest setback in his life. 

He had spoken of lost projects, stolen ideas, friends who betrayed him, opportunities that evaporated quickly like afternoon rains in the summer desert.

“I had the original script that belonged to Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno. I bought it at auction when I was 18 years old in 1989. It was $400. And it burned too. God I loved that. It was Steve McQueen’s!” he said.

That incinerated script was merely a metaphor for other charred, ruined and once-adored life attachments.

The latest outrage was a friend of 20 years, Dean Meagrer[1], a big deal in the film world, a director and producer who had partnered with Jason, but then went behind Jason’s back to sell the film project to another company, and then denied he had done so.

“People suck. Carla had nursed him through his relationships. She even sat up all night with Claire Foy talking her out of breaking up with him, and so basically Carla saved their relationship. And of course, Claire will star in their film, so everything was saved, jobs and love and money. And now he just lies to me and betrays me. So fucking unbelievable,” Jason said.

He talked, seemingly with insight, about the world of fakery and insincerity that he once thought he belonged in, lorded over. He never took the circle of lost friends as a sign that perhaps none of these people had ever truly been true friends, but merely transactional relationships that were formed to bring goods and services to Jason and Carla and their kids.

“Best Friends” was how Carla once described Lois and Johann who owned White Now, an ultra expensive tooth whitening process which the owners provided free to Jason, Carla and the kids, a $4,000 value. Every few months, the family got free whitened teeth, brighter and whiter than Dunn-Edwards Precious Pearls, a very white paint.

Arnaldo and Noma, two Beverly Hills landscape architects, became the new best friends for a while, and designed, gratis, a sloping scheme of native plants, water-saving trees, artfully placed rocks and an herb garden. Noma was a set designer in her previous life, and Arnaldo was a Urauguayan film director, so that landscaping couple assumed a free outdoor makeover would lead to other entertainment opportunities, but that, of course, fell out. 

And undocumented Guatemalans Carlos, Esmerelda and Arturo moved in, free, into the back garage, near the creek, and were allowed to stay, in return for light household chores like brush clearance, carpentry, painting, and cooking. That family lived like old plantation workers, grateful for a roof over their heads and enough food to eat, and they earned it by unofficially joining firefighters and risking their lives to fight the massive wildfire last month.

Always Carla spoke of her conquests, her connections, her exploits, as a mother might speak of her children, with care and concern. There was a callousness to the bartering  where Jason and Carla used their positions to promise results which never materialized. “We helped a refugee family and our home was a sanctuary.”  A scrim of kindness masked the manipulations.

But Jason was unaware.

His self-pity was the major event that preoccupied him last week. He imagined that he had gained sad wisdom into the human condition, seeing in his own lost dreams a truly gripping tale of impoverishment, wandering and dazed, a defeated winner walking along Pacific Coast Highway in a smoked, soaked James PerseT-Shirt.

I had not the courage to call him out, to point out his lies, his denials, his false sense of friendship and how temporal and shaky all of his foundations were. At the heart of his life, he had constructed a tale, a story, a narrative of sacrifice, truth, unselfishness and caring. 

His adjectives were indeed something to treasure.


[1]Invented name, privacy protected by anagram.

Vine St. From Hollywood to Melrose.


Today I went down to Hollywood for a meeting at Paramount Studios.

I parked at the Orange Line lot, near Sepulveda and Erwin (2/3 of which is now leased by Keyes to store unsold new cars), bought a $7 Metro pass, and took the bus, which connected to the Red Line subway at North Hollywood. I rode three stops and disembarked at Hollywood and Vine.

Compared to other times on the train, there was definitely a boosted security presence. Some cops were checking passes at North Hollywood and four LAPD cops boarded a train at Highland and rode it for a few stops.

The pathologies of LA are now deeply embedded in the transit system. Many homeless were riding the train with their belongings, and at Vine I heard jostling and two men arguing with “fuck you” screamed loudly. Other times I’ve ridden the train and with smoking, eating, feet on seats, loud music, and absolutely nobody doing anything about it.

But considering how much might go wrong, the ride was all right, and I walked, for a few miles, along Vine and arrived on time for my 11am appointment at Paramount where everyone smiles and says thank you.

 

Vine/Lexington

In black and white, editing out the poverty, Vine Street presents itself as a neat and tidy noir place. There is Stein and Vine Drums, the DWP Service Building, erected 1924; Bogie’s Liquors, the Army/Navy & Earthquake Supplies, and Camerford Avenue, a street I never heard of until today.

Back in Hollywood, there are hucksters and con artists all around Vine near the W Hotel.

One guy came up to me with a hunk of cash in his hand and said, “You got a $20 for a ten and five and some ones?”

I said, “Let me see what you got.”

But he refused to unfurl all the cash. Then he said, “C’mon man. I just interviewed for a job at Starbucks and I got to get to Oceanside and I’m short six bucks!”

I said, “I’m sorry,” and walked off.

 

 

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Dinner With the Hollywood Advisor.


The other night I went to dinner at the home of The Hollywood Advisor, “Jason” who owns a little cabin (“Worst home in Malibu” his wife calls it) nestled into a canyon, mockingly rustic, but worth millions.

They had just returned, from their yearly six-week jaunt across several continents. The family skied in Switzerland for a few days, then dad flew them to Peru, and they ended up in Brazil and came back home to Malibu.

“By the way, the food sucks in Peru. Bourdain is fucking wrong,” Jason told me.

Wife is Selena, a toned, Bulgarian born woman in her late 40s fond of red wine and yoga. Her stunning daughter Samanatha is 13 and goes to school at a private academy near the Pacific. The boy, Igor, is also handsome and quite scientific, showing off his new telescope on the back deck within the gurgling sound of the creek.

The aura of the evening, sounds, on paper, relaxing, yet Jason, who directed an Oscar winning film in 2000, had clenched teeth and some annoyance at what’s been happening with his life. He was tense, perhaps because he strictly abstains from alcohol.

“This whole town is fucking nuts. I take meetings, sometimes two a week, and I meet with A list people, and then projects seem to get off the ground, and I’m attached for big bucks, and then they pull the rug out from under me,” he told me as he stir fried tofu and organically harvested shrimp.

A doorbell rang and Jason commanded aloud, “Alexa open the front door!”

The front door opened by wireless butler, and in walked Carla, a tall, long-haired actress in her early 40s who was carrying a small white dog in her arms. The dog and the actor excited Selena who hadn’t said a word to me yet ran up to Carla and the dog and embraced them.

“Do you love Fergie? Isn’t she amazing?” Carla asked blue-eyed Samantha.

“Yes! She’s like the most amazing dog ever!” Samantha responded.

Selena, the wife, who had been curled up on the sofa, jumped up and asked Carla if she wanted something to drink.

“Do you have any red wine?” Carla asked.

“Yes, try this. It’s so amazing!” Selena said as she poured two-buck chuck into a glass.

Selena patted Carla’s hair. “I love your hair. The color is so amazing.”

“Thank you. I go to Ronnie. Your guy in Venice. He is so amazing,” she said.

“I know. He is just like the most amazing haircutter ever. Amazing,” Selena said.

“Is Pushkin coming?” Carla asked.

“He’s supposed to,” Jason responded.

Pushkin was their friend, a 5’6, NJ born, reality TV producer who reinvented himself mid-life, painting $7,000+ artworks out of Crayola crayons, which featured renderings of 6 foot high, childlike disciplinary commands from grade school, “I promise not to throw spit balls in class!” which were drawn 20 or 30 times on one oversized canvas and were now beloved by all of Abbot Kinney and that 30ish crowd from the Church of Amazing.

“Pushkin just spent $40,000 on succulents at his new house! And then they had to rip them all out because his new girlfriend hates them,” Jason said as if he were recounting a story of horrific tragedy.

“This is my buddy from Reseda,” Jason said to Carla, introducing me.

“Oh hello! I heard about you. Don’t you do watches or something? You design them and sell them online?” she asked.

I had given Jason a wristwatch in November, which somehow was now on Carla’s wrist. “I love this! Jason gave it to me! It’s your company right?” she asked.

It was the watch I had given Jason as a gift, which he re-gifted to Carla.


It was like that with Jason, you found out about something he did by accident, his duplicity was never an outright lie, just an omission of fact. You were never quite aware of the whole honest story with him.

A few years earlier we had been together on a Sunday morning for breakfast in Santa Monica. I asked him what he was up to for the rest of the day. “Oh, nothing. Probably go home and crash on the couch,” he said. A few days later on Facebook were photos of his daughter’s birthday party that day with some of our mutual friends.


“It’s such an amazing watch. I wore it to the art show and Pushkin complimented it. If Pushkin likes it, it must be gorgeous!” Carla told me.

We nibbled at various small plates that Jason produced. He was enamored of a certain French butter that came in a small straw tub and he insisted we all dip our potato chips into the butter and savor its exquisite foreignness.

“This butter is amazing!” Carla said.

Selena and Samantha also dipped their potato chips in and said, almost in unison, “Oh my God. This butter is amazing.”

Carla spoke about her home in Sardinia and she invited Jason and his family to come visit her in July. “We probably will stop over in Sardinia because we are going to Egypt, Russia and Japan in August.”

“Do you think Pushkin will be in Sardinia too?” Carla asked.

“I know he is going to the art show in Rome so I assume he will be able to go. But “The Slob” is going into production in August so I’m not sure he will be able to.

“The Slob” was a new reality show with Britney Spears where she transformed slobs into stylish men and women. It was, sadly, going to be Pushkin’s final Executive Producing job in Hollywood. His art career was taking off, and he was starting to sell each Crayola creation for $15,000.

“I think the concept is so fucking brilliant. I mean it’s so amazing to take a slob and make him look great. Only Pushkin would think of that!” Jason said.

We drank a few more glasses of wine and then Jason took out a jar of olives. “Try these. They are so amazing!” he said.

Towards the end of the evening, Igor came up to me, rather empathetically, and asked if I wanted to look up at the moon through his high-powered telescope.

We went out onto the deck and peered into the heavens, contemplating a universe above and beyond Los Angeles.

Option A: High Level Cabinet Meeting


Peter Scholz

Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States, but aspects of it can seem almost small town. A sprawl built of people who came from somewhere else, infamous for its superficiality and temporality, it sometimes, surprisingly, produces individuals, deeply rooted in its soil, who live and work here their whole lives, sometimes in an area a few blocks wide.

Such is the case with Peter Scholz.

He was born in Van Nuys, 53 years ago. He lived at 5812 Lemona Ave in Van Nuys, CA. in a German-American family along with Michaela, his younger sister.

His parents, Heinz and Herlinda, had met in Vaduz, Liechtenstein in 1954. They married, and in 1959, emigrated to Los Angeles, where they found work, as driver and maid, in the Sidman Family estate in Beverly Hills. They stayed there only briefly.

Liechtenstein

Motivated by ambition and hard work, Heinz left his chauffeur job to work as a baker. Meanwhile, they had two kids, Peter and later Michaela.

In 1968, Dad opened Scholz Cabinets on Aetna St. in Van Nuys, a location where he did business for the next 20 or so years.

Peter worked part-time with his father, graduated from Notre Dame High School and then enrolled in Pierce College “because that’s where the best looking girls were.” He attended two years and graduated in 1984.

He continued to work part-time with his dad, closely learning the craft of custom cabinet wood making. He was, in effect, going to school overseas, by learning the German way of doing things here in Van Nuys: precisely, exactly, and diligently with strict attention to quality and integrity.

Yet Peter had other ideas and passions in his head. He was excited by art, by creative people, by wealth and Hollywood, and by that whole rich world, over the hill, where sculptures, luxurious homes, paintings and grandiosity were on display.

Remarkably, he didn’t try and become an actor. He didn’t intern at William Morris. He didn’t affect affectation. He still built cabinets. He used his skills in making them to enter a rarified world.

It was the late 1980s, an era of big shoulders, fat cigars, overpowering perfumes (Giorgio, Poison, Opium), Joan Collins, The Brat Pack, Wall Street, Greed is Good, and the explosion of personalities in the art world.

He wanted, somehow, to take the modest and self-effacing excellence he embodied and make custom cabinets and custom showcase podiums for architects, designers and clients in Beverly Hills, Hancock Park, Brentwood, Pasadena, Malibu and Westwood. He was introduced to notables who became clients, such as Eli Broad, real estate mogul, art collector and philanthropist; and Robert Graham (1938-2008), sculptor, born in Mexico, married to actress Angelica Huston.

Jean Michel Basquiat (1960-88)

Eli and Edyth Broad at home with Robert Rauschenberg

Still only in his early 20s, he started Showcase Cabinets, a name reflecting that his creations, his products, were showcases (custom pedestals and bases) to display art, objects, sculptures.

In 1984, at age 20, he married ( eventually divorcing after 20 years), had two kids, Niko and Jessica, and he has two granddaughters as well.

Annie, his girlfriend of eight years, also works in the shop. They live with their son Erik, 14, in a 1950s modern house near Valley College which they gutted and remodeled. It has white walls, a backyard pool, orange front door, and solar shades. The house is filled with a cacophony of eccentric and colorful artwork, sculpture, bright colored chairs and, most imaginatively, a graffiti painted bathroom that seems inspired by the interior of a NYC subway car, circa 1985.

He seems to have started everything, work, marriage, fatherhood, at an early age. In 2009, he also bought the building where he now headquarters Showcase Cabinets, Inc. He and Annie travel, often to her home country, Bulgaria, where they use her family house as a base point to explore Europe, including Greece, Italy and Germany and everything two hours or less from that point.

Annie and Peter

He employees some 10 people in his bright, 4,200 SF, well-run shop. Last year, they invested in a $30,000 Striebig Compact Vertical Panel Saw, made in Switzerland, which is accurate to 1/100 of a millimeter or 0.0003937008 of an inch.

His business, which is very healthy, is all word-of-mouth. In an era of social media, of pretending to be successful by posting doctored images and endorsing products, Peter earns his money in the real world of tangible, material substances made out of trees. There is no need for Photoshop when you rub your hands over a smoothly buffed, 30 foot long, walnut bookcase.

His location, 20 minutes from Beverly Hills, and within easy distance of the 405 and the 101, is ideal for clients, designers and architects who often want to drop by the shop to choose finishes, to see the craftsmen at work, to witness what they are paying top dollar for. And Peter welcomes them. He has everything to show and nothing to hide.

His raw materials come predominately from Valencia Lumber in Lake Balboa and Phillips Plywood in Pacoima. He also sends work to GL Veneer, Inc. in Huntington Park. Showcase gets the orders and this is passed up and down the economic food chain.

He deals with stress through kickboxing, the gym, and yoga.

He has some very nice bottles of Japanese whiskies lining an office shelf, in a room built of concrete block, anodized steel walls, and a one-way detective style mirror to keep an eye on the shop floor.

The wall facing his long desk is decorated with large format photographs of drug busts, tattooed gangsters, guns and illicit substances which his son-in-law, a cop, shot from an Iphone.

There is an air of bad boy badness in Peter Scholz but it seems to be more artistic expression than real life activity. But one would not care to incite him. He acts formidable…. and it doesn’t look like an act. If he were an actor, he could play a felon or a cop convincingly. He exudes menace and kindness equally.

Because he is happy in his life and work he projects his good fortune onto Los Angeles. “There is no better place to live,” he said, without irony.


Option A: Metro Plans to Demolish 33 Acres of Industry for One Big Rail Yard.

 

Ed Kirakosian, Peter Scholz, Ivan Gomez, Daniel Gomez.

Hanging over all this is the “Option A” scheme by Metro Los Angeles which might condemn Peter’s shop and 185 other small businesses, covering 33 acres, in an area north of Oxnard to Calvert, from Kester east to Cedros. This is ostensibly for a future light rail maintenance yard.

Opposition to the scheme immediately sprung up and Peter produced big yellow banners against Option A now hung all over the area.

Boldly, by instinct, in his customary manner, Peter marshaled his creative connections to hire artist Guy Ellis (#dcypher_dtrcbs) who painted a long mural on the exterior wall of Showcase. It is in the style of 1930s social realist protest. It is powerful and jarring, screaming, in deathly ashen gray, and living bright yellow, a cry against the potential destruction of the area.

If Option A is withdrawn, and the area is permitted to continue existing, Peter has plans to keep the mural up on his building, and even more plans to revitalize the district with the help of his neighbors, friends, investors, architects and innovative developers.

Showcase Cabinets, Inc. and the life and work of Peter Scholz, is yet another reason to drop the idea that wiping out a section of Van Nuys, and scattering her most creative and productive class, is progress at its finest.

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