Only Yesterday


In 1931, two years into the Great Depression, Frederick Lewis Allen published his history of the 1920s, “Only Yesterday” covering the period from the end of WWI until the market crash, in October 1929, that plunged the world into poverty. The American economy would not revive until war and destruction obliterated Europe and engulfed Asia, and after the suffering and the debacle of that period, enlightened leaders vowed to never allow world war again.

So, here we are, now.

We seem, again, to be living in the most exciting of times, a moment of collapse when people are without money, in fear of their health, and watching the world outside collapse. Families and friends are unwittingly jammed up inside, fearful of intimacy, terrified of shopping, petrified about their money, unable to sleep at night, and looking for some savior vaccine to end this nightmare.

An incurable contagion devastates the lungs, drowns us, and we die alone. Please, somebody, do something.

We look up high to the presidential podium for answers. 

But we hear the cries from the asylum.

Every aspect of normal human life is now that moment in the horror movie when The Lone Girl goes downstairs into the dark basement after she hears a noise. 

7.5 billion are now The Lone Girl.

We are home with children or aged parents, or quite alone, with nobody. We are sitting at computers, trying to work or forget; obsessed over disabled relatives in group homes; monitoring children playing in the yard when the wind is blowing.

We can’t go to the gym, to the mall, to the coffee bar, to the park. We do push-ups if we can, and we lay on the couch all day until we try and sleep but we can’t. 

We are on guard receiving a package at the door, opening a letter, putting hands on a steering wheel, touching a doorknob, wiping down a mobile phone, cleaning a countertop, eating a banana with unwashed hands. We dare not open a window to let in a virus or forget to sanitize a salt shaker. 

A text message, “Call Me”, is alarming.

Everything is terror.

We are told, now, too late, to wear masks when we leave the house. Before they were of no use, now they are essential.  We are told to use hand sanitizer, but what if someone behind us, at the grocery store, unmasked, sneezes or coughs? 

In the midst of this darkness, I learned, strangely and horrifically, that one of my friends from MacLeod Ale, Drew Morlett, 37, had been stabbed to death last Sunday, by a woman, during a fistfight with a man, at a party given by a nurse (Drew’s girlfriend?) who unwittingly invited the murderer over to her apartment on Kester Street.

To attend a party during a pandemic is foolish, but just being foolish is not reason enough to justify murder. In poetic justice, all the fools at the party would catch the virus, their punishment for violating what we all know we must not do.

Though I knew Drew for five or six years, I hardly knew him at all. 

We had met at MacLeod Ale, and then we’d hang out, always by coincidence, never by intention. 

From what I knew, he lived walking distance from MacLeod, with his family, near Hazeltine and Oxnard. He had a raspy voice, with a sound almost frail and hoarse, so I nicknamed him “The Raspy.” He was a townie, like many at MacLeod, adults raised in Van Nuys who never leave Van Nuys. MacLeod was his parish.

On Saturday, June 27, 2015, The Raspy and I went to Venice, this time by intention, to take photographs and drink beer at Whole Foods, beer served by bartender Drew Murphy, an amateur expert on beer, who used to casually serve us oysters, shrimp tacos and other good foods that somehow never ended up on the tab.

That bar at Whole Foods on Lincoln had become a place I went to often, especially in the year 2014 when my mother was laid up in bed in Marina Del Rey, dying of lung cancer, and I’d go down and see her, and then stop off at Whole Foods and self-medicate, and drive home slowly in the night air, always careful to let the beer burn off before I drove, sometimes going up Beverly Glen, the long way, windows open, as Jo Stafford or Frank Sinatra played, and the profusely growing night jasmine floated in. 

The Raspy worked in computers, or fixing computers, or something like that, I never knew. He was gentle, and short, and thin, and a twin, with a twin brother. He had olive skin and wore olive t-shirts. I felt like I could have been his best friend, but we never talked about anything, really.

Others at MacLeod, people who drank nightly, or played darts, knew him better. I was not one who played darts or drank nightly, and last year I only spent some $800 dollars at MacLeod, for all of 2019, and I would guess Drew spent considerably more, though I don’t know, and to speculate is to lie, so I can’t say. 

One time I saw Drew Morlett and he said he was laid off and looking for work. Another time he said he was living with his girlfriend on Kester. One late night he called me and invited me out, and it was after 11pm and I didn’t go. He was known at other bars, other dart places, and in other drinking establishments, and it seemed he was out and about and all around the city, going out and about and all around the city. 

Until he died last weekend.

Now he is dead, dead in the way Van Nuys kills you: in obscurity, senselessly, ridiculously. That weekend, two days before he was stabbed, another man, a homeless man, Dante Tremain Anderson, 35, was killed the same way, by knife, not far away, on Burbank Boulevard in the Sepulveda Basin.

Before I learned about the identity of the second victim, Drew Morlett, I knew about the first and second murders. And in my mind, they were indistinguishable. Just anonymous and tragic and forgotten. 

Now one of the dead I had really known, and hugged, and laughed, and drank with. He had siblings, parents, friends, and they all mourn his death. I cannot feel the grief his family carries, and they have my deepest condolences.


On June 21, 2015, a year after MacLeod Ale opened, that brewery held a big party. 

Drew Morlett was there, and so were hundreds of other people. They lined up to buy tickets, to sample brews from guest taps, to listen to lectures by brewers discussing brewing, to meet other enthusiasts and lovers of craft beer.

I took many photographs that day, and now they look remarkably dated. 

It is not only that we are presently, legally restricted from gathering, but that we are older. We are now incarcerated by grave and ominous fears and worries, and to drink beer in a crowd and listen to music and get drunk, that is our fondest hope for what we might do again. 

We hope, not only to be well, but to live, to be in this world, not banished from it, and to return to happiness and blithe ridiculousness, and even carelessness and stupidity. We should not have to die for our love of each other, we should not have to die because we partied, or touched our face, or went to a movie, or shopped for food, or cared for a sick person in hospital. Somewhere there is a profound lesson in all this, but I can’t quite fathom it. 

I have to go wash my hands now.

The Sun Came Up Slowly Above Sepulveda.


15200 Victory Blvd. 2 15200 Victory Blvd.Under dark, glassy, reflective, translucent, stormy, gray, inky blue clouds Van Nuys awoke today.

The hot sun and its aggression were held back. And the light came up slowly. The workers sat in their cars along Victory waiting for the red light to turn green.

Humidity, and the hint of rain, the blessed promise of water, hung in the air.

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Bulldozers carried pieces of broken-up pavement in the Wendy’s parking lot as mechanical jackhammers tore into old asphalt. Construction workers attacked the building, skillfully peeling and nailing glossy, modern effects.

West down Erwin, old cars and overgrown bushes flank houses where age and decay cannot hide. The past and its four-wheeled rusty remainders sit on driveways.

Erwin Near Langdon  Victory, where quiet houses sit next to six lanes of traffic.

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Back on the corner of Sepulveda and Victory, right where the police shot a man to death after he broke their window with a beer bottle, the empty parking lots and bank buildings are mute, without feeling, marooned in a landscape of cheap indifference.

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There is no civic center, no park, no church, no place to sit. The frenzy of cars and donut shops, office supplies and Jiffy Lube, this is one of the many centers of Van Nuys. But the center cannot hold. The consensus of American life is scattered here, as it is all over the land. Somewhere in the shadows, thousands of homeless are waking up in alleys, in their cars, behind buildings. The normality of life seems normal but things are awry.

When the traffic eases, people will speed past here, and some will run across the intersection to board buses, and the day and its distractions will obliterate the early morning calm.

In a Grieving Mood


The first anniversary of her death will be on September 1st.

In the year since my mother died, I have experienced days of grief that just came over me, an intense sadness: unshakeable, persistent and gripping.

And then, inexplicably, the darkness leaves and I’m set back into temporary equilibrium. I no longer cry easily and my laughing is real.

But the fragile happiness goes away again, and then the days of moodiness, anger, sadness, loneliness, self-destructive thoughts and a yearning to have someone hold and comfort me, comes back.

These are those days: these late August days.


 

Since I was a kid I’ve always hated August.

I hated its hotness and its humidity. I hated its interminable thirty-one days of family beach vacations. I hated coming back to “reality”, to school and to work. I hated August holding us in its grip of tall corn and short tempers, melted ice cream and burning asphalt. August is the threat of impending hurricane, school, and work held back by the ruse of calendar.


 

There is really nobody close to reach out to.

The advice, always, is to just get busy with something. If you had a full-time job, if you had kids, you wouldn’t be in this state-of-mind.

I think of that stinging indictment delivered by a friend in Chicago: “You’ve chosen a selfish life.”  How selfish to feel.

So I go to MacLeod Ale and have a few beers and talk to people I know, not about anything deep, just something human and non-virtual.


 

I hire a model and take photos and think I’m taking great photos. He puts them on his Instagram and I put them on mine. And then he takes my photos off his Instagram. And I close down mine.

There is no solace or satisfaction in art when you go online. What seems great to you is crap if it doesn’t garner 8,000 likes.

There is a mighty fine job interview with some super smart people and the opportunity to work on something interesting. It pays well, it’s nearby, it might turn out to be stimulating.

So I go in for the job meeting and then I wait for an answer.

And I must stop myself from imagining the rejection, even though that is what happens most of the time.


This morning I wake up and see a gruesome news story about the killing of a news reporter and her photographer, the wounding of another woman, and the pursuit and eventual death of the suspect.

It is just another morning of murder in America, refreshed every single day by the shooting of some other strangers in some other states.

I follow the story of the news crew killings on Twitter. They reveal the identity of the killer. Then he posts his POV video on Facebook and I watch it.

What kind of madness is this?

Is social media making people ill?

We are all enraged by something. The ubiquitious gun and smart phone make our most bestial and primitive urges possible. We can act, produce and distribute our own unspeakable fantasies for the world’s consumption and entertainment.

In this new epoch of human life we are  all Gods stage managed by the Devil.


I decide the cure is to lessen my place in the virtual world. I will delete something, I will stop doing something online, I will take my eyes and thoughts out of the Internet.


 

When you are in mourning, they say there is no time- table for recovery. You imagine that the hour will arrive where grief, a monster of no particular form, shall scatter and take with it remnants of memory, love, and attachment.

You go through the day, in motions: working, cleaning, driving, shopping, cooking, and watching television.

You drink a beer or two and feel something elating, calming, relaxing and pleasurable.

And when the beer wears off, you are deep in touch again with something you tried to forget. And you cry and cry but there is nobody to pick you up and hug you.

You are alone, facing something final.

You are in a grieving mood.

Awaiting redemption and answers and the return of normal life.

 

 

June 24, 1960: Murder at 13944 Valerio St. Van Nuys, CA


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Crime scene photos courtesy of the USC Digital Archives.

Even in 1960, people in Van Nuys were getting gunned down and killed.

As originally reported in the Los Angeles Examiner, on June 24, 1960 police discovered murder victim Shaik Dastagir, 49, dead in front of his home at 13944 Valerio St.

Shaik Dastagir was the owner of a furniture store and two apartment buildings. He often carried large sums of cash.

18-year-old Jim Shields, an employee of Mr. Dastagir’s, later confessed to police that he had tried to rob his boss by gunpoint, but his boss resisted, and in the struggle the killer accidentally shot himself in the arm. Mr. Shields needed money to repair his car and thought he would rob his employer to get the funds. Conscience later caught up and the tearful suspect surrendered.

The dead man, of Indian origin, was also the brother of an actor named Sabu Dastagir.

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Sabu was an actor of some repute. Born in 1924, he was the onetime “Elephant Boy” of the movies, discovered in India by a documentary filmmaker who later brought the boy to Hollywood where he starred in several films, most notably “The Thief of Bagdad (1940) directed by Michael Powell. During WWII, Sabu became an American citizen, joined the Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery.

Sabu’s career declined after WWII.  He married Marilyn Cooper and had two children, Paul and Jasmine.

Paul Sabu (born January 2, 1960) is a singer, songwriter, producer, and guitarist.

In 1963, Sabu, 39, went for a medical checkup in Chatsworth.

His wife later said that Sabu’s doctor told him, “If all my patients were as healthy as you, I would be out of a job.”

Three days later, on December 2, 1963 Sabu died of a heart attack.

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The Barbara Jean Jepsen Murder: January 31, 1956.


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15050 Victory

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On January 31, 1956, Barbara Jean Jepsen, an 18-year-old married woman, was found stabbed to death by her husband Joe Earl Jepsen inside their unit at 15050 Victory in Van Nuys.

 

The murder of the young woman shocked the city.

 

Photos of the crime scene exteriors are kept in the USC Digital Archives and offer a glimpse of detectives, in long coats and hats, gathering evidence and questioning blond, leather jacketed Mr. Jepsen.

 

As the investigation proceeded, other women in Los Angeles were also mysteriously knifed to death, and the killer or killers remained at large.

 

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One of the suspects was Liberace’s younger brother Rudolph, 24, whose strange (?) behavior in Granada Hills caused neighbors to call police. Rudolph was later released and not charged with any crime.

 

The cottages where Mrs. Jepsen and her husband lived, and she died, have been torn down but are remarkably similar to ones still standing near Lido Pizza on Victory.

 

As far as I can ascertain, the murder of Barbara Jean Jepsen is still unsolved 58 years later.

 

 

Death Ends Police Chase: August 24, 1959.


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From the LAPL files:

“Robert Lee Daily, aka John M. Savage, aka George R. Gibb, was being sought in connection with over 60 burglaries in the Hollywood and Beverly Hills areas. He was shot dead by Investigator James McGrath when Daily tried to flee from McGrath in Encino. Detectives carry body of Robert Lee Daily, burglary suspect, from car in Encino after he was shot by district attorney’s investigator when he assertedly tried to get away. Police found nearly $15,000 in loot in his Woodland Hills home.”