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.

Escaping the Haze

No Vaccine, Adelaide Dr.

Seeking to escape the haze and home confinement, we went where we used to go on Sunday in normal times: Santa Monica.

We parked on one of the wide, flat streets north of Montana, away from crowds. And we walked in masks that we imagined shielded us from dangers visible and invisible.

At Adelaide and 4th, where a palm lined grass island ends at a cliff and now blockaded stairs, someone had written “No Vaccine” on a wall.

This year everything is No: no work, no travel, no movies, no dining out, no socializing, no school, no hugs, no kisses, no bars, no strangers, no baby visits, no old people, and, of course, no vaccine.

Before the pandemic there were many runners here, and they would run up and down the stairs, but the virus put an end to that, and now the bad air ensures it.

This part of Santa Monica is grand, with large houses, of every style and decade from the past 100 years, but everything, under the grayish, smoky skies seemed tired, out of breath, defeated; like the city and the state and the nation.

There were Porsches parked in driveways, and Mercedes speeding past, but there seemed no respite from thoughts of ruin and gloom. Who will save us? Will we burn down? Will we be safe when fascism takes over? Or will the lawless sack the mansions and the stores while hated cops stand by and watch? Will a smart leader emerge? Or shall we suffer under Q-Anon and the conspiratorial voices on Next Door?

Who shall live and who shall die and who shall find the most followers on Instagram? 

Only the Shadow Knows.

Along Ocean Avenue at Georgina there is a restoration of a grand mansion, with construction illustrations of the elegant plans, and other photographs of historic and happier Santa Monica. Why there’s Mr. Pepper Gomez, Muscle Beach Contest Winner, 1950.

On Georgina there are yard signs, some of them angry. “Elect a clown, expect a circus” says one placed inside a long olive tree lined forecourt of a gated house.

Sometime from the 1940s through the 80s, this area was not so rich. There were large houses, but they weren’t expensive, so developers came in and tore down some of the historic ones and put up cheap apartments. 

A 1971 apartment at 129 Marguerita is emblazoned with a strange sign: 129 Career. A door or two off Ocean Avenue, the 2-story building is remarkably plain and homely, with a side alley of individual garage doors, stucco wall and steel windows. Balconies are big and full of plastic furniture. The good life was once available at bargain prices.

And at 147 Adelaide (built 1926) there is a mysterious, long, downsloping, concrete driveway that leads into an old, wood door garage with a five-panel utility door next to it. Two spotlights were on at Noon, and in the distance, haze covered the canyon and the hills and the houses.

Why You Taking Picture?


A housing and planning blog I read, Granola Shotgun, recently had a post about how the author is hassled for taking photos in public for such elements as parking lots, buildings, encampments or anything structural connected to a human.

In the past 15 years, since I started this blog, I have had similar experiences of being confronted when diligently just recording any exterior anywhere because it captured my imagination.

As recently as March 2020, on the last night I went out to drink at MacLeod Ale, I left the brewery. I was with a friend, who also had a camera. The sun was setting. The light was golden and glorious. I had my Fuji XE3. While walking on Calvert towards Cedros, I started photographing many things that the light was hitting, including the exterior of an auto body shop. 

Several tough, menacing looking men were conversing across from the shop. One yelled at me, “Hey! Why you taking picture?” he said.

I had a few beers so I answered, “Because I want to. I’m not on private property and the sun looks beautiful on that building.”

“What building? What sun? What you talking about?” he answered.

We walked over to Bessemer St. through the trash of a block long homeless encampment, (which I wouldn’t dare shoot) which once would have been illegal and immoral, but is now normal. People living, shitting, drinking, sleeping on the street. By the tens of thousands. OK in Garbageciti.

On Bessemer, as we got into the car, a tinted window Mercedes SUV drove by slowly, eyeing us, letting us know we were under his surveillance. Nothing happened, but we drove away chilled at the implicit threat. 

I write and photograph about the urban condition of my neighborhood. I do it with the intent of telling the truth, not to promote my product or sell a political dogma. A billboard on Kester at the golden hour is just a billboard.

In 2006, I was photographing the exterior of the historic Valley Municipal Building on a Monday morning. An older woman came out, not a security guard, just an older woman, and she screamed, “What are you doing! Why are you shooting this building!” She had a car, and she drove up to me as I walked along Sylvan St. asking again what I was doing. 

 “There are people who want to harm this country!” she said through her window.

Like her. Opponents of constitutionally protected free speech.

Photography is politicized now, like everything else. A public photo in Los Angeles is assumed to be:

  1. ICE finding undocumented people.
  2. TMZ trailing a celebrity.
  3. Location scouting for a porn.
  4. A developer intent on building something.
  5. A Karen uncovering a violation.

Will a photograph ever just be a photograph again? Could Robert Doisneau or Henri-Cartier Bresson shoot children on the street today? Or would they be confronted by parents or teachers or strangers asking what the hell they were doing?

How did it come to be that a joyful, celebratory, observant act, public photography, become so reviled and feared? We live in a time when every person has a camera on their phone, so anyone can really take a photo anywhere at any time, yet the deliberate, artistic, considered flaneur, strolling through the city after a few glasses of wine, can be confronted if he carries a traditional camera and aims it at strangers.

Then there is the aspect of shame. We have no public shame anymore. People dress, eat and behave in ways that would largely be considered shameful by 1945 or 1970 standards.  So shame is employed as a tool by the weak, sometimes used against others who are weak, but often to gather like minded bullies together to defeat free-thinkers.

These examples of 21st C. public dress and obscene signs would have probably been against law or custom 60 years ago. Just as today it would be unthinkable for grown man with a camera going up to a children crossing the street and photographing them, as Henri Cartier Bresson did in Paris 80 years ago.

The public no longer knows what is properly public and what is not.

When private people prohibit public photography, they often think they are exercising the rule of law. Security guards fall into this category. Yet they stand on weak ground. No building, other than a military installation, has the right to not be photographed.

And we live in time of political intention. Every act is political. One can identify with a political party by wearing or not wearing a virus guarding mask, or drinking soda with a plastic straw, living in a gated McMansion, expressing sympathy for the police, or wearing a red baseball cap. All can get you harmed or doxxed.

At the 2017 Woman’s Rights March, I went out with several older neighbors and of course I had my camera. It was a historic moment. And I photographed a crowd near Universal City. Which provoked a young guy, masked in bandana, to walk up and demand to know why I was photographing.

There is nothing illegal about photographing people in publicOr buildings. Even outside a schoolyard, even families picnicking in the park, even photographing a parking lot in a poor area of Van Nuys. These are all legal and protected by law.

But no law protects against widespread public fear of freedom of speech. When enough mobs band together to ban something you can be sure it will be. Photography by photographer is on the list of once free rights that face censoring, cancelling and expulsion. 

A Clean, Well-Cared For City.


Bridges and Parks and Skyline: Cleveland, OH.

I recently spent a few days in Cleveland, OH on an exploratory trip, visiting a city I’ve never been to before to see how I liked it.

Cleveland has had a long, slow, drain of population, and it is now about 270,000. Less than the size of Glendale (200,000) and Pasadena (142,000) put together.

I stayed in Cleveland Heights, outside of the city, in an AIRBNB run by two guys who bought a half acre estate for $146,000 four years ago, and make some extra income hospitably renting out rooms in their home.

For me, I relished the time away from Los Angeles in an environment of lush greenery, green lawns, deer, and clean streets.

Overlook Rd. Cleveland Heights, OH.

$599,000 asking price for home in Cleveland Heights, OH.

Lee Rd. Cleveland Heights, OH.

Sign in window on Lee Rd. Cleveland Heights, OH.

Homes in the Mayfield Heights section of Cleveland Heights.

Mayfield Heights section of Cleveland Heights.

Cleveland Heights is also a historic city, full of blocks of homes from the 1880s to the 1940s, a rich, well-maintained, lovingly cared for collection of architecture, punctuated by churches, parkways, and museums. Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic are just outside its borders, to the south is Shaker Heights, an elegant town developed in the 1920s, laid out with nature preserves, winding streets, gracious mansions and a languid Midwestern grace.

There are many homes for sale in Cleveland Heights and you can buy one for as little as $79,000 with most in the $140,000-$250,000 range. If you are starved for a Hancock Park type mansion there is one I liked for $599,000.

Many miles of interior Cleveland are empty. They were abandoned, bulldozed and cleared away. And what’s left are vast green spaces where the grasses and woods are reclaiming the land.

Even in the poorest neighborhoods, I did not see garbage dumps, shopping carts full of trash, littered streets, graffiti, or dumped furniture.

Lakewood Park, Lakewood, OH.

Lakewood, OH.

Wedding in Lakewood.

In Lakewood, OH, just west of Cleveland, a little town on Lake Erie has rows of neat bungalows, leading up to a gorgeous park on the lake where a wedding (between a man and a woman) was taking place in the sunshine overlooking a bluff. I walked around the park, full of bicyclists, walkers, joggers, tennis players and people sitting on benches socializing. Nobody was intoxicated, high, homeless, destructive, or neglectful. And if someone were, I have no doubt they would be arrested.

Lakewood is also “gay friendly” with rainbow flags, anti-Trump posters, tolerance banners, welcoming immigrant signs. I saw liberalism all over Cleveland, but it did not need to co-exist with uncared for mentally ill camping out on bus benches, mountains of debris, urinating and defecating and injecting.

You can hate Trump and still have a clean park system.

Anti-Trump demonstration in Market Square, Cleveland, OH.

Tremont section of Cleveland.

Ohio City, Cleveland, OH.

Ohio City, Cleveland, OH.

You can champion diversity and still enjoy people who say hello to you on the street and sweep their sidewalks every single morning.

In Cleveland, they still prohibit using the sidewalks and parks to sell old underwear and moldy shoes and sweat stained t-shirts and rancid socks on blankets. Nobody calls it discrimination to adhere to a standard of sanitation and order completely absent in cities such as Calcutta and the MacArthur Park district of Los Angeles.

I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I ate cannoli in Little Italy. I visited the historic West Side Market with its food sellers and ethnic hawker stands. I went to Ohio City, a restored section of Cleveland with brick houses, and Victorian mansions, loft buildings and yoga studios.

I didn’t step over feces, walk down alleys that smelled like toilets, stare at intoxicated men on the ground. And nobody asked me for money.

How cruel to enjoy such freedoms away from the rot of Mayor Garbageciti’s Los Angeles.

West Side Market, Cleveland, OH.

“The Black Pig” pub and restaurant in Ohio City.

Ohio City, Cleveland, OH.


6/22/69- Fire on the Cuyahoga River.

Cuyahoga River

Ohio City.

Spotless streets in Ohio City, Cleveland, OH.

Bridges and Parks and Skyline: Cleveland, OH.

I walked down to the Cuyahoga River, a body of water that infamously caught fire on June 22, 1969, spurring a cleanup.

In September 2018, I watched a race of college rowers in the now sparkling waters.

Crossing the river are many bridges, a spectacular symphony of rail and road, steel and concrete, which once provided Cleveland with efficient delivery systems of raw materials and finished goods.

Today the industries are gone. One might expect decay, litter, neglect, and illegal dumping to move in.

Yet the parks were pristine. They were clean. There were no visible homeless. There were no mattresses, sofas, or piles of garbage as one sees in every single neighborhood of Los Angeles. I did not see tent cities of despondency in Cleveland.

I was impressed with the civic pride of the city. I was taken with the normalcy of expecting that parks, streets and neighborhoods would be well kept and looked after.

Could I live happily in Cleveland?

Cautiously, advisedly, I think so.

Little Italy, Cleveland, OH.

 

Ohio City, OH. Yard sale.

 

The Janitors’ Light Rail.


 

nury-martinez-dn
Nury Martinez, 2012. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)

“If you’re a housekeeper, janitor or dish washer, you need to get to work every day on time,” she said. “Buses don’t move as many people and as quickly as the light rail. That’s why we’re excited about the project that would serve people who are transit dependent.”[1]

“As a mom, I can tell you it’s terrifying to sometimes think of having to get on the Red Line. I won’t for that very reason,” she said. “I don’t have to see the data collection to know that if I feel unsafe to ride the train with my kid, that I’m just simply not going to use it.”[2]

-Councilwoman Nury Martinez


Why are these two quotes important?

What does it matter what Councilwoman Nury Martinez of LA’s City Council District #6, representing Arleta, Panorama City, Lake Balboa, and Van Nuys thinks about public transportation, light rail, who rides it and who needs it?

It matters, I think, because it shows a way of describing non-car travel as something used by people who are the lesser people of the City of Angels: maids, janitors, dishwashers and perhaps even criminals.

Can agents at William Morris, that actor who stars on that sitcom, Hancock Park attorneys, the conductor of the LA Philharmonic, and Dodger Clayton Kershaw also ride trains? I wish they all did!

Strange that a political culture that panders to PC should grossly stereotype transit riders.

The prospect that Van Nuys, long languishing, is under her jittery guidance, and limited vision, is not especially comforting.  A public official who denigrates public transportation is not doing the people’s business very well.

For in her remarks she shows a remarkably retrogressive and depressing view of public transportation as something which is sometimes terrifying, unsuitable for mothers with children, and only made for unskilled workers commuting to low paying jobs in the NE Valley.

There has been, for a long time, an idea that if you had enough money in Los Angeles you would surely travel by car. And today, we have the spectacle of 24/7 traffic produced by a culture conditioned to expect that every journey must begin and end in a car.

Even as plans for expansion of light rail go on all over Los Angeles, there is an equally strong pushback against it.

  • Uber and Lyft are making it possible to take short distance trips by dialing up a ride on your phone.
  • Amazon is delivering everything from chewing gum to sofas with fleets of trucks that are also clogging our streets.
  • Parents who rightly shudder at their children attending a low rated local school chauffeur their kids 25 miles away to “better schools.”
  • Housing is now a luxury commodity but every law that seeks to expand it runs into the “where will they park?” crowd who wants to stop new apartments, new granny flats, new retail stores and multi-family dwellings near trains.

And instead of public officials offering imaginative, innovative and futuristic ideas, we have a throwback to the car culture that is unsustainable.

Los Angeles! This is 2018! This is not 1975, 1965 or 1945!

Light rail and subways are not dangerous. They are not only for criminals. They are not only for the woman who scrubs your floor. Properly policed, intelligently managed, excellently maintained, they can be pleasant, quick and enjoyable.

They are the way we ALL will get around Los Angeles when gridlock by private vehicle renders this city dysfunctional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.dailynews.com/2018/06/03/heres-van-nuys-through-the-eyes-of-mr-van-nuys/

[2] http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-martinez-metro-sexual-harassment-20180124-story.html

1960: Peace March at Kester and Noble in Sherman Oaks, CA.


Photo by George Brich, Valley Times./ LAPL/Public Domain

At the height of the Cold War, a brave and liberal minded group of progressive people marched through Los Angeles and eventually ended up in Moscow where they worked to defuse tensions between the US and the Soviet Union.

Los Angeles at that time was a conservative, anti-communist city whose main industry, Hollywood, was just emerging from the blacklist and any association with Russia was tantamount to career suicide.

The Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA) was an American anti-war group, created in 1957. Its purpose : resist the US government‘s testing of nuclear weapons. It used non-violence to oppose atomic military tools.

The group was often attacked as pacifist and for its welcoming of African-Americans into the fold.


Photograph article dated December 22, 1960 partially reads, “Eight footsore peace walkers marched through the Valley Wednesday on the 11-month tour that will take them from San Francisco to Moscow, Russia. The placard-bearing marchers, who represent the Committee for Nonviolent Action, stopped Wednesday night at Highland avenue and Hollywood boulevard in Hollywood. They will remain in the Los Angeles area until Christmas day when they will resume their march toward Tucson, Ariz. In addition to having their board and room paid for by the committee, which is composed of 60 Americans, the hikers have seven administrators and advance publicity men making the tour with them.” Bruce McIntyre, 20, leads the peace walking team along Ventura Blvd. near Noble Ave.